Enjoying Bucharest, the City That Never Rests

In the eyes of travelers, there are many words that can easily describe Bucharest and “beautiful” is probably not one of them.

In fact, people who have traveled to Romania normally advice others to spend as little time in Bucharest and to instead focus on the Transylvanian region.

Are they wrong? Is Bucharest worth visiting?

The Old Town of Bucharest, Romania

The Old Town of Bucharest, Romania

After spending nearly two weeks in the Romanian capital, I have learned that one must not be very quick to judge a book by its cover since behind the ugliness of its grey communist era buildings, Bucharest has a special charm that has somehow captivated me.

I give you Bucharest, the city that never rests. Enjoy the following 12 photos that will make you visit Bucharest, my friends!

Bucharest, a misunderstood city in Eastern Europe

Bucharest, a misunderstood city in Eastern Europe

Things you should know about Bucharest, Romania

Speaking about Romania without addressing the gypsies is impossible so it’s better to get on with it right away. Yes, Romania has a significative gypsy population (620,000) but not all of Romanians are gypsies and not all of the world’s gypsies come from Romania (and not all gypsies are pickpockets but I hope you already knew that one!).

One of the main misconceptions of people that have never been to Romania is for them to wrongly think that Roma (the political correct term of the gypsies) is synonym with Romanian when the two have absolutely no relation whatsoever.

Travel and empathy

Travel and empathy. Bucharest, Romania.

The Roma people originated in northwest India (today known as the region of Rajasthan) and migrated to Europe centuries ago. They soon spread all around the continent and different sub-groups, each with their own traditions, religious beliefs and languages.

Today, the word gypsy has been used to describe nomadic travelers with an adventurous soul (have you heard Shakira’s song Gypsy ?) at the same time that it is considered derogatory in certain specific social contexts (read more about it here). In Romanian society, the word gypsy has no negative connotations and it is used by the Roma people to describe themselves (such as Sibiu’s self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies).

Spring at Bucharest, Romania

Spring at Bucharest, Romania

Other than the gypsies, the second and probably most concerning fear is the image that outsiders have of Romania as a lawless and chaotic place where crime awaits in every corner thanks to the poverty created during the Communist era.

Truth to be told? Romania is safer than most Western European countries I’ve traveled to and its capital Bucharest is a city where, despite the wealth disparity between its richest and its poorest, you can always find a bright future in the eyes of its young inhabitants who are fighting each day to improve the way their country works.

The book reading culture of Bucharest

The book reading culture of Bucharest

Overcoming the terrors of a communist regime is not an easy task and it’s an ongoing effort that will no doubt take many more generations but it makes me glad to see that the people of Romania understand that their best weapon against ignorance and fear is education and that’s why you can find books being sold everywhere in Bucharest.

Yes, even at vending machines inside the metro! How cool is that?

The view from the Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel

The view from the Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel

Finding the hidden beauty of Bucharest, the city that never rests

This April I was invited to visit Romania as a part of #EnjoyBucharest, a travel conference organized by Eventur, an agency created by a couple of young Romanians who have the goal to “improve how the world sees Romania as a nation and to give hope back to its inhabitants”. Here’s a very inspiring article by one of them.

It was thanks to this group of enthusiastic young Romanians that I was encouraged to stay in Bucharest more than just a couple of days. This in turn, allowed me to gather a deep personal connection with the city and to fully appreciate the vibe of Bucharest.

The unique architecture of Bucharest Old Town

The unique architecture of Bucharest Old Town

And of course, who can forget the parties that take place every day in the Historical Old Town of the city? Bucharest is a city for young people and it truly shows every single day in its many pedestrian streets where Romanians go out to drink and eat in the company of their friends and loved ones at all hours.

To enjoy Bucharest is to enjoy a vibrant city that, simply put, never rests.

Orthodox Easter at Bucharest, Romania

Orthodox Easter at Bucharest, Romania

So…is Bucharest worth visiting? Yes, I believe it is but don’t get me wrong: Bucharest is by no means a pretty city in the conventional sense of the word.

If you ask me, Bucharest is more like an awkward teenager who is stuck between childhood and adulthood and it is not uncommon to find beautiful French-style buildings right next to grey ugly communist blocks of cement.

In the end, trust me when I say that you don’t need to look far to observe the hidden beauty of Bucharest since you can find said beauty everywhere you go….

