Bucharest was just as delightful and beautiful as l had imagined. Having been to other parts of Eastern Europe such as Krakow and Budapest, two places that we both agreed were absolutely places we would consider living in. Him more than me, but only because l am leery of the extreme cold as l have stated so many times l’m sounding like a broken record. While Bucharest lacks a little bit of the sophistication and in your face display of wealth that is present in Budapest, it has a special charm in an unpretentious way that we found welcome. After a day, we found ourselves thinking once again that we could definitely live there. The fact that Bucharest is extremely affordable makes it even more enticing. With the dollar being worth roughly 4 times the Romanian Leu (3.93 as of today), you can live like a king. Here is a rough guide to this delightful city.
4 Days in Brilliant Bucharest: A rough guide
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Romania, and Bucharest specifically had been on our radar for a while. I have an online blogger friend, Calin who l met some years back in the FIRE world. FIRE meaning Financial Independence Retire Early. He writes about all things Romania and you should definitely check out his site. Of course I’d wanted to meet him forever. Living in Valencia now, we were delirious to find out that we could at last take a direct flight to Bucharest. It was so cool having a local show us around and this made the trip even more enjoyable.
Getting to Bucharest:
Being the capital of Romania, there are many airlines flying to Bucharest Henri Coanda International Airport which is located in Otopeni, about 15 miles from the city center. Major airlines include KLM and Qatar. Several low cost airlines also serve Bucharest. Ryanair, Wizz and the Romanian airline Blue Air (which we used) among others fly there on a regular basis.
Uber works just fine in Bucharest and l recommend it. We’d heard horror stories of getting fleeced by cab drivers (saying meter is broken, then charging outrageous amounts). Our flight got in at midnight and we didn’t want to spend time haggling. The Uber driver picked us up in minutes and we were on our way. If you insist on taking a cab, try and find out how much it should cost or take a cab with a working meter. Ask before getting in. During our stay, we used Uber mostly. The other times, we used the metro which was surprisingly easy. There are 2 lines and helpful attendants.
If you plan on using your phone to get directions and translate etc. like we did, it’s a good idea to carry your portable charger phone bank. We use an old one similar to the Anker . It definitely came in handy.
How to spend 4 days in beautiful Bucharest:
Where to stay in Bucharest:
There are plenty of modern hotels to stay in the city. Everything from luxury hotels to budget ones. We ended up staying at an AirBnB after mulling things over. We wanted someplace close to the metro station, but more importantly, close to a really nice Italian restaurant that Calin had told us about and we wanted to try. Hey..don’t judge us for letting food guide our decision :-) . It ended up being an amazing studio with the most gorgeous terrace. Even the brisk weather did not prevent us from hanging out there. If you’ve never used AirBnB and want to, feel free to use our link to get $30 off your first stay. The niceness of the hostess and the fact that she was willing to meet us late in the night sealed the deal.
Hotels close to Bucharest Old Town:
Along with my search for AirBnB, I also looked into staying at hotels in or close to the center. The Old town is actually in Sector 1, but l actually recommend a hotel near it as opposed to in it and you can read a bit further down my reason for this. Our first choice would have been the cool Rembrandt hotel. This hotel is located within walking distance of the Old Town and the Cismigiu Park. Our requirements in addition to the closeness to a tram station was that the price was affordable and amenities like free WiFi and a nice view were included. Nothing depresses me more than opening windows and seeing a parking lot. This hotel would have fulfilled our wishes nicely.
Recommended Fun Things To Do In Bucharest:
Since we felt comfortable in Bucharest, we were not in a huge rush to run around ticking things off the list. We chose to linger and enjoy the city. Here are just a few things to see and do in Bucharest.
After the Pentagon, this is the second largest administrative building in the world. A palace of parliament Bucharest tour should definitely be one of the things to do in the city. We were lucky to visit this gigantic place that was originally meant to be a palatial residence of the last communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. I am going to do a separate post on this beautiful but cold building, suffice to say that it needs to be seen. I am always amazed at how these politicians live the grandiose lives while their people starve. He never got to see the building completed as he was executed along with his wife. I still remember seeing that on television. The rooms are very impressive and there is a chandelier that weighs 2 tons! It was absolutely beautiful. Read about our Parliament House Tour.
Tip: Make sure to call and book ahead for tickets as they are limited and ask if there is anything happening. For instance we were there on a Friday just as a NATO conference was starting so we did not have the full tour. The palace tours were canceled for the following week that the conference took place. As it was we only saw about 3% of the building and it took just over an hour and covered just 2 floors. Prepare for a lot of steps. You’d think they’d have elevators for the guests, but nope! We did see 2 small elevators but they were only for staff according to the guide so it’s something to think about if you have mobility problems.
The entrance fee is roughly 9 dollars (35 Lei) . Cell phone pictures are permitted. If you intend to use a professional camera, there is an additional fee of 30 Lei. The full tour is $13. Money well spent though. It is a fascinating building with wonderful, first rate artwork and furnishings. The tours are led in several languages, including English and German.
In the central area of Bucharest is this really beautiful English style collection of gardens. It was completed in 1860 with the plans laid out by German architect Carl Meyer. There are lots of monuments, row boats and fountains scattered over the 16 hectare grounds. It is the oldest and largest park in the city and we enjoyed walking and people watching with C and his wife. The City Hall sits right across from it, along with some really cool pre-communist buildings on the grand boulevard. I can imagine how nice it would be on a warm and sunny day.
