You wouldn’t expect to see farmsteads and rural homes in a bustling metropolis like Bucharest –Romania’s capital. And yet, nestled in the northern part of city lies one of Europe’s oldest open-air ethnographic museums – the National Village Museum in Bucharest.
If you want to experience the folklore and traditional life of the Romanian countryside you should come here. The museum has one of the most interesting collections of rural homes, churches, farmsteads and watermills in the entire Europe. Walking through Bucharest Village Museum will make you feel like you are in the middle of a real countryside.
A Brief History of the Village Museum in Bucharest
The Village Museum in Bucharest (Muzeul Satului) was created in 1936 by the sociology Professor Dimitrie Gusti and funded by royal decree. Gusti went around the country and after many years of field research he came up with the idea of creating a Romanian village museum.
Initially the museum started with only a handful of houses, windmills and watermills from various areas of Romania. The buildings have been disassembled and relocated here.
During the second World War the museum faced very difficult times being used for war refugees. The houses and artifacts have fallen into total neglect.
Under the Communist years that followed the museum continued to fall into disrepair. But despite of the harsh political and economic conditions, it managed to survive.
In recent years, with grants received from the European Union, the collection has been restored and has grown into one of the most captivating outdoor ethnographic museums in the world.
What to Expect at the Bucharest Village Museum
Today the Village Museum in Bucharest covers almost 25 acres of land. The museum features 272 authentic farms and peasants homes from the 15th to the 19th century gathered from villages in every region of Romania. Some of the houses display kitchen utensils, wool rugs, pottery and old farming tools. Most of these homes are simple wooden huts or basic shacks furnished with benches, stools and very primitive beds.
The structures are made of traditional materials used by the peasants in the course of history (wood, clay, straw and sometimes stone). But the perishable nature of these materials poses a permanent challenge for the museum, as they are very difficult to preserve.
One of the highlights of the museum is the steep belfry of the wooden Maramureş church, complete with beautiful but faded icons.
I found it very interesting that one of the houses was featuring gypsy metal crafts. Like many of the countries in Eastern Europe, Romania is home to a large population of Gypsies whose traditional occupation is metalworking –tinsmiths and blacksmiths. Sadly, in Romania being a Gypsy is the worst social stigma. These dark-skinned people who ramble Romania’s countryside in caravans always lived by their own rules. They never managed to integrate themselves among the country’s white population, therefore remaining outcasts.
Best Time to Visit the Museum
Bucharest Village Museum has an ideal location: on the shore of the Herastrau Lake and just adjacent to the park bearing the same name. Strolling through the 25 acres of shaded lanes on the lake shore is just so beautiful!
The museum is open year-round, but the best time to explore it is on a clear sunny day. We visited the museum on a week-end and it was relatively crowded compared to the week-days. But weekends have their own advantages. Being a Saturday, we had the chance to encounter several wedding parties who came to the museum for photo shoots.
All around the area there are small kiosks and tables with home made goods and crafts for sale. You can buy some authentic souvenirs, or traditional bread, pies and cookies at very reasonable prices. Sometimes the museum offers craft programs (pottery, embroidery, etc.)
How to Reach the Bucharest Village Museum
You can reach the Village Museum by bus or by metro, from the center of the city. If you come by metro, take line number 2 and get off at Aviatorilor. But if you don’t want to bother with finding your way around the city, you can take a cab. Taxis are very inexpensive in Bucharest.
A complete tour of the Village Museum in Bucharest takes at least 3-4 hours. However, you can spend a lot more time on the grounds if you want to buy some souvenirs, have a picnic, or enjoy some of the local foods. The museum has a great souvenir shop and a stall selling traditional Romanian sweets and cakes. It even has a restaurant, La Francu, set in an original 19th-century inn.
To visit the museum, you can choose to have a guided tour or a self-guided tour. Guided tours are available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian, but they require a reservation. If you choose to explore the Village Museum on your own you can rent an audio guides for 50 lei, or 8 lei on your smartphone. Walking the museum grounds is fairly easy, as there are signs both in English and Romanian. Admission fee is very reasonable: 10 Lei (about $3.
Note: while the museum is open on Mondays, the houses are not.