Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is often considered a boring city, good only for parties, but that’s actually so far from the truth. This is one of the best places to visit in Romania and one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. There are so many great and diverse things to do in Bucharest that there is no way you can get bored when visiting Bucharest.
I had a chance to visit Bucharest a few times and each time I’m really impressed with the potential this place has. Sure, it might take a bit of an open mind to appreciate its chaos (it is on so many levels) but once you approach this city with the right attitude, it’s so easy to enjoy it and fall for it. That’s exactly what happened to me and many people that I know, and hopefully, this will be your story with Bucharest too.
After yet another trip to Bucharest, I finally put together this guide with my favorite things to do in Bucharest. I hope this Bucharest guide will answer all your questions about this place and will help you plan your perfect trip. And if there are still things you would like to ask about visiting Bucharest, please join my Facebook group about traveling in Eastern Europe and talk to the members and fellow enthusiasts of this region.
Why visit Bucharest, Romania
If you travel to Bucharest with the thought that this is “the Paris of the east”, you might be slightly disappointed. While there are many beautiful buildings that resemble those from the capital of France, Bucharest is so much more than that.
This is such a diverse place, and you can clearly see it in the architecture where buildings of different styles stand next to each other. But the real gems are often hidden inside as there are so many stunning interiors all over the city.
Bucharest also has a great vibrant atmosphere, not only in the Old Town that is known for the nightlife but beyond as well. If only you give Bucharest a chance, I’m sure you will like the place.
How to get to Bucharest
If you are traveling from abroad (except for Bulgaria maybe), you will most likely fly to Bucharest. The Otopeni airport is located less than 20 km north of the center and serves both regular and low-cost airlines.
Getting to/from the airport is really easy, there is a train not far from the terminal with direct connections every 40 minutes to the main train station – Gara de Nord (from here you can use the metro to go to destinations all over the city). The tickets are sold before entering the platform, on the train, or online and cost around 5 lei one way.
When traveling from within Romania or from Bulgaria, trains seem to be the most popular option. You can check connections here. I recommend getting the tickets in advance as you might have problems when trying to buy the ticket shortly before the departure (that happened to me recently, twice).
The main train station in Bucharest is Gara de Nord, easily connected with the rest of the city with metro lines M1 (yellow) and M4 (green).
How to get around Bucharest
Getting around Bucharest is easy too. Many of the attractions in the center are located not far from each other so you can easily walk everywhere.
If you need to go to some places a bit further away, you can use the metro. The tickets are sold in the machine at the station, 6 lei for 2 trips. The metro is easy to navigate and fine to use. You can find the map of the Bucharest metro system here.
How many days for visiting Bucharest
Despite the popular opinion, there are actually quite many things to do in Bucharest, and checking them all can take a while. I think the optimal time for visiting Bucharest is 2 days (this is a perfect city for a weekend getaway). This way you can see all the best Bucharest attractions and feel the vibe of the city.
Of course, the more days the better! Add some extra time if you plan to go for some day trips from Bucharest.
Where to stay in Bucharest
If you are not a fan of parties I would avoid staying in the Old Town, the central nightlife hub of Bucharest. Instead, choose some other central location to be close to the main Bucharest landmarks.
Here are some recommended places to stay in Bucharest:
- Bucur Accommodation (9.1/10 on Booking)
- K+K Hotel Elisabeta (8.6/10 on Booking)
- Vilacrosse Boutique Inn (9.4/10 on Booking)
- and many more!
Best Bucharest tours
Bucharest is a complex city with a difficult recent history that shapes its look, vibe, and people. The best way to get to know this place beyond the surface is to join one of the available tours. I did a few of them during my trips to Bucharest and it really has changed my perspective of this city.
Here are a few of highly rated Bucharest tours:
- City Highlights Guided Walking Tour
- 2.5-Hour Private Walking Tour with Guide
- Hidden Gems 3-Hour Walking Tour
- Alternative Sightseeing 3-Hour Guided Tour
Things to do in Bucharest
And finally, let’s talk about the best things to do in Bucharest. You can find them all below, in no particular order.