Muzeul National al Satului : Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
An open air museum set on 25 acres in the northwestern area of Bucharest, I think this was the true highlight of our visit. It is located very close to the beautiful Herastrau park. There are over 270 authentic peasant farms depicting how Romanian people lived over the last 3 centuries. The houses were brought in from different areas of the country and we were fascinated by early life. We were lucky to explore on a sunny and dry day. We had intended to spend about 3 hours, but ended up spending more like 8 hours, including a leisure lunch at one of the two restaurants.
Some of the houses were no more than one room shacks with really small doors. Either people were really short back then or they did that to cut down on the cold coming in (I think the second). The churches were exceptionally decorated, tiny, one could barely fit 5 people side by side, but they were beautiful. You can find out more information on the Dimitrie Gusti village museum here. There is a small but very interesting art gallery in the lobby by the entrance. The venue also hosts cultural events and is definitely worth checking out. The entrance fee is roughly $3 and is a bargain at that price. The grounds make for a lovely backdrop for photo shoots and we saw two wedding parties having their receptions and bridal shoots which was pretty cool.
This tiny but very ornate church also known as Stavropoleos Monastery was built in 1724. It is an Eastern Orthodox church for nuns in central Bucharest. Over the years, the inn and annexes were demolished and it unfortunately suffered through a series of earthquakes. The church is the only thing that remains, along with a library and objects of art recovered from other churches over the year. The architectural style is Romanian Renaissance and it’s gorgeous. Ioanichie, the first Metropolitan of Stavropole is buried in the church. There are some really old headstones on the grounds.
Entry to the monastery is free.
Old Town Bucharest: (Centru Vechi)
The old center in Bucharest is definitely the best place to see and be seen in the buzzing city of Bucharest. This area is what’s left of the city pre-World War II. In the 17th century, it was a merchant district. It remained so till the end of the war when communist leaders seized the properties, jailed the owners and left the area to decay. After years of neglect, it is enjoying new life as the “youngest Old Town” that’s only about 3 years old and is now a hip destination filled with sidewalk cafes, trendy restaurants, pubs and even a few risque dance venues. The locals also call the area Lipscani after the boulevard that borders it. There is plenty of shopping in the area too if that’s your thing. You can get your souvenir items here and shop at big name department stores. This is also what to do in Bucharest at night. Visit Old Town pubs and have cheap beer and spirits. While l’m sure it is a nice place to visit, I don’t think l would like to sleep there. It would way too noisy and some parts are still pretty run down.
Best Day Trip From Bucharest: Pele’s Castle
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Bucharest. We were lucky enough to make the journey with Calin. Peles castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle situated in the Carpathian Mountains close to Sinaia. It is about 70 miles from Bucharest and 30 miles from Brasov so just a train ride from either place.
How to get to Peles Castle from Bucharest:
The train is the best way to get to Peles castle. There are several daily trains leaving from the Bucharest North Railway station (Gara de Nord) going towards Brasov, Sibiu or Tagu Mures. The stop for Peles Castle is Sinaia. The journey takes 2 hours. The trains are pretty comfortable and the scenery is amazing. You can buy the tickets on the day of travel and you have assigned seats. Return tickets will cost you roughly $13 converted. The castle is 2 km from the station. You can walk it, but it is mostly uphill. No use in arriving too tired to enjoy the grounds. We took a taxi which cost about $5.
There are actually three main parts of the complex. Peles castle, Pelisor Castle and the Foisor Hunting Lodge. The castle was built for King Carol I who was the reigning king when the country gained independence. This deserves a pictorial post thanks to its beauty. We only visited Peles. There was a separate admission to visit the other castle and we couldn’t imagine it being any more extravagant than the bigger Peles so we skipped it. I would definitely recommend visiting Peles castle over Dracula’s castle from what l’ve heard from other travelers. If it’s one or the other, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Related Reading: Peles Castle Rocks! :-)
Food. Glorious Food in Bucharest:
We absolutely love eating good food and we had plenty of it in Bucharest. I was amazed at the variety too. In addition to traditional food such as Sarmale (cabbage rolls stuffed with ground meat and served with a sour cream side which l loved), Mamaliga which is their version of polenta corn meal which Federico loved, Bean soup served in bread, Sweetbread, not to mention potato goulash soup and incredible sausages (my mouth is literally watering as l write), we also had amazing Italian and Turkish food. I am plotting a comeback trip in my head :-). There are some iconic restaurants that you are famous in Bucharest and we went to a couple that l would highly recommend. The one thing l noticed in the city was that there were no off the beaten path restaurants. Basically, everyone ate everywhere. It didn’t seem like people go out for dinner like in the U.S. They cook at home.
Caru cu bere Bucharest:
Located in Old Town, this restaurant is huge. On three levels and packed to the gills all the time. The space is absolutely gorgeous. We had hoped to seat on the main floor, but they only had space in the basement. No worries though, you can gawk all you want and take pictures, no one cares. It is worth the hype. The bean soup was amazing. Service is a bit slow, but that seems to be par for the course in Europe.
Trattoria il Calco Bucharest:
Mouth watering food, fresh and delicious desserts, what else could we ask for? Built on a football theme, Federico really enjoyed checking out the old pictures. The service was fantastic. We actually went back the next night with Calin and his lovely wife and it was great once again, so thumbs up.
Had l taken more care, l would have remembered more places :-). I will keep that in mind next time.
Our overall impression of Bucharest?
Lovely city. I didn’t feel out of place there like l did in Warsaw. It’s obvious that it’s still a city trying to find its feet. Go discover it for yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. We intend to visit again and l for one can’t wait. We love the affordability and especially the food. Go visit!
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Have you been to Bucharest or anywhere in Romania? What do you think? If not, have l peaked your interest?