Well, there was not much choice. If you travel a lot, it might happen that things go wrong sometimes. Usually, on my travels, I was fortunate despite two or three occasions. But this time it was a bit different. My best friend, who accompanied me on this trip, and I got stuck at the airport in Dortmund. Unfortunately, our journey to Romania began with a delay of the plane. Technical issues, whoa, very trustworthy. We spent a bit more than two hours at the airport in Dortmund. I think I do not need to mention that we were not very happy about this situation, mainly, because the airport in Dortmund has not very much to offer, even to find a free Wi-Fi was not available. At least, it was time enough to make a Plan B: Looking for a last-minute hotel and some things to do in Bucharest for the next day.
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Changed plans and a last-minute decision
Nevertheless, after two hours later we left the airport. We landed in Bucharest safe and sound. But then, as already anticipated, darkness came into play. A few hours later than planned, already dark, in a foreign country with traffic which I was not used to, and a hotel which was located another two and a half hours from the airport in Bucharest located in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains. Would you be tempted to take on this ride at that moment? I believe you also would have considered staying the night in the city, sleep well, and start refreshed into the next morning. Hence, my best friend and I, spontaneously, decided to stay here for the night and to explore Bucharest a bit for the half of the next day. It met our plans halfway as we considered a day trip from Brasov to Bucharest later the week. Now we just re-arranged our first idea and discover the city instead. Here are a couple of fantastic things to do in Bucharest. They can easily be visited in one day but can be extended by a lot more.
Bucharest – the Capital of Romania
Bucharest is the capital city and commercial center of Romania and is located in the south of the country. Although it is part of the European Union, the currency is still the Romanian Leu (RON). Therefore, prepare yourself and exchange money or make sure that you can use one of the available ATM´s to withdraw some.
A City Full Of Contrasts
A city, which is full of contrasts. It is loved and hated by Romanians at the same time, and also I am still not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, it is a beautiful and exciting destination with a lot of history, an active and energetic nightlife. And loads of things to do. “It’s where still-unreconstructed communism meets unbridled capitalism; where the soporific forces of the EU meet the passions of the Balkans.” – Lonely Planet
On the other hand, the traffic is crazy and aggressive. A lot of buildings appear abandoned but clean at the same time, and the people never smile or laugh, but as soon as you talk to them, you can feel a warm-hearted, friendly and helpful core.
Overall, it is a weird mixture of good things and bad ones. You will find a modern city center, but also 17th- and 18th-century Orthodox churches and graceful art nouveau villas. The traffic will make you crazy if you need to drive by yourself (as I did) but you can easily walk the city center and its attractions without any hurry.
Bucharest is indeed a city of contraries, but in my opinion, this is why it is so interesting. It has such a special flair, and I believe there are only two options: whether you love it or you hate it. You have to visit by yourself to feel it.
If you have half a day in a city only, you need to choose wisely what you want to do and where to go. For us, it was clear that we will focus on the city center and the old town because it says that the whole area is walkable and you will find a few gems within walking distance. And it is true! Here are five things to do in Bucharest, which you can visit in one day or less.
Where to start?
If you are going by car as we did, the best way to explore this area is by parking your car somewhere. The ideal starting point is the University Square. A giant roundabout near downtown with a lot of possibilities to park your vehicle. There are a lot of lots on the streets around which are organized by some parking lot guards (I am not sure how to describe them best. Men who advise you where to park, of course, in exchange of a fee). We found that the easiest way of getting rid of our car for a few hours would be one of the parking garages. We felt better to leave our rental car in the most organized and safest place we could found. Driving on Bucharest’s streets is adventure enough, and we did not want to risk any damages by parking on the those. Bucharest´s inhabitants use to park everywhere they find a free space, including sidewalks, entrances or anything else. Just a warning. 😉
Things to do in Bucharest
I know, vacation is not the right time to hurry or set yourself under pressure. But in this particular case, we had a three hours drive (depending on the traffic) ahead of us in the afternoon. So we had not too much time to discover Bucharest. Therefore we prepared the most time efficient route to catch the following sites. Five things to do in Bucharest in an order which allows you the see a few cool things in a short time.
