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[May 2006: I wrote most of this in 2002. Bucharest is changing fast.
I'm leaving this up here for historical reasons, and will update what I
know has changed, but I'm not making a comprehensive effort to update.
in Your Pocket is now on line, and they are a
consistently good, up-to-date source on the city.]
Some of you have been asking me for more practical advice on
rather than just travelogue. (On the other hand, if you are looking for
travelogue, read my Romania letters.) Here
goes, although this is still by no means going to be a
comprehensive tourist guide.
Sources of Bucharest information
If anyone has information they believe I should add to this page,
please let me know. I'd be
especially interested in the URL of a good online guide to the city:
so far, I haven't found anything better than going into Google and
starting a search on what you are interested in.
Bucharest will be well covered in any guide to Romania. My favorite
guide to the country is
The Rough Guide to Romania, but you may have different
taste in travel guides. I figure that anyone going to Romania has
probably traveled enough to have developed a taste in travel guides.
Far and away the best English-language guide to Bucharest itself (so
much so that this is not a matter of taste) is
Bucharest in Your Pocket, updated every two months (important
in this fast-changing city). They recently upgraded their look and raised
their price, but it's still an amazing bargain, locally available in
85,000 lei (about US$2.75 [May 2006: still about the same, but in new
lei — RON — that's 8.5 lei]). Once you get to Bucharest, you
can buy it at
many bookstores, hotels,
and at some of the larger museums. [May 2006: some hotels have it for
free.] It includes a useful map that will
probably be sufficient for a short-term visit.
site has been down lately (April-May 2002), so there is no point in my
providing a link, but you might try a web search and see if they are
More detailed city maps can be generally bought at almost any hotel,
bookstore, or news kiosk near the center of the city. Prices run about
Excellent online listings of the performing arts throughout Romania,
with an emphasis on Bucharest, can be found
in the online edition of
on Agenda Culturala, then select
the type of event you are interested in. (Opera and ballet will be under
"Spectacole".) Listings are strictly in Romanian, but one
Charles Berlitz to understand "Romeo si Julieta de S.
same people put out an excellent weekly (Romanian language)
goings-on [May 2006: they no longer do listings, more just reviews
these days, more of an intellectual journal of the arts], available at
most Bucharest newsstands, out each Wednesday.
("Seven Evenings"), available free at
hotels and many
bars, comes out on Friday and also has good listings of goings-on about
town, mostly in Romanian but with seemingly random bits of English.
The web edition postdates my time
in Bucharest; it looks slicker than
the magazine itself and includes more English-language content (try
the "English" button at the upper right of their home page).
[May 2006: now there is also 24-FUN, with a Bucharest
Bucharest has no tourist office worthy of the name. The dozen or two
so-called tourist offices are really just undistinguished travel agencies
that will try to sell you package tours.
Romania changed its phone numbering scheme June 14, 2002. The
code remains 40. The Bucharest phone code is changed from (0)1 to (0)21.
Consequently, any but the most current guidebooks show Bucharest
phone numbers beginning with 40 1 for international dialing and 01 for
domestic within Romania. Instead, these numbers are now 40 21 for
international dialing and 021 for domestic. I haven't made any effort in
the following to give a comprehensive list of phone numbers (it shouldn't
be hard for you to search down, say, the phone number of a theater on
line) but where
I do list them I'm using the new international phone numbers.
Quick tourist overview
I like Bucharest, or this site wouldn't exist. However, it's not the
easiest city to get to know. It's
very poor for a European capital. There's more than a little street
and not a lot of tourist infrastructure. Still, it's a European
capital, and make no mistake about that. It's a great city for
performing arts buffs (theater, opera, ballet), not bad in the visual
arts, and once you are oriented (and perhaps re-calibrated: so this is a
well-lit street? so this is a high price?) a pretty good
place to hang out, especially in May, June, September, and October. It is
also a reasonable place to fly to in order to
go by train or bus (or if you are really crazy, rental car) to the Black
Sea coast or the medieval cities of
Sadly, only a few neighborhoods of Bucharest still live up to its
onetime reputation as the "Paris of the East". For simple
beauty, it does
not rival Budapest, let alone Prague, Bucharest took some damage
during World War II and was further marred by the ugly urban planning
schemes of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In the remaining older
neighborhoods, many beautiful villas retain their charm intact.
