Nicknamed Little Paris, Bucharest is the energetic and vibrant capital of Romania. Continuing to rebuild itself after the fall of the communist regime in '89, Bucharest is embracing modernism and evolving at a fast pace. Emerging from its darker times, Bucharest is now dotted with opulent malls, countless shopping centres and a myriad of fashion boutiques. Around its centre, the restoration of several charming baroque houses, history museums and art galleries has been completed. Just like Paris, Bucharest has a terrific café culture, as well as its newest tea craze taking over the city. But don't just take my word for it, check out the best things to do in Bucharest.
Rising like a Phoenix from its ashes, many bars and clubs are currently undertaking major works after the Colectiv tragedy. The Romanian spirit has always been of unity, solidarity and kindness, and nowhere in Europe the voices of the youth have screamed louder in hope for change.
What to visit in Bucharest
From hipster bars to luxurious rooftop restaurants, from art museums to summer festivals, Bucharest will surprise you by how versatile and amazing it really is. Together with some of Europe's friendliest people, you are guaranteed to have an epic time in the Romanian capital.
The Palace of Parliament - Casa Poporului (literally meaning the People's House) is the second largest administrative building in the world and the largest in Europe. Although its exterior is quite simple from an architectural point of view, the interior of The Palace of Parliament is perhaps as opulent as a French castle. Only 400 rooms are in use out of 1100. This building features 8 underground levels and 20 km of catacombs. The interior of the bunker is made of 1.5 m thick concrete which cannot be penetrated by radiation.
University Square - There are several reasons why I believe you should visit the University Square. Firstly, because it is in downtown Bucharest, at the km 0 mark. Secondly, because it features one of the oldest Universities in Bucharest, the National Theatre, the Coltea Hospital (an architectural gem), an old orthodox church called The Three Hierarch and the Intercontinental. When I was young, I used to spend most of my afternoon and evenings by the National Theatre, partly because as teens, we were art enthusiasts and partly because it had a roof bar with top views, cheap beer and awesome live bands.
Natural History Museum - Recently renovated, the Antipa Museum is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in Bucharest. It's home to an incredible collection of animals, insects and birds from Romania as well as from around the world. There are many interactive activities for adults and children alike and plenty of information in Romanian as well as in English. Because I love sea creatures so much, it was great to see some rare specimens from the depths of the Black Sea.
Herastrau Park - This is Bucharest's largest park surrounding the Lake Herastrau. There is evidence this place was inhabited from the Paleolithic, due to traces found in the lake and associated with the Neanderthals. This beautiful park, features several plant species, Japanese gardens, a tree walk, and beautiful aquariums. Many come here to have a Sunday stroll, roller skate or simply chill under the summer sunshine. On the lake, there are plenty of old boats which have been converted into bars and restaurants. You could spend a day in this Park without discovering all its secrets.
The Romanian National Art Museum - I spent countless hours walking around this museum, learning its secrets and understanding its magical history. The museum is in the former Royal Palace, completed in the early 19th century. Most of its contents have been acquired by the Romanian Royal Family and now available for all to be marvel at. It features Romanian and International artists and its entry fee is a modest £3.
Good to know: The entry to this museum is free for all on the first Wednesday of every month.
Cismigiu Park - Located right in the heart of Bucharest, Cismigiu is a park long associated with the thinkers of old eras. Writers and artists used to meet here, share ideas and held debates. Nowadays, it's a peaceful park dotted with chess tables for the elderly, blooming flowers for the keen photographers and an old ruin where youngsters meet to play their guitars.
The Opera House - Built in 1953, The Romanian Opera House is an absolute must for opera and ballet lovers. It was in this very building where I have seen my first ballet performance "Romeo and Juliette". Featuring a beautiful interior and over 900 seats, the National Opera House hosts many international shows.
Good to know: The Opera House holds a free open air show which takes place at the beginning of each season. It is called "Promenada Operei" which translates to the Opera Stroll.
Calea Victoriei - No better way to retrace the steps of Royalties then strolling on Calea Victoriei (The Way of Victory). This is an old street dotted with theatres, exquisite hotels, brand boutiques and quintessential patisseries. Calea Victoriei also leads you towards the Old Town, where you can enjoy an evening out, sipping craft beer in the company of friendly locals.
