I sometimes like to surprise myself when I travel to new places and refuse to read about where to visit before I arrive. Bucharest in Romania is one such place for me.
On a warm summer day in late May, I landed in Bucharest with literally no expectations. All I knew was that I had to take an UBER or a bus from the airport to reach my hostel, which was in the old town.
I got out of the airport and realized it was unexpectedly easy [and cheap] to just take the bus instead of an Uber. On the bus ride, I sat next to a young Romanian girl and chatted about her city with her. This is where my journey of falling in love with Bucharest began. Yes, it was full of surprises.
This massive city in East Europe’s Balkan Peninsula has so much history, amazing architecture, surprisingly good party scene, hidden alleys, RAD cafes and a very hip fashion scene!
Wait, you’re going to ask – aren’t most of the Eastern European capitals like this? Well, Bucharest is a little different because everything feels grander.
Believe it or not, I did so much while I was here that if I begin to write a post about things to do in Bucharest, it will take me months! I walked around on my own on the first day, did a free walking tour of Bucharest that was full of the communist history, explored so many churches, government buildings, historical landmarks, visited an astronomical observatory, visited many different kind of museums, went for a boat ride on the lake, climbed on top of Arcul de Triuf, visited the biggest cemetery in Bucharest, for a change even visited a few malls in Bucharest and ended up bowling.
No, it doesn’t end there, there’s more. Literally every night, I ended up visiting one of the many bars in Bucharest to experience the city’s lively party culture. Trust me, there are so many things to see in Bucharest that I’m sure I did not even cover a fraction of the city! Oh, and I stayed in a hostel and two different hotels. One of them is said to be one of the best hotels in Bucharest – JW Mariott.
- Dracula’s Castle – full day day trip from Bucharest that includes a visit to Peles Castle, Bran Castle, tour of the medieval city Brasov, entrance tickets and round trip transport.
- Day trip to Bulgaria from Bucharest – full day trip to Bulgaria’s medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo and back. Includes a visit to Arbanasi village, Tsaravets Fortress and St. Dimitrie Basarabov Monastery.
- Transfagarasan Road Trip – visit one of the highest roads in Romania and enjoy the natural beauty + castles. Visit Curtea de Arges Monastery, Poenari Castle, Vidraru Dam and hike around Balea Lake.
- Constanta and Mamaia (Black Sea area) – this tour is perfect for those who do not have enough time to spend on the famous beaches of the Black Sea.
Anyway, if you’re thinking of traveling the Balkans and are wondering if Bucharest is worth a visit, then hopefully this post will help you. Also, be sure to check out my travel diary for Bucharest that has information about what I did, my favorite restaurants in the city and the hotels where I stayed in. Here are some of my favorite pictures of Bucharest:
1) Old Town is Gorgeous [and lively]
Love cobbled streets that are lined with open-air cafes? You’re going to LOVE Bucharest’s Old Town. This is the first place the city where I walked aimlessly right after I arrived. A walking tour in Bucharest’s old town is one of the best things to do in Romania.
It is formally called Lipscani and this area has historical communist style buildings, old churches, ruins, many shops and a LOT of cafes and bars.
As you walk around the old town, you will see how it livens up as the sun starts to set. The streets are full of people – students from the nearby Bucharest University, younger generation of Bucharest’s residents and travelers from all over the world.
There are performers, buskers with a backdrop of old buildings.
At a distance, you will see an impressive colonial-style building that stretches really wide. As you walk closer, you will be shocked to see that it is not a place to visit but is actually a bank – Cec Bank.
Bucharest’s Old Town kind of reminded me of Bangkok’s Khao San road because the streets were lined with endless open-air bars.
Suggested: Bucharest Restaurant Guide – this post will tell you exactly where to eat in Bucharest.
- Communist Bucharest (Very Popular Tour): 3 hour guided tour of the major landmarks and events of Bucharest’s communist past. Learn how the Romanian dictator Ceausescu rose and fell.
