Bumbling around Bucharest – Backpacking Romania

Bumbling around Bucharest – Backpacking Romania

Bucharest was the second stop on my Romania trip. It’s the capital of Romania and its most recognised city. I used the time I had there to explore and do everything on “top things to do in Bucharest” lists. I found Bucharest to be a bit hit and miss. Below I’ve written about what I did and if it’s worth doing.

 

Getting there

 

I took the train from Craiova in the west of Romania to the capital Bucharest. It took 3 hours and cost £12 for a second class train ticket. The train was full, hot and sticky with no air-con. Luckily the ticket was seated so I had somewhere to sit.

There are two types of trains in Romania -Regio (RE) and InterRegio (IR). I only took the IR trains. RE trains are older and a lot slower with many stops.

 

Sweating on a Craiova to Bucharest train in July
Sweating on a Craiova to Bucharest train in July

 

Make sure you sit in your assigned seat as otherwise you’ll have a whole load of Romanians shouting at you – they aren’t the most understanding of foreigners.

People on the train were fine with putting their bags on the shelf above. I’d read a lot about pickpockets so I was reluctant to do this but due to the limited space, large bags need to go up there. However, I put all my valuables in a small bag and kept it with me on my lap. I’m not as trusting as the locals.

 

2nd class train carriage
2nd class train carriage

 

Public Transport

 

Gare Du Nord is Bucharest’s main train station, a 45 minute walk from the city centre so you’ll most likely have to take public transport to reach your accommodation. While Bucharest has a good bus and metro system, I took Ubers everywhere. It cost me £2 to take an Uber from Gare Du Nord to my hostel, south of the city centre. Using Uber helps as you know the estimated price of the journey. Reducing the risk of being over-charged.

 

Bucharest Metro
Bucharest Metro

 

Free Walking Tour – Good for meeting people

 

I’m usually a fan of these and in other big cities I’ve been on excellent free tours (Skopje, Bratislava, Milan and Vilnius) but this wasn’t as good. The tour starts at 10:30am and 6pm, see here. There was only one guide to over 50 people. It focused on a very small area in the Old Town and included stops in restaurants and a 30 min stop at a coffee shop. The Old Town area is compact enough to explore yourself and you can choose which of the many bars you want to stop off at for a drink.

 

50+ people standing in the hot sun on the Free Walking Tour
50+ people standing in the hot sun on the Free Walking Tour

 

The best part of the walking tour was at the end when you sit in the park and are told about the 1989 revolution. If, like me, you are interested in this you might want to take a communist walking tour.

 

Statue of Trajan and the She-wolf
Statue of Trajan and the She-wolf

 

A highlight of the tour was a drunk guy that kept running around the group claiming to be related to Vlad the Impaler. Another good thing was I met some great solo-travellers on the tour.

 

Vlad the Impaler statue. Romania’s tourism industry has a lot to thank him for.
Vlad the Impaler statue. Romania’s tourism industry has a lot to thank him for.

 

University area – Some hidden gems

 

Outside of the touristy Old Town, there’s an alternative free walking tour run by BTrip that covers the area just north of the Old Town. This is where the beautiful Romanian Athenaeum and the Universities are. You can’t go in the Athenaeum unless it’s for a show but it’s impressive from the outside.

 

Romanian Athenaeum
Romanian Athenaeum

 

There are lots of hidden gems to find in this area. Including, pizza and beer under umbrellas at Pasaj Victoria and an interesting house on the corner of Thomas Masaryk Street and I’L. Caragiale Street.

 

 Pasaj Victoria
Pasaj Victoria
Cool old house Bucharest
Cool old house

 

Cărturești Carusel – A must see

 

Cărturești Carusel is a beautiful book shop located in the Old Town. It’s a real book lovers dream with a modern feel yet old book shop character. I knew about this shop from Instagram. It’s a very popular place to take photos and I saw two guys there with professional cameras. The staff seemed used to this.

 

Cărturești Carusel
Cărturești Carusel
Cărturești Carusel spiral staircases
Cărturești Carusel spiral staircases

 

Coffeöl – Not as good as it looks

 

While its drinks have amazing presentation, they don’t taste anywhere near as good as they look.

Photo on Instagram showing the amazing cones you can get
Photo on Instagram showing the amazing cones you can get

 

I got the Peanut Butter Madness. I don’t remember the exact price but it was more than I expected. They also didn’t put an ice-cream cone in it, even though I pointed at that. However, I don’t think that would have helped the taste. I waited 15 minute and when my peanut butter drink arrived it tasted more of sour bananas that peanut butter.

 

Coffeöl, Bucharest - there's also one in Brasov
Coffeöl, Bucharest – there’s also one in Brasov
Peanut butter mess
Peanut Butter Madness

The taste wasn’t worth the Instagram photo.

