A “diamond in the rough”, a “hidden gem”, no matter how you put it there is no denying that Bucharest, Romania is just as such, and unfortunately (I believe) continuously overlooked by tourists. My previous job first took me to the capital of Romania in 2011 and ever since then this city and its people have captivated me.
With the old town once nicknamed “Little Paris”, some of the most beautiful and put-together woman I have ever encountered, a large percentage of the roughly 2 million inhabitants English speaking and host to the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon (Palace of Parliament), it’s hard to imagine how this city can be overlooked and not given the credit it deserves.
Despite being a part of the European Union, Romania still uses its own currency, the Leu, also known as “Ron”. Given Romania is one of the poorest performing EU countries, most other currencies can go much further here which makes it a great destination for travelers on a budget or for the less price-conscious travelers to live like a king for a few days.
Of course, no Eastern European city comes with out the scars of communism, which is prevalent in Bucharest. What makes this city so unique though is the undeniable contrast of new and old. You have high-end international luxury designer boutiques in run-down communist style buildings, beautiful 300-year-old churches beside chic glass towers and of course such a contrast of people given the very apparent income disperity.
With that being said, the city is laden with stunning westernized amenties that will both shock you and make your time here unforgettable. You just need to know where to look and the below suggestions should help.....
What to do and see in Bucharest
You can easily spend all day and night wandering around the old town, also referred to as Lipscani, as Lipscani Street is the main artery of this area. This area is host to many restaurants, bars, shops and “peep show” type entertainment establishments.
A day of sightseeing can include a visit to the major attractions such as the Arcul du Triumf, Romanian Athenaeum, Opera House, Cotroceni Palace, The Press House, numerous museums and the Old Town itself, which is pedestrian traffic only. I highly suggest stopping at Revolution Square as this is one of the most symbolic places in Bucharest. Don’t forget Ceasescu, deemed one of the vilest and repressive communist leaders in history, ruled this country until 1989 so even the younger generations of this country are affected by the square’s significance. The Palace of Parliament (aka the Palace of the People) is also a must see. This is an utter monstrosity in the middle of the city.
(insert arc, others and palace of people photo)
If you are looking to do a bit of relaxing, the pool at the Radisson Blu is the place to be on a sunny weekend afternoon. Alternatively, a visit to Herastrau Lake (in the north end of the city) makes for a nice afternoon as the banks of the lake are lined with restaurants and bikes and boats are available to rent to explore the park.
Where to eat in Bucharest
Some of my favourite places are as follows:
Biutiful by Fratelli - stunning restaurant with a great atmosphere, I guarantee even you will be impressed
Caru’cu Bere - a traditional Romanian dinner experience with live entertainment and a serious MUST in the city to really get a taste for traditional Romanian cuisine and culture
La Bonne Bouche - for a delicious and cozy French-inspired meal and great wines (try the truffle pasta and top your night off with a proper Aperol Spritz)
La Brasserie - a large dining establishment on the banks of Lake Herastrau in north Bucharest. This place is great for a romantic or group dinner and has live entertainment some nights
Biutiful by the Lake - the place to be on a any given Saturday afternoon or evening in the summer and a great outdoor modern dining experience also on the banks of Lake Herastrau
Others to consider are:
Uanderful - crazy stunning restaurant/bar/lounge, think Vegas or Miami!
CAJU by Joseph Hadad - a fresh, casual and buzzing culinary experience
Veranda Casa Frumoasa - an extremely elegant restaurant in the most beautiful villa which emmulates a sort of 18th century greenhouse, all part of agreat concept store complex
Fratellini – cute bistro for lunch or coffee with great patio
Where to Stay in Bucharest
The Radisson Blu – great location and good spot no matter what, especially due to the buzzing pool in the summer
JW Marriott - the first JW in all of Europe and strategically located to admire the colossal Palace of the People
Athenee Palace Hilton - located in a historic building with a great bar and some rooms hosting terraces with great views of the city
If you are on more of a budget check out Airbnb as you can rent some pretty spectacular apartments for little money. Don’t judge a book by its cover; most of the stunning, stylish apartments I have been invited into in this city look a tad shabby from the outside.
Although not all that accessible from North America, numerous flights and airlines depart for Bucharest from London and other European destinations daily.
Given the extremely cold winters and hot summers, I advise visiting in the spring, summer or early fall in order to take advantage of all the patios, lakeside-dining options, and other outdoor experiences to be had.
I would warn travelers to stick to using cash outside of the larger restaurants, retailers and bars in order to avoid having your credit and debit cards compromised, as this is very common in Romania still unfortunately.
One thing you can’t help but notice in this city is the number of cars on the road. Many locals have told me that cars outnumber people in Bucharest! Whether or not that’s true I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that most people prefer to drive to walking so it doesn’t come off as a walking city. If you are staying close enough to the old town do not feel uneasy about walking to and from, but for the most part, you will find yourself using the subway system or taking taxis. Taxis are relatively cheap, however, you do have to be aware of being taken advantage of. Ask your hotel staff, server of whatever local you can the approximate amount you should be paying and verify that amount with your driver when you get in to mitigate your risk.
Outside the Capital
For the party seekers with a bit more time to explore, head out about 2.5 hours east to the coast of the Black Sea to the “Miami of Romania”, Mamaia, just near Constanta. With an array of beach clubs, this place comes alive in the summer.
Some places to note:
Fratelli Constanta - relaxed chic beach bar and restaurant in the north part of Mamaia
Biutiful by the sea - stunning Mykonos-like restaurant/beach club
Loft - more of a raging beach party option
For nature seekers and adventurers, the entire countryside is stunning, the Danube Delta is fascinating to see, and there is plenty of skiing to be done in the winter months. One warning though, the small towns in the countryside will take you back decades in time something most of us dont even realize exists in todays modern workd. Experiencing this will enchant and stick with you.
Hope you enjoy!