You just need to open your eyes and start to look for it, my dear readers.

The Religious architectrue of Bucharest, Romania

The Religious architecture of Bucharest, Romania

Things you should know before traveling to Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest is a really big city divided in 6 sectors. Sector 3 is the Historical Old Town and is where all the action takes place.

Places of interest in Bucharest include the Historical Old Town, the Parliament Building (biggest building in all of Europe), the ruins of the Palace of Vlad the Impaler (aka Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula), University Square with its many book salesmen and the Cișmigiu Gardens where I encountered the Orthodox Easter Bunny.

Ain’t he a cute one?

The Orthodox Easter Bunny

The Orthodox Easter Bunny

The capital of Romania has many low-budget air connections to all of Europe and parts of the Middle East via Wizz Air and Blue Air.

If you’re traveling by land, you can find international rail connections to Belgrade via Timisoara and to Sofia via Veliko Tarnovo.

When it comes to traveling within Romania, you can find cheap trains to Brasov (2 hours and a half) from where you can start your Transylvanian journey to the land of Vampires and Saxons (read all about Transylvania here).

PS. While you are traveling in Bucharest, online services from CloudDesktopOnline.com and CloudAppsPortal.com can help you work on your favorite mobile device, if you have to. Isn’t that handy?

Sunset in the Old Town of Bucharest, Romania

Sunset in the Old Town of Bucharest, Romania

Where to stay in Bucharest, Romania

The best accommodation of Bucharest can be found in the pedestrian area of the Old Town (or close to it). Here’s a list of my recommendations for all types of budgets:

If you’re looking for budget hostels and guesthouses I recommend you the Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel and the Pura Vida Sky Bar & Hostel. For luxury and boutique hotels my best choices are The Christina Hotel and the Grand Boutique Hotel.

You can make a booking for this and more properties via our Booking.com Affiliate Link of Wonders!

Same price for you and a small pocket money commission for this website of yours.

Sweet deal, uh?

Kitchs Sculptures in Bucharest, Romania

Kitchs Sculptures in Bucharest, Romania

I hope you have enjoyed this travel guide to Bucharest’s top attractions. Don’t forget to subscribe in order to get more awesome updates and tips straight to your e-mail!

Have you ever been to Bucharest? Would you like to? What were your pre-conceptions about Romania? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think! Until next time, my friends!

Romania's capital, Bucharest, is full of fun things to do! Tips on favorite restaurants, best architecture, photography spots in the Old Town, nightlife & more via @journeywonders

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55 Responses

  1. Alin Popescu

    Raphael, actually there are only 6 sectors in Bucharest and Old City Center is not in Sector 1 ;)

  2. Claudia

    Did you actually use my book as a source to write the section on the Roma in this post? Hehehehe.

  3. Jennifer

    Great information about an interesting place. I didn’t know much about the history of gypsies either. I’ll save this article in case I decide to visit myself.

  4. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru

    We regretted we didn’t have more time to fully explore the city. Arrival at Gara de Nord train station was a little disconcerting after an overnight train from Budapest. The energy in Bucharest is interesting with lots of construction. Beautiful Belle Epoch buildings.

  5. Brenda

    Romania as a whole in on our list of travels. It’s so great that a group of young people are trying to revive their city. Bucharest looks like a city we would enjoy.

  6. Mihai

    Thanks for your good review of Bucharest.

    PS: i love this phrase:

    “you can always find a bright future in the eyes of its young inhabitants who are fighting each day to improve the way their country works.”

  7. RaW | Ramble and Wander

    Bucharest & Romania in general are definitely on my list. A friend is heading there soon too after following my recommendation (although I myself haven’t been there, heh heh!)

  8. Saana / Always Abroad

    I’m glad to have found something positive to read about Romania (as harsh as it sounds)! The fist thought that cross my mind when thinking about this country is the agony of the stray dogs on the streets. Thousands and thousands are rescued from the streets yearly and hundreds brought here to Finland for heartfelt families to adopt them. Romania is also currently preparing a law according to which stray dogs would gain a status as “wild animals”, which would enable shooting and culling them on the streets in the bright daylight (not that this wasn’t happening already, but this is when the party would really get started). The poverty in general is another thing, and I saw a horrible documentary about the underground drug addict culture in Romania, where people are literally living in cramped underground tunnels under the streets of Bucharest. In another Tv show, I saw this British millionaire buy a village in Romania, just because he could. The whole village! Haha. It is a shame that the country is such a mess, I’m sure it would have the potential to be so much more. The treatment of animals, however, is just something that takes the country definitely off my travel list :(

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I’m not sure about the wild animals since I didn’t encounter any in Bucharest nor in the Transylvanian region (not even vampires!). Maybe it’s a thing of the past now?

  9. Radu

    As a Romanian currently living in Bucharest, who has had the “pleasure” of working in the city centre for a couple of years, I can tell you that Bucharest is one of the worse cities in Romania.

    On the plus side, there’s the food, women(most tourists are business and just plain sex tourists), and night clubs.

    On the negative, its chaotic architecture, dirty streets, beggars, few green areas (except the North part) should be enough for anyone to think really, really hard about staying here for more than 1 day.

    People say it’s just a transit towards Transilvania, and they’re right. Until the airport in Brasov finishes, anyway.

    Please avoid! Also, if gipsies catch you speaking in foreign languages or if you just don’t look Romanian, they will try to sell you illegal stuff, or even steal from you.

    • Irina

      First of all, my appreciation goes to the author who took the time to review our awesome capital city :) in a good light, too :D

      Secondly, to reply to the comment above (and to everyone reading it)
      It seems to me that romanians-who-are-not-from-Bucharest have this strange hate on this city that, in my opinion, goes beyond reason. If that wasn’t enough, they try to convince others not to visit it! :)) Geez!
      It says a lot either about yourself, either about how you view foreigners if for the plus side you mention only the ‘food’, ‘women’ and ‘night clubs’… Yo, culture, ever heard of it? There’s a lot of it in Bucharest. And also there are a lot of nice places, big parks, the Village museum, the Mogoşoaia Palace which is absolutely awesome (that is not in Buc., but near), museums, and the architecture is actually very interesting, and besides the stunning pre-communist era buildings, houses and little mansions (if I may call them that), from what I’ve seen, foreigners actually appreciate the (crappy :D ) communist-era buildings too, as it is novelty for many of them, and they are pretty used to ‘nice’ and neat, homogenous, organised cities, with pretty buildings etc… Bucharest has a charm of its own, in all of its chaos, with all of its eclectic stuff going on.
      Aside from that, there are also a lot of reaaaaally interesting cultural events , concerts, exhibitions, theatre, multimedia stuff, all kinds of workshops, interactive and creative events and whatnot.
      But indeed, a lot of people only care about food and partying, so at least there’s something for them too :)) And a lot of other people only ‘browse’ through a city and take into consideration only a few, surface, aspects, like how ‘nice’ it looks, how clean it is (which is indeed an important aspect, I am aware), how nice the people are (and a lot of foreigners say that people are very nice, especially ”way nicer and friendlier than they expected / than others told them to expect”).
      Does it have negative aspects? Of course, especially since it’s the capital city and they tend to be more messy, also because things in this country need to develop… a lot… for the better. But are those reasons enough to avoid it? I think certainly not. :)
      In the end I want to add that every place has its negative and postive aspects, and it’s always better to see for yourself, because certain people tend to oversee one of those aspects, and everyone sees things differently. Some people happen to meet worse people and situations than others, and they almost seem to attract mostly one type.
      So, people, inform yourself from different sources and different people :)

      • Giovanni

        First of all, nice article Raphael! Good to see you enjoyed Bucharest, but still honest enough to tell the truth about the place.

        I had to visit Bucharest several times a year. My girlfriend is from Bucharest :) . Luckily we only visit Bucharest once a year since we started our ‘digital nomad lifestyle’. I’m from Western Europe, love Prague and enjoy Budapest. But Bucharest is by far the ugliest capitals I ever visited (over 80 countries on my name).

        And I’m not the only one… Bucharest was voted as the ugliest capital in Europe in 2011.

        I do agree with safety. It’s a very safe city (although it starts to change a bit, but sadly that seems to be the trend everywhere). Quality of clubs (low quality clubs, lots of working girls…), bars (low quality interiors, average service) and restaurants (low quality, Romanians do not have their own cuisine: Sarmale = turkish, Borscht = Ukraine,… 0 Michelin start restaurants,…), is however something else. Architectural beauty of the city; you do have some nice buildings (but no complete areas…) and maintenance levels are low. The same counts for the parks. Shopping? Except if you are into cheap, forget finding decent brands. Victoriei Street is a joke.

        Gosh, that’s a lot of negativity in one reply :) – thing is that there are other nice cities to visit in Romania. And I would recommend anyone to leave Bucharest for what it is after 1,2 days in the city and visit Sibiu, the Transylvania area or sighisoara for example. Google it. you’ll love it. But to come to Europe and visit Bucharest, nah. Never.

      • Shadi

        I am planning to go to Bucharest (and other cities) for 4 days cities after 2 weeks.
        Reading all these conflicting reviwewing, I am willing now to go more.
        Travel to me is not only sitting in fancy restaurants, partying till morning, or seeing beautiful buildings…
        It is more like exploring a new culture, place, country, city, people, cuisine. Even seeing poverty should not be a problem for travelers. Anyway, the background I came from is not rich or “classy”. It is very modest, and proud of it.
        I had been before to very poor countries (like Nepal, Kathmandu) where the pollution, traffic, cleaness was an issue, but their people is so kind and they have an amazing rich history.

        I recommend that you guys go ahead and visit all possible places regadless of what you read from the internet.
        Regards :)

  10. Victoria@ The British Berliner

    ‘Love this post Rapheal.

    I haven’t been to Romania. Yet! But hoping to do so either this Autumn or in 2016 as I’m an extreme fan of Eastern Europe LOL! The pre-conceptions of Romania are varied as it’s quite a poor country, but the pudding is in the eating and a visit is definitely worth doing.

  11. Sky

    It seems you really liked your trip to Bucharest.:) Next time, you should also visit the surroundings: Mogosoaia Palace, Snagov monastery (situated near Snagov lake), you’ll get the “old Bucharest” vibe.

  12. Dragos

    Just wanted to say thank you for your nice words and for making the clear distinction between the Romanians and the Roma Gypsies.
    A Romanian

  13. Jack Palmer

    I was really glad to learn that, “Romania is safer than most Western European countries.” My wife and I love to travel and we’ve heard that Bucharest is a good travel destination. I’ve only been out of the US a couple of times, would you suggest going there even if we haven’t done much international traveling? We are trying to plan a trip for the summer. Thanks for the read!

  14. Peter

    Could You tell me the best way to get safe into the city centre?

  15. Peter

    Oups pardon, I left out: from Bucharest Airport (OTP)?

  16. jay Prier

    I had the pleasure of spending 6 months at a time in Bucharest for 10 years . I did spend 1 (only 1) winter there……I like summer and Constansa (sic ?) the best . I had a delightful lady be my guide and finder of housing . Luckly After 3 years she was able to find me an apartment on the same floor and building she lived in , Romanians are very family orientated and ready to celebrate birthdays . weddings and just about any other occasion with eating,.dancing and drinking . A very friendly people . My health and finances will force me to never go back to my” little family” but we still keep in touch .

  17. Anthony

    Hi my name is Anthony recently moved to Romania, currently living in Bucharest, recently started blogging, nice article by the way. So how do you become a good blogger/travel writer, any tips ya can give me to grow followers, you seem to have it together, so can ya hook a brother up, any feed back is good feed back

  18. Andrew

    I visited Bucharest during my first visit to Romania.

    The good:
    A green city. Numerous parks throughout the city.
    Top notch arts (music, theater, museums)
    Old section is a nice place to visit. The city is great for walking.
    I actually had someone come over and ask me (in wonderfully accented Engish) if she could help me. I was looking confused at my map.
    A wonderful collection of orthodox churches. One on almost every corner.

    It’s really huge if you’re not used to large cities.
    Off of the main boulevards there are many broken windows, graffiti and young men drinking and yelling at you.
    A lot of begging (though not by Roma it seemed)
    Traffic! Getting out of downtown on a tour took us over an hour.
    It is far south in the country and not very close to many other interesting cities. Brasov is close but three hours away by train.

    So go for music and museums but I would not plan too much time in the city unless you really plan on the arts. Take the train to Brasov and around the mountains to the other medieval towns in the center of the country.

    I’ve visited Romania twice (just last year) and I miss it already. :-(

  19. Costy

    Excellent post, thank you very much for promoting our country!

    Don’t be afraid to come, Romania is full of hospitality, peaceful and great food.

    We are here to help you with anything !

