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Bucharest, Romania

Due to a few poorly calculated life choices, I once had the privilege of spending two and a half months in Bucharest during the absolute dead of winter.

I'm not that upset about it, though. Bucharest is a surprisingly interesting place, and as one of my best friends said at the crowded gym where we worked out when he came to visit, "I'm bullish on the Romanian youths."

I mean, if the cold-ass January weather doesn't stop them from the grind, why should it stop you? Are those Balkan teenagers better than you? (Seriously though, it's probably best to visit at a nicer time of year, but be careful because it can actually get too hot to visit at certain times during the summer.)

Anyway, here's my guide to Bucharest.

Getting in:

The default assumption here is that you're going to be arriving by airplane. (Shoutout to the lesser-known airline Transporturile Aeriene Române aka TAROM, but also RIP to the low-cost Romanian carrier called Blue Air that just went under.)

That means you'll be arriving at Bucharest Henri Coandă International (which is coded as OTP because it's in a town just north of Bucharest called Otopeni).

This plane station is fairly simple and easy to navigate, and there's a 20-minute train right from the arrival terminal to Bucuresti Nord, the largest railway station in Romania. However, if that sticker price of 4 Romanian lei (roughly 0.80 USD/EUR) is too spicy for you, renewing your marriage vows with Uber is always an option, and I recommend it over taxis because the Wiki Travel page for Bucharest has an entire section about potential taxi scams.

The Uber pickup spot is somewhat awkwardly positioned outside of arrivals and across the street in the surface parking lot. Don't be surprised if the driver stops and gets out of the car at some point before leaving the airport to pay and/or validate their parking entry ticket.

If for some reason you need a SIM card when you arrive (like I did when my Google Fi service decided to cut me off due to my lack of time spent in the US, which was also before I started using Dent for nearly worldwide data), most metro stations have shops that sell prepaid starter packs with no registration required. I actually bought mine from a vending machine on the street corner at my nearest metro station. If you don't care about money you can probably get one at the airport itself but that goes against some of my own personal travel adventure rules.

Getting around in Bucharest:

The Romanian capital city is pretty large, and unless you're staying near the Old Town and never leaving, you'll probably have to do more than walk at some point. Fortunately the metro has five lines and covers the area fairly well, and you can tap to pay with your contactless credit card or phone without having to do any nonsense on the side.

If you would prefer to do nonsense on the side, there are e-scooters scattered all around the city. Bucharest is a great city for scooting and biking, as it's mostly flat and the roads and sidewalks are super wide. It's not one of those cities where e-scooters are a gigantic nuisance, and the bike share station system is decent as well. I'm not sure how the supply and demand is in the warmer parts of the year, however.

Where to stay in Bucharest:

Bucharest is divided into six sectors that sort of all meet in the city center close to the Old Town of Sectorul 3. If it's your first time in the city (which is the default assumption for all of these guides), you're probably gonna wanna stay near, though not necessarily in, the Old Town.

That said, since five of the six sectors (1-5) all meet in the middle, it doesn't really matter which one of those you pick if you're close enough, however I'd choose Sectorul 1 or 3 in no particular order and then Sectorul 2 after those two.

What to do and things to see (and things to do and what to see) in Bucharest:

If you like looking at big-ass buildings without going inside, the Palace of Parliament is a thicc one. It weighs about 4.1 billion kilograms (just over 9 billion pounds), making it the heaviest building in the world. It's also located at the end of an elegant street called Bulevardul Unirii, which is worth a walk or a ride through to get there.

Despite it's somewhat war-torn appearance and mostly drab looking apartment blocks, Bucharest is oftentimes called "Little Paris" or the "Paris of the East" due to the French-inspired architecture it once had, as well as the pieces that survived through war and dictatorship. You'll notice this juxtaposition of old and new on the aforementioned Bulevardul Unirii, which is lined with big trees, boutiques, and Belle Époque buildings all the way until you reach the aforementioned (and Neo-Neoclassical) parliament building at the end.

