Romania can be said to lie right in the middle of Europe, part Central, part Eastern, and part Southeastern. It’s not one of the most popular destinations in Europe, but it surely has a lot to offer. Read on to get the best tips on things to do in Bucharest and start planning your next getaway.
About the city of Bucharest
Bucharest is the capital of Romania. It’s located southeast in the country on the river banks of Dâmbovița River, but just a few hours drive from the black sea with sandy beaches. The first mentioning of Bucharest in writing was all the way back in 1459. It was mentioned in a letter from no other than Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula. Back then the country that today is Romania, was known as Wallachia.
Since the first mention of Bucharest until today, the area has been under or in a relationship with various rulers, from the ottoman empire, Russia and even a brief period under German ruling. From 1965 to 1989 Romania was communistic by the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Romania’s communistic regime ended in quite a shocking manner. With the Romanian revolution and opposition of the communist regime, the Ceausescu era ended on 25 December 1989 with the execution of Ceausescu and his wife, on live TV.
What to do in Bucharest
With Romania and Bucharest having a long, complex and interesting history, you can probably already imagine that there is a lot to do there. If you think you’ll be able to see the city in a day or two, you’re wrong. However, you can definitely manage to explore a lot in that time.
Discover Bucharest’s Old Town
Visit the old town of Bucharest, in Romani called Centru Vechi the old town of Bucharest is one of Europes smallest. Today it is reduced to about 20 % of its original size. A lot of the reduction is due to the fact that Ceausescu ordered a big part of the old town of Bucharest demolished, to make room for the construction of the presidential palace and Unirii Boulevard.
The tragic fire in 1847 also resulted in damages on about 2,000 buildings that caught fire. The fire led to about a third of the city being destroyed, They were later rebuilt, but in a newer style, made out of bricks instead of wood.
The Parlament of Romania
I already mentioned Ceausescus plans on building a grand parliament, and he did, without a doubt accomplish that, even if it was on the cost of the citys historical heritage. To build the building they had the help of 700 architects and it took 13 years to finish. The Parliament building was finished in 1997, several years after Ceausescus dictatorship ended.
The Parliament of Romania is the heaviest in the world weighing 4,098,500,000 kilograms it’s also the second biggest building in the world. The Parliament building is said to be the most expensive administrative building in the world said to be worth about 3 billion euros.
The Parliament now houses, the parliament in addition to 3 museums (National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Communist Totalitarianism and the Museum of the Palace) and a conference center. However, due to the size of the building, about 70% of the building is empty.
You can visit the Parliament and do a tour there, just remember to bring your passport, without it you won’t be able to buy a ticket.
Outside the Parliament lies Izvor Park. In addition to being a huge green area, there are several sports and playgrounds in the area. Walking here if the afternoon you will see people gather for activities and to hang out and socialize. The park is also used for different festivals and events throughout the year. If you’re going to the parliament via subway, you will most likely get off at Izvor station and walk through the park on your way to the Parliament.
Fountain Show at Unirii Square
In the Unirii square at the end of the Unirii Boulevard, there is a roundabout with a big fountain in and around it. Every weekend they close down the street for a spectacular fountain show in the middle of the roundabout. If you’re in Bucharest on a weekend, don’t miss this. The fountain show at Unirii Square runs from Friday to Sunday at 9 pm from May until October.
Walk along the Dambovita river, especially for sunset. There are so many things to see and its just fascination to see life unfold along the bank.
Don’t miss out on Dambovita pier, located right next to the Unirii square. You can sit down and enjoy refreshments, or in the summer months, you can do water activities there. From Dambovita Pier you can go SUP, kayaking or rent other gear for watersport activities.
Walk along Victory Avenue
Victory Calea is one of the biggest streets in Bucharest. It runs from Splaiul Independenţei to Victory Avenue. As you can probably already tell by the names, it’s an important street in Romanian History. The street got its name after the War of Independence of 1877, when the people marked their victory by marching down this very street. It was also the first of all Bucharest’s streets to be illuminated in the night, back then, by candles.