Visit Palace of Parliament
This is probably the most impressive place you can visit in Bucharest. The Palace of Parliament (known also as the Republic’s House or People’s Palace) is the second largest administrative building in the world after Pentagon in the US, dominating the central part of Bucharest. In fact, to build this majestic structure a big part of the historical center (5% of the overall city’s area) had to be demolished and some 40.000 inhabitants were rehoused.
The works started in 1983 and were fully finished in 1997 (when communism ended in Romania in 1989, some 80% of the building was done). There are around 1000 rooms, 30 ballrooms, 4 restaurants, 3 libraries, 2 underground parking lots, 1 big concert room, and 1 unfinished pool inside. Today the building is home to the Parliament of Romania and is used for various state functions and conferences but still 70% of it remains empty.
It is possible to tour the interiors of the Palace of Parliament and I can definitely recommend that. No words can describe the glamor and splendor you can find there, with crystal chandeliers, huge marble columns and so many details it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
You can get the ticket for visiting the Palace of Parliament here.
Explore the Old Town
Even if Bucharest Old Town is a fairly small place, this is where you should start your exploration of the Romanian capital. The rest of the city is a mixture of architectonic styles but here, in the maze of narrow, pedestrian lanes, you will find the charm of the past times. This is in fact one of the very few areas of the city that was not destroyed during World War 2 or the Civic Centre project.
The Old Town is the oldest area of Bucharest when the city was founded in the 14th century and until World War 2 this was the main merchant district. Still today, when wandering around, you can find the numerous remnants of these golden times in beautiful neo-Baroque and neoclassical buildings that this part of Bucharest is full of.
The Old Town in Bucharest is also the main nightlife hub of the city. In the daytime, the streets are full of cafes and restaurants where you can sit down, relax, and observe the world around but once the evening comes this is where the best parties in the city take place.
The Old Town is jammed between some of the main streets of Bucharest: Calea Victoriei to the west, Bulevardul Brătianu to the east, Regina Elisabeta to the north, and the Dambovita river to the south. The nearest metro stations are Piața Unirii and Universitate.
Find the beautiful Macca – Vilacrosse Passage
One of the most stunning hidden (literally) gems of the Old Town in Bucharest is the Macca – Villacrosse Passage. You can get inside via two entrances from Calea Victoriei and one from Strada Eugeniu Carada and even if from the outside the place doesn’t look like something special, it is a truly marvelous spot.
The pedestrian passage date back to the 19th century when this part of Bucharest became an economic hub of the Romanian capital and numerous headquarters of various institutions found a home here. The passage was made to be a shortcut between two main streets in the Old Town. The name of the passage, Macca – Vilacrosse, comes from the names of two homeowners who decided to sell their properties so the city could make this shortcut.
In the past, the Macca – Vilacrosse Passage was home to the first Stock Exchange House of Bucharest, today you can find there a few cafes and restaurants. But the main reason to stop here is to see the incredible beauty of the place, a fine example of the 19th-century grandness of Bucharest.
Visit Stavropoleos Monastery
Another gem of Bucharest Old Town is Stavropoleos Monastery, originally built in 1724 although ruined and restored afterward. Among all the churches you can find in central Bucharest, this is definitely the most beautiful one.
The monastery’s architecture is a real mix of influences, with Romanian, Oriental, Byzantine, and late Italian Renaissance elements but the main one is the unique Brâncovenesc style typical for the region. The stunning frescoes you can admire today are partly original ones from the 18th-century monastery.
Stavropoleos Monastery is definitely one of the must-visit places in Bucharest so don’t miss it.
Eat at Caru’ cu Bere
Located literally across the street from Stavropoleos Monastery, Caru’ cu Bere is hands down the most beautiful restaurant in Bucharest. If you are looking to try fine local cuisine this is a good place to start, and the stunning interior will make your meal even more enjoyable.
