The Top Things To Do In Bucharest
Bucharest may still be a city finding its feet after decades of hardship and destruction under the communist regime, which was overturned in December 1989. But don’t let that put you off. It has a buzzing nightlife: an abundance of bars, restaurants and clubs. During daylight hours, just walking along the streets alone means stumbling across wonderful architecture – from neo-classical and gothic churches to famous landmarks including the Arcul de Triumf (modelled on its French counterpart) and The National Museum of Art.
I’ll be honest, there is much to see and do in Bucharest, and two days wasn’t enough for us to explore the city’s full potential – we didn’t even have time to go shopping in Unirea Shopping Centre.
It also didn’t help that on our first night, a blizzard hit and about three inches of snow settled on the ground. The conditions made it difficult for us to get out and about on foot. Later on in our city break, a few hours before we were due to leave for the airport, our dear friend was hit badly on the head from hard snow, falling off a very high window ledge. Thankfully, after a lot of blood, a trip to the hospital in an ambulance, stitches and a CT scan, we all made our flight home, but she suffered from a concussion for a week after. We were all so relieved that she wasn’t injured more seriously as it could have been a lot worse.
That terrifying blip aside, we still managed to make the most of our time in Bucharest and packed as much in as possible. I won’t even pretend to be an expert, but what I definitely am is someone who had a riotously good time in a fascinating city that’s on the verge of becoming one of the destinations to visit in Europe. Here are my highlights of our weekend Bucharest and a rundown of the top things to do in Bucharest.
Where To Eat in Bucharest
Caru’ cu Bere
This establishment – and one of the oldest breweries in Bucharest – is a popular attraction with locals and tourists alike. We struggled to get a table for dinner but managed to be squeezed in for a late lunch. Walking through the revolving doors, we were transported into another era – notably 1879 when the restaurant first opened. With its ornate Belle Epoque surroundings, Caru’ cu Bere is worth a visit just to experience the lively atmosphere. The food menu is extensive – traditional Romanian dishes such as mutton stew and pork shank. Meanwhile, the drinks selection sees a number of different beers taking pride of place.
We were also touched by the attentive waiter who, after discovering it was our friend’s birthday, brought out some bubbles for a toast and the biggest apple strudel cake. We had lots of fun, and even though the food wasn’t as appetizing as it first looked, this Bucharest institution should be on your hit list.
Booking is advisable. Caru’ Cu Bere Strada Stavropoleos, nr. 5, Open till midnight weekdays; 2.00am on weekends.
On our first day in the city, after checking into the Sarroglia hotel, we were all starving and desperate to sample some Romanian delicacies. Via a recommendation from the receptionist, we strolled to the Old Town and eventually found Crama Domneasca – a traditional Romanian restaurant which serves interesting fare from turkey testicles to Dracula’s House Stew, liver to cheesy polenta! And yes, we did try all of those…The food was excellent (apart from the testicle), washed down with large glasses of ice-cold Riesling and finished off with a Romanian tradition, Pàlinkas – plum and apple brandy. Well, when in Romania…
What struck us was the sheer scale of the eatery – with a stunning outdoor terrace and gardens, which in summer would be sublime, and a basement, complete with a large wine cellar. The service of our waiter was impeccable, too. We were the only diners in the whole restaurant as they were clearing up from a lunch service and getting ready for the evening rush, but he still accommodated us, answered all our questions, and even took us for a tour.
Crama Domneasca Strada Selari 13 – 15, Sector 3, Open till midnight daily.
What To See in Bucharest
The Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the whole world, it’s also a constant reminder to the Romanian people of the communist regime under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his blinding ambition for urban development in the city – crippling the economy with its extravagance and opulence for what was known back then ironically as ‘The People’s House’. Not only is it probably the most controversial building in the country, but it also causes much disdain among the Romanian people – but nevertheless, it still remains a popular tourist attraction. Head there for a guided tour, and learn some interesting stories about the building, about Ceausescu and about Romania’s history.
Even though we were there for a two-hour slot, we only got to see a minuscule area of the Palace – around five per cent… Stats such as it has 2,500 chandeliers, 1,100 rooms, one million cubic metres of marble, and curtains that weigh two ton, threaded with real gold, goes a little way in explaining the sheer scale of the building.
