Travel tips: (Re)Discovering Bucharest

cover Experience Bucharest

I can’t say it enough, but I love the Bucharest I keep discovering! Tiny insight… I was born and raised here, but until 3 years ago, for me, Bucharest was small, ugly and gray. What started changing my perspective? It was the first edition of Experience Bucharest. I was looking from the side lines how people who’ve been traveling around the world were falling in love with my city. And here I was asking myself “Why? Why would you come here?”. Then I decided to take a look at the city from another perspective, because clearly my angle was not the right one. And, just like in photography, sometimes you just need to take a step back, or to the side, to have the perfect frame.

CEC Palace in Bucharest
CEC Palace is one of the many palaces on Calea Victoriei and the oldest bank in Romania

Since I’ve been rediscovering a city that I call home for 34 years, I also have some cool insights to share with you in case you decide to visit. And if you are not yet convinced, I hope this post will get you a step closer to booking that ticket for Bucharest.

By the way… If you have any doubts on what you will find in Romania and you’ve heard some rumors about safety, stray dogs or gypsies please read this post and find out how is Romania on the other side of stereotypes.

Now let’s get back to Bucharest. The quickest way to get to know a new place if you don’t know any locals, is to register for a free walking tour. The funny part… You might find out things that even locals don’t know about.

With Experience Bucharest I got to go on four amazing tours around the city, learn about the history I kinda skipped in school and fill my camera and mind with colorful pictures and cool stories.

Following in the footsteps of Royalty

The first time you come to Bucharest you might want to check the Royal Century Tour. The guys from Walkabout Free Tours will take you down history lane and give you a little insight about the kings that made Romania what is today. Unfortunately the Royal Family has no involvement in how the country is ruled now and to be honest I think it would be a good alternative to the political options we currently have. But let me not digress towards politics, because you will get bored and I’ll never finish writing this post.

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The Central University Library of Bucharest built by King Carol I

Going back in history, Romania was ruled by four kings: Carol I, Ferdinand, Carol II and Mihai I. Their rule and personalities could not be more different one from the other. From the king that built everything, to the one who had to deal with though decision during wars, fighting against his country of origin (Germany), to the promiscuous/playboy king ready to abandon his country for the love of women, to the young king faced with abdication in order to save 1000 students lives – our royal history has it all: amazing development, war, fornication, heroic acts and betrayal.

Alex (I hope you get him as a tour guide) will keep you on the edges of your virtual seats with his stories. You will laugh, you will be in awe, and probably he will cry because you will stop to take “too” many photos. Even though he had a good ‘training’ with 20 bloggers.

royal-century-tour
That is how busy Calea Victorie use to be in the glorious years of Royalty

Discover beautiful street art on the
Alternative Tour

I am always looking for street art. No matter if it’s here, at home, or when I travel. Even if cities like Berlin or Athens are clear favorites to discover some beautiful murals, I’ve been surprised by cities like Bordeaux and Milano. Going on a tour with Interesting Times Bureau was an easy choice to make.

In the past few years, the Bucharest street art community has been growing both in quantity and in quality. From a few bad written tags and hidden drawings under bridges, the capital city of Romania has evolved. Now street artists are creating real artworks to raise awareness on different causes – health, education, culture, domestic violence or degrading heritage buildings.

street-art-bucharest
Street art by Pisica Pătrată – Save or Cancel this historic cinema of Bucharest?

The central stop for Bucharest street art is Arthur Verona Street. Every year, in the beginning of June, the street is being closed to traffic and it is given back to the the people. It becomes a space for pedestrians to stroll and take part in various artistic, social and civic activities. And each year, talented street artists give the street a makeover, with messages directed towards the society. This festival, called Street Delivery, takes place in other cities also, so when you visit Romania, you can plan to include it. More information you can find out on their Facebook page.

My favorite mural this year is actually not one of the big ones, but a smaller picture, that a first glance would make you say ‘Ha, cool painting’. The good looking woman, reading a book, fashionable glasses on. Not bad, right?

