The Romanian capital gets a bad rep for being “ugly” or “boring,” but on the contrary, I found Bucharest to be a pleasure to visit as my last stop during my travels this past February. My two nights in town were short, but well-spent, as I saw a lot, ate a lot, and had lots of fun.
I left Brasov in the afternoon, taking the two-hour train ride south to the capital. As Romanian trains go, mine was about 20 minutes late in arrival, but it actually arrived into Bucharest on time– I won’t complain about that! Upon arriving in Gara de Nord, I set off on-foot to my Couchsurfer’s flat, which was about 15 minutes from the station.
I arrived there at around 16:30, and I got settled into my host’s home. It was a spacious apartment, and I got to have my own bedroom! My host was really kind, very energetic and also took me out clubbing on my last night out (more on that later). As I’d been traveling that day, I was too tired to go out to explore town, so I just chatted with my Couchsurfer and had dinner with him at home. After watching a film together, I went to bed.
My host had work the next day, so I explored Bucharest on my own. While the weather had been fantastically sunny in Cluj and Brasov, unfortunately it was rather overcast and drizzly by the time I got to Bucharest. All the same, however, I still found the austere, post-Communist buildings and the compact Old Town to be charming in their own right.
Bucharest (not to be confused with Budapest in Hungary) is a sprawling, metropolitan city. In fact, it’d been nicknamed “Little Paris of the East,” for its architecture before the war had been modeled after the flourishing French capital. Apparently, Bucharest had been beautiful, too, but unfortunately the wars and Communism had destroyed much of its splendor. While it’s true that many of the places are run-down today, the grittiness gives it character– not like the quaint, well-preserved cities I’d visited, but still cool nevertheless!
First stop of the day was a 25-minute walk to the Arcul de Triumf, which is the Romanian’s take on Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. It’s more-or-less identical, with the chaotic roundabout surrounding it. I got a photo op in before I continued north to see the Casa Presei Libere (“House of Free Press”), which houses the Romanian newspaper headquarters. I couldn’t go inside, because I wasn’t a worker, so I just snapped a photo of the bloc-like building before I left.
I caught the local bus to the Old Town (Centru Vechi), and from there, I passed through the Pasajul Macca – Vilacrosse, a stunning indoor passageway which reminded me of the ones in Paris (e.g. Galerie Vivienne). Again, Bucharest was modeled to look like Paris, so it wasn’t surprising! It was just a matter of strolling through the lavish interior, passing by the cafes and boutiques inside, before popping out on the other side of the street.
Nearing lunchtime, I headed to Caru’ cu Bere, a historical restaurant. Translated as “the beer wagon,” it’s a popular tourist draw not just for its history and food, but also its lavish, art nouveau interior. It’s also known for being packed, which requires reservations, but I arrived early around 11:00 and, since I was only one person, I got a seat immediately.
After having one too many sarmales on my trip, I opted for something different. I ordered ciorba de burta, i.e. sour tripe soup. I’d had tripe soup before (in Poland, in Portugal, in many Asian countries), and I found the Romanian version amazing. I actually do like tripe, and although I’m not a fan of soup, I devoured mine. The flavors were incredible, with a blend of garlic, vinegar, and sour cream: I wish I’d ordered it more during my time in Romania!
I continued my visit of the Old Town afterwards, first stumbling across the understated, but gorgeous Stavropoleos Monastery Church and then heading to the Cărturești Carusel, a bookstore located on the touristy Lipscani Street. It’s the stuff of an Instagrammer’s dream, as the interior is lavish in all white. I’d first heard about it from a travel blogger’s post, and I knew that I had to visit it. Certainly didn’t disappoint, as I climbed up and down the three floors of the place, snapping plenty of photos and getting a postcard as a souvenir before exiting the store. Definitely a highlight in town.
Although I’d just finished lunch barely an hour before, it was time for a snack. I hit up a cafe-restaurant where I ordered papanași, a fried dough treat that resembles a French réligieuse and tastes like a beignet. The jam and massive dollop of sour cream were unbelievable, and it was a good thing that I only ordered one– it was so filling!
Needing to burn off the dessert, I took a long walk down to Piața Unirii, a plaza located in the heart of the city where everything comes together (think “ground zero”). Unfortunately, the fountains were turned off for maintenance, but otherwise I merely passed by it on my way to see the Palace of the Parliament, which apparently is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon in the U.S. I didn’t go inside, because I didn’t really want to pay for a tour, so I just admired it from the outside.
I backtracked all the way to Old Town once more, where I took a peak inside the Biserica Sfântul Anton, an Orthodox Church and then headed to the Grand Café van Gogh, a café headed to all things van Gogh. I especially went for the interior, which is a stunning array of umbrellas hanging from the roof and colorful replicas of van Gogh’s works. Despite the overpriced hot chocolate I paid for, it was a lovely and cozy place.
On my way back to my Couchsurfer’s place, I stopped by the National Museum of Art of Romania and the Romanian Athenaeum, the latter being a fantastic, neoclassical concert hall. It was a 10 RON (2€) admission fee, but I’d say that it was well-worth it. Absolutely dazzling!
I returned to the flat to rest until my host came back from work. As it was a Friday night, we decided to get dinner in town before going to a kickback with a friend of his, then on to the club. We got dinner near his flat, where I tried plăcintă (a savory cheese pie) and mici (small sausages)– both were delicious, and it goes to show that Romanian cuisine is seriously good. As long as you’re not vegetarian, I’d say eat to your heart’s desire– it’s super-affordable, too!
We went to his friend’s flat for a kickback until 1:00, when we Ubered to an underground club that his friend’s friend got us in for free. It was techno night, and despite being incredibly tired, I still enjoyed the ambiance. My host and I left early, by 2:30, and I was utterly spent once we returned to his flat. He was kind enough to order me an Uber to the airport the next day, as I had to catch my flight back to Lyon. As soon as my time in Bucharest was spent, it was quickly over.
Although I can believe that one might consider Bucharest underwhelming compared to cities like Rome, Paris, or London, I think it deserves a visit. True, I found it grittier than the other cities I visited in Romania, but again, that’s the charm of it. With the right people and itinerary, it can be a fun experience, too. I met some wonderful people there, as well as overall in the country: I was very surprised to find the locals so kind and welcoming, and I can now say that Romania has my heart. I highly encourage anyone to visit this underrated Eastern European country: you won’t regret it!
Thanks for reading, and more adventures to come soon!