1. Antiquities market at Bazar
If you are a fan of flea markets, this is a lovely way starting your tour. You can find it in a semi-abandoned building in the Strada Doamnei 11 at the corner of Doamnei and Ion Ghica. Keep your eyes open as you can quickly oversee the entrance. Even I would have walked by if I did not watch out for an antiquities market just because my best friend is a fan of those. You can find some artworks or hand-made stuff like jewelry, handbags or paintings. But what this place makes so special is the interior. Step into the building and raise your eyes to the ceiling. You will be amazed and stunned by the interior and fresco-like paintings of this art deco building. At least this is worth a quick stop.
2. Centru Vechi – The Old Town of Bucharest
After the stop at the Bazaar, we headed to the Centru Vechi. It is the Romanian name of the old town, the historical center of Bucharest. The Old Center of Bucharest is an area between the Dambovita river in the south, Calea Victoriei in the west, Bulevardul Brătianu in the east and Regina Elisabeta in the north. If you are looking for buildings and architecture from the time before World War II, this is the place to be, as this is pretty much it what is left from this era. Unfortunately, the Communists destroyed a lot of the city. For example, almost a fifth of the area was taken down to make way for the Bulevadul Unirii and the Casa Poprului in connection to the Civic Center project.
Give yourself some time and stroll through the narrow streets and get stunned by the architecture. You will find historical sights, bars, and restaurants all over the area. Take your time and enjoy this vibrant and crowded part of the town.
3. Palace of Parliament
The next stop on this short half-day trip through the center of Bucharest is the Palace of Parliament. A standard tour is available for 35 Lei per Person, and the parliament is open daily. There are two routes from the old town to get there. The first one is to follow the Dambovita River and then turn left at the Bulevardul Libertatii. The second one is to head to the Piata Unirii and then turn right on the Bulevardul Unirii. I would recommend the second one. Not only the Piata Unirii, a giant roundabout surrounded by a parc, also the Bulevadul Unirii is very special. It is a wide boulevard with walking alleys aside and a lane of fountains between the driving lanes. Follow it, and soon the gigantic Palace of Parliament will appear in front of you. This iconic landmark is the massive, communist-era government building. It has 1 100 rooms and is the second largest administrative building in the world. More massive than this is the Pentagon in Washington only.
Once again the controversy of the city is obvious here. During the communist reign and built by the dictator Ceausescu, this building should prove the wealth and power of the Socialist Republic of Romania to the world. Constructions began in 1983 and were stopped in 1989 by the time of the Romanian Revolution although the building was not finished yet. Today only a small part and a few rooms are in use. No one wished to complete the construction, in contrary, “many Romanians demanded the destruction of the building which was seen as a symbol of Ceausescu’s megalomania and the extravagant lives lead by the former communist elites.”
The one way or the other, you will be impressed by its appearance.
4. Pasajul Villacrosse and Pasajul Macca
After the Palace of Parliament, we went back to the old town alongside the river to find a real gem of this area. The Pasajul Vilacrosse and Macca. You can find this passage near the National Bank of Romania building. It is covered by an arcade yellow glass roof which allows natural light coming in and encourages commerce at street level. In fact, this was Bucharest’s first shopping mall. Today you can find cafes and restaurants. Sit down for a while, but as the most of them offer hookah pipes and exotic tobaccos, it might be more recommended to enjoy the architecture and use it as an excellent photo option.
5. Pasajul Victoria – so many colorful umbrellas 😮
Last but not least, my favorite sight, the Pasajul Victoria. The umbrella street of Bucharest. If you know what you are looking for it is easy to find because it is near the Piata Universitatii where you probably parked your car as recommended at the beginning of this post. Anyway, on both entrances of this small street are decorated with colorful umbrellas. Just have a look and enjoy or have a drink at the hidden underground bar.
Do you want more hidden gems and things to do in Bucharest? Then read this brilliant article from Full Suitcase about 12 Hidden Gems of Bucharest That Most Tourists Never See.
It was the last stop of our little Bucharest tour. Afterwards, we went back to our car and headed to our original destination. Poiana Brasov, located in the Carpathian Mountains, with all its Transilvanian attractions like Castle Bran, Bucegi National Park or the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sibiu. More about our time in Transylvania you can read in another article.
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It is true that Bucharest is a city of contrasts. As my best friend said, I quote: “Nice to see, once in your life…” Or as I see it: It is a beautiful and exciting city with its very own charm and atmosphere. There is a lot to see, visit, and worth to discover. From my point of view, the time was too short, and if I have the chance to go back one more time, I would love to do so and stay for a bit longer.
So what do you think? Would you visit Bucharest?
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