Ah, points runs. Last year, I hit Athens and Helsinki in order to secure my BA Silver Status. This year, I decided on Bucharest to push me over the points barrier. I’d never been to Romania before and besides for my points run, I was also aiming to hit a new country so I could bring my total number of countries visited thus far in my life to 49. 49! (Thank you, TripAdvisor, for helping me keep track of this milestone.)
I knew very little about Romania and Bucharest going in. I mean, I knew about gypsies but if there’s anything I learned during my time in Bucharest it’s…DON’T MENTION THE GYPSIES. Depending on who you ask, the Roma make up just 2 to 10% of the Romanian population. (Since returning from Bucharest, I’ve done some online research and 3% seems to be about the right number.) Your average Romanian is not gypsy, and there’s a bit of a perception issue here s so best to just steer clear of the topic altogether.
I had the misfortune of visiting during a few very hot days — 90+ degrees Fahrenheit in the city — and I had packed for weather forecasts that predicted more like 70. Please someone find me a weather app with correct 10 day forecasts? The heat meant I took lots of breaks and generally just sat around rehydrating in cafes, watching Bucharest go by. I’m okay with sloth.
Here are my tips for Bucharest…
Stay at the Intercontinental
If you want to be in central Bucharest, the Intercontinental is where it’s at. I got a great flight/hotel deal on British Airways, which basically meant that my hotel cost £40 quid a night, which was pretty amazing. The hotel has great views over the city, and the pool at the top of the hotel is perfect for HOT DAYS when you need to cool off. I was very glad to have this pool. Sure, it’s a little bit like 1986 called and wants its hotel back, but it’s still nice.
Take a food tour with Step by Step
I LOVED my food tour with Step by Step. My guide, Alex, was super enthusiastic about her city and showed me some great eats, intertwining the food with culture as the day went on. Later in the day, as I was still walking around town with my eclair box from French Revolution, people actually stopped me and said how jealous they were of my eclair. (Romanians are very chatty, hospitable people and don’t seem to mind talking to strangers.) If I had any regrets, it’s that I didn’t do this tour sooner because it was so enjoyable. Visit the Step by Step website.
Hire a private guide
I hired a guide off of Viator who gave me a very thorough introduction to Bucharest on my first morning. I saw parts of the city that I didn’t see with other guides. We covered a lot of ground and it was a bit exhausting given the heat, but I would still recommend the private guide angle for this very unique and interesting city. It’s pretty affordable, actually. Visit this tour on Viator.
Take a street art tour
I enjoyed my introduction to Bucharest street art with Open Doors. Street art in Bucharest is a bit more political than London street art, but I kinda like that. The first two hours of this tour were really great, but the last hour wasn’t as informative and we just sort of strolled along the streets. Once I saw my hotel off in the distance, I bailed. An interesting tour but it was probably a bad idea to do this on the same day as my private tour guide because there was a bit of overlap and I was just so tired and hot after six hours of walking. Visit this tour on Open Doors.
Visit Peles Castle
I was not really keen on doing this because it meant a two hour drive from Bucharest, but it turned out to be a really cool and unique experience. The castle is absolutely stunningly gorgeous, if a bit over-the-top. The town itself is bit touristy, but still fun.
Do a wine tasting at Casa Vlasia
This was a total surprise. I asked my hotel to organize a wine tasting for me — I’m a big fan of taking advantage of the concierge — and they sent me to Casa Vlasia, about 45 minutes outside of Bucharest. My tasting was led by the charming Resvan, who talked me through the estate’s wines and history. Note that this is a VERY small operation — Two barrells!! Four acres! — but as someone who has done so many large-scale winery tours, this was refreshingly small and intimate. I only wish I had been hungrier as the cheese and meats that Resvan offered — all made on site — were fab. Visit Casa Vlasia.
Stuff your face at Caru Cu Bere
OK, it’s a bit touristy but seriously, Caru cu bere is lovely inside — the woodwork and tilework is gorgeous. Also, the staff is very friendly and wants to make sure you are having a nice time. The set lunch for 20 lei is a TREMENDOUSLY good value — that’s about £3.50 or $5 bucks. Enough food for two very hungry people — a huge plate of polenta with cheese, a salad, Romanian sausages, roasted potatoes, and apple cake. I enjoyed my meal here, even if there were a lot of people taking photographs of the interior while I was eating. (Maybe ask for a table in a corner or something.) The food is good, not great, but the menu is huge and there will be something for everyone. Visit Caru Cu Bere.
Visit Carturesti Carusel
Words cannot describe how gorgeous this bookstore is. It’s a lovely surprise in the touristy old city. I felt instantly calm walking in here. Bucharest is big on bookstores, which I love. Although I also love reading books on my iPad. Let’s hope they survive. Visit Carturesti Carusel.
Drink all the Romanian wine at Dionysos
I found this wine bar my first night in Bucharest — I had planned to check out a few — but I liked it so much here, I scrapped my plans to find others and instead came back again a few nights later. The staff are friendly and informative once you get to chatting with them. They will offer a plate of cheese and meat if you ask. Free wifi and great tunes! Visit Dionysos.
I had a great time in Bucharest. Even though it felt like I was there for a long time, I really only scratched the surface. I hardly got to any museums, barely went out to eat (what’s wrong with me?) and didn’t do any shopping. This means, of course, I am plotting my return.