București, the capital city of Romania and a Southeastern European destination steadily growing in popularity, is so much more than meets the eye. We mean that in the best way possible! Located in the Southern part of the country, with a population of just under 2 million, this welcoming and developing city whose name literally translates to “happiness” has been receiving more and more attention from curious travelers. And why wouldn’t it?
Its temperate continental weather means a tad chilly winters and pleasant to high temperatures in the spring and summertime. Together with the musical Romanian language and eclectic architecture, it’ll make you ask yourself: why haven’t I booked this trip ages ago? Before your visit, make sure to read through our detailed guide below to get the most out of magical Bucharest, and discover why many refer to it as “the Paris of the East”!
Table of Contents
Getting to Bucharest
Two airports serve Bucharest, the larger and busier of which is the Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP), also called Otopeni. The airport is just 16.5 kilometers away from central Bucharest and is well-connected with the city through direct train lines, frequent shuttle buses, and public bus services. Otopeni is the headquarters and main hub for the international carrier TAROM. This airline directly operates more than 40 destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Otopeni is also a hub for low-cost airlines such as RyanAir, Wizz Air, and Blue Air.
Bucharest boasts good connections with popular Romanian cities like Sibiu or Cluj-Napoca, but also with major European cities. There are several bus terminals in Bucharest. The main terminal for intercity lines is the MementoBUS terminal.
Gara de Nord, north-west of the city, is Bucharest’s main railway station for domestic and international trains. In addition to frequent domestic services on Intercity lines, trains run daily to Budapest and Sofia. On a less regular basis they run to Kyiv and Chişinǎu. An important note to make is that ticket prices are rising. Gara de Nord connects to the Bucharest metro system. Romanian-made “Hyperion” trains offer premium service on lines from Braşov and Constanta, while the national operator CFR offers night trains from Belgrade and Budapest.
Romania’s main highway, the A1, together with the smaller, national roads, namely 7, 78 and 79 for those arriving from Hungary, enables those who travel by car to reach Bucharest easy. Whether coming in from another Romanian city, or one of the neighboring capitals, you should have no trouble getting to Bucharest.
NOTE: Independent travelers need to pay the road toll, or rovinieta, in order to drive on Romanian roads. Not having a valid rovinieta will result in a fine. A valid vehicle’s registration, proof of address and driving license are also mandatory.
Parking in Bucharest
In accordance with EU air quality legislation, parking fees in Budapest were updated in 2018. There are three charging zones in the city. Zone 0 covers the central area, with a tariff of approximately 10 lei per hour (~€2), and a maximum stay of two hours. Next is Zone 1, where you can park your car for 5 lei (~€1) per hour between 6 am and 6 pm, or 2.5 lei (~€0.5) per hour outside these hours. In Zone 2, hourly rate is 2.5 lei (~€0.5) between 6 am and 6 pm, or 1.5 lei (~€0.3) at other times.
Parking is free after 11 pm and on weekends.
EU citizens may enter Romania with valid passports or National Identity Cards. Valid passports are required for all non-EU and overseas visitors. Most visitors do not need entry visas if the duration of stay is no longer than 90 days. Most European citizens, as well as citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do not need an entry visa. Please check here whether or not you need to obtain a visa before visiting Romania.
Getting around Bucharest
Bucharest is among the most congested European capitals. It is also not the most convenient to explore on foot, and the cycling infrastructure is far from developed. The Bucharest Metro is, therefore, the preferred mode of getting around for visitors, as it allows for quick exploration.
Bucharest’s above-ground public transport network consists of trams, buses and trolleybuses. These are often overcrowded, rarely air-conditioned, but at times practical nevertheless. There are two express bus lines from the airport to the city, 780 and 783. The Bucharest Metro service is relatively new and well-maintained.
NOTE: The official currency of Romania is the leu (plural “lei”). When using public transport, it is vital to acquire adequate travelcards and load them with credit. For trams, buses and trolleybuses, the “Activ” or “Multiplu” card is required, available for purchase and top-up at any STB kiosk. Travelcards are validated upon entering the vehicle. Not validating your travelcard may result in a fine. For the metro, a separate ticketing system is in use. It is recommended to use small bills when purchasing your tickets at station entrances.
