Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is an excellent weekend away destination. We have spent 4.5 full days here and, to be quite frank, I think 3 days are more than enough unless you will do some day trips. While you are visiting, instead of spending all your time enjoying the shisha in the small Old Town, look a bit further out and explore some other interesting areas.
Just north from The Old Town
Here I refer to the part north of the Universitate metro station. I preferred this part of town as the streets are wider and it is not as crowded. Here you actually get the feeling you are in the capital of the country and not just in some tourist trap centre. Here you will find several monuments and many of the cities universities. There is the Piața Revoluției with the Rebirth monument (Memorialul Renașterii), then you have the red brick church Biserica Kretzulescu, Cișmigiu Park, The National Museum of Art of Romania, Piața Universității (University’s Square), etc etc It is a more relaxing part of town and I quite enjoyed sitting in the sunshine (no matter how cold) at the University Square.
South of Old Town
This is the part on the map “below” the massive boulevard and it is a bigger chunk of the city to explore; the closest thing to see is the Radu Vodă Monastery and Palatul Patriarhiei. Then going further south there is Parcul Carol where you can see the Nation’s Heroes Memorial and enjoy the quiet of the park. There is the Zodiac fountain at the entrance of the park and other sculptures hidden in the greenery. Otherwise, there is not much here, but it you can see interesting building here and there.
Palatul Parlamentului or Palace of Parliament
Now this really is something to see. The second largest administrative building in the world (the first one being the Pentagon) it looms imposingly over the surrounding area. From the entrance you have the amazing view of the great boulevard Unirii with all its fountains. And the same goes the other way; if standing at the big fountain in the centre of the Parcul Unirii which is divided by the boulevard and you have the luck to see all the fountains on, it will give a spectacular view of the colossal giant that is the Palace of Parliament. If you would like to visit it, this is also possible but needs to be booked in advanced (at least that was the case in 2016) and it is not really cheap. For most updated info I think your best bet would be to check here. We have walked around the compound and it took a good 30-40 minutes. I think they were in the middle of building a gigantic cathedral at the back of it. Right next to the Palace is the Parcul Izvor. It’s just a park but we were lucky and there was a small market with mulled wine and all sorts of food and nibbles to buy. From here you can follow the Dambovita River and get back to Old Town. The walk is really pleasurable and you pass next to several tourists spots like Biserica Mihai Vodă, the City Courthouse, the Holocaust Memorial etc.
I am leaving my favourite part for last. It is all the way up north in Parcul Regele Mihai I (King Mihai I Park). It is a very long walk away from Old Town or you can just take their metro. One thing to point out here, the metro is really amazing, the trains are new and have sooooo much space. I definitely recommend going to this open museum (when it’s dry) as it is worth the trek from the centre and spending the day there. The enormous King Mihail I Park is charming on its own and has a lot to offer; just imagine walking through a beautifully kept bit of nature with autumn leaves colouring the ground around you while you are sipping on mulled wine and eating roasted chestnuts. And then you arrive to the museum that will transport you back in time and out of the city.
The entrance is more than affordable and they do the student discount as well. I don’t think there is a specific way to go about visiting all the houses, just have fun and enjoy being out in the fresh air while getting to know more about the Romanian culture and the way of life in rural areas. I would suggest doing your souvenir shopping here as there are many local artisans with a magnificent selection of everything you can think of, from handmade magnets and soaps, crocheted puppets to hand woven baskets, hand crafted ocarinas and old chests of drawers. There was even a program with different folklore groups bringing the traditional music and clothes from their areas. The area is so big I don’t believe it can ever feel overcrowded. We spent most of the day there and it was one of the best days of this trip
If I have learned one thing from our sudden trip to Romania is that the often overlooked destinations can be a breath of fresh air when travelling. I believe the tourism in Romania is just getting a proper foothold with easier access and better marketing opportunities but it is still not overrun like some other famous destinations (my own country rapidly becoming one of them). In destinations like this you can still enjoy the feeling of discovering something new, a place whose photos have not been overused on Facebook or Instagram, a place where you can see some attractions for the first time as they were not mentioned anywhere else (unless you really did your homework and planned your trip in every minute detail). After Romania, I might try and give some other “smaller” countries a go every so often, the European ones seem like a good weekend getaway from UK.