Romania’s capital Bucharest will surprise you with its multiple personalities: a Balkan spirit with Oriental influences, reshaped and 'reeducated' by 40 years of communist ideals and planning, now with Western aspirations and a vibrant young community.
Though it may seem rough at the edges, Bucharest can offer something to any type of traveller: the usual tourist, crowded spots (Lipscani Old Town), an architectural mix of Belle Epoque Villas and communist landmarks such as the Palace of Parliament, rich and lively urban culture with many things going on among the young, many hidden gems and lesser known places, a modern going out scene with trendy cafes and bars, fine-dinning restaurants combining multiple cuisine influences (still reasonably cheap!), urban gardens and, well, a long list. Come see for yourself!
Your Romanian Friend wants to help you visit major cities in Romania with the help of locals so we've asked one of our friends to write this small Bucharest travel guide.
First time visitor in Romania? Check our 10 travel tips for visiting Romania.
Have a look at our selection of the best tours and day trips from Bucharest
Thanks to its glorious Belle Époque buildings, in the early 1900s the city earned the nickname of Little Paris – and not just because it also has an Arch of Triumph which resembles the one in the French capital. Right now Bucharest is very popular for its rich blend of historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and art deco), communist and modern architecture mix.
It also has a vibrant, modern, artistic & friendly local life. There are various exhibitions, outdoor sports, street culture or food events happening most of the time, including some pretty cool & unique stuff – like a 3D video-mapping competitions on the Palace of Parliament. And the night life – honestly, after visiting lots of European hotspots, I think Bucharest can easily be ranked among one of the best: effervescent and diverse, trendy and trashy, from 22:00 to 6:00 in the morning. When Romanians go out, they go out in style – so don’t expect to see people drinking (or passed out) in the street, cheap beer everywhere or lousy outdated music.
Bucharest is Romania's capital and economic, cultural and artistic centre. With an estimated population of approx. 3 million inhabitants - out of which almost a quarter made up of students and young adults - this bustling and vibrant metropolis will surprise even a seasoned traveler and offer something to the most pretentious among you.
I recommend exploring the city by foot: it’s the easiest (and healthiest!) way to discover Bucharest, mostly because of its long and wide boulevards that cross the city North-South along its most important sights and attractions. There are also some great parks – some of them huge green spaces with pretty big lakes, perfect for a jog or a bike ride (like Herastrau or Tineretului Park) or delightful green gardens, hidden from the bustling city (such as Cismigiu Garden or Ion Voicu Park - hidden gem over here, try finding it!).
To start your walk, one option would be to begin from Union Square (Piața Unirii), and from there to make your way up to Victory Square (Piața Victoriei) either on Victory Avenue (Calea Victoriei) or Magheru and Lascar Catargiu Boulevards (~45-60 min walk). Don’t be afraid to get lost anywhere in between if you make a left or right – you might come across some wonderful hidden places!
The second option – and my favorite way to enjoy Bucharest – is to start from Herastrau Park (metro: Aviatorilor). I suggest renting a bike for around 1 EUR/hour at the park’s entrance from Charles de Gaulle Square and then go on a ride around Herastrau Lake – see if you can find Rose Island (another hidden gem!). When you’re done, take the park’s exit towards the House of Free Press Square (Piata Presei Libere) for a Russian – American mixed flavored landscape (yep, funny communist names everywhere). From there, head towards the Arch of Triumph – easy to recognize from the distance – and further on Kisseleff Boulevard towards Victory Square, where the communist-inspired headquarters of the Government is located (called Victory Palace!). But do stop along the way to admire some beautiful 80+ year old bourgeois houses well preserved from Bucharest’s golden years.
