Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a city rich with charm, history and art. It’s an underrated destination that rewards those who take the time to seek out the beauty. The elegant architecture and mix of neoclassical and art deco design earned Bucharest the nickname of Little Paris. It’s also one of the most affordable major cities to visit in Europe, so what are you waiting for?
If you don’t know too much about the Romanian capital yet, you’re about to be pleasantly surprised. This guide will provide you with a few useful travel tips to make your Bucharest sightseeing adventure as enjoyable as possible.
This ultimate travel guide to Bucharest will show you all the most beautiful places in Bucharest and what to expect when visiting, which will help you in planning a trip to Bucharest.
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How to get to Bucharest
Bucharest is located in the very east of Europe. Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP), located 17 kilometres north of the city centre, is the main airport serving Bucharest. It’s the busiest airport in Romania, so there are always flights coming in from nearby European cities.
To get to the city, you can catch a bus or taxi directly from the airport. A taxi will take about 20 minutes and cost the equivalent of 15 euros. If you want to save some money, the 783 express bus is the way to go. While the journey will take a lot longer, between 40 to 60 minutes, it won’t cost you more than a few euros.
What to expect in Bucharest
Residents of Bucharest speak Romanian, a Romance language that has many similarities with French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Since Romanian uses the Latin alphabet, you’ll be able to identify street names and signs easily. While not everyone living in the city speaks English, the younger crowd and those working in the tourism and hospitality industries all have a good grasp of the language.
Even though Romania is a member of the European Union, it is not part of the Schengen area. Fortunately, you won’t require a visa for visits under 90 days. Romania also uses its own currency, leu, rather than the euro. Five Romanian leu currently equals about one euro.
It’s common practice to leave a tip when dining out in Bucharest. Service charges aren’t typically added to the final bill, so you will be expected to leave at least 10%. Staff are not paid very high in Romania, as restaurant owners assume they will be tipped generously. You should also leave a small tip for taxi drivers, tour guides and valets.
How to get around Bucharest
Any area you want to visit in Bucharest will be covered by public transport. All buses, trams and trolleybuses are run by RATB, and tickets can be purchased at stations and numerous sale points throughout the city. If you pick up an electronic travel card instead of paper tickets, you can also use it to travel on the underground metro.
Try to avoid travelling on public transport during peak hours, when the locals are trying to get to and from work and school.
The best time to visit Bucharest
There’s no bad time to visit Bucharest, and each season can provide a unique experience.
Visiting during spring (March to May) will give you the best of everything, from pleasant weather to the most beautiful parks and gardens. Avoid the first few days of May, however, as the locals leave Bucharest and head to the countryside for Romania’s Labour Day on May 1.
A wonderful time to be in Bucharest is during the summer (June to August). From Monday to Friday, the restaurants and rooftop bars are lively and buzzing. Yet, it’s a different story over the weekend. Half of the city heads to the seaside and leaves Bucharest a little quieter than usual, which you may or may not prefer while sightseeing.
Bucharest is the most romantic and picturesque during autumn. The cold hasn’t yet set in, so everyone is out enjoying the atmosphere of the city. There are also a lot of exhibitions and concerts held between September and November.
If you love the cold, you’ll undoubtedly find a wintertime trip to Bucharest to be charming and nostalgic. The city is adorned with Christmas lights and decorations during December, and some great outdoor fairs and events are held. Romania’s National Day is on December 1, so you’ll be able to celebrate over some mulled wine with the locals.
Things to do in Bucharest
Scour the local markets
The city has a ton of incredible markets that are always enjoyable to browse. If you’re looking for a fun activity in the early morning, head to any Bucharest flea market. You won’t be disappointed with what you discover!
Targul Vitan is definitely the largest and busiest flea market, and should be number one on your list. While it’s a little southeast of the city centre, it’s absolutely worth the trip. Locals flock here every Sunday morning to find the best deals on antiques, jewellery, old books, and various other odds and ends. There’s a mix of sellers here as well. Some goods are imported from countries like Germany and Turkey, while others are handcrafted by Romanians. You’ll also find an array of vintage items that the locals have brought from home and wish to sell. All prices are negotiable, so if you see something you love here, put your bargaining skills to use!
If you’re not around on a Sunday, you can check out the Bazarul cu Amintiri. The Memories Bazaar is held three times per week on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from six in the morning. Although it’s a much smaller market than Targul Vitan, there are still over 500 sellers that regularly show up. You can always find an interesting assortment of ceramics, paintings, clothes, old coins and bric-a-brac, so be sure to dig around.
Find the best street art
Abandoned spots and rundown buildings have been transformed by colourful street art, and many of the artworks change each year. Strada Arthur Verona by Piata Romana is the ultimate place to start looking for street art. Other streets to check out in this area include Strada Dionisie Lupu and Strada General Eremia Grigorescu.
The industrial area of Chimopar is also worth exploring if you’re interested in seeing as much street art as possible. The abandoned chemical factory on the outskirts of Bucharest is now a paradise for street artists, becoming covered with vibrant murals and designs. While it’s about eight kilometres east of the city centre, it’s a fantastic open spot to get out your camera and take some unique photographs. Better yet, you won’t find this place on any tourist maps, making it one of the more unusual things to do in Bucharest.
Enjoy a night out
After nine o’clock at night, the bars and clubs of the old town come alive. With no licensing hours, the Bucharest nightlife scene stays lively well into the early hours of the morning. Many of the hottest spots are within walking distance in the area of Lipscani, making bar-hopping easy and enjoyable. Bordello Bar, Fire Club and Nomad Skybar are favourites with both locals and tourists.
