Admittedly, before visiting, I knew next nothing about the things to do in Bucharest. All I knew is that Romania was a former Communist country. But of all of the lesser-visited European cities I visited on this trip (including Riga, Sigulda, and Tallinn), Bucharest wins the award for most surprising. I was invited as a guest of Experience Bucharest – an initiative meant to showcase the diversity of activities a traveler could have in the city. I must say, Romania was not at all on my radar but I’m so thankful that I got a chance to see Bucharest through the eyes of locals.
Bucharest is a city of contrasts. It’s where bold, ornate buildings meet gritty, abandoned ones. Here you’ll find trendy cafes, elegant restaurants, and expansive parks, all coming together to form a city that’s dynamic and ever-changing. Bucharest is poised to become Eastern Europe’s next “it” city, so get yourself here before other the tourists discover just how cool it is (move over, Berlin!).
After spending an action-packed week here, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite, must do activities. These are the best things to do in Bucharest for first time visitors!
Table of Contents
Best Things to Do in Bucharest, Romania
If you only have one day in Bucharest, go on a free walking tour
No matter which city I’m visiting, I always, always recommend starting with a free walking tour. It’s one of the best ways to get your bearings in a new place (both historically and geographically), meet travel buddies (especially if you’re traveling solo) and get amazing recommendations straight from a local.
Bucharest is no exception! This two-hour Walkabout Free Tour is a great place to start your Bucharest trip, especially if, like me, you don’t know much about Bucharest or Romania in general. You’ll learn everything you’ll want to know about Bucharest’s history from who the real Dracula is to 1989 Communist Revolution and so much more! Plus, the guides are funny and a wealth of knowledge – especially Elena! This is seriously one of the best things to do in Bucharest for first timers! Book it here and read reviews here.
Caffeinate at some of the coolest cafes in Bucharest
Romanians love their coffee and Bucharest has plenty of trendy and Instagram-worthy places to get a high-quality caffeine fix, much to my delight (and yours, I’m sure). I’ve included my favorite spots in the city below:
- Origo: one of the first places in Bucharest to brew specialty coffee.
- Gradina Eden: the outdoor garden café hidden behind the dilapidated Palatul Știrbei that doubles as a lounge/nightclub. Yeah, it’s as cool as it sounds.
- The Urbanist: for some quality coffee served with a side of clothes shopping, if you’re keen to do both at the same time *shrug*
- Carturesti Carusel: possibly the prettiest bookshop in Bucharest for your not-so-inner nerd, complete with a café on the top floor
- Acuarela: an outdoor and indoor garden home to colorful umbrellas, water coloring, and of course food and coffee. And just in case you missed it the first time, let me repeat it for your inner child: water coloring.
Wander through the newest Old Town
Fun fact: Bucharest’s “old” town might actually be the youngest in the world. Renovated in 2011, the cobblestone streets and upgraded buildings make this part of the city a charming place to wander and get lost in. During the day, it’s chill, with enough people around to be lively but not overwhelming. By night, it comes alive with packed restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Every time I strolled through, I stumbled upon a cool new spot: the beautiful Stavropoleos Monastery, the statue of Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula), the Carturesti Carusel bookshop, and more. Getting lost and seeing what you’ll discover is easily one of the best things to do in Bucharest.
Go green at Cișmigiu Gardens
If you know me, you know how obsessed I am with parks and green spaces, especially ones located in the city center (hello Parque Kennedy and Retiro Park!). So when someone told me that Bucharest has a giant garden with a lake that’s also located in the city center? I was SO there! The beautiful Cismigiu Gardens have plenty of paths to stroll through, benches to sit at, and people to watch. Bring a picnic and enjoy a lazy afternoon soaking in nature. If you want to explore even more green spaces, check out the impressive Herăstrău Park where you can rent bikes, go on boat rides, or fish in the lake.
