Discover Bucharest: from Universitate to Piața Romană

Three of Bucharest’s largest boulevards, Lascăr Catargiu, Dacia and Gheorghe Magheru have one thing in common: they all meet in front of Bucharest’s Academy of Economic Studies, in the area known as Piața Romană. One of the city’s touristic areas, you can reach it by foot from Piața Victoriei, Piața Universității or Gara de Nord, in less than half an hour and in the same time enjoying a great walk with plenty of stuff to see.

This tour starts at the Universitate metro station, takes a detour on the lovely streets around Grădina Icoanei park, exits into Mihai Eminescu Street to get you to the Academy of Economic Studies, then takes you for a spin around Piața Amzei,  with its many hidden treasures. There are no huge touristic objectives to be seen, but I promise you will find a lot of intriguing places and especially a lot of cozy and well hidden restaurants and pubs you will love. And if you take this trip in spring, you will be amazed of the streets with beautiful old houses and wonderful gardens, the street art and the colorful scenery all around (though winter also has its charm at Piața Romană).

  • Starting point: the National Theater of Bucharest
  • Tour ends at: Piața Romană metro station
harta_romana
Download map (created using the interactive map at salutbucuresti.ro

Nowadays, the building of National Theater of Bucharest does not look so special. Before the bombings in 1944, Bucharest’s theater was on Calea Victoriei, in the place of present day Novotel hotel. The building you see at Piața Universității dates from 1973, and was just recently restored (it had a totally different facade).

In 2010, the small square in front of the theater was been adorned with an assembly of 16 statues (known as A Carriage with Clowns) that depict well known characters in the comic plays of famous Romanian playwright Ioan Luca Caragiale (the theater is named after him). There is also a statue of the author himself, sitting on a bench and admiring his work of art.

Right near the National Theater you will spot a tall building with a rather industrial look. It is the InterContinental Hotel, the first 5 star hotel to be built in Romania and the tallest hotel in Bucharest. It has a story associated to it, saying that in the ‘60s (the hotel itself was first open in 1971), Cyrus Eaton Junior, head of the „Cyrus Eaton Group” that manages the InterContinental group of hotels, came to Bucharest on a business trip and was unable to find accommodation, as there were only a few hotels available in the city. Not being able to find a room, he had to sleep in the lobby of a hotel, and that is when he thought of opening an InterContinental hotel in Bucharest. Though it is just a legend, it is a plausible explanation for the hotel’s presence.

Walking along Bulevardul Nicolae Bălcescu, just a bit further you will spot the Italian Catholic Church, built between 1915-1916 and having a specific architecture that stands out.

Speaking of architecture, most buildings on Bulevardul Nicolae Bălcescu were built in the ’30s, in a mixture of styles, of which Art Deco and an incipient phase of modernism are predominant. You will also notice most buildings are several stories high. Some say this boulevard is slightly reminding of American boulevards in the ’30s.

When you reach the Cinema Patria building, you will notice a small green patch in front of a building from the interwar period. This building is now a bookstore, Cărturești Verona, and it is worth visiting for the interesting items on sale, as much as for the interior of the old house. In its back yard is a lovely summer garden (Café Verona), where you can enjoy special lemonades and delicious food all summer long. Various cultural events also take place in this venue.

From Cărturești, continue on Arthur Verona street, until you reach a very small intersection. To the left, at no. 23 Strada Pitar Moș, you will run into La Copac, a traditional Romanian restaurant with a modern touch. Prices are quite decent for the area, the decor is great, the food is ok (especially the daily lunch menu, which is cooked in a huge pot over fire), but it can be very crowded, especially in the summer.

In the same area, just a few steps further (at no. 46 Strada Dionisie Lupu) is a house looking almost like a palace. This building, known as Casa Universitarilor, was built around 1860 for banker Cezar Librecht, who was Postmaster General in the time of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza (first ruler of unified Romania). In the gardens of the building is a summer terrace where the waiters seem to come from the communist era of Bucharest, as do the menus, the food and the tables (and even the music playing). The building itself hosts weekly cultural events and various meetings organized by the University of Bucharest, good occasions to see its beautiful interiors (photo gallery available in this article).