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A powerful mural raising awareness about women abuse and home violence.

But once you take a closer look I assure you it will give you goosebumps. It addresses the difficult reality of home violence. The book cover reads “Home is where a woman is most likely to get killed”. The glasses say “I’m fine”, the bucket on the head says “lapte bătut” (that means sour milk, but it’s actually a word play – “bătut” means “beaten”) and in the corner the name “FILIA” draws attention to an NGO that advocates against women violence and equal rights. You can find out more about them here. Just reading this back as I am making my final adjustments to the post gives me goosebumps.

I would love to hear in the comments what mural left a strong impression on you and where did you saw it.

Heritage Rroma Tour

What if I told you that you don’t really need to travel far from home to experience a different culture? Have you ever looked into your home town to discover if there are any ethnic tours? When I heard about the Rroma tour, I was actually really excited to experience it. All I can say it was an eye-opening experience.

I am sure some of you reading this post are well aware that Romanians are associated with Rroma people (or gypsies – but I will refrain from using this term). And this is probably one of the most common associations you will hear about Romania.

Rroma people are actually a nomad Indo-Aryan ethnic group that arrived in the Balkan area around the 12th century. Ever since their arrival they have been persecuted, deported, sold into slavery or killed. One of the well-known landmarks in the Old City Center – Manuc’s Inn was actually, in the past a market where Rroma people were being traded into slavery by the kilogram. You want to know he shocking values? A child was worth half of what a man was worth, and a woman only a third.

Rroma tour
Shocking fact: Rroma people were sold as slaves by the kilogram

After a bit of a culture and history shock, we went on to visit one of the flower markets in Bucharest. Because if there’s something you should not doubt, it’s the expertise of the Rroma people in selling flowers. The most beautiful, fresh and cheap flowers you can find in Bucharest are at the flower market on Calea Rahovei. Some of the sellers have been working here for over 40 years. And you’ll be surprised to know that some even speak Spanish or Italian.

Rroma flower market
The most beautiful, fresh and cheap flowers you can find in Bucharest are at the Calea Rahovei Flower Market

But just like a Turkish bazaar… Don’t expect to have the prices on display and don’t forget to haggle a bit. Makes the purchase more interesting.

When in Bucharest, I encourage you to Travel outside the box and book the Rroma Heritage Tour with Open Doors Travel. It will give you a new perspective on what Rroma people are and where they come from.

Rroma shop in Bucharest
Mesteshukar ButiQ is a shop selling exclusively Rroma handmade products, thus supporting the community.

I don’t know about you, but I feel that travel gives us the chance to be exposed and discover all types of cultures and traditions. It opens our eyes towards acceptance, diversity and learning. And through our creative outlets – be it writing, photography, music or video – I feel it’s our duty to spread that knowledge and help chip away barriers and stereotypes.

I want to hear your thoughts. So leave me a comment below.

Stories and legends of the Old City

Usually when you picture an old city center you think about bars, pubs or restaurants. And while Bucharest Old City Center has a good rep in the “party department”, it also has some amazing hidden stories.

Our guide, Ciprian, from BTrip Bucharest Tours, promised and delivered some top Game of Thrones Red Wedding type stories. How did we get to them from parties? Well part of the Old City was the court of none other then Vlad the Impaler. And I am pretty sure you know what his hobbies included. Even if it’s under renovation now, you can sneak-peak through the fence and get a glimpse of his bust.

Bust of VLad the Impaler
Discover the hidden legends of Bucharest Old Town

Among ruins and clubs, restaurants and former inns you will be surprised to know that the Old City Center has a small oasis of piece and quiet. Stavropoleos Church has been standing since the 18th century. You can enter the small courtyard for free and admire the architecture work covered by green ivy. Picture perfect place built in the Brâncovenesc style. The little church was part of a larger complex that included a monastery and an inn, but they were demolished in the 19th centruy, having suffered structural damages from earthquakes.

