Last Updated on October 27, 2020
If this is your first time here, chances are you need some information on the best things to do in Bucharest. This article aims to give you some ideas on what to do in Bucharest to make the most out of your visit. Before that, you need to know a few things about using your GPS to find your way around in Bucharest.
- Using Your Mobile Data in Romania for Sightseeing
- 1. Take a Bucharest City Tour
- 2. Explore the Bucharest Old Town
- 3. Visit Curtea Veche (The Old Princely Court, the Residence Palace of Vlad III Dracula)
- 4. Take a Selfie in Libraria Carturesti Carusel, the Most Instagrammable Bookshop in Bucharest
- 5. Visit The Palace of Parliament, the Second-Largest Building in the World
- 6. Visit The Village Museum
- 7. Relax in Herastrau (Regele Mihai I) Park
- 8. Take a Photo of the Arch of Triumph
- 9. Attend a Classical Music Concert in The Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Român)
- 10. Visit the Revolution Square & the Royal Palace
- 11. Visit Kretzulescu Church
- 12. Walk Along Calea Victoriei
- 13. Visit the Botanical Garden
- 14. Taste the Bucharest Nightlife (On Hold for the Time Being)
- 15. Go Shopping (Malls & Farmer’s Markets)
Using Your Mobile Data in Romania for Sightseeing
If you are from outside the European Union, beware of using your mobile data, because roaming can be insanely expensive. The best workaround is to buy a prepaid Romanian SIM card. There are three mobile phone operators in Romania: Vodafone, Orange and Telekom. All of them offer prepaid phone cards with data included. There’s also DIGI, but I don’t think that this operator offers prepaid SIM cards.
Always check whether your mobile phone works on the right frequency before buying your prepaid card. The easiest way to do it is to ask a customer service representative in one of those mobile phone stores (which you can find almost everywhere in Bucharest). Here’s a list of mobile phone frequencies in use in Romania.
To use these SIM cards, you’ll need an unlocked mobile phone. Here are a few unlocked cell phones you can choose from.
Bucharest has lots of wi-fi hotspots, so you can choose to keep your home SIM and connect to wi-fi for getting internet access. All coffee shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and even buses in Bucharest have free wi-fi.
Now let’s see a list of the top things to do in Bucharest and a few cool places and attractions.
1. Take a Bucharest City Tour
Your first trip to Bucharest can be confusing. There aren’t too many street signs in English. Finding your way around can be hard, particularly if you need to pronounce difficult Romanian words.
The blue buses in Bucharest display English language instructions on how to use the public transport, but you won’t be able to read them unless you get on such a bus. If you don’t know how to pay for the ride and the control teams catch you, you’ll have to pay a fine.
Taxi and Uber are cheap. Like $0.5 per km cheap. Using them, though, implies that you already know where you want to go. This is why you should start your first visit by taking a Bucharest city tour.
There’s a hop-on hop-off bus you can take to see the main Bucharest attractions and monuments. It only runs during good weather seasons. It usually ends in November and starts again in the spring. For more details, check out their official website, here. COVID-19 Update: this bus line doesn’t run anymore.
If you’re interested in knowing more about communism and about the fall of the Ceaușescu regime, check out this tour that will take you to the Parliament Palace, to Ceaușescu’s villa in Primăverii neighborhood, to the Revolution Square, and also to Târgoviște, to the military unit where the tyrant and his wife were shot in December1989. This is a full day tour that includes pick up from your hotel in Bucharest.
Special note about these Bucharest tours: due to COVID-19 restrictions, the number of visitors is limied and you need to bring your own mask and wear it for the entire duration of the tour.
2. Explore the Bucharest Old Town
The Old Town of Bucharest (also known by its Romanian name, Centrul Vechi) is the only pedestrian zone in the city. This is an area of cobbled streets and old buildings that spreads between Unirii Square and Universitate.
Here you can find hundreds of bars, restaurants and clubs, but also a few shops and one of the most beautiful bookshops of Bucharest, Librăria Cărturești Carusel. Many travelers visit this bookstore only to take some cool photos for their Instagram feeds.
