In terms of European cities on our bucket list, Bucharest was a notable absentee. It’s not that we didn’t WANT to go. Far from it. It’s simply because there were far sexier counterparts, such as Barcelona, Paris and Rome, that were ahead in the queue.
After spending five days exploring the ‘Paris of the east’ (an outdated nickname, let us assure you), relaxing in its many expansive parks, walking it’s charming, yet decaying old town, sipping coffee in its trendy cafes, chatting to its friendly locals, sipping gin in hidden garden bars, feasting on its surprisingly good cuisine, and gaining an understanding of its recent communist past, we can safely say Bucharest is one of our favourite European cities.
Often touted as ‘the new Berlin’, Bucharest is its own city; a heady mix of latin spirit, balkan passion, communist and capitalist fusion, and the perfect place to escape the crowds of Paris or Rome, while enjoying the best of Europe.
Here are our favourite things to do in Bucharest, Romania’s gritty yet cool capital.
THE BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN BUCHAREST, ROMANIA
UNDERSTANDING BUCHAREST’S COMMUNIST PAST
You can’t understand Romania, or indeed Bucharest, until you’ve explored the capitals communist past.
We recommend joining one of the many ‘Communist’ tours through the city, where you’ll learn about the Communist history of the city, the events and people that shaped current Bucharest, and visit key landmarks of communism in the city.
If you’re not up for a tour, a visit to Ceaușescu‘s grand ‘Palace of the Parliament’ (entry: £10, bring your passport), the second-largest building in the world (after the pentagon), is a must. This imposing marble behemoth was made solely from Romanian materials, and took the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Now home to Romania’s parliament, tours here discuss Ceaușescu‘s vision, and the building’s purpose.
Revolution Square, home to the 1989 revolution which ended Ceaușescu’s regime, is another important site you must visit.
Review | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Auhero Travels’ Communist Tour
STROLL THROUGH LIPSCANI, THE OLD TOWN OF BUCHAREST
Home to the tourist hub of Bucharest, Lipscani (or the old town) has a heap of shops, bars, restaurants and clubs to waste many an hour.
But for us, the simple pleasure of wandering the old squares, streets and alleyways on foot was the reason we loved this part of Bucharest so much. Unfortunately, much of Bucharest’s architectural grandeur was destroyed by wars, earthquakes and Ceaușescu‘s march toward systemisation. The parts that do remain are seriously photogenic, and worthy of a few hours of at least a few hours of your time.
Our favourite buildings included the following: Romanian atheneum, Stavropoleos Church, National Savings Bank, National Museum of Art, Central University Library, National Museum of Romanian History, Court of Appeals, and the National Bank of Romania.
If you’re interested in free walking tours, we’d recommend Walkabout Free tours . We joined the incredibly knowledgable Mihaela, who took us through 500 years of history, from Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), to the golden era of communism and the ‘89 revolution. Tours start from Unirii Square Park and while the tour is free, donations/tips are essential.
Review | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Walkabout Free Tours
CHILL IN BUCHAREST’S MANY PARKS
We love a good park and are firm believers that good parks = good cities. Fortunately, Bucharest is home to a number of seriously beautiful parks, which come alive on warm days as locals flock to walk the vast pathways, relax in the sun, row the many lakes, or enjoy an ice cream or two.
Our favourite was the oldest park in the downtown area, Cișmigiu Gardens, west of Calea Victoriei. Here, you can stroll the shady paths, grab an ice cream and chill on the many park benches, or hire a paddle boat and explore the park by water.
Cișmigiu Gardens: Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta, București 030167, Romania
We’d also recommend visiting Herăstrău Park on the outskirts of the city. At 187 hectares, the city’s largest park is surrounded by a huge lake. Interestingly, during summer the city’s best clubs make residence in the park for some wicked all-night parties on the lake and shore.
