Tuesday, 10 March 2020 | Bucharest, Romania
The Romanian capital, Bucharest, was a pleasant surprise for a 4 day visit! Be inspired to book a flight to visit the home of Dracula and find out where to go, what to see & where to eat.
To be completely honest, Bucharest wasn't a city that had featured on my travel list. The idea to visit the Romanian capital came from seeing a great deal on the flydubai website. It presented an opportunity to visit a really unique destination. I did a quick bit of googling and it looked like a great place to go and explore for a few days - so I booked flights and a couple of hotels.
The international airport is Henri Coanda, also known as Otopeni. It receives flights from a number of European cities, including London. Flydubai has a daily flight departing Dubai and this is an excellent link up for anyone looking to travel via this Middle Eastern hub. Flydubai is a less expensive carrier, giving the option to purchase a ticket without meal and entertainment, which I don't need! The money I save flying with flydubai goes straight into the travel budget for the next trip!
The airport is only relatively small and many people don't speak great English. As you exit on the right hand side, there is a stall that sells Orange mobile sim cards. The internet was quite cheap and worked really well.
From Otopeni airport, you have several options to reach central Bucharest. There is a bus that goes to downtown Bucharest (service 783), you need to purchase your tickets from a machine inside the airport. Some hotels offer a free shuttle service, which if you get might be worthwhile. I found Uber to work extremely well in Bucharest - if you dotty already have the app on your mobile, I would suggest downloading it and starting an Uber account before, it took all the hassle out of getting around. Many people warn against the taxis in Bucharest, whilst others insist the standards have improved in recent years. From my experience, I would avoid the taxis - they will try to rip you off and many look unsafe.
When I couldn't walk somewhere, I tended to use Uber for short car trips and found it cheap, clean and easy to use! Not once did I have any issues at all.
The bus service in Bucharest works quite well, but it wasn't often where I needed to be.
You can rent bicycles quite cheaply - note you need to purchase a card from one of the I'Velo shops and you can then use this card to swap bikes around the city, which works really well. It looks a little crazy to ride around the main streets but definitely in places like Herastrau Park, taking a bike ride is the ideal way to get around!
Bucharest is a great city to explore on foot. I did a lot of walking in my 4 days there. If you are a phone tragic like me, Google maps is great in Bucharest, especially since most of the places have names in Romanian and English! I have tried to add the google map links below for all the places of interest.
A word of warning for when you are walking around - be very cautious of the cars! They don't always stop at red lights and don't seem to look too carefully for pedestrians, so just always be on the watch!
I spent time in 2 hotels just to get a look at 2 areas:
Firstly, I stayed in Concorde Old Bucharest (map)- a 4 star hotel that opened early 2017. I chose this hotel because it had good reviews and its location was perfect for exploring Old Town. It is close to lots of the restaurants, cafes and clubs in Old Town which is perfect if you are planning to experience some of the nightlife in Bucharest. Old Town also has some of the attractions to visit and has a great atmosphere for walking around. The rooms in the Concorde were relatively small and basic. If you are just looking for a base to explore from, its very suitable. The amenities weren't great and there wasn't any complimentary water. The concierge/reception staff weren't great and didn't really have any recommendations for things like places to eat. I would definitely look at staying in or around Old Town if you are wanting to be amongst the night life.
The Bucharest Sheraton (map) is relatively centrally located and is a 5 star property. There was a noticeable difference in the quality and service compared to Concorde and the difference in price wasn't that much. The reception/concierge staff were excellent and gave great advice about places to visit & restaurants. The rooms are very nice, there is a gym/spa thats more than adequate.
You can divide exploring Bucharest into a few areas:
This area of Bucharest has been revamped - the architecture and cobbled streets are largely original, but they have been developed into restaurants, cafes and boutiques amongst some cultural places. The streets are all closed to cars, so its easy to stroll around. At night, many of the areas flood with people and the clubs along Strada Setani are mostly open fronted, creating a great atmosphere.
Carturesti Carusel : One of the more impressive bookstores you will visit. Really bright and colourful. In addition to books, has lots of music, stationary, toys etc. There is lots to do for kids. (map)
Stavropoleos Monastery: Church built in the 18th Century and still in use today - you will see several nuns and priests going about their rituals inside and around the small garden. The exterior of the church is beautifully decorated and is one of the more impressive pieces of architecture in Old Town. (map)
National Bank of Romania Museum: A large and extremely impressive building that now houses a great collection of old coins. If you are interested in coins and history, the guided tours provide a great insight - the tours run every 2 hours from 10am to 4pm and you need to prebook via the website. (map)
A main road that runs North-South through Bucharest. It was the first paved road in Bucharest and one of the only ever wooden paved roads in the world. Its ability to be used in the wet winter months made it a hugely important road in the development of Bucharest and the suburbs either side became very wealthy neighbourhoods. It was re-named "Calea Victoria" in 1878 after the Romanian Independence War - the army would march down this road after passing through the Arch of Triumph. Now, many boutiques and luxury stores line the road. It is a good route to walk up to see many of the interesting features of Bucharest.