Bucharest is also called little Paris, and Victory Avenue can in that connection be compared to Champs Elysees. This is due to the fact that the avenue takes you through the very core of Bucharest’s historical and architectural highlights. Walking or biking along the street you will be able to bet a big impression on some of the highlights of the capital of Romania. In addition to being lined with historic and architectural building, the avenue is also filled with cafes, restaurants and fashion stores.
Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest
The Romanian Athenaeum is Bucharest’s main concert hall. It lies right outside the city’s old town on Victory Avenue. The building is easily noticeable with its Roman-inspired pillars, circular shape, and the big dome. It was built ready for concerts in 1888 but wasn’t completely finished before in 1997. The funding to build the Athenaeum came, mostly from the public through funding campaigns that lasted for 28 years.
The concert hall is famous for its great acoustics and rooms seats for about 800 persons. If you have time when you’re in Bucharest, you should definitely visit the Athenaeum. There are concerts with decent prices, and if you’re lucky, you can come by during the day and have a peek at the incredible architecture under more private circumstances too.
I.L. Caragiale National Theater
The theatre of Bucharest is located right outside the old town and is quite an impressive modern building. It’s named after Romanian playwriter Ion Luca Caragiale, who is famous for his plays where humor and comedy play a central role. The statues outside the theatre are of – himself and several of the characters from his different plays. The theatre also has a bar/café with an outside area with a view of the city.
The theatre also houses an open-air rooftop amphitheater open during the summer months. The arena isn’t just limited to theatre plays but houses everything from movie screenings to concerts.
The National Museum of Art of Romania
The National Museum of Art of Romania is located right outside Bucharest old town and is divided into a Romanian and a European part, each ticket being 15 lei each or 25 together. In collaboration with the national museum of art, there is a selection of other museums around Bucharest. Read more about the current exhibitions and projects on The National Museum of Arts pages.
Spend the day in Park Herastrau
Herastrau Park is a huge park just a short metro or bus ride outside the city center of Bucharest. It was made on the swampland around the lake with the same name and was finished in 1936. In the beginning, it was a place where mostly royals and high class spend their time. Luckily, nowadays it’s open for everyone and a popular place to spend sunny, warm summer days. Rent a bike, or electric scooter to explore the park, it has several areas with art, and you can even find a Japanese garden there. You can also rent, kayaks and pedal boats to take out on the lake, or just relax and enjoy a meal or light snack along the river bank there.
The Village Museum is also located in Park Herastrau and for 15 lei you can travel back in time to see how the Romanian people lived at different points in time.
Visiting Park Herastrau is absolutely free.
To get to Park Herastrau take the metro line M2 direction Pipera and get off at Aviatorilor.
The Arch Of Triumph
The Arch of Triumph of Bucharest or in Romanian called “Arcul de Triumf”, is located right outside Park Herastrau. The first Arch that was constructed was a wooden arch made shortly after Romania von their independence in 1878 to welcome the victorious troops back to the capital. The arch was later replaced with a concrete arch in 1922. The current Arch of triumph was made in 1935 and was modeled after the Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.
Every year on the 1 of December when Romanians celebrate their national day, marking when the states in the area united and became Romana. The Arch of Triumph is a center of attention, with parades passing by. The arch is 27 meters high and you can go to the top of it to enjoy the view of the surroundings. The arch also houses different art exhibitions worth visiting!
To get to Arch of Triumph in Bucharest, take metro line M2 direction Pipera and get off at Aviatorilor.
Visit a Local Market in Bucharest
Visit Obor Market in Bucharest for an authentic Romanian market experience. Piata Obor market is one of the biggest and oldest markets in Romania and has withheld the changes in time. Come here early to see locals shop for their businesses and households. Obor market is also the perfect place to find some traditional Romanian handcraft and Romanian souvenirs to bring back home.