- Bucharest’s Old Town: 2.5 hours of private walking tour that goes through the Old Town’s famous squares, important streets, and beautiful buildings.
- Bucharest Sites and Bites: (Child Friendly) 4 hours long tour that not only includes the landmarks but also traditional 3 course Romanian food.
The best part about some of these tours is that you may end up discovering some hidden alleys and back-lanes, which brings me to the next point.
2) Bucharest Has Many Hidden Streets and Alleys
If you walk around enough in Bucharest and you will surprisingly hit a “themed” alley. I will talk about two such alleys here.
Bucharest’s umbrella street
The first is perhaps the most famous spot in Bucharest on Instagram. Yes, I’m talking about the city’s umbrella alley. Isn’t it pretty?
Bucharest’s umbrella alley stretches for long and the second part of it is actually a café.
Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse – the Sheesha Street
The second is a little more hidden – it is called Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse. It is a hidden “sheesha lane” in Bucharest. This passage is covered with painted glass because of which the natural light can come in, and yet it feels hidden. This passage is actually fork-shaped where one part is called Vilacrosse and the other is called Macca.
I visited Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse on a free walking tour of Bucharest and I was told that this is one of the most famous sheesha lanes in East Europe. Yes, I could only see Middle Eastern themed hookah and sheesha bars here!
Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse has an interesting history. Back in the 1980s, it was once Câmpineanu Inn, which was gifted to two sisters by their father in dowry. The daughters named the passages after the last names of their husbands – Vilacrosse and Macca. It was eventually bought by the city so that it could be used as a walking passage that opened up in 1891.
To see all the places I love in Bucharest, check out this diary I’ve created with Wowanders. Wowanders is a travel diary app that both lets you easily save the details of all the places you visit on your travels, while also making it easy to share your recommendations with others.
3) The Churches Are Spectacular
Have you been reading my blog for a while? I’m sure you know that I’m NOT into visiting churches or museums at all. But hey, Bucharest’s churches are spectacular. If you’re anything like me then please force yourself to visit at least one historical church and let your jaws drop when you step inside.
I visited three churches and each time I couldn’t help being round-eyed because they were absolutely breathtaking from the inside. All of these churches had elaborate frescos, the ceilings were full of art and the minute details were astounding.
The first church we visited was actually a monastery in the old town. It is called the Stavropoleos Church. The church is small and humble from outside but is really impressive from the inside. There is a little museum here too.
Biserica Coltea Church
The second one we visited is Biserica Coltea Church, which is a little bigger than the first. The insides were shimmering with gold here. Just like the first church on this list, this one also had a little museum inside the complex.
Palace of the Patriarchate
The third was the Palace of the Patriarchate – a historical church with a patriarchal palace next to it. The church itself is stunning but we also got to visit the palace and the stunning chambers inside.
4) Even the Government Buildings Are Gorgeous
If you’re an architecture buff, try to do a themed city tour of Bucharest so that you can visit some important buildings. I did one that was free and our guide was really good. There are many noteworthy government buildings in Bucharest but I will just mention three.
City Hall of Bucharest
Believe it or not, the below picture is a government office in Bucharest. Yes, we visited the Primaria Municipiului Bucuresti and this is how it looks from the inside. It is the City Hall of Bucharest.
Another government building that took me by surprise is the Romanian Athenaeum, which is actually Bucharest’s concert hall. It looks like this from outside but wait till you step in!
The Romanian Athenaeum is a special venue and you can only see it from the outside garden area unless special permissions or invitation to step inside. The concert hall is velvety red and golden from the inside. There is a circular dome-like roof with many lamps and paintings along it. It looks grand and I’d love to attend a formal event here!
Palace of the Parliament
A special mention about one of Bucharest’s most famous government buildings – the Palace of the Parliament. I’m not sure if I can call this building gorgeous, but you have to see it for yourself to feel the power of it. It is massive, looks overpowering, and believe it or not is the second largest administrative building in the world.
