We spent 3 days in Bucharest while visiting Romania and this was my itinerary, covering all the eating, sight-seeing and things to do in Bucharest that I particularly enjoyed. I’d never been to Romania before but I’d read that a lot of people seem to just use Bucharest as somewhere to fly into and immediately leave to head for the countryside. But I found that it’s very much a city worth spending a few days in in its own right, which is what we did before going to Brasov.
Often heralded as ‘the new Berlin’, Bucharest full of gritty architecture, surprising green spaces, and hip places to eat and drink. It has a real ‘alternative’ vibe to it. Like most of Eastern Europe, it’s very affordable for British/Western European tourists, which is always a big draw: we had three-course meals for <£20. Not going to lie, it’s also pretty grubby and the train stations especially are dilapidated AF. But if you look past that, it has grand Parisian-style architecture lining wide boulevards, a thriving café culture, and a fascinating, unique history. I should also point out that our 3 days there were intensely hot. It was August and temperatures ranged from 33 to 38 degrees Celsius. I cease being able to function as a human at about 30, so that’s why we both look on the shiny side in all our Romania photos.
So here’s how we spent 3 days in Bucharest, Romania…
Day 1: a slow day, getting a feel for Bucharest
Have a hipster breakfast at M60
Having arrived at our hotel the night before and spent the entire night struggling to sleep in the insane heat, we got up really early. It was a no-brainer that my hair would have to survive without straightening because of the heat so I got ready in record time and we headed for some breakfast at M60. That’s M60 the very hip Bucharest café, not the UK motorway.
I was fully prepared for slow service when it came to eating in Romania, having been warned by fellow travel bloggers. So just bear that in mind. It’s not everywhere, but it does happen much more frequently than other countries. Everything is made fresh and everything I ate in both Bucharest and Romania overall was incredible and always worth the wait.
Go on the Bucharest free walking tour
Everywhere we go, we tend to kick off with a free walking tour.
There’s no better way to get a quick overview of a new city and you’re only obliged to give a tip.
The Walkabout free walking tour meets at Unirii Square Park at 10:30am and 6pm. It lasts about 2 hours 30 mins. It covers Dracula (obvs), communism, the revolution, and the protests in Romania today.
Because it was 36 degrees Celsius, I avoided my usual walking tour attire of jeans and Converse and went for a dress and sandals, leaving myself open to the all-too-real risk of an early holiday blister. However, my sandals surprised me and I was 100% unharmed after the tour. Just sweating and looking like an absolute hag.
If you’re after a colourful umbrella shot, you can find this little display in Pasajul Victoria.
Have a vegan lunch at Aubergine
We ate so, so well in Romania. I thought finding vegan food in Bucharest might be a challenge, but after a brief bit of research I realised we’d be spoilt for choice.
One of the best places we ate was Aubergine.
It’s in a really quite horrible bit of the old town, basically a street lined with touristy restaurants that all have people trying to lure you in. The kind of area I’d normally avoid with a serious barge pole. But Aubergine had been so well rated by people on TripAdvisor and other travel bloggers I’d checked with that I decided to hunt it down and see what it was like.
It was immediately obvious that it was a little oasis for locals in a sea of tack. Inside was stunning, with loads of reclaimed doors painted up and secured to the walls above gorgeous tiled floors and indoor olive trees. The food was superb. Although we only went for lunch, it would have been dead nice for an evening meal too.
Amusingly we ended up with a neighbouring table’s couscous and thought it was a mix-up with the order so just ate it before realising. The man was FUMING. Soz lad.
See the Palace of Parliament: the world’s second largest administrative building
After lunch, we headed out to understand Bucharest a bit more. Although we’d had an overview, a few things warranted further investigation. Our first port of call was the ginormous Palace of Parliament.
It’s the world’s second largest administrative building apparently, which makes me question everything about the word ‘largest’. Does it mean how much land it covers? Width? Length? Mass? Who knows.
It was built as a palace for Nicolae Ceauşescu (the dictator with terrible taste in bathrooms who they killed live on TV, but more on him later). But he was overthrown and shot before it was completed. It’s now an international conference centre, naturally.
