Our first visit to Romania was far too brief, with only 36 hours to spend in its vibrant capital city Bucharest. This is a city where old meets new, east meets west and neo-classical architecture merges with communist-era buildings. During the early 20th century Bucharest was dubbed as ‘Little Paris’ or ‘Paris of the East’ due to its impressive architecture and sophisticated nightlife. However, bombings during World War II, a huge earthquake in 1977, redevelopment schemes under Dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, as well as the violent revolution of 1989 have resulted in a much changed cityscape. While Bucharest hasn’t quite recovered from these events, there’s a lot to see and do and visitors will find an abundance of trendy bars, cafés, restaurants, luxury hotels and cultural institutions to visit. If you’re looking for history, culture, arts and a buzzing nightlife, Bucharest is definitely worth a visit! It’s quite cheap too!
We flew with Ryanair from Dublin to Henry Coanda (Otopeni) Airport for €147.98 for both of us one way. This is the main international airport in Bucharest. It’s situated just 17km from the city centre. The centre can be easily reached by the 780 and 783 buses.
We were advised to take the express bus 783 which leaves from a stop in front of the arrivals terminal. Tickets can be purchased from a machine beside the stop or from a small kiosk and a card with 2 trips costs 10 Lei. We weren’t confident enough to use the machine so instead bought our tickets from a sour-faced woman at the kiosk. Don’t worry most other Romanians we encountered were very friendly! Once on the bus you need to validate the ticket on one of the orange boxes. There was an inspector on the bus checking tickets so make sure to do this! Despite being called the ‘express’, this bus stops at many stops en route to the city centre. The journey takes approximately 45-50 minutes.
Bus timetable can be found here
What to See & Do:
As we only had a short time to explore the city we stayed around the Old Town (Centru Vechi/Lipscani) and walked everywhere. Most of the main sights are concentrated around the Palace of the Parliament, Piata Revolutiei and Piata Unirii.
Do a Walking Tour
On arrival to a new city, I think you can’t beat doing a tour with a local guide to get an overview of the city’s major landmarks and its history, as well as getting some insider tips. We decided to join the Walkabout Free Tour as it had the best reviews on Trip Advisor and was a short walk from our accommodation. The tour meets, in front of the Clock (next to the fountains) in Unirii Square Park (Piata Unirii) at 10.30 & 15.00 daily. Our tour got off to a brisk start when a rat poked his head out from the greenery around the fountain (I didn’t take a photo of him!!). We were brought to many of the key sights in the city centre: Stavropoleos Convent, Ruins of Vlad’s Citadel, Palace of Parliament, Revolution Spots and Victory Boulevard.). This is a good tour with knowledgeable local guides – great if you’re pressed for time and want to learn more about the history and culture of Bucharest. I was a bit tired at the end and zoned out a bit but still enjoyed taking photos!
Website Walkbout Free Tours
Meeting Point: Unirii Square Park, in front of the Clock (next to the fountains) at 10.30 & 15.00 daily
Price: This is a free walking tour. You are obviously expected to give a donation!
Duration: Around 2 hours
Wander around the Old Town/ Centru Vechi
The Old Town of Bucharest was traditionally one of the main areas of trade and commerce in the city. It is also commonly known as Lipscani after one of the main streets going through the area, Strada Lipscani, which was named after merchants from Leipzig. Over the years the historic centre fell into disrepair and turned into a bit of a no-go area. In recent years, Centru Vechi has benefited significantly from regeneration and is now home to many lively bars, buzzing cafés and fine restaurants. There are lots of interesting narrow cobblestoned streets to wander around and explore too. And if you want to experience Bucharest’s happening nightlife, this is the place to go! We had been warned to be careful of pickpockets in this area but thankfully we had no bad experiences apart from a beggar giving Mark a bit of a knock on the shoulder while going past.
Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului)
This is a must see in Bucharest! Actually it’s pretty hard to miss due to its sheer size! The building holds the first position in the Guinness World Records for the largest administrative building (for civil use) and it is the heaviest and most expensive building in the world. Built under Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, this is one of the most controversial buildings in Romania. Many homes and buildings were demolished and almost 60, 000 families were evicted so that the Palace could be built. Over 100,000 workers were involved in its construction. To understand the immense size of this building, I would recommend walking up the broad Bulevardul Unirii and walking around the entire building. Guided tours show visitors a selection of rooms and give an insight into the history of the building. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to fit the tour in.
Website Palace of the Parliament
Price: Standard Tour – 35 LEI/person
March – October, daily between 09:00 – 17:00 (last tour at 16:30)
November – February, daily between 10:00 – 16:00 (last tour at 15:30)
To join the tour you must show your national identity card or passport
If you’re anywhere near Parcul Carol (Carol Park) in Bucharest, you really should go and check out the Eva Radu’s fine street art on Srada Xenofon. Radu completed this masterpiece in 2014 on Bucharest’s only street with steps.
Food & Drinks:
When I look back on our photos of Bucharest, I think we must have spent most of our time eating and drinking! The cocktails we had in Bucharest were definitely some of the best we’ve ever had and they were so cheap too!
