Bucharest: One of the Most Authentic Capitals in Europe

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

If you’d like to take a guided tour of Bucharest, check our tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

Bucharest is unique in a way that goes beyond the usual travel stereotypes. With its eclectic, noisy, and confusing look and mixed Western-Balkan atmosphere, today’s Bucharest is one of Europe’s most authentic capitals and the second coolest city on the continent according to Slate magazine.

Old Town Bucharest

Lipscani Street

Mysterious origins

The historical information regarding the origins of the city is scarce. While a popular legend places a shepherd named Bucur as the founder, the historians advance more accurate options. What’s sure is that Bucharest appeared at the intersection of two main commercial routes, one that linked the Balkan Peninsula with Transylvania and the Baltic ports and another one that linked the monasteries from Oltenia to the ports on the Danube.

In the 14th century, a fortress was built, in the area of contemporary Bucharest, to supervise the two commercial routes, but its ruins no longer exist today.

Stavropoleos Church

Stavropoleos Church

The first document that mentions the city of Bucharest dates from 1459 and was given by the famous Vlad the Impaler. This medieval prince established one of his residences here, in today’s Old Court, now the oldest monument in the capital, right in the heart of the Old Town. The princes that followed used permanently or temporarily the Old Court as a princely residence until the 17th century when it gained the main political role.

From a small fortress to a capital

Bucharest developed mainly as a commercial city given its location. Gradually, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire’s influence positioned the city as the main commercial center in Southern Romania. All merchants who wanted to trade between Transylvania and the Balkans went through Bucharest, and the city expanded even more in the 16th century due to these booming commercial activities. As a direct consequence, many inns and monasteries that often owned the inns appeared.

Bucharest Atheneum

The Romanian Atheneum

Its economic importance, but also the proximity to the Danube where the Ottoman armies were stationed, helped Bucharest become the capital of Southern Romania in 1659. The old capital, Targoviste, maintained a status of political importance but was used mainly by the princes who fought the Ottomans.


The National Museum of History

In the next centuries, Bucharest was the direct victim of numerous regional wars, fires, plague epidemics, earthquakes, and political unrest. It became the capital of the United Principalities in 1859 and in 1918 the capital of Romania.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the capital developed tremendously. Monumental architecture, modern services, and a thriving social life transformed it into one of the most important cities in this part of Europe. Nonetheless, the heavy bombing from WW2 and the decades of communism that mutilated its look changed the city almost entirely.

What to see in Bucharest

Bucharest is Romania’s most visited city. Its very particular and chaotic mix of architectural styles and diverse cultural influences make it one of the most interesting capitals in Europe. You can choose from seeing and visiting historical and cultural attractions, art shows, taking long walks in parks and museum visits, going to concerts, parties, and many more local experiences.

old town bucharest

Former bank edifice, the Old Town

If you’re only spending a weekend, then you should definitely walk around Old Town and Victoriei Avenue where most of the landmarks are located. A visit to the World Record Palace of the Parliament is also a recommended experience. If you’re interested in the history of communism in Romania, we also recommend Primaverii Palace, the residence of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Palace of the Parliament

The Palace of the Parliament

If you want to visit at least two or three museums, we recommend the Village Museum, the Art Collections Museum, and the National Museum of History. These are only a few of the many interesting museums Bucharest has, it all depends on your time. You can also enjoy a walk in central parks like Herastrau and Cismgiu, discover old streets with interwar villas or centuries-old churches.

Cismigiu Park

Cismigiu Park

For a complete list, check Best Things to Do in Bucharest for First Time Visitors  

Visiting Bucharest will sure be a memorable experience as its contrasting and coexisting realities make it an original destination, modern yet traditional, luxurious yet poor as you move to the outskirts, glossy yet casual, full of parties but with churches around every corner. We hope you’ll have a great time uncovering one of the most authentic capitals in Europe. 

Where to stay in Bucharest

If you prefer the hotel experience right in the heart of historical Bucharest, our recommendations are Hilton Garden Inn Bucharest, Mansion Boutique Hotel, Grand Boutique Hotel, Grand Hotel Continental, Epoque Hotel, Cismigiu Hotel, all splendid buildings from the glory days of Bucharest.

Booking an apartment is also a popular and more budget-friendly option in Bucharest. While there are hundreds of choices, we can help narrow down your list to the best. Our suggestions are Vila Cotroceni Boutique Apartments, University Central by Orchid Garden, Bucharest Residence, Diana’s Flat Bucharest, Cismigiu Orchid Garden, Studio Old Town, Elysium.

If hostels are your thing, try Umbrella Hostel located in a 1920s building, Podstel Bucharest close to the beautiful Carol Park or First Hostel Bucharest.

Travel tips

Bucharest is a city that lives day and night with the same intensity and no wonder since it hosts the largest number of Romanian students.

Even more, it’s more budget-friendly compared to Western European capitals. Plus, you have daily low-cost flights to and from Bucharest.


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