In the 1990s, the city once known as the “Paris of the East” was ugly and frankly unnerving. What a difference a quarter century makes. The Bucharest of today still feels like a frontier of Europe, but chic restaurants, creative cocktail bars, lively pedestrianized shopping streets and restored Belle Epoque architecture balance its residual grittiness. A private guided tour or two would be highly worthwhile, but it’s also endlessly fascinating to simply walk around. Romania’s capital continually confronts with contrasts: a high-end florist in a crumbling neoclassical storefront, a freshly painted wedding-cake palace abutting a blackened communist housing block, a craft-beer bar in an ornate mansion. In an increasingly internationalized world, the city is its own unique self. Bucharest is an ideal start or finish to a Lower Danube cruise, as well as to an itinerary including extraordinarily picturesque Transylvania.

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