You simply can’t visit Romania’s capital, Bucharest, without spending some time in the beautiful old town there. Located in the center of the city, it’s not a big old town, compared to many other European old towns, but it sure has a lot to offer. This article takes you through what to do in Old Town Bucharest. The part of town where the street is filled with history and beautiful architecture.
About the Old Town of Bucharest
Locally known as Centru Vechi, Bucharest’s old town lies in the very center of the city. The first mentions of Bucharest in history date back all the way to 1459. The city used to be an important stop along the trading route from the Ottoman empire in the south, all the way to Leipzig in the north. The route used to take 5 months of traveling, and today’s Bucharest was located midway.
Bucharest has, since those times been under a wide range of different rulers, from being under the Ottoman empires influence, Russian territory and more recent years occupated by Germany for a few years.
The city was also subject to devastating happening throughout the years. In addition to several earthquakes, a fire started in one of the churches in Bucharest in 1847 . Around 2,000 buildings caught fire leading to a third of the city being destroyed.
Romania’s time under the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his communist regime also took its toll on the city. Ceaușescu decided that a fifth of Bucharest city was to be torn down to make way for a for Unirii Boulevard and the presidential palace. They demolished big parts of the old city center, including many priceless architectural buildings, among them, various churches. What you can see and visit as today’s historic center of Bucharest is only 20% of what used to make out the center of the city.
Much of Bucharest and Romania’s rich history is visible in the city’s old town. Due to the big fire, most of the old town of Bucharest only dates back to the mid-19th century. Just a few of the buildings around dates back to the 17th and 18th century. a couple being the Wallachian Princes-court, the church next to it and the in on the other side of the street. These are a few of the hands-on pre-mid-19th-century architecture you can see walking the streets of Oldtown Bucharest.
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Where is Bucharest’s old town?
As already mentioned the old town of Bucharest is just 20% of what it once made out. It can be easily walked through and explored in a day, however, there are plenty of highlights to go back to and get to know better.
The old town is located with the Bulevardul Brătianu to the east, Regina Elisabeta to the north, the city river Dambovita on the south side and Calea Victoriei to the west. What to see in Bucharest old town you wonder? Don’t let yourself be fooled by the fact that it covers a rather small area, there is plenty of things to do and see in Bucharests old town.
As you can see on this map of Bucharest Old Town, it is located in the very center of Bucharest. It’s not long in between the attractions in Bucharest’s old town, but you can also reach quite a few of Bucharest other highlights located close by the old town. Sightseeing in Bucharest is therefore easy on your own. However, if you want to take a guided tour of the old town there are plenty of interesting history to learn about it.
What to do in Bucharest’s Old Town
So even though the area is only 20% of what it used to make out, there is still plenty of attractions in Bucharest’s old town. Even with days in the city, you will not run out of things to do, for not to mention the fact that there is so much to see outside the old town itself too.
Explore the many churches in Bucharest
Like many other European cities, the old town of Bucharest has quite a few churches. Some of them are definitely well worth a closer look.
Stavropoleos Monastery was built by a Greek monk named Ioanichie Stratonikeas. The monastery got its name from the greek stauropolis, that means The city of the Cross. The monastery is built in Wallachian Renaissance architectural style, but you can clearly see the greek influence on the church too. It was first opened in 1724 and actually also doubled as an inn back in the days for Bucharest’s many visitors.
Today you can admire the small monastery, but you should also head to Stavropoleos church for its very special backyard. The backyard of the church is filled with crosses and other engraved stones. They are not any kind of stones and crosses, but the very last bit existing from the many churches that were trown to the grown during the dictatorship and communist era in Romania, not too long ago.
St. Demetrius Church
March 23, 1847, is a tragic day in Bucharest’s architectural history. That very day the St. Demetrius Church caught fire, a fire that spread rapidly throughout the city with the strong wind that day. Due to the fact that most of the buildings in the old town of Bucharest were made out of three, the fire was devastating for the city. This is something that you can see today, with a lot of newer architecture throughout the old town. Due to the fire, the old town of Bucharest is one of the newest in the world. Wandering around the old town you will surely walk past St. Demetrius Church, take a look and check out the buildings that surround it.