Even in the most Orwellian Communist-era neighborhoods you may
stumble upon a small, lovely Orthodox church, possibly now in the
courtyard of one of the Orwellian apartment buildings.
A Note on Language
Most younger Romanians (and many older Romanians) speak at least
rudimentary English. Many are fluent. Older educated Romanians typically
know French; they
also often know Russian, but they don't like to use it. You might also
find German or Italian useful, but probably less so than English or
As for the Romanian language itself, it is very much a Romance
closer to Latin and Italian than to anything else. There are a few
unusual letters, which I haven't tried to reproduce here. A "t"
cedilla under it (a cedilla looks a lot like a comma), is pronounced
an "s" with a cedilla is pronounced "sh". For example,
there is a
cedilla under the "t" in "piata" (which means
"square" or "market"),
so it's pronounced "piatsa" -- almost exactly like the Italian
Reasonably good online introductions to the Romanian language (usually
with some wave files) seem to come and go. Try typing "Romanian
language" into your favorite search engine.
Getting in and out of Bucharest
Bucharest is not the easiest town to come and go from. The following
tips are intended to prevent your visit from getting off to a miserable
Getting in from Otopeni Airport
All international flights in and out of Bucharest come and go from
best deal to get into town from Otopeni is
limos. They have
a booth in the arrival hall, or they can be reached at (40 21) 204 10 02,
fax (40 21) 232 96 91, email firstname.lastname@example.org. It's US$25 for a
private limo, US$10 to share, slightly discounted if you pay for a round
trip. If you know Bucharest well, you might cut a better deal with a
driver, but if you don't know Bucharest well, a taxi driver will almost
certainly sting you for just as much (or more) and provide worse
For those on a tiny budget,
the number 783 Express (it's just a name, don't get excited) airport bus
leaves approximately every 15 minutes from Otopeni and runs from roughly
06:00 to 23:00. It's cheap (round trip is less than US$1; buy a ticket at
the RATB ticket booth) but not utterly reliable (nothing comes for 45
minutes, then three come right together, etc.), and occasionally haunted
by sneak thieves and pickpockets, so keep an eye on your belongings.
Unless you are caught in rush hour traffic, the 783 takes about 35
minutes to the Piata Victoriei and another 10 minutes to the Piata
Unirii. Probably you will want to stay on until Unirii, then (depending on
where you are going) walk, take the Metrou or take a
Conversely, for those on a large budget, a correspondent informs me
(November 2003): "When traveling to Romania, there is no better way
of getting from the airport into town for $50 then with the only real
company in Bucharest. They have new Lincoln Towncars 9 meters long,
with BAR TV and all that California dream stuff in it! I tried it, and
its really a cool thing to do, with kids, for business or otherwise.
I believe their number is +40 788 326 825." Sounds like his tastes are
more expensive than mine (I just want to get into town without hassle),
but if you're more that kind of traveller, there you go.
Arriving by train
Bucharest is a long way from Europe's other major cities (12 hours by
train to Budapest, 17 hours to Vienna) but the train service is reliable.
If you have time on your hands, you might make a few stops between
Budapest and Bucharest (or between Istanbul and Bucharest, not to be so
All long distance trains come to the Gara du Nord, which is well served
by the very cheap, reasonably well-run Metrou.
You can take the Metrou to Piata Victoriei or (transferring once) to
Piata Universitate, which is the nearest subway stop to many Bucharest
hotels (though, unfortunately, that still means a ten minute walk to the
biggest concentration of hotels). Also, there is nothing
(except perhaps language barrier) to stop you from calling one of the
more reliable taxi companies from the
The Gara du Nord itself is considerably cleaner and safer than it was
few years ago (partly due to a fee of 3000 lei -- about 10 US cents -- to
enter the station without a ticket), but the cabbies around the station
are mostly not to be trusted (be particularly wary of any who actually
approach you inside the station), the buses in and out of the station are
the pickpockets' favorites, and the neighborhood, while not actively bad,
is not the friendliest part of town to walk around (fine if you already
know the city, but a tough place to start). Unless you know what you
are up to, take the Metrou or take a taxi from a reliable
Getting around town
Bucharest is a compact city. Most of what you will want to see should
within thirty minutes walk of your hotel. Expect to walk a lot.
