Fun fact: Bucharest is the first city I ever visited outside of the United States. I’ve spent a combined total of over a year in and around this city and it’s one of my favorite places to visit in the world.
In many ways, Bucharest feels like a second home to me. It has a very busy atmosphere, but it’s also cozy and familiar. It’s got some pretty epic monuments, but nothing touristy or fake. Bucharest is 100% authentic Romanian grit and it’s a great place to get lost in.
If you’ve read around my site at all, then you know I don’t consider Bucharest to be the quintessential Romanian destination, though. In fact, I usually recommend that people check out Romania’s smaller, but more beautiful towns, before adding Bucharest to their itinerary.
That’s not to say, however, that Bucharest isn’t worth visiting at all. To the contrary, Bucharest is a bustling and large city of over 1.8 million residents. This city has a lot to offer including restaurants, parks, museums, concerts and more. Just because it’s a little rough around the edges doesn’t mean there aren’t some real gems in this otherwise dusty city.
So, without delay, here are the top things to do while you’re in Bucharest!
1. Palace of Parliament
Bucharest’s “Palace of the Parliament” is the city’s most recognizable and iconic building. The building was erected by the country’s former communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and is the second-largest government building in the world after the Pentagon.
Designed initially as a grandiose tribute to socialism, the “House of the People” palace remains a controversial edifice in the eyes of many Romanians. In order to construct the gargantuan building, many historic neighborhoods were razed and the country expended vast amounts of resources.
Today the building houses the country’s democratically elected parliament. Tours are still given to the public, however. Check out this guide I wrote on visiting this must-see attraction in Bucharest.
2. Cișmigiu Park
Cismigiu Gardens is the oldest park in the city of Bucharest. In the late 1700’s, Alexandru Ipsilanti ordered the construction of two wells and pumps (cismea in Romanian) in the city. One of these pumps was located in present-day Cismigiu Gardens.
Nearly a century later in the mid 1800’s, Wilhelm Mayer was tasked with transforming the area around the cismea into a beautiful garden. Mayer had previously served as the director of public gardens for the city of Vienna.
Today, the gardens are a beautiful place to take in the history of Bucharest and enjoy a break from the gray cityscape. In the gardens you’ll find lots of trees, flowers, and monuments to soldiers and important figures.
3. King Mihai I Park
King Mihai I Park (aka Herastrau) , located in the city’s North, is one of the largest green spaces in the city and an excellent place to spend a summer evening. The park features statues, trails, gardens, restaurants, lakes, and open spaces.
You won’t want to miss the park’s beautiful “rose island” (insula trandafirilor) which displays the bronze busts of 12 prominent European figures who helped found the European Union.
My favorite way to see the park is by bike. Bikes can be rented at kiosks near the statue of Charles De Gaulle at the park’s entrance.
Funny enough, a statue of Stalin once stood at the precise location where Charle De Gaulle’s statue now stands. The Stalin statue was torn down in 1962, a mere 10 years after it was installed. lol.
4. “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum
I’m a sucker for a good village museum and the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum really delivers. The museum is located within the Herastrau park complex in the city’s north.
At this open-air museum, you’ll have the chance to see how Romanians lived throughout history. The museum features traditional houses, furniture, handicrafts, and machinery.
If this is your first visit to Romania, I would strongly suggest a visit to the museum. It is a great introduction to the traditional way of life in this part of the world.
I don’t want to throw my credibility out the window here, but I always tell people going to Romania for the first time to try KFC. That’s right, I’m telling you to travel half way around the world so that you can eat KFC chicken.
KFC makes its chicken differently in Romania and it is de-li-cious. My recommendation? You’ve got to try the crispy strips meal with garlic sauce. The garlic sauce isn’t available in the US, but it’s worth its weight in gold.
There are quite a few KFC’s in the city, but my favorite is the one in the atrium of AFI Palace Cotroceni.
6. Obor Market
Piata Obor is an indoor/outdoor market in the city’s meatpacking district. The piata is notoriously overcrowded, smelly, and generally unpleasant. Despite all this, I find that it is a great way to get up and close to real Romanians going about their daily lives.
At the piata, you certainly won’t come across other tourists. Instead you’ll come across a lot of cranky Romanian grandmothers doing their shopping and buying ingredients to make ciorba (soup) in the middle of the summer. It’s not somewhere you go to take pictures, but rather to feel the pulse of Bucharest.
Be sure to visit the piata in the morning and grab a warm Romanian donut from one of the stands that line the outside of the piata.
7. Museum of the Romanian Peasant
The Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest’s Piata Victoriei neighborhood is spectacular. The museum features exhibits of folk art, costumes, and peasant handicrafts throughout the year.
What’s more, the museum frequently hosts outdoor markets in the Summer on Sundays. At the museum’s open-air market you’ll find handmade knickknacks and other peculiarities. It’s an awesome place to find souvenirs.
8. Dine on the Dambovita
In 2018, the city of Bucharest decided to spruce up a previously empty part of the city that runs between Piata Unirii and the Dambovita River. Today, the location is home to seven new restaurants with outdoor terraces and amazing views of the Dambovita and the national library.
If you’re looking for an exciting place to eat, especially in the summer, then check out this collection of restaurants nestled in the heart of Bucharest. The area is just short walk from the historic old town and the Piata Unirii metro station.
9. Romanian Athenaeum
The Romanian Athenaeum was constructed in 1888 and is home to the country’s George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. The structure is incredibly beautiful on the inside, as well as the outside, and is the place to see a concert in Bucharest.
Shows are held here throughout the week and tickets can be purchased on this website.
Even if you can’t see a show, I still recommend stopping by to see the inside of this beautiful structure.
