Bucharest, Romania’s capital, may not be as ostentatious as other destinations, but it is a charming and history-rich city full of exciting surprises. Sandwiched between 5 Eastern European countries and bordering the Black Sea, Romania may not be the first country that springs to mind when you are considering a short getaway. For many people, Romania means Dracula, but in fact, the country has so much more to offer than spooky stories from Transylvania.
There’s unique, understated beauty to be discovered throughout the new and old quarters of Bucharest, and a creative scene that will no doubt leave you impressed. If you need any more convincing, here are just 5 reasons why you should be sure to consider Bucharest as your next city break destination.
1) BUCHAREST IS CHEAP
If your home currency is the euro, dollar or pound, then you may find yourself feeling pretty flush in Romania. Although the country is part of the EU, they do not use the Euro. Instead, their local currency is the Romanian Leu (RON) and there are about 5RON to every £1GBP.
Bucharest will give you more ‘bang for your buck’ in every sense. A pint of beer will set you back about 10RON (that’s only a few pounds/euros) and hostels can be found for as little as £8GBP per night. If you’re savvy with your money, you could potentially only spend £100GBP for a whole long weekend and still do, see and digest a lot!
Flights from Europe are generally cheap and Bucharest is often a destination included in flash sales. In fact, my first visit to Bucharest from London was a Ryanair special, costing me only £29 for a return flight – bargain!
Essentially, Bucharest is a much more under-the-radar and cost-effective city escape destination compared to tourist traps like Venice or Paris.
2) THE FANTASTIC HISTORIC OLD TOWN
The Old Town is one of the few pockets of Bucharest that survived the communist bulldozers. As a result, wandering around the wonderfully preserved old quarter is like stepping back to an almost forgotten era.
Like Sleeping Beauty, Bucharest feels like it has only just awoken from a deep slumber. Thankfully, this part of the city is not overly polished or restored within an inch of its life. The flaking paint, crumbling facades and light grubbiness give the quarter authentic, ‘old world’ character.
Around the historic centre, there are plenty of traditional-style souvenir stores to browse. Though if you do wish to grab something to take home instead of just window shopping, wander over to My Romanian Store for something handmade and a little more unique. This shop is one of the few places in Bucharest that sells products genuinely made in Romania. They have cute traditional pottery, clothing, homeware, and gifts.
For lunch, there are many historic restaurants to try traditional Romanian food. Ciorbarie is one such eatery, serving only a few types of classic Romanian soup, accompanied with fresh, crusty bread. As ever with a small menu, the focus has been on doing each dish well, so much so that you may even have to fight a local for a table in this small but well-loved restaurant. Ciorbarie is hearty food served in a very casual setting with recipes that probably haven’t changed all that much since grandma used to make them.
The food in Romania has moved beyond humble soups and stews though. With dynamic and creative young chefs at the helm, Bucharest is seeing a gastronomic revolution like never before. Contemporary twists are bringing classic dishes (that are typically based around meat, fish, cheese and polenta), a new and flavoursome lease of life.
Energia, a restaurant on Str. Ion Brezoianu, set within a former print shop, is one such innovative establishment. With great staple options such as juicy pork ribs or slow-roasted chicken, the menu also bursts with interesting salad dishes like baked purple carrot and hemp, buckwheat and Camembert with seasonal leaves. To drink, choose from delicious home-made lemonades (such as sour cherries and lavender) or for something even more different, Arial Black – a spiced rum blended beer cocktail.
After lunch in the Old Town, don’t forget to stop at the brilliant ice cream shop, Cremeria Emelia, for a large scoop of their silky-smooth Chocotella!
BARS AND NIGHTLIFE
During the summer, when temperatures reach the mid to high 30’s, sitting out on the cobbled streets with a cold drink to watch the world go by, is a blissful way to absorb the Old Town’s atmosphere. Come night-time, the tables turn and the restaurants transform into brilliant nightclubs and bars, enticing you in with their special drinks offers and great dance music.
