As you may already know, especially if you follow me on instagram (which you definitely should), I was completely smitten with Bucharest. I was invited last month to participate in Experience Bucharest, a huge initiative attracting about 100 international bloggers and social media influencers to the Romanian capital city. The whole thing was put together by a team of volunteers in various tourism roles around the city. The whole team was incredible and worked their butts off to show off their home city. Seriously, between the prep work that must have gone into the event, the event itself (which was 5 days of tours, dinners, parties, more parties, after parties, and after-after parties), the amount they’ve been promoting all of the content we’ve produced since the event ended, and planning the next event, I don’t know when they sleep!
It’s so great to see a city through the eyes of such passionate locals and it’s hard for that passion not to rub off, but I often wonder when I’m doing press events how much of the experience is “put on”. The hotels, restaurants, and tour groups involved usually roll out the red carpet, which is great, but I usually suspect some of that enthusiasm is for the cameras.
This was not the case in Bucharest, at least in my experience. Aside from all of the people personally involved in Experience Bucharest, it seemed that everyone in the city was eager to talk about their home and happy to have it seen through foreign eyes. Every Uber driver and barista happily shared their favorite things and “must sees” in the cities. In fact, the only people I found in Bucharest with anything negative to say about it were a drunk English couple at a kabob shop around 3am, and frankly I think they were the problem.
Bucharest needs that kind of promotion to reach an international audience. I admittedly knew very little about Bucharest going into this experience. However in talking to friends from around the world before and after returning, it seems the perceptions about Bucharest and Romania as a whole are either complete ignorance of it’s existence or pretty negative (and mostly false) stereotypes. The responses I got varied from “watch out for gypsies” to “oh, I thought you said Budapest, that’s supposed to be great “.
Art and Architecture
This is where Bucharest really shines. The history of the city is evident in the architecture. Affectionately known as “little Paris”, you will find ornate Gothic and French Baroque architecture along side the blocky grey communist era buildings.
Some find this a bit choppy and unappealing (though I’d argue that it’s kind of cool), but if you look just a bit below the service, you’ll find examples of stunning architectural design, street art installations, and soaring indoor arcades.
Bucharest just might be the worlds most instagramable city, and rumor has it that’s a pretty big deal to Millennial travelers, but there’s way more to Bucharest that instagram likes.
Now, let’s address the elephant …er vampire in the room. Those who have an opinion of Romania have mostly borrowed it from B Movies. A dark mountainous landscape, lightening, old peasant women with crucifixes… you get the picture. To tell the truth, that’s perhaps what I was most excited about in Romania. Of course I knew it was a real place with real people, most of whom are not vampires, but I still needed to see Dracula’s Castle and get to know a little more about everyone’s favorite impaler. In reality, Bran Castle and the surroundings in Transylvania are more “fairy tale princess” and less “dark and stormy night.”
While you will still hear of remote villages in Romania where the traditional folklore is alive and well, the people of Bucharest are as modern and cosmopolitan as any European capital, and just as surprised and confused as the rest of us when they find out people are still driving stakes through corpses’ hearts. While this folklore is fascinating, it’s also not doing much for Bucharest’s image as a modern metropolitan city abroad, and that needs to change.
Part of the origins of the vampire myth in Romania stem from the Romanian’s abundant use of garlic in their food, and that’s never a bad thing. Like many cities, Bucharest is experiencing a resurgence in popularity of what was once brushed off as “peasant food.” The comfort foods your grandmother used to make that are far more embedded in the culture of a place than the fast foods or fusions we’ve become accustomed to all over the world. And yes, there are still Romanian grandmothers espousing the more metaphysical benefits of garlic, but who’s going to argue when it taste so good!
Of course in a city the size of Bucharest, you’ll find every imaginable type of cuisine. There are still several traditional Romanian restaurants that have been operating for years. The traditional foods are similar to the rest of Eastern Europe. You’ll find very “meat heavy” dishes, polenta, sour kraut/cabbage, and sausages. If you don’t try the Mici (a caseless sausage made of ground meat with various spices) while you’re there, you’re doing Bucharest wrong.
The Party Culture
Romanians know how to party. I drink, perhaps more than I should by some estimations (talk to my dad), but Romanians can DRINK. Bucharest is a great party city. The booze is cheap, the people are fun, and the clubs and bars are abundant. Seriously, I just got back from my first trip to Vegas and they have nothing on Bucharest. Romanians are a special kind of drinker and I simply cannot keep up (without a little practice 😉 ) For this reason Bucharest is emerging as a hot destination for European stag and hen parties.
