THE OLD CITY CENTER
Bucharest, the Old City Center
While much of Bucharest has changed beyond recognition over the past two decades, nothing compares to the recent transformation of Old Town, which in the past two years has turned what was very much a no-go area with almost nothing to offer into the Romanian capital’s liveliest and most vibrant entertainment district.
Walk to the end of the street (Str. Ion Ghica) and you will see in front of you the unmistakably Neo-Classical exterior of the National Bank of Romania (BNR). The building boasts a facade with Corinthian columns, and an enormous central banking hall. The passing of time has seen the building become rather hemmed in, but it remains a classic worthy of admiration.
From there take a right turn on Smardan Street where you can admire an 1925 restored building that houses a hotel nowadays and can even visit the old safe room of the National Bank of Romania, turned into the wine cellar of a local café.
Next Street is Lipscani Street, which gets its name from the large number of traders who, in the 18th century, sold wares here brought from Leipzig, which at the time was one of the largest trading posts in Europe. As Str. Lipscani was the main commercial street in the Old Town, it over time lent its name to the whole area. Ironically, its name and history aside, modern Str. Lipscani has little to recommend it, although it does have some exceptional bars, pubs and clubs, and a theatre. It also has some hidden treasure: if you walk through the little alley opposite Str. Selari (an alley now packed with cafes and bars) you will come to Str. Blanari, home to the St. Nicolas Church.
Back on Str. Lipscani, the Hanul cu Tei is a wonderful courtyard (once part of a large inn) which today houses art galleries, antique shops, second-hand book shops, gift shops, studios and portrait artists, as well as a lively terrace and bar/restaurant.
A few steps to the right is the Zlatari Church (Biserica Zlatari) built in the 19th century on the site of an earlier church and featuring interior frescoes by Gheorghe Tatarescu, famous Romanian churches painter. The ornate building on the other side of the road is the headquarters of CEC, the national savings bank, while the Neo-Classical giant facing it is the National History Museum.
On the far side of the museum is Str. Franceza, another Old Town street now blessed with more restaurants, cafes, bars and such like than you could wish for. About half way along look out for the Sf. Dumitru Church and if you descend further to the street you will intersect with the birthplace of Bucharest, the Old Court Palace and Church.
Looking anything but its best is the Hanul lui Manuc opposite. Built in 1808 it remained operational as a hotel and restaurant until 2007 when it was closed but now has been return it to the descendants of its original owners and part of the inn (the restaurant/bar, courtyard and some function rooms) was finally reopened.
Opening in from of Manuc`s Inn is Saint Anton Square where, during the summer, all kind of concerts, theatrical performances and movie projections are held. From there, if you go straight ahead on Sepcari Street you can end your journey in Roma Piazza, next to the ground zero kilometer of Bucharest, where the statue of the Capitoline Woolf marks the square.