Bucharest is one of the few capital cities that we have read such polar opposite opinions. It seems like there is a significant amount of people who do not enjoy their time in the city for many reasons but most boil down to a belief that there is nothing to do and no beauty in the city. This is completely unfounded though you do have to dig a little into the city to find it. Unlike many other capitals of its size, you probably only need 1 full day and night to see the main attractions, though you would be better off to take it easy and spend 2 days.
What to do
There are hundreds of other blogs written about the top 5 things to do in Bucharest so clearly the most famous tourist attractions have been covered. Of course you have to check out the Palace of Parliament and the old town but below are a couple spots you may not know about!
Bike around Herăstrău park
On the northside of downtown connected to the Aviatorilor Subway Station is the large Herăstrău Park. Actually comprised of several smaller parks and the Herastrau Lake, this huge swath of land is a great spot to go for a walk or better yet take out any one of the many free bikes available! Bikes can be rented from the entrance of Herăstrău park for free with a time limit of 2 hours. The well-manicured grounds have everything from play structures, skate parks, flower gardens, and even a sculpture garden! Make sure to dedicate an afternoon to wander around or even have a picnic!
Archul De Triamphe
While it may not be as famous as the one in Paris, or even New York, Bucharest's version is still worth the visit. It also works perfectly with anyone who is heading to Herăstrău Park as it sits adjacent! Take your time to cross the many lanes of traffic around this gigantic roundabout, and be sure to climb its many stairs. The interior is filled with different museum showpieces including, when we were there, a huge book exhibit. The view from the top with the old city on one side and parks and a lake on the other make for a perfect viewpoint.
Located across from the Church of St Antonov (a site to see itself!) is Bucharest's oldest continuously running hotel. Manuc's Inn first opened in 1808 and quickly became an important meeting space including hosting the talks prior to WWI for a unified Romania. It even was Bucharest's town hall for a short time. While it is going through a renovation (one that has been marred with legal battles) it will hopefully open back up soon and allow for guests once again! Even if you can't stay, it is still worth a visit to one of the several restaurants and the gorgeous interior courtyard.
This one may be a little tougher to find but it is quite cool if you do manage to find it! Tucked between two tall buildings is a small alley with hundreds of colourful umbrellas hanging overhead. Take a moment and have a coffee in this hidden gem and perfect instagram spot!
Did you know :
There is a bar in an underground section of the alley!
Just a couple KM's from downtown and connected to 2 different subway stops (Piața Sudului and Mihai Bravu), the high concrete walls of the failed inner-city lake and reservoir remain. With the
hope of creating a lake inside Bucharest, Nicolae Ceaușescu took a swampy area, built large concrete walls around the outside, and filled it with water. What he didn’t take into account is the bottom of the "lake" being very porous and allowing all the water to flow out and flood the city around it. Now, after years of campaigning, the area is conserved as it is home to a number of unique species including, turtles, otters, and birds. It's not often that you can walk through such gorgeous trails in the center of a city!
Covid Conscious Activities
With Covid-19 being such a huge factor in daily life, it is important to take steps towards a safer holiday like trying to limit your daily contact with others. Keep up to date with the latest local advisories and information.
While the dense old town streets may be very crowded, the large Parisian inspired boulevards lead you around to many outdoor Covid conscious activities. First, you have the little known gem of Văcărești - Europe's largest urban park, and the site of a failed lake. Next, you have the massive Herastrau Park on the north side of the city with the Romanian Archul De Triamphe at its entrance. Lastly, there are a number of free walking tours on GPSmycity that will guide you through many of the districts of the city at your own pace! The city saw great changes under the leadership of Nicolae Ceaușescu when he moved or destroyed many of the cities churches and historical sites. What is left over is a mosaic of different architectural styles dictated by the leading political influences of the age.
Where to Stay
Bucharest is huge but the majority of its sites run within a few blocks of the major street of Calea Victoriei. The major subway line, the M2 (blue line) runs parallel about 2 blocks east. If you stay in between these two streets or within the vicinity of it, you will have a fantastic stay. At the south end of Calea Victoriei is the historic core which is filled with restaurants and bars. While this is nice to wander through for some drinks or food, I would avoid staying in it unless you don’t mind not sleeping at night! The bars are open late into the morning which is great for those who want to party, but not nice for those trying to catch some shuteye. With relatively low real estate costs, there are numerous Airbnbs available in pretty much any area of town. Hotels can be a bit pricey still, so Airbnbs are a great alternative!
How to get there and around
Bucharest is incredibly spread out but pretty well connected by its subway lines. While we found them terribly confusing to figure out which coloured line you were on, it spans a very good chunk of the city. You can either purchase one-way tickets or full-day passes which are very cost-effective if you think you are going to use it for more than 1 round trip.
For anything that the subway doesn’t cover, there are also buses and trams but most importantly very cheap ride-sharing services! Uber from the train station to our Airbnb which was very central was only 10 Lei! Use'Derekk353lue' to get $5 off your first ride with Uber.
Lastly, as most of the sights are along 1 street, if you are up for a long walking day, you can easily walk between almost everything. This is with the exception of the Archul de Triamphe which is to the north.
If flying in, you will be landing at the Otopeni Airport which is quite a distance from downtown leaving you with 2 options. The easiest, but most expensive, is just to take a taxi or Uber from the airport. This is simple and can be quick depending on traffic, but also not the cheapest option. The other option is to take the public bus from the airport into town which runs at about 7 Lei for a roundtrip. You can take either 780 (to Gara de Nord) or 783 (to Piața Unirii) but it can take up to an hour if traffic is bad. A friend of ours has full information on getting from the airport on his website.
Snagov Monastery - Dracula's resting place
Not far from Bucharest sits a church on an island in the middle of a lake with an interesting claim. They say that the remains of Vlad the Impaler or Dracula is buried on the island. While this has never been fully proven, it has not stopped them from claiming it. It does appear that they have pretty sound reasoning as to why he would be buried there so check it out for yourself and see if you can find him! Worst case, you just get to visit Romania's version of Lake Bled!
While it would be a very long day, many people make a day trip out to Bran Castle and/or Peles Castle. We do not recommend you try to do both in 1 day unless you have a car as the only way to get to Bran Castle is by a bus from Brasov. Peles Castle in Sinaia is roughly an hour and a half away from Bucharest by train so it is easier to do as a day trip. Both castles are spectacular with Bran looking like a typical medieval castle while Peles looks more like a luxury hunting lodge. Bran Castle likes to claim alliance with Bram Stokers' Dracula though there is no evidence that it is the castle he was referencing. It would best to explore these castles using Brasov as your hub. You could even skip Bucharest if you are super pressed for time though we would suggest at least 1 night if possible. To learn more about these areas click here