Often overshadowed by its noisy neighbour Budapest, Romania’s capital Bucharest is fast becoming one of Europe’s most popular destinations. And with good reason: rich in culture and benefitting from a modern food and drink revolution, the city has never been more dynamic, energetic and fun. Bucharest is breaking free of its communist past and transforming into an edgy, youthful member of the European Union. Like its neighbour Budapest, the city is a contrast of Soviet Union history and Latin spirit – most evident in its mix of old romance languages and Slavic. However, unlike Budapest it’s a city often bypassed by travellers, meaning prices are more affordable and there are smaller queues at its abundance of major sights. There’s a splendid blend of art nouveau architecture, parks, al fresco dining and worthwhile museums dotted throughout the city. Perhaps Bucharest’s best feature is its vibrant nightlife – where many of the watering holes keep going until sunrise, every day of the week. Noroc!
SIGHTSEEING AND CULTURE
Start with the unmissable – seriously it’s enormous – Palace of Parliament (cic.cdep.ro/en, +40 733 558 102) so big it’s still being built almost 35 years after construction began in 1984. It has more than 3,000 rooms and covers 330,000 sq m. To put that into perspective, it’s 20,000 sq m more than the entire Burj Khalifa – despite standing only 12 floors tall.
You can visit the world’s second-largest administrative building (after America’s Pentagon). Book at least 24 hours in advance and take your passport. There are several tours – including of the main rooms, hallways, terrace and basement – which last from 45 minutes to one hour.
Culture vultures will be awed in the National Museum of Art (mnar.arts.ro/en, +40 213 133 030). Housed inside the Royal Palace and split into two galleries – one for national art and one for European masters – the museum is stocked with stunning pieces including Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet.
FOOD AND DINING
Romania has embraced modern café culture and its winding, cobbled, sometimes crumbling streets are lined with ultra-cool spaces serving an endless variety of cuisines and strong coffee. Start with breakfast at Pukka Tukka, a short walk from the National Museum of Art. No this isn’t Jamie Oliver’s Romanian double, although it was the country’s first organic store when it opened in 2008.
Enjoy lunch while rubbing shoulders with locals at Caru’ cu Bere, meaning “hop cart”. Here you’ll find authentic Romanian dishes such as mittitei (grilled spiced sausages) and tochitură (meat stew). A house band plays folk tunes, too.
For dinner, take your pick from one of the city’s few, but exceptional, fine-dining restaurants. Kane is a seasonal bistro serving dishes created from 100 percent local produce in a gorgeous sun-kissed setting near Piata Romana.
Bucharest is a party city, standing head and shoulders over its Balkan neighbours: there are pubs, clubs, outdoor terraces, sleek and chic spots for all. Start in La 100 de Beri in the city’s Old Town. As the name suggests, it serves more than 100 pints. It’s an extensive, old-fashioned hall and is surrounded by other lively and cheap spots including Club A and Argentin.
WHERE TO STAY
It’s hard to say enough good things about Athénée Palace Hilton (hiltonbucharest.com), which was formerly a hotbed for espionage in the city’s communist era. From QR1,200 a night.
For mid-price rooms head to Rembrandt Hotel (rembrandt.ro). It’s tucked away in the Historic Centre and has 16 rooms of three different sizes. From QR350 a night.
Budget travellers will find plenty of options from hostels to cheap hotels like the charming Flowers B&B (flowersbb.ro). From QR150 a night.
Bucharest is served by trams, buses and trolleybuses. You can buy an Activ card and load it up with credit to be used on all three services. Most of the city’s sights are walkable.
Qatar Airways flies directly to Bucharest for QR3,695. Average travel time is five hours.