Unirii Square

What Makes A Bucharest City Break A Good Idea

Considering a Bucharest city break? Find below all you need to know to organize your independent travel: how to get from the airport to the city center, where to stay and what to see. Here are the most popular attractions and some hidden gems.

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A weekend in Bucharest is just enough to get to know “the Paris of the East”. I had enough time to see everything I planned to see and meanwhile discovered some off-the-beaten-track gems and walked through several nice parks. The city center is very compact so easily walkable. Most attractions are within the city center so most probably you won’t need any transportation.

Though Romania is a part of the European Union, it uses its own currency, which is Romanian Lea (RON).

How to get from Bucharest airport to the city center

Many airlines and low-cost carriers connect the Romanian capital with most of the European capital cities so getting there is not a problem at all though there are no direct flights to/from the USA.

The most economical and convenient way to get from Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport (often called Otopeni) to the city centre is by bus. It is the bus line 783 that connects Otopeni Airport with the city center. The bus runs 24 hours and it takes 40-50 min to reach the city center. Bus 783 stops both in front of the arrival and the departure terminals. Ticket cost is 3 RON (app. 0.20 EUR) and you can pay for the ride with a contactless credit card. Check the timetable of the 783 bus line for up-to-date information.

Where to stay for your Bucharest city break

Stick to the city center. Not necessarily in the Old Town, but try to find accommodation within 1-2 km away from it. If plan to rent a car bear in mind that most of the Old Town is pedestrian. Find accommodation in the city center and you will have the opportunity to explore the city’s attractions by foot and to save transportation expenses too.

My favorite hotel in Bucharest is JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel. If you’d rather stay in the Old Town of Bucharest consider Hilton Garden Inn Bucharest Old Town or Moxy Bucharest Old Town. Bucharest offers many other accommodation options to choose from.

The must-see for your Bucharest city break

Here are my top 10 attractions in Bucharest. Some of them are part of every itinerary but some of them are real off-the-beaten-track gems.

Stavropoleos Church And Stavropoleos Monastery

Stavropoleos Monastery Church
Stavropoleos Monastery Church

The Sravropoleos Church

In the heart of Bucharest, in the Old Town, among the taller buildings around, there is a small church three centuries old. The Stavropoleos Church is a part of the Stavropoleos Monastery, founded by the Greek monk Ioannikis.

The iconostasis of Stavropoleos church
The iconostasis of Stavropoleos church

The Stavropoleos Church is a masterpiece of the late Brunkovenesque style. This is an original style that originated in southern Romania and is also known as the Romanian Renaissance. It combines local, oriental, Byzantine, and late Italian Renaissance elements.

The doors of Stavropoleos church
The doors of Stavropoleos church

Stavropoleos Monastery

The monastery was built in 1724, two years after the opening of the Stavropoleo Inn. Such coexistence was a common practice at the time as the monasteries supported themselves with the income from the adjoining inn. Numerous Pilgrims made donations so the monastery quickly became one of the richest in the area.

Stavropoleos monastery's courtyard
Stavropoleos monastery’s courtyard

In the 19th century, as a result of fires, earthquakes, and mismanagement, the monastery declined. One of the earthquakes collapsed the dome, and at the end of the 19th century, the inn and the monastery were destroyed. Ion Mincu, one of the most famous Romanian architects, restored the dome of the church and the cloister at the beginning of the 20th century. Between 1904 and 1940 the authorities closed the church for religious services and it functioned only as a museum.

A tombstone in Stavropoleos Monastery's courtyard
A tombstone in Stavropoleos Monastery’s courtyard

Stavropoleos Monastery has a library with more than 8,000 books, including the richest collection of Byzantine music books in Romania. There is also a museum that houses old icons, church utensils, and parts of frescoes that survived from churches destroyed during the communist regime. You will need an appointment to visit the museum.

The small courtyard of the monastery is an open-air museum with tombstones and stone crosses from other churches in Bucharest that no longer exist.

Carturesti Carousel
Carturesti Carousel

Very close to the Stavropoleos monastery is the Carousel bookstore. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. The bookstore’s interior design is a work of art itself. It is more like an exquisite book gallery.

Verona bookstore

Verona bookstore
Verona bookstore

Well, I confess it: I have an addiction to bookstores. A few blocks away from the Old Town, behind this boring facade is the Verona bookstore.

