Bucharest was just another whistle stop on our grand Eastern Europe Train journey, or so I thought. All I really knew of the city was from recent history, Ceausescu’s center of power from which he systematically controlled everything going on in Romania. In fact, the regime was so notorious that some tourists are afraid that Bucharest might not be safe. However, we discovered a much richer history and cultural tradition that was surprisingly exotic, warmly open, and full of charm. Gone are the old, cold bleak days of communism. Though to be sure, the Palace of the Parliamentary still stands as a massively colossal reminder of those times. Still, we found Bucharest center full of life and energy, a beautiful mixture of architecture and public spaces.
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A Weekend in Bucharest
Thanks to the advances of cheap airlines throughout Eastern Europe, Bucharest has become a popular destination for weekend city breaks as well as the more traditional slow travelers like backpackers and Eurail passers. If your time is limited, it is always a good idea to have a plan, so here are our top ten things to do in Bucharest.
Go on a Palace Hunt
Bucharest went through it’s own architectural renaissance in the eighteenth and nineteenth century with an eclectic mix of baroque, neoclassic, and neo-renaissance palaces popping up around the city. Unfortunately, the oldest palace, the Old Princely Court has been closed for visitors since 2015. This palace is a remnant from medieval times and once the refurbishment and renovations are complete visitors will again be able to see what life was like in the 15th century during the times of Vlad the Impaler.
Dinner and a Show
Bucharest is crowded with excellent places to eat and drink so you really don’t have to look too hard to find a popular spot. However, we completely fell in love with the brewery and restaurant Caru’ cu Bere. I’m certainly no expert on Romanian food, but the menu claims to keep the immortal spirit of old Bucharest alive in its food and beer, and everything was certainly exceptional. The beer is still being made using a recipe from 1879 and it is crisp and delicious. The food portions are large and certainly tend to authentic Romanian fare. The smoky eggplant dip and bean casserole were out of this world. As an added benefit, diners are treated to fantastic traditional music and dancing throughout most evenings.
Caru’ cu Bere, Strada Stavropoleos 5, carucubere.ro
A Walk in the Park
Everyone loves a park. Or at least I do. Parcul Cismigiu is a green retreat in the center of the city that provides a breath of fresh air, a quiet place to relax, or get in a little exercise. This English style garden has a wide variety of trees, plants, and flowers all designed to help you forget about the bustle and hustle of the city around you. You can go row a boat around the lake in the summer or strap on a pair of skates and glide across the pond in the winter. If your really outgoing, you can pack a picnic to enjoy on the lawn or choose from one of the cafes for lunch or a coffee. You might also be lucky enough to find a theatrical production or orchestra playing in the garden.
Find a Food Truck
What? Food trucks in Romania? Yes indeed. The foodie revolution is sweeping the globe. There are a few places around the city where you will find these rolling kitchens serving out their tasty offerings. We saw bagels, sandwiches, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and pancakes and they all were doing a good business. It seems no matter where you go in the world, there is always a strong need for cheap, simple food made with love. Go to the food truck scene at Food Land, Strada Șelari 4, and take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the sand as you enjoy a cold drink, a burger, and some fries.
Step Back in Time
Manuc Mârzaian – Dragoman and Bey of the Sublime Porte, aka “Prince of the Armenians” somehow managed to purchase and build his inn, Hanu’ lui Manuc, upon land that was formerly part of the Royal Court. How he, a foreigner in Bucharest, finagled this deal is somewhat of mystery. However, it is no mystery that his beautiful inn, reminiscent of the old Ottoman Caravansaries on the silk road, still attracts visitors to this day. Stepping into the cool courtyard reveals a soothing space complete with bubbling fountain, dark, rich wood finishing of the interior stair cases and balconies, and, of course, the tasteful and classy cafes, restaurants, and shops. It’s certainly going to transport the visitor back to a different era.
Visit a Museum
Aside from this flattering statue of Roman Emperor Trajan, you’ll find exhibits detailing the history of Romania from prehistory to the modern age in the National History Museum of Romania. The museum is housed in fairly new palace built in the late nineteenth century as the headquarters for the national post and telegraph organization. Because of this past, visitors should also seek out and visit the philatelic museum, also located in the palace. Another museum of interest in Bucharest include the National Museum of Art in Romania, located in the former royal palace on Revolution Square. Here you’ll find Romanian and international art, as well as art rescued from destruction during the Ceausescu era.
While it’s true we’re not big on souvenir shopping, we do like to try and bring home some samples of the local culinary delights. So one thing we are always on the lookout is a good local delicatessen type store where we can sample and purchase these treats. At the popular Barza, viezure, Minz on Strada Șepcari 21 we found a dizzying array of Romanian wines, meats, cheeses, bottled sauces, jams, soups, and too much more to mention. We tasted a few of the wines and cheeses and then loaded up on a few bottles of wine and some jams and sauces. Unfortunately we were traveling onward on the train so we had to limit ourselves.
You don’t need to hold to any particular religious faith to appreciate the incredible detail and artwork that went into the Biserica Stavropoleos, at Strada Stavropoleos 4. This early eighteenth century orthodox church holds some amazing mosaics both inside and out. Step in to the mysterious, scented darkness and let your eyes adjust to reveal the finely detailed ceiling paintings. This is a small church tucked into a busy neighborhood on the edge of the old town, definitely worth a peek.
Explore the Old Town
Just grab your camera and go for a walk. Keep your eyes open for street art, interesting architecture, overflowing cafes and pubs, and perhaps spark up a conversation with a new friend. Bucharest Old Town is pedestrian friendly and so photogenic. Our recommended route: start in Parcul Cismigiu and wind your way south and east through the old town to Revolution Square, then wander back up along the Dambovita river towards the Palace of the Parliament.
Take a Day Trip
If you are in Bucharest on a long weekend break, you should consider a day trip. Car rentals are very affordable and can be arranged by most hotels. Therefore, you should try and get out of the city and into the Transylvania countryside. Drive up to Bran Castle, about two hours out of the city and visit the castle that inspired Bram Stoker’s vision of Count Dracula’s castle.
Getting to Bucharest:
Wizz Air has cheap flight between Nuremberg and Bucharest departs Friday afternoon and returns Monday afternoon. Ryanair will connect you from Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, London and other airlines from most European capitals.
If you are connecting a trip to Bucharest with longer traveling you might consider the overnight train from Vienna or Budapest.
Transportation in and around Bucharest:
The 780 Express bus connects Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport with the Gara de Nord (main railway station) and the 783 Express line connects the airport with the city center. This line runs day and night. At night, the bus leaves every 40 minutes. Purchase your tickets at the kiosk in front of the departures terminal (3.5 lei). You can also buy a blue and white Multiplu card and load it with a Day Pass for 8 lei. Ask for assistance at the kiosk where you buy tickets.
Where to stay:
Tram 44 from the Gara de Nord to Cismigiu tram stop takes you right to the front door of the Hotel Trianon. It is a comfortable, clean, and quiet three star hotel right on the edge of Parcul Cismigiu. Well appointed rooms, nice hot showers, solid wifi, and a tasty breakfast all included in the room price.
Strada Grigore Cobălcescu 9
+40 21 311 4927
Have you been to Bucharest? What do you think of our Top ten Things to do in Bucharest?
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