Are you looking for a short city break with culture, nightlife, great food and coffee, and plenty of things to do? Don’t feel like dodging hordes of tour groups with their obnoxious umbrellas and megaphone-wielding guides? Traveling on a budget? Then consider spending a weekend in Bucharest, Romania — one of the hottest cities in Eastern Europe.
Bucharest has long been a favorite of off-the-beaten-path backpackers. It’s a modern, edgy city with a fascinating past. Its recently restored Old Town has plenty of charming streets to wander around. And it’s quickly becoming a great foodie and coffee destination, attracting a new crowd of digital nomads.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how to plan the perfect weekend in Bucharest, Romania!
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Arriving for your weekend in Bucharest
Most people arrive in Bucharest by air. There are cheap flights to most destinations in Europe, with onward connections to the U.S. and elsewhere.
You can reach the Bucharest city center by bus, train or taxi (50 lei). The best compromise of cost-versus-time is the Express Bus. This costs 7 lei, but you also need to buy a 3.7 lei rechargeable bus card. You can buy your card and load it up inside the arrivals hall in the airport. The bus route is 783, and after about a 30-minute ride it’ll drop you on the south side of central Piaţas Unirii.
Alternatively, you can take a shuttle train to the main train station in the north of the city. This costs just 8 lei and takes half an hour, but the north train station is quite a long walk from the city center. You can take the metro for 5 lei to reach the city center. The metro is also your best option if you arrived in Bucharest by train.
If you’re coming from nearby, you may also arrive for your weekend in Bucharest by bus. Bucharest doesn’t have a central bus station, and different bus companies go to different terminals on different days. It’s all very confusing, so your best bet is to plan your route in advance using this website.
The biggest cluster of budget accommodation is clustered in the neighborhoods around Piaţas Unirii. It’s pretty easy to get oriented — the main roads run north-south from Piaţas Unirii, or east-west from the Palace of Parliament.
Day One: The Palace of Parliament and a free walking tour
On your first day, knock out two of the best things to do in Bucharest Romania — visit the spectacular Palace of Parliament, and take a free walking tour around the historic center.
This is a long day, so it’s best to get an early start. You can grab breakfast at your hostel or hotel. Alternatively, Bucharest seems to have a great bakery on every corner. For great coffee, try The Urbanist — a hip cafe just a couple blocks from Piaţas Unirii.
Once you’ve filled up, it’s time to start day one of your Bucharest itinerary with the Palace of Parliament!
Visiting the Palace of Parliament
Nowhere is Bucharest’s Communist history more on display than at the massive, magnificent, magnificently ugly Palace of Parliament. It’s among the largest government buildings in the world.
The Parliament was constructed by Nicolae Ceauşescu during his dictatorial rule over Romania in the late 1980’s. Ceauşescu was the kind of ruler who had a hell of an ego, and the architecture of his rule reflects this. He even went so far as to raze the historic center of Bucharest so he could build a bunch of new boulevards 1 meter wider than those in Paris — just to spite the French!
Grandiose as it is, Ceauşescu’s Palace of Parliament is still technically unfinished. While today’s legislature uses the building to conduct official business, much of it remains empty.
The best way to see the Palace of Parliament is simply to wander around outside and gawk at its humongous size. If you want more, you can also book a guided tour of the interior. You must book in advance through the website and bring your passport day-of.
Tours start at 40 lei for adults, but they’re half-price if you have an ISIC student card. They take 45 minutes to an hour depending on which option you choose.
The National Museum of Contemporary Art
One of the best hidden gems to check out when you visit Bucharest Romania is on the grounds of the Palace of Parliament — but feels a world away. The National Museum of Contemporary Art hosts some of the finest modern art exhibitions you’ll find this side of the Atlantic.
To get to the museum, walk all the way around the Palace of Parliament to the backside (you’ll really appreciate how big it is!). It’s at Entry E4.
Check the website to make sure they have a show during your weekend in Bucharest. If they do, I promise it’s worth the detour. Most exhibitions take about 90 minutes to peruse; longer if you really like art. The exhibits tend to lean lefty-political.
Adults pay 10 lei to enter the gallery, but students get in for a mere 2.5 lei.
