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One Awesome Day in Bucharest – The Ultimate Layover

Romania, caught in a whirlwind of different cultures, a rich history of clashing mega-empires, and a fascinating Transylvanian touch, is a frequently missed gem to visit. And Bucharest, decorated by beautiful orthodox Cathedrals and massive Romanesque architecture, is the cultural hotspot you don’t want to miss.

It’s not called the “Paris of the east” for nothing.

So I embarked on a 2-day journey to check out this fascinating and truly unique city. And it was not what I expected – in a good way.

The (quick) history of Romania and how it makes it so awesome

I was definitely impressed by the stunning architecture in the Mitropolei complex.
The Palatul Patriarhiei, found in the incredible Mitropoliei complex
The university area of Bucharest is a gorgeous plaza and makes a great place to chill
The gorgeous University area in Old Town Bucharest

What truly makes this fascinating city so interesting is it’s history. It’s prime location made Bucharest a target for massive empires, each leaving a huge footprint on this epic city.

From local Transylvanian control in the 1400s to being incorporated by the Ottoman empire, then the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and even being occupied by the Germans, Bucharest has seen it’s fair share of cultures.

And it definitely left it’s imprint on Bucharest. You can feel and be witness to the magnificent history as you walk around and see the incredible variety of architecture and the clash of cultures. It’s a vibe.

What is the best way to get around Bucharest?

The metro system in Bucharest is modern and efficient.
Metro trains at Piata Victoriei by Cristi2555. I found these trains to be modern and very comfortable.

As you may know from my Athens, San Francisco, and Seattle layover guides, I do enjoy leaving some rubber from the bottom of my shoes everywhere I go.

And Bucharest is an excellent walking city. But for the in-between, public transportation – particularly the Metro – is supremely efficient and a great way to hop around.

But you have other options;

  • Roll around: Many, many scooters. Bird, Uber, etc.
  • Rideshare: Bolt, Uber, and FreeNow
  • Public transportation: bus and metro
  • City bikes all over the city

Google Maps is a great place to start – whether you’re walking, biking, or hopping on the Metro.

How to get from Bucharest airport to downtown

The bus line 780 runs from Bucharest airport to the North Rail station.
The 780 and 783 bus lines offer super cheap fares to/from the airport from downtown Bucharest.

There is a very convenient bus route from the University area direct to the airport. It’s bus line 780 (North Rail Station) or 783 (Central Bucharest) and costs 7-8 lei round trip. 673 is the express bus running every 15-30 minutes.

Pickup is at the Arrivals Terminal bus stop, outside the doors, where a ticket/card booth is also located.

I personally took an Uber for 50 lei to get downtown a bit more quickly.

Everything you need to see on your Old Town Bucharest walking tour

Old Town Bucharest is lined with cute cobblestone roads and great restaurants
Bucharest Old Town is a gorgeous place to walk around – and is aptly called “little Paris”.

As soon as I touched down in Bucharest, I set out on the most efficient, but encompassing walking tour I could create.

I started in Old Town closest to the metro stop, and zig zagged my way through streets of colossal Romanesque, Ottoman, Transylvanian, and Orthodox buildings. The eclectic mix of colors, the evident clash of cultures intertwined into this small old town made for vibrant sightseeing. It felt like visiting 10 cities at once.

Visiting the churches of Bucharest is totally worth it for the intricate art.
I’m always intrigued by churches – but Bucharest’s variety of disciplines made for an intriguing visit.

And here’s the game plan, in the order that took me through an epiphany of what makes this city what it is.