You can book a tour, but unless you’re more than 10 people (who has that many friends?!), you can only do it by phone. I think you can also see some of its insides as part of a communism-themed walking tour, so check TripAdvisor if you’re desperate to see inside. I’d say seeing it from outside is enough to grasp how bloody whopping it is.
See Bucharest’s own Arcul de Triumf
Yes, Bucharest has its own Arc de Triumph. Why?
Well, mainly so that troops could march through it after Romania gained its independence, but also because why the hell not.
I told you Bucharest was like a grittier Paris. But with better food.
Visit the local beerhall: Caru’ cu bere
If you’re a long-term reader of this blog (and if you are, you need to get out more), you’ll know that I LOVE a good German beerhall. Augustiner Braustuben in Munich is one of my favourite places on earth.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Caru’ cu bere was in some quaint Bavarian town. It’s got the long tables, the massive candelabras, and the wooden interiors. Oh and it’s also got the beer being chucked around and people tackling massive servings of meat. But it’s very much got it’s own Romanian vibe that’s absolutely not Bavarian. It’s way less rowdy, and there’s a man playing a violin at the front. Naturally.
It’s one of those places you’d assume it’d be impossible to avoid eating meat in. But we did alright and had a proper cosy, homely meal made up of lots of vegetarian side dishes, including traditional beans and a mushroom casserole-type thing.
One thing I really loved about it was that although it could easily have been touristy, it was actually full of locals as well as tourists, so clearly a well-loved beast rather than a gimmick.
Day 2: my favourite day – loads of history, brilliant food and a magical secret garden
Don’t do the National Village Museum
The National Village Museum is an open-air museum that takes you on a tour of Romanian peasant life, showcasing the vastly different types of housing used – some of it to this day. I found it really interesting how towns fairly geographically close could have such different houses, from ones sunken into the ground to Swedish-looking wooden villas. This is typical of mountainous countries apparently. Having some giant mountains to cross to get to your neighbours would kind of put you off visiting, so people end up doing their own (vastly different) things.
I really enjoyed the museum until we got to the second half of it. Unfortunately as a horsey woman and general animal lover, I cannot recommend you go there and pay your entry fee. There was a donkey kept in very poor conditions. It really spoiled what was up until then a really good experience. Sorry for the sour note. Onto something better…
See the Michael Jackson pretend grave…
Well, this is a less depressing point, but a bizarre one.
It’s a monument to Michael Jackson, who was hugely popular in Bucharest. It’s on a lane called Michael Jackson Alley (yes, really) and it looks like a marble grave. You can find it in Herăstrău Park.
I really have no words.
Have a vegan lunch at Barca
After an up-and-down morning enjoying the outdoor museum and then getting upset by the suffering donkey and then being utterly confused by the MJ tribute, I was getting hungry. So many feelings. Ronan Keating was right: life truly is a rollercoaster. He was also right about Louis Walsh being hugely irritating.
We headed to Barca, which we’d saved on our map because it was near our next port of call (the Ceaușescu mansion).
The menu was fully vegan, with loads of raw options. Raw food seemed to be a trendy thing all over Romania and I am here for it.
Be completely baffled at the Ceaușescu mansion (Primăverii Palace)
Right. I don’t know what to say about Ceaușescu’s house. You have to go, but it’s not exactly an enjoyable experience. Weird, tasteless, baffling, uncomfortable, impressive, insane. All of these things. But an important piece of history nonetheless. You can book on their website, although we didn’t and it was fine. It’s 30 RON to get in.
Ceaușescu, if you didn’t know, was a totalitarian dictator with horrific taste in interior decor.
He lived with his family in this palace, complete with gold toilets, an insanely tiled swimming pool, peacocks wandering around, an indoor garden, and marble floors, while the majority of Romanians lived in terrible poverty. Everything in the palace is kept how it was, right down to their pyjamas being laid out on the beds.
The ostentation is awful. It’s like a gaudy version of Versailles, with pillars and marble and gold everywhere. And then you see a relatively modern TV, which just doesn’t go with the seventeenth-century look, and you’re horribly aware that this was how they lived not all that long ago, in the 80s.
