When I booked my flights to Bucharest it was that week that sits just before Christmas. I was bored and frustrated; I hadn’t managed to secure a December break, and I was panicking slightly that I was teetering on the brink of 2017 and I had *nothing* to look forward to. *Cries first-world-problem tears*
I’d been interested in Bucharest for a while, flights seemed affordable enough. I’d dug around Skyscanner and picked out a decent set of flights; not a jaw-to-the-floor bargain, but for £50 return it wasn’t anything to be sniffed at.
But uh, January? Who in their right mind would go to Bucharest in January. Yup, this one, that’s who.
Anyway, with the flights now booked it was now a question of what the hell can I do in Bucharest in the depths of Winter?
Bucharest is just edging over the ‘quirky’ destination boundary. If you tell your friends you’re off to Romania for the weekend you’re bound to raise a few eyebrows still (‘ooh that’s a bit different!‘). Recently however, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen Bucharest start popping up on those click-baity type articles, you know the ones? With the ‘been there done that’ attitudes to the likes of Prague, Budapest, Berlin; they like to tell you where you ‘really should be jetting off to in 2017′. Well, Bucharest, apparently.
I’m not going to start comparing Bucharest to anywhere, this isn’t ‘the new [insert hip European city here]’, but it is, as I discovered, a destination in it’s own right, with one major draw being it’s affordability factor. Not going to lie, getting more beer for your buck did play a sizeable part in the decision to make this our January holiday; settling our itchy feet without damaging our post-Christmas battered bank accounts was a big tick for Bucharest right there. But after four days in Bucharest did I find anything more than happy-hours?
So, What Can I See In Bucharest?
The Parliament Building
Our hotel was right across the road from this monstrosity. And I describe it in that way with the best possible intentions, but honestly this building is mega. It sits in the top five largest buildings in the world and is the heaviest, with over one thousand rooms (many left empty to this day) and four floors below ground level. It’s absolutely colossal… notice I had to steal a photo of this building from the other side of a four lane highway, just to get the entire thing in one frame!
Stavropoleos Church, Old Town
Nestled in the old town, among the admittedly mostly dishevelled buildings, we find little gems like this! Stavropoleos Church which was built in the 1700’s packs so much detail into this petite building and has one of the most beautiful ceilings I’ve seen, so make sure you have a peek inside.
Old Town Bucharest
When you think of a typical European old town, its all cobbles and winding fairytale streets, postcard perfect cafes and pretty houses. Bucharest’s old town couldn’t be more different, really, and actually I was a little relieved. It was so good to experience something that wasn’t the norm. True, visiting in a frosty January omitted much of the potential summer buzz, but Bucharest’s old town was a strange part of the city that, due to it’s recent and complex communist history seemed to be simultaneously in a state of decay and rejuvenation! In Bucharest, on one side you’ll discover an interesting mix of rather unhappy looking graffiti daubed, battered buildings next to charmingly renovated restaurants, directly up against quirky modern bars. It’s weird and it works for me.
I’m from England where exclamations of ‘it’s snowed!’ means you’ll peer outside to find a pitiful smattering of grey sludge on the pavement, so for me visiting Herastrau Park in January, two foot deep in fluffy white snow and feeling like a extra on Disney’s Frozen was far too exciting! This huge park has a large lake, food stalls, playgrounds and a collection of over 50 statues which range from mythical Romanian characters, bronze animals to international personalities. At a southern point of the park stands the Arcul de Triumf in the centre of a roundabout and the beautiful clock faces at the entrance to the gardens.
What Can I Do In Bucharest?
Day Trip To Transylvania; Dracula’s Castle
Alright, alright, so not technically in Bucharest, not even a little bit. But Bucharest is a great base to be able to see Transylvania and to seize the opportunity to don the garlic garlands and brave a visit to Dracula’s Castle! Whereas it could be possible to head into Transylvania on your own steam, taking an organised tour from Bucharest with Mr.Tripps Tours was the best decision I made. Mr.Tripp was able to pick us both up in the morning from our hotel, drive to meet our lovely tour guide and the rest of the small group, a take us door to door, not only just to Dracula’s castle, but to see the gorgeous medieval town of Brasov and the stunning former Royal residence, Peles Castle in Sinaia. We didn’t have to fight off any Vampires, which might have delayed us slightly, but I was so chuffed to see a fabulous chunk of the Romanian countryside, all in just a day.
Can I just start off by saying halfway through my spa morning I found myself lounging in a bikini, inside the biggest sauna I’ve ever seen, with a full-size cinema screen showing episodes of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. (!!!)
