It was a dark and stormy night in Bucharest, when a sudden flash of lightening caught the cloaked figure with the monstrous look of evil who was unmistakably Vlad Dracula! This line wasn’t written by a Romantic period author but it could have been because Bucharest, the capital of Romania is indelibly linked with the legendary king Vlad III, the Impaler. This tyrannical leader founded Bucharest in 1459 after successfully repelling an Ottoman invasion of the Wallachia lands in 1456.
To this day, Vlad Dracula is a hero in Romania and is remembered for bringing peace, stability and safety – even though these attributes were won by terror. Vlad’s reputation for vengeance and tortuous death was enough to scare anyone from committing a criminal act.
Bucharest is a relatively young city, founded as one of the residences of Vlad III. It was under Vlad’s rule that it began to grow and develop with Old Town being the centre for commerce and trade – now the heart of the city’s buzzing nightlife. During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, it was known as the “Paris of the East” for its monumental buildings, wide avenues and eclectic lifestyle. Today, the capital city of Romania is a bustling high-tech centre whose residents enjoy a convenient lifestyle and high level of education. But the aura of mystery still permeates the fibre of the city giving it an allure for all visitors.
Henri Coandă International Airport, located 17km (10 miles) northwest of the city, is a convenient facility that is close to the business district. You can take the 783 bus, which runs round the clock, to your accommodations (approx. 60 min, £1) or travel by taxi (25-30 minutes and about £15).
Here’s a Pro-tip: The currency in Romania is the Romanian “Leu” or the “Ron” with an exchange rate of around 5 Ron = 1 Pound sterling.
Bucharest is easily explored by foot. Here are my recommendations on what to see and do in the city:
- The Palace of Parliament is the world’s largest parliamentary building, and an astounding site. It’s unlikely you’ll see its 1000+ rooms but you can marvel at the marble, hardwood and gold that lines every crevice and corner.
- Tour the former Ceausescu Residence to see how former dictator and his family lived. Its jaw-dropping opulence and abundance is a stark contrast to the lives of the rest of the country during his time in power.
- The Cismigiu Gardens is a gleaming art deco gem with wrought-iron features, old trees and a romantic lake for strolling around or sitting near.
- The Museum of the Romanian Peasant pays tribute to the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Romanian countryside. One part tongue-in-cheek one part educational, the display of woodworking, pottery-making, egg-painting and weaving highlights Romanian handicraft traditions.
- Văcărești Nature Park is the first nature park of its kind in Romania. Thanks to an abandoned project from the communist era, it’s now a home to over 200 different species of birds, plants and insects and a thriving ecosystem.
- Rather than visiting the big cathedrals, it is in the tiny Eastern Orthodox churches and chapels like the Stavropoleos Church, that the characteristics of Byzantine, Greek, Ottoman and Renaissance styles are most beautifully expressed. Though well hidden, this church is worth a visit for it hand carved door alone.
- Romania has exploded on the contemporary art scene in recent years and is responding with a boatload of new galleries and design centres. Dark humour and surrealism are common threads. You can view some of this work at the National Museum of Art.
- On a tiny island, in the middle of Lake Snagov, tradition says is the burial site of Vlad Dracula, the Impaler. Cross over the footbridge and stop by the supposed gravesite near the Snagov Monastery, if you dare!
- See where the historic 1989 revolution commenced in the Tiata Revolutiei or Revolution Square. At the centre of the square stands the Memorial of Rebirth, to honour all who died in this fight for freedom.
- Cinema Elvire Popesco is one of the most popular cultural institutions in the city, featuring a variety of independent and foreign films, a renowned film festival and other cultural events.
Romanian cuisine stems from a unique blend of several different cultures and traditions including Turkish, Balkan and Hungarian cuisine and is also heavily influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Here are some of the best places to eat in the city:
- Caru’cu Bere, a well-known beer house in the centre of the city, is known for classic Romanian home cooking, served by waiters in traditional Romanian dress. Try the cabbage rolls, called sarmale, which are stuffed with spiced minced pork and beef and paired with a thick cornmeal porridge.
- Located in an eclectic villa on one of the oldest streets in Bucharest (Calea Victoriei), sits the award-winning Artist, serving modern cuisine, influenced by Romanian traditions and ingredients. The chefs change the menu every three months, except for their famous cucumber sorbet which is lovely!
- Lacrimi și Sfinți, located in the historic district of the city, is a tribute to the simple peasant food fused with farm-to-table and organic sourcing. For those looking to try Romanian cuisine at it’s very best, this is where to head.
It’s Gulash not Ghoulish!
The Old Town has been gentrified since its medieval beginnings. Now it’s where to go to enjoy Bucharest’s nightlife. Here are several recommendations on where to head for a great night out:
- Romanian Athenaeum is at the heart of Romania’s classical music tradition and home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. This magnificently domed edifice was saved from disaster by the Romanian community through fundraising efforts that have paid for its upkeep. Its continued existence showcases the value Romanians place on classical music. Concerts tickets are regularly available.
- Mojo is where to dance the night away. Spread over 3 floors, each floor hosting its own unique sound, everyone will find their rhythm of the night.
- Linea/Closer to the Moon is the city’s most popular rooftop bar, offering breath-taking panoramic views of the city. Not just popular during the summer months, it’s where to head year-round because it also features private igloos for keeping warm during the colder months.
Bucharest offers romantic and memorable accommodations with their own unique style. Here are my favourites:
- The Epoque Hotel, located in the centre of the city, offers suite-only accommodations alongside a full-service spa to ensure guests enjoy a spacious and calming stay after they return from a busy day in the city.
- The Sutar Palace Heritage Boutique Hotel, built in 1906 is a five-star hotel, located at the highest natural point in the city. It offers guests elegantly styled rooms, excellent views, a gourmet restaurant, spa and health facilities.
- For an exclusive stay, The Mansion Boutique Hotel is comprised of only 19 rooms with Art Nouveau design. Located in the Old Town and within walking distance from all the major sites, attractions, bars and restaurants, this property is perfect for travellers looking for a unique, yet convenient experience.
Bucharest is a beautiful place where you’ll want to return again and again. It’s liable to give you a case of Ro-mania!