5. Bucharest: Sites & Bites Tour with a Local Guide
Your Bucharest tour begins in the political center of the city, Revolution Square (formerly known as Palace Square), which has witnessed most of the important events in Romanian history. It was from here in 1989 that dictator Ceausescu made his ill-advised rallying speech to a crowd that quickly turned on him, instigating the Romanian revolution. Surrounding the square are several other notable landmarks, including the former Royal Palace, the Athenaeum concert hall, and Athenee Palace, the heart of espionage and intrigue in the years between the wars. And in such a historical spot, it’s appropriate that you have a historical treat. You’ll indulge in a covrig, a daily salty snack for most Romanians that was likely introduced by Hapsburg or German merchants in medieval times.
Next up, you’ll leave the square and head south along Victory Street, named after the spectacular victory of the new Romanian nation in the 1871 War of Independence. However, full unification of the three Romanian principalities did not take place until 1918, which explains why each region has its own distinct character, traditions, and cuisine — like sweet for Moldova, earthy for Transylvania, and spicy for Muntenia. This stretch is also home to many spectacular landmarks of the inter-war period, including the 'Telephone Palace,' Military Circle, and former National Theatre, as well as the beautiful church of Kretzulescu, one of the most famous in Bucharest.
From Victory Street, you’ll head into an older Bucharest, exploring the numerous paths and passageways of the Old Town. This is the heart of medieval Bucharest, the literal crossroads between East and West, where Ottoman pashas rubbed shoulders with Transylvanian princes, and churches and mosques stood side by side. Here you can witness the many diverse influences on Romanian food — the Balkan mici (skinless sausages), the Ottoman sarmale (stuffed cabbage leaves), Russian borscht andciorba (sour soups), and Austro-Hungarian schnitzel. Among the many sights and stories of Old Town are lavish interiors and princely courts, the exquisite calm of an orthodox monastery and the great wooden inn of Hanul Lui Manuc.
En route to your final destination, you get a look at the famed People's Palace, the center of Ceausescu’s megalomaniac attempts to re-shape the city, and the second largest building in the world (only the Pentagon is bigger!). Finally, the Bucharest tour will end with a sampling of the culinary specialties at a traditional hanu, or inn, that’s widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in the city. You’ll dig into a three-course meal with platters of local delicacies — giving you a 'taste tour' of the history and geography of the region. It was said that during the time of the ancient Romanians (the Dacians), so much wine was drunk by the people that their leader, Burebista, banned its production entirely. But the supremely inventive Dacians immediately began brewing beer — thus, you’ll have a chance to lubricate your palate with both fine Romanian wines and/or locally brewed beer, just like the Dacians would have wanted!