- “Activ” travelcard: 3.70 lei (cca. €0.8), minimum amount loaded: 15 lei (cca. €3)
- Bus and tram fares: 1.30 lei (cca. €0.3) per trip
Metro ticket prices:
- 2 trips: 5 lei (cca. €1)
- 10 trips: 20 lei (cca. €4)
- Daily ticket: 8 lei (cca. €1.7)
- Monthly ticket: 70 lei (cca. €15)
Timetable for the Bucharest Metro is available here.
Renting a car
Although the roads are overcrowded, especially during weekdays, the upside of car rental in Bucharest are the prices. There are more than a few reasonably priced rental companies at the Henri Coandă International Airport. For parking, check above.
Sights in Bucharest
Bucharest is architecturally diverse, as every epoch has left its mark in and around the city. The vivacious capital has tons of eye-catching attractions, each with a story to tell.
The Old Town
According to legend, Bucharest’s Old Town is the exact location of the city’s origin. Today, after having suffered the worst case of neglect in the not-so-distant past, the old heart of the city beats proudly. The Old Town is, ironically enough, new. Finally, now it’s a relaxing oasis with here and there visible traces of troubled times. Start by stepping into the Old Princely Court, or what was once the ruling seat of the ruthless Vlad Ţepeş. Then, proceed towards the tiny, 18th-century Stavropoleos church, built in the Byzantine style. The younger buildings, such as the former Stock Exchange Palace, the colorful Church of St Nicholas and the stunning Cărturești Carusel library are unmissable. The same goes for the domed Macca-Vilacrosse Passage. The area does not lack fantastic bars and restaurants either, and the quality of nightlife in the Old Town district is enviable.
The Palace of the Parliament
The history of Bucharest is rife with political turmoil, and the years that left the deepest wounds in the lives of Romanians were those of communist dictatorship. The gargantuan Palace of the Parliament is the second largest administrative building in the world. Its imposing façade does not in the least give away the luxury of its interior, with 1100 rooms in total. The former government ordered the demolition of an entire neighbourhood to make room for this megastructure. The palace sits on the Constitution Square, where the joyful Bucharest Christmas Market takes place.
Spring Palace (Ceaușescu residence)
The Palace of Parliament should not be the only palatial edifice on your sightseeing tour. The Palatul Primăverii, or the Spring Palace, is yet another, smaller relic of the Nicolae Ceaușescu dictatorship. What used to be this ruler’s private residence is as of 2016 open to the public. Extremely extravagant, the neoclassical Spring Palace is a testament to the division of Romanian society during the hardest of times. A tour of the place offers a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of a dictator’s family.
Not far from the Old Town, a beautiful neoclassical concert hall rests among lovely gardens. The amazing fact about the Athenaeum is that the citizens of Bucharest helped fund it! Today it is a spectacular auditorium, home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. The Athenaeum has also received the European Heritage Label. Whether for a concert or just a tour to see the frescoes, make sure to add it to your list.
Romanian Kitsch Museum
If the Spring Palace wasn’t enough to satisfy your kitschy appetite, head to the Romanian Kitsch museum. The museum is entirely dedicated to the uniquely eclectic artistic expression, and is a highly original and entertaining tribute to the extremes of Romanian decor. The museum is divided into eight thematic sections. You can even submit your own art!
Arch of Triumph
Although the Old Town already justifies the nickname ‘little Paris’, you should check out its very own Arcul de Triumf. The Romanians built the arch to celebrate their country’s WWI victory. It stands 27 meters tall, and there’s a lot more to it than just the resemblance to its Parisian relative. Climb the interior staircase for a panoramic view of the city.
The Dâmboviţa river boasts quite a few parks and recreational areas alongside it, as does the rest of the city. The Cișmigiu Gardens are a true romantic getaway from the busy streets. There are sculptures, little picturesque bridges, and flowers all around. Take some time to relax and stroll through Bucharest’s oldest park.
Herăstrău is one of the largest parks in Bucharest. Within it you will find a marvelous open-air museum dedicated to the Romanian village. The ethnographic “Dimitrie Gusti” Village Museum is a charmingly immersive experience. The museum offers a look inside dozens of traditional houses and other elements of country life. The houses’ open hours are all days except Mondays.
National Museum of Art
The building that at first served as the Royal Palace is now the National Museum of Art of Romania, housing centuries’ worth of Romanian and European art, from ancient to contemporary. The museum is enormous and requires hours to explore in full, and what better way to learn about history than through art?
