Bucharest has witnessed a certain renaissance in recent years with travellers finally discovering its cultural sweet spots, its many historical attractions and its varied food and nightlife scene. Although the Romanian capital is a city on the rise, it is still an extremely underrated European capital and it is therefore highly recommendable to get a glimpse before the masses flock in. Here are some suggestions on how to spend a few days in Bucharest.
History and overview:
The Romanian capital is a city that combines charming and stylish classic architecture with communist megalomania and a rapidly growing set of modern embellishments. It’s 1.9 million inhabitants live in Romania’s economic and political centre which is currently seeking space by extending beyond the city’s limits.
It has been rebuilt, changed and remodelled on numerous occasions and this constant trend to change is omnipresent in this metropolis.
Bucharest was first mentioned in the mid 15th century and became the capital of Romania in 1862. Its status as a culture, media and art powerhouse earned it the nickname ‘little Paris‘ in the late 19th century.
Throughout the 20th century, the city’s ancient centre was damaged by war, earthquakes and most of all by former Romanian President Nicolae Ceasescu’s systematization plan, which remodelled substantial parts of the city in communist architecture and implemented a socialist model of urban planning.
The best areas to stay are the city centre, around Universitate Metro Station and the pedestrian zone of Lipscani. Here are our suggestions.
Hotel Intercontinental: The Hotel Intercontinental is arguably the best hotel in Bucharest but with its brutal architecture and oversized dimensions (the height was a shock to most inhabitants when it was built), it fits perfectly into the overall impression that Bucharest conveys. It’s seventies flair and its over the top style rooms are the most authentic way to feel like Ceausescu which makes it an ideal address to wake up in style in the Romanian capital.
Hotel Ambassador: A more priceworthy, less flashy option, the Hotel Ambassador is also centrally located and a good place for a short stay with all the usual amenities.
Pura Vida Hostel: The budget alternative for solo travellers. A great place to meet fellow travel enthusiasts and as a bonus, this little hostel right in the central nightlife area offers a sky bar on the roof.
Cultural offer and activities:
The Palace of Parliament: The one activity that definitely should not be missed is the Romanian Parliament building, the second largest administrative building in the world (just behind the Pentagon). Built by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, it epitomizes the whole city which contains myriads of completely oversized infrastructure, such as the roads and other buildings which seem to be much bigger than they would actually need to be and lie empty.
It is situated at the end of Boulevard Unirii, which is the city’s largest and longest avenue and bigger than the Champs Élysées (of course!), the palace itself is so big that an entire city quarter had to be demolished in order to accommodate it. Next time you think you are wasting space or that your electricity bill is too high, think again: 70percent of this palace are unoccupied and its annual electricity bill amounts to a staggering 6M €! Guided tours are the only option when it comes to palace visits, they can easily be booked on site although the queue can be quite long.
Herăstrău Park, Arc de Triomphe & Village Museum: The leafy park in northern Bucharest is composed of several diverse areas and represents a beautiful spot for a walk. Its lake furthermore offers a nice contrast to the the concrete jungle of the city.
Close to the park, you will find the Arcul de Triumf, Romania’s version of Paris’ famous landmark. Before you ask, of course it is bigger than the one in Paris. Built in 1878 and destroyed in the First World War, the ADT was unveiled in its current format in 1936 and it was ment to symbolize the might of the Romanian army. It is today used for military parades on Romania’s national holiday on 1st December.
The largest park in Bucharest furthermore contains the Village Museum which covers some 15hectares of the shores of Herăstrău Park and will give you a nice impression of the history of rural Romania and the country’s village culture.
Romanian History Museum: (Calea Victoriei 12) An instructive place to learn about the different periods that marked Romanian history located in the former Postal Services Palace underneath which a large medieval archaeological site has recently been discovered.
Romanian National Art Museum: (Calea Victoriei 49-53) Located in the former Royal Palace in the same street as the History Museum, The National Art Museum houses two permanent exhibitions, one for Romanian and one for European art. The Romanian part of the gallery is mostly focused on ancient and medieval art while the European part exhibits some 12k items from different eras and countries.
Romanian Atheneum: (Str Benjamin Franklin 1-3) This music hall is a stunning piece of classical architecture and mostly open during concert hours but usually, you can take a peak inside which is highly recommendable because the lavish interior is as impressive as the imposing exterior.
Cotroceni Palace: (B-dul Geniului 1) This beautiful 19th century palace today serves as official residence for the Romanian president and can be visited on pre-booked guides tours, check on their website.
Cismigiu Garden: West of Calea Victoriei you will find the picturesque Cismigiu Garden with lots of benches and nice walks. Some parts are not as well maintained as others, but the floral embellishments certainly make this a great spot for a casual stroll or a romantic walk right in the heart of the concrete jungle of Bucharest.
Wine & Dine:
Romanian food is hearty and influenced by the fact that the country used to be farmer-dominated for a very long time. You will find lots of potato and meat based dishes, all with a certain element of rurality to them. Here are some suggestions.
Caru cu Bere: (Strada Stavropoleos 5) This well known restaurant in the centre of Bucharest offers a lovely variety of traditional local dishes and delicacies in a lavishly decorated setting, definitely one of the top addresses in Bucharest when it comes to dining well. Be aware that it is a hotspot among locals and tourists so it is absolutely indispensable to reserve a table in advance.
Lacrimi și Sfinți: (Str Șepcari 16) A great restaurant in the historic centre combining hearty Romanian recipes with modern organic touches. A great place to eat if you want to experience Romanian cuisine in a traditional, peasant inspired interior and yet with a sense of modernity. Book a table in advance on their website
The best area to go out in Bucharest is without a doubt the busy Lipscani District. The options are endless and varied and most of the venues are hybrids between restaurants, sit-down pubs, bars and nightclubs.
Nomad Skybar: The Nomad Skybar is a stylish but cosy bar situated right in the busy Lipscani district. Although it isn’t actually a ‘sky bar’ (it’s located just a few meters above ground), it fulfils all the criteria to be considered a top nightlife spot. It’s design is contemporary and classy, its drinks selection is vast and its service is good (a pretty rare sight in Bucharest by Western European standards). It moreover disposes of a cool balcony which enables patrons to watch the nightlife going on in the streets below while enjoying some scotch and a cigar.
The Bermuda Triangle: (Lipscani district) A maze of small streets with an absolute abundance of bars, pubs and discos for every taste open basically 24/7.
Strada Smardan: The Smardan Street is a good place to start as it leads straight into the Bermuda Triangle where the sheer number of nightlife options will make it hard to get out of the area again.
Vintage Pub: One of the best pubs inside the Bermuda Triangle with a great drinks selection and buzzing atmosphere that only stops very late.
Bordello Bar: (Strada Șelari 9-11) A bar which claims the title of ‘most awarded bar in Romania’ and acts as a hybrid between pub, bar and nightclub. The atmosphere is great and the clientele is diverse.
Control Club: (Strada Constantin Mille 4) One of the local’s favourite nightclubs in central Bucharest. This electro club plays alternative sounds and pushes local DJs while also presenting international acts to its crowds. The crowds are loyal, mostly local and alternative.
Final tips & verdict:
Most attractions in the city centre are easily reachable on foot. For places located outside of the city’s main core, Bucharest’s shiny new metro is an easy way to get around in addition to the cheap and ubiquitous yellow Dacia taxis.
Bucharest is a city that has a certain charm and a certain unique feel to it. Although Bucharest cannot compete with the likes of Prague and Budapest, as an Eastern European capital it is still well worth a visit thanks to the fact that it is quite underrated and therefore much less touristy than other European capitals.