Bucharest may have been slow to ride the waves of gritty-to-glam resurgence that plowed through the other capitals of Eastern Europe earlier in the decade. But the post-communist capital of Romania is in its own quiet prime and has a humble beat to its step: streets see-saw between ornate communist structures and buildings falling into tender disrepair; modern restaurants are encased in brutal Neo-classical facades but resonate with laughter and warmth inside. Walking around, there are plenty of surprises to be had, parks to linger at, and monuments to uncover.
Where to Stay
The InterContinental Hotel in Bucharest was the first skyscraper to be built in Bucharest and continues to be an imposing landmark in the city center, towering above the Bucharest National Theatre. The moon-shaped curve of the building allows each room to have a unique panorama of the city – so much so that during the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it was the go-to spot for foreign press to observe the protests in University Square.
In the morning, unobstructed sunshine creates beautiful auras on your balcony window. Room rates start at $35/night, which includes use of the spa area, gym, and a splendid intercontinental breakfast in the morning – for a five-star hotel, I’ve never met a deal quite like it.
Where I found myself spending the most time was on the rooftop pool and spa. The white ceilings, muted color palette, and pale timber furnishings lend this 22nd-floor wellness oasis an airy Scandi aesthetic. After a day of walking from one end of the town to the other, I looked forward to nothing more than to sit in the jacuzzi and observe Bucharesti traffic slow down to a steady shimmer on the main concourse.
If you’re looking to live in Bucharest’s Old Town, the adults-only Mansion Boutique Hotel is where you’d want to be. While it has an imposing historic facade, its interiors are outfitted to be elegant and classy, and the themed rooms are anything but bland. Your room options include Zen, Industrial, Art Deco, French, but the most popular option is the Transylvania room, complete with handcrafted furniture and floral motifs.
Where To Visit
To see Communism in all its splendor (or megalomania, as you see fit), you’ll want to visit the hulking mastiff of a building, the Palace of Parliament. Designed by chief architect Anca Petrescu with the help of approximately 700 architects over the span of 13 years, this Totalitarian and Neoclassical building personifies the sweeping socialist realism that took hold of Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu, the dictator and personality of Communist Romania. It’s currently valued at €3 billion, making it the most expensive administrative building in the world; it’s also one of the most massive buildings in the world, even exceeding the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Heads up: you’ll have to bring your passport in order to gain entry to this building.
After a heady serving of history and diplomacy at the Palace of Parliament, you’ll want to pop over to its new glass wing, which houses MNAC – Muzeul Național de Artă Contemporană al României, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest. Once you’ve had enough indoor time, the lawns of the Parliament Palace that make up Izvor Park are perfect for lounging around or grabbing a snack.
For a more substantial meal, you can’t go wrong with the classical Romanian gastronomical icon, Caru’ cu Bere. With 130 years serving the thoroughfare on Stavropoleos Street, even locals have deemed this Gothic Revival restaurant “the soul of Bucharest.”
When you’ve got your fill of their house speciality of confit pork and braised sour cabbage, dip into the Stavropoleos Monastery down the road, an Eastern Orthodox stone monastery with stone-carved decoration and artful frescoes, where, if you come at the right time, you might just get to watch the nuns at work.
If being surrounded by grand draping plants and the natural warmth of greenhouses excite you, the Bucharest Botanical Gardens, with over 10,000 species of plants, can provide a delightful stroll. Or, to fully wind down, Bucharest even has the biggest wellness and entertainment center in Europe: Therme Bucharest, a tropical paradise with 9 swimming pools and 10 themed saunas under a modern glass and steel structure. If you want to take your experience up a notch, ask for Aufguss, an exhilarating, modern sauna ritual that’s meant to entertain your senses through smells and storytelling.
Notable mentions: Romanian Athenaeum Revolution Square Arcul de Triumf Cișmigiu Gardens
Where To Shop
Exploring the city center of Bucharest is easy enough on foot and there are plenty of modern design stores housed in old facades.
One of the Old Town’s main draws is the grand, regal bookstore, Cărturești Carusel – it’s housed in an architectural gem of a building and is often cited as one of the most beautiful bookstores in Europe. Over four expansive floors, you can sip coffee at a cafe, browse English and Romanian texts, or shop for contemporary gifts to take home.
Most young designers in Romania have their eyes on being stocked at dizainar, and it’s obvious why: this cosy design store has consistently picked out promising Romanian designers and delivered their products through the dizainar online platform to the rest of Europe. It’s a ticket to being recognized both in your country and outside of it, and dizainar currently carries all kinds of furniture, lighting, accessories, ceramics, and books. If you’re looking for the holy grail of contemporary Romanian design, you’ll be in heaven here.
If you’re more into a laid-back, Carturesti Verona is an enchanting book shop, records store, tea room, and backyard hang out spot in one location. There’s a sizable collection of design, art, and architecture books that you can get lost in, but what we enjoyed most was simply walking around the expansive store, discovering new rooms hidden in small nooks and the treasures they held, like antique copper cups stacked around the staircase, carefully knitted scarves by the corner windows, or trendy color block izipizi glasses.
We were pleasantly surprised by all that Bucharest had to offer from dawn to dusk. Whether it’s relishing in the pleasures of an affordable and piping-hot pretzels at a traditional Romanian bakery in the morning, dancing to street performers serenading foot passengers in the Old Town, having a moment of quiet watching nuns pray in the monastery, or walking into the antique store to get a traditional Romanian hand painted egg, there are many treasures to be uncovered here in Bucharest – and the best time to visit might be now, before all the cosy wooden buildings are upheaved and retrofitted with modern interiors and the scars of Communism are bleached from the buildings’ facades. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
If you’ve traveled to Bucharest, Romania and have any additional favorite spots or recommendations for first time visitors, let us know below so we can share (and also check it out ourselves the next time we’re there).