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11 incredibly useful things to know before visiting Bucharest, Romania

The ‘new Berlin’. The ‘little Paris of the East’. Or, simply, Bucharest.

Romania’s hip capital city is more than a comparison. It’s a fascinating city of contrasts, combining over 500+ years of history with a relatively modern identity, glorious Belle Époque architecture with dour communist-era blocks, endless impressive parks with soulless public squares, and amazingly progressive locals alongside a select pragmatic few.    

We landed in Bucharest not knowing what to expect, yet wide-eyed and ready to explore. And explore we did. In the end, we fell in love with the city, its culture, and its people, and we feel like you will to.

To help you prepare for a visit to this hip and happening city of contrasts, we’ve put together a list of useful things to know before visiting Bucharest.

11 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING BUCHAREST

THE CURRENCY IS THE ROMANIAN LEI (DESPITE BEING IN THE EUROPEAN UNION)

Romania joined the EU in 2007, however it’s not currently part of the Eurozone. As a result, it’s not really possible to use Euro’s here. Instead, you’ll be changing your currency to the Romanian Lei (RON).

The exchange rate is currently $1 USD – 4 RON, which means you’ll be feeling pretty flush with cash when you arrive. Which is great because…

BUCHAREST IS AFFORDABLE 

What makes Bucharest stand out as an up-and-coming tourist destination is the fact that it’s very affordable when compared to its storied counterparts in western Europe. Indeed, we were constantly surprised and how far our money stretched.

Accommodation, whether it’s a hostel, hotel, or AirBnB, is affordable, ranging from $25 – $250 USD depending on your budget. Food and drink is where you make most of your savings though – two course meal with two pints set us back $25 USD. Winning.

Attractions and entertainment are also very cheap; entry to main attractions in Bucharest will cost no more than $10, while a 10 journey pass on the city’s extensive public transport network costs around $5 USD.

BUCHAREST ISN’T THAT BEAUTIFUL, BUT THAT’S ITS APPEAL

We’ll be frank with you – Bucharest isn’t aesthetically beautiful, but we think that’s its appeal.

Formerly known as the “Paris of the east”, all that remains from this bygone era is the beautiful french designed municipal buildings located in the old town (Lipscani district). The rest of Bucharest is a real hodgepodge of communist era utilitarian blocks.

Fortunately, Bucharest has far more to it than a few pretty buildings. It has heart, and soul. We found the locals some of the friendliest in Europe, the expansive parks equal to any we’ve seen, and the hipster garden bars so cool they make Budapest’s famous ruin bars look claustrophobic.

Bucharest, like Berlin, is home to a thriving creative scene, with cool coffee shops, restaurants, festivals, markets, and street art.

Looks can be deceiving, and Bucharest is testament to that.

BUCHAREST IS SAFE

We felt incredibly safe in Bucharest, and every local we spoke to waxed lyrical about how safe Bucharest is; no terrorism, low violent crime, and low petty crime (no pesky pickpockets!).

We walked the city through day and night, and never once felt unsafe.

As always, take precautions as a tourist. Don’t flaunt your valuables, watch your pockets, and be wary of touts. We always recommend taking out travel insurance we recommend using World Nomads.

YOU SHOULD LEARN A LITTLE ABOUT ROMANIA’S COMMUNIST PAST BEFORE VISITING

We arrived into Bucharest a little naive when it came to Romania’s communist past. Apart from the obvious, we knew nothing.

This was to our disadvantage, because there’s so much history, especially recent, which defines this city and its people. Spend some time researching (or read our article here) before you’ll visit and your time in Bucharest will be so much richer for it.  

KEEP READING: UNDERSTANDING BUCHAREST THROUGH ITS COMMUNIST PAST

BUCHAREST IS HIP (AND FEELS A LITTLE LIKE BERLIN)

Cool, creative, gritty, underground, hip, ugly, progressive; sounds like Berlin, right? Well, these are the words we use to describe Bucharest.

So while Bucharest is its own city, we couldn’t help but feel like we’d stepped off the wrong flight and actually landed in Berlin.

Cool cafes, amazing bars and clubs, a thriving music scene, excellent street art, and creative cool kids and make Bucharest seriously hip.

UBER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND, AS IS THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT

We were warned about Bucharest’s taxi drivers, who like to overcharge unsuspecting tourists (pretty normal in any major city around the world).

So, we took Uber everywhere. On top of being cheap, efficient and easy, Uber drivers were our go-to source for any information on the city – what to see, know and do. We can’t speak highly enough of Uber and in Bucharest, the service was exceptional. Sign up to Uber and get your first ride free by using this code!

Depending on who you talk to, Bucharest’s public transport is both great and awful. From our own experiences, it as easy to navigate, cheap and generally clean. The city operates buses, trolley buses, trams, and the Metro.

Tickets can be bought at booths around town, which are generally found next to bus stops, or at Metro stations, with different multiple-journey options available. Alternatively, plan ahead and buy them online at the RATB website. Try travelling outside of peak hour as the network can be very busy!

Find all you need to know about Bucharest’s public transport with this guide.

Pro tip | Grab an Uber to/from the airport – it costs about $10 – $15 USD and is so much quicker than the airport bus.

THE FOOD IS PREDOMINANTLY MEAT BASED

The food in Romania is delicious, but it IS predominantly meat based. Indeed, Romania’s national dish is Sarmale; ground meat wrapped in cabbage.

