After arriving at the Bucharest airport and catching a bus into the city center, my sister, Sarah, and I met our Airbnb hosts, dropped off our luggage, and immediately set out to explore the Old Town Center. Upon commencing our adventure in the Old Town, we realized that the relatively small area (compared to the entirety of the city) would deserve a great deal of our time. With a multitude of winding, cobblestone streets, and seemingly endless selection of bars and restaurants, we were overly enthusiastic to visit as many establishments as possible.
Since it was nearly lunch time, our first order of business was to find an establishment that would offer us some great local cuisine. We headed to the oldest, largest, and most beautiful beer hall in the city, Caru’ cu Bere (i.e., The Beer Wagon). We arrived early for lunch and were fortunate to score a spot without a reservation. The atmosphere was busy and the hall itself was breathtakingly beautiful. The food was also inexpensive. We split a large multi course meal for the equivalent of $5 USD total. There was even traditional Romanian dancing involved in our lunch sitting. That being said, Caru’ cu Bere is a “must-see”…. only once. It is the definition of a tourist trap. The food was OK, the service was terrible, everything was unorganized, and… well, you get the point.
Inside of Caru’ cu Bere (beautiful!):
Our lunch of polenta with sour cream and cheese, a traditional sour soup, and chicken with rice pilaf:
We continued to explore the Old Town for the entire day. We checked out a variety of places from coffee shops, to bars, to traditional restaurants, eating and drinking our way through the city. Our favorite places included Cremeria Emilia Romania (DELICIOUS gelato and desserts), The Storage Room (comfortable hipster bar with outdoor seating), Carturesti Library (a cool multi-level bookstore with a bar on the top floor), 100 Beri (a small beer bar with lots of beer), and Beer O’Clock (yes, we were on a venture to drink craft beer).
Cremeria Emilia Romania:
The Carturesti Library:
The Storage Room:
Our night ended with a traditional and incredibly flavorful supper at the oldest inn in Bucharest, now transformed into a classic restaurant. The name of the beautiful, historical inn is Hanul lui Manuc’s Inn, and the food was phenomenal. We decided to try the horse radish and beet salad, the smoked eggplant dip, stuffed grape leaves with goose sausage, the duck and pork sausage plate, and sarmale (cabbage rolls), all local traditional dishes, and all absolutely delicious.
Horseradish and beet salad:
Smoked eggplant dip:
Duck and pork sausage with polenta:
Stuffed grape leaves:
Full and tired from our day’s explorations in the Old Town, it was time for us to go to bed.
In the morning, we pondered exploring the Old Town even more – we could have spent a week checking out the establishments in this neighborhood alone! However, we decided our time would be more wisely spent exploring the rest of the large and impressive city. We started our day with breakfast at City Grill (the equivalent of $3 USD including coffee). After breakfast, we decided to join a free walking tour of Bucharest.
We met in the impressive Unirii Square for the walking tour put on my Free Walkabout Tours, Bucharest. Our incredibly charismatic and knowledgeable guide showed us around the impressive city, providing us with the history of a variety of monuments and of the city in general. She also shared with us a variety of fun facts about current-day Bucharest. During our tour, there was a strong focus on the communist era and the struggles that followed the revolution of 1989 until today.
The impressive Unirii Square:
After our walking tour concluded around 1 PM, we decided to explore the less touristy areas of Bucharest. Following the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we headed to the Obor Market to get a feel for local life and the culture of Bucharest. The Obor Market was gigantic. We were the only tourists in sight. No one spoke English. IT WAS AWESOME!
Sarah in line for some delicious Romanian food:
Here, we indulged in some mici (skinless sausage) with mustard, sarmale, and a variety of pastries for lunch. We spent almost two hours wandering around the market, admiring all sorts of goods, clothing, fresh produce, and locally produced wine (sold in 1 liter plastic bottles to make it extra classy). We were very glad we visited the Obor Market.
Mici with mustard and sarmale for lunch:
Homemade wine in plastic bottles:
SO much fresh produce (these are a couple of over one hundred stalls):
Following our adventures in the Obor Market, we headed to Herastrau Park to walk around, explore, and to check out the charming Village Museum. Herastrau Park itself was worth the visit. The massive and peaceful park was a perfect recluse from the busy city. Although it was quiet and serene, there were also a lot of unique establishments in the park. A beautiful lake in the center is also worth a mention. Most interesting of all, however, was the Village Museum, located in the park. The “museum” was an outdoor park that contained 272 authentic peasant farms and houses from all over Romania. The houses were individually transported to the city of Bucharest to be displayed at the outdoor Village Museum and dated back as early as the 1500s.
Some cool houses at Village Museum:
To conclude our stroll in the park, we decided to once again take our Airbnb host’s recommendation to have a drink at Pescarus Restaurant, located near the water in the park. I enjoyed a local dark beer, and Sarah opted for a traditional cherry liquor.
The inside of Pescarus Restaurant:
By this time, it was evening, and we decided to head back to the Old Town, where our apartment was located. Since we enjoyed our dinner so much on our first night, we headed back to Hanul lui Manuc’s Inn to enjoy more local cuisine, but not before stopping for a quick Romanian wine tasting at a place I cannot recall. It was great, but it was time for supper. For dinner this time, we ordered a mixed appetizer of meats and fried cheeses, a hearty stew with liver, sausage, and pork, and some local wine. It was all so great – but we both forgot to take pictures of most of the food! Once again full-to-the-brim with Romanian food, we called it a night and went to bed early.
The only picture we snapped of our food at dinner :(:
On our last day in Bucharest, we decided to go on a full day tour of Transylvania to see two famous castles; the Peles Castle, the Bran Castle (i.e., Dracula’s Castle); and the beautiful town of Brasov. Both castles were amazing and unique in their own ways. The Peles castle is the most beautiful and ornate castle in all of Romania with a unique German flare. The Bran castle, a relatively ordinary converted fort, was interesting, mostly because of its association with the story of Dracula. It was used for filming the Dracula movies, but did not actually have any association with Dracula (mostly because he’s not real), or the real-life leader, Vlad the Impaler, who Dracula’s character was based off of.
Inside the Peles Castle weapon room:
The town of Brasov was stunningly beautiful and if we could have, we would have stayed longer there. Unfortunately, we only had time to grab a quick (but very satisfying) traditional lunch off the main pedestrian road at a restaurant called La Ceaun. I ordered a broth-based beef sour soup, and Sarah ordered a ham and white bean soup in a bread bowl. We also both shared our collective favorite Romanian appetizer, smoked eggplant dip. Of course, we accompanied our meals with some local Romanian red wine as well. We had time to run around and snap a few pictures before leaving (oh yes, and Sarah had time to purchase an extraordinarily large kalacs from a street vendor) before boarding our bus back to Bucharest. It was a full and fulfilling day.
Our lunch of a traditional sour soup, ham and bean soup in a bread bowl, and eggplant dip:
Sarah and her gigantic Kalacs:
The Bran Castle:
The next morning, Sarah and I headed to the airport and took off back to Italy. Overall, Bucharest was a city full of beauty, a unique history, and surprises. Still affected by the communist era and the moderately effective 1989 revolution, the city is a mixture of old and new. With broad avenues, cobblestone pedestrian streets, and an eclectic variety of cultures, Bucharest, or “the Paris of the East”, is a city that is not to be missed!
Interested in knowing more about Our Favorite Local spots? Click HERE to read our recommendations!