Bucharest is Fabulous and Fun

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There are a number of countries where it’s recommended to arrive in the capital city and then get out as soon as possible.

The Philippines? Yeah, I’d get on board with that. I find Manila vile, but the rest of the country is lovely.

Nicaragua? Agreed. Managua has nothing to offer — you’re best off skipping town and heading to nearby Granada.

But what about Romania? Well, lots of travelers treat Bucharest, Romania’s capital, the same way, only passing through briefly before heading to the towns of Transylvania. But they really shouldn’t do that.

And this is where I raise my hand and admit that I’m guilty, too. Back in 2013, I found cheap flights from Istanbul to Skopje and, two weeks later, from Bucharest to Dubai, so I planned a big Macedonia-Kosovo-Bulgaria trip and only planned to arrive in Bucharest the night before my flight.

So what did I do on that first trip to Bucharest? I arrived off the train ride from hell, took a shower, got some pizza, slept in a dorm, and shared a taxi to the airport the next day. Not exactly hardcore tourism.

For years, I hated the fact that I counted Romania as a visited country but hadn’t done anything of value in Bucharest. But then I got a perfect opportunity to make up for that.

#ExperienceBucharest: A New Kind of Travel Influencer Campaign

Earlier this spring, my friend Monica told me about a new campaign taking place in May: #ExperienceBucharest. Several bloggers would be invited to a conference and event to show off the city.

Now, this was different than other blog trips. Most of the time, a PR agency rakes in the big bucks while the bloggers, the people who create the actual content, are undercompensated. In this circumstance, however, #ExperienceBucharest was put together by a team of volunteers who work in the travel industry in Bucharest.

This major campaign was put together by volunteers. They worked their asses off and made no money doing it — they just wanted to share Bucharest with the world and get more people to travel here.

They did it for love of their city.

When I heard that, I knew I wanted to be part of this campaign. And not only because it would give me a chance to visit some new Eastern European countries. I really enjoy trying to find the nicer places in less-appreciated cities like Colombo and Johannesburg.

So did this trip pay off? Did it ever.

Bucharest is an awesome city.

Bucharest is like Berlin. Alternative and gritty with epic nightlife.

Bucharest is like Paris. Grand and elegant and pulsating with style.

Bucharest is like Budapest. Weathered and proud and cultured.

And on top of that, Bucharest is a very affordable European city, it’s well-connected in terms of flights, the food is delicious, and the people are absolutely lovely.

I found the defining aspect of Bucharest to be its look — so many beautiful and elegant buildings, only they were interspersed with ugly communist architecture and covered in graffiti. At one point, I turned to my friend and said, “Bucharest feels like Paris if they neglected themselves.”

I don’t mean that as an insult — just an observation. I saw pictures of Bucharest from the late 19th century and it looked just like Paris. Maybe they didn’t prioritize their beauty; maybe it was simply bad luck and having to prioritize safety over beauty in times of upheaval.

But that look isn’t everything.

Bucharest has alleys that turn into elegant arcades.

Bucharest has traditional restaurants with stained glass.

Bucharest knows how to peekaboo.

Bucharest has murals all over the place.

Bucharest hides cheese in its tomato soup.

Bucharest is very gray.

But Bucharest can be gold, too.

Cafe Culture

Like elsewhere in Central Europe, Bucharest is all about the cafes. You go in the morning or afternoon for coffee, and by nightfall, people have switched to beer and wine.

One that I loved in particular is a little place called Artichoke Coffee Shop. It’s got plants perched on spiral staircases, water served in gin bottles, chunky chocolate chip cookies, and smooth flat whites that transport you straight to Australia. In other words, it’s Instagrammable as hell but with the delicious goods to back it up.

Greenery Everywhere

Bucharest is covered with parks — something that I didn’t expect in an Eastern European city. But Bucharest is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe.

I went to see Mogosoaia Palace on the outskirts of the city. It’s actually a pretty small palace, so don’t devote a whole day to it, but it’s a really nice place to stroll around and experience the greenery of the city.

May happened to be an excellent time to visit — I’ve never seen so many irises in bloom in my life!

Rooftop Bars

If you feel like drinking on a rooftop in Bucharest, you’re in luck: Pura Vida Sky Bar has excellent views in the heart of the Old Town. The cocktails are fabulous, too.

Yeah, you’ll have to walk up five flights of stairs, but trust me, it’s worth it.

The nightlife in Bucharest is pretty insane — Romanians like to party hard. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the bars catering to British stag dos and instead head up to Pura Vida for an Aperol spritz or some blue wine.

Want something crazier? Head to the Player Club to dance all night long with Romanians dressed to the nines.

