Paris of the East
It’s always great to travel anywhere, but when that includes going to a country never been before, it gets even more exciting. Romania it is then, starting at its crawling capital Bucharest. Although the whole main plan for the trip itself would of course be the travelling to the amazing Transylvania region in search of the world famous Bran Castle and the beautiful city of Brasov. And now, after the trip I will not hesitate in saying I will be returning to this wonderful country soon to keep visiting the countless great cities and places it has to offer.
It is important to remember a fact that changed the history of the city and the country. The earthquake of 1977, which epicenter was at Vrancea, locality not far from Bucharest that destroyed a huge part of the city. Signs can still be seen across the old town with some dilapidated buildings and others falling apart in peaces and ruin. Thankfully there is currently a great effort to rebuild and restore many of these old historic constructions along the old town and beyond, turning it back again into a thriving, beautiful East European and greatly gentrified city.
From its nickname, the Paris of the East, anyone can wonder why but it’s not hard to discover. Wide tree-lined boulevards, great buildings from all eras and styles, elegant and beautiful, the city has much more to offer than what you expected before you came, considering the incredible wonders lost forever after the earthquake.
Also it’s very important you forget any bad image you might have of the city because of what you get to see across any other European cities where Roma Romanians camp along the streets, thiefs or dangerous. Totally wrong. It is in fact one of the safest cities I’ve been in Europe, clean, organised and by far one of the cities with the less rate of homeless people you will see in the streets when comparing to any other European capital.
Visiting is straightforward, and while a day could become too short, two are perfect but not more. What is great is its location where you can go to so many places and cities nearby that making a base in Bucharest is the best to do for getting to many of these places and regions. I generally find day trips from a base the best way to optimise the time, rather than having to carry your luggage from one place to another, get a different accommodation and after all, losing even more time.
Now, one of the most iconic facts to remember, the city has a World Guinness Record entry as described in Wikipedia for being home to the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest building. The Parliament. It is without doubt, one of the tourists attractions of the city.
With regards to places to eat, this is never a problem specially around the Old Town, where hundreds of pubs, bars and restaurants align the streets. But there is one among all others I cannot get enough to recommend, offering the best of Romanian food at really competitive prices, not to mention the great size of the portions and the incredible decoration and history inside. It is called Caru cu bere, in Strada Stavropoleos number 5. Anything you imagine from the Romanian cuisine is excellent to try here.
For more information about Bucharest check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Romania’s currency is the Leu (RON). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Bucharest
- The Arch of Triumph Arcul de Triumf. Situated in the northern part of the city, close to Herăstrău Park. Nearest metro station is Aviatorilor.
- Gara de Nord The main train station serving the city, with connections not only across the country, but to the neighbouring countries too. Metro Gara de North.
Opera Naţională Located along Bulevardul Mihail Kogălniceanu nr. 70-72. Metro Eroilor.
- Revolution Square area (Piaţa Revoluţiei) The major and main square in Bucharest, site where the Romanian Revolution took place in 1989.
-Romanian Atheneum Concert Hall Just north of Revolution Square, in the section known and George Enescu Square. Completed in 1889 in neoclassical style, home to the Filarmonica George Enescu for over 100 years.
-National Art Museum The largest and most complete museum for the art in the country.
-Central Library Very opulent and grand building, with the equestrian statue of Carol I at the front. Right opposite the Museum of Art.
-McKinsey & Company Building Really curious and great implementation within an old ruined building from the 19th century, the 21st century extension and overall conversion.
-Ministry of Internal Affairs Across the road from the McKinsey
-Kretzulescu Church Built in 1722 in Brancovenesc style. Along the west side of the National Art Museum.
-Colţea Church Was the first church in Bucharest built in the Brancovenesc style, from 1702.
- Calea Victoriei The Victory Street runs from Revolution Street all the way south cutting through the old town towards the Piata Natiunile near Boulevard Unirii and the Constitution Square.