St. Anthony Church
St Anthony church, located in the old town goes by the Romanian name of Biserica Sfântul Anton. It’s not just the oldest church in town, but the oldest building in Bucharest maintained in its original form.
Church of Saint John New Monastery
7 churches were moved when Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu went on to eliminate a big chunk of the old town of Bucharest. He wanted to make room for newer and more modern buildings. The church of St. John is now tucked away in-between two big apartment buildings. Have a look at the foundation of the church and it becomes clear that its current placement wasn’t the original place it was built.
Find Bucharest old Inns
The old town of Bucharest is as mentioned, pretty small, however, there is a selection of old inns hidden in the old streets. Bucharest was a natural stop just in the middle of the trading route going from Constantinople to Leipzig back under the Ottoman and Wallachian period.
With Bucharest’s history of being a stop on a long travel route, the town was full of them back in the days. Take some time to stroll the streets and try to locate the old inns that used to house the merchants and other travelers back in the Wallachian period.
Manuc’s Inn was built in 1808 and is the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest. In addition to being an inn, it also has an attached restaurant, also still open today. Manu’s Inn in Bucharest is the perfect stop if you want to try some real traditional Romanian food. Most nights they also have live music here, so you would get to eat to some traditional tunes.
Hanul cu Tei (“The Linden Inn”) built in 1833, is another one of Bucharest inns. It’s a smaller passageway, connecting to both Blǎnari and Lipscani Street. Today the passage houses bars and quite a few art galleries.
We’ve already mentioned Stavropoleos Monastery earlier on in the article. Apart from being a monastery, it was also built as an inn. This might sound strange but was actually pretty normal at the time. Another old inn was Câmpineanu Inn that once used to lie in the Maccu Vilacrosse Passage.
Visit the oldest brewery in Bucharest
Caru’ cu Bere is the oldest brewery in Bucharest and lies just a few steps away from the Stavropoleos Church. In fact, it’s placed right in between the cities oldest bank, CEC bank and the church. Caru’ cu Bere means the beer wagon and got its name from the fact that, back in the days, the beer used to be delivered in wagons. When it arrived, people were waiting impatiently.
The story goes that, the once that didn’t want to wait longer ended up buying the beer directly from the wagon. I guess they loved beer just as much back in the days, as we do today. Or am I just speaking for myself?
Definitely step into the brewery, if not for a beer, grab the opportunity to try some local food or desert between the brewery’s historic walls. When there, remember to look upon the facade on the beautiful carvings. The most memorable and unique ones being the goddesses holding beer in their hands.
If you find yourself in Bucharest’s old town on a rainy day, there are plenty of things to do. For starters, try checking out one of the many museums there.
The National Museum of Romanian History is located right across from the national bank of the captial. The museum is located in what once was the city’s post office, and what a post office it must have been. Apart from the building itself, the museum has a big and variated exhibition dating all the way back to the ottoman and Wallachian period. The ticket cost 10 lei (that’s about 2,5$), and it’s open Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 18.00
Take a free tour at the Museum of the National Bank of Romania. In addition to an extensive collection of currency, the building in itself is worth the visit. The only catch if you want to visit this museum is that you have to email and book the free tour 2 days ahead. Read more about the museum and the tours on the national bank of Romania pages.
Step into one of the worlds most beautiful bookshops
Cărturești Carusel has been pictured all over Instagram the last year or so and has been said to be one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. Located in the old town, it\s a place not to miss out on when you’re visiting Bucharest.
The building was originally built buy Nicolas Chrissoveloni and housed the Chrissoveloni Bank before it was turned into a store. After the communist regime ended, the building was neglected. In 2015 the great-grandson of the first owner, Jean Chrissoveloni invested in the renovation of the beautiful building. They then started a five-year-long restoration to make it into what it is today. When renovations finished, the building was rented to the Cărturești chain and one of the worlds most beautiful bookstores was created.
