BAM! Bucharest blew me over. Little research had been done on things to do in Bucharest and the blogs I had read on Romania’s capital hadn’t whipped me into a frenzy. I’m here to tell you different. Coined the ‘new Berlin’ – Bucharest is buzzing; the party scene is powerful, yet the scars from the Soviet hold lie just under the surface.
Bucharest things to do today
1. Old Town, Bucharest / Centru Vechi
Probably the youngest Old Town in the world, Bucharest Old Town is a mere three years old! The aim of the redevelopment of Centru Vechi (the Old Centre, as the locals call it) was to entice locals and tourists alike to enjoy some social drinking while spending a bit of coin. The plan has been successful, this area if jumping! Streets and streets of bars, restaurants, kebab shops, and pumping music, all housed in grand buildings. Warning – local beer, Csíki Sör, is pretty cheap in Bucharest but a vodka comes in at £2.50. A glass of wine is not that far off it leaving a bit of a bad taste in my mouth after a month of 75p wines in Hungary and £1.20 swifters in Slovenia!
How to get to Bucharest’s Old Town: the borders of the Old Town are Dambovita river to the south, Calea Victoriei to the west, Bulevardul Brătianu to the east and Regina Elisabeta to the north. If you are using your phone for maps remember to pack your mobile/cell phone battery pack. We both use battery packs like this one by Anker. I can’t travel without it now because they charge speedily (you just use the provided cable and your own phone plug) and it gives our phone a full boost when out and about. I’m actually dumbfounded when I see friends searching for the plugs in cafes, just pop the battery pack and the phone cable in your bag and you can re-charge on the go!
2. A Room With A View
The popular hostel, Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel, sits at the top of the Old Town like the queen of the party scene. Inside is tranquility; cosy cafe, speedy WiFi, equipped kitchen, friendly staff, social dorms, and private rooms with this view…
Open the front door, welcome to the bustle of Bucharest Romania! Solo traveller? No fear, Little Bucharest also has planned daily events, it’s a social hub, not just a hostel. You won’t miss any Bucharest things to do with this social calendar.
- Hostel: Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel
- Contact: email@example.com
- Address: Strada Smârdan, București, Romania
- Prices: Dorms from $10 (£6.80 / €8.88) Privates from $40 (£27.22 / €35.52)
- Check availability + best prices at Hostelworld
- Bucharest travel blog tip: bring your camera and take a shot of the Old Town from the cafe!
3. What to do in Bucharest at night
What comes after the Old Town bars? The Hipster pubs. Checking out the local talent in Bucharest put my backpacking attire to shame. There are a lot of cool cats roaming the city streets and hanging out in Bucharest’s hipster bars. Partying is one of the more obvious things to do at night in Bucharest!
Gradina EDEN, Bucharest
Close your eyes, think of the garden of Eden, open your eyes…
Yes, you are there. Eden offers beer in bottles and on tap, wine, spirits and a calm environment to enjoy them in. Eden receives 5 stars for things to do in Bucharest TripAdvisor.
- Facebook: Gradina EDEN
- Address: Calea Victoriei 107, București, Romania
- Top tip for things to do in Bucharest – nightlife is jumping here, seriously!
Food Hood Bucuresti
Move over Portland, Bucharest’s food carts are in town. Seems like Romania’s capital is stealing the solid American idea of food trucks with a couple of bars, bands, and bunting thrown into the mix.
- Facebook: Food Hood Bucharest
- Address: Strada Șelari 4, București, Romania
Check Control Club
Overpriced hipster alarm. We paid £5 cover fee to get into Check Control Club expecting some kind of action in exchange, a DJ, band, dance floor? Nope just two bars for you to spend your hard earned cash on. We promptly left with our cover fee refunded.
- Facebook: Check Control Club
- Address: Strada Constantin Mille 4, București, Romania
Pura Vida Sky Bar
Watch the sun set over the copper rooftops with soothing summer tunes and a drink in hand at Pura Vida Sky Bar. As the Costa Rican saying goes this is a ‘pure life’!