  20. Todo

    Forget Bucharest, please. It is awful, it truly is.
    If you visit Transylvania as well you will undoubtly agree.
    Not a surprise as Transylvania had nothing to do with Romania so everything considered valuable there differs from what you can find in Bucharest.

  21. Henry Jaxto

    So I think you receive nice money to write this article, but this is how its working everywhere. The problem is ,ou trying to painting the sky to green, and that’s impossible. There are many reason, why people visiting a city: average tourists to see attractions, nice, unique buildings, wonderful panoramas. Of course these cities and places well known around Europe (we just can talk about Europe now), so impossible to “discover” anything new. Other tourists want just to be in a party, other once to find cheap sex partners, so for them didn’t matter how beautiful or ugly is a city.
    Bucharest cant jump over its shadow, it have big limitations. The most attractive and promoted building is a horrific memory of an i human dictatorship (Parlament), built 30 years ago (:lol:) The oldest buildings in Bucharest around 100-120 years olds (except few church). The city structure not existing, just a very chaotic, unaesthetic mass of different style, age, condition buildings which cancelling each others. The streets aren’t looks friendly except a very small pedestrian area and the big parks, but the quality of these places way ahead of the average and expected european level. This mean, there is no reason – except different personal ambitions – to anybody visit Bucharest. Bucharest never will be “showing to my friends how fantastic place I was” city, but just an “okay, I was there”. In our age social media is a very sharp and immediate mirror from the things: I recomend you check the Vlogs about Bucharest, how “not well-paid” witnesses looking on this place, what kind of experiences they have. It’s countless clear feedbacks, that Bucharest is very far behind other places in the country, especially the Transylvanian saxon towns, like Brasov or Sibiu. These cities absolutely fits with the general european city-structures, and looks more familiar for the visitors, as Bucharest.

  22. Jacqueline

    I just had a few days holiday in Bucharest with my partner and another couple. We had a really great time. We found the city very interesting and enjoyed the many restaurants offerred in the city..There is a lot to like about Bucharest..I have also had experience of the darker side to this city..Every evening on our return to our Hotel we would find ourselves being approached by the gypsies begging for money with their children..we didnt mind this and happily gave them cash and they left..unfortunately on our last night we were approached by a guy who spoke very good English and was very friendly and started to walk along with us which we didnt mind..after a little while he concentrated on our partners, the men and told them he had Aids and also his daughter..he became quite aggressive verbally after realising he wasnt getting any money from us..he was quite intimidating and we decided to find refuge in the next available bar in the hope he would move on. Some local chaps must have recognised him and said something to him which he reacted to immediately and went after them so I was very relieved to have him gone..but on my return home I have felt really upset by what happened and on further reading, discovered their is less and less provision for the Aids patients as costs have become too high, leaving these poor and very desperate people unable to get their treatment..what is really upsetting is that the current government are happy to keep ploughing money into the huge parliment building that only uses 15% of the building rather than taking care of their weak and sick who are desperate..it has left me with a very sad heart…Further reading has shown me there is a very dark side to this city with the poorest people living in the sewers and such places under the city..this needs to become a priority as women, children and men who are sick with disease like Aids and many are also said to be drug addicts to forget their misery are being left to survive with no help from their government..I cant stop thinking about our experiences in Bucharest…human beings are being neglected whilst ridiculous money seems to be ploughed into a government building that isnt even used..It makes me feel very disturbed to think about the poor people struggling to survive in that city when the money tourists plough into that city could be used to help the poor..Im so upset to think of all those people suffering and dying and no one cares…I wont be back there.

  23. Claudiu

    We love Bucharest and we know that for a tourist it could be either a curse or a blessing. Hopefully – with our help too – the team from http://thingstodoinbucharest.ro – , those who want to travel here will find your trip leaning towards a wonderful experience.

  24. Marius | Romanian Friend

    came across this by accident – great post but I can tell you straight up that a lot has changed in Bucharest in the last 2 years. This city – like most others in the country – are up and coming because of the young generation full of initiative, Western values and good spirits. Would be curious to see what you think when visiting a 2nd time. And the countryside – ever so beautiful. Cheers – a Romanian Friend

  25. Alex

    I couldn’t help thanking you for the way you described our country. I am romanian and I’m proud to see other people notice what a beautiful country we have and actually seeing the good not just the bad.

  26. Greek

    Sorry folks greek born 84 bucharest u dislike rumanian females cities and the rumanian language ! I wanna feel better for the rest of my life outside Europe !