Continuing on Arthur Verona street, you will run into a small square, the location of the Anglican Church of the Resurrection. The statue/fountain in front of it is the work of sculptor Virgil Scripcariu, an artist known for his modern vision of traditional themes (religion, maternity, Romanian traditions).

Your attention might also be drawn to the various graffiti drawings in the area.

Behind the Anglican Church is Școala Centrală, a high school in a building with a very rich history. The building was raised in 1851 as royal boarding school for girls (Pensionatul Domnesc de Fete), a school and boarding house for the daughters of noblemen in the 19th century. The building’s beautiful architecture reminds of Romanian monastic complexes.

Parcul Grădina Icoanei is right near, and so is Parcul Ioanid/Ion Voicu, another small park in the same area (built between 1909-1910 and declared a protected monument). So, you can pick your favorite green space to relax when you’re in this area.

The park is practically surrounded by beautiful and sumptuous old villas in various architectural styles.

Several nice pubs and food places can be found in this area. Some of my favorite ones are Shift Pub (General Eremia Grigorescu 17, minimalist design, beautiful summer garden), Old Nick Pub (General Eremia Grigorescu 25), Lente Dionisie Lupu (Dionisie Lupu 78). Panik & Pub on Mihai Eminescu 33 street is a student rock pub with good music and good food.

The whole area is very nice for walking around, regardless of the season. You can venture on any of the side streets, especially if you have a map with you 🙂 Cozy, beautiful spots are at every corner of every street and you can easily enjoy a very long walk without getting bored.

The same is true for the area around Calea Dorobanți (between the streets Calea Dorobanți, Bulevardul Dacia/Strada Mihai Eminescu and Strada Polonă).

Finally, you can exit into the roundabout at Piața Romană. You will be able to spot several interesting buildings around you, including the Academy of Economic Studies and Casa Gheorghe Petrașcu (Neo-Romanian style, 1913).

Next to the Academy building is a small 19th century house in Art Nouveau style, which belonged to a professor from the Bucharest Medical University. It is in bad shape and consolidation works went wrong, so now it faces an uncertain future, after it has been a symbol of the area for so long.

By the time you get here, you would think that you have seen all the cool stuff in the area. But if you still have energy left, there are a few more things to discover. Cross the street opposite the Academy of Economic Studies, and take Strada Mendeleev. Right on the corner of this street is a monument house from 1907 that is at high risk of falling down, despite its beautiful window ornaments and its intriguing balcony.

Continue on this street and look around you, as there are many things to discover. I sometimes like to take a small detour on the first street to the right (Strada Biserica Amzei), to have a better view of the house with caryatids on the corner and former Casa Oteteleșanu on the right side (late 19th century, now a pub – take advantage of the fact that the bathroom is inside, to admire the beautiful old rooms with marble on the walls).

Back on Mendeleev street, at no. 33 is a deli selling anything from meat, sausages to butter, cheese, homemade cakes and jam and so on, all of Romanian origin, coming from various local producers. It is called La Pravalescu and it prides on the quality of its products.

Restaurant Trattoria Verdi at no. 29 functions in the house where one of our greatest painters, Ștefan Luchian lived for several years, before his death in 1916. He suffered of multiple sclerosis and spent the last years of his life in a wheel chair, but never stopped working (towards the end of his life, he would have someone tie a brush to his hand so he could keep painting). It is his statue you can see in Ion Voicu park.

The street continues with a number of small shops selling all kinds of stuff, if only you have the curiosity to step inside them. You can exit on Strada Tache Ionescu towards the metro station and complete your tour here.

Equally, you can continue towards the Atheneum to discover more charming sights, head for Piața Victoriei or walk towards the old center to try out the busy streets filled with pubs and restaurants.

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