The Metrou (subway) is
cheap (about US$1.25 for a ten-trip
ticket) and approximately as reliable as its New York or London
counterparts. The only downside is that it was built mainly to get workers
to factories, so it doesn't necessarily get you everywhere you might want
to go. Buses and trams are equally cheap, but the system for tickets is
rather complicated and confusing: tickets are sold from booths (not on
the bus/tram itself) and there are over a dozen different tickets and passes.
[23 July 03: Mihai from Bucharest says it's not that confusing: trams,
"regular" buses and trolleys are all under the umbrella of RATB,
and their tickets are
interchangeable. However, some buses (like the "Express" buses)
are separate. There now, is that simpler?] [May 2006: I used RATB a
lot this trip. Get a pass (abonament) and it's a lot simpler thank
Taxis are a very mixed lot. The best, such as Cristaxi (tel: 9461),
Alfa Taxi (tel: 9488),
Perrozzi (tel: 9631), and Cobalescu (tel: 9451), [May 2006: Alfa and
seems to be gone, an Perozzi doesn't seem to have many cars on the
street; Confort and Taxi 2000 are new and good.]
are insanely cheap, running no more than 20 US cents per kilometer, plus
an initial fee about the same. The worst will try to charge you ten times
as much, or even more. Some of the worst will make up names awfully like
the best (e.g. "Cristi Taxi" or "Peroli").
In general, before getting into a taxi on the
street, make sure that it has the name of an identifiable company, looks
decently maintained, and (most important) has its price per kilometer
on the front window. [May 2006: prices should now be
posted on or near the passenger-side door. Typical good prices now
are about 1 RON to start with ("pornire") and about 1 RON per km. A
little higher should be no big deal, but some will be higher by a
factor of three or four; avoid those.]
You may think that because public transit is difficult, you should rent
a car. Think again. Bucharest is a very hard city to drive in (potholes,
irregular cobblestones, aggressive drivers, beggars at traffic lights,
lack of parking) and it is compact enough that you will probably be on
foot most of the time. Leaving the city, it's not a lot better. The
are not great, and what happens if you break down? If you really need a
car, you should at least consider actually hiring a car and
What I like about Bucharest
If you really want to know what I like about Bucharest, read my
thirty-plus articles about the city, but here
are some highlights:
- The opera and ballet are excellent, with first rate ensemble
work, which is the way I like it. Keep your divas, give me singers and
dancers who are also actors. The musical
repertoire is distinctly Classical and Romantic (I could go with a bit
more Twentieth Century myself, but who can really argue about Mozart,
Verdi, Bizet, etc.),
staging is as innovative as any in the world. Costumes are lavish,
performers, directors, and choreographers are of world caliber.
Typically, there are at least a dozen pieces in repertory, and
there are performances Wednesday through Sunday evenings, so if
you are into this sort of thing you can go night after night.
Even the most expensive tickets cost about $US5. That is not a typo. Five
dollars. Performances rarely sell out, so you can usually arrive an hour
beforehand and still get a decent seat, but you can also book up to
about two months ahead. (Warning: like most things in the high arts
here, the opera house is closed at Orthodox Easter, the
Christmas holidays, and summer)
- Other classical music is also strong. Most notably, the Orchestra
George Enescu usually gives several performances a week at the very
centrally located Ateneul Roman (Romanian Atheneum), an ornate, circular,
domed, Victorian-era auditorium directly across the street from the
Hilton Hotel. (Some people really like its acoustics, I find it a little
echo-y myself, but it's a marvellous building in any case, certainly
worth one visit even if you end up agreeing with me about the acoustics.)
Tickets run about US$4.
- The same correspondent who gave the limo tip above writes (November
2003): "Include the OPEN AIR SUMMER CONCERTS. http://www.openairsummerconcerts.ro.