The Ceaușescus were executed by firing squad live on TV on Christmas Day 1989.
Have some Scandi beers at Mikkeller
After the madness of that, we needed a drink. And sorry-not-sorry, the place for that drink was Mikkeler. I know that wherever we go, we end up somewhere Scandinavian. We’re essentially trying to make every holiday one in Scandinavia without the price tag…
But if there’s a Mikkeller bar in any given city, I cannot say no to it.
Bucharest’s Mikkeller is a particularly good one. You can sit on the balcony upstairs and watch the world go by.
I really enjoy looking at locals’ outfits. I can confirm that Bucharest ladies are very well dressed and also that many of them have GORGEOUS dogs, including one lady riding her bike and being half towed along by an enthusiastic husky.
Gorge on kimchi at Rocca by the Jar
This was one of the best meals we had. Rocca by The Jar‘s menu is full of Asian-inspired dishes, especially Korean and Thai. I’m obsessed with kimchi so could have eaten their spicy kimchi bowl twice over. AMAZING. It was also a proper locals’ place. I’d say we were the only non-Romanians there, which I loved.
Oh and don’t miss the amazing quotes decorating their menu, including this utterly baffling one that had me laughing for a solid five minutes:
‘After eating one of our hamburgers, you will easily imagine village people performing live at Royal Albert Hall.’
No, I don’t understand either. But if that isn’t now exactly how you want every burger you ever eat to make you feel, there’s something wrong with you.
Have drinks in a magical forest bar, Gradina Eden
After our amazing evening meal, we needed an equally brilliant bar for a drink or three.
And OMG, DID WE FIND ONE.
Gradina Eden is possibly my new favourite bar in the world. And I do not say that lightly.
You’ll find it hidden away (there’s no sign outside) in what looks like an overgrown park near some derelict houses in an otherwise unremarkable area of the city.
Once you’re through the gates, you’ll see a series of bars and food stalls, set in a gorgeous little forest in the middle of Bucharest, lit by thousands of fairy lights. And there are hammocks between the trees. It’s a completely magical oasis.
I could rave about it for another page or two, or I could just tell you to go. So, go. Have an Aperol Spritz for me (I had four).
Day 3: getting a load of art, beer and bookshops
Visit the National Museum of Art of Romania
We kicked off day three by getting very warm in the National Museum of Art of Romania.
Just a warning if you’re there in August like me, it’s a very hot building and your hair will not thank you. BUT you get to see a whole host of art that you’d never be familiar with from most European galleries. Opening times and ticket prices are here.
The modern art, as ever, was my favourite (although it’s not that modern: up to the 70s). We probably spent just over an hour in the gallery, but not going to lie, we did whiz through a lot of the medieval art because it’s not my cup of tea. Seen one ornate gold icon, seen them all.
Wander around Stavropoleos Monastery
Although we’d already explored the old town on day one, we’d not been in the Stavropoleos Monastery. It had really appealed to me, so we went back to go in. It’s only tiny but its courtyard is another hidden gem. We had it to ourselves.
Have a vegan lunch at Arome
Arome was somewhere I’d been recommended by another blogger (sorry, I’ve completely forgotten who! If you’re reading this, give me a shout and I’ll link you).
It’s in an old house, but we ate round the back in their lovely little garden. It has plenty of veggie/vegan options. We only had a wrap and salad because I had my eye on something far more unhealthy for a mid-afternoon treat, but both were really good quality.
Have a game-changing eclair at French Revolution
So this was my aforementioned treat. French Revolution eclairs are an absolute game-changer. We had a lemon meringue one and a pecan one (the ones with the mousse balls on in the picture below). Unreal.
I hardly ever allow myself to eat cream-filled pastry goods because it just opens the door to me eating everything in sight. Well worth it though.
Visit the Romanian Kitsch Museum
Feeling only mildly sick after inhaling my eclair, we headed to the Kitsch Museum. This was another weird thing we did in Bucharest that I thoroughly enjoyed. It made me think of a car boot sale gone horribly wrong, yet so right.
