There’s a lot to do even though, at a first glance, you might think otherwise. It’s hard for me to see Bucharest as a tourist but I’ve tried. Hope you’ll be satisfied with the result.
The adventure starts right from the airport. I don’t advise you to take a cab unless you call a taxi company. Otherwise the law is still very…questionable, so you may pay 100 euro for a ride downtown.
There’s a bus that takes you downtown in 40 minutes, if the traffic is good. If not…even more than an hour. 783 is the number of the bus. You’ll see the signs. You can buy the tickets from the cash desk near the bus station or from the ticket machine, not from the bus driver. A round trip costs 7 lei (less than 2 euro). Just ask “2 calatorii” . You’ll have to validate the ticket inside the bus. You might have a problem with that because those machines are impossible. Ask someone, we also have difficulties in using them. Also there’s a bus that gets to the train station, Gara de Nord, in about 30 minutes (no. 780).
The heart of the city is the Old Town, Lipscani. I’m not very happy with that because I live there, from time to time, and it’s almost impossible to get some sleep, but that’s the truth . It’s full of pubs, clubs, restaurants, small stores, opened until late at night, or I better say early in the morning.
Always busy, always noisy, the Old Town is the perfect way to spend the evening or the night. You might be surprised it’s so loud. We are! But you’ll notice that a lot of things that are forbidden or inconceivable in other countries in Romania are possible. Like a club, outdoor, with excessively loud music until 5 o’clock in the morning near some apartments where people live. Or some shops opened till midnight. Or some restaurant where you can eat whenever you want. Bucharest may not be the land of choice, as the Ministry of Tourism says, but it may be the land of all possibilities.
But there’s more than pubs and shops. A short stroll on the paved streets will lead you to some beautiful old churches, imposing buildings or remains of the past.
Stavropoleos, a small, beautiful church, crowded between old and new buildings.
Saint Nicolas Church – you’ll notice the golden towers which may lead you to think of Russia rather than Romania. It’s a beautiful Russian church, built by the Tsar Nicholas II in 1909.The remains of the Old Princely Court – Curtea Veche – built in the 15th century by the famous Vlad Tepes, or Dracula. Unfortunately there is not much left to see. And next to the palace stands the Old Court Church, the oldest church in Bucharest.
Also you will notice a big, imposing white building. It’s The National Bank of Romania. At the University round you will see the Sutu Palace, now hosting the Bucharest History and Art Museum. And if you walk for a few minutes, to Unirii, you’ll see the oldest hospital in Bucharest, Coltea. It has also a nice church. Both recently renovated.
The Lipscani area was once the “home” of merchants and craftsmen, then it became almost a ruin, and a few years ago started to come back to live. There’s still a lot of work to do but the place has its charm. Also has its ups and downs. You will see a nice restaurant and next to it, an old building about to fall. Or, wall to wall, a historic beautiful building and a ruin. And so on…
From the Old Town you will get easily to Calea Victoriei, our Grand Via. It’s not as grandiose as the main street of Madrid but it has some nice buildings. It’s Bucharest’s oldest street and, at the beginning of the last century, it was one of the most popular avenues. Even now it’s full of shops, restaurants, but, most of all, of beautiful buildings, such as: The Athenaeum and, across the street, the National Museum of Art (the former Royal Palace, home to King Carol II until the monarchy was abolished in Romania -1947).
The Cantacuzino Palace, now George Enescu Museum. The CEC Palace and, opposite, the National Museum of Romanian History. The Military Club and some nice old buildings that now host modern hotels. You will aslo notice a few old churches.
Of course you’ve heard about the Parliament Palace or The House of the People. Built by the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, the building is huge and impressive. It has 12 levels above the ground and another 8 underground (the nuclear bunker). 1 100 rooms and a 328 feet long lobby. 2 800 chandeliers and 220 000 square meters of carpets. It is the world’s second-largest office building in surface, after the Pentagon, and the third largest in volume, after the Great Pyramid in Egypt. It took 20 000 workers, in three rounds, day and night, and almost 400, some say even 700, architects.
