Stepping out in Romania’s capital is like stepping into the pages of a medieval fairytale. Despite the communist reformation of the city into a contemporary metropolis, 17th and 18th century architecture still dominates every other corner.
From hidden Orthodox churches and art nouveau cottages to the colossal Palace of Parliament, ancient structures abound in this eclectic city. Along with impressive architecture, Bucharest charms visitors with its National History Museum, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Romanian Athenaeum, Patriarchal Cathedral, unique cuisine and traditional beer gardens.
The city’s main tourist attraction is its imposing Parliament House. With more than 1,000 rooms and over 3 million square feet of space, it is the largest Parliament House in the world. Palace of Parliament is regularly open for hour-long walking tours, where visitors can get an inside look at one of the most controversial buildings in all of Romania.
Art lovers are spoilt for choice when visiting Bucharest. Whether it’s medieval or modern Romanian art that takes your fancy, the ‘Paris of the East’ delivers on all accounts. Wander through formal galleries like the Anaid and Zorzini galleries and the National Museum of Art, which is set in the former Royal Palace in Revolution Square. Or experience raw, unexploited street art with a stroll along Garajul Ciclop. The city provides free walking tours hosted by local guides.
Eat and Drink
The most famous dish in Bucharest is stuffed cabbage rolls and cornmeal porridge. Locally called sarmale, the cabbage rolls are stuffed with minced pork and beef, while the accompanying cornmeal porridge is topped with sour cream and grated sheep’s cheese. Covrigi, a soft pretzel topped with either salt or poppy seeds, is the favourite street snack of locals.
The city’s best restaurants are located in the historic Old City, which was given a makeover a few years back and it is now the most popular spot for bars, cafés and clubs. Laneways like Strada Covaci and Strada Smardan attract hoards of partygoers on Friday and Saturday nights. In summer, locals like to sip on chilled mint lemonade to get some relief from the heat.
Where To Stay
First-time visitors to Bucharest will be drawn to accommodation as close to the city centre as possible. While finding accommodation in the city will ensure you’re close to landmarks and top attractions, it can be a more expensive venture.
For cheaper accommodation in an equally exciting location, try the Old Town. Known to the locals as Centru Vechi, Bucharest’s Old Town is one of Romania’s most lively entertainment districts, with plenty of trendy accommodation to satisfy all travellers.
There are plenty of bargains to be found in Bucharest, and a good place to start is the Unirea Shopping Centre – the biggest mall in the city. You’ll find flower sellers on almost every corner, but be prepared to barter.
The Complex Comercial Rahova market will assault your senses but, if you’re game, will also save you a lot of money. Book lovers should visit the Carturesti Carusel on Strada Lipscani. Even if you can’t find anything to read, the building is an architectural wonder with thousands of books, a bistro upstairs and an impressive gallery.
Bucharest Like a Local
Leave the tourist areas behind and mingle with the locals at markets such as the popular market at Obor Station. The sausages are spicy, the local beer is cheap and the Balkan folk music is loud. For something different, celebrate Orthodox Mass at the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral daily at 7am and take in one of the most ornate and architecturally appealing buildings in the city. But remember that women stand on the left and men on the right. On Sunday afternoons join the locals who gather at the manicured Cismigiu Park where seniors play backgammon, buskers serenade young lovers and people soak up the sun.