14 May 48h in Bucharest: What to see & where to go
When you’re visiting the usual European capitals such as Paris, London or Berlin, you kind of already know what to expect and probably already have a list of things to do and to-go places. But that may not be the case with the eclectic Bucharest, capital of Romania. Bucharest is part Balkan, part Oriental and part Communist and with a clear Western lifestyle. This ridiculous combination and clash of cultures is actually what Romanian lifestyle and culture is all about!
But if you’re planning to visit Bucharest and don’t have too much time to spend we’ve prepared this guide to help you discover the most important places of Romania’s capital in just 48 hours.
No Bucharest tour can start without a visit to the Palace of Parliament or, as the former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu enjoyed calling it, the People’s House (Casa Poporului). The construction for the luxuriously decorated Palace began in 1984 at a time when all Romanians suffered shortages and endured an austere lifestyle in order to pay the country’s external debts. Due to the huge effort and costs involved, many locals still have a love-hate relationship with this landmark of Bucharest which is also the second largest administrative building in the world. This massive building will impress you both from the outside as well as from its luxurious inside and is a must-see place if you want to get an insight of Romanian history.
Inside tip: if you want a true understanding of the Romanian communist era you should also pay a visit to Nicolae Ceausescu’s private home, dubbed the Primaverii Palace; there are tours in Bucharest you can take to go with a guide that will give you an on-the-go history lesson
If the visit to the Palace of the Parliament was a bit overwhelming, take some time to relax in Izvor Park, which is located right on the right side of the building. Compared to other parks you’ll find on this guide, the Izvor Park is more of an open-air green space in the middle of the city, which is why the locals prefer it for walks, jogs and bike rides. Expect to see a lot of playful dogs and kids here. Don’t forget to take a last glimpse at the Parliament before you head on to the next destination.
Inside tip: if you want to visit a park known for its beauty and layout, we recommend going for a walk in Cismigiu Gardens, the city’s oldest public garden, often called Bucharest’s green oasis
Vacaresti Natural Park (Vacaresti Delta)
Visit the Vacaresti Delta dubbed as “the delta between the blocks” for an unusual experience. Why? Because the area was declared the biggest urban biosphere in Europe and has become, since 2016, a protected area. During the communist era several infrastructure projects were designed for this area, including an artificial basin, which was meant to connect Bucharest to the Danube river. Following the anti-communist revolution in December 1989, all projects were abandoned and eventually, nature started to reclaim the area. Vacaresti Delta stretches on 190 ha and is quite wild: a lush vegetation is home to various species of birds and small mammals, such as foxes and otters, that you can see when going for a walk.
Calea Victoriei and Revolution Square
There is no other street in Bucharest that has more historical value – and is more famous – than Calea Victoriei. The street’s beautiful townhouses, churches, landmarks and shops are the main reason why it’s the city’s most prestigious boulevard. The best way to explore this 3-km long avenue is by foot as it’s filled with sights best admired from the sidewalk such as the Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History, the Cantacuzino Palace, which hosts the George Enescu Museum of Music and The Museum of Art Collections.
Going on Calea Victoriei you will eventually end up in Revolution Square the place where Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime began to crumble on the cold morning of December 21 1989 when the Romanian Revolution began. Here you can see the Revolution Monument built as a homage to those who died in 1989, the Romanian Athenaeum and the former Royal Palace currently the National Museum of Art.
Inside tip: don’t leave Calea Victoriei without taking a walk through the Macca-Villacrosse Passage, whose architecture is sure to remind you why the city was formerly called the Little Paris.
Farmers’ Food Markets
For a true Romanian experience, start the second day at one of Bucharest’s most famous farmer’s markets. Ramnicu Sarat Market (Piata Ramnicu Sarat) and Peasant’s Market (Piata Taranului) are amongst the locals’ favorites, while Obor Market is the biggest. Every weekend, peasants from all over Romania come here to sell their products which include seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs, meat and cold cuts, cheese, honey and wine. All home-made, traditional and with a delicious natural taste!
Inside tip: Most meat and cheese products are smoked, making it easier for you to take some of it back home and organize a Romanian cuisine tasting for your friends. Pair it with some Romanian wine and țuică (a traditional Romanian spirit made from plums) and your friends are in for a tasteful surprise!
King Michael I Park and Arch of Triumph
Another day, another park! Bucharest’s biggest park was until recently known as Herestrau Park and is the perfect place to rent a bike or practice your rowing skills. The park is filled with food stalls and often hosts various cultural events throughout the year. After a walk (or bike ride) make sure to head towards the Arch of Triumph to get another small taste of Paris. The Arch was first built in 1878 to celebrate the Romanian independence following the Crimean War, but was later taken down and rebuilt two times the last and final one being in 1936.
Inside tip: if time allows consider visiting the Village Museum which hosts a collection of traditional real-size village houses from various regions of Romania – the best place to learn about our rural culture in the capital!
Old Town and Nightlife
You can’t go on a trip to Bucharest without experiencing the famous nightlife. No matter your music or culinary preferences, the pubs, bars and restaurants that fill the city’s Old Town area have something for everyone. Control and Eden are two of the most hip places to enjoy a beer and some good music, while Shoteria is set to amaze you with their colorful shots, perfect to start the night. Just keep in mind that in recent years the Old Town has become quite hectic and touristy – so choose after you’ve seen what’s on offer.
Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend – a local initiative promoting handpicked tours with the best local guides so travellers can discover the authentic beauty of Romania while supporting responsible tourism. Plan your trip with help from a Romanian Friend and follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see what you can visit!