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Bucharest Holidays

Restored grandeur meets modern cool

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Get your teeth into a meaty cultural stew

Once known as ‘the little Paris of the East’ on account of its handsome boulevards and Beaux-Arts architecture, today Bucharest is increasingly being touted as ‘the new Berlin’ because of its hidden garden bars, trendy cafes and communist heritage. The city has a gritty energy about it that’s entirely its own though with excellent museums, pleasant parks and charming Orthodox churches.

Browse the shelves at the vast Carturesti Carusel bookshop housed in an early 20th Century former bank. Learn about Romania’s mix of many cultures at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant, which is packed with fascinating collections showcasing the diversity of everyday life across the country. Relax with a stroll around Cismigiu Gardens, home to a charming kilometre-long lake, and explore Herastrau Park, the city’s largest, which come summer is transformed into a clubbing hotspot with revellers partying on the shores of the lake. Many people use the city as a gateway to explore Romania in general, taking day trips to the sandy Black Sea coastal resorts and the castles of Sinaia and Transylvania. Book your flights to Bucharest today and start exploring.

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Bucharest holiday FAQs

Make the most of your Bucharest holiday

Traditional Romanian food tends to be heavy and meat-centric. At authentic old town restaurants like Lacrimi si Sfinti try dishes like sarmale (cabbage or vine leaves stuffed with meat, rice and vegetables), polenta, ciorba (sour soup) and Transylvanian goulash, which simmers for eight hours in a wood-fired oven. Be sure to sample some papanasi, too: a type of doughnut filled with sweet ricotta-like cheese topped with sour cream and jam.

What are the best things to do in Bucharest?

  1. The Palace of Parliament is the world’s second-largest administrative building (after the Pentagon) and former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s most infamous project. Started in 1984 and still unfinished, today it houses Romania’s parliament though many of its 3,000 rooms remain unused. You can only access it via a guided tour, booked in advance, for which you’ll need to bring your passport. A complete tour including the building’s basement takes an hour.
  2. The exquisite Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Roman) is the city’s key hub for classical music. Take in the majestic 41-metre-high dome and a splendid set of murals and frescoes depicting Romanian history and five great rulers. It’s home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra (the great composer made his debut here in 1898) and you can catch a concert here from September to May or simply take a peek inside on concert days.
  3. The Ceausescu Mansion is a villa and former residence of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu who lived there for two decades until deposed in 1989. It has been meticulously restored to its former glory, and you can see the couple’s lavishly decorated bedroom and the private apartments of their three children. Highlights include Elena’s extravagant private chamber, the basement cinema, the back garden and swimming pool. You can book tours in advance.
  4. The Stavropoleos Monastery is a tiny but charming church dating from 1724. Perched somewhat oddly near some of the Old Town’s communist-era skyscrapers, the church has a tombstone-filled courtyard, intricate wooden interiors and carved wooden doors. Its library houses Romania’s largest collection of Byzantine music books.
  5. The Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History is one of Bucharest’s more kid-friendly attractions. The museum, named after its esteemed former keeper of 51 years and showcasing the country’s rich animal and plant life, has been thoroughly modernised with interactives, games and 3D video screens galore, bringing to life its collections of over two million specimens. Much of the signage is in English which makes navigating it a breeze.
  6. The Patriarchal Cathedral is a beautiful church that’s been the centre of Romanian Orthodox faith since its construction in the 17th Century. Built in an architectural style known as Brancovenesc, it features a striking bell tower, century-old frescoes and three stunning original carved crosses. It was also the site of an assassination. The Romanian prime minister was murdered here in 1862.
    It’s soon to be eclipsed by the Cathedral for the Salvation of the Romanian People, which once it’s finished will be the tallest Christian Orthodox church in Europe, complete with a 120-metre-high steeple, 600 windows and enough room for 6,000 worshippers. The project has taken more than a century to come to fruition.
  7. Romania’s Black Sea beaches are growing in popularity but here’s one alternative that’s much closer to Bucharest. Plaja Gostinu is actually on the banks of the Danube River, an easy journey from the capital. The pretty and relatively thin strip of sand is rarely thronged with beachgoers. It should especially appeal to nature lovers because of the high number and variety of bird life which frequents it.

Where are the best places to stay in and around Bucharest?

Catch a train or drive a few hours to sample mountain life in the scenic town of Sinaia deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Take in the pretty Alpine architecture, follow hiking trails, hit the slopes in winter and ride the Sinaia Gondola for fine mountain views. You can also visit Bran Castle, cited as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Peles Castle, a former royal residence and one of Europe’s most beautiful – both are nearby.

Lipscani, Bucharest’s Old Town, has survived war, earthquakes and the ravages of communism but still retains pockets of grandeur today with charming squares, cobblestone streets and alleyways replete with atmospheric old buildings such as the National Museum of Art, Central University Library, National Museum of Romanian History and the National Bank of Romania. Take a free walking tour to get your bearings.

Universitate, the square around Bucharest University, is a hive of activity year-round. A key venue for the events surrounding the 1989 revolution, today it remains a focal point for sporting celebrations, gatherings and first dates, where young men lurk nervously in front of the recently renovated National Theatre. The area around the square is packed with shops, bars, pubs, restaurants and hotels. Look out for the striking Holocaust Memorial and the ten stone crosses on Piata Universitatii commemorating those who died in the revolution.

Herastrau, the neighbourhood surrounding the popular park of the same name, has an international vibe thanks to a large number of expats, plus embassies and luxury shopping. The park features an extensive lake, jogging track, tennis courts, open-air cafes and the Triumphal Arch. Nearby lies the National Village Museum, a fascinating outdoor ethnographic museum gathering up numerous authentic peasant houses from across the country. Refuel at BOB Coffee Lab, which is overseen by former World Coffee Roasting Champion Alexandru Niculae.

Piata Romana is a busy square that’s home to one of Romania’s most prestigious universities, the Academy of Economic Studies with its grand facade. Nearby, the equally bustling Piata Amzei hosts a good quality produce market flanked by a bevy of decent cafes and restaurants. Noteworthy pitstops include unusual Bohemian bar/club/restaurant Shift which has a delightful terrace and Cafe & Gradina Verona which serves tasty burgers and vegetarian fare and often hosts cool live music and other cultural events.

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