Bucharest, nick-named “the Paris of the East” is a hidden European gem. The city boasts a unique and still-relevant history, strongly influenced by the communist era. After the revolution in 1989, Romania, unlike many of its former communist counterparts, continues to struggle with some outdated communist ideals, although the country is led by a democratic government. While communist ideals still exist, especially in the beliefs of some older residents, the entire country has welcomed foreign countries’ products, trends, and culture. This has led to an eclectic mix of architecture, products and services, and establishments around the city of Bucharest. With over two million residents, Bucharest is a beautiful city with many trendy restaurants, stores, and bars to explore, influenced by both the old and new world of communism and democracy. Here’s a list of our favorite local spots.
Old Town: Bucharest’s Old Town is located in the center of the city. The relatively large pedestrian zone is comprised of winding streets lined with shops, pubs, clubs, and restaurants. There is no shortage of amazing establishments to visit in this area. Whether you’re looking for traditional Romanian cuisine, ethnic cuisine, Las Vegas style bars and clubs, or quality cafes for coffee, the Old Town has it all. I recommend spending an entire day roaming the winding streets of the Old Town, constantly discovering new buildings at every turn, getting lost, then doing it all over again! To find out more about Our Trip, click HERE.
Located in the Old Town:
Caru’ cu Bere: Caru’ cu Bere, or “the beer wagon”, is the oldest and most beautiful beer hall in Bucharest. Its interior is undeniably breathtaking. The walls are painted in beautiful murals, and the staircases are lined in gold. The place is gigantic, and they make their own beer here. There is also a unique history to this place that dates back to 1879. The owner used to support students by offering the highest achieving students free meals. There are still extremely well-priced meals for all students, and the menu in general is very inexpensive. The menu consists of traditional Romanian food and the portions are generous. To top it off, there is traditional Romanian dancing performed daily. All of this being said, this place is absolutely a tourist trap, the service is terrible, and the food is OK. SO, do I recommend going here? Ah….. yes, but just once and just to say you did it. Do I love it? Not at all, but it was worth at least seeing once. Reservations are highly recommended if you plan to get a table for lunch or dinner.
Cremeria Emilia Romania: If you suffer from the syndrome known as “sweet tooth”, Cremeria Emilia Romania should be your poison of choice. This place makes homemade gelato and desserts, all of which are beautifully presented and completely delicious. They also make a great espresso.
The ARTIST: This restaurant offers a five star dining experience and is located at the edge of the Old Town. Great care is taken in creating each beautiful dish. What’s really unique is that the restaurant offers a “spoon tasting menu” of each of their courses including appetizers, main courses, and desserts. This means you could try one spoonful of every single dish on the menu. That’s a lot of fine quality food. The price tag? The equivalent to $40 USD. Anywhere else is the world, this should cost you upwards of $150 or more. Please note that The ARTIST is temporarily shut down at the time of this post due to concerns with the building’s structure. The anticipated reopening date will be November, 2016. See their website for more information.
The Storage Room: Located on what I refer to as “the busy street” called Strada Smardan in the Old Town (but who is to say? They are ALL busy), The Storage Room is a bar and restaurant that offers al fresco dining and drinking. It’s incredibly welcoming with all of the comfy, bright chairs and couches lined up through the establishment. This is a great place to grab a drink on the street and do some serious people watching.
La 100 de Beri: This little bar is the perfect stop for a craft beer lover. With multiple taps including local and international beers and a wide variety of bottled beers, this is a one-stop-shop for a thirsty beer-loving traveler. Even better? La 100 de Beri has an excellent happy hour with local drafts on special for around $1 USD.
Carturesti Library: Now, this place is unique. Are you a book nerd? Or do you like board games? If either of these things are true, AND you also like to drink coffee, wine, or a cocktail (or two), the Carturesti Library deserves your time. This place is totally different from anywhere else in the Old Town. It’s a four story, beautifully decorated library, bookstore (including games and some toys), café, and bar. It is the perfect place to sip on a coffee or a glass of wine while reading a book in one of the library’s multiple quiet corners.
Hanul lui Manuc’s Inn: This traditional Romanian restaurant is a historical monument in the heart of the Old Town. It is one of the oldest inns in Bucharest, and it has since been transformed into a classic restaurant. My sister and I loved this restaurant so much that we ate here not once, but twice. I recommend the sarmale (cabbage rolls), the eggplant dip, the stuffed grape leaves with goose sausage, and the mixed sausage plate. It’s a little pricey when compared to other restaurants in the area, but in my opinion, it’s worth it – and when converted to dollars or euros, it’s still not expensive. Reservations are recommended.
