One of the densest cities in Europe, Bucharest is also ‘blessed’ with maddening traffic and plenty of hot days. Luckily, its many parks, scattered around the city, provide a welcome contrast, as they offer lush green spaces perfect for picnics, shadowy alleys for strolls, plenty of lakes you can row on, and, perhaps surprisingly, often a rich range of wildlife.
One of the most popular green spaces in Bucharest, Gradina Cişmigiu is also the city’s oldest garden and one of its most romantic. Designed by Viennese landscape architect Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Meyer, the garden, whose name is derived from the Turkish word for drinking fountain, çeşme, was opened in 1847. More than 30,000 trees were brought at the time from Romania’s hilly and mountain regions, while the more exotic species of trees and plants were shipped from Vienna.
Today, its lanes, lined by old linden trees and dotted with refreshment kiosks, attract people of all ages, at any time, every season. Hidden among them, a 300-year-old platanus whose branches nearly reach the height of a nine-floor block of flats, is believed to have a treasure hidden among its roots! The lawns near the main entrance, bordered by flowers, resemble colorful carpets in springtime, while its more hidden paths, such as that leading to the ruins of an old monastery, is covered in waves of purple wisteria. The lake in the middle is great for boat rowing in warm weather, while in winter it turns into a lively skating rink.
Bucharest Botanical Garden
The Dimitrie Brândză Botanical Garden is located in Bucharest’s quiet and charming neighborhood of Cotroceni. Established in 1860, its history mirrors the tumultuous history of the city. Severely damaged during the first world war and completely torn down during the second, it flourished during the past decades and now welcomes visitors with over 10,000 species of plants spread over 18 hectares.
As you enter, pay attention to the rocky landscape set on your right hand side, and you will discover some rare species of plants. If visiting in spring you will find Snake’s head, wild peonies, while in autumn you can spot the yellow star-shaped flowers of Sternbergia lutea, the autumn daffodil, brought from Ada Kaleh, a now submerged island on the Danube. The garden’s museum is also not to be missed, as it displays, among other treasures, a large collection of watercolors by Italian painter Angiolina Santocono, who worked on the site. Recently reopened, a pavilion of the garden’s old greenhouse, was built between 1889-1891 and modeled after that in Liège, now hosts a tropical forest. Oh, and if visiting in the height of summer, do stop by for one of the evening concerts!
Opened only a couple of years ago, Grădina Eden occupies the site of a famous Bucharest garden renowned in the interwar period for its waterfalls and grottos. The picturesque building it hides behind, Palatul Știrbei, was at the time the modern-day equivalent of the city’s best nightclub, hosting balls and cabaret nights attended by aristocracy and royals.
These days, on a hot summer night, this wild-looking space, where drinks are always cold, is the closest you can get to the Garden of Eden, the earthly version. As you enter, you can take the stairs that descend to ‘the hole’, a quieter and more intimate space, or head for a table or a beanbag under the trees. Open from 10 am, this is the place to spot the new fashion trends emerging in the city and, if you happen to cross paths with a black cat with a Ghibli-esque air about him, consider yourself lucky, as it is one of the city’s most famous felines.
Parcul Circului is hands down one of the most charming parks in Bucharest. Its central meadow, which descends towards the lake, is bordered by elevated areas, adding coziness to the 26 hectare public space.
If visiting in spring, don’t miss the magnolia tree by the Circus building that gives the park its name, while in autumn the warm colors of the exotic trees will blow your mind. The best time to visit is summer though, when the round lake around which the park is built is covered in pink lilies and teaming with life. You can spot fish, ducks, turtles, and, if you move slowly, might even spot a squirrel in the trees that border it.
Spread over 187 hectares around the Herăstrău Lake, the park covers an area inhabited since the Paleolithic era, that once saw herds of woolly rhinoceros and mammoths roam around. What’s more, the Dacian settlement established there in the 1st century BC left behind treasures of silver and gold coins and jewelry.
Today, this popular park has something for everyone. Due to its size, it is a favorite spot for running and cycling, in any season. While nature lovers can discover the park by rowing boat, culture vultures can visit the city’s only open-air museum, the Village Museum. For party goers, a large number of lively terraces and restaurants offering great views of the lake have built a buzz that makes the area a serious contender for Bucharest’s Old Center.
Designed by French architect Eduard Redont, Carol Park is a great spot to do sports, go for long walks in nature and enjoy the panoramic views over the city.
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The imposing red granite mausoleum that dominates the park is considered the park’s most important landmark. During Romania’s communist years (and still today), the rotunda beneath it, preserved the remains of some of the most important members of the nomenklatura. But the park holds many more secrets, ready to be discovered. The statues of two naked males, known as the Giants, one by renown Bucharest sculptor Frederic Storck, as well as the Sleeping Beauty they used to guard, are worth a treasure hunt! Moreover, if visiting in winter, prepare to release your inner child, as the park transforms in a winter wonderland.
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Tineretului Park is Bucharest’s largest and was designed by Romanian architect Valentin Donose. Opened in 1965, it was meant to serve the southern part of the city, where a lot of new blocks of flats were being constructed for the city’s new workforce. As it was built during Romania’s communist years, a lot of young people were requested to join in the build, allowing it to be completed in just eight months. Its name, meaning “Park of the youth” is a reminder of that time.
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The park’s lake, which takes its water from three natural springs, is a great spot for wildlife. Its three islands are home to numerous species of birds that use them as a stopover during winter migrations.
Parcul Grădina Icoanei
Grădina Icoanei is a small, elegant park in the middle of the bustling city center. The perfect spot to do some people watching and catch your breath after sightseeing, it is located nearby Romană Square and Bulevardul Daciei. The latter, one of Bucharest’s main arteries, is lined with majestic villas whose elaborate facades speak of the city’s rich cultural heritage.
Spread over 80 hectares, Parcul Plumbuita is one of the city’s largest. Its long, winding lanes, which surround the lake of the same name, are a favorite for joggers. But for many, Plumbuita is synonymous with amusement park. At a height of 63 meters (206 ft), the Ferris Wheel placed in the park last year offers amazing views over the Romanian capital, while the roller coaster and the ‘house of horrors’ are bound to give you some thrills.
Culture lovers will also find something to explore. For instance, the park hosts a 16th century monastery whose interior is preserved untouched, which sells fresh produce from its farm. On the southern side, Palatul Ghica Tei, a palace whose interiors are adorned with frescoes.
Parcul Natural Văcăreşti
An urban delta spread over 189 hectares, Văcăreşti natural park is one of the newest additions to the list of green spaces in Bucharest. Initially meant to be a lake, part of the city’s defense system against flooding, after being left unused for over 20 years, the space was reclaimed by nature.
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The species that can be spotted here include over 95 species of birds, several species of protected animals, such as the Eurasian otter, and more. In 2016 the park became the first natural urban park in Romania as well as the first protected natural area in the Romanian capital.