While it’s not close to being the most popular urban destination in Europe there are a ton of things to do in Bucharest.
Welcome to Bucharest, the capital of resplendent Romania. While Bucharest gets a bad rap in some circles both foreign and domestic, we loved practically every moment of our time there. In fact we lived here for 7 weeks and found there to be plenty of fascinating things to do in Bucharest.
Sure, when seen from a certain light the city appears to be crumbling, straining under the weigh of its years. Yet that’s part of what makes the city so interesting.
“To new-comers such as ourselves Bucharest is a city that tickles the imagination, that flirts with its visitors by offering an enticing prospect all curious travelers savor. The prospect of exploring an urban landscape filled with captivating texture and contrast. The prospect of turning a corner on a random street and stepping right into the past.”
We wrote the above in an article recently discussing the historic architecture which inundates Bucharest, and we believe this to be one of the coolest things about the city as a whole. There is much more to Bucharest than just architecture, however.
Sure, Bucharest has its fair share of various issues which plague all major developing urban centers. And yes, much of the infrastructure is old and tired, in need of refurbishing. But for our money it is as fascinating a city as it is welcoming. There are many facets to Bucharest, all which are worth exploring.
We spent seven highly enjoyable weeks living in Bucharest. During that time we had the opportunity to sink into the contours of the city, make friends, and experienced a Bucharest most tourists rarely get to see. We found a vibrant and historic city filled with little gems hidden right beneath the surface. We found a city of young artists, thinkers, dreamers, and philosophers sprouting from the grey communist concrete that had ruled the lives of their fore-bearers. A city standing with one foot in the past, trying to step boldly into the future.
All that is to say that, yes, we found many awesome things to do in Bucharest. And we hope you do too!
Things to do in Bucharest
“Hidden” Beer Gardens and Restaurants
Paris has its corner cafes, London has its proper pubs, and Bucharest has its gardens.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of terase (outdoor eating/drinking spaces) in Bucharest. Some of them are out in the open, some are tucked away behind buildings and down narrow alleys, and a few are completely hidden, known only to locals and the most curious of visitors. They all have one thing in common though, they’ll transport you to a more quiet, more peaceful Bucharest.
In the spring, summer, and fall the terase are a great place to start your day with a morning coffee, enjoy lunch or dinner, sip on wine, beer, or a refreshing cocktail, catch up with a friend, read a book, or even work on your laptop. Most of the terase are also open late which makes them a great spots to spend a long night socializing.
The majority of Romanians are very friendly, and gardens like the ones we list below are great places to meet locals. What’s more, many people in Romanian are bilingual. A large percentage of Romanians below 40 can speak at least passable English, at best their English is better than yours. Likewise, a great deal of the folks over 40 speak a bit of French or Spanish. So, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.
In the winter these courtyard gardens aren’t very practical, but thankfully most of them are attached to beautiful old buildings and have indoor dining options.
Here are five of our favorite gardens. Exploring these gardens was certainly one of our favorite things to do in Bucharest. We frequented them often during our stay, and recommend each highly for their unique style and setting.
Aptly named, the garden at Lokal looks and feels more like a friend’s backyard than a restaurant. Small tables, lounge furniture, and what seems like a mostly local crowd, it’s an excellent place to enjoy tasty cocktails or superbly prepared food by Chef Stefan Pop.
You’d never guess that Dianei 4 is mere steps away from a bustling main street. This quiet garden is an ideal setting to enjoy weekend Mexican themed brunch, an evening drink, or a quiet weekday lunch. Be sure to venture inside at least once for a drink or two and to enjoy the impressive peeling ambiance of the bar / restaurant.
If you’re lucky enough you’ll discover Eden. It’s tucked behind a large mansion, past an underground club, and through a passageway between a row of trees adorned with tiny white lights. The massive space has three large sections, two bars (including a fresh juice bar), and hundreds of trees. It’s the ideal escape from city life.
A few minutes walk from Eden, Green Hours is a nice place to start your evening. Drinks are affordable, the staff is friendly, and the atmosphere is relaxed. As a bonus they have a Jazz Cafe in a downstairs area that is well worth checking out.
Lente has three locations in the city, and as their site says, they welcome kids, bikes, pets, and open minded people. Good food, good people, and good drinks. A nice spot for lunch or an afternoon tea, coffee, or beer.
Things to do in Bucharest – Walk the City (alone or on a great tour)
If you are a fan of architecture you will find plenty of things to do in Bucharest. Even if they all involve walking around and staring at awesome old buildings.
e loved wandering around this city, getting lost on its winding streets, while taking in the history, contrast, and texture found in its architecture. We wrote an entire article about the crumbling beauty of Bucharest, which you should totally check out.
There are two great companies that offer really interesting and informative tours around the city.
Take a Beer Tour in Bucharest
Urban Adventures Beer Tour
Romania has a growing craft beer scene, with plenty of microbreweries, brewpubs and craft beer shops and bars opening up every year around the country. Bucharest is a nationwide hot spot for craft beer, and exploring its different bars and breweries with a local guide is a great way to learn about the city’s fascinating history, culture, and lifestyle.