Walk up Calea Victoriei
As I mentioned, Ceauşescu desperately wanted Bucharest to be the “Paris of the East.” So he constructed a wide boulevard lined with museums in an attempt to one-up the Champs-Élysées. It’s a great place for an afternoon stroll, and if you’re a fan of museums, several along this street are worth a visit.
The best of the museums is the National Art Museum. The building itself is stunning, and the collection contains thousands of works by Romanian and international artists. Most of the art on display is from the 18th century and earlier, with many pieces dating back to medieval times. Admission is 25 lei and the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
This area also has tons of sidewalk cafes and affordable restaurants if you’re looking for somewhere to grab lunch or a drink. Don’t miss the eclairs at French Revolution during your weekend in Bucharest. Alternatively, Trofic — while famous for its breakfast options — stays open until 4 pm and has tasty lunches as well.
Take a Bucharest free walking tour
Finish your first day of Bucharest sightseeing with one of the city’s highlights — a free walking tour of the Old Town.
Bucharest has a few different free walking tours, covering different themes like Communist history or pre-20th-century palaces. But if it’s your first visit, I’d recommend the Walkabout Story of Bucharest tour.
The tour begins at 6 pm daily at the clock tower in Piata Unirii. You’ll stroll through the Old Town, seeing highlights like Manuc’s Inn — the oldest hotel in Romania where Turkish traders stopped over on their way to Germany. Along the way, you’ll hear the full history of Romania, starting from Dracula — or, in real life, Vlad the Impaler — and his rein of terror during the crusades. You’ll stop at shopping arcades filled with hookah shops and wander over to the Romanian stock market.
Then, the theme of the tour shifts to Ceauşescu’s rule. You’ll discover how Romania remained neutral during the Cold War, but still managed to be terrorized by a Communist dictator. One of the last stops is the balcony from where he gave his final speech in what is today Revolution Square. Ceauşescu was attempting to re-establish the success of Communism as the Soviet Union collapsed, but the crowd wasn’t having it. Rioting forced Ceauşescu inside, and he fled the next day.
The final stop of the tour is the Greek-style Athenaeum. It’s one of the most beautiful architectural features in a city not known for pretty buildings. Today, it houses the local philharmonic orchestra.
The Bucharest free walking tour takes about 2.5 hours in total. Remember to tip your guide at the end — 10 lei is a fair tip. Whether you’re spending just a weekend in Bucharest or will be traveling through Romania, it’s the perfect introduction to the city and the country.
Nightlife: Go out in the Old Town
Bucharest comes alive after dark. And whether you would rather sit in an open-air beer garden or dance all night at the hottest club in town, you can find your nightlife scene in the Old Town.
The best place to find low-key bars to chill in are the shopping arcades. Alternatively, take a short walk up to Gradina Eden and sit outside.
If you’re after more of a clubby vibe, you can’t go wrong with Kulturhaus. It’s enormous — I counted seven different rooms, each with its own decor and music theme. The cheap beer makes it very popular with students.
Day two: The northern neighborhoods and iconic churches
Now that you’ve gotten oriented with a few museum visits and a free walking tour, you can spend the second day of your weekend in Bucharest exploring at a more relaxing pace.
Bucharest is relatively short on “essential” attractions relative to cities like Paris and Florence. But it’s a very pleasant city to wander around. It has plenty of churches, cafes, and gardens to check out on your second day.
Have a world-class brunch at Dianei
What would a weekend city break be without a leisurely Sunday brunch thrown in? Luckily, Bucharest has a fantastic brunch scene. The best spots are north of the Old Town, around Piati Universitii.
The pick of the brunch restaurants is Dianei. The building has quite the history — it was built during World War II, survived the Communist regime, fell into a state of severe degradation, and rebuilt by the current owner. Today it has a lovely sunny interior and a patio where you can eat if the weather is nice.
And that’s before we even get to the food. Omelettes, salads, and lighter fare feature prominently. The bread is fresh-baked and delicious. Fresh herbs round out most dishes.
Even better, the coffee is also fantastic — and you get a hot beverage included with your brunch order. The spiced latte is legendary. But if you just want an espresso or an Americano (called a “long black” in Romania), you can get that too.