It's a really VIP event (US ambassador, ministers, etc) for charity,
where young professional classical musicians perform outside of
Bucharest at one of the most beautiful places called Snagov. Its in one
of the nicest residences I have ever seen, with a giant garden near the
lake, etc....Really incredible." I have no independent comment on that,
since I have never been in Romania in the summer. Snagov is supposed to
be beautiful and is quite near Bucharest.
- Quality is just as high prices are just as low for the National
Theater (with three
halls and a large number of plays in repertory) and the adjoining
Operetta, and such smaller theaters as the beautiful nineteenth-century
Odeon (a 400-seat gem on Calea Victoriei near the Cercul Militar). There
are about a dozen other good theatrical or
classical musical venues. Do not let your ignorance of the Romanian
language keep you out of the theaters. Sure, you won't understand
everything, but this is top-quality theater, and you are unlikely to
- Tickets are even cheaper for the city's four children's theaters (two
live, two with puppets) and the remarkable Teatrul Evriesc de Stat (State
Jewish Theater) which typically has four different performances each
week, including at least one in Yiddish.
- Gradina Cismigiu is a totally great park, like a miniature of New
York's Central Park. Unlike Central Park, Cismigiu is relatively safe at
night. In the winter it's full of ice skaters all evening; at other
times of years it is a favorite spot for couples to pair off on the
city's many outlying parks are also good, but they are a bit of a trek to
- The utterly central national gallery (with an admission
price of about US$2) has a fairly good European
collection (the highlight is Cano's
"Christ at the Column") but the real delights are in the
Romanian collection: an entire room devoted to the eerie, supernatural
sculptures of Dimitrie Paciurea, plus a truly great collection of Eastern
Orthodox religious art in the Medieval collection. (Don't feel
compelled to look at everything: some of the pieces here merely go
to show that if you want to get your work into a National Gallery it
is a good career choice to come from a small country and paint
- While I'm on Orthodox religious art, the Museum of the Romanian
Peasant -- about 1.5 kilometers north of the center of town at Sos.
Kisileff 3 and possibly even more worth a visit than the national gallery
-- has a fascinating collection of icons, a textile collection worthy of
an entire museum in its own right, an entire windmill and watermill (both
beautifully weathered), and more other
wonderful things than I can list.
- Speaking of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, its museum store
(which tends to
close around 16:00, so don't put it off till late afternoon) has an
collection of contemporary peasant handicrafts, almost a museum in
its own right. Elaborately painted eggshells, which sell for barely US$1,
inexpensive souvenirs, and the store staff know how to pack them
reasonably well for travel (or
you can bring an egg carton!). There are also remarkable peasant
textiles, including embroidery on cotton, wool,
and leather. If you are
the kind of person who can get away with wearing an exotic, head-turning
coat, you could have the find of a lifetime here. Prices
less than half of what comparable textile items cost in the US.
- Bucharest's Jewish Museum is one of the most interesting I have seen.
Housed in a magnificently preserved
former synagogue in the city's historically Jewish neighborhood,
it acknowledges the Holocaust, but is not obsessed with it; acknowledges
Zionism, but is not obsessed with it. It attempts to be -- and largely
succeeds in being -- a museum about the Jews as an ethnic component of
- If I were living here, I would probably spend a lot of my summer on
the terasas of the Cafeneaua Actorilor and the Lăptăria Enache
(whose terasa has a separate name, La Motoare), both part
of the complex containing the National Theater and the Operetta. Good
bars, even better terasas, and Actorilor is open 24 hours.
- Incredibly cheap taxis, once you know what you are doing.
- People are reasonably friendly and outgoing. Not quite as much so as
the Italians, or the Hungarians (which might be welcome for a lot of women
travellers: guys will not assume every stray American woman wants to
sleep with them), but the aren't going to wait for formal
- Everything I've mentioned so far is located within thirty minutes walk
of the center of
town. Farther out are some more good little museums (I'd choose the
Zambaccian Museum, the Village Museum, the Storck Museum, and the Pallady
Museum in that order, although there are certainly museums in Bucharest
that I have not seen), a decent Botanical Garden (the conservatory can be
a great place to visit for some warmth on a winter day), and the Bucharest
Mall, which is neither great nor awful but has a good multiplex cinema and
a great place to get gelati.