You may be surprised to hear that Bucharest actually has a thriving underground music and events scene. All year round (though especially in the summer), you will find a huge schedule of street parties, outdoor culture festivals, pop-up markets, music festivals and art projects. There’s one thing you won’t experience in Bucharest – and that’s boredom!
3) THE MESMERISING MISMATCHED ARCHITECTURE
Grab your camera, put on some comfy walking shoes and set out in any direction. Getting lost in Bucharest is the best, and most exciting way to discover the fascinating history and architecture of the city.
The streets have a contradicting mix-mash of architecture. Medieval, Art Nouveau, utilitarian communist and modernist buildings stand alongside one another in a way that will leave you inspired, confused and surprised. No two buildings are the same!
The Palace of the Parliament is one building that you must visit, even if it’s just to look at from the outside. As the world’s largest administrative and heaviest building, it is an absolute sight to behold. I’ve tried to get into this building twice and on both occasions, it was closed for a government event, so be sure to check out opening times directly on their website.
Bucharest is also home to one of the most beautiful bookshops you may ever see – Cărtureşti Carusel. A 6 storey, light-flooded space with sweeping staircases, romantic balconies, walls filled with art and of course thousands of novels nestled within floor-to-ceiling shelving. This may just be what heaven looks like for books (or bookworms!).
4) THERE’S A COOL HIPSTER CAFE CULTURE
Some of Bucharest’s old buildings and quirky spaces have been thoughtfully reinvented into super cool cafes that serve speciality coffee and teas. For great, locally roasted coffee served by barista-trained staff, try Origo. If you’re more of a tea person, head to Artichoke for Transylvanian foraged herbal teas served in a simplistic, arty environment.
Coffee is becoming a real serious art in Bucharest – no doubt it will soon rival the scene in places like Melbourne or London.
For breakfast or a light, brunch-style lunch, Trofic located on Strada Brezoianu, is a small but delicious spot to grab a bite. Their menu focuses on locally sourced, naturally good foods so the menu is pretty simple but very tasty.
5) FOR THE PARKS & MUSEUMS
Bucharest has a really decent selection of cultural things to do aside just eating and drinking. There are many museums and art galleries that are either free or really cheap to visit. The National Museum of Art located in the Royal Palace on Revolution Square, the open-air Village Museum and the Museum of the Romanian Peasant are just a few exhibitions that will keep visitors educated and entertained for hours.
Spring or summer in Europe sees some lovely, sun-filled days in Romania, so it would be a shame to spend too much time inside. Luckily, there are about 30 urban green spaces to enjoy!
With a large boating lake, flower-filled borders and plenty of trees, Alexandru Ioan Cuza I believe to be one of the prettiest parks in Bucharest. It would be the perfect place for a picnic!
WHERE TO STAY IN BUCHAREST
I’ve been to Bucharest twice now and have stayed in a hostel as well as a large hotel, experiencing both ends of the accommodation spectrum.
On my first trip, I stayed at Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel, which as the name suggests, is bang in the centre of town and in a beautiful, grand historic building. It was super easy to walk everywhere – I did not need to set a foot on public transport. The rooms were clean and thoughtfully designed, with a sofa, coffee table and simple touches like a mirror. This hostel is a great value option for those with a tight budget.
The Radisson Blu was my second, and more luxurious accommodation experience. As well as multiple restaurants and a fantastic buffet breakfast, there was also an awesome outdoor swimming pool – a very necessary luxury for the heatwave I experienced in May. The room was enormous and of course, provided all the comforts you would expect from such a well-known brand.
BUCHAREST WRAP UP
Romania’s capital, Bucharest, exceeded my expectations on both of my brief visits. Reached in only 4 hours from London by plane, or even less from central Europe, Bucharest is an easy and rewarding city break location to visit all year around. I hope you have the opportunity to go!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Bucharest, Romania. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Bucharest, Romania:
- Radisson Blu
- Marshal Garden Hotel
- Intercontinental Hotel Bucharest
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