Bucharest is the most lush, sweet and pleasing-to-the-eye city I’ve visited and the best part is that nobody “knows” about it. What I mean by nobody is that, you don’t hear many people talking about their planned trip to Bucharest or other parts of Romania. The lack of hordes of tourists is what makes this city even more fun to visit. There is no standing in line for two hours to visit the Eiffel Tower, the London Eye or to catch a glimpse of the astronomical clock tower in Prague.
Bucharest is such an expansive city with many huge boulevards and parks. Along all the major streets there are numerous beds of colorful flowers. Bucharest has a flower shop at every corner, it adds to the beauty and the great smell of the city. Go ahead a splurge on a cab because there are over 10,000 in a city of 2 million people. It’s easy to find 3-4 cabs waiting along a main street. For a short trip of about 15 minutes it costs about 2.50 Euros with tip! So a ride from your hotel to the old city center is much more enjoyable in a cab so you can roll down the window and stick your head out like a puppy dog drooling over all of the amazing architecture. Don’t miss the Athenaeum, the city’s main concert hall, which opened in 1888. The front façade features the faces of Romania’s five kings. Notice the fifth and final king’s last name: Basarab. Its true, I have Romanian heritage and maybe just maybe I’m secretly a princess. No? But it is interesting.
Another major landmark is the casa poporului (Palace of the Parliament). While it is impressive being the world’s largest and most expensive civilian administrative building, not to mention the heaviest, its construction involved demolishing much of Bucharest’s historic district including multiple churches and approximately 30,000 residences. This building is the reason Bucharest has so many stray dogs.
The architecture is also fascinating with its white buildings and the characteristic arch motifs. There are some buildings that look Parisian. In the period between the world wars, Bucharest was known as the “Little Paris of the East”. I would have to argue that it isn’t so little and to me it has even more character than Paris. Shhh…..its the best kept secret. In addition to the neo-classical architecture, Bucharest also has a mix of communist style apartment buildings and some shiny modern buildings. Hence its unique character.
In the city center you will find a street that is lined with wedding dress shops. In all the windows there are mannequin’s wearing the most beautiful dresses. It makes any girl want to peak inside if only for a minute to dream. This isn’t the only feature that makes you want to marry Bucharest. As you continue to walk the streets begin to narrow from all the patios on either side. Order a Romanian beer (such as an Ursus or Silva) in a 0.5L bottle because it’s so hot you need it or cool down with a frappe (better than Starbucks in most restaurants).
The patios in Bucharest are unlike any others I’ve seen in Europe. They are completely different from the French-style patios in Paris and Brussels, which have tiny tables and tiny chairs on the uneven cobblestones. In Bucharest, they have luxurious patios with large chairs covered with white cushions and tables big enough for 4 people to eat comfortably rather than merely placing a beverage on it. I love the patios with the beautiful wooden tables. You will find many restaurants with wooden patios filled with flowerpots and other vegetation. Making it better than sitting in anyone’s personal garden. And most restaurants themselves are gigantic houses. Check out the famous Caru cu Bere.
One thing to be prepared for before going to Bucharest is that you should have a comfy hotel bed because you will most likely, more than once, eat yourself into a coma. Honestly, the food is so delicious and served in such large portions after your done eating your done for the day. All you can do is lay down and sleep it off. Romanians tend to eat their largest meal of the day at lunchtime. It’s not uncommon to have at least a three-course meal. If you want to do it traditional Romanian-style you can order a starter such as ciorba (sour soup) or vinete (eggplant salad) and then the main course is fasole cu carnati beans and sausage or a pork steak with cabbage salad. Then you top it off with a rich desert. Gaining holiday weight is a definite in Bucharest.
After your required afternoon nap, you can head out to Herastrau Park, the largest park in Bucharest stretching over 100 hectares. Here you will find the best smell, which carries throughout the city: lemon trees and flowers. No other European capital city I’ve visited has a natural perfume. On the sidewalks in the middle of town you can find cherry trees, blackberry trees, apricot trees and so many flowered trees that it makes you want to “stop and smell the roses”.
The usual smell in the capital cities is a mix of people and urine. Moving along, you will also find stands with handmade cookware and clothing, and more food from barbequed sausages to popcorn and cotton candy. You can visit the open-air museum: Village Museum, which is also located in the park. Here you will visit multiple traditional Romanian houses and see how the people lived. Highly recommended! You can also take a rowboat or water bike on Herastrau Lake for 2.5 Euros per hour and watch the sunset. Another beautiful and expansive park is Cismigiu. Both parks are worth a visit. While Herastrau is a natural park, Cismigiu is highly landscaped and looks more like a garden of the royals. It also has boats you can take out onto its smaller lake.
At the end of the evening, if you haven’t consumed enough food yet, you can stop at one of the many bakeries and get a covrig (pretzel) or other warm pastry. The ones with cheese (branza) inside are excellent! You can afford it because you can spend the rest of the night dancing it off in one of Bucharest’s many nightclubs.
From dawn until dusk, you will not be short of things to see or do in Bucharest. Unlike other cities, where you see the tourist attraction and check it off your list, Bucharest is a city where you will want to go back and do everything you did the day before again because you just can’t get enough.
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