Bucharest City Guide - A vibrant city that will surprise you!

Bucharest, the vibrant capital of Romania, is a destination waiting to be discovered by travelers seeking unique and enriching experiences. Whether you're from the United States, Australia, or any other part of the world, this article aims to inspire you to explore the diverse and captivating aspects of this Balkan gem. 

In this city guide, we'll take you through some of the lesser-known gems that make Bucharest such a unique destination. From the historic Bellu Cemetery and the mighty Palace of the Parliament to the enchanting Carturesti Carusel and the National Museum of Arts, you're in for a delightful discovery. 

The Allure of the Balkans

The Balkan region, often overlooked by travelers, is a treasure trove of history, culture, and natural beauty. Romania offers a unique blend of Eastern and Western European influences, making it an enticing destination for those looking to explore a less-trodden path. Romania's rich history, folklore, and traditions provide a captivating backdrop for your adventure.

Discover the Capital's Rich History and Geographic Region

Bucharest, Romania's capital, situated in the southeastern part of the country, has grown in popularity as a captivating travel destination.

The Henri Coanda International Airport (OTP), commonly referred to as Otopeni Airport, is situated approximately 20 kilometers north of Bucharest in Otopeni town. It proudly holds the title of the largest and busiest airport in Romania, serving as a vital gateway for travelers worldwide. With an extensive network of approximately 45 airlines, the airport connects passengers to destinations across the globe. Travelers can access further information and services on its official website. Depending on your chosen mode of transportation and the time of your journey, the airport is conveniently linked to Bucharest, with travel times ranging from a swift one-hour car ride via taxi or ridesharing to budget-friendly options like the train or bus, providing flexible choices to suit your preferences and budget. 

The city's geographical location also holds historical significance. It is a testament to Romania's resilience, having endured challenges and transformations throughout its history. Bucharest's name has seen several iterations over the centuries, reflecting its ever-evolving identity. Understanding the city's history and its role as Romania's capital sets the stage for a more enriching exploration. 

Its roots can be traced back to the 15th century when it was founded as a medieval fortress. Over the years, Bucharest has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis, evolving from a fortified stronghold into a bustling trading center. This evolution is eloquently reflected in the city's architectural landscape, which bears the indelible influences of various eras, including the Ottoman, French, and communist periods.

Bucharest’s Transformation

Despite enduring significant challenges, such as the destructive earthquakes that struck in the 20th century and the oppressive Communist regime, symbolized by the imposing Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest has emerged as a resilient city that embraces its multifaceted history. Today, it stands as a vibrant metropolis, seamlessly blending the echoes of its past with the present energy. Bucharest's captivating evolution provides a compelling narrative for those who explore its streets and landmarks. 

Arc de Triomphe - Bucharest

Bucharest, known as the "Little Paris of the East," is a city where tradition meets modernity. The capital boasts a rich history, seen through its elegant Belle Époque architecture and the reminders of its communist past. A fusion of architectural styles and urban planning strategies has shaped the cityscape. The monumental Palace of the Parliament, a symbol of the Communist era, contrasts with the charming old town, which exudes a sense of history and tradition. Explore the influences of art and architecture that have left a lasting mark on Bucharest's transformation into a lively and inviting city. 

The Sights and Sounds of Bucharest

Architectural Marvels

In Bucharest, travelers encounter a city where architectural diversity weaves a compelling tale. This Romanian capital's urban landscape tells a story of stark contrasts throughout its rich history. From the reign of Vlad III Dracul, renowned as the Impaler, to the opulence of the Belle Époque era, from the tumultuous years of Nicolae Ceaușescu's rule to the influences of globalization, the city's architecture reflects a multifaceted narrative. Orthodox churches, Art Nouveau palazzos, and remnants of Communist-era grandeur all contribute to the captivating story of Bucharest.

Visitors can commence their exploration by taking a leisurely stroll along Lipscani Street, an ancient thoroughfare that cuts through the Old City. This historic area thrived with artisans and merchants during the 16th to the 19th century. Until a few years ago, the district had fallen into disrepair and was inhabited by some of the poorest communities. However, today, it has undergone a remarkable transformation. 

The Old City now pulses with life, housing a collection of restaurants, flagship stores of international brands, vibrant cocktail bars, and a diverse range of clubs. Amidst this renewed energy, sumptuous palazzos coexist with neglected remnants of the communist era, boutiques share spaces with dilapidated apartments, and some of the city's oldest churches testify to its enduring history.

