Bucharest is Cool and You Should Go: A Travel Guide
Do yourself a favor: don’t read anything about Bucharest. Well, read this, obviously, but most of the existing guides about Bucharest consistently suffer from a few issues:
1. They are written by old people who are fascinated by the existence of churches.
2. They are dated. (VICE has a decent guide out about the city, but due to the fact that it came out in 2014, many of the places it names are sadly out of business, and some of the city’s problems, such as the presence of stray dogs, are, uh, no longer an issue.)
3. They see the city as a quick stop before a longer trip to Transylvania.
4. They make this city seem bad, which is Wrong with a large and very distinct capital ‘W’.
I’m not going to lie– Bucharest is a hard city to approach. It reeks of post-Communism. The Romanian language is dense. There are about three times as many cars in every intersection as there really should be, and if you ever even manage to find a crosswalk, well, god help you.
But to characterize Bucharest as a city still unable to transition from its Communist past is to ignore the vibrant and growing youth culture present in the city today. Romania is a powerful force in the world of minimal electronic music, and Bucharest’s bar scene, though spread out in isolated pockets, is full of life.
So why go to Bucharest?
Lots of reasons.
The people are great. More so than other cities I’ve visited, people in Bucharest and open and excited to talk about their city, and will happily give you advice about places to eat and hang out.
It’s cheap. Normally I would be opposed to putting this detail on a list like this, but here’s the way I see it– I am fresh out of college. My salary at the present moment ranges from minimal to nonexistent. Cities like Bucharest, cheap cities with rich histories and plenty to do, are fantastic for me. I can travel around the city, get something to eat, and rent a place to sleep, all without even coming close to breaking the bank.
It has amazing parks. I love a good park. If I find a park with comfortable benches, some water, and a little shade, I’m pretty much set for the afternoon. Not only does Bucharest have a LOT of parks like this, but within every park are a range of shops where you can buy beer, ice cream, popcorn, and more. Bring a book, grab a beer, and lay out under a tree. There really is nothing better.
Anyway, let’s get to the reason you clicked on this.
What to do in Bucharest
Remember when I said this city was difficult to approach? One of the reasons for that is that, on a surface level, there isn’t a whole lot to do besides just sort of bouncing from café to restaurant to bar. Of course, you can tour the parliament building (which has the honor of being both the largest legislative building in the world and the world’s heaviest building), but after that, the museums and cultural attractions this city has to offer are somewhat lackluster.
Instead, then, you have to talk to people. I know, this is rough, not because talking to strangers is inherently uncomfortable, but because I just suck so hard at it. Luckily, once you open up to a stranger here, the response is generally very positive. Everyone I talked to was eager to tell me more about Bucharest, and once you get them talking about their city, they will happily let you know about local events. Really go out of your way to ask everyone– we got a great tip about a nightlife experience by making small talk with one of our waiters. Language is almost never a problem, as most of the young population speaks English well.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this in person (like myself), there are a few ways other ways to find stuff going on in the city. Facebook is the main social network here, and as a result, the local Bucharest event guide is pretty consistent. It is frequently flooded with local guitarists promoting their solo shows in the outskirts of the city, but it can be a good way to find parties and social events.
Or just talk to people on Tinder. Whatever works best for you.
Where to go:
Nice people! Next to a park! Built into an old warehouse! What more could a hipster want? Seriously, though, the drinks are good, and the bartender was patient as I tiredly tried to pronounce Romanian words.
The closest you’ll get to a rooftop New York bar in Bucharest. This style of bar is not really my scene, but the neon lighting is cool and being on a roof during a Bucharest summer night is very nice. Drinks are more expensive than most other places in Bucharest, but you’re paying for the ~^*style*^~ of it all. People are usually dressed up nicely here, but I wore a T-Shirt and saw another dude wearing a T-Shirt (who I tried to give a nod of solidarity to but he refused to make eye contact).
It’s like that Brooklyn bar you like except it’s in Bucharest. The walls are covered in art and they have an array of board games available to play, though, fair warning, many are missing pieces. The crowd is almost exclusively local, and drinks are inexpensive. Also, I asked the guy behind the bar if he could open my beer for me and he unsheathed a knife and hacked off the bottle top so that’s cool.
This is a great bar and restaurant with an expansive outdoor area and a lovingly worn, vintage-styled indoor area.