Another piece of architecture to stare at and/or take pictures in front of is the Arcul de Triumf, which is what most people think is the reason why Bucharest resembled/resembles Paris, although people in Bucharest were adopting French fashion and greeting each other in French years before this arch was erected (and modeled after the Arc de Triomphe) in 1935 to replace the 1922 arch that replaced the 1878 one. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Anyway, one of the reasons why this arch is totally worth checking out is because of the park behind it that runs along Lake Herăstrău, which is my personal favorite place in Bucharest. This is a vast and peaceful area filled with gardens, sculptures, animals, fountains, museums, restaurants, and spaces for recreation. If you want to walk, run, or bike a full loop (which I highly recommend), you can choose between a 5.5km and a 7.3km option.

If you can't be bothered to go that far away from the Old Town, another nice park is called Grădina Cișmigiu (aka The Cismigiu Gardens). This one is much smaller with a manmade lake in the middle, though it's still a very nice and very nearby escape from the city streets. They also have an ice-skating rink in the winter that you can take a poorly calculated life choice to if you want. Wow, what a nice park!

Okay lazy people, if you can't even be bothered to leave the Old Town, you might as well wander along its narrower streets and alleyways, pass by the Stavropoleos Monastery, detour through the Macca - Vilacrosse Passage, and pop your head into a book store called Cărturești Carusel. This place has a really neat interior, and if you climb the stairs there's a small cafe at the top.

Another thing I recommend doing in Bucharest is cooking at home if you have the facilities. There are some really great and affordable grocery stores in the city, plus some of the major European hypermarkets like the French (of course) Carrefour and the German classic, Kaufland (my all-time favorite).

Lastly, if you're into the whole vampires and Transylvania thing, you can do a day-trip up north to see the castles and stuff. Just keep in mind that Dracula was written by an Irish guy who thought the name meant 'devil' in Romanian, which means he was probably in the camp that just as easily could've confused Bucharest with Budapest.

Where to go out in Bucharest:

I didn't go out too often during my time in Bucharest, but I still have some things to say about some of the places I visited.

First of all, if you hang around the Old Town in the evening or at night, you're going to be gently harassed to come into every restaurant and every bar on a couple of those streets. Just be prepared for that kind of thing because you're in the most touristy part of the city, and some of the bars play obnoxiously loud music. That said, some of the touristy bars I didn't mind there were Shoteira, Freddo, and Nomad Skybar.

Outside of the Old Town, I thought the rooftop place called Linea / Closer To The Moon was decent enough for a small group, I liked a bar called FIX Botanical Bar, and Control Club had a really good crowd the one or two times I went there. BEAT Bar Umanist can also be a good pick.

Take all of that with a grain of salt because your mileage may vary immensely. Like I said, I was only there in the wintertime and I didn't stray too far.

Where to eat in Bucharest:

Though I didn't go out for drinks very often, ya boy did eat his fair share of fare that he did not share.

If you're looking for an introduction to some of the old school national specials, Restaurant Hanu' lui Manuc serves traditional Romanian dishes with a live music folk band at times, and the place itself is situated inside a restored inn from the early 19th century. First and foremost I recommend trying the mititei aka mici, which are little casing-less sausages that you eat with mustard or whatever else you want. (You don't have to get these here, because they're popular enough around the city. City Grill Covaci has some good ones. I even managed to cook some of these at home myself and was not upset with the results.)

It's also a good idea to try the tripe soup called ciorbă de burtă, and I really liked the sarmale, which are traditional pork-stuffed cabbage leaves. Lastly, for dessert you can try the Papanași, which are local donuts with cream and jam.

(Note: there are a couple other "Hanu" restaurants under the same umbrella, and you should be able to order these dishes at any of them.)

Another old school cool, giant wooden tavern kind of place in the Old Town is called Caru' cu bere, and you'll find a lot of the traditional offerings here as well. This place is more for the vibes than the foods, so keep that in mind when you're ordering. This is a beer hall.

If you're heading towards the parliament building and get hungry, Haute Pepper is a solid choice.

The aforementioned Nomad Skybar had some surprisingly great food for my expectations. If you go here for dinner, note that it turns into a bar/nightclub afterwards. It's a good vibe overall. You definitely need a reservation to come here in the evening.

Papila is a cute little restaurant that's cozy and good.

Up around Lake Herăstrău you'll find a number of interesting places, such as Berăria H, which is another beer hall with live music and a terrace. You'll also find a floating boat restaurant and some other very unique establishments along the water. I went to HiroBay, which was very beautiful, if not worth the trouble.

Still, I've made far poorer life choices.


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