Sarmale (Check out my recipe HERE):
Roasted eggplant dip (Check out my recipe HERE):
Grape leaves stuffed with goose sausage:
Mixed sausage with polenta:
City Grill: Also located in the Old Town, City Grill is a popular restaurant at all hours of the day. However, I recommend this restaurant for breakfast. They have a small selection of hot and cold breakfasts available for the equivalent of 3 euros, including coffee. The price can’t be beat, the location is convenient, the breakfast is good, and they are open from 8 AM onwards.
Palace of Parliament: This place is cool. And beautiful. And huge. And expensive. And…. Well, it’s a “must-see” while in Bucharest. The Palace of Parliament is the largest, most expensive, and heaviest (yes, heaviest), parliament building in the entire world. It was built during the communist era. The project was so expensive, however, that the majority of the rooms aren’t even furnished due to a lack of funds! House poor, much? Anyway, eight floors of the Palace of Parliament are actually underground. Years ago, it was discovered that a private metro stop was even built into one of the lower floors during the communist era in the case that the then-ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu, needed to make a quick escape, as tensions were rising before the revolution started. For a very minimal entry fee (somewhere around 2 or 3 euros), you can explore many (but not all) areas of the largest parliament building in the world, including some of the underground floors!
Free Walkabout Tours: If you’ve never been on a free walking tour before, the idea is that you attend the tour for free, but you tip the guide whatever you feel is appropriate for their services. Typically, people tip between 5-10 euros per tour, depending on the length and the quality. We were fortunate to have a wonderful tour guide show us around the city. The tour lasted 2.5 hours and covered many of Bucharest’s historical monuments and important historical areas. Our guide shared with us many things about the city, including history, the story of Vlad the Impaler and its relationship to the Dracula legends, and many fun facts about the city. There was a large focus on the communist era, as residual impacts of the revolution and the communist era still have a small impact on the city, its growth, its beliefs, and its economy.
Unirii Square – the meeting place for our tour:
Other Areas in the City:
Obor Market: If you want a feel for the REAL Bucharest, no BS, no tourists, no English, then head for Obor Market. The market is HUGE and sells all sorts of goods including produce, meats, cheeses, wine, clothing, toys, household goods – you name it. It’s here. We were the only tourists in sight, and it was amazing. It’s a shame we didn’t need more food for our trip, because we would have easily bought it all here. I recommend grabbing some street food and a glass of beer here at the market. It’s cheap, authentic, and delicious, and you’ll be rubbing elbows with the locals.
Delicious street food at the market:
Herastrau Park: Although quite far from the Old Town, but easily accessible by public transport, Herastrau Park is a peaceful recluse from the busy center. It’s full of paths, trees, and a beautiful lake. Within the park are various restaurants, skate parks, monuments, and statues. If you have time, an entire day could easily be spent here, relaxing, eating, and going for a stroll.
A cool bar in the park:
Village Museum: Village museum is located within Herastrau Park. For the equivalent of 2 euros, you can explore a myriad of traditional Romanian homes that date back to the 1500s. Each house was actually a functional house that was transported to the Village Museum. It’s an inexpensive and incredibly interesting way to spend an afternoon.
Pescarus Restaurant: Also located in Herastrau Park is the Pescarus Restaurant. My recommendation is to grab a drink at this beautiful place, located right on the water. The restaurant itself has a large indoor seating area, but the best place to grab a drink is on their outdoor patio. My recommendation? Try a pint of Ursus, a local beer, or sip on a shot of local cherry brandy.
Day Trips from Bucharest:
There are many day trips available from Bucharest that are well worth your time. These trips include a variety of activities and focuses – there is something for everyone. On our trip, we took a Dracula-themed trip that took us to the Transylyvania region and featured the beautiful Peles Castle, the Bran Castle (the fortress which the Dracula story and movies are based off of), and the charming and underrated city of Brasov. For more information on our specific tour, click HERE.
Some other day trips from Bucharest include multiple castles, ventures to other cities, and tours through the scenic Carpathian Mountains. I recommend TravelMaker, UnzipRomania, and Mr. Trip for day trips based on their reviews, their value, and they quality of their trips.
The beautiful city of Brasov:
Do you have more local favorite spots to add to the list? I’m always looking for new, unique places to check on my travels. If you have any favorite spots in Bucharest, please don’t hesitate to comment and share!