The restaurant was opened in 1879 but was moved to the current historical building in 1899. The amazing interior which is a mix of art nouveau and neogothic, and richly decorated with paints, stained glass, mosaics, and carved panelings, was designed by the Austrian architect Siegfrida Kofczinsky.
For years it’s been a favorite restaurant of Bucharest’s locals and visitors that still attracts many people, hence it’s better to book the table in advance. But even if you need to wait a bit, it’s still worth it.
Shop at Cărturești Carusel
Cărturești is a bookstore chain with locations all over Romania. However, their shop in Bucharest Old Town (at 55 Strada Lipscani) is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and you simply don’t want to miss it.
The building where Cărturești Carusel is located was built in 1903 by the family of wealthy Greek bankers, Chrissoveloni, and was used for their bank headquarters but in the 1950s it was confiscated by the communist regime and used as a general store only to be forgotten in the next years. In 2007, after years of legal battles, the building was returned to its original owners and the restorations began.
As a result, you can visit this stunning bookstore and enjoy your shopping on the three floors of beautiful interiors with curved balconies, columns, stuccos, and more. And if you just want to sit and relax, there is a teahouse on the top floor.
Since this is a very popular place among tourists and locals, it’s best to visit Cărturești Carusel in the morning to avoid crowds.
There is another charming bookstore by Cărturești brand in central Bucharest, Cărturești Verona at Bulevardul General Gheorghe Magheru, that might not be as beautiful but still has a great vibe of the old bookstore that invites you to browse around.
Visit Hanul cu Tei
One of the inconspicuous remnants of the old times in Bucharest’s Old Town is Hanul cu Tei, the old inn that is still standing at Lipscani street. It was built in 1833 and today it is the only remaining old inn in Bucharest, still preserved in its shape and look how it used to be in its origins.
In the past, the place had two owners, Anastasie Hagi Gheorghe Polizu and Ştefan Popovici (you can still see their original initials at the entrance), and each of them had 14 shops while the pedestrian alley was common. Today in Hanul cu Tei you can find a few art galleries and antique shops as well as restaurants. It’s worth stopping here to get a feel of how the Old Town in Bucharest used to be in the 19th century.
Discover the local street art scene
Bucharest has a pretty great street art scene although it might not be too obvious at first. You can find some nice big murals around, but the real treat is small stencils that cover the city. There often have a meaning and treat about important issues – they might not be too obvious to visitors, especially those who don’t speak Romanian, but they do carry a message.
If you would like to see some of the best murals in Bucharest, check the locations on this map (I found it pretty useful). Otherwise, just wander around with your eyes open and looks at the walls around you to see some great stencils you might like.
Enjoy the diverse architecture
One of my favorite things to do in Bucharest is to simply wander around and enjoy the diverse architecture of the city. The capital of Romania is often called “the little Paris” thanks to some grand buildings similar to those you can find in France but that’s only part of what the city has to offer on the architectural level. In fact, the streets of Bucharest are such a mix of styles that it’s hard to define them clearly.
There are some grand buildings from the 19th century, some amazing art nouveau spots or some unique-Romanian Brâncovenesc style creations, but there are also some impressive brutalist, art deco, and modernist masterpieces as well as socialist-realism pieces made as part of the Civic Centre project. Very often all those different styles are next to each other which, for some, might be a downside of Bucharest but I find it utterly fascinating. Visit Bucharest with an open mind so you can enjoy this crazy mix of architecture too!
Relax in Cișmigiu Gardens
Once you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy city, head to Cișmigiu Gardens – a pleasant park located in the central part of Bucharest. This is actually one of my favorite places to visit in Bucharest and I try to stop there every time I visit the city.