The Palace of Parliament is one of the biggest attractions in Bucharest and visitors can even go inside. The building is big not only from the outside but even the furnishing is massive when you step in. I did not go inside the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest but if you end up going, please share a photo!
5) Bucharest Has the Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World – Cărturești Carusel
Ever heard of Cărturești Carusel? This Instagram famous bookstore in Romania has been dubbed as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Before you ask – yes it totally lived up to its expectations!
Cărturești Carusel is in Bucharest’s old town and this bookstore has many levels, staircases, and sections. The inside structures give it a maze-like look that would please anyone who loves photographing symmetry.
Even though this bookstore has old school ornate pillars, it somehow looks very contemporary because of the stark décor and the white walls
I have this thing for books and I love them a little too much – I wish I had an entire day to spend here. Sadly this bookstore doesn’t have a smell of old books – a smell that I [and most of the people I know] have grown to love.
6) Rooftop Bars and Cafes – Nightlife in Bucharest is Amazing
Romanians love to party and considering Bucharest’s multicultural atmosphere; you’re always going to find a party somewhere or the other with locals, expats as well as travelers. To make the most of this lively eastern European city’s party scene, try a pub crawl in the old town.
In any case, here are two places that really enjoyed:
Pura Vida Skybar
Pura Vida is one of the most popular hostels in Bucharest and every evening its terrace comes alive! Introducing Pura Vida Skybar – a place where there’s a party every evening. It is in Bucharest’s old town which is near the University, so expect to see local students, hostel guests, travelers and sometimes even working professionals who come here directly from work for a drink.
Two out of the three times I was in Pura Vida Skybar, I saw musicians playing live music and the vibe was really fun. The sunset view is very nice, so come here early if you can.
I was at Nomad’s Skybar for a lunch and loved this place. This place has really fun interiors and a lot of space to sit inside. The rooftop area has a good view of the old town. I really enjoyed my meal here and I highly recommend it.
Apart from the above two, there are many clubs in Bucharest where you can go for a party.
7) There is No Shortage of Museums
This point is no surprise considering Bucharest’s rich history. If you’re a museum lover then Bucharest will keep you very busy because there are so many of them here. In fact, WikiTravel recommends around 20 museums in Bucharest that are worth a visit.
If you want to get too much into the Romanian history, then you should visit Bucharest History Museum and the National History Museum. If you like art, then there are many museums in Bucharest such as the Art Museum, Museum of Art Collectables, or even the National Museum of Contemporary Arts.
However, if you’re looking for something different, then I’d like to suggest Future Museum where you can view contemporary art and conceptual art performances.
If you like vintage cars, you can see Tiriac Collection, which usually has 150 vintage cars that belonged to Mr. Ion Tiriac. His collection also includes a Rolls Royce Phantom. There are only 17 Rolls Royce Phantoms that exist worldwide! Oh and this museum is really close to the airport – literally across the road
If you want to get a glimpse of the colorful Romanian traditions and handicrafts, check out the Peasant Museum. You can also check out the Museum of Ages, which I visited and it appeared to be like any other museum in the beginning but towards the end, it got a little freaky.
8) You can chill in the Gardens and Lakes
I get you – cities can get really stressful and it is always a good idea to spend a few hours in a park. Well, Bucharest has some really amazing parks but I want to recommend Herăstrău Park in the north part of the city. It is also called King Michael I Park and there’s the Lake Herăstrău inside it.
You can walk around in Herastrau Park, check out the Japanese garden or even the sculptures and monuments. You can also go for a relaxing boat ride on Herastrau Lake – I did that too!
I could see the famous Casa Presei Libere building from my boat, which is a government building and was once the tallest one in the city. I also saw many bars along the lake. Some of the most expensive clubs in Bucharest are along this lake.