Seeing Bucharest Through the Eyes of the Homeless

One activity in Bucharest that interested me the most was the Outcast Bucharest Tour from Urban Adventures, which is led by a guide who was once homeless in Bucharest.

Our guide Sergiu, dark and thin and in his late twenties, lived on the streets of Bucharest for years. He was an addict. He lost many loved ones to drugs. He did everything he could to survive. And eventually an NGO helped him climb out of homelessness and build a life for himself. Today he lives in an apartment and has a job.

A lot of poverty-focused tours, like slum tours and visits to impoverished villages, can venture into exploitative territory, but this one does everything the right way. It treats the homeless with dignity and respect, it’s not remotely voyeuristic, it creates jobs for the formerly homeless, and all net proceeds go to the Parada Foundation, a local NGO that gets children off the streets.

Sergiu’s story moved me deeply, and I’m so grateful that he’s getting his life together.

If you want to have an unforgettable experience in Bucharest, please go on this tour. You’ll never forget it.

The World’s Largest Collection of Irons

I love a few quirks in a city, and the best one I found in Bucharest was at the Museum of Romanian Records. They are home to the world’s largest collection of irons.

Yes. Irons.

I love crazy things like this — the weirder, the better. There are more irons there than you have ever seen in your life (well, I guess by being the world’s largest collection, that’s kind of obvious) — just when you think you’ve seen them all, they keep on going!


Get your mind out of the gutter. Those torpedo-shaped irons are for shaping collars and hats.

The Loveliest Chill-Out Spot in Town

On my final night in Bucharest, we had a going-away party at Podstel/Ceainaria 5, a combination hostel, tea house, and community meeting space. I had the most wonderful time here, and if you’re visiting Bucharest, you need to drop by.

I spent my time getting to know the owners and not only are they awesome people, but they were so smart in creating a hostel that ticks all the boxes. Not only did they optimize the (beautiful and modern) hostel itself, it was also important to them to have community.

So they have donation-based group dinners once a week. They have board game nights. Local musicians perform. There are yoga classes and all kinds of workshops. If you’re looking to meet people while traveling in Bucharest, I can’t imagine a better place to come than here.

In an age where hostels have gone from social gathering spots to places where people sit with their faces in their phones, it’s nice that Podstel is trying to bring back the community part of backpacking.

I think Podstel was my favorite place I discovered in Bucharest. So if you want to stay at a hostel, I encourage you to stay there. If you’re not into hostels, at least drop by for some tea (they have dozens of varieties) and a chance to hang out in that comfy outdoor room. Tell the guys that I say hi!

The Takeaway

I had such a nice time in Bucharest — an even better time than I was expecting.

I also feel like I didn’t see a fraction of what the city had to offer. Several of my friends arrived earlier and stayed later and got to take in a lot more — racecar driving, architecture photo hunts, communism tours, dance parties, dinners where a whole lamb was roasted on a spit.

A lot of people skip Bucharest in favor of other Romanian destinations, but now that I’ve experienced it, I hope that more people get the chance to explore Bucharest. If the rumblings are true, perhaps some of us will be back for an #ExperienceRomania trip next!

Essential Info: In Bucharest I stayed at the Radisson Blu. I absolutely loved this hotel, its design its luxurious touches, and the business areas. It’s also in a central location near the Old Town. If you’re looking for something on the luxury end but still surprisingly affordable, this is a great choice. Rates from 89 EUR ($100 USD). Just know that they put a hold of 89 EUR per night on your card until you check out — that’s the most I’ve ever had held by a hotel and it gave me a brief heart attack when I saw nearly $500 withdrawn on my bank statement!

You can find more hotels in Bucharest here.

Rates at Podstel start at 12 EUR ($14) per night. Thanks to Podstel for letting me use their photos of their property in this post.

The Outcast Bucharest Tour from Urban Adventures costs $47.38 per person.

Don’t visit Bucharest without travel insurance. Whether you get appendicitis and need to be hospitalized, or your phone gets stolen, or an injury means you need to cancel all or part of your trip, travel insurance will help you out. I use and recommend World Nomads as travel insurance for trips to Romania.

Many thanks to the #ExperienceBucharest team for hosting me in Bucharest. They covered my flights to Bucharest, accommodation, tours, and most meals and drinks. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Bucharest? What did you think?

