Constanţa is Romania's largest Black Sea port and one of the country's biggest cities, with a population of some 260,000. The modern port was built up rapidly by Romania's post-war Communist government, but the city's history goes back more than 2,500 years when it founded by the Greeks as a fishing village called Tomis. Constanţa was captured by the Romans in 29 BC. The noted Roman poet Ovid was banished here in 8 AD for the last years of his life by Emperor Augustus after allegedly writing poetry that was too racy (even by the lax standards of ancient Rome). Ovid remains the city's most famous resident, and a large statue of him stands in the central square, Piaţa Ovidiu. Beyond the city limits of Constanţa, the resort area of Mamaia (Romania's most popular seaside holiday destination) stretches out along a sandbar for a length of about 6 kms (4 mi). Bucharest is also within reach, though it is a long (150+ mi) drive.
Passenger cruise ships dock in the main port, just a short walk from the center of the city and the main museums and cultural sights. Though Constanţa is a large city, the historic core is small and easily managed on foot. Most of the sights are clustered around the central square, Piaţa Ovidiu.
Edificiul Roman cu Mozaic (Roman Mosaics Building). The building houses the remains of 4th-century Roman warehouses and shops, plus a mosaic floor more than 21,000 square feet in area. The mosaic display stands not far from the Archaeological Museum. Piaţa Ovidiu 12. Admission charged.
Muzeul Artă Populară (Ethnographic Museum). The museum has a fine collection of regional handicrafts and costumes. B-dul Tomis 32. Admission charged.
Muzeul Naţional de Istori şi Arheologie (National History & Archaeological Museum). An impressive collection of artifacts from Greek, Roman, and Daco-Roman civilizations is on display in the building behind Ovid's statue on the city's main square.. Admission charged.
Parcul Arheologic (Archaeology Park.) This open-air park and garden contains 3rd- and 4th-century columns and fragments and a 6th-century tower. B-dul Republicii.
Bucharest is a sprawling capital of around 2 million people. The city is comparatively young as East European capitals go, having been founded only around the 15th century. Bucharest prospered during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The years between the two World Wars are now seen as Bucharest's golden age, when the city was known for a time as the "Paris of the East." Much of the splendor you see (though badly rundown) dates from this time. Modern Bucharest, admittedly, is an urban jungle. Cars, taxis, and buses compete for limited street (and sidewalk!) space. Many buildings remain in an appalling state of neglect, dating to the communist period. But change is in the air. Membership in the European Union has brought in a flood of investment capital, and the city buzzes with renewed vitality. Bucharest is a big city, and the main tourist sights are spread out and not easily covered on foot. There's a cluster of important buildings in the center near the Piaţa Revoluţiei (Revolution Square), another cluster north of the center near the street "Şoseaua Kiseleff," and a third group south of the center. For first-time visitors, the two "must-sees" are the award-winning Museum of the Romanian Peasant and former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu's massive Palace of Parliament.
Arcul de Triumf (Arch of Triumph). Echoing Bucharest's former pretensions as the "Paris of the East," the Arch, north of the center, commemorates the 1877 War for Independence and those who died in World War I. Climb the stairs for an impressive view over the city. Şoseaua Kiseleff. Admission charged.
Ateneul Român (Romanian Athenaeum). Gorgeous inside and out, the 19th-century concert hall, home of the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, has a neo-Baroque dome and classical columns. Str. Benjamin Franklin 1-3.
Muzeul Naţional de Artă (National Art Museum). This former royal palace houses the country's most important art collection, including 15 rooms of paintings and sculptures by European masters and a large collection of Romanian art dating from medieval times to the present. Among the collection are pieces by the noted Romanian sculptor Brancuşi and marvelous works from the Brueghel school. Calea Victoriei 49-53. Admission charged.
Muzeul Naţional de Istorie (National History Museum). This grand neoclassical building holds a large collection of objects dating from the Neolithic period to the 1920s. Downstairs, the treasury section contains a mind-boggling assortment of golden objects spanning from Roman days to the present. Calea Victoriei 12. Admission charged.
Muzeul Naţional al Satului Dimitrie Gusti (National Village Museum). The open-air museum in Herastrau Park, north of the center, provides an excellent introduction to the myriad architectural styles of Romania's traditional houses, workshops, and churches. The structures, some complete with regional furnishings, have been brought here from all around the country. Şos. Kiseleff 28-30. Admission charged.
