Romania is a hot destination in eastern Europe and the capital city of Romania, Bucharest, is a fascinating city to explore, especially for its history. If you have never visited, here are some things to do in Bucharest that will give you some background about Romania’s fascinating past.
Romania is a member of the European Union (they were accepted on January 1, 2007) and Bucharest is a centre for culture and entertainment. What’s surprising is the streets are alive with people and activity, theatres, concert halls and museums and a vibrant restaurant scene.
Bucharest is the ‘new Berlin’ and one of the highlights is the Rokolectiv Festival for electronic music.
Bram Stoker’s vampire character “Dracula” was modelled after Vlad Tepes (Vlad II the Impaler), the Prince of Wallachia. His headless body lies in a grave on the island of Snagov, 30km north of Bucharest.
- 15 Things to do in Bucharest
- 1- See the Triumphal Arch
- 2- Explore the Palace of Parliament
- 3- Discover the National Museum of Contemporary Art
- 4- Step back in time at the historic InterContinental Hotel
- 5- Explore the National Village Museum
- 6- Visit the Museum of the Romanian Peasant
- 7- Learn at the Jewish History Museum
- 8- Meet Romania’s kings at the National Art Museum
- 9- Light a candle in the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral
- 10- Taste Sarmale
- 11- Explore the Museum of Senses
- 12- Go on a free walking tour
- 13- Drink Romanian Wine On A Bar Crawl
- 14- Explore Bucharest’s Markets
- 15- Go on a day trip to Dracula’s Castle
- Things to know about Bucharest
- Where to stay in Bucharest?
15 Things to do in Bucharest
1- See the Triumphal Arch
In the early 20th century, Bucharest’s architects drew inspiration from France.
It’s not immediately apparent that the capital city of Romania is a Paris of the East.
You might catch glimpses of beautiful Parisian architecture between ugly communist-era apartment blocks.
But look at the grey concrete and you’ll find stylish French-influenced Baroque buildings.
There’s the Romanian Athenaeum and the George Enescu Museum.
Bucharest’s Triumphal Arch was modelled after the one in Paris too.
Looking for more places to visit around the region? Here’s an excellent Balkan tour.
2- Explore the Palace of Parliament
The most impressive building is the Palace of Parliament, which can only be described as extravagant in the extreme.
In 1984, one-sixth of Bucharest (neighbourhoods with churches, synagogues, Jewish temples and over 30,000 homes) was bulldozed to the ground to build this monument of excess.
The 12-storey building is almost as big as the Pentagon.
It has 3100 rooms and is spread over 330,000 square metres.
There are 64 reception halls and a nuclear bunker 20m underground.
Romanian Communist Party leader of the day, Nicolae Ceausescu, was responsible for draining the country’s coffers to build this communist hall of worship.
It was built to house the Central Committee of the Communist Party but it was never completed.
Close to Romania is Serbia, the capital Belgrade. Here are some things to do in Belgrade.
3- Discover the National Museum of Contemporary Art
The Palace of Parliament is now home to the Romanian Parliament and also doubles up as the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
The museum has four floors of contemporary art and lots of video installations by European artists who exhibit thought-provoking and controversial works.
4- Step back in time at the historic InterContinental Hotel
The InterContinental Hotel is another remnant of the communist era when the hotel was revered as a symbol of freedom.
The Communist Party allowed the hotel to operate because it made money for the government from visiting businessmen and politicians!
Luna Bar was a hub for secret agents and spies.
Some of the hotel’s rooms have balconies facing Piata Universitat where television crews filmed tanks rolling over Romanian freedom fighters and soldiers shooting into crowds during the 1989 revolution which overthrew the communist regime.
5- Explore the National Village Museum
There are a few good museums in Bucharest including the outdoor National Village Museum.
The museum is a showcase of Romanian rural architecture, with a collection of peasant homes, barns, wooden churches and Transylvanian houses from all over Romania.
In summer, locals dressed in colourful traditional costumes demonstrate painting, weaving and pottery.
6- Visit the Museum of the Romanian Peasant
The Museum of the Romanian Peasant won the title European Museum of the Year in 1996.
The aim of this museum is to exhibit the culture and history of Romanian peasants and displays more than 100,000 clothing items, ceramics, textiles, furniture and crafts.
There’s an antique market here every couple of weeks.
7- Learn at the Jewish History Museum
Then there’s the Jewish History Museum dedicated to the Jewish community who suffered during the Holocaust.
800,000 Jews lived in Romania and around 50% of the Jewish population were casualties of the war in the 1940s.
Check out the Holocaust Room for thought-provoking photographs of concentration camps in Moldova and Auschwitz in Poland.