Caru’ cu Bere
As most of the reviews for Bucharest seemed to recommend Caru’ cu Bere, we felt we needed to see what all the hype was about! Known for its traditional Romanian fare, on-site brewery and traditional live music/dance shows, this 17th century eatery is hugely popular with tourists and locals alike. When we arrived we were greeted by waiters in bright green traditional dress and shown to our table in a corner of the packed restaurant. It’s worth coming here for a look at the fine building alone. We found the food average enough but the service was great and the live show kept us well entertained! We couldn’t help but feel ripped off when we had to pay 2 Lei each when a gentleman resembling Charlie Chaplin came over to the table and handed us a budgie and started putting various items of clothing on us! If you plan on paying Caru’cu Bere a visit, I’d definitely recommend booking a table and not making eye contact with any entertainers!
5, Stavropoleos Street, Bucharest.
This little pizza place was a couple of minutes’ walk from our accommodation and was packed anytime we passed. The smell was also delicious so we decided to join the locals and check it out for ourselves! The pizza was very tasty! It was so good that we came back the next day again! You pay by weight so you can try all the different types if you want! The pizza was really reasonable and if you’re on a budget, I’d highly recommend it! The staff has good English too!
Bulevardul Ion C. Brătianu, Nr. 34, Bucuresti
This bar is a bit off the beaten track and we just stumbled on it by chance when trying to find some street art. The bar is housed in an old factory and has a huge terrace outside with lots of seating, a playground and even a few quirky design shops. They also serve food. The outdoor terrace is a great place to sit and relax and enjoy a drink in the sun. It was a gorgeous day when we stopped by and most people were drinking lemonade. Service was a bit slow when we were there unfortunately. There was also a big dog lying down in the ladies toilets and I was too scared to go past him so had to skip going!
11 iunie nr.50, Bucuresti
If you’re a cycling fan or like a good cocktail, you’ll love Bicicleta! Located in the old town, this retro bar designed by Alina Turdean has lots to feast your eye on. The decor and furniture is made from upcycled bicycle parts, mainly from the well-known Pegasus. The bar has a couple of nice balconies where you can sit out and watch the people go by on the streets below you. They don’t have a cocktail menu but the bar staff will use their mixology prowess to make you impressive cocktails based on your taste and mood. Hands down the best cocktails that I sampled in Bucharest!
Strada Lipscani 38, București
If you find yourself in Bucharest on a sunny day, you must visit this café and bar. Located in an old house with a large garden courtyard to the front, it is delightful. The courtyard was packed with students while we were there and there was a great buzz about the place. We had brunch in the shade of the leafy courtyard. For a Steak Quesadilla with potato wedges, a Steak Sandwich, a Weiss Rose Radler and a bottle of water, the bill came to 79 Lei. Mark is still raving about his beer cocktail! Service was really friendly too. Our only regret was that we didn’t have time to revisit before we left for Bulgaria.
Str. Dianei, Nr. 4, Sector 2, Bucuresti
Grand Café Van Gogh
On our last day while we were rushing around trying to find a nice place to grab breakfast before our bus to Bulgaria, Grand Café Van Gogh was one of the only places open. Breakfast is served from 08.30 here and the menu has a good selection to choose from: Omelettes, Croissants, Yoghurt with Muesli & Honey and various toasted sandwiches. The terrace is a great place to sit and people-watch.
Strada Smârdan, no. 9 (vis-a-vis de Banca Naţională a României)
This lively bar is located in a former printing house just minutes from the Old Town. There’s a strong arty vibe about the place and it regularly hosts artistic and cultural events, workshops, talks and exhibitions. There’s a good cocktail menu and they also serve food. We sat on the terrace sipping over a Cooper Black and an Energiea cocktail. Cocktail prices range from 20 – 28 Lei.
Str. Ion Brezoianu, nr.4
As our visit to Bucharest was so short, we wanted somewhere very central to stay that wasn’t too expensive. I scrutinized the reviews on Booking.com and Trip Advisor to find the best place. With a rating of 9.3 and just €55 for a double room for two nights, Colțea Residence on the edge of the old town seemed to tick all boxes. The owner even offered to meet us at the bus stop and bring us to the apartment. It seemed perfect. Monica came to pick us up at the bus stop even though we could have walked and drove us to the apartment. We thought there was something suspicious going on when we walked up to the door of the apartment block and a girl in a tight black leather mini dress was chatting suggestively to a man. We later found out that there was an erotic massage place on the first floor of our apartment block! I’ve been getting slagged about my choice of accommodation since then. We didn’t come across any other masseurs or masseuses over the next couple of days and the apartment was a good budget choice overall even if the red decor was a bit much!
A Final Word
Five reasons to visit Bucharest:
It’s warm! The average temperature in September is 18 degrees Celsius. While we were there it was up in the high 20s!
Easy to reach! Many airlines fly to Bucharest. You can fly from Athens, Berlin, Istanbul, London, Paris and many more cities. Budget carrier Ryanair flies from various locations.
Good value! For those on a budget, there are many cheap eats and value accommodation to be found around Bucharest.
Great nightlife! We visited many cool bars and had amazing cocktails during our stay.
Interesting history! There are many historic buildings and churches to visit, as well as walking around and exploring the remnants of Ceauşescu’s brutal regime.