Places to visit in Bucharest
The majestic Romanian Athenaeum concert hall is one of the most notable landmarks in Bucharest. The ornate, neoclassical building was completed in 1888 and features a large domed ceiling with a stunning fresco. Numerous classical music concerts are held here, as well as an annual international music festival in September. If you’re visiting the city with your partner, getting dressed up and catching an evening show here is definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Bucharest.
King Michael I Park
This spacious park, formerly known as Herăstrău Park, surrounds Lake Herăstrău on both sides. Located here is Elisabeta Palace, the home of the Romanian Royal Family, as well as a Japanese garden and various sculptures and statues. Sitting by the lake during sunset is a particularly serene experience. While many assume that the city is entirely cobblestones and concrete, King Michael I Park shows that there are other beautiful places in Bucharest that aren’t historic buildings.
Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
Before you leave King Michael I Park, get a glimpse of traditional Romanian village life with a trip to the National Village Museum. This open-air ethnographic museum is over 100,000 square metres and showcases 272 farms and houses. It was founded by Dimitrie Gusti, a famous Romanian historian and ethnologist. The peaceful atmosphere will take you back in time, as most structures are authentically decorated to truly encapsulate rural life.
George Enescu National Museum
A museum dedicated to the Romanian musician George Enescu is housed in the Cantacuzino Palace, one of the most extravagant buildings in Bucharest. This French Art Nouveau, Baroque-style building was built between 1901 and 1903 and has both historical and cultural significance. The permanent exhibition inside holds an impressive collection of photographs, musical instruments and manuscripts.
The National Museum of Contemporary Art
Muzeul Naţional de Artă Contemporană is the top place to explore Bucharest’s contemporary art collections. Found in the glass wing of the tremendous Palace of the Parliament, you’ll be able to see many unique and modern works using a range of artistic mediums. Once you’re done wandering the exhibits, you can enjoy a tea or coffee on the rooftop terrace.
What to eat in Bucharest
Romanian cuisine is full of heart and tradition. While there are many dishes made only to celebrate specific holidays, there’s still a ton of great Romanian food to try year-round.
Here are a few local dishes you can sample while in Bucharest:
- Sarmale: Stuffed cabbage rolls, typically with ground pork or beef, sauteed onions, vegetables and herbs
- Ciorba de burta: An interesting soup mix of beef tripe, garlic, vinegar and sour cream
- Iahnie cu ciolan: A large chunk of smoked meat, typically a pork hock, on top of a plate of bean stew
- Papanași: A doughnut-shaped pastry, fried or boiled, and served with sour cream and jam
Where to stay in Bucharest
Not sure where to stay during your trip? Here are a few recommendations for Bucharest hotels.
Located between Revolution Square and the breathtaking Cișmigiu Park, Hotel Opera is in a peaceful area that’s still close to the action. Simultaneously modest and elegant, the interiors display historic photographs of Bucharest between both World Wars.
For the budget-conscious, consider the friendly and cosy Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel. Just 200 metres from Calea Victoriei, you couldn’t ask for a more ideal or picturesque location.
Z Executive Boutique Hotel is a vibrantly decorated and reasonably priced place to stay. It’s right by University Square, the Bernschutz&Co tea house, Colțea Church, Future Museum, and many more wonderful attractions.
Tours to do in Bucharest
The Hidden Gems of Bucharest tour will provide you with a ton of value, showing you places some of the locals don’t even know about. This three-hour guided tour takes you off the beaten path, with rest breaks at charming tea houses. You’ll also learn about the city’s history and the various influences that have shaped Bucharest.
Speaking of influences, one of the city’s most significant periods was the communist era. There are numerous tours you can take to gain an understanding of the impact 40 years of communism had on Bucharest. Not only will you learn about the rise and fall of the Communist Party in Romania, but you’ll hear stories about daily life under the harsh regime and visit the buildings that remain from this time.
Day trips from Bucharest
When it comes to day tours from Bucharest, you are absolutely spoiled for choice!
What holiday to Romania would be complete without a day trip to Transylvania? A visit to this iconic mountainous region is memorable no matter what season it is. Your first stop will be Bran Castle, better known as Dracula’s Castle, where you’ll learn more about the famous vampire and the 13th-century fortress. Also on the agenda is a visit to the majestic, Neo-Renaissance Peles Castle. In your free time, you can wander the medieval town of Brasov and look out for the historic Black Church.
You won’t want to miss out on a trip to the Black Sea either. An excursion to the shoreline city of Constanța is a rich cultural experience, and it’s just over two hours from Bucharest by minivan. Visit the Art Nouveau Casino, learn about Romanian traditions at the Folk Art Museum, and uncover the city’s Greek and Roman roots at the Museum of National History and Archeology. Of course, you’ll also have plenty of time to relax and soak up the sun at the infamous Mamaia Beach.
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Bucharest
- Castles of Transylvania: Private Day Trip from Bucharest
- Half Day Tour in Bucharest
- Bohemian Bucharest Markets and Mahallas Walking Food Tour
- Private Day Trip to Peles and Dracula’s Castle with Black Church Brasov from Bucharest
- Bucharest Sights and Bites with Traditional Romanian Meal
- Salt Mine, Mud Volcanoes, and Wine Tasting Private Day Tour from Bucharest
- Communism Tour of Bucharest
- Private Day Trip to Bulgaria from Bucharest with Veliko Tarnovo
- Constanta and Mamaia Day Trip from Bucharest
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