Back to Victory Square, continue biking on Victory Avenue (Calea Victoriei) one of the oldest and most charming streets in Bucharest where you can admire some of the most stunning buildings in the city: George Enescu Museum, the charming Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Român) or the elegant former Royal Palace which now hosts the National Museum of Art. Just across the palace you’ll see the statute of former Romanian king Carol I (a major figure in our history who reigned for 48 years) and the Central University Library just behind it. Next stop is Revolution Square where your eyes will inevitably marvel at one of the weirdest communist memorial monument you can think of: Rebirth Memoir. It’s basically an impaled potato, or at least that is what most people think.
Anyway, continue on your bike lane towards the imposing National Military Circle (Cercul Național Militar), the elegant Palace of the Savings Bank and the impressive National History Museum where you can visit a collection of 2,000 year old gold bracelets crafted by the Dacians, our ancestors who settled these lands before they were conquered by the Romans (yes, Romanians have latin roots, in case you were wondering why we can understand so easily Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese).
If you want to take a well-deserved rest, the Cismigiu Gardens are nearby – an isolated green oasis in the center of the city where you can feed the ducks and disconnect or Izvor Park where you can lay on the grass and admire communist megalomania embodied in the famous Palace of Parliament. If you need an energy boost, try some specialty coffee at Origo Coffee. Hungry? Try Energiea nearby – their new recipe for fries is killing it on the Bucharest instagram scene.
For those travelling on a budget or just looking to scratch the surface of the city, there is a free tour of Bucharest held by a non-profit organisation based on tipping the tour guide. It only takes 2 hours and the sights are centred around the Old Town area, but it will give you a good introduction to the city - more details here.
READ more: what to see on a Bucharest city break
Thinking about buildings in Bucharest, the massive Palace of Parliament probably comes to mind. It’s the world's second largest building after the Pentagon in the US (Wikipedia-it!) and a major landmark of Bucharest. Concerts and major events are regularly held in Constitution Square and use the imposing façade of the building for the light show (see if there’s anything happening soon). You’re probably curious about touring the building: while the Parliament meeting halls are not included in your visit, you’ll get to see some opulent communist interior design 100% made of Romanian materials: 1 million m3 of marble, a 3t carpet or a 5t crystal chandelier.
There’s also the Grigore Antipa Natural History Museum back in Victory Square which is quite modern and has great exhibitions of reconstructed dinosaurs models all year round. One Romanian Friend (maybe me) will probably come up with some more suggestions later on.
You’ll be surprised to find that Bucharest is the right place to have a food getaway – and few people believe it until they get here. The city boasts a diverse international inspired food cuisine, with a great choice from Italian cuisine (the nation’s favorite) to cool burger places (really hip right now!), Argentinian steakhouses, Turkish or Lebanese joints, gourmet or traditional Romanian food and the all-favorite and reinterpreted Romanian street food – the shaorma (one of your Romanian Friends will probably write more about this). The best thing? It’s good quality food AND reasonably cheap: with 20€ you can eat like a semi-king in most places!
I really don't know where to start my list of favorite places: for traditional Romanian cuisine try Lacrimi și Sfinți, La Copac or La placinte. Though famous – and probably top spot on TripAdvisor – Caru cu Bere has become a regular pit stop for large groups of tourists and the authentic Romanian feeling is harder to find, despite the good food they serve. If you fancy a burger, Vivo Food Bar or Osho (also a great steakhouse) should be on your list.
Finally, fans of sweets and deserts should definitely consider papanasi (a traditional dish) at Stadio, éclairs at French Revolution or profiteroles at Chocolat Boutique Ateneu – all of them local businesses. Or just stop at any street pastry shop and ask for an apple pie (placinta cu mar) or cheese pie (placinta cu branza) for less than 1€!
Try a a delicious, off-the-beaten-path urban food tour taking you to hidden spots and local food markets!
If you want to experience the Bucharest nightlife you should prepare for a long night out. My advice: dress well (shirts & skirts) if you want to blend in with the locals and put on your friendly and relaxed face – don’t give yourself away after the long day you’ve had exploring the city!