If a local ever tells you to go to Eden, this is the place they’re referring to. Figuring that out took me many Google searches. Anyway, it’s an outdoor bar with hammocks and wooden chairs. The crowd is young, and while the drinks are a little expensive for Bucharest, the environment is without compare.
Many cool DJs come through here, and with an indoor club and backyard, you can have a diverse experience at this bar. I will say that the crowd is mixed. For every person just there to dance and have a good time, there is a person who is solely trying to hook up. Be ready to see a lot of Abercrombie. Still, a great space. Be sure to go on Tuesday, when everything is half price.
An outdoor space with a variety of Romanian beers that occasionally hosts events. We saw a DJ show there, and it was everything that a party in the middle of a city should be. This space is unique; it’s social if you want it to be, but if you’re just looking for a place to enjoy some local brews outdoors, Spatiul M60 is a great place.
Delicious coffee from baristas who care. They’re eager to talk you through the coffee you’re ordering, asking questions about origin preference, how you want it served, and more. Honestly, I do not know a lot about coffee, but my god this was a fantastic cup of joe.
This place is so COLORFUL and NICE. Definitely order a smoothie to go along with their array of fresh breakfasts and lunches. It sometimes borders on being “too hip” (e.g. your check will be presented to you tucked into a novel), but overall, I really, really liked this. It’s a great place to get food in the morning (or apparently pretty good cocktails at night).
If you’re looking to try Romanian food, go here. It is attached to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, but even if you’re not going to the museum, I would suggest coming here and getting their cabbage rolls and some papanasi (pronounced papa-nash).
Nordic-style cafe with delicious and simple food.
A bit similar to Dianei 4. Indoor/outdoor restaurant/bar with variety and great burgers.
A GREAT schwarma chain. Go say hello and get one with everything.
Near the Arcul de Triumf, this park is expansive with a large lake in the center. Be sure to find the memorial to Michael Jackson located on the main road entering the park (Michael Jackson gave the first address from the balcony of the Bucharest Parliament Building, where he said, “Hello Budapest.” Not one of his best moments.)
A lovely park with a giant monument, the Memorialul Eroilor Neamului. This park is also next to one of my previous recommendations, Expirat.
Nothing much to say about this park. It’s a goody. Go see it.
What to avoid:
The Old City.
The Old City is great if you want to get trashed with fifteen school friends at an Irish-themed bar that also accepts Euros. Maybe I’m just getting old, but the Old City felt trashy, touristy, and over-priced to me. Seeing as a lot of people recommended I check out the Old City when I first came here, I’ll say don’t avoid it completely, but don’t try to make a day out of it.
Thinking that there is a hip neighborhood.
This took us way too long to realize. Bucharest is a great city, but all of the interesting bars and restaurants are spread far apart from each other. If you’re going to spend some time here, be ready to move all around the city as you decide which bar or club to go to next.
They’re not great. If you are set on going to a museum, I would suggest going to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. I cannot vouch for it personally (as it was being renovated during our time there), but it has won its fair share of awards and commendations and people who visit point to it as the best Romanian museum.
We landed in Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP) and took a bus from the airport directly to around where we were staying. From the airport to the city center is just about an hour, maybe a little less if the “express” bus actually decides to run express. Cards for the bus can be bought at the airport and are reasonably priced (not giving an exact price here because I was totally sleepless and do not remember).
Take public transit. The metro system is pretty consistent and VERY cheap. At the time of writing this, one ticket (valid for two journeys) costs 5 lei, or ~$1.30, and week passes are available. One of the downsides is that the metro and buses require a different ticket, but quite honestly, no bus driver ever checks if you have a ticket. Buy one anyway though because public transit is a good thing.
ABSOLUTELY DO NOT hire a taxi from the street. While there are legitimate taxi companies operating in Bucharest, taxis have a reputation for scamming tourists, either overcharging them in cash or running up tabs on their credit cards.
In our time here we walked everywhere, but I would not say that this city is walkable. Blocks are long and streets are wide, with crosswalks distributed sparingly.
Where to stay:
Hotels are reasonable, but we opted for an AirBNB for convenience. We got essentially the cheapest possible option so I don’t feel justified in complaining, but know that if you if you pay little, you get a little. We had a bed and a stove, which was enough for us, but other luxuries, like having more than one set of silverware, were not afforded to us.