Bucharest (not to be confused with Budapest), Romania, is the bustling capital city of Romania. Once known as the “Paris of the East,” it has known some good times. Sadly, with the U.S.S.R. and a powerful dictator, it has also known some bad times. When the Iron Curtain fell, the good times started to slowly come back. Now is a great time to visit this beautiful city. This post discusses some tips for exploring Bucharest.
Exploring Bucharest – Getting There
The Henri Coanda International airport, also known as Otapeni or OTP, is a ways out of town. B did a lot of research into how to get to the downtown center from this airport and we were a little nervous by what she found out. Apparently, there are some unscrupulous cabbies in Romania that can take advantage of visitors. Fortunately, Romania is currently a very inexpensive destination, so you can spring for safe passage without dealing with taxis, trains or buses. Bonus, you get to feel like a baller if you hire a car.
Between B and me, we had three different transportation experiences. For our initial arrival, B had arranged for a driver to pick us up. It was a little challenging for her because of the language barrier, but when I saw a guy holding a sign with a name that slightly resembled B’s, I knew we were in business. We got into a fancy black car and were swept downtown. Our price for this was around $40. Split between two, it wasn’t that much of a splurge.
We left Bucharest on different days. B rolled the dice and took an Uber to the airport when she flew out. I say rolled the dice because Uber isn’t as established as it is in other places. However, it worked out just fine for her and she made it to the airport with no problems and a cost around $15.
I stayed an extra night by myself in Bucharest, so I opted to splurge a little and stay at a nice hotel. Nice hotels offer nice rides to the airport and so I ended up just booking it through the concierge for around $25.
Exploring Bucharest – What to See
My favorite part of Bucharest was the architecture. It was fascinating to see these tall buildings that were ornately built but have fallen into hard times during the last hundred years. They are still beautiful, but in a haunting rather than in-your-face kind of way. We spent many hours wandering through the Old Town and adjacent parts of town. The architecture of many buildings was spectacular.
The Palace of the Parliament
Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Communist leader during the times Romania was part of the U.S.S.R., was a real piece of work. He was eventually put on trial and put to death in 1989. During his tenure, he did a lot of things, one of which was directed the creation of the Palace of the Parliament Building. This is no ordinary building….it is huge! You can spot this behemoth from many streets in Bucharest as it sits atop a little hill. Ceaușescu decided this building would be a statement piece and tore down whole tracts of the city and displaced lots of Romanians to get the room for his masterpiece.
If you want to go inside the Palace, you will have to get tickets. A lot of things in Romania are just a little more challenging than in western Europe, so we asked our hotel to call and reserve them for us. We showed up with our passports and after we went through security, we went on a tour with an adorable guide. The visit is well the trouble and a highlight of visiting Bucharest.
Bucharest is an old town and its Old Town is full of interesting things to see from many different centuries. Even ol’ Vlad the Impaler has a presence; the Old Court from the 15th century where he used to hang out is a crumbling ruin.
Old Town is full of old churches, old inns, old banks and lots of old shops and old houses. It conveniently has signs posted on different streets with maps and descriptions of the points of interest in English. We spent most of our time in Bucharest in Old Town, wandering and looking around.
Exploring Bucharest – What to Eat
Bucharest isn’t really the Paris of the East anymore. Fortunately though, it still has some delicious pastries that could found in Paris. Our first stop when exploring Bucharest was a pastry shop. Delicious.
There are plenty of restaurants in Old Town that serve tasty morsels. Typically, it isn’t the best idea to eat in tourist districts because the prices are significantly inflated. Romania is cheap enough that we didn’t mind paying the higher price for convenience.
Exploring Bucharest – Staying Safe
On my last night in Bucharest, I was in the hotel flipping through channels. One of the only English speaking channels had a documentary on the seedier side of (you guessed it) Bucharest. It was actually quite sad and highlighted the drug problems where people lived in the tunnels under the city. We didn’t see any of this when we were exploring, but it just goes to show that it’s important to be smart when visiting big cities.
When visiting any place, make sure you are smart and don’t put yourself at risk for obvious crimes. If you’re going to party, make sure one person stays sober. Don’t be showy about your wealth. Use trustworthy locals to help you out: for example, have your hotel concierge call you a cab.
Bucharest, Romania, is a wonderful city. I’ve wanted to visit here for many years and I was not disappointed. I loved the history and the feeling of excitement as this city rebuilds itself from the days of communism. If Bucharest has been on your list for a while, we encourage you to visit soon.