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
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?
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
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. An even better option is to pre-book your transfer;
Everything you need to see on your Old Town Bucharest walking tour
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.
And here’s the game plan, in the order that took me through an epiphany of what makes this city what it is.
- Curtea Veche Palace, from the Dracula (yes, he’s real) era
- Palatul Pinacotecii, the center of Old Town and art
- Stavropoleos Monastery Church, an incredible Orthodox monastery you can enter and explore
- National Museum of Romanian History, especially great on a rainy day
- Palatul Parlamentului: an iconic, massive, communist-era government building with over 1,100 rooms
- Cismigiu-Park, a gorgeous park in the center of town
- Romanian Athenaeum, Piata Romana, and the Roman neighborhood
- Royal Palace of Bucharest
- The Romanian Store, my favorite store for all-local souvenirs and artifacts
- Pasajul Victoria, an umbrella-filled passageway
- University Area, for a fun time and some beautiful architecture
- Mitropoliei, an absolutely fabulous Byzantine complex of churches and museums
- Saint Spyridon the New Church, which you can see why you have to visit below
- Bucharest Fountains by sunset!
More must sees in Bucharest for those staying longer
By now, you’ll have seen the major highlights. But there’s more to explore if you have the time.
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
Where to eat in Bucharest
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:
- 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
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;
You can find locations on www.test-covid-bucaresti.ro , but here were two of the three I found:
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.