-Strada Ion Câmpineanu Creates a beautiful intersection with Victory Street with the great architecture of the buildings, mostly dating from the 1930s hence in the art-deco style.
-Palace of the Deposits and Consignments The CEC Palace was built in 1900 in eclectic in the grounds of the ruins of a previous monastery.
-National Museum of Romanian History Opposite the CEC Palace, the largest museum in the country, covering artefacts from prehistoric times up to modern times.
-Piata Natiunile The terminus of Victoria Street, right across the Dambovita River and home to quite impressive apartment blocks as the Adriatica-Trieste
- University Square Divides the new city at the north with the old town just south, with the elegant Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta cutting through east-west.
-University Building Some of the largest neoclassical structures, all around the roundabout intersection.
- Old Centre Where a continuous restoration and gentrification is turning it back into the beautiful East European flair it once had. Get lost along its streets and discover plenty of churches, palaces, small squares all very colourful.
-National Bank of Romania On Strada Eugeniu Carada, a block south from University Square.
-Curtea Veche The Old Court Church, originally built in 1559, used to be the coronation church of the Wallachian princes.
-Pinacotheque Gallery At the very heart of the old town fully surrounded in beautiful architecture all around the Strada Lipscani.
–Stavropoleos Church Dating from 18th century, this small historic church is directly opposite the Pinacotheque.
-Piata Unirii The gigantic square where the city intersects into north and south axis. To the west along the Boulevard Unirii is the Parliament.
-Patriarchal Cathedral Built in 1659, one of the major landmarks of Bucharest, with a facade in the Brâncovenesc style. From the southwest corner of Unirii Square take Alee Dealul Mitropoliei, it heads directly towards the Cathedral and other structures in the area.
-Patriarchate Palace Constructed in 1907, side by side to the Cathedral.
- Boulevard Unirii The widest and longest avenue running from Constitution Square (Parliament) at the west towards Alba Lulia Square at the east.
- Parliament Palace The world’s second largest building (after the US Pentagon), formerly named Casa Poporului (People’s House). Tours ranging in price from 25 RON to 15 for students. The best view is when walking from Piata Unirii along the Boulevard.
Henri Coanda International Airport is located north of the city, and easily connected to it by the Express bus 783 to Piaţa Unirii running every 20 minutes during the day, 40 during night. It does stop along the way at some points like the University. Once in Unirii, trams, buses, metro or taxis are easy to locate if you need to get to your final destination.
Coming overland is the next best option considering the location of the country in Europe, being a major junction of rail and roads connecting to Moldova and its capital Chisinau at the north, Bulgaria next door at the south with easy and fast access to the port of Varna and Burgas, or inland Plovdiv and Sofia. Serbia and Hungary along the west with direct railway connections to Belgrade and Budapest; and further beyond direct railway into Greece to Thessaloniki, and Ukraine to Kiev.
Within the city, a single ride in the metro is 2 lei, or 15 lei for 10 trips. This second option is better if you plan to take it more than 4 times (quite likely), and will save you time avoiding the wait to buy the tickets each time you enter the metro. Buses and trams are also very often. Not many tram lines are left, but these are currently getting modernised with new trains. Taxis do always have taximeter. If you enter a taxi without it, then leave immediately. Also do not negotiate prices with the driver, he will quote you for sure more than the real cost.
For some reason hotels were a little bit higher in prices than our expectations. Maybe it had to do with the time of the year we went? I don’t know. In any case, the choice and selection is great, countless properties to chose from the top luxurious to the more modest ones. The most reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Then, if your budget is still not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course.
We found this small family run hotel, the Hotel Boutique Monaco, in Jean Luis Calderon 74. Although quite small rooms, it was clean, nice and tidy, also quiet at night, and at walking distance from all the sights. The nearest metro station is Universitate. Another good point is that from the hotel you are 5 min away walking to the Airport bus.