Discovering Bucharest

I didn’t expect to like Bucharest. It’s not that I’ve heard bad things about it; but it rarely, if ever, features on ‘Europe’s Best City’ lists. I was merely going to visit a friend, and

I didn’t expect to like Bucharest.

It’s not that I’ve heard bad things about it; but it rarely, if ever, features on ‘Europe’s Best City’ lists.

I was merely going to visit a friend, and just happened to be adding a new city to my travel map at the same time.

 I certainly didn’t expect to love Bucharest, and I’m not sure I can even explain why I did. I just felt a connection from the moment I came through the Arrival gates. Already feeling pretty travel-savvy, I walked past the sea of taxi drivers vying for my business, as I had been pre-warned that upon arrival in Bucharest you should never take a taxi from outside the main terminal. Not that it mattered to me as my friends had already arranged to pick me up in a taxi. Unfortunately the ‘taxi-mafia’ would not allow a legitimate taxi entrance to the airport, so it was a while before we finally caught up with each other. What can I say? Maybe I just thrive off inconvenience.

Not a Pretty City

Bucharest is not an attractive city, for which Nicolae Ceausescu is almost single-handedly responsible. In his 22-year Communist regime, many of Bucharest’s buildings were razed to the ground—most notably for the construction of the Casa Poporului, or ‘People’s Palace’, during the 80s. To make way for this monstrosity 30,000 residences were demolished, alongside other historical buildings and churches. Casa Poporului is now the World’s largest administrative building as well as the heaviest building in the world.

Palace of the Parliament

On the whole Bucharest has a run-down, shabby feel to it. The few beautiful buildings that still exist in the city are flanked by soviet-style communist concrete blocks. Stray dogs roam amongst the heaps of rubble, and tangled electricity cables hang precariously overhead.

Some beautiful buildings survived

Romania’s buildings still bear the scars of the past, especially around the Piata Revolutiei where buildings pock-marked with bullet holes bear testament to the demise of the Ceausescu regime in December 1989.

The Central Committee Building – site of Ceausescu’s last speech
The Humanitas Bookstore near Piata Revolutiei came under fire during the 1989 uprising.

But these things only endear me to the city. Bucharest is a city with history; a city rebuilding itself from its tumultuous past—in short; it is a city with soul.

Bucharest’s Arcul de Triumf

Green Spaces

If you’re imagining Bucharest as a grey urban jungle, then you should know that Bucharest has a number of large parks, which make the city surprisingly green. Even on a drizzly autumn day, a walk through one of the city’s parks will really lift your spirits. If you find yourself wandering through Herastrau Park, then it is well worth checking out the ‘Village Museum’.

Escaping the city in Herastrau park

Thriving Nightlife

The Old Town of Bucharest is now home to the city’s most lively entertainment area. With plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from, the Lipscani district is the place to go for a variety of both Romanian and International food. We ate at the Crama Domneasca restaurant, a place serving hearty Romanian dishes—with plenty of meat and potatoes. Once you’ve eaten, there is no shortage of bars to end your evening in.

What are your impressions of Bucharest? Have you been? 

12 thoughts on “Discovering Bucharest

  1. Completely agree with you Elaine, I lived in Bucharest for one year and despite the dreary, concrete vistas, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, in fact had it not been for a surprise proposal from a certain Geordie gentleman, I would have certainly stayed for longer.

    In comparison to Vietnam for example, where you would have to be insane to even attempt public transport (i.e. non-aircon buses….) Bucharest is so accommodating for the daily commuter. I regularly used the trams, buses and underground trains, finding them easy to negotiate, orientating myself around the city really quickly.

    The parks ARE fantastic. The Bucharesti natives cleverly use them all year round. Concerts, picnics, dog walking in the Summer; ice-skating, Christmas fayres and hot chocolate in the Winter.

    Romanian shares the same phonetics as English and bears more than a striking similarity to other Latin based languages such as French, making all those school vocabulary memories come flooding back. Soon I was managing to converse with shop keepers, bus drivers and work colleagues. I learnt more Romanian in one year than Vietnamese in six!!! Doh!

    Oh and the wine! Who knew? Dry, whites were a hidden gem, plus at restaurants a decent house white would only cost approx £5, compared to £15 in England.

    1. I really loved it. The language is so easy to pick up, being a romance language like Spanish (which I learned at school), so I agree – I think my Romanian would be better than my Swedish is no time at all! It sounds so lovely when you hear it spoken by the locals, it’s not a harsh-sounding language like some others I could mention 🙂

      And the people… Oh, they are SO lovely and accommodating! They are helpful, friendly and warm. I had very few communication issues, even when quite clearly we didn’t speak even a tiny amount of each other’s language. We could book tickets, make shop purchases and order food in restaurants without getting the sour face that so often greeted us around South America (Argentina, I’m looking at you, right now!!).

      I will go back again, for sure!

  2. Elaine, your trip sounds great and between your post and Kim’s comment… Bucharest is on my list!
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    1. It should be. I think some people probably won’t like Bucharest as you have to look beneath a shabby exterior, but I found it a fascinating city!

  3. That Palace is quite something else. It always amazed me how whether Fascist or Communist, national leaders always went for the same style of mega buildings. It’s a very subtle display of power…
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  4. “Bucharest is not an attractive city, for which Nicolae Ceausescu is almost single-handedly responsible.”

    Not anymore. Unfortunately, so many beautiful old buildings and architectural jewels have been demolished during the last 23 years to be replaced with modern, glass, steel and concrete office buildings… in each case breaking the laws, obviously.

    It almost looks as if the various post-1989 mayors have been competing with Ceausescu at destroying Bucharest.

    1. It’s such a shame to hear that. You would think they would be trying hard to preserve the historic buildings they do have left. Soon it will be just liek every other city, I suppose 🙁

  5. Elaine I am happy you liked Bucharest, and if you return to Bucharest, it would be a pleasure to meet you and show you the city I know, the old neighborhoods, the churches, the hidden little museums, the stories… Yes, it is a city with soul, as you beautifully said.

  6. Bucharest might be nice expecialy if you like a vibrant nightlife…:) but for a better and complete picture of the country I advise visiting some travsylvanian cities such as Sibiu or Bra?ov. The are very well conserved medieval towns with history to discover on every corner.

    1. I was only in Romania to visit a friend the last time I went so I was limited for time, but I would love to visit Romania again and travel around a lot more. I have been to Piatra Neamt and Lacul Rosu on a previous trip to the country. Next time I will definitely go to Sibiu and Brasov – thanks for the tips!

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