 

Caru’cu Bere – Skip the food but good for beer

 

We stopped by Caru’cu Bere (the beer wagon) on the walking tour. It’s one of the oldest breweries in Bucharest.

 

Outside Caru'cu Bere, they were having building work done
Outside Caru’cu Bere, they were having building work done
Inside is like a traditional German beer hall
Inside it’s like a traditional German beer hall

 

I came here for a late lunch. They have a large selection of beer and cider, you can’t fault that. I had the Berea casei 400ml for 10,40 RON, very drinkable. I wanted to try something traditional to eat so I ordered the Mancare Traditionala Din Bucovina – Confit pork and smoked sausages with polenta and sour cabbage. It wasn’t good and it cost £10, which isn’t cheap by Romanian standards. I did hear Caru’cu Bere was “the” place to get breakfast though.

 

Skip – Mancare Traditionala Din Bucovina – Confit pork and smoked sausages with polenta and sour cabbage
Skip – Mancare Traditionala Din Bucovina – Confit pork and smoked sausages with polenta and sour cabbage

 

In general, Romanian food isn’t great. It mainly consists of meat, cabbage and polenta and they skip sauces and the meat is always dry. The only decent thing I tried in Romania was white bean soup with smoked pork.

On the plus side, Caru’cu Bere is a good place to eat on your own, there were many solo diners and service was quick. Hanu’ lui Manuc is an alternative traditional restaurant in the Old Town. This is situated in an outdoor court-yard.

 

Hanu’ lui Manuc
Hanu’ lui Manuc

 

Pastries – Always worth it

 

Traditional Romanian pastries are available from one of the many bakeries in Bucharest. I suggest trying Plăcintă, a Romanian pastry resembling a thin, small round or square-shaped cake, usually filled with soft cheese such as Urdă or apples. I bought one at Bucharest Gare Du Nord.

 

So many pastries
So many pastries
Plăcintă with raisins and apple
Plăcintă with raisins and apple – a must try

It’s so unhealthy but delicious.

 

Palace of Parliament – Worth it but have low expectations if you’re on the standard tour

 

The Palace of Parliament is one of the largest and heaviest civilian administrative buildings in the world. Only the Pentagon is larger.  You can even see it from the moon (so they say). Its construction began in 1983 and it’s generally associated with Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator and his reform of Bucharest. While Ceausescu was executed on 25th December 1989, his Palace remains. For more facts on the Palace see here.

 

Palace of Parliament, Bucharest
Palace of Parliament, Bucharest

 

Firstly, finding the entrance was a pain. When I asked the security guards where the entrance was, they just shooed me away. Eventually I found the visitors’ entrance located on  B-dul Naţiunile Unite on the building’s north side.

Secondly, the standard tour costs 35 RON (£7) and it’s cash only. You can only enter on a guided tour. The website said to reserve in advance yet I turned up without a reservation and got on the 11am tour with no problem. Time your trip with when they start so you don’t have to hang around. The tour times aren’t on their website but they’re roughly on the hour every hour until 2pm and then they are at 45 mins past, until 4:30pm in the summer and 3:30pm in the winter.

Thirdly, you MUST HAVE YOUR PASSPORT. You cannot enter if you don’t have a passport or ID card – driving license don’t count. They keep hold of your passport while you’re in the Palace.

 

Inside the Palace of Parliament
Inside the Palace of Parliament

 

There’s lots of security and it took 15 minutes to get through the metal detectors.

The tour lasted 45 minutes. On the standard tour you don’t get to see any of the underground passage ways (think Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear) or the living quarters. The tour was restricted to the main hallways and conference rooms.

 

Massive empty rooms
Massive empty rooms
Romanian marble walls
Romanian marble walls
Long corridors and another conference room
Long corridors and another conference room
Yet another conference room....
Yet another conference room….
Beautiful decor
Beautiful decor

 

The highlight was going out onto the balcony and pretending you’re a dictator addressing your people. If I were to go again I would do more research and call up to book the standard and underground tour for 40 RON to make the time worth it.

 

View from the Palace’s balcony
View from the Palace’s balcony

 

Pura Vida Sky Bar – Good for one drink

 

I heard about a rooftop bar attached to a hostel (so cheap drinks) in the middle of the Old Town and I knew I had to go. I bought a gin and tonic for 16 RON and took in the sun. In general, you’ll find that spirits are quite expensive in Romania yet beer is very cheap – here it was 11 RON for a Heineken but in other bars you can usually get a 0.5L draft beer for 7 to 8 RON (£1.50).

