Bucharest was a city full of surprises. It is a bustling city, with an air about it as if something big is about to happen. Now is an exciting time to visit, before the rest of the world finds out about Bucharest and all it must offer. So here we share the best things to do in Bucharest that we discovered on our visit.
Some Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Bucharest
I always find some of these amazing, and they are great for trivia night!
- The capital of Romania is Bucharest, the 6th largest capital city in Europe.
- Wine production in Romania is growing quickly, and Romania is the 6th largest producer of wine in Europe (after some huge global producers- Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Portugal)
- As the 1st city to have street lights, Bucharest introduced street lighting powered by petrol (gasoline).
- There are over 4000 restaurants in Bucharest and that number is growing all the time. New restaurant growth between 2010-2019 is 5% per annum in Bucharest. You can find foods from around the world.
- The largest building in Europe (2nd only to the US Pentagon in size) is the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest. (Built in 1980) You can visit it on a guided tour, you will need your passport for ID.
- Bucharest was once known as Little Paris.
- Interest in Bucharest is growing, with an increase of over 60% in searches about Bucharest on Trip Advisor.
- One of Romania’s most famous persons is Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to receive a perfect 10 in the Olympics (Montreal, 1976)
- And yes, Romania is the home of Dracula, a fiction story believed to be inspired by the Romanian ruler, Vlad the Impaler.
Top Things to Do in Bucharest: Not to be Missed
The Romanian Athenaeum
One of the best things to do in Bucharest is check out the architecture. A fabulous building showing influence of French architecture, built in 1886-1888, is the Romanian Athenaeum, pictured above. The building was originally begun by wealthy individuals and when funds ran short, money raised from the public completed the Athenaeum.
Today it is a concert and theater venue. If not in use, you can enter the building. The theater is round and a large and spectacular mural adorns the inside, which survived the Communist era, depicting the history of Romania.
The Communist Era
The Memorial of Rebirth (aka the Potato, pictured left above) marks the site of the Romanian Revolution in 1989. This is around the time communism started to fall across Europe. But other than the Berlin Wall falling, I don’t recall much being reported about the fall of Communism at the time.
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Romania’s Revolution started in Bucharest. Take a walking tour or a specialty Communist Tour to learn more about the history of Communism in Bucharest and Romania.
Once known as Little Paris, Bucharest has a lot of French Influence, especially in its architecture. French replicas include the Arc de Triomphe and the Natural History Museum, a replica of Palais du Poste in Paris.
French was once widely spoken in the ball rooms of Bucharest. The wealthy sent their children to Paris to study.
The streets of Bucharest are modeled after Paris and Bucharest has many wide, tree-lined boulevards. (The traffic is still not the best though.)
New Romanian Style in Bucharest
As some point, Romanian and Bucharesti officials decided to develop their own architectural style rather than just copy Paris. So, the New Romanian style was born. You see many houses and moderate sized apartment buildings built in this style. It is distinctive for the roof line- rather than domes from French architecture. It features an alpine looking roof, which was adopted from the Romanian countryside.
Strolling through some of the older neighborhoods, including the Armenian neighborhood, provide good opportunities to see examples of New Romanian style.
Modern Architecture in Bucharest
Unfortunately, there are a lot of buildings around Bucharest from the communist era, a time not known for its forward-thinking in good building design.
But there are also a lot of renovations under way, restoring many of the pre-communist, classic old buildings and turning them into offices, apartments, shops, bars and restaurants.
Refurbishment of some of the old buildings is introducing modern design as well. Above in the collage, the building on the right was once the old headquarters of the military police, today it houses offices for private companies.
Take a Walking Tour of the Best things to See in Bucharest
Walking around can be the best way to explore a new city and Bucharest is no exception. Make sure you stroll down Calea Victoriei. Many of Bucharest’s public buildings, international hotels and designer shopping can be found on this wide boulevard.
Also stroll through Old Town. This area is the up and coming area of Bucharest. Many of the streets are pedestrian only and you find some great shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Most likely you will spend one evening in the Old Town as one of the best things to do in Bucharest.
If you need a good place to rest and recharge, don’t miss Cărturești Carusel, a bookstore, and the café inside. It is a lovely bookstore and one of Bucharest’s most photographed spots!
If you want to learn more about the history and learn a bit more about the city we recommend taking a walking tour. There are a couple of options:
- The Walkabout Free Tour. You can find reviews of the free tour on Trip Advisor.
- Bucharest Walking Tour spends several hours walking through downtown Bucharest learning the history and architecture, history of the Communist era and revolution and visiting several of the more important buildings around Bucharest.
Unique Things to Do in Bucharest
Tour: Romania, Gypsies and the Roma People
Many people associate Romania with gypsies, whose correct name is Roma. (Gypsies is a pejorative term.) While Romania and Romany sound similar, this minority ethnic group is not originally from Romania, they are from India. Today many people have Roma heritage, but like many places around the world, this minority group does not enjoy the same level of social, economic and health outcomes as the majority population in Romania.
For a look at the history of the Roma population and how they live today in Bucharest and Romania, the Roma Heritage tour provides some insights. Our tour guide Livia, has been working with the Roma community for many years.
The tour covers the history of the modern Roma movement, looks at traditional Roma crafts and skills, visits a local Roma neighborhood, called Ferentari located south of the city center, and ends at the Roma Heritage Museum, Romano ButiQ. The Roma Museum is located at the outskirts of the largest Roma community in Bucharest – Giulesti Sarbi.
If you don’t have time for the full tour, visit Mesteshukar ButiQ, (MBQ) a shop in Bucharest which features crafts and clothing from the local Roma community.
Best Places to Relax in Bucharest
Bucharest has a number of large parks and open spaces. You can reach the parks via the bus or metro (subway) and there is also a system of trams that run around Bucharest.
Some places for a breath of fresh air in Bucharest:
- Cișmigiu Gardens- near the center of Bucharest- first designed and laid out in 1845 By German Karl Meyer. Has over 30,000 trees brought in from all over Romania, 17 hectares. Formal Roman garden, lake for rowing in summer and skating in winter, and a number of cafes.
- Tineretului Park- a large park in Southern Bucharest
- Mogosoaia Palace, the summer palace, just outside of Bucharest. It is a popular picnic spot with the locals on the weekend and you can see why. The Palace borders a large lake and has extensive gardens.
At the time of our visit in early May the irises in the gardens were stunning!
Inside the palace, most of the original furnishings were removed during the Communist era. Locals have donated pieces from the time when the Palace was used so you can observe furniture and fittings of the day.
There are many other things to do in Bucharest and this list is but a short summary of the best things to do in Bucharest.
We visited Bucharest as guests of #ExperienceBucharest, a five-day event featuring media and influencers from all over the world. You can find great dining suggestions for Bucharest for traditional Romanian food and wine, or coffee and breakfast in our other posts about Bucharest. You can also learn more about Romanian traditions and other things to do in Romania on Compass & Fork.