Cișmigiu Gardens is the oldest and the largest park in Bucharest and makes a perfect green oasis in the Romanian capital. The place was opened in 1860 and ever since has been a favorite place for locals to go for a stroll or to sit on one of the many benches and simply relax. There is also a small lake in the middle of the park where in the summer you can rent a boat and in winter you can go ice skating.
Shop in the former Stock Exchange Palace
One of the most impressive buildings in the Old Town is Palatul Bursei – the former Stock Exchange Palace, dating to the beginning of the 20th century. Today it hosts numerous institutions and businesses, including the “Antiques & Handmade” market.
Even if you don’t plan to do any shopping there, you still not to go inside (although it is a great place to get some unique souvenirs). The interior is still original, full of beautiful decor and details, and designed in the French neoclassical style.
Find the umbrella street
If you are looking for the perfect Instagrammable place in Bucharest, head to Pasajul Victoria near University where you will find a colorful umbrella street. The passage, connecting Calea Victoriei with Strada Academiei, dates back to the beginning of the 20th century but during the renovation process a few years ago, the umbrellas’ canopy was added to the place, giving the gloomy passage a new life and look and attracting both locals and tourists to the place.
Just like every other European capital, Bucharest is home to some great museums that you can tour during your trip to Romania. Some of them are located in historical buildings and old palaces so besides the cultural value you also get to see some beautiful interiors as a bonus.
Some of the best museums in Bucharest include the National Museum of Art of Romania, Cotroceni Palace, Museum of Art Collections, George Enescu Museum, Bucharest Municipality Museum, and Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History.
Enjoy Bucharest cafe scene
Bucharest has an exceptional cafe scene with so many great places to choose from. Many of them serve specialty coffee so if you are a fan of those, you are in for a treat. You can find some of the best cafes in Bucharest here.
In the summertime, numerous open-air cafes and bars add up to the overall great scene and a great Bucharest vibe. They are usually a bit hidden from the street view, places in the yards full of greenery, and can make a great escape on a hot day. Some of the most popular ones are Café Verona and Grădina Dorobanți but there are so many more.
Visit Romanian Athenaeum
From the outside, the Romanian Athenaeum might look beautiful but not really extraordinary but inside this place is a real gem. Opened in 1888, the iconic neoclassical building is the oldest cultural institution in Bucharest, the most prestigious concert hall, and home to the “George Enescu” Philharmonic Orchestra.
The good news is, you can visit this gem of architecture without scoring tickets for the show (which is not always easy). Many visitors only admire the building from the outside and don’t know that on the right side there is a random door that will lead you to the stunning interior that you can see for a small fee.
And the interior is really jaw-dropping, probably the most incredible you will see in Bucharest. Both, the foyer and the auditorium are richly decorated, with frescoes, bas-reliefs, and more. Visiting the Romanian Athenaeum on a random day has another advantage – most likely there won’t be many people around so you can spend there as much time as you want, carefully checking every spot and its features.
Pay respect at Revolution Square
Not far from Romanian Athenaeum you will find Revolution Square, probably the most important place in the recent history of Bucharest. Until 1989 this centrally located spot was named Palace Square but after the tragic events of that year, the name was changed to honor what had happened here.
Revolution Square is where the massive protests in December 1989 in fact ended the communist regime in Romania and led to the execution of its leader Nicolae Ceaușescu. However, the unrest resulted in a high number of casualties that fought for their country (sources say between 700 and 1300 people died and over 3300 were injured).
In the central part of Revolution Square, you can see the monument commemorating those tragic events. The sculpture (which resembles a potato and that’s what it’s called by locals) still brings mixed feelings and is criticized by many for the lack of symbolism. Still, it’s worth visiting the square, to feel its significance and to see where those crucial events in the history of Romania took place.
Go for a stroll in King Mihai I Park
King Mihai I Park, located in the northern part of Bucharest, is one of the favorite places for locals to go for a stroll. This beautiful green oasis surrounding Herastrau lake attracts many people who wander around and relax in this charming place.