A visit to the Stavropoleos Monastery and Church is a must! A tranquil oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the Old City. This architectural gem, completed in 1725, showcases a captivating interior adorned with vivid frescoes that adorn the vaults and walls. Charming chandeliers grace the ceiling, and meticulously crafted wooden furniture, doors, and details add to the church's elegance. Exploring the serene back courtyard, adorned with ancient gravestones, is a delightful experience. And perusing the monastery's libraries, which house a trove of centuries-old books, offers a glimpse into the rich history of this sacred place.

Stavropoleos Monastery and Church

Named after Romania's oldest bank, the CEC Palace, situated at the end of the 19th century, is an architectural marvel designed by Paul Gottereau in 1897-1900. This remarkable building stands as an eclectic fusion of various architectural styles. Crowning the palazzo is a striking glass and metal dome, while the entrance is graced by an arch that finds support from two pairs of columns, artfully blending composite elements. The four corners of the palace are adorned with gables and coats of arms, culminating in Renaissance domes. This harmonious amalgamation of styles makes the CEC Palace a sight to behold. 

Palace of Parliament

The Palace of the Parliament is a captivating landmark in Bucharest that boasts some intriguing, fun facts for curious travelers. This massive structure ranks among the heaviest buildings globally, outshining even the Pentagon, spanning a colossal 365,000 square meters. It emerges as the heaviest building globally, weighing in at an astounding 4.10 million tonnes. 

It also stands as the world's second-largest administrative structure. Nicolae Ceausescu commissioned this mammoth palace to perpetuate his personality cult and propaganda, a project with a staggering price tag of around 4 billion euros. A team of over 700 architects collaborated tirelessly for thirteen years, from 1984 to 1997, six years after the dictator's demise. The palace's architectural style is a fusion of Neoclassical elements and Socialist Modernism. Presently, the palace accommodates the chambers of the Romanian Parliament, the National Art Museum, and various administrative offices. However, its sheer size is such that a considerable portion of the building remains unoccupied.

Union of Romanian Architects Tower

In the modern architectural landscape of the city, a 'Postmodern' approach is evident in various contemporary buildings. A notable example can be found in Revolution Square, where the Union of Romanian Architects tower stands adjacent to the notorious Ministry of Internal Affairs. This juxtaposition is a study in contrasts, as the old, bullet-scarred remnants of a historic building coexist with a contemporary glass and steel skyscraper, creating a visually debatable blend of architectural styles.

Palace Mogoșoaia, an architectural gem located on the outskirts of Bucharest, presents a compelling legacy that echoes through the ages. Constructed in the late 17th century, this stately palace showcases a remarkable blend of architectural styles, including Brâncovenesc and Ottoman influences. It was commissioned by Constantin Brâncoveanu, a Wallachian prince, and bears his name as a testament to his patronage. Its architectural style, a harmonious fusion of local, Byzantine, Italian, and oriental elements, exudes elegance and balance. 

Cultural HotSpots

As Romania's capital, the city boasts many cultural attractions, ranging from world-class museums and galleries to lively theaters and concert halls. Travelers can expect to immerse themselves in the country's history and artistic heritage through captivating exhibitions at institutions like the National Museum of Art and the Village Museum. Bucharest's theaters, such as the National Theatre and the Romanian Athenaeum, offer an array of theatrical and musical performances, from classical to contemporary. The city's streets often come alive with open-air events, festivals, and street art, creating a dynamic atmosphere that invites exploration.

National Museum of Art of Romania

Interior National Museum of Art

The National Museum of Art of Romania, housed within the magnificent Royal Palace, is a true gem for art enthusiasts. This sprawling museum showcases a diverse collection that spans medieval and modern Romanian art, complemented by a superb selection of European masterpieces. Divided into two grand galleries, the museum offers an enriching experience: 

The Romanian National Art Gallery features remarkable treasures of medieval Romanian art, including pieces salvaged from monasteries that faced destruction during the Ceaușescu era. The Modern Romanian Art Gallery on the second floor displays sculptures and paintings by eminent local artists like Constantin Brâncuși, Nicolae Grigorescu, and more. The European Art Gallery boasts an impressive array of works by renowned European masters, from El Greco to Monet. To fully savor the museum's treasures, set aside two to three hours for your visit. Admission is budget-friendly, with tickets priced at 24 RON (approximately US$5.20) for each gallery or a combo ticket for both galleries at 32 RON (about US$6.90).

