Like religion, there’s often nothing more grandiose and over-the-top than the government. And Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is a shining example of that. Unbeknownst to me, the building is actually record-breaking for several reasons.
The imposing structure, which has 15 floors above ground and 5 below is the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon. It’s also the world’s most expensive administrative building and the heaviest building. I think it’s hard to really conceptualize the size of it until you’re standing on the other end of Union Boulevard and you realize it’s still the most imposing building in the city.
Of course, something this elaborate could only be the brainchild of communism. The building, which was conceived in 1977, was actually designed to be a replica of North Korea’s Pyongyang – a city within a city to house all the offices and marvels of the communist party. And in a grand nationalistic fashion, every single material used in the building is from Romania. Romanian wood, Romanian silver and gold, Romanian crystal, Romanian marble. Absolutely nothing was imported. The building was intended to be a proud symbol of the country’s power.
Construction began in 1984, and like all great edifices, it’s practically still ongoing. The building is currently in the process of creating a garden to look like Versailles. Many of the rooms also have a hodgepodge of styles, similar to Peles Castle, which communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu sought to copy and magnify.
Today, the building houses the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. It has several museums, conference centers, press rooms, restaurants, and concert halls. And if you’re in Bucharest, you can visit the gorgeous interior of the building. Here is how.
Visiting the Palace of the Parliament
Because this is an active government building, security is heavy. You cannot, under any circumstances, enter the building without a passport. So don’t waste your time going there and groveling. Just take your passport with you. They offer several tours, including the standard tour, a tour of just the gardens, and a terrace photo tour that allows you to overlook the city. Not all of them are available all the time. The standard tour is 35 leu (around $8) and it’s the most expensive tour. The others can be done individually or as an add-on to the standard tour.
They recommend booking the tour in advance. We didn’t. We basically just showed up and hoped for the best. The cashier gave us a look like a restaurant hostess does when you stroll in without a reservation on a Saturday night. But then she gave us a handwritten ticket with a time that was not even on the schedule, and we were allowed to do the tour anyway.
Before you enter, you have to go through a full security check, like the ones at the airport. They also keep your passport until you leave the building. As our guide told us, “It’s considered illegal trespassing if you wander from the tour group. So if you’re tempted, just remember who has your passport.”
We were a huge group, so the security process took almost 30 minutes. It seems like the tour is kind of random, both in what you see and how long it is. We were in there for almost an hour and a half, and at times accidentally ended up crossing paths with other groups. So I’m not sure if there is a set route, because that doesn’t seem like it should be possible if groups entered half an hour before and after us. But according to our guide, the tour ran long because we were such a big group.
I don’t normally love tours, but I was riveted the entire time. Our guide was great, and told us a ton of interesting details about the building and its construction. For instance, the building does not have any kind of artificial cooling system. They developed an elaborate system of natural cooling which recycles air from the outside because Ceausescu was afraid someone would try to poison the air. The building is also equipped with underground bunkers in the event of nuclear war.
And visually, the palace was stunning. It has wide hallways with tall marble columns and long stretches of carpeting, elaborate and massive chandeliers, gorgeous tiling and huge crystal windows (there’s no glass in the palace; only crystal) with handmade drapes. I couldn’t live in Bucharest, but I could definitely live here!
It was totally worthwhile to visit and see from the inside, though it will eat up 3 or 4 hours of your day for sure. I recommend visiting when you don’t have anything specific scheduled afterwards just in case. But if you’re all the way in Bucharest, you shouldn’t miss this great feat of human engineering.