Good to Know: Although Romanian people drink when out with their friends, Bucharest doesn't have a culture of drunkenness. People go out to socialise over a cold beer or a delicious cocktail. Some even have coffee during the evenings or alcohol-free beverages. Although local drinks are relatively cheap, the youth have other ways to party and very rarely you will see them drunk through the streets of Bucharest.
What to eat and drink in Bucharest
Romania is well known for some seriously delicious food. The most authentic dish is called "sarmale": a combination of mince and rice wrapped in pickled cabbage stewed for a few hours in a special spiced tomato sauce. Usually, this comes with a portion of polenta, traditional pickles and a side of salad. You can opt-in for some amazing homemade lamb sausages, dried and cured meat or soup served in a bowl made of bread. Make sure you leave enough room for dessert so you can try sweet cheese pies, chocolate biscuit cake and my personal favourite: plum dumplings.
Hanul Lui Manuc - This is a traditional restaurant which serves authentic Romanian food. The look and feel are very rustic and because I visited during winter, in January, the inner courtyard and garden were all full of snow. It all looked beautiful. The restaurant offers well-priced dishes and exceptional food quality. I would recommend this place with all my heart.
The Front Room - 'Camera din Fata' or the Front Room as per its literal translation, is the coolest tea and coffee house in the whole of Bucharest. The place itself is super small, tastefully decorated and has amazing customer service. I travelled my way around the world, and I must say their Blue Mountain coffee was the real deal. I also tried their Sencha tea and it was as delicious as the one I had in Kyoto.
Tea at Green Tea - My second favourite tea house in Bucharest is Green Tea. What sets it apart from the rest is that each room is tastefully decorated to resemble a different theme. For example, you can have your tea in the Japanese room, where you will be served tea from Asian dishes. Alternatively, you can enjoy the front garden, the Indian room or have a cuppa in the attic which is full of books. With an extraordinary variety of teas, it's no surprise I used to spend many summer afternoons here, reading books, daydreaming and making plans of travelling the world.
Cakes at Hotel Capsa - For a royal treatment, make your way to Calea Victoriei and enter the old and majestic Hotel Capsa. Ask for a table and indulge yourself in some of the most delicious cakes you will ever try outside of Paris. Dare I say, they were even better! The service here is excellent, the lobby and the restaurant look incredibly extravagant.
Lounge 18 - For a more exquisite dinner, head over to 18. This is a rooftop restaurant which offers picture-perfect food, and those beautiful views over Bucharest we so love to see. The view and quality come with a relatively high price tag in comparison to other restaurants in Bucharest, although on average a meal is around £15 and a cocktail is £4.
How to Travel around Bucharest
The infrastructure in Bucharest is well defined, yet the traffic can be daunting, especially during peak times. To save yourself frustration, I recommend travelling by subway. It's very cheap and easy to navigate through. Most subway stations, especially around the centre, have been renovated and new trains have been introduced. Avoid taking a cab unless strictly necessary, as usually, they tend to charge you more if you are a tourist. Even so, rest assured the prices are incredibly low for cabs (in comparison to the Bristol). Perhaps try an uber, at least you know what you pay for.
Must know before you go
Romania are still recovering from communism and nowhere this is more obvious than in Bucharest. Yet, the young generations are hopeful, ambitious and determined to change the country for the better.
Although believed otherwise, Romanian people are actually incredibly friendly, welcoming and really keen to help out.
Romanian people are always trying to accommodate others and you will notice that people will try to speak English to you. This is just to make you feel comfortable.
Most Romanian people speak better English than you think. Although the older generations are shy in this regards, I don't think I met many youngsters not speaking English, French or some other languages.
If you stay in a Romanian house, you will be treated as an honoured guest. People will go out of their way to feed you lots, show you around and change their habits so you have a great time. If you are invited to a Romanian home, note that it is customary to bring some food or a bottle of wine.
Romanian Language Tips
As I already mentioned, Romanians speak English, especially the younger generations in Bucharest. However, if can say a couple of things in their language, it will bring smiles and joy. Why not make someone's day better by learning these key sentence:
Goodbye: La Revedere
Thank you: Mulţumesc
How are you: Ce faci?
Excuse me: Pardon
What do you love most about Bucharest? Leave your tips and recommendations in the comments section below.