So many guides show you the little wonders of Rome, London or Paris. Some even dare to propose Prague or Budapest, but how many are actually revealing more about Bucharest?
Located in the Southern part of Romania, this vibrant city has a lot to offer. From good food, to rich history and cheap cocktails, Bucharest can be an amazing city-break destination, while also opening your eyes to a new culture. Romanians are latin, loud and welcoming people, and a trip there will surely create memorable moments.
Here are some information and tricks for a first commer, that would help with organizing your trip. If you’re still not sure, read further – it might convince you that you won’t regret a trip in Eastern Europe’s little Paris.
Why was it called little Paris?
In the flourishing era between 1866 and 1946, Bucharest was developing at a high speed. Many buildings were inspired from French architecture, and long boulevards, like Calea Victoriei, ressembled Champs Elysées.
Source for picture: Florin Stanciu
Although not all these old buildings survived the Communistic times and the earthquake from 1977, some areas of the city still keep this wonderful spirit. What places are best at maintaining it?
Old City Center
Although being a ruin for many years, Bucharest’s old city center is now re-established and offers a wonderful overview on Romanian heritage and history. It is well-designed for foreigners, as it has maps and descriptions in English, guiding you through the little streets and introducing you to traditional and historical buildings. One of the best things to see here is the Stavropoleos Church, dating from 1724. With its beautiful interior garden and old architecture, it is a hidden gem worth seeing. You may have seen dozens of enormous Gothic cathedrals during your trips, but you most likely haven’t experienced yet something as cozy and beautiful as this one.
The Old City Center is also famous for its restaurants and clubs. Two of these places are worth mentioning, as they offer a glimpse of Romanian tradition and old times. These are Hanu’ lui Manuc, an old inn, and Caru’ cu Bere. The architecture of these places is glorious, the food is traditional and the service exceptional. It’s worth giving them a try!
Another must-see place situated in the Old Town is the Carturesti Carusel Bookstore. Its opening was famous all around the globe, and its architecture is breathtaking. It is a very well-lit building, consisting of thousands of books, CDs, games, traditional souvenirs and gifts. It feels like you’re entering another universe, so make sure you check it out.
Cales Victoriei is warmly recommended, if you feel like taking a nice walk on one of the city’s most beautiful streets, filled with great architecture, expensive shops and several museums. It used to be called the Romanian Champs Elysées. Some beautiful buildings you shouldn’t miss are: George Enescu Museum (Romania’s most famous composer), located in the former Cantacuzino Palace. Not only is its architecture a great example of Art Nouveau style, but the museum is a cultural landscape, as you can learn more about the life of Romania’s most famous composer.
Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Memorial of Rebirth | Bucharest, Romania – CC-BY-NC
Moving on, you will also be passing by the Revolution Square. Here you can find an emblematic sculpture, built after the fall of the communism. It is called the Monument of Rebirth, and it celebrates the memorial of those who fell in the revolution in 1989.
This beautiful square also hosts the Atheneum, which is an architectural jewel. On the other side of the street you can find the National Museum of Arts, which used to be the Royal Palace. This is a very big building, hard to miss, hosting both Romanian and foreign art. Make sure to reserve at least half a day to visit it, if you’re interested, as it is very rich and captivating.
This walk would end in Victoria Square, which also hosts a must-see museum: Grigore Antipa – Natural History Museum. One of the most modern museums Romania has, this one shows you nature at its best, from the beginnings until now. It is very interactive, not expensive and surely entertaining, especially if you’re traveling with children.
Let’s go back to tradition
Not very far from Victoria Square, you can find the Peasant Museum, containing arts and crafts, artisanal products and traditional clothing and architecture. If you want to learn even more about the traditional architecture, you can also try the Village Museum, close to Herastrau Park (Bucharest’s green lung).
But one of the best traditional things you will experience here is food. Romanian food is rich in taste, often made with organic ingredients and old recipes, spread over various generations.
The first picture above depicts probably the most traditional thing you can find, ask any Romanian. It’s a plate of sarmalute cu mamaliguta. Sour cabbage rolls, filled with minced meat, rice and spices (sarmale), served together with a corn pourrige (mamaliga). It is traditionally eaten at all special occasions, from Christmas to weddings. And it’s amazing!
The second picture shows a popular desert, called papanasi. These are the Romanian donuts, served with sour cream and jam. Give them a try, especially in the above-mentioned Caru’cu Bere restaurant.
People’s House – The Palace of Parliament
If you are not convinced already, there’s one more famous building to see – the Palace of Parliament. Built during communist times, it is the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function. It is also the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon of the US.
Check timetables to see the schedule of the guided tours – they are available in different languages. This building is breathtaking, especially when enjoyed from the Izvor Park in the twilight.
Some final practical considerations
Public transportation might be tricky, as ticket cashiers tend to close early. There are different cards, some for metro, other (Active Card) valid for above-ground transportation, like buses, trams or trolleys. Buy them beforehand, so you don’t get caught without ticket in the evenings.
Cabs are, of course, available and cheap, but make sure to take trustworthy ones. There are some drivers well-trained at scamming foreigners, but use the accredited ones and you will be safe. Some companies that have been recommended to me are:
- Pelicanul (+40219665)
Taxi Meridian (+40219444)
Tipping is not mandatory in Romanian restaurants, but it is extremely common. A 10% tip is expected, unless the service was terrible.
Finally, relax and enjoy. Romania is an underrated destination, but it has a lot to offer. It is surely to develop over the next years, as more and more tourists begin exploring it.
Yes, it is not as developed as London. The infrastructure is not the best, and not everybody speaks English. But you can learn so much about another culture, you can get to know welcoming and energetic people, see beautiful places and develop as a person. Traveling is a book, and you don’t wanna miss the Romanian page, as there is so much to learn!
There is also so much more than Bucharest, and if you have more time to spend, you should definitely try a trip in the mountains. There are popular and well established skiing resorts, beautiful scenery to be enjoyed hiking, and old castles to be visited. If this doesn’t convince you, drop by Bran Castle in Transylvania and our friend, Dracula, might give the last push.