While strolling along the narrow streets of the Old Center, make sure you find Caru’ cu Bere (one of the oldest brasseries in Bucharest), Hanul lui Manuc (former inn, currently a traditional restaurant with impressive Romanian architectural style), the Stavropoleos church and the Macca-Vilacrosse covered passage.
3. Visit Curtea Veche (The Old Princely Court, the Residence Palace of Vlad III Dracula)
Located by the beginning of the cobblestone streets network in the Old Center, the medieval ruins of The Old Princely Court and Residence Palace of Vlad III Dracula are worth a visit. Curtea Veche was the summer residence of Vlad Dracula, long before Bram Stoker wrote the novel that made this ruler one of the most famous characters in the history.
Until a few years ago, the cellars were open for visitors. Today, you can visit only the church of Saint Anton nearby, as the court is under restoration. It is still worth seeing, as it offers a great opportunity for cool photos. Besides, it is adjacent to the Old Center, so you’ll be able to visit it on your way to the narrow streets full of bars and coffee shops.
4. Take a Selfie in Libraria Carturesti Carusel, the Most Instagrammable Bookshop in Bucharest
Located on 55, Lipscani Street, Carturesti Carusel is open everyday between 10:00am and 10:00pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, the bookstore is open until midnight. On Thursdays and Sundays, it is open until 10:30pm.
There’s also a tea house inside the bookstore, so you can enjoy a nice cup of tea and relax in a beautiful setting.
5. Visit The Palace of Parliament, the Second-Largest Building in the World
Also known as Casa Poporului (The House of the People), the Palace of Parliament is the largest building in Europe and the second-largest one in the world. Its construction began in 1984, during the worst communist years in Romania.
By the time of the Romanian Revolution in 1989, the building was still unfinished. There were many debates on whether to demolish or to finish it. Eventually, the decision was to finish the construction and to make it the headquarters of the Romanian Parliament. This building also hosts various trade fairs.
The Palace of Parliament is open for tourists. You can see the opening hours and entrance fees here. If you want a skip-the-line tour, check out this one. Beware, though, this tour isn’t wheelchair accessible. There will be several flights of stairs to climb and there won’t be any elevator. If you need an accessible tour, you have to make a request. Such tours are only available by prior arrangement.
6. Visit The Village Museum
The “Dimitrie Gusti” Village Museum is your best chance to see the architecture of houses in many different regions of Romania without having to travel outside Bucharest.
This museum is a huge park featuring hundreds of houses coming from all over Romania. I can’t speak highly enough of it. It is my favorite museum of all. Visit it in the spring or in the summer, to enjoy greenery and beautiful flowers. Visit it in the fall to admire the colors of the autumn foliage.
I wouldn’t recommend you to get to the Village Museum in the winter, because you won’t be able to visit it properly (unless you come from a very cold place and you’re used to spend time outdoors in freezing weather conditions).
7. Relax in Herastrau (Regele Mihai I) Park
Herastrau is the biggest park in Bucharest. After the last king of Romania died, Romanian authorities decided to change the name of this park from Herastrau to Regele Mihai I (in English language tourist brochures and leaflets, you may find it as King Michael I Park). Most people still know it by its old name, though. This could come in handy, should you need to ask for directions.
King Michael I Park unfolds around a lake. During summer, you can rent a small boat or go for a kayak session. There’s also a leisure boat service, with boats about my age.
There an entrance to the Village Museum straight inside the Herastrau Park, so you can visit both objectives in one go. Anyway, this article isn’t an itinerary or a Bucharest city tour in itself, but rather a list of many things to do in Bucharest for you to choose from. One day won’t be enough for you to do all these.
8. Take a Photo of the Arch of Triumph
Long time ago, Bucharest’s nickname was The Little Paris. Fancy and stylish, Bucharest had all the charm of Paris, but on a smaller scale. It even had its own Arch of Triumph, which looks very similar to its bigger brother in Paris. The monument is still here, but it isn’t open to the public.
The Arch of Triumph is in the middle of a very busy square. As far as I know, there’s not pedestrian crossing to get you there. As it is quite a big construction, you’ll have to be far away from it to capture it in your photos.
The Arch of Triumph is located just by one of the Herastrau Park entrances. You’ll see it on your way from the airport to the city center.
9. Attend a Classical Music Concert in The Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Român)
The Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Român) is the most beautiful concert hall in Bucharest.