Relax and rejuvenate at Therme
Located less than half an hour from Old Town Bucharest, Therme is a must visit place in Bucharest! It’s Europe’s largest recreation, wellness, and entertainment center and it certainly looks the part. Free buses leave from Romanã Square to take you to what is essentially a spa water park. It has everything from themed pools, gardens, saunas, and massage studios. Plus, Romania’s largest botanical garden is located here too, because go big or go home, am I right? Bring your swimsuit and prepare to spend the day here! And if you’d rather get full access to Therme plus a transfer from your hotel, consider booking your experience ahead of time here.
Visit the iconic Palace of Parliament
The grandiose Palace of Parliament is the second largest administrative building in the world (after The Pentagon, that is). Built during the reign of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, it has over 3000 rooms – and uses enough electricity to power a small city (NBD). You can only enter the palace by reserving ahead or by booking a guided tour with a company. I actually visited as part of the Bucharest Communism Tour (which I highly recommend), but you can also easily purchase a ticket and do the guided tour provided by the palace itself. It is seriously one of the most impressive palaces I’ve visited (probably on par with Versailles in Paris) and totally worth the effort. Read reviews here and get tickets ahead of time here.
Soak in history at the University Square
This area was one of the prime locations for protests during the 1989 Revolution against communism, where many young activists died for Romania. Both the InterContinental and the National Theater are notable buildings here. The InterContinental actually used to be the biggest hotel in the city and was where all the journalists stayed to get a bird’s eye view of all the action. The National Theater suffered many architectural changes at the hands of dictator Ceauşescu but was renovated in 2014. It has an…interesting design.
Learn the symbolic meaning behind Revolution Square
This square is where the 1989 Revolution began in Romania when then-dictator Ceauşescu was giving a speech. Unlike some neighboring countries, the transition from communism did not come easy for Romania; it was one of the bloodiest in Eastern Europe. In fact, people kept protesting in this square until Ceauşescu and his wife were caught AND killed because many didn’t trust that communism was over until he died. Pretty intense stuff. It’s so fascinating to see the somewhat-recent history come alive in buildings in monuments in Bucharest and it’s precisely why it’s such a fascinating place to visit: the history of Bucharest is still fresh.
Attend a concert at the Romanian Athenaeum
Majestic pillars make up the façade of the Athenaeum, Romania’s classical music concert hall. It’s home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and apparently only open during concerts…at least according to Lonely Planet. A couple of friends and I may or may not have begged and paid our way in to watch them practice, and boy was it worth it. Not only was the music awe-inspiring, but the interior frescoes were on-par with the Sistine Chapel. Pro tip: it never hurts to ask if you can be let inside! For 10 lei each, we were treated to an impromptu concert. WIN.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend getting tickets to one of the orchestra’s many classical music concerts. You won’t be disappointed!
Marvel at the Arcul de Triumf
No, you don’t have to go all the way to Paris to see an Arc de Triomphe – Bucharest has its own! The original structure was made of wood and built in 1922 to celebrate victory in WWI. It was rebuilt again in 1935, this time out of concrete, and it’s this structure that still stands today.
Arcul de Triumf is a bit out of the way of the Old Town (around 4 miles or so), so it’s best reached by bike. It’s located in one of the busiest intersections of Bucharest, so you can only take pictures from across the street. Although this isn’t a must-visit place in Bucharest, it’s still worth stopping for a photo if you happen to be in the area.
Take photos of Pasajul Macca Villa Crosse
This extravagant covered passageway was initially intended to be a luxury hotel in the late 1800s before doing a total 180 and serving as a brothel instead. Alright then. Now, it’s packed with cafes and boutique shops and serves as almost a mini shopping mall – albeit, a gorgeous one. It’s located in the Old Town and a fun place to walk through, people watch, grab a drink or even have a bit of a photoshoot. The architecture is spectacular!
