Bucharest is a historic center of influence and the sixth largest city in Europe. Wonderfully layered with a history stretching back to 500 AD, Romania’s capital city is imbued with an attitude of evolution, embracing the modern age and allowing it to organically shape the city. In the early 1900s, its wide landscaped avenues and Belle-Epoque facades earned it the nickname “The Little Paris”. Bucharest of the 21st century is a metropolis that has thrust itself into the new millennium with enthusiasm, erecting glittering modern skyscrapers to stand side by side with 18th-century Orthodox churches and bland Stalinist high-rises.

Most international visitors will begin in Bucharest, welcomed to Romania by the frenetic energy and its unique personality. Centuries of devastating natural disasters and wars have chipped away at much of the city architecture. Post-World War II Bucharest experienced years of strict conformity led by Communist Party leader Nicolae Ceausescu, which saw the destruction of many historic structures in its Old Town in the name of order and progress. At the center of town find the sprawling Parliament Palace, the former Communist headquarters commissioned by Ceausescu. This monstrosity has been reclaimed as a tribute to Romanian artisanship, furnished and fitted exclusively with materials and artworks from within the country’s own borders. The palace itself becomes a work of art too when it is used as the canvas for high-tech projection and light shows during the annual iMAPP video mapping contest.

Though many structures have been forever lost, much of Romania’s ancient and medieval history is preserved within its incredible cultural museums. Among them, the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum replicates rural Romania with over 250 authentic traditional buildings in an open air environment, stocked with historic folk pottery, clothing, and artifacts collected from all over the country. With an eye ever on the future, the contemporary arts flourish in trendy neighborhoods, especially the upscale Lipscani District in the Old Historical Center of Bucharest. Any custom Romania travel experience must include Bucharest for a greater understanding of the varied history and ever-changing personality of Romania.