3 Days in Bucharest. Here's Why I Wanted More!
Living in two different countries, Greece and Germany, it had been a while since my two best friends and me, had gathered together. It was about time and so, as none of us had ever visited Bucharest it was like an instant YES. Haven’t done any serious research though, we naively thought that 3 days would be enough.
But, Bucharest is a city with a rich history of more than 500 years and clearly there are lots of things to experience. During your stay, you will discover that a part of the city still maintains these amazingly designed buildings coming straight from the so-called Belle Epoche. A few blocks away you will see how the communist era had a say in the city’s style with the soulless blocks it left behind. But you will happily realize that Bucharest has a hipster heart that overcomes its ‘controversial appearance’. This city will win you over with its super polite people, safe environment, cool coffee shops, amazing bars and restaurants, alternative festivals, open markets, street art, beautiful green parks, super crazy drivers and affordable prices. We experienced most of that but missed the single thing we wanted to do…
Day 1: Welcome to the ‘Little Paris’
Not knowing much about the city, we were open to anything the ‘Little Paris’, New Berlin or else Bucharest had to offer. Apparently, the sights already start on your way from the airport. Taking bus 783 to Unirii Square, you pass by 2 regularly mentioned attractions in any city guide. The Arch of Triumph is one of them. Built-in 1936, it is a copy-paste of the Paris one, although it must be smaller. Considering its location is far from the city center I wouldn’t suggest going there unless you combine it with Dimitrie Gusti National Village. Located in the King Michael Park, this village is an open-air ethnographic museum that showcases the Romanian village life. In the early spring, we visited the city, it seemed abandoned and far from the picturesque images we saw. But honestly, in summer it must be a blast.
Bucharest by night: “How did it get so late so soon?”
Reaching Unirii Square around 6 p.m, the atmosphere was quiet, yet welcoming. We knew though that somewhere close to this peaceful center would be a place to offer us the urban chaos we were looking for. It was called Old Town.
So, there we were amazed by what we were seeing. At night this area is like a little maze of countless pubs, bars, cafes, clubs & restaurants, all “fighting” to win tourists over. It is super crowded, loud, bright, fun and with delicious smells following you no matter where you turn. It is a very exciting point to see the city at its best. If the weather allows it, choose a table outside to enjoy the vibe, the music and the people passing by. We sat at a pub-bistro for a quick food fueling to get us through the night and later on headed to find a place for a drink.
The choices are many, for various tastes and most importantly all within a 5-10 min walk. In our hearts, we wanted to party like teenagers but our 30 yrs old bodies were disagreeing. Passing by a tiny narrow street, we felt a calling and turned like magnets only to discover the place we were meant to spend the rest of our night. There, under the artificial flower ceiling, and the romantic low lights, we stumbled upon TIMES Cocktail Bar and stood outside with the rest of the crowd like in a festival. We felt a sense of togetherness and kept switching from one bar to the other the whole time wondering “How did it get so late so soon?”
It was about time we go rest and tiredly headed to the central road only to face this yellow wave of parked taxis. This could have been the night we’ve learned two valuable lessons about the city. But no, it would take us the whole trip till we learn that 1) In Bucharest, you don’t have to take the first taxi in the line and 2) there is no fixed price. For the same 6 min ride that we did every day we paid 20, 10, 50 and 25 lev. Amazing right? The high price excuse might be as bad as: ‘I own a Mercedes and it has expensive parking’. The best thing to do is to call an Uber or choose a Dacia while it’s literally dropping off the previous customers. Of course that night we did the exact opposite. We waited in line, didn’t ask for the price, got the Mercedes taxi and wasted precious sleeping time. Thankfully, a beautiful morning was coming to help us forget it all.
DAY 2: Breakfast at Bucharest
Our first morning in the city was amazing. The sun was already up and we were about to play ‘Breakfast at Bucharest’. Living on the East side of the city we walked all the way to Unirii Str. and discovered a series of cafes situated between the National Library and the Artesian Fountains right next to the Dambovita River. All cafes serve delicious breakfast and brunch, have beautiful decorations and comfortable tables to absorb vitamin D under the sun. We chose Moon Brasserie the first time and the next day The Clique café. Both great choices but, of course, there are many such spots spread in the city to stop by for a coffee, juice or a quick snack.
The insatiable need to see, taste and experience it all
It was almost 13:00 but we felt this insatiable need to see, taste and experience it all that day. We started acting like proper tourists and heading to the West side of Unirri Str. There, you cannot miss this truly impressive building that stands proudly at the end of it, the Palace of Parliament. In fact, Romania’s Parliament is the second-largest administrative building in the world after the United States' Pentagon. You can try visiting its gardens or walking around it to see every corner but it will probably take a while.
