Where to begin with Bucharest? In some ways, the revitalization of the city after joining the EU is very evident. Yet the many crumbling, beautiful buildings and other brutalist buildings stand as a reminder of the city’s complicated past.
Once called “the Paris of the East,” once home to a communist dictator, and, now, a part of the EU, there is a lot to learn and discover in Bucharest. We weren’t sure what to expect, but after a weekend spent there, we came to love Bucharest, Romania. Similar to Palermo, there is something so beautiful about the crumbling old buildings.
My blog research didn’t yield a whole lot about Bucharest. It seems that many travel bloggers have yet to discover this interesting and bustling city! I hope my tips will help you enjoy this fascinating place as much as we did.
Basic Bon Vivant’s Bucharest, Romania Travel Guide
What to Do in Bucharest, Romania
Get the highlights on a free walking tour of Bucharest
Sunday morning, we caught a free 2-hour walking tour of Bucharest through Walkabout Free Tours. The tour started in Unirii Square Park and our tour guide, Andrew, had a clear passion for his city. His tour was very informative and engaging.
We learned a lot about the city and its complicated history through the many sights we toured. It is truly a fascinating place.
The architecture is striking in its scale and contrasts. Though a bit run-down and with some parts in near-ruins, it is beautiful.
Visit the incredible Palace of the Parliament
The Palace of Parliament is the second largest administrative building in the world and the heaviest in the world. It was built throughout the 1980s under Nicolae Ceaușescu to serve as his “People’s House.”
Based on the troubling history of this building, I wasn’t sure how to feel about touring it. It was vastly overbuilt for purpose, with many rooms designed to host one specific function each year. While the people of Romania were starving, their dictator was splashing out on this building for his ego, forcing his soldiers into slave labor to complete it.
We almost didn’t tour it because the next available tour was cutting it close to when we needed to get to the airport. However, we went for it and it was well worth it.
Touring this building is remarkable. It is enormous and the detailing is exquisite. This chandelier weighs five tons!
It felt pretty cool to know that their communist dictator was probably rolling in his grave knowing a commoner like me could just stroll right out and survey Bucharest from his balcony for just 35 lei.
Andrew earned a piece of candy during our walking tour for knowing that it was Michael Jackson that was famously invited to open the building after the revolution. He greeted his adoring Romanian fans by saying, “I love you, Budapest!” Whoops.
Try a taste of Romanian culture at Caru cu bere
Visiting Caru cu Bere is a must-do in Bucharest. It was endorsed by our walking tour guide, a local, and there were many locals there. It was a blast.
At first, you will be taken by its unique beauty. The building was built in 1898 in a Neo-gothic style.
Andrew booked us a table three months in advance, which meant we were lead up the left-hand staircase to the best seats in the house. We had an incredible view over the bustling restaurant and were even closer to see the lovely detailing of the ceiling.
Then, the dancing started. Two couples in beautiful costumes performed several dances for us, then they took to the crowd to pull others onto the floor to dance with them. It was awesome!
Shortly before we left, the staff got up in their traditional garb and performed a sort of singing, yelling and dancing routine, then got their patrons up on the dance floor with them. It was interesting and entertaining!
Go out in the Old Town
According to our walking tour guide, the Old Town as it exists now wasn’t there just 10 years ago. The old streets are lined with over 250 restaurants, bars and clubs, most with outdoor seating and heat lamps. It feels like the entire city of Bucharest is there and it is a fabulous spot for people watching.
Each of the streets has a distinct feel ranging from banging club beats to more relaxed eateries. The different of being there at 10pm on a Friday with 11pm on a Saturday was striking – this city stays up late! According to Google, one of the bars Andrew was interested in possibly checking out didn’t hit its peak until 3am on Saturdays. Not exactly our cup of tea, but from the looks of some of our fellow tourists on the 10:30 AM tour on Sunday, Bucharest is a good time.
