Romania’s capital may not be the first that comes to mind when thinking about your next city break destination. But in recent years Bucharest has become more and more attractive thanks to a combination of affordability, curiosity and, let’s be honest – boredom with the usual destinations.
Travelers choosing Bucharest will be surprised: bustling with activity but with many hidden corners and streets, this city combines Balkan fiery blood, Western culture, and Latin lifestyle, mixed with a fascinating history and architecture. What does this mean for you? A lot to discover and enjoy – so without further ado, here’s a list with some of the most interesting cultural things to do and see.
L’arc de Triomphe
Also known as Little Paris in the interwar period, Bucharest has its own triumphal arch (Arc de Triomphe). Similar to the one in Paris, it was built to celebrate and commemorate Romania’s participation in WW I. This imposing structure is impossible to miss as it’s located in the northern part of Bucharest at the intersection of four major boulevards: Kiseleff, Constantin Prezan, Alexandru Averescu and Alexandru Constantinescu, all of whom were generals in the Romanian army.
The Arc de Triomphe houses a small museum where visitors can see four exhibitions: The Great War of Reunification of the Nation, Heraldry of the Great Boyar Families (bronze effigies, photographs), The Arch of Triumph in Images (photographs, all the historical models), and The Great Union of 1918 (crowns and royal scepter reproduced).
The second largest building in the world, the Parliament Palace (also known as “Casa Poporului”), is one of the most popular places to visit for tourists coming to Bucharest. Constructed almost entirely of materials ‘made in Romania’, this was the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s greatest dream.
If you’re interested in learning about Romania’s communist past – and see the opulence that characterized those times, you should visit this building. But even if you’re not, admiring it from the outside will be an impressive experience.
Carturesti-Carousel is one of the nicest places in Bucharest. A library inside a former boyar house located on Lipscani street in the Old Town area, it runs on five levels and has a bistro-café on the sixth. The special architecture will make you want to spend some time here, even if can’t find the English section!
This is the place where most locals in Bucharest go buy their food. Piata Obor is not only a market where the abundance of products for sale can be compared to that of an oriental bazaar, but it is also a top attraction of the city. I recommend Piata Obor for its typical Balkan atmosphere, for the animated activity, for colors and smells, and for hospitable people inviting you to taste their products.
Fruits, vegetables, bread, pets, flowers, planting, house appliances, carpets, spices, nuts, cheese, meat, fish, shoes, fishing tools, traditional pottery, clothes, barrels, fresh milk – you name it and you get it! Be sure to try a traditional Romanian dish: Romanian sausages called “mici” served with bread and mustard, washed down with a beer.
NOR is the first casual Skyview restaurant open in Bucharest, located at over 130 meters high, on the 36th floor of Sky Tower on Barbu Vacarescu Street. The restaurant offers an impressive panorama of Bucharest and if the sky is clear you can see the Carpathian Mountains in the distance, despite them being 200 km away! The restaurant’s menu is international and also boasts some reinterpreted Romanian recipes. But nothing beats a coffee – or a glass of wine, with a view!
Vlad Tepes Castle
Tucked away in Carol Park, this building is a replica of Poenari Fortress which was owned by Vlad the Impaler, a famous Romanian prince from the 15th century which inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This building is over 100 years old and if you can’t go to see the real Poenari Castle, this replica will do the trick!
The “Old Town” is located in the center of Bucharest and is very popular for its nightlife scene. During the day you can admire the beautiful Baroque-Renaissance architecture, enjoy violin sounds of the street artists or catch a street performance. Places to visit include Curtea Veche, Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc’s Inn), Stavropoleos churches and St. Anthony.
By night, this place becomes the ground zero of entertainment and parties. There are many clubs and bars to choose from, the music is loud and will go on until dawn, the ladies are well dressed and boys are gentlemen. Surely you’ll find the true meaning of the word “FUN”.
Mihai Voda Church
As you wander the streets of Bucharest, you’ll soon notice the many and impressive Orthodox churches – don’t be afraid to go in and admire them! One of the oldest and well-preserved among them is the Mihai Voda church, a rare example of medieval religious architecture. Built in 1594 by Mihai Viteazul, an important figure in Romanian history, the church is surrounded by defence walls and has many stories to tell. If you like historical buildings, this is a must-see in Bucharest.
This post is a guest post written by Mariu Iliescu, founder of Romanian Friend – a local initiative promoting handpicked tours with the best local guides so travellers can discover the authentic beauty of Romania while supporting responsible tourism.