Start by tasting the local wine variety: Corcova Rose at Entourage, Liliac White Young Fresh at Energiea or Lacerta Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz at Corks Cozy Bar will give you a sense of Romanian wine being damn fine! Domeniul Coroanei Segarcea or Prince Stirbey are also very good choices if you see them in the menu.
Alternatively, go for an Aperol Spritz on the rooftop at Deschis Gastrobar or any cocktail you can literally think of at Newton Cocktail Bar or Fix! Me a drink. During warm summer nights I recommend a cider in the garden at Control – a hip cool place to be or a beer at Eden Garden – a let’s-chill-in-the-forest, unpretentious yet vibrant place. But the trending place right now among Bucharest folks is Halele Expirat with a beautiful lit garden, cool hip music and that great & young Bucharest vibe I was talking about – that’s my last insight for you!
Some colorful shots at Shoteria are highly recommended before starting the mandatory restaurant - pub – terrace – club crawling in Lipscani Old City Center (Lipscani Centrul Vechi) – a historical area which hosts a great variety of bars, pubs and clubs you will be in a rush to try and not sure which one to choose. I should tell you that in recent years the Old Town has become quite crowded and noisy, with too many places, people and tourists rustling and looking for alcohol-induced fun. While I don’t personally like it, it’s a must see part of the vibrant Bucharest night life and the feeling is easily comparable with the one found in the old towns of Prague, Krakow or Dusseldorf.
If you want an even more fancy night out, girls should consider wearing high heels and guys should go for a blazer. The places to go are located in the northern part of Bucharest, in Floreasca or Herestrau area, and are a great choice for a night out warm nights. Consider E3, Biutiful or Funky (last two located on Herestrau Lake) and get ready for a cool soon-to-get wild Romanian night out!
READ more: our favourite places to go out in Bucharest
Finally, like a true Bucharest local, after eating in one place and having a drink in another, now it’s time to party – but not before 23:00 onward unless you want to help the staff prepare! Clubs usually get filled after midnight, as you’ll probably see in the urban and cool Interbelic Cocktail Bar, the very fashionista & trendy Gaia Boutique Club or the glamorous Fratelli Lounge&Club. There are lots more to talk about, I’ll tell you about them later, just get ready for the magic of Bucharest nights which usually end when the sun is rising! I just hope you won’t miss your flight :-)
Wondering how expensive and safe this Bucharest experience is?
Coming from London, Paris, Milano or Munich, you’ll be shocked when you’ll see how small your Bucharest travel budget needs to be! Imagine paying between 6-12 EUR for main course, appetizer/desert and a drink, 1-3 EUR for a coffee or 3-5 EUR for a fantastic cocktail or glass of wine in most places. Attraction tickets are usually between 2-5€ and transportation costs will also be outrageously small, with an average of 1€ for a two-way subway trip (best way to navigate the city) and 30 eurocents/km standard taxi fare. If Uber can’t find a car for you, consider using the app Clever Taxi instead. I don’t recommend using buses: besides them being unfriendly for a foreigner, their irregular schedule combined with hectic traffic make them unreliable even for locals. Check out more of Romanian Friend’s tips on getting around Romania.
In terms of safety – considering what’s going on in the world right now, I’ll say this: Bucharest (and Romania, generally) is not so big on the global geopolitical scene for someone to make a statement here. Apart from the standard ‘beware of pickpockets’ or pirate taxi drivers, as a tourist there are few things you should worry about, besides your energy levels. Even the recent massive protest against our political class was friendly and humorous!
Well, I hope I gave you a taste of what this city has to offer. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re already looking for flights over here – check out the post from a Romanian Friend on how to find low cost tickets to Romania.
Stay tuned for more fresh insights from me on Bucharest life and do come and see it out for yourself – I honestly think it’s a great city! Thanks for reading and maybe I’ll see you around in one of my favorite spots!
Your Romanian Friend,
Start from: Bucharest
Start from: University Square
Start from: Bucharest