Everything there is big, imposing, towering, a record. Actually, the building entered 3 times in the Guinness Book. The luxury inside contrasts with the outside world, not always as rich. As I told you, the Parliament Palace is full of chandeliers. The biggest one is the crystal chandelier in the Human Rights Hall. It weighs 2.5 tons!
The Palace can be visited daily, from 10 to 16.00. The standard tour costs 25 lei. If you want to see the centre of the town from the balcony, and I recommend you to do so, you have to pay 15 lei. The underground tour is 10 lei. You can combine the visits, you’ll find the prices here.
The Parliament building is not far from the Old Town. You can go by subway, get off at Izvor station. The Metropolitan church (Biserica Patriarhiei) is in the neighbourhood. You might like it. I don’t.
If you want to see our White House you can visit the Cotroceni Palace. There’s also a museum. But apparently you have to call for reservations (details here). Before becoming the presidential palace it was a royal residence. Then Ceausescu transformed it into an official guesthouse. And surprise, it’s quite big.
You might have heard that Bucharest is also called the Little Paris.It was named like this because many of its buildings, made in the 19th century, display the influence of French architectural style. You will notice it in a few old institutions, museums or houses, but, unfortunatelly, it got lost on the way…
Romania has some very nice rural areas. If you don’t have the time to explore them or you’re only there for Bucharest, you can visit the Village Museum- Muzeul Satului. You will find all the villages of Romania in one place. It’s an outdoor museum, and apparently it is the largest in Europe. 30 acres. 50 buildings – houses, churches, barns, watermills, old fountains. I’ve been there a few days ago and I was really impressed. It’s worthwhile.
You can also buy some souvenirs and you may have the chance to witness the making of pottery and weaving, from time to time the artisans demonstrate their skills. Entrance fee:10 lei.
There’s also a Museum of the Romanian Peasant – Muzeul Taranului Roman – which features the richest folk art collection in Romania (over 90,000 artifacts: pottery, costumes, agricultural tools, carpets, icons, furniture). Actually, our capital is full of museums.
The parks are also very nice. And if you go to Bucharest during the summer, then the parks are the only places where you will find some coolness and shade. In almost all of them you can rent a bike, for free, and enjoy the green spots of the city. Or you can rent a boat to sale the strips of water which run across the alleys. That’s not for free but it’s cheap: in Herastrau Park, for example, to rent a boat costs 5 lei (one euro and some cents) or 10 or 15 lei, depending on the boat.
Herastrau is the biggest park of the city. It’s no Hyde Park but you will definitely enjoy it. A few steps from the Old Town lies Cismigiu, the oldest park in Bucharest.
If you want to try the Romanian traditional food, look for Caru cu bere, one of the oldest beerhouse in Bucharest, in the Old Town, on Stavropoleos street. You will appreciate not only the food but also the location, even though it’s a bit crowded. The building is very very beautiful. Also you can try Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc’s Inn), the oldest “hotel” in Bucharest, also in the old part of the town, on Franceza Street.
I advise you to buy a map. You’ll notice that all of us, young people, speak english, so if you need something just ask . We’re not bad people even though we’re a bit grumpy. The communists left us not only some ugly buildings but also an unpleasant frown.
If you take a cab watch the price, otherwise you may pay 50 Euro for a short ride. It is written on the door of the car – it should say 1,39 or 1,4 (prices for July 2012). You can use the subway (metrou it’s called, you’ll see the big M). If you know that you’ll need more than one ride, buy a card with 10 rides (15 lei, meaning 3 euro) or you can buy a card with 2 voyages (4 lei) or a one day card (6 lei).
There is a touristic bus. For 25 lei it shows you the major sights and attractions. The tickets can be bought on board and are valid for 24 hours.
You will see that in Bucharest the prices are not bad at all. The hotels are a bit pricey but once you fix that the rest is piece of cake. You can eat at a nice restaurant with 5 euro.
Watch your pockets! I never had any problems but…you never know. Do not leave the downtown. I repeat, do not leave the downtown. There’s nothing to see. And, I almost forgot, the girls are beautiful.
PS: Photos – my ex colleague Adina is the artist, her Bucharest is always nicer than mine (this is her blog – adinafelea.ro)
PS 2: You can find more information here.