Are you looking for your next city break destination? Or thinking about a trip to Eastern Europe? Look no more - we know the answer!
You should visit Bucharest, the capital of Romania – it’s the perfect way to discover a new destination and a quick getaway that will surely surprise you. Many travellers don’t know what to expect when thinking of Bucharest or rely on reviews that are several years old and no longer accurate. That’s why discovering this city full of contrasts with its Balkan spirit, Oriental influences and Western-inspired culture will be a great travel memory!
Often overlooked because of its communist past, Bucharest offers an eclectic mix that will please any type of traveller. ‘Old world’ architecture on hidden streets mixed with communist megalomania landscaping, unique tourist attractions such as the Palace of Parliament or Village Museum, rich urban culture fuelled by young hip crowds, a nightlife like no other, a booming food scene hosted in Belle Epoque mansions – so many things it’s hard to mention everything!
That’s why we locals have put together some ideas for a Bucharest city break itinerary to give you a taste of what the city (and Romanian culture) can offer. Our suggestions can be mixed and matched with guided tours and day trips from Bucharest as well as other info you will find here on Romanian Friend. You should also know that Bucharest Airport is very well served by low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air, RyanAir or BlueAir – so you can find tickets for as low as €50!
So, let's take a look at some of the top places of interest that you should visit while on a short break to Bucharest.
The Palace of Parliament – a testament to Romanian communist times
Undoubtedly an iconic landmark of Bucharest, the Palace of Parliament is the largest administrative building in the world and a ‘must-see’ tourist attraction in Bucharest. Offering a glimpse into Romania’s communist past, the massive parliament building dubbed People’s Palace is best admired from Constitution Square (front of building) or Izvor Park (same side with the tourist entrance). The megalomania on the outside is also present on the inside where the finest Romanian-only materials and decorations were used. Official tours can be found here.
Local insight: the building also houses the National Museum of Contemporary Art where besides modern art exhibitions and events you can also enjoy a drink with a splendid view of Bucharest on its outdoor terrace.
If you want to learn more about Romania’s communist past and the 1989 revolution, we recommend booking a guided tour for a walking history lesson at major sights.
Old Town in Bucharest – a lively heart with hidden gems
Walking in the Old Town of Bucharest will definitely be on your ‘to do’ list during your visit. Located in the heart of the city and looking like a picture from an old book, the area offers plenty of sights. The heavy touristy area around Lipscani, Smardan and Selari Streets is filled with bars, cafes and restaurants bustling with activity during daytime, while in the evening it becomes a major nightlife party scene for which Bucharest is so famous for!
Apart from that, there are many hidden gems to discover while wandering in this area. Here are some of our favourite spots: Stavropoleus Church with its quiet, beautifully decorated garden, the ruins of Curtea Veche the seat of Wallachian rulers, Strada Franceza and Piata Sfantul Anton. There’s also a statue of Vlad the Impaler supposedly the inspiration for Dracula to be found in the area!
You might be tempted to have a meal at Caru’ cu Bere famous for its superb interiors and Romanian cuisine but you should know that the restaurant is the usual pit stop for large groups of tourists or independent travellers lured by TripAdvisor reviews. Instead, we recommend City Grill, Hanu’ lui Manuc or Lacrimi si Sfinti in St. Anton Square for delicious Romanian dishes enjoyed in an authentic local atmosphere.
The Romanian Village Museum - a park with historical sights
Don't let the word "museum" be a turn-off because this is no ordinary attraction: Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum is a collection of over 300 village houses, dependencies, churches or mills from various regions of Romania. Dating from 13th-19th century, some buildings can be visited inside while others only admired from the park-like alleys. This is Romania’s most visited museum - why?
Because the Romanian village holds the spiritual essence of our people, culture and history. Besides getting a taste of what you will see when venturing outside major Romanian cities, visiting the Village Museum is the best introduction to Romanian culture. Check their official website and and soon you’ll be planning on visiting the Romanian countryside - we can help with that too!
Two things you can do after your visit: explore the adjacent Herestrau Park the biggest park in Bucharest to admire its decorations, Rose Island and relax by the lake; or head to Piata Presei Libere for a mixed landscape of communist & western architecture and enjoy a lunch with a view at 18 Lounge sky bar.
A walk on Calea Victoriei – Bucharest’s most beautiful street
Undoubtedly the most famous street of the city, on Victory Avenue you can see the best sights of Bucharest and several major landmarks. Start your walk from Piata Victoriei or from Old Town and admire the sights as you go. Take your pick: the National History Museum (which features a collection of golden bracelets from our Dacian ancestors), CEC Palace, Revolution Square, the National Art Museum (former Royal Palace), the Romanian Athenaeum and many splendid buildings representative for the ‘Little Paris’ period of Bucharest such as George Enescu Museum or Palatul Stirbey.
Besides these landmarks, there are many cafes, small bistros and hidden local hotspots to be found, along with fancy hotels, high-street fashion and jewellery shops for those interested in shopping.
Catch your breath in Bucharest’s (hidden) parks
Something else you probably didn’t know about Bucharest: there are many green areas hidden from the busy city life. After so much walking and sightseeing, you’re probably going to want to catch your breath. Depending on your location, there are plenty of parks to choose from.
Cismigiu Garden (pictured above) is considered to be the most beautiful, aristocratic park in Bucharest where you can admire its flower variety (especially in Spring), feed the ducks or exercise your rowing skills. Izvor Park is great for a spontaneous picnic with sights of the Palace of Parliament in the background. Gradina Icoanei and Ion Voicu Park are tucked away behind the busy Piata Romana and are great spots to see local life before moving to your next tourist sight. And we already mentioned Herestrau Park.
But if you’re looking for something completely different, a unique attraction in Bucharest, then you should visit the new Vacaresti National Park. Left on its own, nature reclaimed this abandoned communist project and turned it into an urban delta with a rich ecosystem of wildlife and fauna. Visiting is only possible on a guided tour and doing so will support the efforts of the organisation protecting the park.
Find the ‘Little Paris’ feeling of Bucharest
The perfect end to your little weekend trip in Bucharest is to spend it searching for the ‘old world’ feeling, the reason why the capital of Romania was dubbed ‘Little Paris’ in the interwar period. Moving away from busy wide boulevards into hidden, local neighbourhoods you will find quiet streets filled with villas and mansions boasting fascinating architecture from Belle Epoque times, representative of Romanian aristocracy and golden years.
Venture into the Controceni area on Doctor Joseph Lister Street, the area around Gradina Icoanei Park (Dumbrava Rosie Street and Dacia Boulevard), or get lost in the Victoriei-Dorobanti area (Rome or Paris Street, Aleea Alexandru). Keep an eye out for small cafes or restaurants and blend in with the locals.
Few travellers venture in these less explored parts because no one writes about going off the beaten path in Bucharest. That’s why we locals want to help you see a different side of our city and if you’re looking to discover more hidden gems and local neighbourhoods then we suggest this bike tour run by a passionate local.
There's lots more to discover about Bucharest and we're sure you're going to be surprised by what you will find.
Your Romanian Friend