It’s not as famous as the Carousel bookstore, but I liked it better. Because of the atmosphere that makes the visitor feels at home. And what a home!

Verona bookstore’s interior

The visitor can relax comfortably on a sofa to read a book or discuss a favorite author over a glass of wine and even listen to some music in the cozy atmosphere of this extraordinary bookstore.

You can relax on a sofa to read a book, have a glass of wine or listen to some music
You can relax on a sofa to read a book, have a glass of wine or listen to some music

Children have their dedicated area on the last floor of the Verona bookstore.

They can read, play, dream, or create in a fabulous fairy atmosphere.

Verona bookstore's children section
The bookstore’s children section

Verona bookstore looks like an aristocratic home turned into a book temple.

Verona bookstore looks like an aristocratic home
Verona bookstore looks like an aristocratic home

Some awesome street art for your Bucharest city break

While walking the streets of Bucharest look around for graffiti, especially in the area around the Verona bookstore.

In Bucharest the street art is everywhere
In Bucharest the street art is everywhere
Bucharest street art
Bucharest street art
Street art in Bucharest
Street art in Bucharest

Covered passages

In the Old Town there are several covered passages that deserve special attention. They are a real challenge. They lurk between buildings and carefully guard old secrets. But if you find them they will attract you like a magnet. The passages invite the visitor to take a peek, to stick around, and to get to know them. They can be charming and elegant or poor and faded but all of them are part of city’s culture and history. I could feel them whispering old tales and urban legends.

Vilacrosse Passage (Pasajul Vilacrosse)

Pasajul Vilacrosse
Pasajul Vilacrosse

Bucharest Vilacrosse Passage with its elegance has a real Parisian vibe. It made me feel like I was sipping a cup of coffee in Paris.

Vilacrosse Passage
Vilacrosse Passage

The English Passage (Pasajul Englez)

Less than 100 meters away from Vilacrosse Passage is the English Passage. It was built in 1900 as a brothel. After the Second World War, the building was used as a shelter for poor families. I don’t know why it is called English. I didn’t find anything English in it. It looked more like a Great Depression movie set.

Pasajul Englez
Pasajul Englez

The floors of this passage are surrounded by a common terrace, which is also a corridor that leads to the only spiral staircase. Laundry is hanging on it, and washing machines and other unused items are stored outside the apartments. How the inhabitants even managed to pass beside them and reach the staircase remained a complete mystery to me. I could see children chasing each other, an angry housewife yelling at them, and the smell of burnt onions on top of it all. Undoubtedly the atmosphere is unique.

Nicu the hatmaker

Did you see the red sign at the end of the passage in the photo above? It points to the workshop of Nicu the hatmaker.

Nicu the hatmaker's workshop
Nicu the hatmaker’s workshop

When I was there in 2021, Niku was 92 years old and continued to work every day in his studio. He started learning the art of hat-making at the age of 14 and apprenticed for free for four years. Later he had the chance to own his own atelier. In the socialist era the unification of people was aimed at and elegance and style were despised as bourgeois and decadent so Niku’s business languished. His studio survived thanks to commissions from the National Theater and from some Romanian film directors.

At Nicu's workshop
At Nicu’s workshop

Niku welcomed uninvited guests (me) with a smile, showed me around the atelier, showed me his art, told me stories, and shared memories. He believes that hats add elegance and style to clothing. I hope he is doing well and still working in his atelier.

Victoria Passage (Pasajul Victoria)

The colorful umbrellas will attract you to Victoria Passage.

Under their shade one can eat pizza or drink a glass of wine and have some rest.

Victoria passage
Victoria passage

Cișmigiu Gardens – the perfect place to relax during your Bucharest city break

Cismigiu Gardens
Cismigiu Gardens

Very close to the old city is Cișmigiu Gardens – an English-style park created in 1847. The country of Romania didn’t exist yet and Bucharest was the capital of Wallachia.

An alley in Cismigiu Gardens
An alley in Cismigiu Gardens

There is a lake in the park with pedal boats.

The lake in Cismigiu Gardens
The lake in Cismigiu Gardens

The park is a real oasis in the heart of the city, especially on a hot summer day.

Unirii Boulevard

Unirii Boulevard at sunset
Unirii Boulevard at sunset

At sunset take a walk along Unirii Boulevard. In 1977 after the devastating Vrancea earthquake, the center of Bucharest was seriously damaged. Many historic buildings were demolished afterward with the idea of ​​building a new, modern central part of the city. Boulevard Unirii was designed to be Romania’s Champs-Elysées. The result is an impressive boulevard with beautiful fountains and elegant residential buildings built for the socialist elite.