4. Bucharest Bike Tour
Bucharest is not only an extremely interesting historical city but is actually pretty big. An accessible way to get around all the important places to visit in Bucharest is by bike. Slow Tours Half Day Bike tour meets at 11am every day and guides you around Romania’s Bucharest filling your head with facts about this ‘City of Contrasts’. Our tour guide (and business owner), Mihai, was friendly, funny, and very knowledgable. We kicked off our tour at Charles de Gaulle Square, cycling through the impressive Herăstrău Park (see below), then many other green areas (Bucharest has lots!), past the Palace of the Parliament (see below) to Revolution Square where Mihai shared his researched knowledge (and degree in anthropology) of the 1989 Revolution which resulted in the execution of the then dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, who lost his life, along with his wife, Elena on Christmas Day. I know four hours sounds long but time flies when you are working your buns! Mihai not only treated us to stories, but also local tips and a scone like bread snack for lunch, which we ate in the sun. Bliss! Tip, we travel with our Vango Freedom 80 + 20 rucksacks because the smaller 20 litre day pack unzips off the larger 80 litre backpack which can be used for day trips like this bike tour. Handy for storing suntan lotion, snacks and water bottles. The jury is out on whether to drink the tap water in Romania. Some expat sites suggest the water smells a bit foul. The green travellers amongst us may want to consider this purifying water bottle or the popular LifeStraw. Bottled water is available in shops of course, it’s just terrible for the environment.
- Slow Tours: Website
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Meeting Point: Charles de Gaulle Sq / 11am
- Price: €25 (£19 / $28) per person
- Duration: Approx. 4 hours
- Pedal while you learn, Bucharest things to do and see
Did you know that Romania has excellent treks? Check out this post on hiking in the Carpathian Mountains from our British blogging friends over at Roaming Renegades. Obviously never travel without insurance regardless of what type of trip you are making. We use True Traveller for insurance, I claimed during our time in Vancouver, Canada and I was happy with the service. See if they are right for you here.
5. Arcul de Triumf
Seriously guys, I am not that fit. I did not cycle to France. Bucharest has its very own Arch of Triumph! This monument was made, speedily, to celebrate the end of World War I. The original design did not last long but was replaced with stone. Unfortunately, there was (and is often) ugly construction around the beautiful Arc. Did you know that Bucharest’s nickname is ‘Little Paris’? Like architecture? Check out Timisoara, Romania.
Arch of Triumph: Bucharest, Romania points of interest
6. Bucharest’s Prettiest Parks
If you are wondering where all the locals are at the weekend you’ll find them at the beach or lazing in the parks of Bucharest. The biggest park is Herăstrău Park (Sector 1) which is 187 hectares built around Herăstrău lake. Visitors can hire a boat, visit the Village Museum, or check out the many sculptures (look out for King of Pop!)
Other green spaces include Bucharest’s Botanical Gardens (Șoseaua Cotroceni 32), Cismigiu Gardens / Grădina Cismigiu (Bulevardul Schitu Măgureanu) and the concrete Carol Park, home to the Monument to the Heroes of the Struggle for Freedom and Socialism (Filaret Hill) – a couple things to do for free in Bucharest.
7. Palace of the Parliament
Seriously, this is Bucharest Parliament!
Hard to miss Bucharest attractions
I know, this ‘House of the People’ resembles a battleship but this home to politicians is not just any parliament, it is second largest administrative building in the world, after The Pentagon of course! This monstrosity of a building was created by Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s, in 1984 (five years later the Romanian revolution would kick off).
Visitors can take a tour of the Parliament, (book in advance and take your passport for ID). When you hear that it eventually took 700 architects (initially headed by a young woman, Anca Petrescu) and 20,000 building workers to erect this thing, it’s easy to see why it is one of the top things to do in Bucharest Lonely Planet.