Palace of Parliament Tour: Adult/child from 25/13 lei; Daily from 10.00am-4.00pm; Booking not necessary; Entrance is from the B-dul Na?iunile Unite on the building’s northern side
Today it houses the Senate Building, but the Square saw Ceausescu’s final moments in power on 21 December 1989. It was here, at the balcony of the former Communist Party Headquarters, that Ceausescu stared in disbelief as the people gathered in the square below turned on him. He fled the angry crowd in his helicopter, only to be captured outside of the city a few hours later.
When we turned up, it was empty and covered in snow, while the Memorial of Rebirth – built to commemorate the Romanian revolution – loomed above us. Despite its unpopularity, I’m glad we got to see it for ourselves. Meanwhile, situated at the Square are several other historical landmarks: The Romanian Athenaeum, Athénée Palace Hotel – opened in 1914 it is a notorious spy den in the years leading up to World War Two, and the University of Bucharest.
Piata Revolutiei, Calea Victoriei
The Romanian Athenaeum
The work of French architect Albert Galleron, who also designed the National Bank of Romania, this concert hall was completed in 1888, financed almost entirely with money donated by the general public. Recognised as a symbol of Romanian culture, the building has been included on the list of European Heritage sites.
Romanian Athenaeum, Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3; Check website for visiting times
The National Museum of Art
The country’s largest and most impressive art collection is exhibited inside the splendid former Royal Palace, first built in 1812 as a private home by the wealthy trader Dinicu Golescu. The museum has three collections, including one on ancient and medieval Romanian art, modern Romanian painting and European art.
National Museum of Art Calea Victoriei 49-53, 11am-7pm Wed-Sun, Admission 15 Lei
Nestled amongst the other historical buildings in Piata Revolutiei, this small red-brick Orthodox church was built in 1722 by chancellor Iordache Kretzulescu and his wife, Safta in the Brancovenesti architectural style. The interior frescoes were executed around 1860 by the famous Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattaresc.
Piata Revolutiei, Calea Victoriei
This charming church which dates back to 1724 is probably one of my favourite places in Bucharest. Wandering the Lipscani Old Town, you can’t fail to miss this tiny building with its courtyard filled with tombstones and an ornate wooden interior, featuring a combination of Romanian and Byzantine architecture.
Str Stavropoleos; Open 7.00am-8.00pm
Where to party in Bucharest
Ahhhh, Bordellos. A former 19th-century brothel, this bar situated in The Old Town is a perennial favourite for drinkers and party-goers. There’s something going on every night of the week from quizzes to cabaret shows, burlesque and live music. If you look past the waitresses dressed up as prostitutes (really…), it’s good fun, has a lively, welcoming atmosphere and really friendly people – from the bouncers and bar staff to the clientele. We had such a raucous time in here on a Friday night – so much so, we didn’t leave till 4.00am – and people were still partying! We’ve also heard the food here is excellent, too, with a choice of tapas and sticky ribs.
Bordellos Str. Selari 9-11, Open on weeknights till 2.00am; On weekends, 6.00am.
If you’re a wine quaffer like me, then a trip to Bucharest wouldn’t be complete without a little swill at Dionysos Wine Bar. Not only is it a wine shop, but you can also sit back, relax in the peaceful, cosy surroundings while enjoying several varieties of grapes from all over the world. It’s hard not to hunker down for a good few hours, and enjoy the 300 different selections on offer – and the prices are very reasonable, too. The owner, Radu, is also a great storyteller, and his zest and enthusiasm make Dionysos feel more like a home-away-from-home. Not to be missed.
Dionysos Sepcari Str. corner 19th Covaci Street, Old Town, Open daily, 4.00pm-midnight
Top Tip for Bucharest
Before we went to Bucharest, we were all warned about the taxi drivers, who have a penchant for ripping off their passengers. Even though we did our best to spot the certified yellow taxis with the fare emblazoned (1.39 lei per km to be precise) on their sides, quite frankly, they all look the same. Fares ranged wildly and we were taken for a ride on several occasions. Try to agree on a price before you head off, or agree to use the meter. At the end of the day, it’s still a very cheap way of getting about, and we didn’t have the energy to argue with any of the drivers. But it’s never nice being taken for a fool.