Go, get a seat outside with a drink or snack and watch as locals, families and tourists alike pass you by!
Where to Stay in Bucharest
We rented an adorable Airbnb directly across the street from the Intercontinental. There was a metro stop right outside our building and we were a quick walk from the Old Town and most of the sights of Bucharest.
We were near Universitate, so there were lots of students about. I’d highly recommend our Airbnb, though the elevator is not for the faint of heart! We chose to walk up the twisting 9 flights each time instead. Good hike training.
Like our hikes, the view was worth it. Also, there was definitely a straight up rooster living on the floor below us!
What to Eat in Bucharest
Turns out, I love Romanian food! Much of what we tried was straightforward and largely naturally gluten-free and delicious. We tried several traditional dishes during our trip.
Caru cu Bere
What a meal! Complete with dancing and singing, this was a dinner to remember. We started off with a selection of Romanian cheese for two. As you can see, it was enormous!
Our mains, unfortunately, were served cold (our service could have been a lot better, but I don’t believe other diners in other sections experienced this), but they were still fabulous. I got the Mâncare Traditionala din Bucovina, which was pork, sausages, cabbage and polenta… yum!
Burger si Scoici
We tried to make a reservation at Hanul lui Manuc, the oldest restaurant in Bucharest, for Saturday night after our Transylvania castle tour. Since we arrived back in the city so late, we missed it. Instead, we wandered the streets of the Old Town and grabbed dinner at Burger si Scoici. With two locations on the same street, we figured it had to be at least alright! Andrew’s was especially was good and the people watching and service couldn’t be beat.
On our last morning, we checked out blogger favourite The Urbanist for coffee and breakfast to go. Andrew had an incredible breakfast sandwich, but unfortunately, they were out of their smoothie supplies for me. It was really cute and the coffee was good – they even offer iced!
What to Drink in Bucharest, Romania
We grabbed a drink in the Old Town on Friday night at Bordello. Perusing the cocktail list, we found there were two Romanian cocktails. We had to get those!
I tried a “Romanian margarita” made with Tuica instead of tequila. Tunica is a hard Romanian spirit made from plums. That it is considered a worthy alternative to tequila should say something about how it is perceived in Romania, ha! It was an inventive cocktail pairing plum with lime. It was less strong than I was anticipating based on what I’ve read about it!
Andrew ordered a Bucharest Julep, which was made with a Transylvanian plum brandy. It was very delicious. The brandy had a smokey quality to it, similar to bourbon.
Another thing we learned on our trip is that Romania has a large wine scene. Many restaurants serve primarily Romanian wine. We tried both red and white varieties and they were very good. For those unfamiliar with Romanian varieties, we found that there were many recognizable blends, including Merlot and Cabernet. It definitely helped make it more approachable.
We checked out Pura Vida Sky (another blogger favourite) and the view and vibe were perfect for our first venture out into Bucharest on Friday evening.
It is very casual and laid-back and they had an awesome DJ on when we were there. The views are lovely!
To try Romanian wines, I had starred Abel’s Wine Bar, but we didn’t get a chance to check it out. I wish we had to have learned more about the wine industry in Romania!
For beer, our tour guide recommended Oktoberfest. He said it offers a large selection of beers, as well as local craft beers and also serves up a literal bucket of beer.
Good to Know
- Romania is not on the Euro and instead uses its own currency, the lei. At the time of publishing, it is roughly 4 lie to $1.
- Bucharest was recently crowned the EU city with the most traffic, surpassing London. Take this into account when travelling in and out of the city. We encountered fairly heavy traffic on the way into the city from the airport on Friday evening, but traffic was light on Sunday afternoon as we made our way home.
- Most people speak English. Romanian is not like other Eastern European languages, it is just like it sounds – very Latin-influenced! Who knew? Not me.
- Manu Lui Hanuc is owned by the same restaurant group as City Grill, just across the street. For a cheaper alternative, check them out.