10. Cărturești Carusel
If you’re visiting Bucharest’s old town, you’ll definitely want to stop by the instagram-famous Carturesti Carusel book store. The store’s interior is almost all white and features a whimsical, multi-story layout.
The bookstore is a great place to buy gifts for friends back home or stock up on some books in Romanian. If you like bookstores, you’ll also want to check out nearby Diverta, which is a dope crossover between a bookstore and a gift shop.
11. AFI Cotroceni
Without a doubt, AFI Palace at Cotroceni is the busiest and most fashionable mall in Bucharest. Located in the upscale Cotroceni neighborhood, you’ll find all of your favorite European brands at AFI.
When I visited Bucharest this spring, I visited the mall daily so that I could work from Starbucks. My favorite part of the mall is its open layout, which is perfect for taking in the city’s atmosphere or people watching.
Shopping in Romania isn’t much cheaper than in the US, though. In fact, some name brands like Nike are actually more expensive in Romania because they are considered luxury items.
12. Youth Park
Bucharest’s parks are pure magic in the summertime. In the evenings, the parks fill up with residents enjoying the cool nighttime air.
Parcul Tineretului, or Youth Park, is one of Bucharest’s most bustling parks. The park is situated around a large lake and features tons of walking trails and sports fields. The park even has workout areas where you can shred the extra calories you’ve put on from eating too many Romanian donuts.
13. Piata Unirii Fountains
From Piata Unirii (Unification Square) to the Palace of the Parliament, socialist-era water fountains line the boulevard. The central fountain, Fantana lui Bucur, is a short walk from the Piata Unirii metro station and is, in my opinion, an epic installation of socialist art.
The fountains are a great spot to explore and offer tremendous views of the ominous Palace of the Parliament in the distance. Very instagrammable, indeed.
Recently, the fountains have been renovated and are now one of the largest fountain displays in the world. The multi-colored fountains are lit up at night and shows are held on Fridays and Saturdays. Check here for more information.
14. Revolution Square
Revolution Square, or Piata Revolutiei, is a historically significant square located in the heart of the city and short distance from the old town. The square’s most recognizable landmark is the giant equestrian statue of Carol I, former king of Romania.
The square is also home to the athenaeum, the national museum of art (formerly the royal palace) and several museums and significant historical sites. I highly recommend seeing this square as part of a walking tour.
15. Caru’ cu Bere
Caru’ cu Bere is Bucharest’s most iconic restaurant. The restaurant has an ornate interior and a fascinating history.
Urban legend posits that the restaurant even served as a secret meeting location for the resistance movement during the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. According to some, the secret police event sought to bug the restaurant’s bathrooms at one point so that they could foil the plots of the resistance.
Today, Caru’ cu Bere remains a popular place to grab lunch or dinner. The prices are amazing and the menu offers lots of traditional dishes. My favorite part of the restaurant is the live music and the lively atmosphere. Be sure to try the sarmale and mamaliga cu branza, two Romanian favorites!
16. Carol I Park
Carol I Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Bucharest. The park features a “tomb to the unknown soldier” monument with an ever-burning flame.
Like all things in Bucharest, Carol I Park got jacked up during communism. During the country’s communist period, the country’s leaders secretly replaced the tomb of the unknown soldier monument with a tribute to socialism. The park’s French garden was also radically changed during this time.
Today, the monument to the tomb of the unknown soldier has been restored to its former glory.
17. Mogosoaia Palace
Mogosoaia Palace is a fascinating destination just north of the city of Bucharest. The palace was conceived and built by Constantin Brancoveanu, Prince of Wallachia from 1688 to 1714. The palace is significant because it stands as one of the best examples of Brancovenesc architecture, a distinctly Romanian style.
To get to the palace, you’ll need to take the subway to its northern terminus at Straulesti station. From there the palace is a short bus ride away.
18. Arcul de Triumf
Though not as splendid as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Bucharest’s Arcul de Triumf in the northern part of the city is a beautiful tribute to Romanian sovereignty. The first arch was constructed here when Romania gained its independence in 1878. Since then, one other arch stood here before the current arch, made from stone, was erected in 1936.
If you’re in the area to visit Herestrau park or the Dimitrie Gusti Museum, you’ll definitely want to add Arcul de Triumf to your itinerary.
Is Bucharest Safe?
In over a year of living in and visiting this city, I haven’t feared for my safety once. This has only been my experience as a rather large man, however. I can’t comment on what it would be like to visit this city as a woman, for example. What I can say is that violent crimes are actually less common in Romania than they are in the US and murder is even less common.
Of course, a little preparation goes a long way and you’ll want to take the same basic precautions in Bucharest as you would when traveling elsewhere. If you would like to read my detailed description of safety issues you may encounter in Romania, then check out this piece.
Best Way to Get Around Bucharest
Without a doubt, the best way to get around Bucharest is with its underground metro system. Bucharest’s metro is cheap and easy to use. Unlike other cities (ahem, Rome) the metro in Bucharest takes you to all of the city’s hubs with few transfers and little hassle. Driving is sketchy, so you definitely won’t want to rent a car here if you can avoid it.
What I love about Bucharest’s metro is that the city was built around the same time as the transportation system. This means that every major park, neighborhood, and square usually has its own metro station–wow!
If you want to learn more about getting around Romania, check out the article I wrote about this very topic.
Is Bucharest Affordable?
If you’re coming from the US, then you will feel like a king during your visit to Bucharest. On my recent visit, I rented a new, luxury apartment in a nice area of town for a mere $30 per night. You couldn’t find a shoe box in London for that price. So yes, everything from food to transportation to accommodation is very affordable in Bucharest.
For details on what you’re likely to spend, check out this article.