Let that sink in.
This Spa was sort of amazing. Who would have guessed Bucharest was hiding this little gem?
This whopper of a spa has two huge inside sections with pool bars, sauna’s, steam rooms, treatment rooms and mineral baths, a vast outside pool with water jets and more sun loungers (for when it’s warmer presumably!) and a further section with water slides for younger spa-goers. I’m not a huge spa-lover back in the UK, mainly due to feeling begrudged to pay over the odds to sit in a Jacuzzi all-day, but the sheer size of this place blew me away and for the equivalent of around £15 for an entrance fee?
Yeah, I knew that would convince you.
Bucharest’s Village Museum
Won’t lie, this one didn’t sound all that appealing on the face of it but the Village Museum located in Herastrau Park proved to be a really interesting few hours. This surprisingly huge open air museum tells a visual story of Romanian rural life with full size replica houses throughout history. The heavy snow fall just made the stroll around the ‘village’ even more Instagram-worthy, and the resident furry feline population gave the place the added ‘cuteness’ vibe. Just look at this ball of fluff! I’ll omit the details surrounding him shredding my leg to pieces… 🙂
Where Can I Eat in Bucharest?
Caru Cu Bere
It wouldn’t be a ‘guide to Bucharest’ without mentioning this restaurant. But despite finding its way onto every travel bloggers ‘must-do’ list, it really isn’t the tourist trap I half expected it would be.
It’s worth going to for the interior alone; grand, intricate and totally atmospheric! It helps that the food is surprisingly affordable and bloody good; My Pork Knuckle (look at it and drool!) was a portion so generous that even when sharing we struggled to clean the platter, was actually better than any I’ve had in Germany. I still yearn for that crackling…
Caru Cu Bere quickly became our regular haunt; few pints? great grub? cheeky dessert? brunch? It ticks the boxes across the board.
Erring onto the cheap and cheerful side, we stopped at the modern sports-bar type pub for a couple of Pilsners and Czech food. I’m never one to turn down a chance for goulash and bread dumplings, regardless of where I am in the world!
Wanting to try more traditional style Romanian food during our stay in Bucharest, we weren’t short of ‘tourist menu’s’ in the old town. We stopped at a place called La Historia, which was a small bar come restaurant that offered up dishes such as Sarmale (cabbage rolls) and polenta. Whereas the restaurant itself wasn’t all anything to write home about, the food was super good and Sarmale became my go-to dish around Romania!
Where Can I Drink in Bucharest?
The Urbanist is for those really picky people who aren’t just content with their bar being a bar; they have to be a café come bar come hipster clothing wear store come live DJ set with fairy lights. The Urbanist was easily my favourite hang out of my trip, it’s cosy, modern and serves excellent craft beers, so I really can’t asked for more. I spent more than a few hours cosied up on their window bench supping my way through their menu.
Beer o’ Clock
We got lost on our first night in Bucharest and ended up wandering down a dark alley and by chance stumbled into this pub, proving that the best of experiences are sometimes unplanned. This understated haven housed a seriously good cellar-full of beer, including many our favourites from Belgium!
Not content with your drink just tasting good? You also want it to masquerade as a be-jazzled unicorn?! I hear you. Weirdly enough there’s a place for you in Bucharest. This insanely sweet, but gorgeous looking mug comes from Coffeol in the old town, and it will surely brighten up your Instagram feed. It’s a really cosy place to hole up in during the day and people watch with hundreds and thousands dribbling down your chin.
So, How much will a trip to Bucharest cost me?
A budget break to beat all budget breaks. Bucharest gives you so much for your buck you just can’t complain, because everything’s such a great deal! We got flight deals from London Luton to Bucharest for £51 each return with Wizz Air, we then bagged the Ibis Bucharest Palatul Parlamentului City Centre for £21 a night for a double room, so only £31.50 per person for a three night stay!
We then brought along the equivalent of £125 in Romanian Leu per person which covered our cabs, entrance fees to Bucharest Therme Spa, metro tickets and all food and drink during the four days. The guided tour to Dracula’s castle with Mr.Tripp was a cost of £67 per person and covered all travel and entrance fees to Bran Castle and Peles Castle.
To tot it up for you, our trip to Bucharest covering everything from flights to food was a mere £275 per person. That. is. amazing. No?
So, have you ever been? Thought about visiting Bucharest this year? Can you recommend anywhere else in Romania?
*Disclosure: We were generously provided with a complimentary tour from Mr Tripp in return for an honest review of their guided tour service. All opinions here and across my blog, are as always, totally honest and completely my own.