Activities in Bucharest
In addition to the intriguing historical sites, inviting Old Town mazes, all kinds of museums and quiet oases, Bucharest offers a wide array of things to do from dawn until dusk (and beyond). Here are just some of the many ways to enjoy the capital and its immediate surroundings.
Always looking to break records, Bucharest takes pride in being home to the biggest wellness center in Europe! Therme București is just ten minutes away from the city, with frequent shuttle buses going from downtown Bucharest to the wellness center and back. There are both adults-only and family areas, a botanical garden with over 800 000 plants, outdoor heated jacuzzis, and so much to do that time simply flies by!
Divertiland Water Park
For more adrenaline-fueled water activities you might want to consider the water park just outside Bucharest. Like with the Therme, there is a free shuttle service that will take you to the park. You might want to plan your whole day at Divertiland, because the activities are endless – slides, wave pools, you name it!
Right outside Bucharest, thrill-seekers can spend quality time at Amckart Tunari, an outdoor go-karting track loved by locals and visitors alike. The on-site bar and restaurant area is perfect for sitting back and relaxing after the race.
Văcărești Nature Park
A half-hour walk from the city center will take you to this breathtaking natural reserve. Nature and wildlife reclaimed this area after communist urban plans fell through. It is now protected and unbelievably rich in biodiversity. There are organized tours, but individual visitors are welcome to stroll or bike through the reserve.
Events in Bucharest
If you plan your visit carefully, you might be lucky enough to witness some of Bucharest’s exciting events. It is advisable to check the calendar of festivals in advance, if that is something you want to plan your trip around!
Music festivals are a big deal in Bucharest, especially in the summer. They range from those celebrating electronic music, such as the new SAGA Festival, to heavy metal and rock spectacles like Maximum Rock Festival.
Jazz fans are bound to be thrilled with the midsummer Bucharest Jazz Festival and its first-rate open-air concerts in down-town Bucharest. For lovers of classical music, there’s the famed George Enescu Festival. It is one of the biggest classical music festivals in Eastern Europe and undoubtedly Romania’s most significant cultural event.
One of the most elaborate events is surely B-Fit in The Street, the international street theatre festival. B-Fit gathers masses from all over Europe, causing Bucharest to explode with color and creativity over four weekends of parades, performances, installations, workshops, etc.
The Bucharest Marathon, an annual event taking place in October, shows the city’s sports side. Featuring runs of various lengths, it is a ridiculously fun event to both participate in and observe. Plus, registration is super easy!
Even beer enthusiasts have their special time of year, and that is the Bucharest Craft Beer Festival. Brought to you by successful organizers of the BurgerFest, it proves just how trendy Bucharest is across all domains.
Nightlife in Bucharest
Since fairly recently, Bucharest’s nightlife has been thriving, and here’s the recipe for a perfect night out. Start with a few drinks at a rooftop bar, then roam and bar-hop along the buzzing Old Town streets. Finally, end with an insane clubbing adventure and dance until the sun comes up.
Rooftop bars are a hit, and Bucharest knows it. Linea / Closer to the Moon, aside from tasty food, offers delicious cocktails. When the kitchen closes, the bar turns into a real party zone. Pura Vida Sky Bar is another hotspot with its refreshing drinks and gorgeous views of Old Bucharest. Four flights of stairs are worth it for that sublime Bucharest sunset.
The Old Center and the Herăstrău park area are teeming with bars and pubs catering to all preferences. You can rock out at the Hard Rock Cafe, sing karaoke at Mojo, or down shots at the vibrant Shoteria.
Much like the bars, many of the clubs opened only recently, but are already so diverse and loved by partygoers. You are therefore sure to find one or more to your liking. Pub crawls are also a convenient form of bar-and-club-hopping.
Control Club and Eden are endlessly praised for their vibe, program and lovely outdoor areas. Club Guesthouse is an intimate and powerful addition to the Bucharest clubbing scene.
Of the bigger clubs, Kristal Glam Club stands out with its reputation. The luxurious Face Club and Fratelli host live concerts and performances by countless international DJs.
NOTE: Some clubs require entrance fees, which are inexpensive. Most places won’t accept cards or Euros, so make sure to have cash on your person, and in local currency. While getting from place to place is mostly safe in Bucharest, it is important to be aware of pick-pocketers. Keep your belongings close to you at all times.
