Bucharest came as a big surprise. Even if for some reason it doesn’t get the best reputation I kind of expected that it’s going to be a great city to explore. But I didn’t know I will like it so much! And while the old town enchanted me with its narrow street and beautifully restored buildings, reminding me of Paris, and the Palace of Parliament took my breath away with its grandness, it was the alternative Bucharest that I enjoyed the most! It’s still a long way for the city to become “a second Berlin” as it happens with most Central European big cities. But it will get there, I’m sure of it. The capital of Romania has a big potential that is about to bloom and I’m really glad I could explore it before most of the people did it! So, here’s my little alternative Bucharest guide!
Alternative Bucharest tour
As soon as I found in my hostel – Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel – a flyer about the tour I knew I have to attend it! Quick emails sent back and forth and I was signed up for the next day! I couldn’t be more excited, after a really successful tours in Lisbon or Berlin I just knew that this one will be the highlight of my stay in the Romanian capital. And I was right!
The tour met at 3pm close to the university and took around 3 hours. We were wandering the hidden corners of the Old Town and with each step I was impressed how many fascinating stories live there. I was enchanted by the architecture of old Bucharest but learning more about them put the whole place into the new level! I’d never have guessed that one building now serves as a squat and the other was renovated by the group of people who just couldn’t stand the decay of their capital, I’d never have found the first headquarter of the street art scene in Bucharest, even if it was right under my breath! Even if we were cruising in the areas I thought I explored deeply in past 1.5 day, the majority of the places our amazing guide – Livia – showed us were totally new to me. I was passing by houses without noticing tiny details, knowing their history and background. The tour gave me a completely different perspective of Bucharest!
It wasn’t the typical alternative tour, focusing on not so mainstream places in the city. Instead it just showed the real face of Bucharest, from the more artistic point of view. Livia told us a lot about the changes in the city and in Romania, the obstacles the country and especially its people have to deal with and the hopes everyone has for future. These 3 hours on the alternative Bucharest tour have taught me so much about the country and were definitely the highlight of my visit to the capital! I definitely recommend the tour to everyone who wants to learn more about the city!
At first I thought Bucharest is really bad when it comes to the street art scene. I’ve seen lots of doodles around, many cool stencils, some works by artists I’ve seen in Prague or Berlin and just one decent yet small mural. But then I found Garajul Ciclop – a former garage, built in 1920s, now serving as an quaint street art gallery. The walls are covered in some of the best street art pieces I’ve seen in Bucharest and on the lowest level there’s a small yet well known bike shop. This was like a paradise, I felt like a kid in the candy store! Then, during the alternative tour I’ve learnt even more about the local scene, how it’s mostly about stencils, preferably with a meaning and treating about important issues (often the writing is in Romanian so tourists can’t figure it out). If it wasn’t for the tour I also wouldn’t have known the story of the amazing mural with St. George that had to be repainted as the church felt offended – if you look close enough to the wall where it used to be you can still see it very vaguely!
Bucharest has some of the most spectacular bookstores in the world! Most of these that I randomly found were pretty amazing but there’s one chain – Carturesti – that was beyond any competition. It was actually more than just a bookstore, you can also find there notebooks (I’m obsessed with those), music, Romanian souvenirs and many more amazing things. There’s also a small cafe where you can enjoy a hot drink in a wonderful surrounding. I’ve visited two Carturesti shops, one at Verona street and one in the Old Town, at Lipscani street. The first one was located in the old house, with wooden, creaky floor and the overwhelming smell of books – the atmosphere of the place was unbeatable, just like it should be in the bookstore. The other one was more modern, bright and so amazing! No wonder it was called the most beautiful bookstore in the world!
At first the concrete jungle such as Bucharest seems to be overwhelming but there’re some nice parks to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I especially enjoyed Gradina Cismigiu, not too far from the House of Parliament. I might have been the timing as I was there on 1st of June, the Children’s Day, but the park was full of cheerful people enjoying the moment. The sun was shining, the nice pond in the middle was full of boats and it was just the perfect scenery to relax a little bit!
open-air, hidden bars
That’s a place to be in the summer time! Open-air bars are the new thing in Bucharest and such a cool one! There’re usually hidden a little bit so you need to know where to look for them but when you find these you’re in for a treat! Spending time there and sipping a drink in the shadow of the tree is one of the more pleasurable experiences in Bucharest, perfect for a hot day (and there’re plenty of them in the capital of Romania!). Everyone I met was raving about Gradina Eden but I also visited the bar in the backyard of Carturesti Verona and it was pretty awesome too!
My absolute winner when it comes to alternative Bucharest! But I love this kind of places everywhere I go so no surprises here. A former factory turned into the coolest spot in the city, with bars, restaurants, quirky shops and everything a pseudo-hipster like me would enjoy. La Fabrica, even if much smaller, remind me a little bit of Metelkova in Ljubljana, Tabacka in Kosice or LX Factory in Lisbon. And it was a perfect ending of my time in Bucharest!
Would you like to explore alternative Bucharest? Which city has the best alternative culture?
If you think of visiting Romania or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
Note: I was on a complimentary alternative Bucharest tour but all opinions remain 100% my own, as always!
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