Even though the building is totally renovated, you can still get a good idea of what it once used to be, with the perfect balance of modern elements. The building has 6 floors with a huge selection of books and office supplies. The top floor also has a cafe where you can order simple food and beverages.
Cărturești is actually a Romanian chain and takes big interest in finding unique locations for there bookstores. Keep a lookout for some of the other Cărturești spread out across Bucharest while there and have a look at some of their other beautiful locations. In the outskirts in the old Town, they have another store, Cărturești Verona, also a beautifully restored building. If you have time, walk down one of its side alleys. They recently had an event and local artists got to decorate the walls in the streets with graffiti!
The Dracula building, formerly knowns as the Princely Court lies in the very center of Bucharest, just a few steps away from Manuc’s Inn. As earlier written, the first mention of Bucharest was in 1459. The mention was by no other than Vlad III the Impaler, more famously known as Dracula. He was the ruler of Romania at the time. The area of Vlad the Impaler, Romania was known as Wallachia.
The Princely Court housed the Wallachian Princes for about 400 years. The building was renovated, moderated and expanded several times, something you can see on the facade of it. The statue in the square in front of the building? Yes, that is Dracula himself.
When you go to Romania, and visit Bucharest. Definitely take the time to get to know the story of Vlad a bit better. It is, if possible, even more, interesting then the fictional Dracula story, even though he was the inspiration for it.
The Macca Vilacrosse Passage, also located in the old Bucharest, right next to the National Bank. The passage is not just a normal passage but can be described as fork-shaped. It has one entry on one side and two on the other side. The passage used to house Câmpineanu Inn, but it was later demolished and replaced by a new building. The area is covered with a glass roof and though there is no inn there today, the passage is filled with cozy cafes, restaurant, and shisha smoking places. This is the perfect place to spend a rainy day or have a few drinks in the night when the whole passage is beautifully lit up.
The CEC Palace is short for Casa de Economii și Consemnațiuni(House of Savings and Consignments) and is the headquarters of the CEC Bank. The beautiful building in French Renaissance style is one not to miss when strolling the streets of Bucharest.
The construction of the building started in 1897 and took 3 years to finish. The building is located across the street from the National History Museum of Romania with Victory Avenue in the middle. The grounds where the palace now stands was earlier the grounds of the Saint John Monastery companied by an inn. They where both demolished back in 1875.
Where to eat in Bucharest Old Town
So you might already have picked up on a few of the places you should definitely check out if you want to try Romanian food in Bucharest.
Caru’ cu Bere is a must for some local beer. In addition to the normal Ursus and chuck, Caru cu Bere has a lot of other interesting brews. Definitely try out some local snacks while there too. The local “street food” Mititei is delicious with beer. Mititei is ground beef with spices rolled up in small sausages.
Manuc’s Inn, the oldest still-functioning inn and restaurant in town. This is the place to go for a traditional Romanian evening with live music in the courtyard and delicious traditional dishes.
La Mama is the more economical of the 3, but it has delicious traditional food and two locations in the old city of bucharest. I had sarmale and mămăligă, minced meat rolled in cabbage leaves, with polenta, and I can definitely recommend. When I visited I also treated myself to papanasi, a delicious doughnut-ish bun filled with sourcream, cream and blueberry jam. Trust me it’s a plate of heavenly deliciousness.
Wondering where to go for a drink in Bucharest’s old town? Or where to go for a drink in Bucharest’s old town that is. I can definitely recommend checking out the Pura Vida rooftop bar. They have reasonable prices and a great rooftop terrace. Get there early to get a good seat for sunset.
Also, if you wonder where to stay in Old Town Bucharest, Pura Vida is also a hostel. The location is absolutely amazing for discovering Bucharest. You can check out the availability here. And if the location isn’t convincing enough, you have another look at the rooftop view this place has. What better place to get to know fellow travelers can you get?