I’ll be honest with you. I think it’s an over-crowded, over-hyped, poorly organized hellhole. Some people manage to find its charm, I (routinely) find its hateful qualities, including its lack of genuine tourist attractions, its high prices, its dearth of useful signage and the small army of criminals and shysters lurking at the train station, airport and behind the wheel of many taxis.
That said, grudgingly, I’ll allow that Bucharest is home to some of Romania’s best museums. If you can overlook the dark cloud over the Palace of Parliament (the world’s second-biggest building, after the US Pentagon, and Ceausescu’s Staggering Blunder # 1,239) is a sight to behold at 12 stories and 3,100 rooms covering 330,000 sq meters. Construction began in 1984 and it cost an estimated 3.3 billion euros (still 10% incomplete). The project flattened a large part of the city and laid the seeds for the massive stray dog and orphan problem that torments the city to this day. The only way to see it is to take the rushed 45 minute tour, led exclusively by some of the rudest, least informed and least talented English speaking tour guides in Romania.
Bucharest is a lively student base, notably around the open-air bar scene in the historic center. The number of large and reasonably maintained parks is admirable, considering that the rest of the city is a hopeless mess.
The embarrassing lack of tourist offices in Bucharest has finally ended! Info Tourist Point has offices at the train station and in the underpass at Piata Universitatii, offering maps brochures and multi-lingual assistance. Better still is the Bucharest In Your Pocket web site, with a downloadable city guide (in PDF format).
In the not-so-recent past, this travesty of a city was everyone’s first (and often last) exposure to Romania, but there are now regular international flights landing in Timisoara, Arad, Cluj, Sibiu and Targu Mures. Furthermore, the cities of Oradea, Timisoara and Arad are much better access points by train when arriving from western destinations. In short, Bucharest can be safely sidestepped. Or don’t listen to me and see what the fuss is all about.
For your pleasure, the video I made at Bucharest’s lovely Stavropoleos church: