My recent and short escape to Bucharest gave me the opportunity to enjoy some of the good things the Romanian capital has to offer. I was a bit accustomed with the city, since I have visited Bucharest in the past. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the Greek element is noticeable in the city; Greek street names, Greek orthodox churches and icons, Greek bank branches, and Greek music playing on the radio.
Why to visit
For most people Bucharest is neglected as a travel destination, but I believe that it is one of the last and most affordable destinations in Europe where you can enjoy, among others, interesting cuisine and intense nightlife. Even though Romania is part of European Union since 2007, the country is yet to adopt Euro, a fact that keeps it a cheap destination for travelling.
The mark of communist era is still visible in the city since the architecture of many buildings in the center was influenced from that period. On the other hand, you can feel an urban and contemporary lifestyle emerging in the city, modernizing it with a quick pace. Bucharest is a paradise for foodies, because the local culinary scene combines international trends with traditional Romanian cuisine which is inspired by both Eastern and Western culture. The capital’s nightlife is well renowned for being spicy and wild. The city offers great night clubs and bars playing good music and hosting beautiful people partying until dawn.
What to see
The heart of Bucharest beats in the historic Old Town. The center was completely renovated and it is now a unified charming area with cobblestone streets, surrounded with touristic venues, trendy restaurants and bars, cafes, shops, and restored buildings of great architectural and cultural importance. The old city is the reference point for entertainment. It is energetic, lively, and always crowded by locals and tourists.
The Palace of the Parliament is the most emblematic building in Bucharest. It is a must-visit place in order to understand the history of Romania and its communist past. It was built as a palace for Dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, who was overthrown and executed before the completion of the building. The Palace of the Parliament is the world’s heaviest building and the second-largest administrative building in the world, after Pentagon in the USA. You can visit the luxurious and impressive interior by booking guided tours only and by showing your passport at the entrance.
Calea Victoriei, is a historic avenue and one of the most prestigious addresses in the center. It is worth walking down the avenue and feel the vibes of the street, visit museums, shop luxury brands, and enjoy the exquisite architecture of mansions, palaces, and churches. My favorite building located there is CEC Palace which is the headquarters of Romania’s oldest bank and was constructed in 1900 in an eclectic style.
Bucharest center has plenty of green oases, waiting for you to explore. Locals enjoy gathering at the parks to socialize, play, and relax. Spend a relaxing afternoon at my favorite Cișmigiu Gardens, an English-style garden with fountains, monuments and a lake. For me the best time to visit the park is during sunset when the beautiful golden shades of the sleeping sun merge with the green surroundings, creating a mysterious and attractive atmosphere.
How to move around
From my experience, the best way to reach the city from Otopeni airport is by using Uber. Simply, I stepped out of the airport, opened the application and ordered my Uber ride to the city. Half an hour later, I arrived at my destination having paid around nine Euros only. Even though Bucharest has metro and other conventional means of public transportation, I believe that the most convenient way for a tourist to move around the city is by using Uber. I found Uber reliable, transparent, and cheap, with friendly drivers. In most instances I had to pay around 2-4 Euros per ride. On top of that, the most amazing fact is that you know the cost of the ride before you even book it! On the other hand, be aware that there are non-legitimate taxis in the city which may try to rip you off especially when you don’t speak the language.
Where to stay
In Bucharest you have lot of accommodation options ranging from luxury international chain hotels to local apartments. Any of these options are cheaper compared to similar accommodation in other European capitals. This time I chose to stay in an Airbnb flat since I wanted to share the place with my friends. I must admit that my first Airbnb experience has been a positive one; therefore I am planning to use more this type of accommodation for my future travelling. In case you are also interested to book an Airbnb accommodation, I would urge you to reserve a flat from “superhosts”, since they are more reliable and provide higher standards of accommodation.
Where to eat
Caru’ cu Bere restaurant is a symbol of Bucharest with 130 years history. Caru’ cu Bere serves real traditional Romanian food in the most amazing atmosphere. Once you step in, through the old wooden revolving door, you realize that the building is a masterpiece of Neo-Gothic style, classified as a Historical and Architectural Monument. We tried one of the house specialties, a very slowly roasted pork knuckle with braised sour cabbage, polenta, horseradish and chili pepper, and we were very satisfied. Reservation is a must since the restaurant is very popular among locals and tourists.
Another great restaurant I visited and loved in the old town is Lacrimi si Sfinti, an uncommon Romanian restaurant with a contemporary kitchen. Every product in the menu is prepared with local, organic ingredients only. The restaurant’s decoration is entirely made of reconditioned wood of at least a couple of decades old. I tried ‘Sarmale’, a traditional cabbage rolls dish with a mix of ground goose, pork, and veal, boiled in white wine served with polenta, and sour cream. It was so tasteful that even my Romanian friends were impressed. In addition, I tasted the pork fillet, pan fried in orange juice and served with mashed potatoes. You could tell that every ingredient was fresh and carefully selected.
The last night we got lost in the small streets of the city and by chance, if such a thing exists, we came across a trendy venue with stylish decor and young crowd, named Energiea. We were convinced that we had to enjoy there our last dinner in Bucharest. We entered and we immediately felt the positive vibes of the hipster hub. The interior is purely urban and cosy. I had Pork ribs marinated with spices, honey, worcestershire and soy sauce, with fried Romanian potatoes and mixed salad. The meat was literally melting in my mouth! I was amazed to see that it is dog friendly restaurant.
What not to miss
During your visit in Bucharest you must try covrigi which are delicious traditional salted bread similar to pretzels. Covrig consists of salted bread topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or large salt grains. It tastes even better when it is combined with a cup of coffee in the morning. The mixture of salt, bread, and the coffee can create a mouth-watering sensation! Another food that you must try is Sarmale, as described above.
Bucharest’s nightlife is not-to-be-missed. In fact, it is legendary but still relatively cheaper compared to other European party destinations. Most of the nightlife is found in the old town where many bars and pubs are full of locals and tourists. However, the majority of the mega clubs are scattered throughout the city making it necessary to arrange transport for your outing. The clubbing scene in the city is insane offering chic, luxurious, and high class options at a fair cost. Romanian people love to go out for dancing and drinking, hence don’t be surprised to realize how sociable the locals are, especially in the clubs.
Tips and tricks
The city centre is safe even during the night; hence you can feel comfortable to return back to your hotel on foot after a long night out in the old town. Even though the presence of police in the centre is visible, it’s always good to be more alert than usual since you are in a foreign big capital.
English are fairly spoken in Bucharest, especially by locals whose jobs require interacting with tourists. Personally, I didn’t face any problem communicating in English while ordering food, shopping, or taking a taxi. Even when I felt a bit sick and I had to buy some medication from the pharmacy in the neighborhood, the lady was able to help me in English.
You can use Uber as a reliable alternative to local taxis since some incidents for taxi scams were reported, regarding overcharging tourists who don’t speak the language and are not familiar with the location and distances.
Since Romania is using its local currency, all the transactions are made in Romanian Leu. Therefore, you will need to hold local money at some point. By all means, do not exchange money at the airport since it is an expensive option. Instead, you can do that with your bank before visiting the country or you can find a legitimate currency house within Bucharest. Alternatively, you can withdraw Lei from a local ATM. Personally I didn’t use lot of cash because I was paying with my debit and credit cards. It is a very convenient means of payment since plastic money is widely used in Bucharest.
All in all, Bucharest was a pleasant experience. Should you be interested to have a value for money city break and enjoy food and nightlife to the maximum, Bucharest should be your next destination.
– A. Yemenaris
How to arrive:
Frequent direct flights from Cyprus with Blue Air, Wizz Air, and TAROM
Where to stay:
Old Town and around (city center)
What to see:
Where to eat & drink:
What not to miss:
Eat traditional covrigi and Sarmale
Stroll along Calea Victoriei and see CEC Palace
Wild Party at one of the mega clubs
Where to go for shopping:
Calea Victoriei for luxury shopping