Muzeul Ţăranului Român (Romanian Peasant Museum). The museum has a collection of some 90,000 items, ranging from traditional costumes and textiles to ceramics and icons. It was the first museum in Eastern Europe to receive the "European Museum of the Year" award. There's also a fascinating exhibition on communist-era posters. The museum store is a good place to browse for traditional crafts. Şos. Kiseleff 3. Admission charged.
Palatul Cotroceni (Cotroceni Palace). The palace, which incorporates French, Romanian, art nouveau, and other styles of architecture, was constructed in the late 19th century as the home of Romania's royal family. After a devastating 1977 earthquake, it was rebuilt and now houses the official residence of the Romanian president. The lavish furnishings, art, and personal effects afford a glimpse into the lives of Romania's former royalty. Guides are required for the one-hour tour, but you must call ahead to reserve. Since the palace is a bit removed from other sights, consider taking a taxi. B-dul. Geniului 1. Admission charged.
Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of Parliament). This mammoth palace bears witness to Ceauşescu's megalomania. While much of the country was starving in the 1980s, Ceauşescu diverted some $10 billion toward construction of what would become the second-largest building in the world (after the Pentagon). Today, it houses the Romanian parliament. Unlike the royal palaces, every detail is Romanian, from the 24-karat gold on the ceilings to the huge hand-woven carpets on the floor. Forty-five-minute tours of the ground-floor rooms depart from an entrance on the northern end of the building (the right-hand side as you stand facing the building from the front). Calea 13 Septembrie 1. Admission charged.
Piaţa Revoluţiei (Revolution Square). The square was at the center of Bucharest's anti-Communist revolution in December 1989, when crowds of protesters first began to jeer former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu as he tried to a make a speech. The army and special police units opened fire on the protesters and hundreds died. Ceauşescu and his wife Elena were forced to flee the capital by helicopter. Within days, they were captured, tried, and executed. Today, the focal point of the square is a striking statue-dubbed the "doughnut on a stick" or "olive on a toothpick"-commemorating the events. It's known as the Memorial of Rebirth and is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the revolution.
Just south of the city center, this ramshackle neighborhood-now in the midst of full-scale redevelopment-was once the heart of the city. It's worth a stroll to see some of the traditional architecture dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. You'll find some of the city's finest churches here, as well as several galleries selling art and antiques, and tons of cafes, bars and restaurants.
Biserica Stavropoleos (Stravropoleos Church). The church's exterior is adorned by lovely wooden and stone carvings and religious paintings. Inside the church, built between 1724 and 1730, are fresco-covered walls and a dome, plus an icon-filled gold-leaf iconostasis. Str. Stavropoleos.
Curtea Veche (Old Court). Dracula buffs can check out the ruins of this palace, which was built by Vlad Țepeș, the real 15th-century prince on whom the fictional count was based. There is a small museum. Str. Franceza.
In Constanţa, the main shopping area is the central B-dul Tomis, or Tomis Blvd, just a short walk up from the port area. It's a popular, pedestrian-friendly stretch of road filled with all types of shops and stores. Here is where you'll find the enormous, enclosed Tomis Mall, a Western-style shopping center with dozens of stores, a multiplex cinema, and a food court. Bucharest has a burgeoning fashion scene. Most of the city's trendiest boutiques are concentrated along the Calea Victoriei, particularly in the area near Revolution Square and the along the side streets around the Atheneum. The Lipscani neighborhood is the center of Bucharest's antique and art world. Be sure to check out the small galleries and shops in the small courtyard known as the "Hanul cu Tei" that begins just off of Str. Lipscani (Lipscani Street). For traditional handicrafts, such as embroidery and ceramics, visit the souvenir shops connected to the Romanian Peasant Museum and the Village Museum.
Constanţa has a small city beach, situated about 2 km (1 mi) from the main port. It's fine for a stroll along the sea, but there are much better beaches in nearby Mamaia, about 5 km (3 mi) away. This is Romania's most popular seaside getaway, and in summer the wide, white beaches are jammed to capacity. Buses regularly run from the center of Constanţa to Mamaia. If you're pressed for time, it's best to take a taxi.