Imagine a government figure that rules with an iron fist, torturing, imprisoning or executing anyone who dares to challenge the status quo. A government that imposes taxes on childless couples, embezzles millions and introduces such harsh austerity measures that a trip to the shop for basic food supplies is an all-day event. Fuel shortages are the norm, and limited heating and lighting make for harsh daily life, especially in the depths of winter. Life under Ceaușescu in Romania in the 1980s was brutal. Whilst he and his family splurged on gourmet foods and excessive luxury, an estimated 15,000 people a year died from starvation (Source: CS Monitor). Despite rations, intolerable hardship and crippling foreign debt Ceaușescu’s lust for power and prestige drove him to put in place plans to deliver one of the largest administrative buildings in the world. Finished in 2004, by 2020, Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament was valued at €4 billion and is the most expensive administrative building in the world. ‘The cost of heating, electricity, and lighting alone exceeds $6 million per year, comparable to the total cost of powering a medium-sized city’ (Source: National Geographic).
The Palace today serves as a poignant reminder of the ill-considered projects that drove the country into economic meltdown. If you visit Bucharest, it is possible for you to visit Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament and witness the megalomania of the man forever symbolised by this magnificent building. I urge you not to miss out on this fascinating tour.
The Cold War and Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament
As a child of the 80s, Cold War rhetoric was a constant reminder of the enemy. Tensions between the West and the Soviet Union meant that the spectre of conflict with the East was ever present. The line between East and West was clearly delineated. The Iron Curtain, an invisible (political) line between democracy in the West and communism in the East, symbolised a battle of ideologies.
As a naïve sixteen-year-old, I watched as families tore the bricks from the Berlin war. Tears streamed down their faces as they reunited with family members from whom they had been forcibly separated almost 30 years before. I watched as the young and educated initiated uprisings in cities across Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. The autocratic power structures of the time eventually toppling like dominoes. Tales of human horror, resilience and endurance were a source of fascination for me which is why I’m super excited today to be visiting Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament in Bucharest.
Just the fact that it is possible to visit the Palace is a stroke of luck. At the time of Ceaușescu’s death, little progress had been made on the building and its fate was in the balance. Astonishingly it would have cost more to demolish than to finish so the government forged ahead with completing the masterpiece. City officials struggled to decide the building’s purpose and considered various uses, including a casino and a shopping mall. Today however it is the home to parliament and many administrative buildings along with corporate meeting spaces and entertaining venues.
Tickets for Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament
Romania is today a fully functioning democracy, a member of NATO and of the European Union. Visitors will struggle to see signs that this was once one of the most brutally oppressive regimes in the world. However, look closely and you will find relics of the old communist era. Archaic systems, pointless bureaucracy, meaningless job roles and a lack of efficiency are a reminder that the uprisings of 1989 are not so long ago. A trip to Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament is stark evidence of this lack of progress. Unless you are part of a group, in which case you can book online, you cannot book face value tickets online. You can book skip the line tickets with Get Your Guide but these tickets cost £13.53 instead of £8. However the extra cost may be worthwhile to avoid the torturous process we endured.
If you do not book skip the line tickets you must book by phone and this is only possible in the 24 hours before the tour. It is not a good idea to simply turn up as many tours to Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament fill quickly. I recommend that you ask your hotel to make the reservation or book skip the line tickets if you wish to avoid disappointment.
Arrival for Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament tour
If you have not booked skip the line tickets, arrive early to ensure sufficient time to check in. One agent checks visitors against the pre booked list and gives your passports a cursory glance. Another agent then takes payment. The queue moves slowly because the second man’s work is hindered by the ability of the first to deal with visitors.
Once the tour guide is ready to depart, visitors pass through a security process (mmm, why not do this whilst we hang around waiting?) and you receive your visitor pass. The security guard scans your passport and you go through airport style security screening. Once everyone from the tour has completed security screening, a group toilet visit is possible. The guide repeatedly stresses that you must not leave the group and to do so will result in consequences. It is hard to tell whether he is serious as he is something of a joker!
Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament ticket prices
If you book directly tickets cost 40 lei (about £8) and discounts apply for children, students and the elderly. You can find the latest prices here.
Entry for the tours is by the gates on B-dul Natiunile Unite (see map below). You can reach the gate from Metro station Izvor if you walk through Izvor Park. Do not forget your passport as you need to show ID to enter.
Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament tour
Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament is truly spectacular. It is the largest administrative building in the world and houses a whopping 1,100 rooms over 365,000 square metres. To put that in perspective, that is a size equivalent to almost 70 football fields. To visit every room in the palace would take a staggering 18 hours!!! Those rooms houses over 400 office, ‘more than 30 ballrooms, 4 restaurants, 3 libraries, 2 underground parking lots, 1 big concert room, 1 unfinished pool’ (Source: Visit Bucharest) and lots of empty space. Intrigued yet?
The exact sights on the tour vary because of events that may take place in the building. This may render some areas out of bounds to visitors with no reduction in ticket price. The tour only covers 1% of the building at best and a small number of rooms but do not let this put you off. What you do see and hear will be captivating.
This tour was the highlight of my trip to Bucharest and here are some of my highlights from the Palace of Parliament.
Our first stop after security is to a concert hall which is utterly beautiful. Each of the 600 leather chairs is spacious and comfortable and bask beneath the warm glow from a huge chandelier. This is the largest chandelier in the building and weighs a whopping 5 tons.
The 150 metre gallery is simply stunning. Ornate frescos decorate the ceiling whilst pink and white marble lines the walls. Replica crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling providing the level of decadence we would expect from such a palace.
The gallery splits into sections for smaller events. Sadly, on our visit we can only see it partially due to a corporate event taking place.
We enter a ceremonial room where plush leather seats adorn a stage with colourful flags either side. This resembles a parliamentary building with TV booths lining the back wall but the floor space is behind cordons. No posing as a politician here!
We visit a series of other meeting rooms and another gallery where mannequins in traditional costumes are on display. But all too soon our tour comes to an end.
Where to stay in Bucharest
If you would like to visit Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament and plan to stay in town, you can book accommodation through Agoda. We stayed at the Mansion Boutique Hotel in the heart of the old town. It’s just steps from pulsating nightlife and is a quaint hotel built around an inner courtyard. Rooms start from £80.
Have you visited Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament
I felt a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see more during our tour. Many of the comments on review sites echo this sentiment. That said, whilst you will only see a tiny portion of the building, do not skip this tour. You will still learn some incredible facts that will give you a greater understanding of Romania under Ceaușescu.
If you have visited Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament please feel free to share your experience below.