Heading to Romania and looking for things to do in Bucharest? Look no further! We spent about three weeks in the city and oh how Bucharest surprised me! I do love cities, big and small, but I didn’t have high hopes for Bucharest. Romania in general seems to get a bad rap from the media these days, especially at the beginning of 2014. It had been on our radar a few years ago but we eventually decided to go elsewhere. We found ourselves in the position of having spent our 90 day visa allowance for the Schengen zone in Spain and Portugal, and so we needed to leave the zone for 90 days. We took a house sit in Scotland for a month to decide how best to spend our Schengen exile, but the UK has a way of draining money very quickly so we opted for Romania. It satisfied our criteria, at the time, of stopping the money flow “bleeding”, seeing somewhere new, and staying out of the Schengen zone so away we went.[box]Racism in Romania If you’ve got some time, click over to this post about racism, the Romani people and other misconceptions about Romania.[/box]
Again, I was pleasantly surprised, “little Paris” is bustling and has a really nice vibe and a ‘pulse’ to the city. And with that, there really is no shortage of things to do in Bucharest. But what should I do while I’m there you ask? Luckily most of Bucharest’s main attractions are walkable from the centre.
(Note, if you came here looking for info about Romanian food….sorry! We’re not foodies. However, I can recommend you jump on over to Simple Life Romania for their post about Romanian food. It’s a great intro and will get you started exploring Romanian cuisine!)
1. Palace of the Parliament – One of the ‘can’t miss’ (because you can see it from everywhere) things to do in Bucharest is visit the Palace of the Parliament. This is the world’s largest parliament building and it also holds the title of the world’s heaviest building! It’s also known as the People’s Palace. Construction started in the mid-80’s and Romania’s communist dictator Nicolea Ceaușescu never quite finished it and after the revolution, many felt it should be destroyed as it was such a monstrous symbol of communism. After much debate the work resumed and was finally completed in 1997. Administrative bodies of the government actually only occupy less than half of the building so tours are available at the front entrance but you will not see as much of the interior as you’d expect. The tour costs about 30lei ($9USD) and you’ll have to pay almost an equal amount if you want to take pictures. On the metro, take the M1 to stop Izvor.
2. The Village Museum – Herăstrău Park is an amazing attraction all by itself and at the park is where you’ll find the Village Museum, or Muzeul Satului. Look at that, two things to do in Bucharest at the same time! This open-air museum is a collection of farms, houses churches and other buildings from all over the country and wonderfully preserved, depicting Romanian village life as far back as the 1700’s. The park itself is a source of pride for many of the city’s citizens who enjoy summer weekends here, and a stroll around will tell you why. There are many busts of historical figures dotted around the park (and not just Romanian) and boat trips on the lake in the summer. Take the metro M2 to Aviatorlior and enjoy!
3. Stavropoleos Monastery – Very close to the National Bank of Romania is the little Stavropoleos Monastery built in 1724. Very little of the original structure remains today but the artifacts contained within are worth a visit. The library contains thousands of books and other priceless printed works and the founder of the church, Ioanichie Stratonikeas is buried within. Among the church’s belongings are works of art recovered from churches destroyed during communism. The monastery can be found at 4 Strada Stvropoleos, very close to the National Bank in the Lipscani district.
4. The Romanian Athenaeum – I had to include this on our “things to do in Bucharest” as we found this sort of by accident. Another traveller was showing us his pictures and we were struck by the ornate details of the interior. The Athenaeum is a 600 seat concert hall built in the 1880’s and restored (saved from collapse actually!) in the early 1990’s. The interior, with its paintings depicting historical events, is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s walkable from the old town but if you’re on the metro, take the M2 to Piata Romana.
5. Carol Park – The mausoleum at Carol Park used to be for communist “heroes” but after the revolution in 1989, the “heroes” were exhumed and buried in other cemeteries. Remains of soldiers who fought in WWI were brought in and the mausoleum and monument now stand in honour of the ‘fallen soldier.’ The public is not allowed to enter and military guards keep a watchful eye, but near the flame at the base of the monument provides a spectacular view of the green space and the Palace of the Parliament in the distance. If you have the time and if you are visiting in the summer, spending a lazy afternoon around the rest of the park is one of the great things to do in Bucharest as well. If you take the metro the M2 line stop Tineretului is the closest.
There are so many things to do in Bucharest that it’s hard to narrow it down to just five. There are many things that are deserving of honourable mention. These were the ones that had lasting impressions on me and it will obviously be different for everyone. Some things of note that you will no doubt see while meandering around are the crosses near the university that honour the victims of the revolution and the bullet holes in the buildings on Piata Revolutiei. The facade of one building, which was mostly destroyed and riddled with bullets, has been immortalized by being incorporated into the design of the new building.
Again, these were my favourite things to do in Bucharest, what were yours? Have you been? Leave your recommendations or links in the comment
8 thoughts on “Things to do in Bucharest: You Surprised Me!”
Great post Geoff. Stunning photos. I love that photo of The Romanian Athenaeum. So much detail. We have never been but would like too. We have been hearing a lot about this place lately. Thank you for the suggestions of things to do. I can’t believe how big/heavy that parliament building is. Crazy! Happy travels.
Cheers! Thanks guys – definitely worth it if you’re looking for somewhere after South Africa!!
Thanks Lesh! Romania is a bit of a trek from SE Asia, but if/when you guys make it to Europe, you should definitely check out Romania…it seems to be a bit of an up-and-coming spot these days!
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Hey, really excellet article :) It gives me many ideas what to in Bucharest. I’m just planning to travel there by plane. What do you think what is the best way to the city from OTP airport? I was looking at [Katie’s edit: link removed] as a transfer services. I read many places how taxis are dangeorous so I was thinking maybe a prebooked transfer is better but I am really not sure
Hey Vyk – thanks for the comment. We actually took the airport bus, which would be a cheaper option than airport transfer services, although less convenient. We took multiple taxis in Bucharest and never felt in danger, and we actually hadn’t heard from anyone that taxis there are dangerous. Who told you that? I think you’d be fine with whatever option you choose! Just exercise normal precautions and have a great trip!
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We love Bucharest! We were so pleasantly surprised with the city on our first visit there in 2015 that we’ve returned twice and stayed for several months. The Athenaeum is probably one of my favorite buildings in Europe. We also liked the National Museum of Old Maps and Books. Seeing the way Romania’s borders have changed over the last 500 years helped us to understand the complex loyalties (and occasional discord) throughout the country)