The tour begins at Piata Romana in the center of the city. Our guide, Irina, was super welcoming and friendly from the very beginning. She was passionate about her city, and knew it like the back of her hand – as a great tour guide should! We began by visiting a local street vendor for a delicious typical snack of warm pastry filled with gooey cheese.
Now that any hunger pangs were put to rest – it was time for the beer-drinking to commence. The tour visited 3 great craft beer bars, where our guide was clued in on the best brews to order. After the first craft beer sampling session, we were guided down Victory Avenue, where some of Bucharest’s most famous landmarks lie. Our guide explained some important information about Romania’s conflicted history and reflected on its communist history as we stood in Revolution Square – where you can still see some bullet holes in the walls.
As we made our way to our next stop, we learned plenty about Bucharest’s dark history and saw some of the city’s most important landmarks. Some highlights for us were the former National Theatre of Bucharest, the former Headquarters of the Communist Party, one of the oldest churches in Bucharest, Kretzulescu Church. After all that information, it was time for another frothy pint of the good stuff.
The next bar was a stunning turn-of-the-century townhouse, which stood out as a great example of glamourous urban decay that Bucharest is so renowned for. Here we sampled Romania’s first craft beer produced in post-communist Romania. We also had the opportunity to try a selection of Romanian entrees (gustari), including goat’s cheese, cured meat, spring onions, and homemade bread.
Once the tour finished, our guide was super helpful in providing us with places to continue the night – which we certainly did! If you want to discover Bucharest in the best way possible, then we can’t recommend Urban Adventure’s Beer Tour of Bucharest enough!
Exploring Bucharest On Your Own
If you prefer to reconnoiter the city on your own the area circled on the map below is well worth exploring. Take the back streets, meander around, and don’t fret, Bucharest is not only extremely interesting, it is also very safe.
Things to Do in Bucharest – Explore The Old Town
By far the most touristic area of the city, Bucharest’s historic Old Town is nonetheless worth exploring for a few hours. We have to admit, this was not our favorite neighborhood, as it is filled with mediocre restaurants, trinket shops, erotic massage parlors (ugh), and touts, but there is definite charm to be found here.
Make sure to visit –
The Old National Library of Romania – This marvelous (and slightly decrepit) building used to be the the national library. It has been turned into an indoor bazaar, which is very much worth visiting if you are on the hunt for unique and interesting trinkets.
CEC Palace – Yes, this is a bank. But, holy cow, what a building! Walk by this place and snap some photos, are just stand there appreciating what might very well be one of the coolest urban buildings in Eastern Europe.
Stavropoleos Church/Monastery – Built in 1724 this is one of the oldest buildings in Bucharest. The courtyard of this peaceful orthodox church (pictured above) is a stunning journey back in time. If you only visit ONE SINGLE place in Bucharest’s Old Town, make it this one.
Mojo Music – Go here for a super cheap Ciuc draft beer which is about $1.50 before 8:00 PM. They also host a really intense charity pub quiz every second Wednesday night. You can even partake in karaoke upstairs. Fun, fun, fun.
Caru cu Bere – A beautiful historic restaurant with an extravagant interior, this should be on everyone’s list as a place to get a cold beer. Make sure you don’t just sit outside though, go inside and marvel at the architecture and the ambiance.
Farmers Markets are great places to experience local flavor. Not only do you get to shop for the best produce available but you also get to interact with local purveyors, see what foods are popular in a particular region, and get better products for less money than you would anywhere else.
Visiting a local farmers market in Bucharest will allow you to experience all of those things. However, what made us put it on our list was that the produce in Romania is among the best we’ve seen anywhere…and we’ve been to a lot of countries. Ripe cherries, tender juicy raspberries, fragrant peaches, fresh spring onions, peppers, cucumbers, and so much more. We were quickly spoiled by the flavorful bounties of these markets. We visited our market several times a week and indulged on all of the fresh summer delights we found there.
Things to Do in Bucharest – Visit Some Awesome Bookstores
Bucharest has more bookstores than any city we have visited in recent memory. From tiny shops selling used books to mega stores, it seems Romanians still enjoy visiting book shops. Lucky coincidence, because so do we!
Carturesti Carusel (pictured above) is a stunning addition to the Cartueresti book store chain. This gorgeous location opened in February of 2015, and might very well be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Complete with a basement art gallery and a sunny 6th floor bistro it’s worth a visit even if you have no intention of buying one of the 10,000 books available for purchase. It’s really THAT cool.
Carturesti has a couple of more locations in the city, of which the Verona store is also well worth a visit. With a miniature version of Noah’s ark out front, and a really cool garden restaurant in the back (Gradina Verona), this bookstore is great to browse through before a lunch time meal.
The Interesting Times Bureau
We absolutely love these guys. If you are looking for things to do in Bucharest check out their site. If 20th century history and architecture are your thing, we recommend the Beautiful Decay Tour and learn why so much of Bucharest’s amazing architecture is crumbling.
NOTE – Sadly this tour is no longer being offered. A true shame, as it was one of the most interesting tours we had ever taken.
There you have it folks. As you can see there are plenty of things to do in Bucharest, and plenty more that we probably have no idea about! Leave us some comments below if you feel we missed something that other people NEED to know about when visiting Bucharest!
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