Find all of the “moved” churches
One thing I learned on my communism tour is that communism and organized religion didn’t mix. Especially when a certain communist dictator wants to build the second largest administrative building in the world (aka the Palace) for himself and needs a lot of space. So, what’s a Romanian to do? Oh, they just casually picked up and ROLLED the churches elsewhere within the city, hiding them enough so they weren’t in plain sight. Pretty crazy, right? You can find a collection of them here and do your own DIY moved churches walking tour! it’s one of the more unique things to see in Bucharest.
Do a photoshoot at abandoned buildings
Bucharest is filled with abandoned buildings, due to its recent communist past. Most properties were confiscated from their rightful owners during Ceauşescu’s reign, and not all have been reclaimed (or renovated). You can wander through the streets of Bucharest and find many on your own, but I actually recommend doing the Beautiful Decay tour instead. Not only will you be taken to buildings both in and around the city, but you’ll also learn the history behind these buildings and experience the aftermath of communism firsthand. Did I mention you’ll get a dose of the underground street art scene in Bucharest too? It’s definitely one of the coolest things to do in Bucharest, especially if you’re a love of art and architecture. Book your spot on the Beautiful Decay tour here.
Stumble upon street art
Like abandoned buildings, Bucharest is no stranger to street art. Although I didn’t get a chance to go hunting for all the cool pieces (which is a shame because I love street art tours), I spotted quite a few murals just wandering through neighborhoods. However, if you really want to learn more about the street art movement in Bucharest and find all the awesome murals (plenty are ‘hidden’), consider taking this street art tour. It’s the best way to experience all the street art in Bucharest. Book your spot on the street art tour here.
Soak in the views from the top
Have you even visited a city if you don’t spend at least one evening reveling in a sunset (or sunrise, if you can) rooftop view? (There’s only one right answer). In Bucharest, get your best panoramic magic hour snap from the outdoor Pura Vida Sky Bar or the indoor Club Lounge at the InterContinental. Pura Vida definitely has more of a party vibe since it’s the top floor of a hostel, whereas the InterContinental Club Lounge is all indoors and much quieter. The views are totally different, so go to both – Bucharest warrants more than one #SelfieAtSunset.
Dig deep into cultural history at the Village Museum
Located just 10 minutes outside of the Bucharest by car, the outdoor Village Museum showcases traditional village life and architecture from all over Romania. This museum is almost entirely outdoors, with over 300 buildings representing the history of Romania’s rural architecture. Plus, the museum hosts a variety of cultural events and exhibitions, so be sure check the website to see if anything cool is going on while you’re visiting! Get your ticket ahead of time here.
Hit the outskirts of Bucharest on bike
Although I was terrified to do a bike tour in Bucharest, I recently did one in Riga and had so much fun that I regret not going on one in Romania! Several of my friends did this bike tour with Romania Slow Tours and had a lot of fun. There’s something to be said about seeing the greener side of Bucharest – plus I can vouch for the fact that the tour guide, Mihai, is a pretty cool guy. If you’re a love of biking and the great outdoors, this is an awesome thing to do in Bucharest! Did I mention you’ll get snacks on the tour, too? Book your ticket ahead of time here.
Shatter misconceptions with the Roma Gypsy Heritage Tour
I was fortunate to snag the last available spot on this tour while I was in Bucharest. I’d always heard negative misconceptions about gypsies but knew that, based on my own experiences, that there are always two sides to a story. This tour was meant to show us the misconceptions people have about Romani gypsies and gain a little insight on where and how they live. Honestly, it was eye-opening.
Unfortunately, the majority of the Romani are widely discriminated against and live in a vicious cycle of poverty and racism. I highly recommend doing this tour – Livia was an amazing and knowledgeable guide, and you’ll learn some eye-opening facts about Romani gypsies. It was genuinely one of the best things I did in Bucharest. This tour includes stops in the old town, a visit to a Romani artisan shop, a bus ride to the primarily Romani Ferentari neighborhood, a stop at the Romani flower market and a visit to the Roma Culture Museum. You can book the tour here.
