Bucharest is Romania’s capital and largest city. It is the most important industrial and economic centre of the country and also one of Europe’s most authentic capitals. During the few days, I spent in Bucharest I was completely blown away with its grandeur, Christmas spirit (I’d highly recommend visiting in winter) and cafe culture. Being relatively undiscovered by western tourism a few people have asked why visit Bucharest?
Bucharest is, undoubtedly, an unforgettable experience for those who choose to visit it, whether they are city residents or tourists. It’s a place you can envision spending weeks exploring and living like a local.
The so-called ‘Little Paris of the East’ is more than a comparison. Bucharest is a fascinating city of contrasts, combining history with a relatively modern identity, glorious architecture with communist-era buildings, countless impressive parks with public squares, and amazingly open-minded locals. Bucharest has an exciting past, lively bars and restaurants, large parks and plenty of museums and is considered as one of Europe’s safest and most affordable destinations. Below are reasons why you should consider the Romanian capital when planning your upcoming city break.
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Why visit Bucharest
For most people, Bucharest is still ignored as a travel destination. But believe me, it is one of the most affordable destinations in Europe where you can enjoy, among others, interesting cuisine and intense nightlife. Even though Romania is part of the European Union since 2007, the country is yet to adopt Euro, a fact that keeps it a cheap destination for travelling.
The hand of the communist era is still evident in the city since the architecture of many buildings in the centre was influenced by that period. On the other hand, you can feel an urban and contemporary lifestyle arising in the city. Bucharest is a heaven for foodies because the local culinary scene combines international trends with traditional ones which are inspired by both Eastern and Western culture. The Bucharest nightlife is well distinguished for being spicy and wild. The city really offers great night clubs and bars playing good music and hosting beautiful people partying until dawn.
What to see and do in Bucharest
The heart of Bucharest is now a combined charming area with cobblestone streets, popular restaurants and bars, cafes, shops, and restored buildings of great architectural and cultural importance. The old city is the reference point for fun – it is energetic, lively, and always crowded with locals and tourists.
The Palace of the Parliament is the most emblematic building in Bucharest – it is a must-visit place if you want to understand the history of Romania and its past. The Palace of the Parliament is one of the heaviest buildings and the second-largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon in the USA.
Calea Victoriei is a historic avenue and one of the most prestigious landmarks in the centre. If you want to feel the vibes, to visit museums, shop luxury brands, and enjoy the buildings you can walk down the avenue.
Bucharest center also has plenty of green sanctuaries, that are waiting for you to explore. Locals enjoy gathering at the parks to socialize, play, and relax. You can definitely spend a relaxing afternoon at Cișmigiu Gardens – an English-style garden.
Walking down the Old Town of Bucharest should definitely be on your ‘to-do-list during your visit. The Old Town is located in the heart of the city and offers the best sights. The tourist area around Lipscani, Smardan, and Selari Streets is filled with bars, cafes, and restaurants with a lot of activity during the daytime.
There are numerous hidden gems to discover in the Old Town while wandering in this area. Some of my favourite spots: Stavropoleus Church, the ruins of Curtea Veche, the seat of Wallachian rulers, and Piata Sfantul Anton. There’s also a statue of Vlad the Impaler believably the inspiration for Dracula to be found in the area!
How to get around Bucharest
The best way to reach and move around the city is by using Uber. Even though Bucharest has a metro and other conventional public transportation, the most convenient one for a tourist to move around the city is by using Uber.
They are reliable, transparent, and cheap, with friendly drivers… oh, and the most amazing fact is that you know the cost of the ride before you even book it! On the other hand, be aware that there are non-legitimate taxis in the city that may try to rip you off especially when you don’t speak the language.
On that note, be very wary of dodgy taxi drivers as taxi scams are common within this region of Europe. Some things to look out for include, the meter going up at a quicker rate than usual. Keep an eye on the drivers’ hands, they tend to have a button which increases the rate that they push when you’re not looking. Another common scam is when paying in cash the driver does a quick sleight of hand and shows you gave smaller note denominations. Always take note of the amount you hand over first and stick to your ground. Threaten to call the police if they create a fuss.
Heading out of town?
The best way to explore the other regions of Romania is to catch a train. Trains are affordable, comfortable and generally run on time. I caught the train to Brasov and Sibiu and then out of the country to Budapest.
Where to stay in Bucharest
In Bucharest, you have a lot of accommodation options ranging from luxury hotels to local apartments. Any of these options are cheaper compared to similar services in other European capitals. Also, you can choose to stay in an Airbnb flat as I did.
The best place to stay in Bucharest in winter is close to the Old Town. From here you will be able to walk to most of the top things to do. If you would like something a bit quieter, move outwards from the Old Town a few streets and still be in a central location.
There are some great funky hostels in Bucharest which start at $7 USD for a dorm bed. Although not in the Old Town a friend stayed at Podstel Bucharest and loved it. They organise weekly events, group meals and are a great place for solo travellers. They have a cafe on-site and look really homey. Rated 9.1/10 on Booking. Check current rates here.
If you would like to be in the heart of the Old Town try the Sleep Inn Hostel. Although not rated the best for solo travellers, if you are travelling with someone this hostel could be your best bet. The hostel offers private and dorm rooms. Dorms start at $9 USD per night and get an 8.5/10 on Booking. Check current rates here.
There are some really cute Airbnb’s scattered near the city. I stayed at The River Studio which unfortunately isn’t available now. Another couple of places that look really cute and are nearby are the Calea Victoriei Apartment and Old Town View flat. They are located 1km west of the Old Town and at around $30 USD/night you have cooking appliances and beautiful city views. Only 2 blocks from Cigmigiu Gardens and nearby supermarkets. If you are travelling with someone these are nice alternatives to staying in a hostel.
Where to eat in Bucharest
Caru’ cu Bere restaurant is the symbol of Bucharest with 130 years of history. They serve real traditional Romanian food in the most amazing possible way. Once you step in you will see that the building is a masterpiece of Neo-Gothic style, classified as a Historical and Architectural Monument. You can try a roasted pork knuckle with braised sour cabbage, polenta, horseradish, and chili pepper, and surely you will be very satisfied. Reservation is a must since the restaurant is very popular among the city.
Bucharest nightlife is not-to-be-missed. It is much cheaper compared to other European party destinations. Most of the nightlife happens in the old town where many bars and pubs are full of locals and tourists. However, the clubbing scene in the city is insane offering chic, luxurious, and high-class options at a fair cost. Romanian people love to go out for dancing and drinking, therefore don’t be surprised to realize how sociable the locals are, especially in the clubs.
The beer prices are very cheap and they surely can make you consider leaving any city for good. Even in touristy spots, two pints will cost you less than a fiver. You have to make sure to try ‘out tuică’ – a traditional spirit made from plums.
If you’re travelling solo and want to find some friends to party with for the night join the Pub Crawl tour. This tour includes free entry to 4 or 5 bars in the old town with a shot in each one.
Save these ideas for later!
Why visit Bucharest? For the incredible architecture, food, nightlife and affordability! Make sure you save these ideas for later.