What I don't like about Bucharest
- Bucharest is a largely poor city (half of the people are getting by
on no more than US$100/month). [May 2006: probably now that number is
more like US$200] Although remarkably free of violence, and
with only slightly more beggars than an American city of comparable size
(although more child beggars and more persistent beggars), you are
constantly aware of the poverty of
those around you, and unless you are one of those "let's go dancing
on the backs of the poor" types, this is not fun.
- [May 2006: this seems to be pretty much over and done with] The
Maradona: someone will
approach you and attempt to engage you in (English-language) conversation,
typically, although not always, about something vaguely illicit. Seconds
later, two men will appear, in plain clothes but flashing
legitimate-looking police badges. They will accuse the two of you of some
illegal activity (usually currency swapping, a totally ridiculous charge
in a city where legitimate currency exchanges are more common than
streetlights), and demand to see your wallet and/or passport.
Do not hand them these things!
Walk away, or yell, or tell them outright that you do not believe they
are the police, or suggest that you all walk to the lobby of a nearby
hotel (or police station) because you are not comfortable taking out your
wallet or papers in the street, or whatever. These con men thrive because
the police fail to enforce laws against non-violent crime and because
some visitors to the city are easily gulled. They will not
physically attack you. Treatment of violent offenders is severe. These
men are professionals, and they would never
be foolish enough to chance it.
- Similarly annoying, though not particularly threatening, lone men
in touristy parts of Bucharest in the evening should expect to be
approached by pimps. [May 2006: less so, but still true.] They may
insult you when you say "no", but
won't do anything worse. I'm told that women have the equivalent
hassle but, as far as I can tell, nothing worse than insults
- Bucharest beggars can be a bit persistent, but almost all will settle
for very small amounts of money: 1000 lei (about 3 US cents) or almost
any item of food is typically (though not always) well
hand out small amounts
like this rather freely, but to refuse to part with anything larger
unless I actually want to. (You will encounter far fewer con men, pimps,
and persistent beggars if
you don't dress in a way that shows off money. Don't walk around flashing
jewelry, camera, or expensive watches. Wear clothes a Romanian might wear
(black leather jackets are a fine choice and athletic-type clothing is
- A distinctly Bucharest hassle is the large number of stray dogs.
are generally well behaved, but occasionally can run in packs and become
a bit bolder. They are likely to bark, unlikely to bite, and will
submissively to almost any sort of assertive behavior. Still, if you
ever got bitten... can we say rabies shots?
- Another distinctly Bucharest hassle is the occasional open manhole. No
- Bucharesteans are generally homophobic. If I were a gay man in
Bucharest, I would keep a low profile about it. Lesbian are less of an
issue, for all the wrong reasons. [May 2006: less true now, but
still not a queer-friendly city.]
- The bias against Gypsies (tigani, that initial "t"
has a cedilla under it) is so thorough that I have seen an otherwise
liberal person who had displayed no other indications of conventional
prejudices pass up a taxicab from a reliable company because the driver
looked like he was probably a gypsy. Need I say more?
- The air is pretty polluted. Not as bad a the San Fernando Valley on a
hot summer day, but if you have any respiratory problems, you'll
notice. [May 2006: somewhat better now.]
While Bucharest undoubtedly has a few outlying neighborhoods to avoid
(especially to the south), nothing very bad is anywhere near the center
of the city or any of the tourist attractions. The neighborhood around
the Gara du Nord (the city's main railroad station) is probably the worst
central neighborhood, but certainly no worse than the area around the bus
or train station in many major American cities.
In general, it is legal to wander into courtyards of residential
buildings, but not polite to do so out of mere curiosity. It is
especially a bad idea to wander into courtyards that look run down or
trashed out. (On the other hand, there is nothing unusual about a
Bucharest courtyard containing a church or shops, so there is no hard and
fast rule here.)
While we are on the negative side...
