Bucharest is one of those cities that doesn’t strike everyone the same. Though it’s been called “Little Paris” for over a century, it’s far from it; nor does it have the picturesque, polished architecture of Vienna. Instead, more like Sarajevo, Budapest or Belgrade, the cities gritty presence hums with vibrant life. From colourful street art to our favourite restaurants and the best tours, here are 21 unique and fun things to do in Bucharest.
The Best Things to do in Bucharest
Find the Hidden Churches
To fulfil his narcissistic, communist vision, Nicolae Ceausescu destroyed nearly ten thousand homes, churches and synagogues across the heart of Bucharest. Thankfully, civil engineer Eugeniu Lordăchescu had an even more ambitious plan.
In order to save over a dozen small monasteries and churches in the city centre, he planned to move them out of harms way. And more importantly for Ceausescu – out of sight. The dictator agreed to the plan in order to save face with the deeply religious Romanian population. Lordăchescu and his team, in an outstanding feat of engineering, lifted the churches onto rails and moved them – in tact – several hundred metres.
Explore the Old Town
Walk the streets and admire what most of central Bucharest looked like before World War 2. It won’t take long to see why the city was once referred to as ‘“Little Paris.”
Since the fall of communism, however, changes across the old city have been drastic. Funky shops, restaurants and nightclubs have taken over the centuries-old architecture. It’s an interesting balance in a city full of contrasts.
Visit the Ruins of Dracula’s Palace
Ok, so maybe Bram Stoker’s title villain is only loosely based on Vlad Tepes, but the reign of the Impaler might just be more terrifying. Long before Bucharest was the metropolis it is today when Vlad was impaling his enemies by the thousands, he kept a residence here. Curtea Veche in the Old Town was the ruthless leader’s palace, or residence of sorts, and became the hub of what would become the Bucharest of today.
- Where: Strada Franceză 25, in the Old Town
Shop at Bazar
“You won’t find any ‘made in China’ shit in here.” a local mentioned to me about Bazar.
This flea market-antique store on the edge of the Old Town is the real deal. If you’re looking for that unique Romanian gift or keepsake, skip the tourist shops. Here you’ll find everything from antique gramophones, oil lamps and handicrafts, to old propaganda posters and war memorabilia. It’s not a huge place but might be the most authentic souvenir shop in town.
- Where: Strada Doamnei 11
The Monstrous Palace of the Parliament
Construction of this Orwellian “Palace” began, rather fittingly, in 1984. The Palace of Parliament was the ultimate dream of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. And after the Pentagon, is the worlds largest administrative building.
Upwards of 100,000 workers worked round the clock in three shifts for most of the 1980s. Ceausescu never actually occupied his megalomaniacal fortress. During the revolution of 1989, he and his wife were executed, prior to the building’s completion.
Visiting this incredible structure is highly recommended. Some of the details, such as the 7000-bulb chandelier, or the 14 ton(!) carpet, are almost unfathomable. Also, bear in mind that while the building is just under 90 metres above ground, it’s also nearly 100 metres deep beneath the surface!
- Where: Calea 13 Septembrie 1
- Cost: Standard tour, 40 lei. Standard + Underground, 45 lei
- Know: You must have a valid passport or identification card to enter.
Romania’s Own Arcul de Triumf
More Paris? Well, sort of. The design in its third incarnation certainly resembles its French counterpart. Its original, wood design, was completed in 1878 to celebrate Romania’s new found independence from the Ottomans. In 1922 a slightly sturdier version was erected in the same location following World War 1. A decade later, the third and final stone version was completed.
- Where: At the southwest corner of King Mihail I Park
- Getting here: Although it’s a little out from the centre of town, it’s still quite easily accessible. Take the metro to Aviatorilor station and walk along King Michael I Park to the Arch. Alternatively, an Uber from the Old Town should only be around 20 lei.
King Mihai I Park
Get away from the madness of the city in this sprawling park north of the centre. With over 100 hectares of green space and a lake nearly as massive, you’ll find enough activities to occupy hours.
Explore the sculptures and monuments throughout the park, or kick back for a picnic in the Japanese gardens. Step back into the time capsule at the Dimitrie Gusti Village Museum. Although Maramures, in the far north of the country offers the real deal, this is still a fantastic glimpse into traditional village life in Romania.
- Where: 10 minutes north of the city centre on highway #1
- Getting here: Same as the Arcul de Triumf
- Cost: Free to visit the park. For the Museum: Adults – 15 lei, Seniors and Euro 26 cardholders: 8 lei
Therme – Bucharest’s Incredible Indoor Beach
Haven’t had a beach day in a while? Worry no more. Bucharest has a massive indoor waterpark and beach with a year-round temperature at a balmy 29ºC. Only ten minutes from the city centre, this massive water playground features 9 pools, 6 dry saunas, 4 wet saunas and 16 waterslides.
Come here with the family or head to Elysium or the Palm, two adults-only areas with spas, white sand beaches and a tropical forest. Several upscale restaurants are found throughout, featuring menus inspired from beach locales such as Thailand, Greece and Mexico. Elysium’s pool bar will keep you nice and chilled throughout the day.
- Where: Just north of Bucharest Airport.
- Getting here: Therme offers a free shuttle to the facilities departing several times a day from several locations across Bucharest. Check the current schedule for details.
- Cost: Prices range from 30 – 110 lei per person, depending on the length of stay and areas visited.
