A Girl's Guide to Bucharest

december 22, 2017

The capital of Romania, a city of extreme aesthetic dichotomy, is often merely a stopover before exploring the country’s various environmental splendors, grand castles, and vampiric lands of Transylvania. Yet, this urban center is a funky destination in its own right. With a mix of elegant neo-classical, art-deco, and communist-era, and modern architecture, the city seems to fighting for a clear identity after it's tumultuous history. Bucharest is gritty and beautiful and urban and green. Raging nightlife is only a short walk from a quiet bookshop or expansive park. Crumbling alleys give way to colorful courtyard cafes. Rich Romanian food and local full-bodied wines warm the body and soul, while fusion and international restaurants reflect the modernity of gastronomy in Bucharest. The hidden gems of this city are waiting for you to uncover - don’t miss out on this treasure.

sEE // Do

  • Take in the lovely Bauhaus and Haussmann inspired architecture of Old Town. This area is packed with little shops, restaurants, and bars. The area is fairly small, central, and walk-able.

 

  • Take a tour of the Palace of Parliament. The largest administrative building in the world, the sheer vastness of this sight is enough to impress, but upon walking through the doors, you will be stunned by the opulence of the interior decor and architecture. Security is heavily monitored - make sure to bring your passport along for entry.

 

  • Stroll down Pasajul Victoria, also known as the Umbrella Street. This colorful little street is a perfect photo opp. There is a small restaurant and a bar underneath the canopy of umbrellas, so you can enjoy the colors over a pizza or cocktail.

 

  • For a completely international experience seek out the semi-hidden passageway known as Pasajul Vilacrosse. With architecture reminiscent of French sidewalk cafes, along with a bangin’ Chinese restaurant, and multiple hookah bars, after a few cocktails you’ll forget you are in Eastern Europe.

 

  • The many beautiful and incredibly large parks of Bucharest are a nice contrast to the concrete jungle of the city. Parcul Carol is a favorite, as it includes a serene lake and several monuments and memorials. Parcul Floreasca is also nice, as it houses a fantastic public pool and restaurant called Gradina Floreasca. It is the place to be at any time of day during the warmer months as a nice respite from the harsh bustle of the city. During the day, the servers will take your food and drink orders pool side. By night, live jazz bands entertain diners in the warmly-lit garden.

 

  • Therme is a super relaxing, giant spa and waterpark. Located near the airport, it is the perfect place to unwind after travel. There are several zones which you can purchase access too. I recommend doing all three, as the top level has several unique saunas, including one in which you can watch movies as you sweat it out. My favorite part was the mineral bath on this top level, complete with a swim-up bar.

Eat // Drink

  • Pâine și Vin, literally translating to “bread and wine”, offers all the comforts the name suggests. This space is expertly designed with modern rustic finishings. The menu features Romanian wines, cheeses, and charcuterie plates, and globally inspired artisanal pizzas. Other excellent wine bars to try Romanian pours, include Abel’s Wine Bar and Corks.

 

  • Acuarela is the cutest little cafe, complete with an colorful patio bedecked with a retro Volkswagen van and hanging parasols. Ask for watercolors to paint while waiting for your food or enjoying a nice beverage.

 

  • Caru’ cu Bere is the place to go to try authentic Romanian food. Located right in the Old Town, make sure to come hungry, as the portions are generous. The atmosphere is quite festive, often with traditional live music and dancing performances. For a more modern and refined take on traditional Romanian food, check out Mahala.

 

  • Nor Sky has the best view of the city. Located on the northern side of Bucharest, this dining establishment is lovely for a special night out. For an alternative sky-high dining experience closer to Old Town, check out Silk.

 

  • For the best seafood in town head to sleek, yet casual Raionul de Pește. All of their seafood is on display, which alludes to the quality. I recommend going with your server's well-reasoned recommendation. The oysters are also incredibly fresh.

 

  • Aubergine is my favorite restaurant located in Old Town. It has an incredibly expansive menu, including some rare-to-Romania vegan dishes. The decor is cozy and rustic - like having a meal in a family cabin in the countryside.

  • Trendy coffee and brunch spot, Origo, is close to all the action. But for strictly amazing coffee off the tourist track, hit up Queen Mary. Hug Cafe is also a nice option for breakfast or knockin’ out a few emails anytime of day.

 

  • Lifestyle concept, The Urbanist, sells coffee, cocktails, and cool streetwear at all hours of the day. Post up on their patio with a local beer and watch people pass in and out of the Old Town.

 

  • Fix Cocktail Bar is hidden away on the 3rd floor of a collective building just off the tourist track. If you manage to find it, you will be rewarded with expertly curated cocktails and friendly service. For late night club scene, hit up Interbellic. Additionally, Control Club is a perfect representation of the dichotomy of Bucharest, with an airy and green open patio outdoors, while the interior features a low-lit bar and live music stage.

 

  • Nomad Bar is a place to see and be seen as there’s always a trendy and international crowd, - definitely indulge in the rockin’ food and cocktails.

 

  • For drinks and a view head to Linea / Closer the the Moon. This rooftop lounge, located just outside of Old Town, has a shiny and new vibe, while still remaining casual and very cool. Pura Vida Skybar is a popular option, especially among tourists, as it is located in in the heart of Old Town on the top floor of a hostel.

 

  • Puro Bio is the only place you need to know about for ice cream. It’s all completely organic and absolutely delish. Get the rose flavor and thank me later.

sHOP // sPLURGE

  • Cărturești Carusel is the coolest bookstore I’ve ever been to - and I’ve been to a lot of bookstores (in over 20 countries, in fact). The four levels are incredibly designed to maximize the minimal aesthetics and natural light pouring in from the glass ceiling. The basement includes teen fiction and games, the ground floor has lots of gifty-items and best-sellers. The first and second floor hold books in multiple languages and endless subjects, and the top floor has a stunning cafe and bar.

 

  • For incredibly unique and very pretty dresses and other garments, stop into Dalis Shop. Everything is colorful and ornate and very very fun. It kind of reminded me of Milanese fashion, but even more playful.

 

 

  • Barza, viezure, Minz  is an amazing place to get a taste of Romania. This little delicatessen and culinary shop sells many tasty goodies, including wines, liquors, jams, pickles, breads, and more.

Getting There // Getting Around

Most sites are located within walking distance of the Old Town, which is a half hour drive from the airport. There is public transportation, however Uber is plentiful and incredibly inexpensive compared to Western Europe and the US.

 

Day Trip // Weekend Away

 

  • Take the train north into Transylvania. When most people think of Romania, they imagine the mountains and Dracula. Click here for my guide to Brasov, the cultural center of Transylvania.

 

  • Have a beach vacay at coast of the Black Sea and explore wildlife at the Danube Delta. The sea is beautiful and there is lots to do in the coastal city of Constanța. Unfortunately, when I visited, there were terrible storms, so I decided not to write a full guide. The coast is about 2 hours by car from Bucharest.

 

  • Give in to tourism in the classiest of ways with a private guide of Peles Castle and a winery tour and tasting. This full day tour takes you through the scenic mountains, making for a relaxing journey. The Peles Castle is probably my favorite castle I’ve ever toured, likely because our tour guide was da bomb and super informative. Also, there is one room covered with Klimt paintings, and he is my favorite artist ever. After the castle, you head to a winery to see the fermentation and bottling process of sparkling wine. This particular winery supplied wine for the Royal Family of Romania. Next you taste a handful of wines over an incredibly delicious traditional lunch, before making the return trip.