  1. Curtea Veche Palace, from the Dracula (yes, he’s real) era
  2. Palatul Pinacotecii, the center of Old Town and art
  3. Stavropoleos Monastery Church, an incredible Orthodox monastery you can enter and explore
  4. National Museum of Romanian History, especially great on a rainy day
  5. Palatul Parlamentului: an iconic, massive, communist-era government building with over 1,100 rooms
  6. Cismigiu-Park, a gorgeous park in the center of town
  7. Romanian Athenaeum, Piata Romana, and the Roman neighborhood
  8. Royal Palace of Bucharest
  9. The Romanian Store, my favorite store for all-local souvenirs and artifacts
  10. Pasajul Victoria, an umbrella-filled passageway
  11. University Area, for a fun time and some beautiful architecture
  12. Mitropoliei, an absolutely fabulous Byzantine complex of churches and museums
  13. Saint Spyridon the New Church, which you can see why you have to visit below
  14. Bucharest Fountains by sunset!
The incredible My Romanian Store, featuring all local artisanal handicraft from all over Romania at excellent prices.
Incredible churches and monasteries are found all over Bucharest.
Saint Spyridon the New Church and the surrounding neighborhoods offer intriguing architecture, especially at night

More must sees in Bucharest for those staying longer

The Romanians erected this Arc de Triumf as a tribute to the French after WWI.
The Arc de Triumf in Bucharest is an interesting tribute to the “Frenchness” of the city.

By now, you’ll have seen the major highlights. But there’s more to explore if you have the time.

A view of the national broadcasting building of Bucharest as seen from the King Mihai park
The King Mihai park boasts scenic walking paths around a massive lake with memorials and tributes, including the Arc de Triumf of Bucharest.

On day 2, I used a mix of the super highly convenient metro and my even more convenient legs to explore more deeply and outside of the old town. These were the most remarkable areas and monuments I saw:

  • Arc de Triumf, a WWI era tribute to the real Arc de Triomphe in Paris
  • Park Herastrau (King Mihai), a large park around a massive lake lined with local restaurants
  • Bucharest Sector 1 “Embassy Row”, the ‘rich’ area filled with hip cafes and vegan restaurants
  • House of Ceauşescu (Casa Ceaușescu)
  • Nation’s Heroes Memorial
  • Antipa Museum
Sector 3, Bucharest
Sector 3 of Bucharest is lined with hip restaurants and cute riverside walking paths

Where to eat in Bucharest

Traditional Romanian food involves carp, pork, potatoes, and broth.
The traditional carp with potatoes is a staple of Romania. They even have surprisingly good local wine!

I found the food in Bucharest to be surprisingly good, including vegan options aplenty. For traditional food, I stuck with (delicious) fish (mainly carp), but there are plenty of pork/sausage dishes Romanians are known for.

For traditional food, definitely head to these restaurants in Old Town Bucharest:

  • Ergo
  • Anika
  • Caru’ cu Bere
  • Restaurant Pescarus
  • Noma Herastrau

Like any modern city, Bucharest has an incredible array of coffee beans to go around. They’re not kidding when it comes to caffeine. For your morning fix, head to these incredible cafes:

  • Human Coffee
  • Baristro
  • Origo
  • Florian
  • Ivy

For vegan food in Bucharest, don’t miss out on:

  • Verv Kitchen
  • Sublimmme – cofetarie raw vegan
  • level up

I sincerely enjoy eating Vegan food – even though I’m not vegan. It’s fascinating to encounter the diverse melange of flavors Vegan chefs are able to produce – and not found anywhere else.

COVID testing in Bucharest: as easy as it gets

As we all know, restrictions are slowing fading out of memory. However some countries, such as the United States, are still requiring a Covid test to return.

Luckily, Bucharest has you covered. In response to the pandemic, the city of Bucharest assembled mobile testing centers in many busy areas of the city. These appear like trailers, and they’re hard to miss;

The covid testing center near the Piata Romana in Bucharest.
This particular location is right at the Equestrian Statue of Carol I Statuia Ecvestră a lui Carol I, a super super convenient location.

You can find locations on www.test-covid-bucaresti.ro , but here were two of the three I found:

There are several mobile Covid-19 testing centers around Bucharest providing results in minutes.

The heart in the bottom right is the one I used, right next to the H&M at Piața Unirii 1, București 030119, Romania.

I paid 65 Romanian Lira, which is about USD$15, for an antigen test. The friendly receptionist handed me printed results in no more than 5 minutes. Overall, I found testing in Bucharest to be super pleasant and easy.

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