Why not start the day at the Obor Market, shop for delicious foods there that you can bring to one of the many parks around Bucharest for the perfect picnic.
To get to Obor Market take the metro line M1 and get off at Obor. There are also various tram lines with stops close to the market, they’re all named Obor.
Treat yourself to a day at Bucharest’s Thermals
If you feel the need to get away from the sightseeing and historic sites for a day, Bucharest has an incredible waterpark facility not far from the center.
The Bucharest thermals are perfect for a day of relaxing in the spa, or a day of thrilling waterslides, or why not both?
The spa has several areas and you can choose to buy an entry to one, two or all three of the areas in the Bucharest Thermals. You can really spend the entire day here, wandering in-betweens saunas, steam rooms, pools, outdoor areas, slides, and even pool bars and food courts.
The Thermals also have a schedule where there are different activities happening, like free clay masks and salt scrubs in one of the steam rooms when I went.
What to bring to the Bucharest Thermals: You have to have flipflops and your own towel to go into the thermal facilities, so make sure to bring that. If you don’t have it, you can buy it at the Thermals, but for a stiff price, in Romanian standards that is.
How to get to Bucharest thermals: There is a free bus to and from the thermals leaving the center every hour. Check out the exact schedule here.
Try Traditional Romanian Food
Try some Romanian food when you’re in Bucharest. You can find some great restaurants in the old town where you can try a variety of traditional dishes and beverages. Check out Caru cu Bere, Manuc’s Inn and La Mama to mention a few.
A few of the must-try traditional Romanian dishes are:
Sarmale consists of minced meat mixed with some rice, vegetable, and herbs. It’s then rolled in pickled cabbage leafs before it’s boiled in a traditional clay pot.
Mămăligă is basically the Romanian word for polenta, a paste made out of cornmeal. Sarmale is usually served with mămăligă on the side.
Ciorba de fasole is another famous Romanian dish. It is a kind of bean soup, as the name directly translated would tell, with smoked pork meat. The bean soup is served in a bread bow, sometimes with garlic or pickles on the side.
Mititei is traditionally a kind of Romanian streetfood, but you can get it in restaurants too. Mititei means little ones and is small spicy meat sausages. The sausages are made our of a minced meat mix of lamb, pork, and beef, it’s then added some spices and grilled before it’s served with mustard on the side and eaten with toothpicks or just with your hand.
Papanasi is a delicious Romanian desert and you have to try this before leaving Romania. You will be addicted. It is a fried or boiled dough, a bit doughnut alike. The dough gets filled with a Romanian cheese before it’s served warm and topped with sour cream and blueberry jam.
Taste the Local Romanian Beverages
Romania as every other country has its beers the most famous commercial beers are Ursus and Chuck, but you can also find smaller more independent brands around.
Visinata is a brandy made from sour cherries. Visinata is usually home-brewed, and if you want to try it, make sure you try the real deal, not the commercialized store-bought ones! The cherries used to make the Visinata is later used to top desserts and are a favorite amongst Romanians, with their sweet yet alcohol-infused taste.
Do you want to grab a drink in Bucharest and take in some beautiful sunset views at the same time? I recommend having a drink at Pura Vida Sky Bar. The rooftop bar in Bucharest’s old town is the perfect place to relax after a long day of exploring. Pura Vida is also a hostel, and with its location, it is also a great place to base yourself when you do your sightseeing in Bucharest.
How to get around in Bucharest
Bucharest has a very good public transportation system, with metro, tram lines, and bus. Google maps give you a good selection of connections. I took the metro more than any other means of transportation while in Bucharest and find it super easy. You can buy your ticket on machines in the stations.
To get from the airport to Bucharest city, you can take the airport bus from right outside the airport. You buy a ticket on the machine and must validate it once you’re on the bus. Make sure you get the right ticket option as the ticket from the airport is a bit more expensive than the normal bus ticket.