Essentially, it showcases some of Romania’s most garish, ridiculous and tacky objects. I’ve been in some unusual museums (especially in Zagreb, Croatia, if you’re interested), but this is the hardest to describe. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself. It only takes about 30 minutes to see the lot, so it’s a good thing to do if you’re pushed for time and want to be amused/entertained.
Aside from all the kitsch madness, something that stuck in my mind was a little hidden-away area upstairs entitled ‘things Romanians don’t want you to see’ (or something along those lines). It featured photos of people queuing to get their papers to leave the country and the not-so-fun fact that a Romanian leaves every nine minutes. I’m not sure how true that stat is so don’t go mad in the comments. But we’ve all read about how many people are living out of their home country due to corruption and poverty, especially young people whose skills and creativity are then used abroad. But who can blame them. It’s the same with the recent protests. I won’t go into it too much here or it’ll turn into an essay, but I really hope things work out for Romania and that those who left can go back and help fix the country.
Go into the world’s most beautiful bookshop, Cărturești Carusel
On a less serious note, this was unbelievable. Cărturești Carusel is one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever been in and as a book lover, I was in heaven.
You can imagine how many people were hovering around to take Instagram photos, but once you’ve elbowed them out of the way it’s worth standing going up to the top floor to have a look at the small art exhibition. Some of the pieces were brilliant.
There are also loads of cute gifts to buy as well as books (including in English).
Try Romanian craft burgers and craft beers
We had some late afternoon beers at Craft & Draft, a brand new craft beer bar in Bucharest’s old town. It serves all Romanian craft beer so we had a flight of different ones to try. I really recommend Sikaru‘s hoppy IPAs.
Then we went back to the hotel to change (have I mentioned it was 38 degrees?) before heading to Re:Modelier for some incredible burgers and even better chips. You can choose off their menu or make your own by ticking which ingredients you fancy. If you’re getting tired of the ‘relaxed’ Romanian service by this point in your trip, you’re going to enjoy Re:Modelier. I’ve never been served so fast, which was good because despite the earlier eclair and intense heat, I was on the brink of starvation.
I really enjoyed our 3 days in Bucharest. It isn’t particularly pretty and appealing on the surface, but there’s something glorious about its decrepit grandeur.
Among the abandoned buildings and general dilapidation, there are pockets of promise and serious quality. Quirky museums, incredible food and hidden gems mean that it’s definitely worth spending some time in Romania’s capital before you head off to explore other places.
Also, Bucharest felt very safe. We were fine walking around at night.
It also felt very different. I’ve not seen as much of Eastern Europe as I’d like (yet) but Bucharest definitely differed vastly from other Eastern European cities we’ve been to, such as Sofia.
Romania as a whole was an interesting but challenging destination on so many levels – definitely not a ‘holiday’ this one. I’d call it travel on hard mode. I don’t mind that at all. I’m always after an experience and not about relaxing. I liked a lot about it, especially the feeling of being somewhere so very different to anywhere else I’ve been.
Our next port of call was Brasov, so I’ll be blogging about that next. Spoiler: it’s a MASSIVE contrast to Bucharest.
Useful information: 3 days in Bucharest, Romania: things to do, see and eat
How to get there (and away)
We flew direct from Liverpool with BlueAir, which is Romania’s answer to Easyjet. It took about 3 hours 30 mins.
Where to stay
We stayed in Le Boutique Hotel Moxa, which was about €75 a night. It was air-conditioned (v important in August) and really nice. We also got a free upgrade to an ‘executive’ room, which was huge. Apparently this was because we’re Expedia silver members. I had no idea we were, but there you go.
How to get around
Romania as a whole is car-heavy, but Bucharest is walkable and the public transport is functional (if a bit of a state!). Trains, trolley buses and the metro were all very affordable as a Western tourist.
When to go
Not August! Although I didn’t die (just), melting in the city’s insane summer heat probably wasn’t the best idea. We ended up going at this time for various reasons outside our control, but we knew it wouldn’t be ideal. Like most city breaks, spring or early autumn are ideal for exploring. Bucharest gets seriously cold and snowy in winter so that wouldn’t be any use either.
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