- The Braseria Terasa Cina, despite its beautiful building and
utterly central location by the Ateneul Roman and the Hilton, has
famously bad food and service (especially the service). If you must go
there, stick to drinks and
expect to wait a long time to order them. And for them to arrive. And to
get your check. [May 2006: defunct, replaced by something
- The Palace of Parliament -- an enormous building, second only to the
Pentagon in size -- is notable mainly for its bulk. It is one of the
city's most popular tourist sites, but it is as much of a Bourbon
Stalinist monstrosity on the inside as it looks from the outside. If you
have a strange fascination with the excesses of dictators, then it is a
sterling example. If you are willing to wander through a bloated
monstrosity just to appreciate the occasional nice detail, you will not
be disappointed (there are some beautifully carved wooden doors and a few
good floor mosaics), but if you have only a few days in town, this should
not be on your list. [May 2006: Now also home to a museum of
modern art. Word on it is pretty good, I haven't gotten there.]
- In general, unless you have been a long time away from civilization
are desperate for ma po tofu or pulpo a la plancha,
Bucharest is not the
place to go to a Chinese or Spanish restaurant. Unless a place is
particularly recommended by someone, stick to Romanian, Italian, or
Turkish/ Middle Eastern food, or if you are feeling spendy, French food.
There are a few decent, but by no means cheap, exotic restaurants -- even
Japanese or Korean food can be found, at prices comparable to those in
the US -- but as a short term visitor, that is not what Bucharest is
- Two of the city's most famous old restaurants -- the Hanul lui Manuc
the Caru' cu Bere -- have relatively undistinguished food, high prices
likely to be made more so by overcharging, and indifferent service.
Nonetheless, they are undeniably atmospheric, which is why they get away
with this. All of this is less of an issue if you are just going for
drinks and snacks. If you decide to go anyway, expect to be overcharged
(at least by local standards) or to argue the bill...in Romanian.
[July 2007: Caru' cu Bere is now under new management, part of something
called "City Grill". I haven't been back; it wouldn't surprise me
if they've done a restaurant worthy of the space.]
So you need somewhere to sleep...
Accommodation in Bucharest can be tricky, unless you are on a
Hilton/Marriott budget. Here are some of the best options I know
- Hotel Capitol, Calea Victoria 29, phone: (40 21) 315 80 30, fax: (40
312 41 69. US$75 single / US$98 double [May 2006: a bit more now:
change those dollars to euros and it will be about right] includes
breakfast and all taxes.
You may be able to get a discount by paying cash (US dollars will do
nicely): ask at the desk.
This is where I stayed my first several months in Bucharest. I found it
comfortable, though admittedly not hassle-free: the restaurant keeps
capricious hours, the price for doing laundry seems to be determined by a
roulette wheel, etc., but it's a characterful 100-year-old three-star
hotel with big rooms and enormous bathrooms, and most of it has been
reasonably recently remodeled. Many of the (double glazed) windows look
out on the
lovely Cercul Militar, and the rest look out on a reasonably nice
stretch of Calea Victoriei. The heat works. Little things like that
do not go without saying in Romania. Don't expect an all-English-speaking
or American efficiency, but there will always be someone at the desk with
Str. Occidentului 25, phone: (40 21) 210 12 74, fax: (40 21)
210 12 74. If you don't need any hotel services, you
can get a short term apartment rental for a price comparable to a
midrange hotel like the Capitol. Pleasant apartments, centrally located
and with modern furnishings, start at about US$70/night, with good
discounts for long-term stays. The office staff speaks excellent English
and the company is very good at dealing with any problems that may come
up about the apartments (no small thing in Eastern Europe). I got a great
apartment through them for the latter part of my stay in Romania. I have
nothing but praise for their operation. [May 2006: quite a few of
these rental agencies now, and Vasile may not be the best deal;
shop around their web sites.
has some good listings.]
- Hotel Carpati, Str Matei Milo 16, phone: (40 21) 315 01 40; fax: (40
21) 312 18 57. By all accounts, Bucharest's one genuinely good, centrally
located bare bones budget one-star hotel with singles US$11-17, doubles
US$25-33 and a couple of apartments at US$40. Except for the apartments,
expect to share a bathroom down the hall. Some of the rooms have
balconies (ask). At these prices you can't assume English-speaking staff
(though the person at the desk will have at least rudimentary English) or
last-minute rooms (even out of season), so reserving in advance by fax is
a good idea. If you arrive on the day and they are full, they are likely
to be able to tell you what else in the area is also relatively cheap and
decent. They tend to be comfortable answering that sort of question
because they know the only reason anyone would be looking elsewhere is
that the Carpati is full.
