What to do in Bucharest? (cool things in a boring looking city)
To be honest: I didn’t like Bucharest in the beginning at all. There are SO many beautiful places in Romania and then you have this capital. The city is big, crowded and chaotic. People peeing on the street corners and homeless people searching for food in the trash bins is more the daily view rather than the exception. And in my opinion there are not that many beautiful buildings in the old city. But because of work I did spend some time in Bucharest and I found out that the beauty of the city is not in the looks or appearance. It’s in the stories of the city. So in this blog I will share what to do in Bucharest, Romania. Only fun and cool stuff of course.
What to do in Bucharest, Romania?
1. Stravropoleos Monastery
The most photogenic building in the old city of Bucharest is Stravropoleos Monastery. This monastery was build in the 18th century by a Greek monk. During the 20th century multiple monasteries in the city center of Bucharest got destroyed by the Nicolae Ceaușescu, the leader of communist Romania. But a couple of churches were saved by some engineers. They found a way to move the entire building from one place to another, without breaking it apart. That’s pretty impressive, right? They moved the Stravropoleos Monastery to its current place.
Besides that the Stravropoleos Monastery survived the big fire in Bucharest in 1847 as well. So it’s quite amazing that this monastery still exists. The walls and the ceiling of the building of the church are painted and also the courtyard is so lovely. There are still nuns living here, so they might pass by during your visit.
Entrance fee: free
Address: Strada Stravropoleos 4
2. Carturesti Carusel
As a book lover I had to visit Carturesti Carusel, the biggest book shop in the old city. It’s located in a beautiful, old building with multiple floors. Here you can find a lot of books, a lot in Romanian language, but also quite some book are written in English. On the top floor you will find a bistro, where you can relax with a new book.
Entrance fee: free
Address: Strada Lipscani 55
3. Oldest park in the city: Cișmigiupark
The oldest park in the city is Cișmigiupark, northwest of the old city center. It’s a great place to walk around or to run. Especially in the weekend it’s a great place to just watch people. A lot of old people love to come here and discuss politics while soaking up some sun. It’s the only park in the city where there are both benches and 1-persons chairs. It looks quite fun! Best time to go here is in autumn time, when this place is so colorfful.
Entrance fee: free
Address: Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta. The park has multiple entrances.
4. Communist Tour with Open Doors Travel
I already told in the introduction of this blog that Bucharest is not the most beautiful city. You will see a lot of ugly, dilapidated buildings from the Soviet and communist times. But it gets a lot more interesting if you know the stories behind those buildings. Open Doors Travel invited me to their Communist Tour. I noticed that not many people in Romania like to talk about this subject: communistic times in Romania. Communism lasted for 40 years in Romania, just after World War II. Some people have nostalgic feeling about that time. Maybe in the beginning it was a good concept and everyone had food and a job. But many others remembered the long lines at the supermarket along the years – with the chance that there wasn’t enough food and you would go home emptyhanded.
During communism people in Romania were arrested for the most ridiculous things. Did you make a joke about Nicolae Ceaușescu in your own house? There was a chance that one of the family members was a spy for the communist party and soon you would be arrested. Our guide told us that her mum still whispers when she hears that the neighbours in the next apartment are home again. I do understand that this way of living made especially the older generation super paranoid, even until today.
During the tour you will pass many buildings that you wouldn’t check out during your own walk. They are memories of communism. Faded glory. But the stories behind it are really interesting. Our guide had a lot of photo and footage to show the difference between then and now. I would definitely recommend the tour if you wanna know more about communism in Romania. The tour lasts 3 hours.
Costs: €18 euros (85 lei).
Address: the tour starts at Piata Unirii and ends at Piata Revolutiei
5. House of Parliament
After the Pentagon in the United States the House of Parliament in Bucharest is the biggest administrative building in the world. If you think the building is big if you stands in front of it: walk around it. Then you will see even better HOW BIG it is. You need already 1 hour to walk around the entire building. Besides that you don’t even see the whole building. Underground there are a bunch of more floors as well, up to the bunkers.
The House of Parliament is build during communism, commissioned by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. He never used the building. Then he was executed on 25th of December 1989 the building wasn’t finished yet. And even nowadays there are still parts that are under construction. But the building is used nowadays and visitors can see it as well. It’s important to make a reservation beforehand. You can only enter with a guide and they have to be available. You can make a reservation via the website or you can ask in your accommodation to call and check. Do you not have time to make a reservation? Then you can always go to the entrance and ask if they still have tickets available for that day. Sometimes you’re lucky. The House of Parliament is open every day, so also on Mondays.