Designed by a French architect, this neoclassical style building was opened in 1888. Renovated in 1992, this building is home to many classical music concerts and symphonic festivals.
If there’s no concert, visit the Athenaeum to take some photos.
10. Visit the Revolution Square & the Royal Palace
Just nearby the Romanian Athenaeum, there is the Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei), with the Memorial of Rebirth, a monument dedicated to those who died during the Romanian Revolution in 1989. This is where the events on 21st of December 1989 began in Bucharest.
Across the street from the Memorial of Rebirth, there is the Royal Palace (Palatul Regal). It currently hosts The National Museum of Art of Romania.
The art collections here are impressive, so make sure you add this museum to your personal list of things to do in Bucharest. On special occasions, you can visit the throne room of the Royal Palace.
11. Visit Kretzulescu Church
Kretzulescu church is nearby the Royal Palace and the Revolution Square. You’ll notice it immediately, as its red brick walls make a strong contrast with the buildings around it. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the Kretzulescu church open.
12. Walk Along Calea Victoriei
Calea Victoriei is one of the oldest and the most beautiful avenues of Bucharest. It starts in Piata Victoriei and it goes down to Splaiul Independentei, where it meets the Dâmbovița river. In fact, the numbers go up from Splaiul Independentei, but the traffic goes in the opposite way.
This avenue was among the first streets in Bucharest to be paved. The material of choice was wood. That gave the street its former name, Podul Mogoșoaiei (Mogoșoaia’s bridge).
Many boyars of the time built houses along this fancy street. Many of them are still here today. This is one of the things that make Calea Victoriei one of the major Bucharest attractions and such a nice place for walking.
13. Visit the Botanical Garden
Located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Bucharest, the Botanical Garden is worth at least a few hours of exploration. Founded in 1860, it still features some very old trees that were planted in the 19th century.
The garden is split in several sections such as The Rosarium, The Iridarium, The Rare Plants, and The Dobrogea-specific Flora. It is very beautiful in the spring, when many plants bloom. Summer and fall are also great periods for visiting this lovely park and scientific resource.
14. Taste the Bucharest Nightlife (On Hold for the Time Being)
September 2020 update: there’s nothing left of the former nightlife of Bucharest. Bars and restaurants close by midnight due to coronavirus restrictions. There’s no more dancing and all-night parties are long gone. I leave this section here, though, to remember the good times.
There are many places in Bucharest where you can experience nightlife at its best. You may have already heard about the night clubs in the Old Center and about the ones in the northern part of Bucharest. Both areas are worth a try. However, there are some very nice night clubs outside these two areas, where you can enjoy a drink or two, listen to good quality live music and dance until early in the morning.
In the Old Center, I’d recommend Nomad Sky Bar and Freddo. The Drunken Lords is also a good place to dance. However, it is one of the trendiest night clubs in Bucharest for the moment, so it gets very crowded after midnight.
Beware, the nightlife fun starts after midnight. If you go to these clubs too early, you won’t find the entertainment and the atmosphere you may be wishing for.
In the north of Bucharest, go to Nuba or E3 by Entourage. Expect crowds and prices higher than in other areas of Bucharest.
My favorite night club in Bucharest is The Jack’s Piano Club, 10th, George Enescu Street. Close to Mercure Hotel, Radisson Blue Hotel and Hilton Hotel, The Jack’s Piano Club opens at 10pm every night. The live band performing here is amazing. They make great music, the service is good, and the place is cozy and welcoming.
15. Go Shopping (Malls & Farmer’s Markets)
There’s no shortage of shopping malls and farmer’s markets in Bucharest. Honestly, shopping malls are like everywhere else in Europe. You’ll find the same fast fashion brands of clothing and shoes.
Farmer’s markets are probably worth seeing, particularly if you come from a city where you only get them once a week at best. In Bucharest, farmer’s markets are permanent. They are open from very early in the morning to 6pm or 7pm, except for Sundays, when most of them are closed.
The biggest farmer’s market in Bucharest is called Obor. It is only a short taxi ride away from Universitate or Piata Romana. If you decide to visit it, be very wary of your personal belongings. Such crowded places are the perfect play field for burglars and pickpockets to thrive.