My time in Bucharest
During my Tourism studies, I was always looking for new destinations to discover. As Eastern Europe had always been my area of interest, I focused on this region. Romania had always fascinated me because it is a large, undiscovered and diverse country. I had the chance to go abroad for an internship and as Romania was high on my list to visit, I chose to find an internship there. I tried to get in touch with many tourism agencies and tour operators in the capital Bucharest and other major cities. Eventually, I received a reply of an inbound tour operator that was more than happy to offer me a place to do my internship. I was very excited and started preparing months in advance. Eventually, I boarded the plane and landed in the busy capital of Bucharest. The Romanian summer heat embraced me. I had already arranged accommodation and was to stay in a large house with several Romanian students. I was received with open arms by everyone, it was like people had known me for years. I found all Romanians to be extremely hospitable. I had a fantastic time in Romania and I have returned many times since then. The country keeps me hooked with its untouched nature, colourful cities, warm-hearted people and beautiful romance language. On this page, I will describe the Romanian capital Bucharest, which I love so much.
Lipscani - The Old Town
Bucharest is steadily growing more popular as a destination. It is a large city with many sights to see and above all, it is very varied. Many types of architecture blend in, making Bucharest an ever interesting subject for the eye. The main area is Lipscani, the old center. This name derives from the German city Leipzig (=Lipsca in 17th Century Romanian). Traders from Germany (and from many other countries) passed Bucharest on their way through Southeastern Europe. Traders from Leipzig sticked around for longer and traded in and around Bucharest. The name Lipscan later became a word for a trader from Western Europe.
The center has been nicely renovated and pedestrianised. It mostly offers nightlife venues and just a few shops, as the real shopping is done in the many malls the city counts. The old center is alive 24 hours a day and it has many cool bars and clubs and a some very good restaurants. The most famous one is Caru cu Bere, pictures below. Some interesting sights include Stavropoleos Monastery, pictures on the second row, the old Inn Hanul lui Manuc, pictures in album below. Likewise, Curtea Veche where Vlad Tepes has resided for a while, is interesting to visit. The old town is right next to Piata Unirii, Union Square. This is the beating heart of the center with three metro lines crossing, the gigantic Unirea shopping center and many streets intersecting around the massive fountains in the middle of the square. Once upon a time, this used to be the old Bucharest, with churches and mansions. However, the devastating earthquake of 1977 and Ceaucescu's city planning wiped these buildings off the map. Currently, the square is lined by enormous, concrete apartment buildings. The square is really monstrous and impressive. As you walk to the center of the square, you get a view of the Palace of Parliament, Ceacescu's project on the end of the Bulevardul Unirii, Union Boulevard.
South of Piata Unirii, Union Square, is a street leading upto the Biserica Patriarhiei, Metropolitan Church. It is a lovely square with another building, the Palace of the Patriarchate. It is therefore the center of many religious events but it is also just a nice place to come and relax, a quiet spot in the very center of the busy city. On the other end of the square is another street leading back down to Bucharest's busy boulevards. You can have a drink at Fabrica Club and head for the Carol Park. Then visit Bragadiru Palace, and admire its architecture. Possibly have lunch or just another drink. Read about the 'beraria' restaurant at number 6 below. After that, see the well-hidden jewel Antim Monastery. Luckily it was not in the way of Ceacescu's wide boulevard leading to the palace and it still stands fiercely. It has nice architecture and a courtyard.
The Palace of Parliament. As a point of reference. It's a good starting point. Follow the leafy Unirii Boulevard.
Piata Unirii, Union square. The heart of Bucharest.
Walk uphill towards Biserica Patriarhiei, Metropolitan Church and take the curvy street down, on the other side.
Fabrica Club. A nice place with an outside terrace if weather permits. A perfect place to have a drink during your walk.
Carol Park. One of the most pleasant parks of the city. It has an interesting memorial and a good view over the city.
Antim Monastery. Behind Ceacuescu's gigantic blocks, an interesting and pretty place tucked away from the sight.
Calea Victoriei - Victory Street
One of the city's main streets is Calea Victoriei - Liberty Street. It connects The United Nations Square with Victory Square, north of the center. Many sights are along this famous street, such as: the National Museum of History of Romania, Piata Revulutiei - Revolution Square, the Romanian Athenaeum and the National Museum of Art of Romania. At Victory Square is the very interesting Antipa Natural History Museum. Furthermore, the street has various large hotels and chique stores. It is nice to start from the north at Herastrau Park, metro station Charles de Gaulle. Herastrau is the city's largest park, that leads all the way north to the Triumphal Arc. Free rental bikes are available for a couple of hours (probably just in summer). You can cycle around the park's lake or south to Piata Victoriei, Victory Square. This immense square is full of traffic and not interesting to visit on itself. Caleau Victoriei, Victory Street, starts at Piata Victoriei. It has a cycle lane so it is easy to explore this long street by bike.
Shopping in Bucharest
Your shopping needs can best be done on the large boulevards around the center or in any of the shopping malls. I highly recommend AFI Palace Cotroceni - metro station Politehnica. This mall even has a ring for ice skating and a large cinema complex. A nice detail; the metro station's floor tiles have 80-million year old fossils in them. Promenada Mall near Aurel Vlaicu metro station is fantastic as well. It has a large open-air terrace where movies are played in summer. There are some nice stores in the Old Town as well, such as bookstore Carturesti. It has an interesting design and offers good coffee on the upper floor. It is even nice just to walk around a bit. Last three pictures in the gallery above.
