Five Fascinating Things To Do In Bucharest
The story begins with one of the points on my bucket list. I had two wishes which I wanted to fulfill with the help of this journey. Visit Santa Clause in the Finish Rovaniemi or meet Dracula in Transylvania. As the title of this blog post might already tell you, I decided meeting Dracula was my choice. So said, so done, I asked my best friend to join me, we booked the flights, the car, and the accommodation, and started our little adventure in Bucharest, where we had the chance to discover five fascinating things, which everyone should see during a stay in Bucharest.
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Well, there was not much choice. If you travel a lot, things might go wrong sometimes. Usually, on my travels, I was fortunate despite two or three occasions. But this time it was a bit different. My best friend, who accompanied me on this trip, and I got stuck at the airport in Dortmund. Unfortunately, our journey to Romania began with a delay of the plane. Technical issues, whoa, very trustworthy. We spent a bit more than two hours at the airport in Dortmund. I think I do not need to mention that we were not very happy about this situation, mainly, because the airport in Dortmund has not very much to offer, even to find a free Wi-Fi was not available. At least, it was time enough to make a Plan B: Looking for a last-minute hotel and some things to do in Bucharest for the next day.
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Changed plans and a last-minute decision
Nevertheless, two hours later we left the airport. We landed in Bucharest safe and sound. But then, as already anticipated, darkness came into play. A few hours later than planned, already dark, in a foreign country with traffic which I was not used to, and a hotel which was located another two and a half hours from the airport in Bucharest located in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains. Would you be tempted to take on this ride at that moment? I believe you also would have considered staying the night in the city, sleep well, and start refreshed into the next morning. Hence, my best friend and I, spontaneously, decided to stay here for the night and to explore Bucharest a bit for half of the next day. It met our plans halfway as we considered a day trip from Brasov to Bucharest later the week. Now we re-arranged our first idea and discover the city instead. Here are a couple of fantastic things to do in Bucharest. They can easily be visited in one day but can be extended by a lot more.
Bucharest – the Capital of Romania
Bucharest is the capital city and commercial center of Romania, and you can find it in the south of the country. Although it is part of the European Union, the currency is still the Romanian Leu (RON). Therefore, prepare yourself and exchange money or make sure that you can use one of the available ATM´s to withdraw some.
A City Full Of Contrasts
A city, which is full of contrasts. It is loved and hated by Romanians at the same time, and also I am still not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, it is a beautiful and exciting destination with a lot of history, an active and energetic nightlife. And loads of things to do. “It’s where still-unreconstructed communism meets unbridled capitalism; where the soporific forces of the EU meet the passions of the Balkans.” – Lonely Planet
On the other hand, traffic is crazy and aggressive. A lot of buildings appear abandoned but clean at the same time, and the people never smile or laugh, but as soon as you talk to them, you can feel a warm-hearted, friendly and helpful core.
Overall, it is a weird mixture of good things and bad ones. You will find a modern city center, but also 17th- and 18th-century Orthodox churches and graceful art nouveau villas. The traffic will make you crazy if you need to drive by yourself (as I did), but you can easily walk the city center and its attractions without any hurry.
Bucharest is indeed a city of contraries, but in my opinion, this is why it is so interesting. It has such a special flair, and I believe there are only two options: whether you love it or you hate it. You have to visit by yourself to feel it.
If you have half a day in a city only, you need to choose wisely what you want to do and where to go. For us, it was clear that we will focus on the city center and the old town because it says that the whole area is walkable and you will find a few gems within walking distance. And it is true! Here are five things to do in Bucharest, which you can visit in one day or less.
Where to start?
If you are going by car as we did, the best way to explore this area is by parking your car somewhere. The ideal starting point is University Square. A massive roundabout near downtown with a lot of possibilities to park your vehicle. There are a lot of lots on the streets around which are organized by some parking lot guards (I am not sure how to describe them best. Men who advise you where to park, of course, in exchange of a fee). We found that the easiest way of getting rid of our car for a few hours would be one of the parking garages. We felt better to leave our rental car in the most organized and safest place we could found. Driving on Bucharest’s streets is adventure enough, and we did not want to risk any damages by parking on the those. Bucharest´s inhabitants use to park everywhere they find a free space, including sidewalks, entrances or anything else. Just a warning!
Things to do in Bucharest
I know, vacation is not the right time to hurry or set yourself under pressure. But in this particular case, we had a three hours drive (depending on the traffic) ahead of us in the afternoon. So we had not too much time to discover Bucharest. Therefore we prepared the most time efficient route to catch the following sites. Five things to do in Bucharest in an order which allows you the see a few cool things in a short time.
1. Antiquities market at Bazar
If you are a fan of flea markets, this is a lovely way starting your tour. You can find it in a semi-abandoned building in the Strada Doamnei 11 at the corner of Doamnei and Ion Ghica. Keep your eyes open as you can quickly oversee the entrance. Even I would have walked by if I did not watch out for an antiquities market just because my best friend is a fan of those. You can find some artworks or hand-made stuff like jewelry, handbags or paintings. But what this place makes so special is the interior. Step into the building and raise your eyes to the ceiling. You will be amazed and stunned by the interior and fresco-like paintings of this art deco building. At least this is worth a quick stop.