In the past, the park was a go-to spot for wealthy citizens and royalty, today however everyone can visit and enjoy the place. If the park is not enough for you, you can rent a boat and row on the lake.
While you are here, you can also see one of the greatest examples of the Socialist realism architecture style in Bucharest – House of the Free Press built in 1957.
Visit Village Museum
The main reason to come to King Mihai I Park is to visit the Village Museum which is located in the heart of this green space. This open-air ethnographic museum (one of the first of that kind in the world, opened in 1936) focuses on the traditional Romanian village life and is a truly fascinating place to see.
Inside the museum, you can see 346 houses and over 50.000 artifacts from all over Romania. When wandering around you can clearly see how diverse the country is, if only based on the architecture. Even if the place is a bit away from the center, it is definitely worth the trip as this is one of the best things to do in Bucharest, so different from the rest of the city.
Visit Ceaușescu’s House
While the Palace of Parliament is the main testimony to Ceaușescu’s extravaganza, there is one more place where his huge ego shows off – his private residence. Ceaușescu’s Mansion (known also as “Spring Palace”) was built in the 1960s and served as home to his family for 25 years.
Today you can tour the premises and see where the mighty dictator of communist Romania spent his free time. Clearly, no money was spared when building and decorating the mansion. Splendor is seen in each and every corner, with handmade paneling and fabrics, crystal chandeliers, paintings by famous Romanian artists, or the impressive mosaic in the pool area.
You can visit the place with the guide which I highly recommend – click here for details.
See the Romanian Arch de Triumph
The resemblance between Bucharest and Paris doesn’t end only in the architecture in the central part of the city. At the edge of King Mihai I Park, you can find Arch de Triumph, a bit similar to the one in the capital of France.
The first arch in this place was the wooden structure created after Romania gained its independence in 1878. Another, concrete one was put in the spot of the previous arch in 1922 but since the exterior got a bit damaged in 1936 it was replaced by what we can see today. The neoclassical, 27-meters high structure commemorates the heroes of the War of Independence and World War I.
If you happen to be in Bucharest on December 1st, you can see the military parade at the Arch de Triumph held there each year for the Great Union Day.
Not only metro in Bucharest is the best way to get around the city, but it is also an interesting place to explore. Instead of quickly rushing to and from the station give yourself some time to see the architecture of the stations, some of them being real gems of the 1970s and 1980s design.
My favorite stations in the Bucharest metro system were Titan, Gara de Nord, Universitate, Politehnica, and Eroilor but almost every station has something interesting and unique.
Enjoy the alternative side of Bucharest
One of the best alternative spots in Bucharest is Fabrica – the former sock factory (built in 1898) turned into a favorite hangout spot for the locals. It is the first place of this kind in Bucharest where the postindustrial space was given to the people.
Inside the complex you can find numerous bars and restaurants, a nightclub, art galleries, and creative spaces, and, like in other similar places, plenty of street art around.
Recently Fabrica was at risk to be demolished and turned into an apartment complex but thanks to the efforts of the local community it was added to the city’s listed buildings which will hopefully save space in the future.
Go for day trips
While Bucharest is a great place itself, you can also use it as a base to visit some great places in the country that are located not too far. Some of the most popular (and amazing choices) include Sinaia (with one of the most beautiful palaces you will ever see), Brasov (with a well-preserved medieval center), the seaside, or Slanic Prahova Salt Mine (the largest salt mine in Europe). You can even quickly hop across the border and visit Bulgaria.
I wrote the whole article about the best day trips from Bucharest, with full description and how to get to each place. You can find it here.
Final thoughts on visiting Bucharest
As you can see above, Bucharest really has a lot to offer and it is impossible to be bored there. This is one of the most fascinating cities in Eastern Europe, with diverse attractions and a vibrant atmosphere. Whenever you get a chance – visit Bucharest! Who knows, just like it surprised me a few years ago it might become one of your favorite cities too!
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