- Palace of Parliament: Website
- Contact: email@example.com
- Address: Calea 13 Septembrie 1
- Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm / off peak 10am – 4pm
- Price: Standard 35 LEI / £5.90 / €7.70 $8.65 + additions
8. Communism Permanent Exhibition
Take a look at the bullets on the buildings and you will see proof that Romania has suffered. For a long time (according to locals), Bucharest has not displayed its history unlike Sarajevo does extensively. This has changed with the introduction of the Communism Exhibition which takes you through a timeline of events from the stronghold of the Soviets on Romania in 1945 to the withdrawal of the Soviets then the Romanian Revolution / Uprising of 1984. This museum was one of the (many) highlights for me.
The Romanians did not have a Tito to keep Moscow at arm’s length like former Yugoslavia did and this resulted in the Red Army ‘protecting’ the country for 14 years. Romania was made a Soviet satellite state, which meant its industries were nationalised and placed under the SovRom title, everything from petrol to media to hospitals to the movies were ‘looked after’ by Joseph Stalin. He even renamed the city of Brasvo, ‘Stalin City’ to show who was boss.
Permanent Exhibition Area of the Sighet Memorial in Bucharest
However, big industry was not the only aspect of life that communism controlled. Landowners were evicted, many did not go down without fighting, burning their own farms down before the Red Army could get to them. Education was heavily controlled, books were audited, bibles were made into toilet paper – so Romanians were literally wiping their asses with religion (which wasn’t banned, just heavily restricted).
Ok, so maybe you could handle losing your house, job, bank account, all for the ‘greater good’ of the Soviet nation but Stalin’s techniques did not tickle. Students, bishops, priests, dissidents (men and women) were arrested and placed in ‘re-education through torture’ programmes. Prisoners were beaten physically and mentally. Boiling gruel was served, prisoners were forced to lie on their stomach with their hands behind their backs and eat with their mouths like pigs. Once tortured to the point of no return, prisoners were made into the torturer – maiming their old friends, no longer a human being themselves- ‘the brutality was boundless’. By 1958, the Soviet tanks were leaving, and by 1965 the liked and then loathed, dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was in power. This gallery displays, texts, images, and a clever computerised device, to convey what life was like in Romania.
- Permanent Exhibition Area of the Sighet Memorial in Bucharest: Website
- Contact: +40 21 313 7628
- Address: 66 Jean Luis Calderon St., Bucharest
- Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm
- Price: Free
9. Michael Jackson Spotting in Bucharest
Michael Jackson is an unlikely hero but he is to the Romanians! MJ was one of the first celebrities to visit Bucharest after the uprising. It was official Budapest, I mean Bucharest, was on the map! Yes, poor Michael made that mistake live on stage – whose bad?! So the next time someone asks ‘where is Bucharest?’ think of the King of Pop!
10. Things to Eat in Bucharest
One of Romania’s national dishes is sarmale (pictured) which consists of ground meat and rice wrapped in cabbage. Locals state that the best sarmale is slowly cooked in an iron cauldron over a small fire. I tried some at La Mama (Strada Episcopiei 9) and was impressed. Very tasty. For a quick snack try plăcinte cu brânză dulce which is a fried bread and sweet cheese found in bakeries (and there are lots of them, always busy).
Restaurants in Bucharest
There are hundreds of restaurants in Bucharest which serve local and international dishes. The streets of the Old Town are jam-packed with eateries. The area around Strada Episcopiei also has a few more options. If you are looking to grab a quick bite don’t miss the Food Hood (see above) or look for the shop window with the busiest queue – that is the bakery! Here’s a guide to vegan restaurants in Bucharest.
Hotels in Bucharest
Accommodation in Bucharest is not expensive.