Herăstrău Park: Romania, Bucharest
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DRINK BEER IN BUCHAREST’S HIDDEN GARDEN & ROOFTOP BARS
Unsurprisingly, our favourite thing to do in Bucharest was to chill and drink beer in one the many funky bars. After all, Bucharest is one of the cheapest cities in Europe to have a beer.
A few of our favourites include:
The perfect place to escape the ugly communist surrounds of Bucharest, Gradina Eden is a jungle-like oasis filled with wooden furniture, pillows, hammocks, and a few secret hideaways.
Yep, it’s hipster heaven and we loved it. Grab a beer, or an exotic cocktail, and relax.
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Gradina Eden
Pura Vida Sky Bar
Perched above the Lipscani area of Bucharest, Pura Vida Sky Bar offers one of the best views of the city. Sure, we loved the views, but we also loved the colourful cocktails, ever flowing beer, and the summer-esque bar.
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Pura Vida Sky Bar
SIP TEA AT INFINITEA
A little gem we discovered on a walk through the lush Cotroceni neighbourhood, Infinitea is one of those places that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The decor reminded us of little english teahouses, and the tea and cake did too. But the best part about Infinitea was the beautiful little courtyard. Filled with fairy lights, flowers and old skool decor, it was the perfect respite from the often harsh city landscapes of Bucharest.
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Infinitea
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BRUNCH IN BUCHAREST’S COOLEST CAFES
Like many emerging city’s throughout Europe, Bucharest is home to a thriving hipster culture. So it’s no surprise that we found a number of awesome cafes to enjoy a Cafe Latte, brunch, and a little bit of work time.
M60 was our favourite coffee shop in Bucharest. The coffee was great, the food delicious, and the decor on point. Heck, it even served Australian hot chocolate.
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews on M60
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Steam
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Origo
ADMIRE THE STREET ART SCENE
Anywhere touted the ‘new Berlin’ better have a decent street art culture, and Bucharest doesn’t disappoint.
Strada Pictor Arthur Verona is home to the best art where walls are covered with amazing murals including works by some of the city’s best graffiti artists. Unlike Berlin’s famous street art locations, here isn’t overrun with tourist vying for the best photo.
Garajul Ciclop is another place to get your street art fix. A former garage from the 1920’s, it now serves as a gallery covered with some of the best street art in Bucharest.
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews of Garajul Ciclop
EAT TRADITIONAL FOOD AT CARU’ CU BERE
We were seeking some traditional Romanian food, and a touch of local atmosphere. After speaking with our friendly Uber driver, we ended up at the local institution, Caru’ cu Bere.
From the outside, we were wary, as it looked like a typical tourist trap like those found in any major European city. However, once we stepped inside the ornate Belle Epoque building and noticed the humming atmosphere, we knew we’d found our place.
There are six set menus to choose from, including vegetarian options, and the food is hearty, if slightly heavy. We recommend the black bean soup in a bread bowl, polenta with cabbage rolls, and a traditional Romanian dessert, Papanasi (below – NOM!). Meals cost around £5 per course.
Caru’ cu Bere | Strada Stavropoleos 5, București 030081, Romania
Review | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Caru’ cu Bere
If you’re after something more hip, Modelier serves burgers and cocktails at a reasonable price, while Bucharest Food Hood, located in the Lipscani area, has food trucks, beer and communal eating areas filled with local hipsters.
Modelier | Strada Duzilor 12, București 021472, Romania
Review | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Modelier
Bucharest Food Hood | Strada Șelari 4, București 030167, Romania
Review | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Bucharest Food Hood
VISIT EUROPE’S BEST BOOKSHOP
Situated inside a beautifully restored 19th-century building lies Carturesti Carusel, one of of the world’s most impressive bookshops.
Like something out of Mim’s dreams, it’s light, white and stunning. The minimal design is perfect to browse, buy or read books, chill in the mezzanine cafe or photograph the pretty lines.
Review | Read Tripadvisor reviews on Carturesti Carusel
So there you have it, our list of best things to do in Bucharest. We suggest you book your flights there asap, as the time to visit this city is NOW!
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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.