Despite its ever increasing popularity, to the average tourist Bucharest is still a pretty much offbeat destination. This means that unlike in other more touristy places, you can roam the city streets and fully observe the the city’s biggest attractions, it’s people!
Start the first of your two days in Bucharest with a gentle stroll in the city’s oldest and most elegant urban garden, the laid back Cișmigiu Park, built in 1847. See the city gently wake up and, depending on the season, consider joining the locals for a game of chess on the Chess Players Alley, rent a boat and row on the lake, or take a stroll to Writers’ Round, a rounded alley displaying busts of important Romanian writers, or to the French or American heroes’ monuments.
For a nice spot to have your morning coffee, exit the park on Regina Elisabeta Boulevard, cross it and take your pick from coffee specialist Origo, the new kid on the block with a steady following, Energiea, opened in one of Bucharest’s former printing houses, or Grand Cafe Van Gogh in the Old Center, a bistro with a Parisian air inspired by a Dutch painter, serving delicious Italian coffee. The buildings housing these cafes will evoke a time when Bucharest was called “Little Paris”, while a stroll on Lipscani Street in the Old Center will see you walk the same cobblestone streets as merchants from the Middle Ages.
Alternatively, go for a coffee with a view on the terrace of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in the Palace of the Parliament, before getting a taste of the most thought provoking Romanian art. Continue with a visit (best with a reservation) to the Palace of the Parliament itself, the second biggest administrative building in the world, whose lighting and heating bill costs as much as that of an average-sized town in Romania. Built by Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, it will connect you with 40 years of history that sculpted the appearance of Bucharest and the lives of its inhabitants in an irreversible way.
Spend your afternoon walking in Cotroceni, one of Bucharest’s most charming neighborhoods, with beautiful villas dotting the quiet, tree lined streets. Once completely covered by a historic forest, the hill on which the neighborhood was built also hosts the Cotroceni Palace, the residence of the Romanian President. The palace, built by Romanian King Carol I, houses a museum displaying paintings by Romanian and foreign masters, sculptures, religious art as well as old books and photographs of unique historic value. Continue with a stroll in Bucharest’s Botanical Garden, and opt for either the Rosarium, in summer, or the greenhouse, which was modeled after those of the Liège Botanical Gardens.
Bucharest is famous for its nightlife. Head back to Bucharest’s Old center, where every building hosts either a bar or a restaurant. The colorful terraces that stretch onto the narrow cobble stoned streets, are excellent spots for people watching. With their light easy-going vibe, on hot summer evenings, they provide the perfect place to relax.
For a slower buildup, head to one of Bucharest many bars. Bucharest’s young creatives like to mingle at Fix me a Drink and Apollo 111. Later, the hip crowd gathers on the terrace of Club Control before heading inside for concerts and all-night parties, or at Expirat, the club redesigned by one of the hottest Bucharest architects that recently reopened in a former industrial space.
Whether last night was something worthy of reminiscing about, or, best washed away with a strong coffee, visit Delicatese Florescu, where Master Florescu himself will prepare for you a cup using a 500 year old recipe he learned from his Armenian mentor. Located nearby, in a villa with an intriguing story, Dianei 4 serves a delicious hot chocolate with rose water and a Romanian platter that can make for a hearty breakfast.
Walk to Calea Victoriei, one of the main arteries of the city, lined with monuments and old houses and pick one, or two, for a visit. Choose from George Enescu Museum, dedicated to the most famous Romanian classical music composer, the Museum of Art Collections, displaying carefully curated paintings by Romanian masters, or the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. Grab a bite at its cafeteria and, if visiting on a weekend, buy souvenirs and traditional food at the fair hosted in the museum’s courtyard. Continue walking, or, rent a bike and, passing by the quiet Kiseleff Park, head to the Arch of Triumph, Paris’ equally photogenic twin.
For an afternoon spent outdoors, plan a picnic at the Village Museum, a collection of houses, farms and churches brought from all over Romania, for an introduction to Romanian folk culture. Continue walking in Herastrau Park, the city’s biggest, or, alternatively, take a break from your city break. A spa and a botanical garden boasting over 800,000 plants, Therme Bucuresti uses thermal waters to create a recreation space for the whole family and it is only 10 minutes away from Bucharest.
If putting on a bathing suit doesn’t hold much appeal, then unpack your evening gown or suit and spend a night at a classical concert at the Atheneum, one of the city’s top cultural venues. The area around it is packed with restaurants, such as Le Bistrot Francais, which combines French fine dining tradition with Basque elements, or Caju, for delicious food with North African influences. French Revolution, serving fresh, gourmet eclairs and Mara Mura, home to scrumptious homemade cakes, are both worth a visit.
Say goodbye to Bucharest with a stroll in the city centre, from Romana Square to the upscale neighborhood of Floreasca. Brimming with restaurants serving Turkish, Greek, Japanese and Thai food, cafes and wine bars, it provides a quiet, laid-back setting for the last hours of your city break.