A residential building at Unirii Boulevard
A residential building at Unirii Boulevard

The boulevard ends at the Palace of the Parliament of Romania building, one of the main Bucharest attractions. This palace is the manifestation of the president of Communist Romania Nicolae Ceausescu’s sense of greatness. In order for this monstrosity to be built approximately 7 km2 (2.7 sq mi) of the old city center was demolished and 40,000 people living there were relocated. The works were carried out with forced labor in addition to soldiers, minimizing costs. Some say hundreds or even thousands of the workers died there.

The result is this pompous palace, the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon. In order to pay the debt to build the “People’s House”, as Ceausescu called it, severe austerity measures were imposed in the 80s in the country. Romanian people lived in deprivation, had to stay in the dark and cold, and watched television only for several hours a day.

Unirii Boulevard with the Parliament building
Unirii Boulevard with the Parliament building

Caru’ cu bere Restaurant (The Beer Cart) – the highlight of your Bucharest city break

Caru' cu bere Restaurant
Caru’ cu bere Restaurant

After admiring the sunset at the Unirii boulevard fountains go back to the Old Town and have dinner in the Beer Cart Restaurant.

Enjoy some good wine, delicious food and a unique atmosphere. Live music is often played there.

Live music is often played in Caru' cu bere restaurant
Live music is often played in Caru’ cu bere restaurant

TIP: Make a reservation as Caru’ cu bere restaurant is the most popular one in the city.

The National Theater

The National Theater
The National Theater

The building in the photo above is the Ion Luca Carajale National Theatre. In front of it is the sculpture Căruţa cu paiaţe (The Clown Carriage), depicting characters from Carajale’s plays. In the foreground of the photo is the Zero Kilometer of Freedom and Democracy in Romania – the place where in 1989 the idea of freedom became a reality for the Romanian people.

The University and the Military Club

Bucharest University
Bucharest University

Two beautiful buildings and the squares in front of them are locals’ favorite places for meeting with friends.

Bucharest Military Club
Bucharest Military Club

In the evening most of the buildings in Bucharest light up in colors and the city becomes even more beautiful.

Odeon theater
Odeon theater

Best day trips from Bucharest

Bucharest and its surrounding areas offer diverse experiences ranging from medieval fortresses and castles to scenic natural parks. If you’re looking for a day trip from Bucharest, here are some of the best options:

Bran Castle

Bran castle
Bran castle

Dracula’s Castle is situated in Bran, this iconic castle is associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, although it’s debatable how much Stoker was inspired by this particular castle. It takes around 2.5 to 3 hours by car to reach from Bucharest.

Peles Castle

Peles Castle
Peles Castle

Located in Sinaia, Peles Castle is a masterpiece of German Renaissance architecture. It used to be the royal family’s summer residence and is about a 2-hour drive from Bucharest.

Brasov

Brasov
Brasov

Visit this picturesque town with a rich history, located in the heart of the Carpathians. Brasov boasts the Black Church, and Council Square, and is a gateway to many other Transylvanian attractions. It’s around a 2.5-hour drive from Bucharest.

You can easily visit all three in a day with a guided tour.

Salt Mine in Slanic Prahova

Slanic Salt Mine
Slanic Salt Mine

This is one of the biggest salt mines in Europe, and it offers a unique experience to its visitors. The salt rooms have been converted into a popular tourist attraction with recreation facilities, sports playgrounds, and even a mini-museum. It takes around 1.5 hours by car to reach the mine from Bucharest. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can easily access the Salt Mine Slanic by train too. Hint: dress in layers, especially in summer, as the temperature in the mine is approximately 13°C. Note that the entrance to the mine is by bus through a long, narrow, winding tunnel, which takes you 208 meters underground. This experience is not suitable for claustrophobic people.

Bucharest is a city that often gets overshadowed by its Western European counterparts. However, if you are looking for a unique city break experience, then Bucharest is definitely worth considering. The city has a fascinating blend of history, culture, and urban energy, which promises to offer an enriching and exhilarating experience. So, if you’re planning a European getaway, why not consider a Bucharest city break?

Find everything you might need for your travels in one place on my Travel Resources page.

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