There are hundreds of things to do in Bucharest, and we almost missed every one of them.
In order to make the most of our visit to Romania, Adam and I booked the earliest flight we could find from Sofia, Bulgaria to Bucharest, Romania. We awoke early and arrived at the airport just after 7:00 AM for a 9:50 AM flight. Check in opened late, but we were at the front of a long line of fellow travelers, and it took just a few moments before our luggage was on its way to the plane and the two of us, boarding passes in hand, were off to border control and our gate. With passports stamped and an hour to go before our flight would board, we wandered into an airport lounge for a snack and to relax in chairs more comfortable than those at the gate. Glancing through my inbox on my phone, one subject line caught my eye: Your Flight May Be Cancelled. I showed the email to Adam.
“May is the operative word,” I said. “Our flight may be cancelled, but it may not be cancelled.” Adam shrugged, taking another bite of a pizza bagel he procured from under a heat lamp near the coffee.
“We just checked in 15 minutes ago,” he pointed out. “They wouldn’t have given us boarding passes for a cancelled flight.” Then he looked up at the digital signboard, squinting at the tiny lettering. “Never mind,” he said as he motioned to it. “Bright red letters. That says cancelled.”
And so began a frustrating, dizzying dash through the terminal as we fruitlessly tried to find someone from the airline who could give us a definitive status update. Ultimately, after joining up with a few others from the flight and determining we really weren’t leaving Sofia as expected, we passed through immigration a second time and found an airline staff member who nonchalantly suggested we take our luggage and return for a “later” flight. The later flight ended up being an evening flight; we landed in Bucharest more than 10 hours later than expected. By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were exhausted and dismayed that we hadn’t experienced any of the things to do in Bucharest on our list for the day.
Fortunately, we found redemption on the final day of our vacation, a day we left unscheduled in our planning because I expected there would be so many things to do in Bucharest that we would want a bonus day to explore. I was right about that: Bucharest is a stunning city both within the touristy old town and beyond it. If your travels take you through Romania’s capital, here are ten things to do in Bucharest.
Palace of the ParliamentOur home near Washington, DC is close to the largest government building in the world—the Pentagon. Our visit to Bucharest took us to the second largest government building on the planet: the Palace of the Parliament. Former Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu ordered the construction of the oversized building, which took 13 years to complete and was finally finished in 1997. It took more than 700 architects and countless workers to build the monstrous structure, which eventually earned the distinction of being the world’s heaviest building. With just under four million square feet of space, the building’s sprawling footprint commands attention. The outside is an impressive combination of neoclassic and totalitarian styles. Inside, only 400 of the more than 1,100 rooms are finished.
Today, the Palace of the Parliament hosts both houses of Romanian parliament as well as several museums and an international conference space. Regular tours are offered to visitors who want a guided tour of the building’s interior, but our visit coincided with the 2019 Wine and Street Food Festival that converted quite a bit of the building into a fantastic display of some of the country’s best delicacies. For just 35 leu, or 8 USD, we bought tickets that granted us access to dozens of food trucks parked along the massive courtyard and unlimited tastings from just as many wineries. Having happily attended similar festivals around the world, with our favorite being the Virginia Wine Festival that highlights Virginia wine, we had a terrific, very local experience that we would never have known about if not for one of our tour guides who mentioned he would be pouring wine at one of the booths that night. The Palace of the Parliament hosts many events throughout the year, so consider researching what local opportunities you might be able to experience when you are in town. Of all the things to do in Bucharest, sipping Romanian wine inside of the Palace of the Parliament quickly became one of our favorite memories!
King Michael I ParkAlthough we love a great city experience, it’s always nice to find a beautiful park and some green space in the midst of the hustle and bustle that usually accompany metropolitan destinations. When looking for things to do in Bucharest, King Michael I Park fits the bill: it’s a huge park surrounding Lake Herăstrău with plenty to see and do.
Divided into two distinct zones, a mostly untouched rural zone and a more developed recreational zone, King Michael I Park is the most recent iteration in centuries of activities that have occurred along the lake. Evidence of people enjoying the region can be traced back to the Paleolithic period more than three million years ago. Today, in addition to destinations like the National Village Museum, it’s common to see people walking and jogging along the park’s pathways as well as enjoying the chance to go boating or take in a concert at the large pavilion by the lake. When in Bucharest, it’s easy to find out what kinds of events the park is hosting during your vacation; enjoy the opportunity to experience culture and nightlife in a beautiful setting!
Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
Highly recommended by a friend we met in Antarctica, we spent a couple of hours exploring the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum during our visit to Bucharest.An outdoor museum set in the middle of a large park, the National Village Museum provides an impressive collection of historic houses sourced from the Romanian countryside, relocated to Bucharest, and preserved so locals and tourists can enjoy them not far from the modern city. With close to 300 houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of them boast period furnishings that reflect the types of furniture and décor that would have been commonly found in similar homes decades or even centuries ago.
We spent a couple of hours walking along the paths dotted by the houses. We were fortunate that our visit took place under bright, sunny skies, and our leisurely pace allowed us to see quite a few of the homes. Because the entrance fee is nominal (just a few USD) it’s a worthwhile item to add to your Bucharest itinerary whether you have 20 minutes or a few hours. If your trip to Romania won’t include excursions outside of the city, plan on a longer visit to the National Village Museum to get some nice exposure to the history and traditions found in other parts of the country. No matter how much time you have, the museum is certainly one of the things to do in Bucharest that you won’t want to miss.
More Information: Muzeul-Satului.ro
Arcul de TriumfWhen traveling, it can be common to encounter duplicates of some of the globe’s most iconic monuments. Some artifacts are borrowed, such as Cleopatra’s Needle in London (which was taken from its original home in Egypt) or the Moai that resides in London’s British Museum, which crossed oceans when it departed Easter Island. Some, though, are clearly remakes of an original. It seems Paris may be the city that lends the most monuments to other cityscapes; we’ve seen the Eiffel Tower as part of the skyline in Las Vegas, and the Tokyo Tower in Japan bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower as well.
In Bucharest, the Arcul de Triumf is unquestionably designed after the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Constructed in 1935, the arc replaced a hastily built arc designed and developed as part of Romania’s declaration of independence in 1878. Today, you can see the Arcul de Triumf where it sits close to King Michael I Park, not far from the National Village Museum. While it’s an impressive site to visit in Bucharest, it’s especially interesting to see if you, like us, enjoy seeing duplicates of your favorite sites from around the world when you travel. It can be a nice reminder of happy travel memories in the midst of a different vacation!
Historic Churches in Bucharest
It seemed like every corner we turned was punctuated with a beautiful church, and when you are thinking of things to do in Bucharest you may want to prioritize a visit to one or two of the city’s most historic places of worship.
► Stavropoleos MonasteryOne of the most notable churches in Bucharest is Stavropoleos Monastery, which is almost 300 years old and boasts more than 8,000 books in its library. Our visit coincided with a scheduled service that shortened our visit (we didn’t want to be disruptive, so we didn’t stay inside for long!), but the architecture is stunning and the deep, richly colored frescoes were befitting such a beautiful building.
► Zlatari Church
We ran into a similar challenge at the Zlătari Church, where another scheduled service filled the church and made a leisurely look around impossible. Zlătari Church is famous for housing a relic of St. Cyprian the Mage: his preserved arm, which is believed to lift curses when touched. As the story goes, Cyprian was a sorcerer who attempted to grant a request from a young man to force a woman to fall in love with him. The woman used the power of prayer to stave off the spell, and Cyprian—devastated by his failure—gave up sorcery and embraced religion instead. The church that bears his name, close to Bucharest’s Old Town, is a lovely domed building where it is possible to see his arm to this day.
► St. George’s Church
We especially loved the beautiful St. George’s Church, built in 1705 and a survivor of numerous renovations and Communist attempts to destroy places of worship throughout the city. During our visit, as we admired the colorful frescoes on the ceiling, we were surprised to see a bride, groom, and dozens of wedding guests silently filing into the church behind us. Unbeknownst to us when we entered the church, a wedding was scheduled to take place within the church. The wedding party seemed unbothered by our presence, and we stood in the corner for a few moments before slipping out the front door as the ceremony began in earnest. It was a fun surprise for us—don’t be surprised to see a wedding or two if visiting the city’s churches is on your list of things to do in Bucharest!
Obor MarketPiata Obor, or Obor Market, is a must-visit stop for delicious, fresh local food in Bucharest. We stopped in as part of a walking tour of the city; located away from the more tourist-focused Old Town, it’s not a market we would have noticed or explored without local guidance. Inside, we were amazed by the sea of fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables in huge stacks throughout the enormous space. Our tour guide went to work selecting lots of items to try, and by the time we sat down for a feast of produce, meat, and cheese we delighted in how clean and fresh the produce tasted. The market has operated for more than 300 years, and when it opens each morning at 7:00 AM it proves its popularity and utility for Bucharest’s citizens to buy, sell, and connect.
It’s easy to get lost in the lower level, where we marveled at the juicy red tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and sweet cherries, but don’t miss the second level’s display of meat and cheese from local farms. Some vendors will cut a small sample of cheese for you to try, which is a good idea since many cheeses look alike but don’t taste the same. I enjoyed the saltiness of a feta-like white cheese that most in our small group didn’t enjoy as much, but other varieties cut back on the brininess for a more mellow taste. There are also plenty of bakeries selling sweets and local honey if you’re hoping for some dessert as part of your shopping experience.
Many locals will purchase items within Obor Market and take them outside to a small picnic area; a nearby stall sells mici, just like the cevapi we discovered in Montenegro and sought out in Skopje and Sofia, and paired with mustard, bread, and fresh veggies and cheese from the market it’s an incredibly filling and delicious meal. Washed down with a cold, local beer, it was one of the best meals we have ever enjoyed. Finding great restaurants will certainly be on your list of things to do in Bucharest, but don’t miss the chance to build your own meal with local ingredients—you may find it’s a memorable experience, as we did!
Dianei 4Like so many buildings in Bucharest, the small house at Dianei 4 has a history interwoven with the rise and fall of Communism in the city. Today, Dianei 4 is a coffee shop and restaurant that sells a nice variety of snacks and beverages, but for years the house was the property of the State—specifically the Foreign Intelligence Service. There are many stories of the horrors people experienced within the house during those years, and because Communism was alive and well in Bucharest just a short time ago those memories are still real for many families in the area.
Dianei 4 strives to add a new, more pleasant chapter to the building’s complicated story. The building’s interior shows every bit of the difficult history the walls can tell; although we had drinks in the courtyard, we spent a few moments in the house looking at the chipping paint and Communist-era bar. While it’s a nice stop just to relax over a round of drinks and a meal, Dianei 4 is a deserving destination when thinking of things to do in Bucharest. To think of the happy memories now created there that mix with the haunting memories of a different time is a reminder of how history is constantly shaping our world—and our travels.
More Information: TripAdvisor.com
Curtea VecheRomania is almost synonymous with the region of Transylvania and, by extension, the story of Dracula. The fictional Dracula is based on Vlad III Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, who ruled the region of Wallachia three separate times during his life. Dracula’s summer home sat on the banks of the Dimbovita River in what became known as the Old Princely Court, and while much of the building sits in ruins there is one interesting artifact worth seeking out: a bust of Dracula himself.
The site is currently in the middle of a massive renovation that will better preserve and display the historical ruins, which means it is impossible to walk into the courtyard for a good view of the Dracula statue. Still, if you walk halfway down the street along the construction site, there is a hole in the fencing just big enough to see Vlad staring out toward the river. You won’t need more than a few moments to look in and see the bust, but it’s worth putting on your list of things to do in Bucharest—especially if you spend a day at Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, or are as fascinated by the stories and legends that his name and image promote to this day.
Old Town Bucharest
It’s known as one of the more touristy areas of the city, but Old Town Bucharest deserves a spot on your vacation itinerary. Old Town is a compilation of historic buildings, modern restaurants, and artisan shops that make it a nice destination for a night out or a casual afternoon, especially nice if you have a limited amount of time to explore the city. In addition to the Princely Court, where Vlad the Impaler once summered, there is plenty of Ottoman and Wallachian-inspired architecture to make you feel like you have stepped back in time. Still, many of the buildings that once lined the streets were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1847, making much of the new construction you’ll see a bit less steeped in ancient history.
Bucharest Walking ToursIt’s rare for us to travel anywhere without a tour or two as part of our itinerary; spending a few hours with a local guide is one of the best ways to experience a new place. During our visit to Bucharest we spent more than half a day with Cristina from Urban Adventures, whose Bohemian Bucharest: Markets & Mahallas tour connected us to some of the things to do in Bucharest that we would never have explored on our own (especially Obor Market and Dianei 4!). Our small group clicked easily as we navigated the streets and trams that shuttled us to tasty bites and historical lessons.
One of the things that quickly struck us about Romania—and about all of the Balkan countries we have visited—is how alive their history is. Communism left Bucharest just a few decades ago, and many people vividly remember what life was like during and after its fall. A city still navigating its identity is best explored with an expert, a local who can bring color to the pages of history through stories and anecdotes of the people who are still living it. That’s what we loved about our Urban Adventures tour and about Cristina especially, who didn’t shy away from the tough tales but told them with the kind of authenticity and hopefulness that makes them stick with you. We appreciated the insights, the candor, and especially the carefully curated list of things to do in Bucharest that we loved exploring.
If you are tight on time, interested in history, and excited about sampling some local flavors, Urban Adventures tours may be just as great a choice for you as they have been for us (we have taken similar tours around the world from Kuala Lumpur to Venice to La Paz—and we have enjoyed each of them!).
More Information: UrbanAdventures.com
How to Get Around Bucharest
Our short visit to Bucharest was made easier by the city’s simple to navigate public transportation system, which is inexpensive and convenient to many locations.We found the metro, or the Metroul București, to be the most convenient option for us. Running regularly and with trains just 5-10 minutes apart, the metro is clean and each trip costs just more than 1 USD (a day pass is an even better deal at 8 leu, or just under 2 USD. Most destinations that will be on your list of things to do in Bucharest will be close to a metro station, and they are well-marked and easy to find when exploring the city.
The above-ground tram network is also worth riding; with more than 200 miles of tracks within the city it is often even more convenient to find a tram stop, and with rides starting at just 40 cents it’s an incredibly inexpensive option to taxis. Before boarding a tram, be sure to have an Activ or Multiplu card in your possession; they cannot be purchased on the tram, but there are many kiosks that sell them and can help you to purchase additional trips.
When in doubt, walking is also an excellent way to see the city—and our preferred method of transportation! There is no better way to take in the architecture, and when you are on foot you have the ability to add things to do in Bucharest to your personal itinerary as you go. If a church looks particularly lovely or the smell of fresh Wallachian donuts makes your stomach growl, you can easily incorporate a stop into your journey before continuing on your way. If the weather is nice and you are up for some physical activity, a walk through Bucharest is the perfect way to experience the vibrancy of the city’s neighborhoods.
More Information: Metrorex.ro
Where to Stay in Bucharest
One of our favorite hotel experiences in the world can be found at the Hilton Garden Inn Bucharest Old Town, the hotel we selected during our stay. Our spacious room was located on the first floor (one floor above the ground level and check-in) at the top of a gorgeous curved staircase, and from the moment we walked into the room we knew our stay would be as close to perfect as it gets. In addition to an incredibly comfortable bed and a big, modern bathroom, the hotel breakfast was truly memorable: made-to-order omelets, fresh pastries, and excellent coffee were staples for us every morning, ensuring we were well-fueled before long days of sightseeing.
More Information: Booking.com/hilton-garden-inn-bucharest-romania
We typically select budget hotels when traveling to ensure every dollar we have is spent on experiences, and while the Hilton Garden Inn Bucharest Old Town is a nice hotel, we also found it as an incredible deal on Booking.com. We almost always use Booking.com when traveling because they make comparing and selecting hotels easy for us; if you are looking for a hotel in Bucharest, check out Booking.com to see if they have a hotel you will love as well.
When our flight from Sofia to Bucharest was cancelled, as we faced some true uncertainty as to when or how we would get to Romania at all, I found my mind wandering to all of the things to do in Bucharest that were in jeopardy for us. I had been so excited to visit a local market, to see King Michael I Park and the attractions so close to it, and to wander the streets of Old Town as a destination I had always wanted to see welcomed us for another travel adventure.
Bucharest, Romania was worth the delays and the frustrations; although we arrived exhausted and a bit upset, the negativity quickly melted away when we finally got to explore the city. While we hope your journey to Bucharest avoids the delays we encountered, we know you’ll love it just as much as we did—and that you’ll find things to do in Bucharest that will captivate you and inspire you for years to come!
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* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations in Bucharest on our own and as part of a tour with Urban Adventures, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Urban Adventures based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.