Considering how good the food is and how much is included, prices are very reasonable. Expect to spend 15-30 lei on brunch, including drinks. The brunch menu starts at 10 am and runs until 3 pm.
Wander around Cişmigiu Gardens
If you’re feeling like you need to walk off brunch, Bucharest has some lovely parks for a meandering stroll. The best is Cişmigiu Gardens.
On weekends, this escape in the northern corner of the city is filled with families and couples enjoying a day out. It’s a great place for people-watching, or to bring a book or listen to some music in a pretty setting. The park has a lake at the center — in the summer, you can even rent a paddleboat.
Of course, the park has the namesake gardens as well — the flower landscaping is gorgeous. Shady walking trails lead through the flowerbeds, with plenty of benches where you can stop and appreciate your surrounds.
When you’re ready for a coffee or beer break, stop in any of the cafes and grab an outdoor table. You’ll surely appreciate how even in a modern, edgy city like Bucharest, sometimes you just need to slow down.
Visit Ceauşescu’s former residence
There’s no denying it — dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu is one of the most fascinating figures in Soviet-era politics. His ego-mania made Bucharest the city it is today. And while he certainly harmed a lot of his people, his rule never quite led to the wholesale collapse of functional society in the same way it did in much of the Soviet Union itself.
To get a sense of the man behind Romania’s “neutral but Communist” balancing act, visit his former residence in Northeast Bucharest. It’s over-the-top gaudy, stuffed to the brim with 18th-century fine furnishings from France. You certainly get the sense that Ceauşescu was someone who needed constant validation of his success in his surroundings.
Tours cost 50 lei — 40 lei for students. You must reserve in advance and specify that you need an English-speaking guide. You can book on the website. Independent visits are not possible, and the building is not accessible to people with mobility issues.
Walk around some of the churches
Romanian religious architecture is some of the world’s finest — see the monasteries of southern Bucovina or the wooden churches of the Maramures. You can trace the country’s history back to the Byzantine era with the frescoes that decorate many of its churches.
While Bucharest can feel decidedly Central European, the city’s churches and monasteries provide a clear link to the East. So finish your weekend in Bucharest with a stroll through the city center to see some of the most iconic ones.
Bucharest’s most beautiful church is Stavropoleos Church. It’s small, but the wooden accents and atmospheric courtyard are classic Romania. Check out the frescoes of the Virgin Mary lining the outside as well — the depiction of the golden halo around her is classic Byzantine.
Next, walk over to Prince Mihai Monastery. This 16th-century monastery was once the symbol of Bucharest. Like so many other things in the city, Ceauşescu messed it up when he decided to move it to hide it between Soviet-esque apartment blocks. But that doesn’t detract from its beauty once you’re in the courtyard.
Finally, Antim Monastery, a few blocks south, is a great example of the ornate interiors of Romanian churches. Entire walls are decorated with beautiful paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. Antim Monastery doesn’t have its own courtyard, so its concrete-block surroundings are especially visible and provide an interesting visual contrast.
Allow about two hours to walk between and visit all of these churches and monasteries. None charge admission and they’re usually open until about 6 pm (with a lunch break). You should dress reasonably conservatively — namely, covering your shoulders and legs. It’s a good idea for women to carry a scarf to cover your hair if you’re asked to.
Where to stay for your weekend in Bucharest
Bucharest has the usual range of accommodation for a big European city. You can find backpacker hostels, small guesthouses, and 5-star hotels. It all depends on your standards and budget.
The pick of the hostels is The Cozyness Hostel, in a very local-feeling neighborhood a few blocks south of Piata Uniri. The staff is super helpful. They provide free maps and have great recommendations, and they even organize pub crawls and other evening activities.
For a private room, check out Guesthouse Motor House. It’s in a similar location, and it has single rooms with private bathrooms starting at just $30 USD.
Whether it’s a short stop on your way to other Romanian gems like Transylvania, the Maramures and Bucovina, or you’re just looking for a quick city break within Europe, a weekend in Bucharest is the perfect way to see this exciting and dynamic city!
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