Are you ready for your Romanian adventure? Book your accommodation right here, right now!
2. Centru Vechi – The Old Town of Bucharest
After the stop at the Bazaar, we headed to the Centru Vechi. It is the Romanian name of the old town, the historical center of Bucharest. The Old Center of Bucharest is an area between the Dambovita river in the south, Calea Victoriei in the west, Bulevardul Brătianu in the east and Regina Elisabeta in the north. If you are looking for buildings and architecture from the time before World War II, this is the place to be, as this is pretty much it what is left from this era. Unfortunately, the Communists destroyed a lot of the city. For example, almost a fifth of the area was taken down to make way for the Bulevadul Unirii and the Casa Poprului in connection to the Civic Center project.
Give yourself some time and stroll through the narrow streets and get stunned by the architecture. You will find historical sights, bars, and restaurants all over the area. Take your time and enjoy this vibrant and crowded part of the town.
3. Palace of Parliament
The next stop on this short half-day trip through the center of Bucharest is the Palace of Parliament. A standard tour is available for 35 Lei per Person, and the parliament is open daily. There are two routes from the old town to get there. The first one is to follow the Dambovita River and then turn left at the Bulevardul Libertatii. The second one is to head to the Piata Unirii and then turn right on the Bulevardul Unirii. I would recommend the second one. Not only the Piata Unirii, a giant roundabout surrounded by a parc, also the Bulevadul Unirii is very special. It is a wide boulevard with walking alleys aside and a lane of fountains between the driving roads. Follow it, and soon the gigantic Palace of Parliament will appear in front of you. This iconic landmark is the massive, communist-era government building. It has 1 100 rooms and is the second largest administrative building in the world. More extensive than this is the Pentagon in Washington only.
Once again the controversy of the city is visible here. During the communist reign and built by the dictator Ceausescu, this building should prove the wealth and power of the Socialist Republic of Romania to the world. Constructions began in 1983 and were stopped in 1989 by the time of the Romanian Revolution so that they could not finish the creation of that building. Today only a small part and a few rooms are in use. No one wished to complete the installation, in contrary, “many Romanians demanded the destruction of the building which was seen as a symbol of Ceausescu’s megalomania and the extravagant lives lead by the former communist elites.”
The one way or the other, you will be impressed by its appearance.
4. Pasajul Villacrosse and Pasajul Macca
After the Palace of Parliament, we went back to the old town alongside the river to find a real gem of this area. The Pasajul Vilacrosse and Macca. You can see this passage near the National Bank of Romania building. It is covered by an arcade yellow glass roof which allows natural light to comes in and encourages commerce at street level. It was Bucharest’s first shopping mall. Today you can find cafes and restaurants. Sit down for a while, but as most of them offer hookah pipes and exotic tobaccos, it might be more recommended to enjoy the architecture and use it as an excellent photo option.
5. Pasajul Victoria – so many colorful umbrellas ?
Last but not least, my favorite sight, the Pasajul Victoria. The umbrella street of Bucharest. If you know what you are looking for it is easy to find because it is near the Piata Universitatii where you probably parked your car as recommended at the beginning of this post. Anyway, on both entrances of this small street are decorated with colorful umbrellas. Just have a look and enjoy or have a drink at the hidden underground bar.
Do you want more hidden gems and things to do in Bucharest? Then read this brilliant article from Full Suitcase about 12 Hidden Gems of Bucharest That Most Tourists Never See.
It was the last stop of our little Bucharest tour. Afterward, we went back to our car and headed to our original destination. Poiana Brasov, located in the Carpathian Mountains, with all its Transilvanian attractions like Castle Bran, Bucegi National Park or the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sibiu. More about our time in Transylvania you can read in another article.
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It is true that Bucharest is a city of contrasts. As my best friend said, I quote: “Nice to see, once in your life…” Or as I see it: It is a beautiful and exciting city with its very own charm and atmosphere. There is a lot to see, visit, and worth to discover. From my point of view, the time was too short, and if I have the chance to go back one more time, I would love to do so and stay for a bit longer.
So what do you think? Would you visit Bucharest?
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35 thoughts on “Romania: Five Fascinating Things To Do In Bucharest”
Thank you, Pia for such a flattering post about Bucharest. People come to Bucharest with little expectations and are generally amazed by its hidden gems. If you do manage to go beyond the obvious touristic sites, you can easily fall in love with the city.
I loved those umbrellas in Pasajul Victoria, it gets so busy in there!
Okay, now Bucharest has a permanent place on my bucket list!! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Beautiful & romantic place! Hope to make it there one day.
Traveling to Bucharest or Romania, in general, is always worth a visit! In winter and also summer, spring, and fall!
These are so pretty. I wanna go there..