Stavropoleos Church in the Old City Center
A little oasis of piece and quiet – the Stavropleos Church

Another interesting place I discovered on the tour was the New St. George Church, near KM 0. I think I passed by this place a few hundred times, but it never occurred to me to check it out a bit closer, or I would have discovered earlier the beautiful murals on the outside walls.

The church is built also in the Brâncovenesc style, and it was actually the last building founded by Constantin Branâncoveanu, this is why he is also buried here. Fun (maybe a bit creepy) fact is that in this church you will find the right hand of Saint Nicholas.

New Saint George Church
New Saint George Church exterior paintings

So until now we had history and churches, but the old city center is in fact about parties. And it has always been like that. I was surprised to find out that we had our own version of the Great Gatsby. Which by the way is my favorite book.

The Șuțu Palace was built by the boyar with Greek origins Costache Șuțu. All of the main palaces, belonging to important people in the society of that time were on Calea Victoriei. Because the land given to Costache was (at the time) a bit on back end, he decided to make it as grand as interesting as he could. The architecture of the palace and the huge garden were avant-garde. But the gratesness of the palace came with Costache’s son, Grigore Șuțu. During his time, the palace became ground zero for all the important parties, balls and ocasional political gatherings of Bucharest. Remember the promiscuous/playboy king of Romania, Carol II? He was a regular at the Șuțu parties.

Sutu Palace in Bucharest
Șuțu Palace was the place to be seen in Bucharest

I hope you enjoyed the fascinating stories of Bucharest. And if you want to know more, book a tour with BTrip Bucharest Tours. One small tip: at the end of the tour you can win a little prize if you paid attention and answer fastest to Ciprian’s question.

Alternative activities to do in Bucharest

If you come visit during summer, then you can enjoy a bit of adventure right in the middle of the city. Green Adventure will take you kayaking in one of the largest parks in Bucharest, Mihai I, on Herăstrău lake.

Kayaking in Bucharest with Green Adventure
Kayaking with Anabela and Alexandre in the middle of Bucharest, thanks to Green Adventure

A kayak afternoon of about 2 hours of paddling will cost you 60 ron (roughly 13€) and you can book a tour every Tuesday and Thursday. If you are feeling more adventurous, the guys from Green Adventure have a bunch of day trips planned outside the city also. For more details I suggest you head to their website or Facebook page and have a chat to find out what is best suited for your thirst of adventure.

If you are looking for something a bit out of the box to do in Bucharest, but you are not a fan of the water, then why not go dancing… errr in the streets. Each summer, every Saturday, in the Old City Center, in front of Little Bucharest Hostel, you will find Dontae and Good Mood Dance Stydio who will get your feet moving on the most popular songs of the moment. Even if you don’t know how to dance, they set up an easy choreography that you can follow. And in the end, dance how ever you feel the music. The important thing is that you will leave with a huge smile on your face! Check out Bucureștiul dansează în stradă (Bucharest is dancing in the street) to see their events.

Bucharest dances in the street
Bucharest dances in the street

Where to stay in Bucharest?

You can find great accommodation with AirBnB. If you create a new account, I can give you a bonus to use on your stay here. Get your AirBnB bonus here.

If you are a hostel kind of person, then you can check out Little Bucharest or Pura Vida. But be warned, they are smack down in the old city center, so if partying is what you are after, these are the places to stay.

And I also have a good hotel option for you at Ibis Parliament. It’s about 10 minutes walking distance from the old city center. The rooms are clean and comfy and you have a very good option in terms of breakfast, including vegan options, that in Romania can be a bit of a challenge to find.

Where to eat in Bucharest?

One thing Bucharest doesn’t lack is great places to eat and the variety goes from traditional Romanian cuisine to Greek, Mexican, Arabic, Italian, American and anything in-between.