Sarindar Fountain: When I visited the exterior was totally hoarded for restoration, however it is said to be quite attractive when lit up at night. (map)
Piata Revolutiei (Revolution Square): The focal point of the square is a large monument commemorating those who suffered and died during the 1989 Revolution against communism. Romania and in particular Bucharest has a sad and interesting recent history tied into the Communist regime that ended with the arrest and execution of former dictator Nicholae Ceausescu. The monument is a strange looking one and still draws criticism from locals who claim it lacks context - it has been dubbed the "potato on a skewer". In 2012 it was vandalised with red paint which has never been removed and give the appearance that the "potato" is bleeding. There are several other statues and sculptures around the square. (map)
Union of Architects: Just around the corner from Revolution Square is a unique building that is a fusion between old and new architecture. An interesting photo is to also include the classic communist architecture of the building behind it. (map)
Central University Library: A really impressive building with a large statue of King Carol I of Romania in front of it. (map)
Anticariat UNU: If you are looking for antiques or especially if you are interested in old books, pay a visit to Anticariat UNU. It is quite close to the Revolution Square. Its a bit crowded inside and not that well organised, but they do have some interesting things. (map)
Arch of Triumph (Arch De Triumf): This monument will have you thinking of the iconic Arch on the Champs Elysee in Paris. The arch was initially hurriedly built in 1878 for then victorious troops to march through. It has since been rebuilt and is still used for military parades to march beneath. The round-about is really busy with traffic and it makes for a nice photo spot at night. (map)
The most significant building in Bucharest. It was ordered to be built by Ceausescu during his reign - he wanted a building for all Government affairs and also for he and his family to live. He had become, somewhat justifiably, paranoid with the fear that people within Bucharest wanted to kill him. The design went to great lengths to protect Ceauscesu, including the exclusion of air-conditioning as he believed people would attempt to poison him through this. The building was only 70% completed when he was over-thrown. Following the Revolution, there was debate about what should be down to the building, with many believing it represented communism. The huge cost that had gone into its construction made it almost impossible to destroy and the decision was made to finish its construction and for it to be used as a Parliamentary building and host large events such as weddings.
The building is considered the 2nd largest in the world, after The Pentagon. One of the best view from the outside is from the eastern side - it looks directly at the balcony and is especially impressive at night when it is all lit up. There is a parking lot on the other side of the road and some colourful fountains that provide good vantage points for photography. The North entrance (public entrance) also gives some good views.
Guided tours of the interior cost 30L. You will need to book (get your concierge to call) during the busy times and tours are run in different languages at different times. You will need to bring, and then hand over your passport before entering! So if you are not comfortable with this, you won't be permitted entry. It costs extra to take photos with a camera but is free with phones. The tour is interesting, but doesn't give a deep insight into the history - I found that it was "carefully" worded when talking about Ceausescu. The balcony provides a nice view and was the place where Michael Jackson stood and infamously announced "Hello Budapest". There is also a terrace which apparently provides excellent views of the city, but it was closed when I visited due to "technical difficulties".
Cismigiu Park (map): The park is around Cismigiu Lake - in the summer you can hire small row boats and in the winter it freezes over for ice skating. Its a nice park to walk through, especially on a Summer evening. There's also a nice terrace restaurant, Gradina Cismigiu (map), that opens in the evenings in the serves a pretty decent gelato with a great view of all the action on the lake. There is an nice photo spot of the Aleea Magnoliei bridge.
Kiselleff Park: Is a small and very green park. Has a small market on Friday mornings. If you don't get to visit, you haven't missed much other than a nice place to sit.
Herastrau Park (Parcul Herastrau): (map) This is the largest park in Bucharest and is situated around the massive land-makde Lake Herastrau. This park is definitely worth spending an afternoon walking around. Inside the park is the Dimitri Gusti National Village Museum - map, which is a large open air display of traditional Romanian dwellings and dating back centuries. There are exhibitions and traditional activities that kids can join in. There are a large number of paths through the park and I would suggest hiring one of the I'Velo bikes (need to purchase a card from one of the offices) from the south-west entrance (near to the Arch of Triumph). You can take cruises on the lake or hire small row boats. There are quite a few restaurant and cafes around the park, however if you are looking for a bit of atmosphere to unwind on a summers afternoon, definitely pay a visit to Beraria (map) - it is set up like a European beer garden with themes of many popular European cities. The food is good and they have a huge range of beers!