The city parks
Bucharest is a green city full of large parks, the largest being Herastrau north of the center. Herastrau park offers free bike rental (probably just in summer) and it is nice to cycle around the lake. Do keep in mind that as of 2015, to make the full circle, you have to lift your bike over a railway bridge, crossing the lake on the way back. Many people do this but beware; it's also possible to return the way you came. The park is close to Arcul de Triumf, the Triumphal Arch with 1,5 kilometer north Piata Presei Libere, the Press building. Inbetween these two sights is Muzeul Satului, the Village museum, a good place to find out more about life in the Romanian villages. Herastrau park, in the north of the city, is generally considered the wealthier area. There are many beautiful mansions and embassy buildings nearby that are worth seeing just for their typical 'Brancoveanu' architecture. A beautiful mansion to see is 'Vila D. Ionescu'.
As described earlier in the article, Carol park south of the center is a really pleasant park. It has a monument named after King Carol that has a nice view over the center and the Parliament Palace. Another cool park, that almost connects with Carol park, is Tineretului park (Tineretului means youth). It is a huge park that covers the span of three metro stations; Tineretului, Eroii Revolutiei and Constantin Brancoveanu. Do not get off at Eroii Revolutiei, as it sits along Bellu Cemetery and not near a direct entrance to the park. At the section of Constantin Brancoveanu metro station is a beautiful, recently renovated area of the park. It is called the Children's City and it consists of large fields, nice fountains and many attractions. There is even a train circling around. Singing fountains are part of the park as well. A great place to stroll around on a summer evening.
As the city's oldest park and arguably most beautiful, Cismigiu has many wide alleys, classic benches and people playing chess. It also has some large cages for several species of birds. Most interesting of all is the lake in the center, where paddle boats are available for rent. You can see many couples enjoying themselves on the lake. The park is lovely to spend some time. Next to the lake is Restaurant Monte Carlo and there are some other places in the park where you can sit down and enjoy a drink. To get back to the center, you can either take Regina Elisabeta boulevard or cross the river Dambovita, walk towards Izvor park and the Palace of Parliament. Alternatively, walk along the river and see the beautiful Palace of Justice.
Places to have a drink
As the European Union's sixth city in terms of population within city borders, Bucharest is a real metropolis. It's alive day and night, many places work round the clock. Just walking any street, you are sure to find a place to enjoy a nice drink. However, just to have a guideline, there are plenty of articles describing the newest cafes. Just Google for Bucharest cafes and you are sure to find some of the latest additions. As the scene changes rapidly and new places pop up everywhere, it is best to ask anyone in the street for a good suggestion. Some of my own favourites remain The Embassy near Piata Romana and Hanul cu Tei in the Old Town. This is a small and cosy court that is packed with nightlife venues. As of 2015, there was also a nice Embassy cafe inside the court, upstairs. Beraria Hanul cu Tei, at the same place, is also recommended.
For really good coffee, I like to go to Delicateste Florescu on Strada Radu Cristian, east of Piata Universitatii, University Square. It's a small place where beans are freshly roasted and ground, the smell attracts you from far away. The shop has some really special sorts of beans - basically any famous sort. There are just two tables and some chairs outside but the focus is all on the coffee.
Transport in Bucharest
As you come from the airport, it is a good option to use the reliable public transport. Bus 783 to the Piata Unirii leaves every 40 minutes and it is said it runs day and night. It stops along the way and at Piata Victoriei. Tickets are sold outside, downstairs from the arrivals. In about an hour you get to the center.
Bucharest has a brilliant network of public transport, which can count itself as one of the most extensive and dense of Europe. It's the fourth largest network on the continent, carrying over 1,7 million passengers daily. An immense city such as Bucharest needs good public transport, as it simply cannot cope with that many cars. The network consists of 85 bus lines (plus 25 night routes), 15 trolleybus lines and 11 lines connecting Bucharest with surrounding villages. In addition, 23 tram lines and 4 metro lines help support this network. RATB (Regia Autonoma de Transport Bucuresti) runs the network above the ground and Metrorex runs the underground. Both companies have different ticketing systems.
As said, the transport network is extremely efficient. At times, it can suffer heavy overcrowding. In summer, it becomes very hot (apart from the metro, which is air-conditioned). All transport is easy to use. However, there are so many bus lines that it gets confusing where they go. Most tourists will just use the metro as it suffices for the center and direct surroundings. The metro is fantastic with brand new trains. It is perfectly clean and each train has two clearly visible guards standing in the aisle. Tickets are bought at the stations, sometimes at machines with English menus, alternatively at the counter. There is no ticket for 1 trip, there is for 2 and 10 (bilet cu doua (2) / zeche (10) calatorii). Day cards are available too but probably not necessary. The network is quite extensive and gets you to any place mentioned in this article, apart from the Mogosoaia palace and the airport. All transport runs so frequently it does not even make sense to hand a schedule.
A nice trip that is easy to make is to Mogosoaia palace, just north of the city. Mogosoaia can be reached by public transport. At Park Bazilescu metro station is a bus stop. Bus 460 takes you there. Be sure to ask where to get off as it is not easily visible from the bus but people are happy to help you find it. From the bus stop, you directly get to the park in which the palace is situated, by a lake.
(The website I just linked to is Bucharestian, a good website to read more about Bucharest and its hidden jewels. I especially love this article about the Overwhelming Beat of Bucharest).