Bucharest – once known as the ‘Paris of the East’, which is (a) a pretty generous definition of the word ‘east’ by anyone’s standards and (b) a bit of a knock to the likes of Shanghai and Tokyo. Nevertheless it is not without its charms; on last year’s Eurasian Adventure, our YPT group had the pleasure of a guided tour around Romania’s capital.
Here are our top 5 things to do in Bucharest.
5) The Cișmigiu Gardens
The first of several unpronounceable places to be uncovered in Bucharest, the Cișmigiu Gardens were laid out over the period of fifteen years in the nineteenth century. 30,000 trees and plants have been planted in the expansive gardens, and it sports the Roman Garden – an area laid out to emulate the gardens of Ancient Rome – and busts of prominent Romanian writers.
4) Bucharest Old Town
Tortuous alleyways, stunning architecture and the odd Dracula reference (Vlad Tepes, despite not having much to do with Bucharest, is kind of a big deal here) make for a pleasant ramble. Just avoid having your pockets cleaned out by the ubiquitous gypsy pickpockets.
3) Tuck into traditional Romanian fare
Romanian cuisine is not as know beyond its borders as it perhaps ought to be. Highlights include sarmale – cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced pork or beef – a kind of cornmeal porridge called mămăligă, and piping-hot pretzels topped with sesame seeds called covrigi. The best restaurant in town is reputedly the Old Town’s Caru’cu Bere, but best book ahead – when our group turned up the place was packed to the rafters and waiting times were upwards of an hour. As the laconic waitress advised us: “you could wait… or you could go somewhere else.”
We went somewhere else.
2) Visit the backstreet churches and chapels
Bucharest doesn’t want for grandiose churches and cathedrals, but if you want a real slice of life (and let’s be real, you’re probably aMcDonald’s-dodging salt-of-the-earth hostel denizen) then seek out the smaller churches and chapels. A great deal of these sport beautiful architecture and wonderfully painted murals, and are well worth a look if you don’t mind Resident-Evil style creepy staring vibe from parishioners who just want to pray without Lonely-Planet-toting foreign types stumbling about taking photos.
1) See the world’s largest parliamentary building
Great comedy dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was good for a laugh, but he also built a mean self-aggrandising edifice, andRomania’s parliamentary building is perhaps the ultimate testament to the man’s hubris. Whilst most Romanians were subsisting on less than a kilo of meat per month, Ceaușescu was supervising the construction of a building whose footprint is over three million square feet and boasts more than a thousand rooms. Tonnes upon tonnes of marble, wood and gold were used in the construction, and when finished it’s likely that the starving citizens would have much rather the spectacle of the building than a couple of extra ham sandwiches.
See Bucharest for yourself on YPT’s next Eurasian Adventure tour!