After a beautiful Christmas in Istanbul we packed our bags and flew to Bucharest to stay with a friend for a few days. Despite its bad reputation as a tourist city, I really enjoyed the city and easily found my favourite things to do in Bucharest.
1.Palace of Parliament
The second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, the palace stands as a monument to the ego of Romanian’s communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who came to a grisly end in the 1989 revolution.
What I found interesting about this building was its grandeur for a relatively young building (construction began in 1984). It had marble staircases, handwoven carpets, carved wooden decor and the effect was quite splendid. Despite its extravagance, it was nice to see such a recently constructed building display the magnificence of the European palaces and castles of days gone by. It was far from the utilitarian architecture that I would expect from the latter half of the 20th century.
There are a number of tours you can take, we opted for the standard tour + underground, primarily because that was the tour that happened to be leaving at the time we arrived. There was not much to see in the underground but a few pipes and pictures of the stages of the building’s construction. The standard tour would have been fine had we arrived at the right time.
You can only take a guided tour, there is no option of taking a look for yourself. The security was quite high as it is a government building. You have to give them your passport before entering and you will receive it after the tour.
2. Old Town
When we didn’t have any particular sight-seeing plans, we found ourselves wandering around the old town, hoping for a taste of the ‘Paris of the east’ that Bucharest once was. The cafes are nice for a cup of tea or a beer in one of the pubs. We discovered a market in an old building selling local arts and crafts as well as antiques. A very pleasant area to explore.
Bucharest has a number of old churches to visit, the most prominent being the Stavropoleos Monastary in the Old City. It has beautiful wood carvings and painted interior.
Just make sure the flash on your camera is turned off and you’re not wearing a hat inside or you will face the wrath of the tiny but ferocious lady that keeps an eye on the visitors.
A must-do Bucharest experience is a visit to Caru Cu Bere. Walking into this restaurant feels like stepping into the 1920s. Full of old charm and character with classical music music playing and the waiters dressed in waistcoats. I doubted the food would be particularly spectacular being such a touristy place, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we had in Romania and a good place to try some classic Romanian dishes like Sarmale (cabbage rolls filled with meat).
Another favourite for food in Bucharest was Simbio. It is located in an old building that has been renovated into a restaurant and not too far away from the old town. It’s not the place to try traditional Romanian food but their quinoa burger and green smoothies were a nice break from the pork and mulled wine that my diet in Romania had consisted of thus far. It’s a perfect place for a Sunday brunch or to hangout while catching up on some reading or laptop work.
6. This Bookshop
Take me to a place filled with books and I am content. I love looking at the covers and flicking through the pages even if they aren’t in English. I love the feel and the smell of the paper. I love being around other people who feel the same. I feel smarter just from being there. You cannot imagine my joy when we visited Carturesti Carusel.
This place is a wonderland of books set against a striking white backdrop with fantastically windy staircases that take you up and down the many levels. On the top floor you will find another of my favourite things.. food! The cafe is a lovely place to sit with a coffee and start reading the pile of books you just broke your budget on.
7. Christmas Market
So this year is my first Christmas on this side of the planet, where it rains and snows at Christmastime and we wear coats and scarves and drink mulled wine, rather than drinking a beer in my bikini in the sun. This was very exciting for me because I’d always dreamed of experiencing the northern hemisphere Christmas that I’d seen in movies and heard about in the songs (Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!).
However, these Christmas dreams were almost shattered as living in Istanbul with its majority Muslim population, resulted in a distance lack of cheesy Christmas vibes. I was determined to venture further into the European continent to get my northern Christmas. Then university got busy with final papers and exams and it looked like it just wasn’t going to happen before December 25th.
To my complete and utter delight, the Bucharest Christmas market continued until the 27th of December and it was fantastic. I know it’s not Vienna or Prague or Nuremberg, but we had such a fun time enjoying the live music under the lights of the gigantic tree, eating cooked chestnuts and looking at the Christmas arts and crafts for sale at the stalls.
Thank you Bucharest for making my Christmas dreams come true!