Many visitors to Romania merely pass right through its capital Bucharest, onto the stunning Transylvanian countryside. But missing out on the opportunity to explore this incredible city would be a shame. Bucharest is a unique blend of European, Russian, Byzantine and Ottoman traditions.
You will find a 17th century church next to a steel office building, Soviet-style apartment blocks dotted with Parisian cafes. Bucharest is a rapidly growing city (currently the sixth largest capital in the EU) and increasingly becoming a destination for leisure and commercial interests.
What to See: Spectacular views from the Palace of Parliament
In the heart of Bucharest is the Palace of Parliament, a massive project commissioned by Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1984. It is the second-largest building in the world (after the Pentagon). All of the marble used in the construction as well as the interior decorations are 100 percent Romanian. The highlight of the tour is the gorgeous view from Ceauşescu’s balcony.
Around the Palace are a number of other interesting sites such as Revolution Square, where the Romanian people revolted against the Communists in 1989, and the Old Court Church, built in 1559. Best of all is the exquisite Romanian Athenaeum. Built in 1888 and currently home to the George Enescu Philarmonic, the interior of the building is adorned with frescos depicting epic scenes from Romanian history.
Lipscani, or Old Center, is another fascinating place. It is situated near the banks of the Dâmboviţa River and was fortunately spared from Communist demolition. The narrow cobblestoned streets wind between 19th century buildings and remains of the Wallachian princes' medieval court. It is a very trendy spot for young people to meet.
What to Do: Be a detective for a day at Escape Rooms
While in Bucharest, make sure to visit the wildly popular Escape Rooms. A mystery game like none other, you and your friends are locked in a room for 60 minutes and will have to use your Sherlock Holmes skills in order to escape. Use logic and intuition to connect clues, solve puzzles, search for hidden objects and more while time ticks away. There are many variations of this game at establishments across the city.
There are a number of great ways to go out and see Bucharest. Traditional bus tours are common but increasingly, so are bike and walking tours. These allow you to become better acquainted with the intimate details of the city.
Another popular activity for guests is shopping. There are malls with brand-name shops and upscale boutiques as well as a number of small avenues featuring stores selling old books, antiques, trinkets and all manner of tasty snacks. One particular venue full of character is Obor Market, the largest public air market in the city.
What to Eat: Hearty meatballs, Ciorba and Bucharest-style Shawarma
The center of many historic trade routes, food here is an amalgamation of influences. In general, Romanian dishes focus on being delicious and filling rather than nutritious. One of the most traditional foods any matriarch would prepare is chiftele, which is large meatballs prepared with garlic and herbs. Chiftea are fried and either served as they are or marinated in tomato sauce.
Ciorba is the general term for soup, usually consisting of vegetables, meats, and beans or pasta. Ciorba de burta is a particular local favorite, which is soup served with garlic sauce, cream and vinegar.
For vegetarians, zacusca is a wonderful mix of eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes and spices all diced and mixed together to be served on bread.
Shawarma is a hugely popular fast-food choice in Bucharest and much of it is halal.
For more information make sure you read our Bucharest Destination Guide.
The official language, Romanian, is the closest relative to Latin that is still currently spoken. There are also many words and phrases that come from Slavic languages. Most young people speak English quite well while older people were typically educated in French, Spanish, or Italian.
Bucharest has a continental, temperate climate and experiences all four seasons. Summers are hot and feature thunderstorms. Winters are cold and snowy. During the spring and fall the weather is pleasantly moderate.
Although Romania is part of the European Union, it still retains its own currency: the Romanian New Leu (RON). Banks and ATMs are readily available throughout Bucharest. Most banks provide currency-exchange services, and they will typically ask you to show your passport.
Bucharest is in the Eastern European time zone: GMT 2. From April to October, when daylights saving is in effect, the time is GMT 3.