The National Museum of the Romanian Peasant

The National Museum of the Romanian Peasant, overseen by the Ministry of Culture, stands as a treasure trove of cultural heritage, boasting a staggering collection of 100,000 objects. This institution is renowned for its extensive assemblage of artifacts, including ceramics, folk clothing, interior textiles, wooden creations, furniture, and hardware. A particularly captivating feature is the wooden church located in the museum's courtyard, a historical gem dating back to the eighteenth century, relocated to its present site in 1992. For those eager to delve into the evolution of folk art, the Romanian Peasant Museum is an absolute must-visit in Bucharest. It boasts the country's most comprehensive collection of traditional items.

As for ticket prices, they are budget-friendly, with adult admission priced at 12 lei (approximately 3$), children's tickets at 3 lei (approximately 1$), students at 3 lei (approximately 1$), and seniors at 6 lei (approximately 2$). 

The Athenaeum

The Athenaeum

The Athenaeum is a true architectural masterpiece and the soul of Romania's classical music heritage. It stands as an iconic landmark. The interior of the Great  Hall, situated on the first floor, is adorned with stunning frescoes that narrate scenes from Romanian history, captivating visitors with their vivid depictions. The grand dome soars to a remarkable height of 41 meters, creating a sense of awe. An intriguing facet of its history lies in the dramatic rescue mission known as 'Give a Penny for the Athenaeum,' which saved the building from financial ruin in the late 19th century. Presently, the Athenaeum is home to the renowned George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and is primarily open during concert events, offering a rare glimpse into its architectural grandeur for curious visitors.

Local Cuisine

For a taste of authentic Romanian cuisine, explore beyond the mainstream recommendations. Seek out hidden gems like local markets, where you can savor traditional dishes and engage with passionate artisans. Delight your taste buds with lesser-known culinary experiences that offer a more genuine glimpse into the local food culture. 

Obor Market and Grill

Mici

For an unforgettable culinary experience in Bucharest, don't miss Obor Market and Grill, a local gem. Since its humble beginnings in 2011 with a few standing tables, it has grown into a vibrant food destination, offering covered terraces with ample seating. The atmosphere is a delightful mix of nostalgia from the communist era and a playful, funky vibe. Be prepared for a wait, especially on festive days and weekends, as the famous super juicy “mici” (grilled rolls made from a blend of ground meats and spices) draw crowds. Despite the crowds, it's a must-visit spot for tasting the city's best “mici”, served with fresh bread and mustard from a communal bucket. If you're lucky enough to snag a seat, enjoy your meal with a beer and the backdrop of '90s music, creating a truly unique and memorable experience. 

Obor Terrace

After eating, we recommend checking out the market! It is full of traditional products: cheese, yogurt, specialty meats, and fresh vegetables and fruits, but also local goods like chili jam, pickles, and zacuscă - which can make for a memorable souvenir!  

Balls

This cozy restaurant takes traditional Romanian cuisine to new heights, crafting delectable meatballs that redefine comfort food. Their menu showcases a medley of beef, lamb, chicken, and pork meatballs alongside an irresistible meatball sub. What sets them apart is their commitment to authenticity, offering a delightful blend of Romanian, Moroccan, Italian, and web-inspired recipes. These savory delights can be paired with creamy mashed potatoes, crisp salads, or artisanal bread, all complemented by a selection of flavorful Romanian beers. If you're yearning for succulent, flavorful meatballs that'll tantalize your taste buds, make a beeline for this culinary gem and get ready to savor every bite of these delightful balls of joy.

Balls’ Menu

NOUA Restaurant 

Another hidden gem of the Bucharest food scene is NOUA, a modern fusion restaurant that takes traditional tastes and turns them into a fine dining experience. Drawing inspiration from local farms, this restaurant celebrates the beauty of often overlooked, forgotten, or abandoned ingredients, elevating them to culinary stardom. The magic lies in their ability to transform simple, seasonal elements into dishes that are nothing short of spectacular. Stepping inside, you'll discover an inviting interior with cozy accents like wood and wool, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere. 