 

Rooftops and G&T
Rooftops and G&T

 

The view from Pura Vida wasn’t amazing as you’re not thaaat high up. This was a bit of a let down. However, it was good for the novelty value and there was plenty of seating.

 

Pura Vida
Pura Vida

 

Piata Obor – Just a market

 

This market is located near Obor metro station. I visited at around 2pm and I took an Uber there from the Old Town.

 

Outside Piata Obor
Outside Piata Obor

 

I went to Piata Obor to try and get a real feel for Romania, unfortunately I was reject right away. There are two parts to the market, the outside and indoor part that feels more traditional and then there’s a newer building with escalators, where the sellers are more welcoming.

In the older part I took a photo of the stall (not including the seller, just of the colourful sweets). Immediately the stall holder started yelling at me not to take photos. A market is a public place and I see nothing wrong with taking photos here. Maybe they were up to dodgy dealings, but more likely they don’t like tourists – their loss as I had money to spend and was hungry.

 

Older section of Piata Obor
Older section of Piata Obor
Cheese stall
Cheese stall

 

The market isn’t that big and most of the stall were selling the same thing – fruit and vegetables. It’s outside the city and there’s nothing else in this area except a modern shopping mall with all the generic brands. I don’t think it’s exciting enough to warrant a visit.  Plus some of the seller were rude.

 

Fresh fruit and vegetables for sale
Fresh fruit and vegetables for sale
Newer section of Piata Obor
Newer section of Piata Obor
Lots of watermelons for sale
Lots of watermelons for sale

 

Bellu Cemetery – If you have time

 

Having visited Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where Oscar Wilde’s tomb is, I was interested in comparing it to Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest, where Romanian writers are buried. I also wanted to have some peace from people and go for a walk.

Bellu Cemetery is the largest in Bucharest, established in 1858. It’s the perfect place to go for quiet reflection. The funeral art here is incredible. It’s full of mausoleums, tombs, monuments and statues. I was there at 5pm and I only saw one other person and a kitten there.

It’s named Bellu after the man who donated the land to Bucharest, Baron Barbu Bellu. Some graves were better maintained than others. This is because the city and the church aren’t responsible for looking after the cemetery, it’s up to the families to maintain their plots.

 

Bellu Cemetery
Bellu Cemetery
Hidden Statues
Hidden Statues
Bellu Cemetery Chapel
Bellu Cemetery Chapel
Tomb and angel statues in Bellu Cemetery
Tomb and angel statues
Crosses
Crosses

 

Nearby is the Heroic Martyrs of the 1989 Revolution cemetery where those killed during the revolution are buried. It brought home to me the turbulent history Romania has.

 

Heroic Martyrs of the 1989 Revolution cemetery
Heroic Martyrs of the 1989 Revolution cemetery

 

While I enjoyed Bellu Cemetery, it’s located quite far from the city centre in the south, near Eroli Revolutiel metro station. But it’s worth the visit if cemeteries are your thing. It had a different vibe than Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Bellu Cemetery was less touristy and more decorative.

 

Parks – Take your pick

 

There are lots of parks in Bucharest. They’re very beautiful and nice to walk through. The city really excels at having green space. I walked around Parcul Carol and it was clean with some swans. I’m not a park person – I prefer to see something historical.

 

Parcul Carol
Fountain
Parcul Carol
Parcul Carol
Ducks in the park
Ducks in the park

 

If you’re not visiting other parts of Romania then you might want to check out the Village Museum (Muzeul Satului) located by Parcul Herastrau. It’s an outdoor museum includeing more than 300 buildings representing the history of Romania’s rural architecture.

 

Overall

 

I didn’t fall in love with Bucharest. I never felt threatened or unsafe but I felt a little unwelcome. There weren’t any attractions that stood out to me in the city, the only memorable one was the Palace of Parliament and that was due to its huge size. Don’t go to Bucharest for the food!

I left Bucharest by train to Brasov which was a better city, rich with history and had a more easy-going feel.  If you are only visiting one city in Romania, I recommend avoiding Bucharest and heading north to the Transylvania region.

3 Replies to “Bumbling around Bucharest – Backpacking Romania”

  1. How did you come up with Romania? Do you just browse online for cheap flights?
    And are you always traveling alone?

    It really didn’t stand out as a must see place to me.

    1. Thanks for reading 🙂 I ended up in Romania as the flight was £13 to Craiova, which I found on Skyscanner. I want to visit every country in Europe so it’s mainly about going when I see a cheap way to get there. About 90% of the time I travel on my own.

      Bucharest is not a highlight of Romania. I also went to Brasov, Sibiu and Cluj, in the Transylvania region. Brasov was awesome, it’s where Bran’s (Dracula’s) Castle is and the region is beautiful. I’ll write posts on these cities as they are worth visiting and hopefully might change your mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.