With sunglasses positioned just so, fashionable women sit chatting at the sidewalk cafés on the Calea Victoriei in downtown Bucharest. The street is lined with elegant Belle Epoque buildings, and to the south several lanes of traffic course around the Arch of Triumph. It is easy to see why Bucharest is known as Little Paris. But once you come up against the hulking block of the Palace of Parliament, there is no doubt that this is Eastern Europe.
Vlad the Impaler, who inspired the Dracula stories, was once the ruler of Bucharest.
Throw yourself into Bucharest’s hipster scene in the grungy Lipscani District: the graffiti-riddled buildings may show the ravages of Communism, but independent art galleries and trendy cafés are seriously revitalising the area. Enjoy a beer and pork stew in the faded opulence of Caru’cu Bere, Bucharest’s oldest beer house, where dancers swish around the tables to rousing Romanian tunes. Here, beyond the Parisian-style cool, lies Bucharest’s fun and fiery spirit.