Our Favourite Bucharest Tours
Romania lived under one of the most fascinating and tragic communist regimes of the late-20th century. But it didn’t have to end up that way. It wasn’t until Nicolae Ceausescu’s ill-fated visit to North Korea did he really go off the deep end – taking Romania with him.
Wander the streets a little further from the Old Town. See where entire neighbourhoods of Bucharest were demolished, displacing 40,000 residents overnight, all for Ceausescu’s great plan. Hear first-hand accounts from local guides who grew up in those awful times. Learn how one man’s dream nearly destroyed a nation.
- Cost: 90 lei / 19€ / $21US
Bucharest Alternative Walking Tour
Bucharest is changing so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up. Long gone are the cold and dreary streets of the once Communist capital. Start off with a snack from the street and explore the emerging street art scene growing across the lesser-toured parts of the city with this unique and fascinating walk.
Check out a really cool abandoned building used exclusively for local artists to hone their skills. Unless you’ve got some connections to the scene, this tour is your only access to this place. And be sure to pick the brains of your guide, who will love to share some great local tips on places to get your drink on.
- Cost: 185 lei / 39€ / $45US
The term Gypsy is a controversial one. Many people use the word in a cheerful, casual sense when referring to anyone in constant wander. It’s almost synonymous with nomad. The reality, however, is far from courteous.
Gypsy is essentially a derogatory term; a racial slur towards the Romani people. Contrary to common thought, the Romani (or Roma) are not from Romania. While there is a large population in Romania, they’re actually an ethnic group from Northwest India.
The Roma tour dives into a side of Bucharest many visitors don’t experience. You’ll learn the history of their arrival in Romania, and of their unfortunate discrimination and segregation. More importantly, you’ll experience their culture; through their stories music, and vibrant way of life.
- Cost: 140 lei / 30€ / $34US
Free Walking Tour
One of the best free walking tours I’ve taken. Not only a perfect introduction to Bucharest but a powerful lesson in the history of Romania as a whole. From the funky and modern city centre, through the old town and beyond. Our guide was informative and entertaining, keeping the mood light even when dealing with the cities darker years.
The real treat was when his own mother joined the tour near the end. She openly shared some very deep and personal experiences from life under communism. Stories that brought many of us to tears.
Though I’m not sure if this last-minute addition is always included, everything up to this point was still outstanding. I cannot say enough great things about this tour.
- Cost: Free, though tips are appreciated.
What to Eat in Bucharest
This place was actually recommended by our friend Dave on Arrival, who frequented it during his time in Bucharest. Though we only went once, it became an instant favourite. Sure, it might be “just a kebab shop,” but it’s got one of the tastiest shawarma platters I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a few shawarmas.
- Where: Strada Franceză 17
Restaurant Hong Kong
We stumbled upon this small, rather nondescript restaurant while walking home one night. Not having eaten Asian food in some while, we gave it a go. This isn’t that greasy, mall food court, shit-in-a-tray Chinese food either. It was so delicious, we had to include it in this post!
- Where: Calea Griviței 81
Carul cu Bere
I don’t know what’s more impressive about this place; the food or the building itself. Arguably one of the most popular spots in Bucharest, Carul cu Bere was recommended nearly every local we spoke to. Not only is this stunning gothic building one of the prettiest and well-preserved in town, but it’s also got some of the most delicious food in town. If you’re looking for a spot to try some proper Romanian cuisine – you’re found it.
- Where: Strada Stavropoleos 5
This straight-to-the-point coffee shop isn’t the cheapest in town but is one of the best. With a simple, yet ultramodern design, this cafe focuses on proper preparation methods of the highest quality coffee and tea.
One thing to note, they do have a fairly strict no laptop policy. Come here for a break, leave your work at the door.
- Where: Strada Lipscani 9
Another fantastic cafe with a more cosy and chilled-out atmosphere is Handsome Monk. Their original location overlooks a gorgeous park east of the centre and is best visited in the summer. Two more locations have recently opened downtown.
- Park Lake Mall: Strada Liviu Rebreanu 4
- Cișmigiu: Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta 59
- Central: Calea Victoriei nr. 21-23
Tucked away in the garden terrace of Stirbey Palace, is Bucharest’s own Garden of Eden. Loved by locals, this funky bar is the perfect spot to get away from the crowds of the Old Town. Sip on a cool cocktail while swinging in a hammock in the jungle-like atmosphere or head to the basement club on weekends and get your dance on!
- Where: Calea Victoriei 107
Popular Photo Locations
Though Bucharest can keep your camera busy for days, here are some notable spots to snap that perfect Instagram shot.
Palace of the CEC
For its gorgeous architecture.
That beautiful and crisp white book store that is one of the most popular new photo spots in Bucharest.
And of course…
The famous “umbrella street” at Pasajul Victoria
If you want more great photo locations in town, check out our friend’s post of the most Instagrammable spots in Bucharest!
Where we Stayed
We went a little unconventional during our time in Bucharest, deciding to stay a bit outside the Old Town. Although there are a ton of great accommodation options in that area, we opted for the Ibis Gara de Nord Hotel.
The hotel itself sits a few minutes away from the central train station. Seeing as we arrived to Bucharest by train and were leaving to Moldova a few days later the same way, it made perfect sense. A few steps outside the front doors to the metro station meant getting around the city cheap and incredibly easy. A huge desk for two allowed us to catch up on work and as the theme goes in Eastern Europe, the included breakfast is outstanding!
We were guests of the Ibis Gara de Nord and Experience Bucharest during our stay. As always, our opinions are our own. Read more in our Affiliate Disclosure