Last month, 100 travel bloggers and social media influencers from around the world were invited to #ExperienceBucharest, and I was lucky enough to be one of those bloggers! I was so excited to visit Romania for the first time and explore their capital city. Experience Bucharest was put on by Bucharest Tourism and was their largest promotion project they had ever done. With so many of us in the city, several tour companies came forward to offer their greatest experiences. These tours really went above and beyond typical walking tours where you just see the city sights, although those were great too!
If I had to describe Bucharest in a few words, I would say it is a diverse, eclectic capital with a rich history where East meets West; it is also one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been. Exuding an artistic atmosphere unlike anywhere else, there is so much more to this city than a history of communism and a quick tour of the megalomaniac People’s Palace, the world’s second largest building. I learned that Bucharest is best experienced from the seat of al fresco cafés peering from art nouveau villas. Bucharest comes to life with a strong underground culture and electric nightlife, while also offering a slew of design and performing arts festivals, art hubs, and more. For foodies and hungry travelers, Bucharest offers everything from hearty, traditional food and dozens of farmers markets, alternative eateries to specialty coffee, artisan beer and contemporary Romanian cuisine.
Here’s a look at a few of the tours I was fortunate enough to be a part of. All of these tours are available to the general public and come highly recommend by me!
Outcast Bucharest Tour
There’s no better way to see a city than with a local guide, but imagine seeing it through the eyes of a formerly homeless local who knows the streets better than anyone. This Bucharest tour with Urban Adventures was like no other I had ever been on. Our guide, Sergiu, showed us around Bucharest’s main historical sites, and also where he grew up on the streets. Along the way, we learned about his personal challenges that came with street life and how he overcame them.
For more than two decades, contraception and abortion were strictly forbidden by the communist regime’s president. And so, many who had children had to give them up, which left orphanages filled with unwanted and neglected children. The generations today are still dealing with children who have grown up on the streets.
Sergiu was abandoned by his teenage mother at a very young age and raised in a foster home. When he turned 16, he left the orphanage home and lived in the streets of Bucharest with other homeless people. His personal story on how he survived the streets and managed to get back on his feet was very moving.
Another way to see the city is by taking a walking tour which offers you the chance to see the most important communist landmarks. You’ll also have the chance to hear interesting stories about some of the buildings and the communist dictator Nicolae Ceauseacu. Roaring Romania Tours took us on a walking tour around all the iconic buildings in the Old Center of Bucharest.
The Memorial of Rebirth monument on Revolution Square is probably one of the most controversial. It was unveiled in August 2005 to commemorate the struggles and victims of the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which overthrew Communism. Some people say It looks like a “potato on a stick” or a “donut on a spike.” Many Romanians felt the positive message was muddied by sculptor Alexandru Ghilduş’s abstract design. In 2012, someone threw a splash of red paint just at the bottom of the monument’s potato, which makes the monument look as though it was bleeding. The paint is so inaccessibly high that it has remained in place since then!
We also passed by the old KGB building which is definitely an interesting sight. You can still see bullet holes on the outside from the 1989 revolution. I’d highly recommend taking a general walking tour on your first full day in Bucharest! It really helps you get to know your way around, all while learning about the city’s fascinating history.
Drink and Dance Through the Old City
On our first night, we were invited to Pura Vida Sky Bar which is the only roof top bar in the Old Town of Bucharest! They kindly hosted a cocktail party for the #ExperienceBucharest participants as a great way to kick the trip off. Apart from the refreshing drinks and delicious food they offer, the views of the Old City were incredible. It was especially beautiful seeing the sunset from up there.
Speaking of The Old City (or Little Bucharest), it quickly became one of my favorite neighborhoods. It is a charming area filled with restaurants, shops, cobblestone streets, and lively cafes where you can do some great people watching.
One night, we were lucky enough to see the city come alive with a street dancing party! It was so much fun to witness and really left me with an impression of Bucharest that is lively, colorful, and fun. Click here to read more details about the man who organizes these dance parties.
Museum of Romanian Records
Who ever thought that Bucharest held the Guinesss World Record for three of the largest collections in the world: the corkscrew collection, the pressing iron collection and the trivet collection. The Museum of Romanian Records is a building with multiple floors which holds each of these collections. In the corkscrew collection, you can see the evolution of the corkscrew from its very beginning, to its journey through the world’s patents for complex mechanical corkscrews, and finally the newest models used today. The pressing iron collection was very impressive as well, they even had glove irons from the past.
Street Art in Bucharest
Street art is something I absolutely love and Bucharest has it everywhere. Apart from many of the city’s tourist attractions, there are hidden gems of street art in every corner. Some of these urban art masterpieces are secret messages pertaining to both current and past political and social situations. Thanks to Open Doors Travel, we got to discover the very best street art by exploring little streets and going off the beaten path!
Paying Your Respects to Dracula
Bucharest has tenuous ties to Vlad Țepeș, the real-life, bloodthirsty prince who impaled over 20,000 people and served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous Gothic novel, Dracula. Thanks to Stoker, Dracula is more commonly associated with the region of Transylvania (though he didn’t spend much time there either, apparently). While the vampire and his creepy home are pure lore, a fortress nestled just outside of Bucharest has earned the title of Dracula’s Castle and the accompanying fame of becoming a main attraction. Bran Castle is an ancient castle that dates back to the 1200’s and is surrounded by mysteries, legends, and a fascinating history which I enjoyed learning all about from our tour guide, Alina from Authentic Romania. Although Dracula never resided there, it is well worth the chance to admire the Gothic architecture and indulge in some dark intrigue with a day tour from Bucharest. You can read all about my day tour to Bran Castle here!
#ExprienceBucharest gave me such a wonderful opportunity to see what Romania’s capital city has to offer tourists. But more importantly, I really got to know Bucharest inside and out. Our guides’ willingness to share personal stories and encouragement of wandering off the beaten path to discover hidden gems left me feeling so connected to this place; everything surpassed my expectations. It is certainly an underrated European capital city, and I hope that starts to change. Bucharest has it all: beautiful sights, a fascinating history, delicious food, and affordable prices! I look forward to exploring more of Romania in the future.
Disclaimer: I was hosted on all the above tours with #ExperienceBucharest, but the opinions here are my own.