Thanks Angel Lou, you should go!
After reading this, I definitely want to visit Bucharest! I loved your description of things and the photos are beautiful!
Thank you, Kara! Bucharest is definitely worth a visit! If you´re interested in visiting Romania in general feel free to return now or then for more Romania posts. I currently working on one of Transylvania 😉
Fantastic..want to visit Romania .. your post will be a great help..
You´re welcome, Kapila!
I love Bucharest! And Passajul Villacrosse and Macca are possibly my favourite spot. Thanks for sharing!
Teresa, you already know Bucharest. That is so cool. Anything else which I have missed? Especially, in that area?
I have never been that far East of Europe yet. Made it as far as Vienna, but Bucharest is definitely on my list! And your (well-written) article makes me want to go even more!
Wow, you seem to have done a lot in one day. 🙂 definitely a worthwhile guide when put in the city.
Hi Harinie, it´s not that much as all the things are very close to each other. But Bucharest has a lot more to offer, and you will need a few more days to enjoy all of that.
From your travelogue, I feel I would enjoy Bucharest, whenever I do visit. The old town and the umbrella street look charming.
I am sure you will love it, but try to avoid to drive by yourself. Traffic is nuts, and it will drive you crazy.
This is great! We’re actually planning a trip to Romania (primarily Bucharest) for next May, so it was really interesting reading more about what you can see and do. The umbrella street looks so cool!
Hi, Kelly, the umbrellas were absolutely adorable. Where else will you go on your trip? Feel free to download my free guide to Romania with a couple of awesome sights in Bucharest and the other areas like Transylvania or Wallachia. It will be fun and give you a nice overview of what can be visited.
It is indeed a great joy to land on your place.
Indeed you have an amazing space with a lot of eye capturing pics and information.
Thanks for sharing this valuable information about Romania
Thanks a lot, Philip. It´s a pleasure to have you here!
I must go, it is on my list, but seems Europe evades me.
What? Why does it evade you? What happened, Gibbs?
I have to say, I feel the same about Bucharest… not sure if I love it or hate it. One thing’s for sure though is I’d definitely go back to see more of regional Romania. It is stunning!! My favourite is Siniai (not sure about spelling?). Great post… Look forward to your next one… 🙂
Thanks, Janey for stopping by! It´s good to hear that I´m not the only one who feels like this. It´s crazy how different people about the same place sometimes. I already work on my next post and hope to finish it soon. Feel free to come back to check for any new posts or sign up for my newsletter to get all the news first before anyone else.
Bucharest was one of my more memorable trips this year. Another gem you can add to this list is Therme Bucharest. It might just be one of the finest spas in all of Europe!
Yes, because it’s using natural thermal water from the ground. It’s a fine SPA and also helps for health. As a native to Bucharest (born there) i’m not so happy with the city overall, could have been a lot better. If you want to see a huge difference, take the time to stay 1-2 days in Bucharest, 1-2 days in Sibiu and 1-2 days in Cluj-Napoca then compare.
Romania is a beautiful country, me as a native i didn’t reach to visit all things in my 35+ years of life. Landscapes and traditions are allover the country, and different in each region.
Cities to visit, excluding the capital: Oradea, Sighisoara,Iasi,Sibiu,Cluj-Napoca,Brasov,Timisoara,Baia Mare.
Regions to visit: Bucovina (far north of the country), Maramures (far northwest), Danube defile (near Drobeta Turnu Severin), Danube Delta (this is a must!), Intorsura Buzaului (inside the Carpathians mountains arc).
In Bucovina you cand find amazing landscapes, hundred years old traditions , natural food (yes, no additives no E-s) and also some of the oldest monasteries (Dragomirna, Sucevita,Putna,Voronet, Moldovita) build between 1400 and 1600 AD.
In Maramures at Sapanta, you can find the happy cemetery, an unique cemetery in the world i believe or at least in Europe.
For who is interested, there is a bunch of young people helping tourists pro bono to guide them on all of these points of interest. The Romanian government doesn’t do a good job at advertising all that we have as a country.
Also, Bucharest to Cluj, Bucharest to Timisoara and Bucharest to Iasi can be done via RyanAir internal flights, very cheap and only 1:30 or 2 hour flight. Driving to these cities from Bucharest has it’s pros (landscapes are amazing) but the road quality and width will not help you travel fast so it might be a pain. Last time i drove Bucharest to Iasi i reached in 7 hours. So better get local flights and rent a car from these big cities so you travel around.
I loved the Centru Vechi area when I was there! It was so lively in summer, with all the life folk performances and delicious food in the restaurants.
This looks like such and incredible spot to visit! Oh my goodnesd. Thank you for sharing ?
It´s my pleasure, Sara 😀
Great post and beautiful photos! It’s posts like this that will get more and more people to visit Eastern Europe!
Thanks a lot, Hannah! I´m glad that you liked it.
Wow.. it seems like a cool place.. thanks for sharing this post.. I wish to visit this place soon ?
Yes, it´s definitely a fascinating location.