Like Romania as a whole, Bucharest is the sum of strange parts. Architecturally, the city has its own triumphal arch, but also a massive edifice (by some measures, the world’s largest building) constructed by a Communist dictator, and as many Soviet-era apartment towers as Moscow or St. Petersburg.
This paradigm also carries through the people. The Romanian language you hear all around you is technically Latin-based but somehow sounds Slavic; the people don’t look far-removed from those you’d met in Rome or Madrid, even though the overall motion of society evokes somewhere much further east.
So, is Bucharest worth visiting? Certainly, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking city, even if (for reasons I’ll soon explain) it’s not always the most comfortable place.
Where to Stay in Bucharest (If You Visit)
Bucharest, like many cities in Eastern Europe, is defined largely be the sort of Eastern Bloc architecture I mentioned in the intro to this piece. If you want to avoid staying in one of these areas—and you might not; there’s a case to be made for authenticity—I highly suggest seeking accommodation in Centru Vechi, which is the Romanian phrase that means “Old Town.”
Whether you stay in a hotel or Airbnb, I do advise getting this hammered out as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. As is the case when booking car rental in Mallorca with ROIG and other travel products in Europe, the earlier you make your reservations, the more choice you’re going to have. Price is less of a consideration, of course, given how generally affordable Romania is.
How to Spend Your Time in Bucharest
See the world’s largest building
Forget, for a moment, what I’ve said about Bucharest’s Old Town. One of the most interesting structures here is in fact the Palace of the Parliament, which is by some measures the world’s largest building. The back story is interesting as well: Though dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu ordered construction, it wasn’t completely until years after his death.
(Or Europe’s least-visited triumphal arch)
If you were simply to stumble upon the Arcul de Triumf, out of context, you would certainly conclude that Bucharest is worth visiting. Although slightly simpler in style than the one in Paris, and with a Romanian flag dangling down from it, it gives the city a certain, European je ne sais quoi.
Discover Romanian food
Romania doesn’t have my favorite food in Europe, but I still recommend that you give it a try. There are plenty of places to do this in the Old Town, whether you choose extremely traditional dishes like sarmale cabbage rolls, or instead visit restaurants that fuse Romanian flavors with less specific, more generally European cuisine.
Take a green break
Although it isn’t an extremely green city, the parks it does has are a bit part of what make me feel that Bucharest is worth visiting. In particular, I like the King Michael I Park (which most locals refer to simply as Herastrau Park), though your mileage may vary.
Plot your next move
At the end of the day, Bucharest is less a destination and more a jumping-off point. For example, you could use your time here to decide where else you’re going in Romania (probably Brasov). Or, instead, you could plan out future adventures elsewhere in Europe, whether that’s browsing rental cars via ROIG or even booking flights to other countries.
How Many Days in Bucharest is Enough?
Bucharest is the largest city in Romania, but most of it isn’t relevant to tourists. As a result, you really don’t need a long time here. Depending on where you’re arriving from, in fact, you could spend as little as two nights here and really see everything there is to see. I’d probably add a third if Bucharest is your first stop in Europe if arriving from North America, Asia or somewhere else outside the confident—take a day to get over your jet lag!
This, of course, assumes you end up finding Bucharest worth visiting—many travelers don’t. Some, in fact, will bypass the capital entirely, and instead head north to Brasov in the heart of Transylvania, or over to Constanta on the Black Sea coast. I won’t make this decision for you, of course, but I will tell you that it is possible to explore Romania without so much as taking an interest in its capital.
Other FAQ About Visiting Bucharest
Is Bucharest good for tourists?
Bucharest’s old town is a nice place to spend a day or so enjoying cuisine and culture in one of Europe’s most affordable capital cities. Beyond this, however, I do find that Bucharest as a whole leaves something to be desired—to me, it’s simply the gateway to Romania.
Why is Bucharest so popular?
To me, Bucharest has become popular less for its merits as a destination, and more because it’s extremely cheap and also somewhat “alternative.” Moreover, due to the skyrocketing popularity of Romania more broadly, Bucharest (as the country’s capital and main gateway) obviously stands to gain more than any other city.
Is Bucharest a modern city?
Bucharest feels relatively modern, even though the medievally-styled Old Town is surrounded largely by buildings dating back to the Communist Era. Certainly, the human and societal elements of life in today’s Bucharest feel extremely modern and futuristic, even if they don’t always look it.
The Bottom Line
Is Bucharest worth visiting? I’ll be honest: It’s not my favorite city in Europe, or even in Romania. At the same time, it’s certainly a place that makes you think, if only because of all the contrasts and contradictions present there. Another thing Bucharest has going for it? It’s extremely affordable, so even if you don’t end up loving it, you won’t lose much (except your time) in order to spend a few days there. Want to make sure your next trip to Europe is unforgettable, whether or not you ultimately decide to include Romania in your itinerary? Consider hiring me as your Travel Coach!