On the way to our next stop, we discovered this elegant café-restaurant Hanu’ Berarilor with a stylish interior ideal for special events and a lavish green garden to enjoy a casual coffee or meal. Relaxing as it was, we had to keep moving if we actually wanted to do it all.
Once again, we were at the Old Town but strangely it reminded nothing of the night before. As called by locals CentruVechi (the Old Centre) is probably the only part of the city that still reminds a bit of the pre-World War II Bucharest. The city was bombarded so much that it is a surprise how these magnificent storytelling buildings survived. Thankfully, the old town includes all the main treasures of the city within a walking distance. Stavropoleos Monastery Church, National Museum of Romanian History, Palace of the Deposits and Consignments, University Square, Revolution Square, Romanian Athenaeum, etc. Everything is there waiting for you to pay a visit. But, if you are visiting for 3 days only, you can simply walk the area around, appreciate the ageless beauty of the buildings, the romantic and somehow nostalgic atmosphere and get the amazing city vibes.
Our dinner stop was somewhere between the Stavropoleos Monastery Church and the Palace of the Deposits and Consignments. Probably the most famous restaurant in town, Curu cu Bere, has this impressive Baroque style and atmosphere that invites you in. It’s a two-story, huge wooden place with a traditional menu and local dancers showing you their moves. Naturally, that day we did not get home before 2 o’clock as all the cafes, restaurants and bars kept calling us like Odysseus’ sirens. And so after dinner, we indulged in a pub and stayed chatting there for hours.
DAY 3: What happens once you put Google maps aside?
The amazing thing that happens once you put Google maps aside is that you finally start noticing things that you otherwise wouldn’t. As the weather was delightful we decided to hit a Park. The city has loads of them like Cismigiu, King Mihai I, Youth, etc. but we chose Carol Park. Walking East-West across the river, on the left we noticed a wide road spreading in front of us revealing a beautiful hill. Right upon it was the Radu Voda Monastery, an amazing hidden gem for us. The first church was found there in 1568 and ever since the monastery became one of the richest in the Bucharest. But apart from the obvious beauty of these orthodox churches, the best part is probably the view. From up there, you can see the entire city and get a better understanding of its diverse character.
Walking in the South part of the city, you soon get to realize that it is completely different. It is obviously poorer and yet it seems more approachable or somehow true. Far from the architectural heritage and the speed of the city center, there, you can actually feel what the city is all about. You feel like a local noticing all those everyday details that you miss if you stay mainly in the center. The buildings are simple urban designs full of graffiti, people are hurrying to their jobs, kids are playing around the blocks and industrial cafes are ready to serve you.
Carol Park is located in such a described area and yet it has its own personality. In 1906, it was like an outdoor exhibition area for the 40th anniversary of the royal family in Romania. Today, it’s a green paradise for anyone interested in visiting. At the end of the park stands a monument for the fallen heroes of the country and the tomb for the Unknown Soldier with its eternal flame. It’s the spot to go with your friends, family, boyfriend or girlfriend and have some quality time. We spent a couple of hours there practically lying down and making fun of each other.
On the way back we stopped at Fabrica Club, a rather famous alternative spot situated within an abandoned old factory. It’s ideal for a nice coffee, a cocktail or even to shop some artifacts and clothes in the courtyard. But as that day was ‘alternative’ altogether, after getting back to the city center we bought gifts from this hipster coffee-bar called The Urbanist which was a great surprise. Finally, we went to this amazing bar-restaurant (which name I can’t remember) that was a combination of ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Charlie and the chocolate factory’, ate, drank and called it a day.
Day 4: Here’s why you need a Day 4
Here’s the truth. I had loads of fun and wouldn’t change much in our 3-day trip. But, Monday morning while packing my bags I felt a bit disappointed. Practically prior to our visit all we knew about Romania was Count Dracula and his legendary castle in Transylvania. Visiting Bucharest was ideal to see it if only we had an extra day and organized it properly. We thought we could fit it but, as it turns out, trains to Transylvania aren’t that convenient to explore the whole region and there is more than one castle to see. The ideal trip is to go from Bucharest to Sinaia, spend there about an hour, later move to Bran castle and call it a day at Peles castle. You can book an organized tour or for more autonomy rent a car or even a taxi for a whole day (around 120 euro).
To sum up, prior to our visit I shamefully couldn’t even point Bucharest on a map. Today, not only I know how to do that but I would definitely visit it again.