Bucharest City Guide
Looking to travel to a different European city that hasn’t been overrun by tourists? Bucharest is just such a city. The capital of Romania, in a region of Europe known as the Balkans, Bucharest is a great destination for budget-minded travellers. Not only does Romania have their own currency, Leu, but prices are quite affordable and there are plenty of bargains to find – from hostels to souvenirs. Euros and demand haven’t hit Bucharest yet, so you’ll find it easy to stay on a budget.
Bucharest has an interesting mix of Parisian charm and edgy communism architecture. It’s even known as Little Paris. Bucharest has something for every traveler’s interest, from fabulous museums to beautiful parks and a wealth of history both in the city and nearby.
Getting In & Around Bucharest
Bucharest’s main airport is Henri Coandă International Airport. It’s located 18 kilometres north of downtown, with a couple of different options to getting into town. The express bus 783 runs daily every 20 minutes and takes you into downtown. The ride is approximately 40 minutes. You can get off at Victory Square if you wish to take the metro.
Tip: You can purchase a bus card from a booth in front of the arrivals hall at the airport. But note that normal bus cards do not work on the express bus.
Tip: Remember to always validate your ticket on board the bus using the touch screen machine.
Another option is taking a taxi. The cost is approximately 30 Leu (approx. $9 CAD/7 US) into the downtown. To obtain a taxi you must get a ticket stub from the ticketing machines located in front of the arrivals hall. Once you have your ticket head outside to wait in line. Your ticket will have a number on it, that is your taxi number, and it will be shown on the side of the taxi.
Tip: Only take the taxi that matches your number, and keep your ticket stub. Make sure he starts the meter right away. And note that most taxis only accept cash.
Bucharest has one of the most extensive public transport systems in Europe. While their trains may be slow, buses and the metro (underground system) are fast and efficient. The metro has four lines (M1, M2, M3, & M4), and is affordable and easy to maneuver.
Things to do in Bucharest
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
The best way to introduce yourself to a new city is with a walking tour. And who doesn’t love a free tour! Bucharest’s Walkabout Free Tour offers a great 2 hour tour of the city centre. Guides recount the city’s over 500 years of history, from Vlad Tepes to the ear of communism.
Highlights include; Stravropoleos Monastery, the ruins of Vlad Tepe’s Citadel, Manuc’s Inn, revolution spots and more. They’ll also help you out with tips on bars and restaurants to visit and where the best nightlife is.
2. Palace of the Parliament
The Palace of the Parliament, of which Bucharest’s parliament building is known as, is a sight to see. This massive structure is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the US Pentagon. Sadly much of Bucharest at the time, its historic districts, were torn down or relocated to make way for this beast.
Home to over 1000 rooms, nearly 500 chandeliers, marble staircases, and even the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Its grand and opulent interior is in stark contrast to its exterior. Tours are available, but note there is an extra cost for taking photos.
3. Bucharest History & Art Museum
Located in the beautiful Sutu Palace, built in 1834, you’ll find the Bucharest History & Art Museum. The museum features around 300,000 artifacts that range from books to engravings, and old traditional costumes. There are also amazing old maps of Bucharest throughout the ages. But probably the most valuable piece is the document issued by Vlad Tepes, in 1459, naming the city of Bucharest for the first time.
Be sure to look beyond the museum’s collection to the building itself. With its painted ceilings, details and beautiful staircase, it adds to the wonder of the museum.
4. Enjoy its Parks
Bucharest is home to plenty of parks, but there are two you must visit, Cişmigiu and Herăstrău. Cişmigiu Park is the city’s oldest park and located in the city center. Covering over 40 acres, with a large artificial lake that you can rent rowboats for, a visit to Cişmigiu makes you feel like you’re anywhere but in the city. Home to beautiful winding paths, black swans and various statues, it’s a favourite of locals.
Herăstrău Park is located just north of the city center and it’s easy to spend an entire day there. The park is home to a huge lake, statues and lovely gardens. I even stumbled upon a sweet little black cat who seemed to call the park home. Herăstrău Park is Bucharest’s largest park and is also where you’ll find the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum.
5. Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
Set in Herăstrău Park is this open air museum, showcasing traditional Romanian village life. This large, outdoor museum has authentic peasant farms, churches, windmills, and houses from all over Romania, and are furnished with genuine pieces. A wander through makes you feel like you’re not only stepping back in time, but also transported miles away to rural Romania.
6. Stavropoleos Monastery
In the heart of Bucharest’s Old Town is the stunning Stavropoleos Monastery. The Eastern Orthodox Monastery was completed in 1724, and includes a small church, library, and courtyard full of tombstones dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s probably best known for its extensive library that’s home to over 8000 books, on everything from theology to music and art.
The small church is open daily and free to visit. Its interior may be showing its age but it will still take your breath away. You enter through wooden doors and are awarded with fantastic frescos. It left a very powerful impact on me that still draws goosebumps when I think of it.
If you time your visit well you can attend a piano concert or hear the Byzantine Choir.
7. Kretzulescu Church
While it might look out of place in its location, Kretzulescu Church is one of Bucharest’s many beautiful churches you should visit. Built in 1722, it is one of the best preserved orthodox churches in the city. Check out its slender bell tower and breathtaking frescos, of which most of the paintings outside are all originals.
8. Romanian Athenaeum
One of Bucharest’s most beautiful buildings is the Romanian Athenaeum. Located centrally, this neoclassical concert hall dates back to 1888. This circular building is lovely inside and out, with manicured gardens out front and amazing frescos within. Dubbed the “Romanian temple of the arts”, its interior showcases 12 Carrera marble columns in the hallway, brilliant red seats, a stunning painted dome in the auditorium that depicts scenes from Romanian history. Take in a concert, or merely wander in to take a peek.
9. Wander Old Town
A must for any European city is a wander through its old town. And Bucharest is no different. Known as the Lipscani Area, after one of the streets, Bucharest’s Old Town started to boom after Vlad Tepes built his palace and court in the area, in the mid-15th century. The eclectic Old Town is full of antique shops, cafés and restaurants. It’s also home to one of the most beautiful bookshops in Europe. In the Old Town you’ll find some of the city’s best sights including; old churches like Stavropoleos, Manuc’s Inn, Vlad’s Old Court, and ruins of an old inn in front of the National Bank of Romania beneath covered glass.
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10. Two Castles Day Trip
There are plenty of great places to take a day trip to from Bucharest. But my top recommendation is the Two Castles day trip which is offered by a handful of tour companies. The one I took was with a small group, and our tour included a visit to Peles Castle, Bran Castle, the village of Brasov, and a drive through the Carpathian Mountains.
Peles Castle is one of those stunning palaces that was way beyond its time. This was definitely the highlight of the tour and I recommend purchasing the photography pass! Bran Castle is of course the famed fort that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And the charming town of Brasov is lovely to wander for its history and brilliant colourful buildings.
Related Post: On the Hunt for Dracula in Romania
Have you been to Bucharest?
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