Must See in Bucharest: Romanian Athenaeum

Romanian Athenaeum

One of my favorite things about travel is finding unexpected treasures. And the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest is one such treasure. It’s one of the historical landmarks of the city, but being that it’s a concert hall, I assumed that I wouldn’t be seeing the interior unless I went to a show.

When we passed by the Romanian Athenaeum, we admired it from the outside and enjoyed the garden that is adjacent to it. We spotted a sign on printed paper that said “Visitors” and had an arrow pointed to one side. We came to an unassuming side door, which had absolutely no indication that this was a visitor entrance.

But someone inside beckoned us in. We were met by a friendly security guard who was watching the CCTV on an old tube TV. He told us it would be 10 leu to see it (a little over $2). We were pretty sure that this was not any kind of official tour. We later confirmed this when we looked at the Athenaeum website and found that you had to contact the philharmonic to arrange tours. But according to TripAdvisor reviews, this is fairly common. Sometimes it’s the janitor and sometimes it’s the security guard, but there’s always someone willing to show you the inside.

Romanian Athenaeum
The main entrance hall from one of the staircases to the concert hall upstairs.

The security guard led us upstairs and into the concert hall, where he said the symphony orchestra would be practicing for the following night’s show. But after he left us, we wandered around on our own inside. We were floored by the interior. The entrance is vast and intricate with large marble staircases all leading up to the performance chamber. It’s the kind of place I’ve only ever seen in movies. Like it might have been used as the interior of the Titanic. The ceilings are impressive and beautifully ornate, and round lamps hang all around. It’s a truly one of the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen.

Romanian Athenaeum bucharest

But that doesn’t compare to what the inside of the concert hall looks like. The dark circular room was stunning. Red velvet chairs and viewing booths fit for a king line the circular hall. The ceiling is covered in elaborate gold leaf designs and the walls in a large mural that wraps around the hall. Your eye is drawn from every part of the hall to the stage, which probably looks amazing from any seat in the house.

Romanian Athenaeum
The ceiling of the concert hall.

The members of the orchestra, in plain clothes, were all filing into the chamber with their instruments in tow, each practicing different parts of different songs. Realizing we were definitely the only people in there without instruments, we sat in the back trying not to bring too much attention to ourselves. Just because the security guard gave us access doesn’t mean the musicians would be quite so excited about us intruding on their practice. It was clear this was not a legitimate tour. But one of the musicians did spot us and offered us chocolates, so they’re probably used to it.

Romanian Athenaeum
Best seats in the house.

Right before the orchestra was set to begin their full rehearsal, the security guard came to get us. Sadly, we couldn’t stay for the practice, though I’m fairly certain we could have bribed our way into staying. I just didn’t want to push our luck, and the language barrier was a little hard to manage.

Regardless, this is definitely the best $2 I’ve ever spent. So if you’re in Bucharest and you don’t have tickets to a concert, I recommend visiting the friendly staff of the Romanian Athenaeum. You might get lucky if you go around mid-morning and the orchestra is practicing. I think I can safely say this is the most beautiful theater I’ve ever had the opportunity to sit in. So it can’t hurt to try to go inside.

Romanian Athenaeum
The acoustics are incredible, so a show in there is probably unforgettable.