9) International Food Scene Is Really Good
I always try to find local food but honestly, there are countries where I can’t enjoy that every day. If you’re from Romania, then don’t hate me for this but I never really developed a taste for typical local Romanian food. That could be because I don’t like meat.
One of my best meals that I had in Bucharest was in Trickshot Megamall, which is actually a very famous
place for bowling. I also really enjoyed eating burgers in one of the cafes in the old town where I kind of felt I was on Khao San street in Bangkok.
Another place worth mentioning is Radisson Blue Hotel, where I ate a delicious Italian meal. I started with Bruschetta and then ate a pizza that I loved. Keep in mind that I’m married to a half-Italian who has a family pizzeria, and I don’t usually like Italian food at just about anywhere. It has to be really good for me to like it.
Although I only talk about Bucharest’s international food scene, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on experiencing the traditional food. Check out these three food tours –
If you’re a foodie, then you should consider experiencing one of the above food tours.
10) Hotels in Bucharest Are Breathtaking
Did I mention Bucharest has some of the most spectacular historical buildings? Also, many of them have been converted into luxury hotels. And even if they weren’t historical buildings, the new ones also look really impressive. I stayed in a few different hotels while I was there and here are my recommendations.
This hotel is right next to the Palace of Parliament – which is the BIGGEST Parliament building in the world. This hotel is pretty massive too and a few sides overlook the famous Parliament Building.
Moreover, it is believed that the JW Mariott hotel has the most comfortable beds and I can certainly vouch for that because I slept like a baby here.
It is the tallest hotel building in Romania and is super luxurious. InterContinental Bucharest has a rooftop spa, so you can literally sit in a hot tub and look at the view!
There are a few Ramada Hotels in Bucharest but this one is in the city center in a place that’s called “Turkish Square”. This hotel is not as fancy as the above two and somehow has an old school vibe.
11) Bucharest is Affordable
Let’s face it, traveling in Europe ain’t cheap! But hey, this is what I love about Eastern Europe because even the big cities can be affordable.
It is easy to fall in love with a destination when it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, and Bucharest totally wins in this aspect. When I arrived, I withdrew a measly amount of money on the first day and it lasted until my final day.
Eating out is affordable and so is drinking beers or coffees. Hostels are obviously cheap but luxury hotels aren’t exactly super expensive. Traveling within Bucharest was super cheap because UBER was very affordable here. This is also one of the reasons why you’ll see many expats in Bucharest.
Is Bucharest safe for solo women travelers?
Many people say that Bucharest is one of the safer cities in Europe and I felt safer in Bucharest than I felt on the streets of New York City. As a general thumb of rule, I’d suggest you listen to your gut. Be nice to locals but don’t just trust random strangers who want to offer you “help” by showing you the way when you’re alone.
While walking back to my hotel at night, I saw many girls in Bucharest who were on the streets with their friends or by themselves. I’m talking about the Old Town, which is the backpacker and the University area. I’d recommend you not to walk around at night alone but get on to a radio taxi if you must be out alone.
I did read about a scam in Bucharest, which involved unlicensed taxi drivers who drove the victim to remote locations and asked for money. This is why I always recommend radio taxies like Uber that you can order on apps.
Disclosure: I was invited to Romania on a sponsored trip by Experience Romania team but all silliness and thoughts expressed in this article are totally our own.
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Thank you! Bucharest is just so pretty 🙂
Nice photos!:) I never thought about visiting Bucharest but it seems interesting based on the photos!
If you’re planning on visiting Europe or if you’re living here, then you’d love a little trip to Bucharest. 🙂
Thank you for promoting our lil’old City 🙂 It’s been through a lot since the 15th Century and is still in stitches. What you summarized here was a nice list of the Old and New in Bucharest (tell you the truth, I’m born and bread in Bucale and I know a lot about its history, but some of the new places you mentioned took me by surprise as well.)
May you return again and delve deeper into this funny mix of Soviet, French, Turkish and Balkanic.