Often overshadowed by its noisy neighbour Budapest, Romania’s capital Bucharest is fast becoming one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
And with good reason: rich in culture and benefitting from a modern food and drink revolution, the city has never been more dynamic, energetic and fun. Bucharest is breaking free of its communist past and transforming into an edgy, youthful member of the European Union.
Like its neighbour Budapest, the city is a contrast of Soviet Union history and Latin spirit – most evident in its mix of old romance languages and Slavic.
However, unlike Budapest it’s a city often bypassed by travellers, meaning prices are more affordable and there are smaller queues at its abundance of major sights.
There’s a splendid blend of art nouveau architecture, parks, al fresco dining and worthwhile museums dotted throughout the city. Perhaps Bucharest’s best feature is its vibrant nightlife – where many of the watering holes keep going until sunrise, every day of the week. Noroc!
Sightseeing and culture
Start with the unmissable – seriously it’s enormous – Palace of Parliament (cic.cdep.ro/en , +40 733 558 102) so big it’s still being built almost 35 years after construction began in 1984. It has more than 3,000 rooms and covers 330,000sq m. To put that into perspective, it’s 20,000 sq m more than the entire Burj Khalifa – despite standing only 12 floors tall.
You can visit the world’s second-largest administrative building (after America’s Pentagon). Book at least 24 hours in advance and take your passport. There are several tours – including of the main rooms, hallways, terrace and basement – which last from 45 minutes to one hour.
Culture vultures will be truly awed in the National Museum of Art (mnar.arts.ro/en, +40 213 133 030). Housed inside the Royal Palace and split into two galleries – one for national art and one for European masters – the museum is stocked with stunning pieces including Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet.
Food and dining
Like Sleeping Beauty waking from a long slumber, Romania’s catching up on the dining revolution that has swept the globe in the past 15 years. The city has embraced modern café culture and its winding, cobbled, sometimes crumbling streets are lined with ultra-cool spaces serving an endless variety of cuisines and strong coffee – just what any stirring Sleeping Beauty needs!
Start with breakfast at Pukka Tukka (pukkafood.ro, +40 733 145 034), a short walk from the National Museum of Art. No this isn’t Jamie Oliver’s Romanian double, although it was the country’s first organic store when it opened in 2008. These days it’s a favourite for health-conscious diners who fill up on house breakfast (a free-range full English), fresh fruit, granola and yoghurt, salmon and baby spinach or homemade soups. There’s a good selection of fresh juices, coffee and even organic bottles of grape.
Enjoy lunch while rubbing shoulders with locals at Caru’ cu Bere (carucubere.ro, +40 213 137 560), literally meaning “hop cart”. Here you’ll find authentic Romanian dishes such as mittitei (grilled spiced sausages) and tochitură (meat stew). A house band plays folk tunes, too.
For dinner, take your pick from one of the city’s few, but exceptional, fine-dining restaurants. Kane (kane-restaurant.com, +40 314 100 016) is a seasonal bistro serving dishes created from 100 percent local produce in a gorgeous sun-kissed setting near Piata Romana. Expect to find an eclectic menu of beef tacos, gnocchi and beetroot and horseradish “snow”, all beautifully presented.
Bucharest is a party city, standing head and shoulders over its Balkan neighbours: there are pubs, clubs, outdoor terraces, sleek and chic spots for all. Start in La 100 de Beri (+40 372 963 543) in the city’s Old Town. As the name suggests, it serves more than 100 pints. It’s an extensive, old-fashioned hall and is surrounded by other lively and cheap spots including Club A (+40 213 161 667) and Argentin (+40 724 679 004).
Just north of the Old Town things becomes a little calmer, but far from boring. FixMad (fixmad.com, +40 771 707 869) is a chic mixed drink bar with fabulous staff and a creative menu.
For an all-night party head to world famous Player Club (playerclub.ro, +40 720 734 734). A regular haunt for top DJs, the nightclub hosts pool parties until the early hours throughout summer.
Where to stay
It’s hard to say enough good things about Athénée Palace Hilton (hiltonbucharest.com, +40 213 033 777), which was formerly a hotbed for espionage in the city’s communist era. It’s the sort of place you’d find James Bond – although he won’t be shaking or stirring in his sleep as the vast rooms are luxurious and facilities include gym, spa and basement pool. From Dhs1,200 a night.
For mid-price rooms head to Rembrandt Hotel (rembrandt.ro, +40 213 139 315). It’s tucked away in the Historic Centre and has 16 rooms of three different sizes: tourist, standard and business. All are comfy and stylish. From Dhs350 a night.
Budget travellers will find plenty of options from hostels to cheap hotels, but the charming Flowers B&B (flowersbb.ro, +40 213 119 848) is a favourite among many. It’s a quiet spot about a 20-minute walk to the Old Town, with warm and cosy rooms and breakfast served on the terrace in summer. From Dhs150 a night.
Bucharest is the European Union’s most congested city. However, it is served by trams, buses and trolleybuses. You can buy an Activ card (similar to a Nol card) and load it up with credit to be used on all three services, while metro tickets can be bought at machines in stations. Most of the city’s sights are walkable and with pockets of art nouveau architecture throughout, it makes for a very attractive stroll.
Wizz Air (wizzair.com) flies twice daily from Dubai Al Maktoum Airport to Bucharest Otopeni, while flydubai (flydubai.com) flies twice daily from Dubai International Airport to Bucharest Otopeni. Prices for both carriers start at around Dhs600 return. There are no direct routes from Abu Dhabi to Bucharest, however Pegasus Airlines (flypgs.com) is the quickest and cheapest one-stop flights. Estimated travelling time is around eight hours from Abu Dhabi International to Bucharest Otopeni, with prices starting at around Dhs2,000 return.