- Hotels range from £20 – £433 per night so suits every budget
- Hostel dorms start at £5.90. Check out more hostel options and availability at Hostelworld
- Airbnb operates in Bucharest, average cost for a private room is £24, we paid £16 (including charges) —> new to Airbnb? Use our start up code and receive money off, we get credit to! Thank you)
- For two nights we had the honour of staying at Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel after meeting the owners Anda and Tudor in Las Peñtias in Nicaragua a few months ago. This couple are a dream team, they’ve taken the ‘new’ Bucharest by the balls and sell the city with passion
Bucharest Public Transport
Bucharest has a metro system which has been running since 1979. Trains start at 5am – 11pm every day of the week. A map of the metro system can be found here. Bucharest also has a number of bus, trams, and light rail routes. Über operates here as well as a taxi app called Speed Taxi Bucuresti or Speed Taxi Bucharest (reviews online not so hot). We used the Bucharest airport bus (783) during rush hour which was a nightmare – two hours to get to the city (£2 per person). On the way back, we ordered an Über which took 25 mins max (not rush hour / £5).
Similar to surrounding countries, Romania, sees hot summers but cold winters. Summer runs from June to August and winter from December to February. Summers average at a nice 27 – 29 degrees, where as winter temperatures can fall to below 0. Rain falls mostly March to May (spring) then again in September to November (autumn / fall) however summer often experiences violent storms.
Bucharest what to do today? Bike tour!
Things to do in Bucharest, Romania on a Rainy Day
In addition to the two museums mentioned above, Bucharest is also home to
- Museum of the Romanian Peasant
- National Museum of Art of Romania
- Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History
- National Museum of Geology (Geology rocks!)
- National Museum of Contemporary Art + many many more!
There are lots of high street shops for every budget in Bucharest. Shop like a local! There is a flea market at Strada Mihai Bravu and a fresh foods market at Amzei Market. When considering things to buy in Bucharest, especially souvenirs check out the gift shops of the museums for authenticity. There is often a market at the back of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant which came recommended for trinkets and traditional food. Don’t forget to pack a waterproof jacket like my beloved Marmot PreCip which folds into its own pocket, nifty! I always have a waterproof bag cover attached to my day bag in case I get caught out in a shower, you can tell we’re from Scotland!
Currency in Romania
Although Romania is part of the European Union it does not use the Euro. The currency used in Romania is the Romanian leu. For the most up to date exchange rates click here.
Romanian Tourism has very helpful page of maps for not only Bucharest but also other towns and cities.
WiFi in Bucharest
WiFi in Bucharest is rapid! If there are any digital nomads out there looking for somewhere in Europe to touch base then I highly recommend working here. Little Bucharest also offers a co-working space, the first one in the city! Why not stay longer, tell the world about Romania’s capital and create a Bucharest blog?
Things to Watch Out for in Bucharest
As a travelling couple, we felt safe in Bucharest. If you are non drinker then the Old Town at night may be one of things you want to avoid in Bucharest. However, the Food Hood still has nice vibes and less bustle than the bars on the streets next to it. One of the main things to be careful with is stereotypes. Romanians are not Roma (or Romani / Romany) people (often referred to gypsies, but this term can been deemed as negative). The Roma people are traditionally a group who travel but are also found in Romania just to confuse matters. Romanian people are natives to the country Romania (although many Romani people were born in Romania too). Romanians speak the Romanian language, the Roma communities have their own language. Roma people are often discriminated against and EU states that it is each EU country’s responsibility to prevent this exclusion. Like many big cities, there are many people (mostly woman, with children) begging for money, some of which are Romani.
Smoking in Bucharest
Hooray! Bucharest has joined the rest of civilised Europe and enforced the smoking ban in public places. I wish their politicians would have a word with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia who still allow smoking in bars, cafes, and restaurants. Gads!
Three nights in Bucharest was just a taster session for Romania. We are keen to head back next summer to tick off our list of things to see outside Bucharest which include; hiking, chilling at the beach, and checking out Dracula’s castle near Bran of course! What were your 10 best things to do in Bucharest?
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Heading to Bucharest?
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Thanks to Little Bucharest and Slow Tours for a lovely long weekend in Bucharest, our own opinions as always.