Still, most restaurants we visited had a large range of vegetarian options, so those of you who are vegetarians will not go hungry.

While we’re on the topic of food, for those keen to experience Romania’s cuisine, we recommend venturing outside the old town. Mahala (Calea Rahovei 147-153, București, Romania), one of Bucharest’s best restaurants, is your best bet.

Pro tip | If you’re vegetarian, we recommend trying bean soup in bread, and papanasi, the national dessert of doughnuts, sour cream and sour cherries. Read this article or an extensive review of Romanian food and Bucharest’s food scene, by our friend Passports and Plates.

Papanasi-in-Bucharest-Caru-cu-bere

THE BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN BUCHAREST, ROMANIA

IT’S BEST TO STAY IN BUCHAREST’S OLD TOWN

While the public transport network in Bucharest is extensive and very good, we recommend staying within the old town (or inner city districts). It makes life a lot easier as most of the major attractions are located in the downtown area.

If you’d like to be close to the city, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle, the hipster district of Cotroceni is your best bet.

There are many great AirBnB listings in Bucharest.

things to know bucharest stay in old town

LEARN THE BASICS OF ROMANIAN

One thing we try to do before visiting a new country is to learn a few key phrases, a Romania was no different. The Romanians we met seemed to love it, for every “Salut” or “Mulţumesc” was met with the biggest smile of appreciation.

When you visit, try to learn the basics below:

Hello | “Salut.” (sah-LOOT)

How are you? | “Ce mai faci?” (chey my FAHTCH)

Thank you | “Mulţumesc” (mool-tzoo-MESK). “Mersi” is also popularly used.

Nice to meet you | “Încântat” (oohn-koohn-taht) or “Îmi pare bine” (OOHM pah-reh BEE-neh)

Please | “Vă rog” (vuh ROHG; usually follows the request.)

Ticket | “Bilet” (Be let)

TRAVELLING AS A COUPLE: HOW TO DO IT AND STILL LOVE EACH OTHER

AVOID THE TAP WATER

This came as a huge surprise to us, but it is recommended that you don’t drink the tap water in Bucharest. And if the locals recommend this, we’re happy to oblige. Using tap water for brushing teeth, cleaning food etc. is okay.

To reduce the amount of plastic you consume, we recommend you bring your own canteen and fill it with boiled water, or add iodine tablets.

Alternatively, try to buy few large water bottles instead of many smaller bottles.

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#ICHOSETOWANDER - The Common Wanderer

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A big thank you to the Experience Bucharest team for hosting us during our stay. As always, all views are our own.

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Michael @ Mile in My Glasses
    June 8, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Thanks for these tips! I’m really hyped to visit Bucharest, I was going to go this year but didn’t make it there – hopefully next year!

    I hope you have a great Thursday,
    Michael
    https://www.mileinmyglasses.co.uk

    • Reply
      The Common Wanderer
      June 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      You NEED to make it there this year 🙂 haha. Whenever you visit, you’ll sure love it!

      Mark + Mim

  • Reply
    World Travel Bug
    June 9, 2017 at 10:50 am

    I loved your description. As a local, I found it really fair and this is exactly how I describe my city to other people too. Will be sharing this on my page as well 🙂

    • Reply
      The Common Wanderer
      June 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Well, if it’s positive feedback coming from a local, we’re very happy!

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Mark + Mim

  • Reply
    Steph
    June 9, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Awesome article you guys! I am seriously loving your photography 🙂 P.s. I definitely drank the tap water lol oooops! 😀

    • Reply
      The Common Wanderer
      June 26, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Hey Steph,

      So great meeting and travelling with you at #ExperienceBucharest! Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      We would have had the tap water but a local told us not too… that’s one where we’re sure we would have be fine, but we decided to take the locals advice :P.

      Mark + Mim

  • Reply
    Marius | Romanian Friend
    June 9, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    another great post, guys! my only comment – the Old Town is now overrun with tourists (and no locals) and it was never considered the most beautiful part of Bucharest. Besides the communist-inspired worker neighbourhoods, there are many other areas full of grand bell epoque villas and history, but those are really off-the-beaten path and known only to true locals. I’ll be writing about them soon – so you should plan another visit 🙂

    • Reply
      The Common Wanderer
      June 26, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Hi Marius,

      Interesting, we loved the old town (apart from the tacky, tourist filled restaurants!) but are now really keen to learn more about the more beautiful neighbourhoods! We’re looking forward to your post!

      Mark + Mim

  • Reply
    In Between Pictures
    June 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Great posts! love love your photos! I really think that when traveling to Bucharest, you should go without any expectations.

    • Reply
      The Common Wanderer
      June 26, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      We completely agree with that statement – go in open minded and enjoy what comes!

      And thanks for the compliments, we’re blushing 🙂

      Mark + Mim

  • Reply
    Ryan Biddulph
    June 26, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Hi Mark and Miranda,

    I love that this place isn’t too beautiful. Gotta have some grit for me to dig any major city. I recall visiting Phnom Penh a while back. Gritty as heck on the outskirts and in the city in some spots too. Loved it. I need to see Bucharest in person as I am a quarter Romanian myself. Grandpa was born and raised in Transylvania. That is not a Dracula joke LOL. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

    • Reply
      The Common Wanderer
      June 26, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      Oh but we wanted to make a Dracula joke.. haha.

      Awesome, like those type of cities too, so you’ll love Bucharest. Beauty doesn’t always need to be aesthetic!

      Let us know when you go!

      Mark + Mim

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