Food in Bucharest
In traditional Eastern European fashion, your average meal in Bucharest is mainly organized as follows: a starter and schnapps combination, followed by a plate of soup. The main dish consists mostly of meat and potatoes, and delicious desserts top the whole thing off. Romanian cuisine, inspired by Turkish, Greek, Polish and so on, is just one of many available in Bucharest. Foreign delicacies can also be found around town. Local dishes, while not necessarily the healthiest, are of a great variety. They will definitely leave you feeling more than full!
What to eat
Romanians love their soups! Whether thick (ciorbă) or clear (supă), meat or vegetable-based, soups are an integral part of Romanian dining. Dozens, if not hundreds of different recipes exist, every one of them incredibly filling. Keep in mind that the number one thick soup ciorbă de burtă is made from cow innards. But they say it cures hangovers!
As for the most popular main dishes, they are very, very meaty. Romanians often say that their dishes are the perfect comfort food. Let us just say, it is not hard to understand why. Locals would probably put stuffed cabbage rolls, or sarmale, at the top of their favourites list. They can be stuffed with anything whatsoever, although pork is the nation’s first choice. Sarmale are usually served with mămăligă, better known in the rest of the world as polenta. The two dishes create the perfect combination of flavors, so you can expect to ask for seconds. Polenta and eggs together often accompany tochitură, the classic beef and pork stew. The mici, or grilled minced meat rolls, are an essential part of any Romanian barbecue.
There are not that many vegetarian restaurants in Bucharest. However, combining several side dishes off the menu is ideal for enjoying a healthy plant-based meal, so start with the light salata de vinete eggplant dip, and follow up with vegan versions of the main dishes.
NOTE: Vegan and vegetarian diners should note that the mostly religious Romanians fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, so a lot of restaurant menus turn vegan during that time.
Where to eat
We’re well aware that there are just too many options to choose from, so we bring a concise list of essential restaurants and inns in Bucharest.
By far the hottest dining spot is the renowned Caru’ cu Bere bar and restaurant. This historic establishment, with its lavishly decorated interior and a flawless menu, will leave you torn between wanting to snap pictures and diving right in. They also brew their own beer!
Beer is a large part of Romanian culture, and beer lovers should not miss the excellent beer halls, such as Beraria H or the cozier Romanian craft beer bar Fabrica de Bere Bună. There is also the option of hopping onto one of the famous beer bikes or party bikes around town.
For a quick healthy snack, definitely try Simbio, a lively little restaurant with an adorable garden in the back that’s during the warmer months. A top pick for breakfast, brunch, or a coffee date. Energiea, a bar that used to be a printing press, is sure to inspire with its artistic ambiance and fresh ingredients.
Entering Hanu’ lui Manuc truly is a surreal experience. It is one of the last remaining European roadside inns typically found along the Silk Road. Manuc’s Inn offers two menus, one more traditional and the other Oriental, both with a rich selection of wines, as Romania is, after all, one of the world’s largest wine producers.
For fine dining, book a table at the ARTIST and enjoy innovative and mouth-watering courses. Prime Steaks & Seafood, as the name suggests, offers award-winning steaks in a romantic setting.
If one wants to stick with cuisines they are more used to, it is not hard to find Italian, Chinese, Indian, or Japanese food around Bucharest.
From flea markets to large malls, there’s something in Bucharest for all types of shoppers.
For a typical mall day, browse the centrally located Unirea Shopping Centre in down-town Bucharest. Băneasa Shopping City is closer to the airport, and so convenient for last-minute shopping. You will find quite a few malls scattered around Bucharest, with diverse shopping, dining and entertainment options.
Those who wish to get lost in the local atmosphere should head to Piata Obor. This lively 300-year-old market offers a wide selection of fresh produce, and an infinite number of wine shops, bakeries, natural pharmacies and more.
You can purchase all kinds of souvenirs in countless unique stores, especially museum gift shops. The Romanian Boutique proudly carries on the Romanian tradition. The shop is packed with wonderfully thought-out gifts to take home with you. Cărturești Carusel offers not only books, but an extensive collection of elegant souvenirs as well.
Bucharest’s rise in popularity resulted in a large increase in accommodation options, from hotels and hostels to apartments for rent. Check the map below.
Country dialing code: +40
Emergency (police, fire brigade, ambulance): 112
24/7 pharmacy: Strada Locotenent Aviator Radu Beller 6, +40 21 233 8961