8- Meet Romania’s kings at the National Art Museum
Romania’s National Art Museum is in the Royal Palace. Yes, there was a Romanian royal family!
This was where the kings of Romania resided. The last Romanian royal, Michael I, abdicated in 1947.
The museum has displays of lovely oil paintings, wooden altars from historic churches and carvings.
There’s a European art section with Italian, Dutch and French masters (think Rubens and Rodin.
9- Light a candle in the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral
Many historic buildings in Bucharest were destroyed by the communists so the ones that remain are precious.
One such building is the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral on Patriarchy Hill, which was completed in 1658 and is the historic heart of the Romanian Orthodox faith.
Most of the frescoes inside the church were painted in 1923.
There’s a chapel linking the cathedral to the Patriarchal Palace, which is the home of the church’s Patriarch (leader of the Roman Orthodox Church).
10- Taste Sarmale
If you’re a meat-eater, you’ll love Romanian food and should try the national dish.
Sarmale is ground meat wrapped in cabbage and available everywhere in Bucharest, especially in the old town.
Eating out in Bucharest is kind on your wallet. Restaurants are affordable and you won’t go hungry.
While exploring Bucharest you’ll see many familiar fast food signs, including McDonald’s!
However, don’t despair, there are plenty of local restaurants that dish up delicious and inexpensive meals.
The country’s cuisine is skewed heavily towards meat dishes but if you’re a vegan here’s a handy list of vegan restaurants in Bucharest.
11- Explore the Museum of Senses
The Museum of Senses does exactly what its name says – it stimulates your senses and creativity.
Filled with unusual attractions and optical illusions, it’s a place that will make you question the way things are.
Walk through distorted rooms and the confusing mirror maze.
When you’re done, you’ll start believing that water flows upwards and the world is upside down.
It’s a really cool place to stretch your imagination.
12- Go on a free walking tour
A walking tour of Bucharest is a great way to get an idea of where you’d like to spend more time.
Take a free walking tour of Bucharest (tip required) and learn about the city’s history from a local.
You can join a free walking tour at 10.30 am and 6pm in fron ot the clock at Unirii Square Park.
13- Drink Romanian Wine On A Bar Crawl
Meet locals and taste Romanian wine on a bar crawl of Bucharest.
As Romania is the world’s 13th largest wine producer, there are lots of excellent bars in the old centre to try local wine.
Bucharest’s first wine bar is located in a traditional Romanian manor that is 100 years old.
Here, you can taste Romanian wine, learn about the different types of wine and how winemaking is done in Romania while lapping up the elegant surrounds.
14- Explore Bucharest’s Markets
One of the best ways to soak up the culture of a city is to visit its markets and Bucharest is no exception.
The city’s markets buzz with activity and are a great place to shop for fruit, snacks and trinkets.
Obor is the largest market and has a rich history and the Peasants Market on B-dul Unirii is also fun to wander around.
On Synday mornings, there’s a flea market at Vitan-Barzesti while visiting the city’s Flower Market on Calea Rahovei is a must-do for photographers.
15- Go on a day trip to Dracula’s Castle
Romania’s Vlad the Impaler inspired the creation of Count Dracula.
From Bucharest, you can take a day tour of Transylvania to Peles Castle in the Valahia region and Bran Castle or “Dracula’s Castle”.
There’s no better way to discover the secrets of the Dracula legend than to take a tour of the castle itself.
Things to know about Bucharest
Is Bucharest safe?
Bucharest is a safe city and most locals will tell you that it’s safe to wander around. There’s have been no terrorist attacks in the city and the crime level is low. You can walk around most parts of the city during the day and at night but like most large cities, use common sense and keep an eye out for pickpockets.
What is the currency in Bucharest?
Even though Romania is part of the European Union (joined in 2007), tthe currency in Bucharest is the Romanian Lei. Romania is not a member of the Eurozone so you can’t use Euros and will have to exchange for the Romanian Lei (RON).
Is Bucharest expensive to visit?
The great thing about visiting Bucharest is it’s an affordable city to visit compared to many other cities in Europe. Your money will last longer as accommodation can cost as little as US25 for a budget room, the same as a two-course meal in the city.
How do I get around Bucharest?
Taxi drivers in Bucharest are notorious for overcharging tourists but fortunately, Uber is available widely in Bucharest. It’s a cheap and efficient way to get around. Uber drivers are an excellent source of information on the city.
Bucharest’s public transport is a bit of a mixed bag and the buses, trams and the Metro. can get quite congested during peak hour.
Where to stay in Bucharest?
The best place to stay in Bucharest is in the old town, which is close to most of the city’s main attractions.
By staying in the old town, you’ll save time travelling and will be able to tick off more things to do in Bucharest.