Dance the evening away at the outdoor dance party
Every Saturday evening, Pura Vida and Good Mood Dance Studio partner to host a street dance party in the Old Town. Think of it like one giant, long Zumba class. They play everything from salsa to old school hip hop to Romanian music, and tourists and locals alike gather to dance the night away. It is SO much fun and was definitely the best way to bond with the other people I was with! Bring some comfy shoes and your best dance moves and get ready to have fun. It’s definitely something only locals know but such a fun, non-touristy thing to do in Bucharest!
Experience Bucharest through the eyes of a former homeless person
In all of my travels, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a tour quite like the Outcast Tour. Yes, it’s a historical tour of Bucharest but it’s one from a different perspective – the tour leader is formerly homeless. His personal story is moving; you’ll learn about the challenges that come with living on the streets in Bucharest from someone who has actually done so. As an added bonus, all proceeds go directly to support a local NGO that assists the homeless in finding employment. Honestly, if you decide to book any historical tours of Bucharest, make it this one. Where else can you learn about a city from this unique perspective? Book the tour here.
Where to Eat in Bucharest + Must-Try Foods
I started writing this section and realized it was SO long that I turned it into another post. You can find my guide to what to eat in Bucharest plus the best restaurants and cafes here.
Bucharest Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bucharest
If it’s your first time in Bucharest, I highly recommend staying in or around The Old Town. A large majority of places you’ll be visiting are in this area and are easily accessible by foot or a short Uber / bus ride. I specifically recommend Intercontinental Bucharest, the hotel I stayed at. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The location was walking distance from pretty much everywhere, but was far enough from the The Old Town so I didn’t have to deal with any noise or crowds. The service exceeded expectations with everyone going above and beyond to ensure my stay was wonderful. And the rooms were beautifully designed, with detailed touches that made me feel ultra pampered. Plus, the rooftop has epic views of the city (as do the rooms). The Intercontinental definitely gets my stamp of approval.
Alternatively, my other recommendations are below:
Little Bucharest Bar & Hostel (Backpack)
If you’re looking for an excellent location and amazing views, Little Bucharest has got you covered. It’s smack dab in the middle of the Old Town, so everything is accessible. That being said, its location near the bars and clubs means it’s far from quiet, so be sure to pack your earplugs.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a quieter, social place outside the Old Town, consider Podstel Bucharest. Podstel is a 15-minute walk from the Old Town, but its chill outdoor garden and quiet location make it feel a world away. The rooms are clean and modern and the owners are super friendly. Book it here and read reviews here.
Hotel Lido (Budget-Friendly)
Located just a 15-minute walk from the Old Town, Hotel Lido is the perfect choice for central accommodation that doesn’t break the bank. This historic art deco hotel was built in 1930 and features modern elements such as plush beds, balconies in every room, and other modern amenities. This is an excellent spot for those looking for affordable luxury.
Intercontinental Bucharest (Mid-Range)
This is one if the best places to stay if you want comfortable accommodation with luxe details. The customer service was beyond excellent, the rooms were luxurious and comfortable, and the breakfast was to die for. Plus, the location is the best – it’s just 5 minutes walking from the Old Town but far enough away where you won’t hear any party antics. Win, win. Oh, and it has one of the best views of the city too, given that it’s the tallest hotel in Bucharest.
Epoque Hotel Relais & Chateaux (Splurge)
The Epoque Hotel is a bit further than the other options – it’s a 20 minute walk from the Old Town. But what it lacks in location, it more than makes up for in luxury. Located next to the beautiful Cismigiu Park and Gardens, this stylish hotel is the top choice for luxury travelers. It’s the details that make this 5-star hotel truly stand out: bright and spacious rooms with beautiful views, superb breakfast at the on-site restaurant, and free access to the spa are just a few of the many amenities available to guests. What’s more: this Neo-Romanian hotel even boasts a fitness center and indoor pool on-site. What more could you want?