Noua Restaurant

Enchanting Parks and Gardens

Bucharest boasts an array of enchanting parks and gardens that beckon visitors to escape the urban bustle and embrace the serenity of nature. These green oases are scattered throughout the city, offering a breath of fresh air and a serene backdrop for strolls, picnics, and relaxation. 

Cișmigiu Park

Herăstrău Park, with its vast lake, charming wooden houses, and the Village Museum, is a beloved spot for both locals and travelers. Carol Park is a historic gem with striking monuments, beautifully landscaped gardens, and panoramic viewpoints. Cișmigiu Gardens, a splendid urban park, boasts tree-lined paths, ornate fountains, and a serene lake, creating a tranquil haven within the bustling city. Each of these parks and gardens is a testament to Bucharest's commitment to providing residents and guests with resplendent natural settings to enjoy throughout the year. 

Hidden Treasures for the Seasoned Traveler

Off-the-beaten-path experiences

Bellu Cemetery

It holds a special place in the city's history and is often considered a must-visit for those interested in exploring the local culture and history. The cemetery is not just a final resting place for many notable figures but also a significant cultural and historical site. It is home to impressive funerary art, including mausoleums, sculptures, and elaborate tombstones, which glimpse Romania's rich artistic and architectural heritage. 

Visitors to Bellu Cemetery can explore the final resting places of prominent Romanian figures, including writers, poets, politicians, and artists. Some notable individuals interred here include Mihai Eminescu, Romania's national poet, and George Coșbuc, a celebrated Romanian poet and translator.

Carturesti Carusel

Carturesti Carusel transcends the conventional bookstore experience, offering visitors a multifaceted haven for relaxation, reading, and exploration. Beyond its extensive collection of books, this remarkable establishment provides an array of delightful offerings, including eco-friendly food, fine wines, and an enticing assortment of gifts. For those seeking not just literary inspiration but also a panoramic vista of the city, the top floor houses a charming coffee shop with breathtaking views. 

Carturesti Carusel

Housed within a meticulously renovated 19th-century bank, Carturesti Carusel blends the old with the new, resulting in one of the world's most enchanting and elegant bookshops. It's an absolute paradise for book lovers, where every corner beckons with the promise of literary and sensory delights.

Meet the locals

One of the many charms of Bucharest is the friendliness of its people. Most Romanians are fluent in English, and they are more than happy to engage with tourists, offer assistance, and share their culture and stories. 

Interacting with the locals is a must to experience Bucharest's authentic charm. Explore the bustling local markets, such as Piața Obor or Piața Amzei, where you can engage with artisans and discover local products. The Museum of the Romanian Peasant, with its artisan exhibitions, offers a unique opportunity to connect with the culture and craftsmanship of the Romanian people. 

Explore Bucharest’s Nightlife

From student bars exuding energy and affordability to sophisticated wine bars offering a chic backdrop for socializing, the city's nocturnal landscape is a labyrinth of delights. For jazz enthusiasts seeking a respite from the usual beats, Green Hours is a haven. Nestled in a secluded garden, it provides a laid-back atmosphere where local artists host live jazz sessions or theater skeets, often free of charge. J'ai Bistrot, a local favorite, combines superb dishes with a friendly atmosphere. At the same time, GastroLab offers a gourmet wine experience, pairing a wide selection of wines with a compelling twist on Romanian cuisine. 

Green Hours Pub

If you're looking to immerse yourself in the captivating world of jazz, the Bucharest Jazz Festival is a must-visit. This melodic extravaganza blends classic and modern jazz, attracting acclaimed musicians from near and far. The festival unveils the versatility of music, from soothing melodies to electrifying improvisations, offering an enchanting platform for seasoned enthusiasts and newcomers to savor the magic of live jazz. 

Book your tour with Balkan Trails.

For those who've fallen in love with Bucharest or wish to concentrate their travel experience here, our add-ons are the perfect solution. Extend your stay in Romania's vibrant capital, creating a bespoke urban adventure tailored to your interests by contacting Balkan Trails! 

ABOUT BALKAN TRAILS

We offer fully customizable private tours in Romania and Bulgaria. We build the whole tour around you and your travel companions.

Enjoy the personable service of a knowledgeable private guide and private air conditioned transportation.

Pick the tour's start and end dates, visit only the sights you are interested in, spend as much time as you want to visit them, and enjoy the flexibility only a private tour can offer you.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

POPULAR POSTS