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