As someone who loves exploring new destinations, when Ryanair announced that they were doing direct flights to Bucharest, I jumped at the chance. Romania hasn’t had the best reputation in recent years. Articles in the UK papers frequently detail stories of fraud and human trafficking centred around Romanian individuals and sadly this is something I have also had to tackle these things with Romanians in my working life. With that aside, I was curious to explore a part of Europe I never dreamed of exploring. I kept my stay short to tie in with my busy work schedule. 2 nights and circa 30 hours in the city seemed like enough time from some research. I opted for a hotel within walking distance of the Henri Coandă International Airport to cater to my late evening arrival and early morning departure.
A 3 and a half hour flight later, I arrived in Bucharest. I opted for dinner in the hotel and adjusted to the GMT+2 timezone ready for a busy day of exploring the next day. The following morning, I got the bus which goes directly from the airport to the city centre ready to explore.
I hopped off the bus at the Parcul Regele Mihai I to take in some views of the city before venturing to the old town. The park has undergone some name changes since its establishment in 1936. Originally intended to be called Parcul National, it has been called Parcul Carol II, Parcul IV Staline and Herăstrău throughout the years. The park is currently named in honour of the former King of Romania, Michael I who died in 2017.
The park has a large lake that has some nice views over towards the Casa Presei Libere. The park is also home to the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum and the Elisabeta Palace, home to the currently Romanian royal family.
Through several recommendations, I decided to visit the National Village Museum. At just 15Lei, there was no question about visiting it. Home to 272 authentic peasant farms, houses and churches from all over Romania, it shows what traditional life was like for Romanian peasants throughout the centuries. Whilst soaking in the lovely winter sunshine, cats were also enjoying the sunshine too as well as some sheep that were leisurely grazing throughout the grounds.
After spending the better part of 2 hours inside the fascinating open air museum, I continued down the Şoseaua Pavel D. Kiseleff towards the Arcul de Triomf. Originally made from wood to celebrate Romania’s independence in 1878, it was rebuilt in stone in 1935 by Petre Antonescu, closely modelled on Paris’ Arc de Triomphe but about half the height.
As I was conscious time was escaping me and my stomach was starting to rumble, I took the metro towards the Old Town. My destination for lunch was Caru’ cu Bere. With an impressive 4.4 stars from over 21,000 reviews, I had high hopes. Literally translated as “the beer wagon”, it is housed in a stunning Gothic building with art nouveau interior and is the setting of a short story written by Mateiu Caragiale.
I was greeted by a string quartet nestled beside a large Christmas tree near the entrance playing Christmas carols with the occasional classic thrown in such as Carlos Gardel’s Por Una Cabeza and Shostakovich’s Waltz No 2. The waiter sat me down and sign posted me to a 4 course lunch set menu for just 24.90Lei which was all in Romanian. That is approximately £4.30 at time of writing. I fumbled with Google translate trying to see what the food selection was and to see whether or not the waiter was right in what he was trying to explain in broken English. I went with his recommendations as he had asked previously if I wanted local dishes. He chose for me a chicken soup, veal and potato stew, red cabbage salad and Egyptian cake.
The dishes were flavourful and filling and the perfect choices. The waiter attentively checked on me with a beaming smile to make sure he had given me the right recommendation and that I was enjoying my food. I wasn’t truly convinced that all this food was going to come to just 24.90Lei until I got the bill! Just under £6 for a 4 course meal and 2 diet cokes. I was astonished.
Upon leaving the restaurant, I walked a few paces up the street towards Stavropoleos Monastery. Built in 1724, it is tucked away down a side street in the Old Town and would easily be missed if it wasn’t for its highly decorated exterior paintings. It has been subject to several earthquakes and been painstakingly resorted every time. It’s hand painted walls and ceilings are one of the most decorated buildings I have ever seen in such a small space. It is also home to parts of wall paintings from neighbouring churches that were destroyed during the communist era. It’s annexes are also home to the largest Byzantine music books collection in Romania.
Bucharest’s Old town is no where near as impressive as places such as Prague, Riga or Edinburgh. It is clearly the hub of nightlife in the city with bars, night clubs and gentlemen’s clubs occupying most of the buildings and it seemed to distract from the potentially interesting history and culture of the streets.
I passed through the main street as I made my way to Piața Revoluției to enjoy the Christmas market. I was greeted with a spectacular view of the Palatul Parlamentului which overlooked the square. It is the heaviest building in the world, the 10th largest building in the world and the largest legislature building in the world at an incredible 65,000 m². The Christmas market was a substantial size with a 25ft Christmas tree, life size nativity scene, ice rink and stage set up for live performances which I assume is for the evenings. The square was bubbling with locals and the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine.
As the sun was started to set on my day exploring, I make one final stop to the Piața Unirii to catch my bus. The fountain was sadly not functioning but upon research, have seen that is has some impressive shows during the evenings.
To conclude, I was would say that a trip to Bucharest is definitely worth it for a layover or a short break. I felt that if I had longer to visit, I would’ve ventured out of the city and visited other notable attractions throughout the country such as Bran’s Castle. I think 2 days is a comfortable about of time to leisurely enjoy what the city has to offer. With regards to safety, I felt relatively safe during my time in Bucharest. Of course, common sense is key, making sure to stick to well populated, well lit streets, making sure valuables are not on display and not left lying around etc. but nothing in addition to what I would do when venturing in any other city.
For flights, accommodation and spending money, I spent a total of just £90.00! I have spent more on a girl’s day in Edinburgh. I didn’t particularly skimp when it came to spending either. I ate at the hotel on the first night which was on the pricier side to what I paid in the Old Town and enjoyed a glass of wine or 2 at the hotel bar. The city has potential to develop a better tourist infrastructure. Efforts need to be made to clean up the streets from the large amounts of graffiti, litter and cigarette ends and there seems to be a lack of pride in the city despite modern sky scrapers and glass shopping centres starting to populate the city. I predict with a little bit of love and attention that it could become the next budget party weekend destination in the next few years.
The city has potential to develop a better tourist infrastructure. There are good public transport links but traffic with cars and road rules seem to be a bit sketchy. A dual carriage way can quickly turn into 5 lanes after some locals’ impatience. Efforts also need to be made to clean up the streets from the large amounts of graffiti, litter and cigarette ends and there seems to be a lack of pride in the city despite modern sky scrapers and glass shopping centres starting to populate the city and provide a new dimension to the city skyline. I predict with a little bit of love and attention that it could become the next budget party weekend destination in the next few years.
Have you been to Bucharest? Let me know your thoughts