Palatul Primaverii (Former house of Nicholae Ceausescu): This is where the former Dictator and his family lived at the time he was overthrown. Ceausescu had made a point of styling individual rooms to replicate places around the world he had visited. You can take a guided tour and they run every 2 hours alternating between Romanian and English on Wednesday through to Sunday. It is best to book as they do get tour groups visit. (map)
Piata Obor (Obor Market): This is the largest fresh food market in Bucharest. For some reason I love to visit fresh food markets in cities I visit - its always a great insight into the local culture. The Obor market is full of fresh fruit and vegetables and many of the flavours of Romanian dishes dominate the stalls - potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and berries! There is laneway after laneway of fresh produce and upstairs is a fresh and preserved meats section. Note, I was warned afterwards that you are not supposed to take photos in the upstairs area, not sure why. Outside, there is the customary stalls of cheap Chinese knock-offs and some more local food stalls. There is also a really great cafe with a bakery that is absolutely a must visit!! It is called Terasa Platou, its not on Google maps but is opposite this pin (map)
Something that surprised me a lot was how late cafes and restaurants opened in Bucharest. If you like to go our for breakfast, you might spend a lot of time searching. Even in Old Town where there are lots of small restaurants, most dont open until 10am or more often midday - so hotel breakfasts are going to be almost a necessity! Caru Cu Bere (below) does serve breakfast from 8am if you are in the Old Town area.
I asked around (friends, locals and concierge) and visited the following:
Caru Cu Bere: Located in Old Town, this is a well known restaurant with great quality local cuisine. They're famous for their pork knuckle and sour cabbage. Really nice to sit outside on a summer evening. Meals average around 50L which is quite reasonable. (map)
Saray: Middle eastern style restaurant with really great atmosphere. Always busy and the food is very good. Not expensive. If you are in Old Town I would probably suggest Caru Cu Bere but this is an alternative. (map)
Vatra: Really authentic Romanian restaurant. Make a booking to be seated outside and you will also enjoy a traditional dancing show. If you want to experience some Romanian dishes, this is a good start. The chicken wrapped in cabbage leaves are worth trying! The deserts are nice, but be prepared - they are sickly sweet! I would definitely recommend this for a dinner. (map)
Aubergine: Located in Old Town. This came highly recommended. The food is really great and has a selection of fresh juices, although the service was really slow. The decor and atmosphere is really nice and the menu is super healthy. The presentation of the food is great! The calamari/prawn with eggplant dish was definitely worth recommending. (map)
Storage Room: Located next to Aubergine. The food is well priced and this is a good spot to have something to eat before having a night out in Old Town. The dishes aren't overly adventurous but are ok. (map)
Dristor Kepap: The classic late night kabab shop. These are really popular with the locals, especially late at night when everything else will be shut. (map)
Other places discussed above include Beraria (Herastrau Park), Gradina Cismigiu (Cismigiu Park), Teresa Platou (Obor Market).
If you get the chance to do a day trip out of Bucharest there are some great places to visit. While I was there many people recommended visiting the town of Brasov - the landscape is meant to be stunning and theres some interesting history. It is a full day or an overnight trip, so you might want to plan this well in advance.
Instead, I took the bus out to the Monastery in Snagov where it is said the body of Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes III is buried. Following his death, his head was taken to Constantinople and his body was buried in a small Monastery on and island in Lake Snagov. Unless you have your own car, you will need to either Uber (which will be expensive) or catch public transport. The small buses are cheap (6 Lei) and relatively easy to catch from the station Piata Presei (map) - there is a small "ticket office" for AXI tours. There are 2 buses that run to Snagov - the 261 will take you to Silistea on the North of the lake and the 262 will take you to a road on the South. I took the 262 and it is a shortish walk to the Hotel Astoria (map). It is a little confusing but from the Astoria it is possible to convince someone to take you for a short boat trip to the Monastery island. The boat ride itself is quite fun and gives a good look around the lake. The man charged me 50 Lei, however this rate seemed that it was quite "flexible" The Monastery itself is small and has some interesting history about Vlad III - entry is a small fee (15 Lei). It remains unclear exactly why he was the inspiration for Bramm Stokers fictional character, Count Dracula - other than his bloodthirsty regime, there is no evidence to suggest he actually drank blood etc.
Whilst I never felt "unsafe" in Bucharest, I would advise to avoid the taxis, so downloading Uber on your phone and making sure you pick up a data card makes getting around much easier!
Pleasantly surprising, full of culture.
Bucharest is a city that wasn't high on my travel list.........but I am really glad I booked the flights. I wish I had planned to stay a little longer and spend more time exploring Romania.
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