Bucharest is full of wacky “off the beaten path experiences” too. I experienced my first cat cafe in Bucharest. The cats were mostly indifferent, but the lemonade was great (Bucharest’s lemonade game is STRONG) and there was a dog there too so that was cool. And in news you never knew you needed to know, Bucharest is actually home to the worlds largest collection of irons and corkscrews at the Museum of Romanian Records. You’ll be surprised and amazed at the amount of dirty corkscrews on the market.
Bucharest also has a recreation center (the largest of it’s kind in Europe) that’s part indoor pool, part beach, and part botanical garden called Therme. Perhaps best of all, Bucharest has no shortage of rooftop bars, and that’s something we can all get behind.
There is literally something for everyone in Bucharest, even the antique iron enthusiast.
*Many thanks to the wonderful team that put together Experience Bucharest for hosting me and facilitating this amazing experience!
20 thoughts on “Bucharest Below the Surface”
I am so happy to see that you like my hometown. Indeed, the architecture is an important part – the mix between the old, wonderful houses and buildings, many former (small) palaces and the communism architecture (many important buildings, including the famous Palace of the Parliament and the Government building) and the new, stainless steel glass buildings is special. And there are plenty of small museums, true gems – you discovered one, and I am glad you saw that one ;), a vibrant nightlife and special, lovely places that make you feel amazing in an instant! Great photos and presentation!
Agreed – it was very difficult not to get caught up in the organisers’ passion for beautiful Bucharest! And as you know, I can definitely testify to the fact that we partied pretty hard on the trip 🙂 Beautiful pics, Mags!
Your trip looked amazing! What a cool thing to do- 100 bloggers-that is insane! They picked great things to show you. I would like to explore more of the country as I only went to Constanta and the historic areas near there.
Bucharest looks pretty interesting. Aside from the architecture and history, all those colorful umbrellas make for such a quaint place to sit and feel giddy!
I echo everything you said! Bucharest blew me away and reading your post brings back fond memories 🙂
Bucharest is a very warm city … it may have its problems too, as any other place in the world, but is vibrant, divers, full of history and colorful attractions. It is a place that welcomes you with love and you just love it back from the very first moment. At least that is how I see it….
I have seen so many beautiful pictures of the architecture in Bucharest! I’m curious about how Romanian food taste and would definitely be interested in trying the Momite!
It is the art and the architecture that I would enjoy most. Your pictures really show a beautiful and interesting side to Bucharest!
Great post about Bucharest. I was there earlier this year and really loved what I saw, too. It seems so vibrant and so ready to become a world class city – like it’s just getting started. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how it develops during the coming years!
Thanks for sharing your experience. I have now added Bucharest to the bucket list. It sounds like a great city and I really love the architecture. Your photos are awesome. I’d also like to visit Bran Castle. That must be a great experience! Garlic food doesn’t bother me too much I was born in France where we used a lot of garlic too haha! Great post.
Bucharest looks such a cool city. I was hoping to visit this summer but I’ve run out of time before my big trip back to Canada and on to NZ.
Thanks for putting the minds of many at ease. I’ve had my share with stereotypes regarding Bucharest. Might be trying Bucharest out in the nearest future
What a cool experience! I don’t think I knew anything about Bucharest either before reading your post. I love the Parisian-style architecture, though I imagine it would be a bit jarring next to all those plain, severe gray buildings.
Although the vampire folklore in Romania does make it seem a lot more interesting to me, Bucharest definitely doesn’t give out that vibe. It does seem like a beautiful cosmopolitan city and the food looks absolutely delicious!
I love when people are passionate about their home! Its the way it should be! I also love how you felt like the experience wasn’t put on at all and was all real, true emotion! That is often the same in many places where tourists have got too drunk and claim the location they are in isn’t anything special even though its really beautiful!
Your trip and experience in Romania looks amazing. I especially love the place with those colorful umbrellas. And the food also looks something well worth a visit to Bucharest. I hope I’ll get a chance to visit it soon.
I was totally cracky up at the dirty cork-screws. I’m going to have to peck one of those up when I’m in Romania (hopefully next year). I’m so easily amused! I really want to go for the folklore, though.
Bucharest is quite interesting; indeed there is so much to do and admire there. The architecture is great and I loved the cork screw museum. Food too looks good and you can party. Great pictures.
So….you had me at “little Paris.” And then again at “comfort foods”…….and the AGAIN at rooftop bars!! What’s not to love?! Bucharest really sounds awesome, and the more I read about it, the more you guys all convince me I need to visit!
Great initiative Experience Bucharest is!! … the volunteers really seemed to have worked hard to let international bloggers know their City well and write about it. And it is so nice to know that people are so eager to share the good places to see in Bucharest and presence of helpful Uber taxi people(:
The Architecture is beautiful, no wonder it is known as the “little Paris”. I really like the colourful umbrellas on the roof of the cafe restaurant(: … and the Dracula’s Castle, looks lovely.