Looking for the traditional local experience? You can choose between Caru’ cu Bere (Beer Cart), that has one of the most amazing interiors you will see in a restaurant or beer house, and another favorite of mine – Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc’s Inn). Both are excellent choices, but be warned Romanian food is not the lightest on the planet and we like our portions generous.

Form the most traditional dishes I can recommend are zacuscă (which is made from vegetables), eggplant salad, mici (traditional meat dish), sarmale (meat cabbage rolls) with polenta, and for desert the famous papanași with either blueberry or sour-cherry jam.

traditional-romanian-food-papanasi
Delicious papanași topped with sour cream and blueberry jam

If you like Mexican food, Taqueria El Torito is the place to go. From delicious Margaritas to traditional tacos, these guys will make you feel like you really are in Mexico. To top it all off, you can enjoy your meal with a live Mexican music show. Call in advance to know the schedule of the show.

Taqueria Mexican Food Bucharest
For some delicious Mexican food in Bucharest drop by Taqueria

Fancy getting a juicy burger? Try Mercato Comunale. There is a wide variety of food trucks you can choose from, including some vegetarian options.

For a bit of a more fancy food, you can go to Nomad Skybar. There you find some fusion like dishes, excellent cocktails and after dinner you can also stay for dancing, because starting with 11 PM the place becomes a club (on Friday and Saturday). Be advised though, there is a dress-code.

I know this was kind of a long post and I hope you stayed until the end. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to pin it! 😉 If you have any questions about Bucharest, leave me a comment below and I will get back to you.

Re-Discovering Bucharest

 


Jaunting Tips

  • When arriving in Bucharest I strongly recommend you get from the airport an Uber/Yango/Bolt or the 783/784 buses to the city center.
  • The public transportation in Bucharest is really cheap – about 5€ for a 10 trips subway card and less than 0.30€ for a bus ride, but you need to buy a transport card that is around 1€.
  • It is custom to leave a tip when eating out, around 10%, of course, depending also on the service you received you can be more or less generous.
  • Bucharest is a safe city, both day and night, however the general rules of guarding your valuables should apply, out of common sense.

10 Replies to “Travel tips: (Re)Discovering Bucharest”

  1. I loved discovering Bucharest for the first time with you!

    1. Thank you Nicola! I am glad to have discovered so many interesting things I didn’t know about. If you decide to come back and discover some more, drop me a line 🙂

  2. I had a similar experience on a food tour in Istanbul a few years ago, and started seeing my home city of Cape Town with new eyes. Now when I go home to visit my family we also make an effort to explore a different part of the city or province.

    1. In the last year I think I did about 4 or 5 tours in the city. I feel like I haven’t lived here at all hahaha. I keep on discovering so many things. It’s good that now I have a ton of tips for the people who visit here 😀

  3. I visited Bucharest for the first time last year and LOVED it! The locals were all friendly and we felt very safe. It’s a gorgeous city and I can’t wait to visit again.

    1. I am so happy to hear this. I recommend you come during spring 🙂 you will love it all bloomed, or if you come during summer, you get to enjoy the kayaking I wrote about in the post 🙂

  4. I’ve been wanting to visit Romania sooo badly, and Transylvania was originally the main place on the list, but now I’m excited to check out Bucharest, too! The kayaking sounds really really cool – I love getting out on the water, and getting to do so in the middle of the city sounds so cool!

    1. Yeah, that was one of the best surprises I discovered, especially since I have been living my whole life across the street from that park :)))
      Well I have a few posts coming up about Transylvania also, and about a few other great cities that are truly worth a visit. So keep your eyes open 😉

  5. It’s so amazing how you rediscovered your own city! It can really be hard. A lot of people love my city but I’m struggling with it too sometimes. I do find though, as I grow older and travel more, I learn to appreciate it more!

    1. I know! But here I am discovering this city as if I just moved here. And if you imagine Bucharest like a pizza, I only knew one slice. That’s it. It is amazing to keep on discovering. I might be up to 3 slices now :))

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