Entrance fee: 40 lei (€8,50 euros) for the standard tour, 45 lei for the standard + underground tour.
Address: Strada Izvor 2-4
6. Casa Ceaușescu, the former house of a dictator
Casa Ceaușescu is the former house of the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Together with his wife he ruled during communism, from 1965 until 1989. On 25th of December 1989 they were executed. This was the last death penalty executed in Romania. Before you visit his former house it’s definitely worth it to learn about the history of communism in Romania. I think the Communist Tour in Bucharest (point 4) is a great option for that. Otherwise it’s good to watch this animation video about the history in Romania (it shows all the history of Romania, but from 44.00 on it tells about communism in Romania).
If you have to choose between visiting the House of Parliament and Casa Ceaușescu I would choose for the house of Ceaușescu. You can’t almost believe how this family lived in luxury while the Romanian people were almost starving because the country run out of food. They had golden bathrooms. The rooms were decorated in such a beautiful and detailed way, all of them. They even had an indoor garden and an indoor pool that looked amazing. Although the guy was a bastard I have to admit: I love the zodiac sign mosaics in the indoor pool. Who knew Ceaușescu liked zodiac signs?
Like many sights Casa Ceaușescu is closed on Mondays. Make sure you make a reservation beforehand, at least 24 hours in advance. You can do this via the website. For your visit you can pay both by cash or card.
Entrance fee: 50 lei for adults (€10,50 euros)
Address: Bulevardul Primaverii 50
7. Chilling at the amazing Therme Spa
Therme Spa is one of the best spas I have been so far. It’s really clean and it looks amazing. It’s a big wellness complex outside of the city, near the international airport. You can be a bit overwhelmed once you’re there (I know I was), because it’s so big. So it’s important to do some research beforehand. Every day they organize a lot of activities, so check out the website beforehand to see the schedule. I was there on a Wednesday evening and it was surprisingly busy until 9. So I can imagine it can be even more busy in the weekends or during holidays.
There are 3 different areas in Therme Spa. The Galaxy is with some pools and a lot of slides, so that’s perfect for families. It’s also the only area where kids under 16 years can enter. The Palm is for water lovers with many pools, special baths and jacuzzis. There’s a sauna as well (called Rainforest) and even a pool bar! I also liked the hydromassages a lot (12 lei for 15 minutes). If you love the sauna you should check out Elysium, a great place to relax and detox.
Entrance fee: finding out what you have to pay can be a bit difficult. There are standard prices, but then there are also a lof of exceptions. In the evenings there’s a special discount, but in the weekends and in the holidays you pay more. You can only buy a ticket for one area, but once you’re inside you can pay extra to enter the other areas as well. The cheapest ticket is for The Galaxy, then The Palm and then Elysium. I paid 49 lei for The Palm on a Wednesday evening.
Extra tips for visiting Therme Spa
Keep in mind that slippers are mandatory in the spa. So you either have to bring them yourselves or you can buy them there for 20 lei. You can also rent a towel if you don’t have one.
There’s a free Therme Bus that’s going from Bucharest (Piata Romana) to the wellness center. Check the times online (although sometimes they can be late 5-10 minutes because of traffic).
So you can buy a ticket for only 1 area, but once you’re inside you can scan your wrist band and pay to enter the other areas. You pay everything once you leave and return the wrist band. This way for example you can easily combine The Palm with Elysium.
Address: Calea Bucuresti 1K
Some nice hotspots to eat in Bucharest
1. Maya Fresh: Mexican take away. It’s good food for good prices. And they have some vegetarian options as well. I loved their quesadillas with tofu and beans for 17 lei.
2. Bistro Raw Vegan: one of the only places where you can enjoy vegan food in Bucharest. And it’s delicious! My favorites are the vegan sushi (25 lei) and the vegetarian sarmale (25 lei). On the website you can get an idea of what they make.
3. Hanu’ lui Manuc: one of the most famous restaurants in Bucharest if you wanna try Romanian food. It’s a lot of meat (and some fish), so there aren’t many choices for vegetarians. But you can have some salads, soups or side dishes as a vegetarian. The restaurant is located at Piata Unirii, a super central location.
There were my favorite places and tips for what to do in Bucharest, Romania. Do you have more tips? Tell me and other travelers all about it in the comments!
Open Doors Travel invited me to join and review their Communist Tour. Of course my experience and opinions are my own. More information about collaborations you’ll find here.