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43 thoughts on “Bucharest is Fabulous and Fun”

  1. Romania is a place I will likely visit in the next few years. I have mostly been drawn to the castles and the countryside, but I never thought about skipping Bucharest – to be honest, I havent heard any horror stories about the city, even if it doesnt really boast major Europe’s “must” sights. Also, for the last few years I’ve been following this really nice travel blog by Vlad, who is based in Romania (I actually thing Bucharest), and his posts on the city (and country) make it look really interesting: http://effitimonholiday.com/visit-romania/

  2. Hi Kate! This is an unrelated comment, but I was wondering how (or if) you deal with loneliness and not having a structure to your days when working as a blogger? I am finishing up my Bachelor’s degree online and also have an “expat”/travel blog, and sometimes I go crazy having to spend so much time alone with my computer. I also struggle with sticking to a schedule, since I don’t have to be at school or an office at a certain time. Perhaps your advice on this topic could make for an interesting blog post? Thank you, and you are an inspiration for me!

    1. Hi Alise — probably the reason why I (and most bloggers) gravitated toward blogging in the first place is because I’m introverted and solitary by nature and don’t mind spending extended time on my own.

      Structuring your days best is something that I’m still struggling to do best — especially since I live in New York, have lots of friends who have open work schedules (and thus we socialize during the workday) and have a full schedule at night. I prefer to work in the afternoons and evenings; it’s when I get my spark. I prefer to batch my work rather than to hop around. I’m afraid I’m not the best person to talk to about that, though. I’m far from an expert.

      1. Thank you for your response Kate. I decided to go ahead and write a whole blog post called “Can You Be Extroverted and Be a Writer?” in order to try and answer this question ;).

        Anyhow, on a related note to your post, Bucharest has never been particularly high on my list of places to go. However, your depiction of it makes it look quite cool and underrated. That hostel in particular looks like a beautiful space!

  3. It looks like such an interesting city! It’s moving to see how the war affected the aesthetic long-term when you can tell there is a real desire for beauty. The Outcast Bucharest Tour sounds fascinating, and I’m loving the outdoor spaces at that hostel. And blue wine! I recently read an article about that craze coming to the U.S. but thought it looked and sounded kind of awful. What did you think?

  4. I am so happy to see an article like this! I loved Romania and enjoyed the couple nights I stayed in Bucharest so much. Did you know the reason it feels so much like Paris is because much of it was modeled after Paris! It was even called Little Paris at one point, before much of it was destroyed. One other thing I highly recommend in Bucharest is taking some sort of historical tour of the city by someone who lived there under Ceausescu’s leadership. I hired a driver to take me to Maramures and when we returned he took me on a tour of the capitol city, where he’s lived his entire life. I admit this is something I would have never sought out on my own, but hearing the history through someone that grew up in Communist Romania and then was at the protests that lead to the fall of Ceausescu was an excellent history lesson and also a very enjoyable few hours. I hope to return to Romania one day, and when I do I’ll stay in Bucharest for a couple days again. I’ll also make sure to check out some of the spots you mention!

    1. Yes! There are so many Little Parises and Paris of the Easts around the world (Budapest, Shanghai, etc.) but Bucharest is probably one of the closest links! That surprises me a lot. There are lots of communist tours around Bucharest if you’re interested in learning more.

  5. Oh my gosh, how did I not know that Bucharest was a Berlin/Paris/Budapest? Your photos make it look like EXACTLY the kind of place I’d like to be. I visited Transylvania about 10 years ago but didn’t go anywhere near Bucharest. Totally kicking myself now.

    But no use crying over spilled milk (and other cliche blah blahs) – let’s see how soon I can schedule Bucharest into my travels. Looks like May 2018 is a good month to aim for!

  6. Glad you liked it !!

    Looking forward to showing you around the country, Kate. LOTS more to discover, many types of ciorba, good wines, beautiful and serene countryside.

    Your Romanian Friend

    1. Of COURSE you had to mention the ciorba!! Next time I go back, you need to take me for all your favorite ciorbas in town. (Also, it keeps autocorrecting to cobra, which is hilarious.)

  7. I might sound a little daft asking this but whenever I’d first seen that this was a voluntary campaign, I’d assumed that you were also a volunteer in it, for whatever reason that might be. Obviously that isn’t the case but I was wondering how the whole thing is funded? Does the local tourism agency supply the cash or do the volunteers fundraise or do the participating businesses provide their services for free or what not? It seems like a really class idea but I’m not sure how it works in practice!
    Also, any other Romanian destinations you’ve loved and would recommend?

    1. This campaign was funded primarily through sponsorship by local businesses. Our flights were sponsored by KLM/Air France (I paid $60 and was unable to collect miles because it was such a discounted fare). The tours, food, and accommodation were sponsored as well.

      I actually haven’t traveled elsewhere in Romania, but that may soon be changing!

  8. Hey Kate, quit being a narcissistic professional nothing burger and get married and have children. Your window of opportunity is getting very small now since your almost 33, and crazy cat lady will be your inevitable fate. Tick tock tick tock….

    1. LOL, are you trying to insult me?! Oh, man. I usually delete attacks, but yours is so pathetic I’m going to keep it up so everyone sees how pathetic you are.

      Here’s a tip, Father Time — in order to insult effectively, one must be fast, specific, and accurate. You were none of those things.

      But good effort. Especially coming from someone who comes from that mid-Atlantic backwater you call home.

  9. Don’t be surprised by the parks! I’ve found that formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe are much more likely to have great parks and great public transportation– the benefits of socialist governments, I guess…

    1. Bucharest’s major parks (Cismigiu, Herastrau, Carol) predate communism. Some are almost 200 years old, before socialism was a thing. One of the most iconic buildings in Bucharest, the Athenaeum concert hall (a must see destination) was built mainly with private funds in the second half of the 19th century. Other famous buildings were also built with private funds – often using lotteries and raffles to raise money. I cannot speak for the transportation system because I don’t know its history well enough – although the rail network in Romania was largely kick started under the royal rule of the Hohenzollern family in the 1800s. It’s true that subsequent communist regimes invested a lot in the rail infrastructure as well, due to strategic reasons. Some staunchly capitalist countries (Singapore, UAE) also have great parks, and others (Switzerland) have a great transportation infrastructure, despite difficult terrain.

  10. What an interesting campaign. To find people so passionate about their city and just want to show it off. It’s so refreshing its got nothing to do with money.

    I bet it felt like you were truly seeing the real Bucharest, not just the good parts the tourist board want you to see.

    It looks like a great city and somewhere we would love to visit.

    Thanks for opening our eyes to another place to visit.

  11. Wow, so much has changed since I drove a van full of medicine for the children with AIDS at the Colentina Hospital in 1992. It was struggling then. I like the way you’ve covered the Parada Foundation, they do great work and help to give people back some integrity and self worth after spending years on the streets.

  12. I’m glad you liked Bucharest! It’s gotten such a weird wrap by people fleeing to the country, but I thought it was way cool. Sorry you had a bad experience in Chisenau. I liked it a lot, but I had a good driver from my hotel.

  13. I have some friends from Romania, they told me that back in the days that Bucharest was no go. Now everything is changing! I really want to go and explore! The city looks like a beautiful mix of everything and so green!

    Looks like you had a great time! Thank you for sharing this undiscovered city of Europe!

  14. Hey!
    Thanks for all the information! It will definitely be useful for when I make my way there next year. I do have a couple quick and personal questions. Is there a way to connect with you personally?

  15. Very good post! I haven’t been back to Bucharest since 2008. I still remember roaming around in the Palace of Parliament. Good memories!

  16. I’ll definitely be considering Bucharest now after reading this, sounds like a pretty cool place with lots to do and anywhere thats cheap is good by me!

  17. Hello Kate, I’m very glad to read that you enjoyed Bucharest, I’m actually from there and I love this city. I have lived in Timisoara, Arad and Drobeta before movinge here and each one has their own thing, but Bucharest is the most diversified and rich as in what it has to offer.
    I’m very happy that in the past couple of years people have looked with better eyes.
    Much love!

  18. Hi Kate, I’m glad you loved Bucharest too! I was there about 5 years ago for Christmas and stayed in the Cozyness Downtown Hostel – http://www.thecozyness.com/ It was LOVELY! I didn’t know anything about Romania when I went on the trip, but it is to date one of my favorite countries, maybe because it surprised me so much in wonderful ways.

  19. I think I treated Bucharest somewhere in the middle range of your experience and the get out as soon as possible experience. I planned on spending at least two days in the city but got sick in Brasov and only ended up arriving with one day to visit. I made the most of it and really enjoyed the city- especially the cafe culture and the traditional restaurants. They were super nice!

  20. I am glad you decided to go back to Bucharest. Great read! It’s heart-warming to hear what they do for the homeless. They are such caring people.

    You definitely made it around a lot. How long were you there for?

  21. Bucharest is an amazing city with an amazing nightlife – especially in the Old Town area. Also, it’s packed with festivals for everybody such as CreativeFest, GreenSounds Festival and many of them are free of charge. Also, in the summer many parks have free outdoors cinemas. It’s a must see city for every avid traveller.

  22. Hi there Kate,
    I’ve discovered your blog recently while studying a little travellers’ perception of Bucharest in order to create a tour that responds best to their expectations. Thank you again for the comprehensive article above and for encouraging people to give Bucharest a try. It is a city full of surprises and very worthwhile.
    P.S. When I first landed on your blog, the photos did not download, I had to refresh the page a few times to be able to see them.

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