Bright, airy, and spacious, this beautiful Airbnb is perfect for one or two travelers who prefer the comfort of an apartment with a healthy dose of style. This 1 bedroom apartment features an open-concept layout, rustic wood finishes, and an outdoor patio. It’s sparkly clean and includes various extra amenities, such as toiletries and a coffee maker. Plus, it’s located in the heart of the Old Town, making it a perfect choice for those who want to be in the center of all the action. Just bring ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper. All in all, this Airbnb has everything you’d need for a short or long stay in Bucharest!
Read reviews and book a stay
Other Things to Know Before Visiting Bucharest
- English is (somewhat) widely spoken: Although Romanian is the official language of Romania, nearly half of the Romanian population in Bucharest speaks a moderate amount of English. It might not be as common in other parts of Romania, but I personally had no issue communicating with locals in Bucharest.
- The cuisine consists of a lot of pork (and meat in general): Although there are quite a few vegetarian restaurants and fusion places where alternative options are plentiful, it can be challenging to find pork-free traditional food. Be sure to check out my Bucharest restaurant guide for my favorite spots!
- Romania has some of the fastest Wi-Fi in the world! Wi-Fi normally isn’t something I mention in my destination guides but the Wi-Fi in Romania is amazingly fast. It’s WAY faster than the internet in the U.S. and most of Western Europe. Always a blessing if you work online!
- Make sure you get a VPN subscription, which helps make public Wi-Fi secure by securely routing your internet through a server so nobody can steal your information. I’m a huge fan of NordVPN – it’s highly secure and really affordable. Yay for internet security!
- Don’t forget travel Insurance: Yes, you need travel insurance for if things (hopefully don’t but often do) go wrong. I’ve been sick, needed stitches, crashed a rental car, had cash stolen and have dealt with luggage delays. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson about travel insurance the hard way. My go-to insurance is World Nomads cause they’re awesome and easy to deal with. Be sure to check out the different plan options to pick one that’s right for you!
- Pack a filtering water bottle: jury’s out as to whether or not Bucharest’s water is safe to drink (it depends on how old the building you’re in is, amongst other things), so err on the cautious side and pack this filtering water bottle (my personal favorite!) in your suitcase. That way, you can still drink tap water but it’s extra filtered!
Transportation in Bucharest
Bucharest is the sixth largest city in Europe (by population) so it’s pretty freaking big. It does have public transport but I have to admit that I walked most places…or took cabs and Ubers, both of which were inexpensive options. Traffic here is problematic so you can always take the metro to avoid it, but all the locals told me to just stick with Uber or walking. If you want to learn more about Bucharest’s public transportation system, check out this post.
Currency in Romania
Although Romania is part of the EU, the official currency is lei (RON), not euros. At the time of updating this post, USD $1 equals around RON 4.4 so in case you’re wondering, Bucharest (and Romania as a whole) is incredibly budget-friendly.
Do I need a visa to visit Romania?
Like other European countries, North Americans can travel to Romania visa-free for up to 90 days within a 6 months period. Always be sure to double-check your embassy website for the most up-to-date information.
So there you have it: the best things to do in Bucharest for first time visitors! It’s time to forget about the bad reputation that Romania and its people get. Bucharest isn’t the dark, depressing ex-communist city you think it is. It’s hip. It’s vibrant. And it’s Europe’s best-kept city secret…for now.
Psst: Headed outside of Bucharest? Check out this guide to the top attractions in Transylvania!
More Romania ResourcesPlanning a trip to Romania soon? Check out ALL my posts on Romania below:
- Romania Travel Guide
- The Best Cultural Things to Do in Bucharest, Romania: A First Timer’s Guide
- The Halal(ish) Romanian Food Guide + Best Restaurants in Bucharest
Tell me: where’s the most surprising destination you’ve visited this year? Share in the comments below!
Like this post? Pin it and save it for later!