- [Added June 2004:] I've recently heard that two relatively new
unofficial hostels -- Elvis's Villa and the Villa Helga -- are both good
deals at the very low-budget end. I don't really know anything else
about them, except for a warning that rip-off artists will show up at
the railroad station falsely claiming to be from one of these hostels.
If you are going there, get there on your own, don't trust touts at
... and I suppose you eat, too
You could do fine in Bucharest on just "street food" (and it
would be a cheap, cheap way to go). The city is
for its many patiserie, where good French- and
can be had for no more than about 50 US cents; covrigarie, selling
pretzels (covrigi) for about 6 US cents (and they are filling:
makes a lunch); and gogoserie, selling gogosi and
varieties of doughnut, often with fillings such as apples -- mere -- or
chocolate) for about 15-30 US cents. A line at the window is almost always
a good sign: Buchuresteans don't line up for bad food.
Also notable are mici, little sausages typically served with
and bread, the staple food of the terasa (terrace) bars. Cheap (a meal's
worth will usually be under US$2) and (my meat-eating friends
tell me) delicious. Of course, you don't really want to know what's in
The number one Romanian staple is mamaliga (essentially the same
as Italian polenta), a preparation of corn with a consistency somewhere
between mashed potatoes and oatmeal. It can be served either alone, with
smentâtână (sour cream), or covered with a
tocana (a simple
usually meat-based, although a vegetarian mushroom version exists).
Two other staples are ciorba, a type of sour soup reminiscent of
Italian minestrone soup, although without the noodles (meat-eaters tell
me the best is ciorba de burta -- tripe ciorba -- although I can
vouch for ciorba de legume), and sarmale,
stuffed cabbage leaves, typically stuffed with meat although vegetarian
More elaborate Romanian food runs heavily to game dishes and the like.
general, seafood is not a particular strength at any but the most
expensive restaurants, although farm-raised salmon and pike perch
(salau) are both commonly available.
There are several local beers. The best is probably Ursus, with
Romanian-brewed Stella Artois also a contender. A few of the best bars
actually have a Belgian beer or two, arguably the best beers in the world
(please don't hate me if you are from Bavaria. I just said
"arguably"). And remember that
Bucharest is in the part of the world where "Budweiser" means
stuff from the Czech city of Budwar, not the American beer of the same
For those who don't eat meat: people will tell you that it is hard to
be a vegetarian in Bucharest. Well, it is relatively hard to be a
vegetarian eating at traditional Romanian restaurants, but other than that
I think it's not tough at all. Markets have good a selection of produce
(though not like what you'd find in a wealthy country); good juices are
readily available; there is a (religious) concept of food that is de
post, which pretty much means vegan; about half of the street food is
vegetarian (although a lot of it does use milk and/or eggs). If you eat
cheese, Italian food (especially pizza) is ubiquitous, and it's easy
to eat a good meatless Italian meal (although a cheese-less
one is harder).
Considering that Bucharest is not a wealthy city, it has a remarkable
number of worthwhile bars and restaurants. [May 2006: and far more now.
No trouble finding good food in Bucharest anymore.]
Rather than list the city's best-known landmark restaurants, here are some
lesser-known favorites; nothing here except Golden Falcon should set you
back even ten dollars
La Taifas, Str. G. Clemenceau 6, phone: (40 21)313 49 00, open
Pleasant, very central bistro with frequent, informal live music. About US$7.
Staff speak a little of everything, but don't expect fluency. Menu on a
blackboard in Romanian. [May 2006: defunct]
- Count Dracula Club, Spl. Independentei 8A, phone: (40 21) 312 13 53,
14:00-24:00, Sunday 17:00-24:00. It sounds so tacky, but I
really like the
Despite being a theme restaurant (the
"Count" makes an appearance every evening around 10pm), the
this restaurant in a converted villa along the river are entirely
reasonable, the food is excellent, and the service is good. Depending on
your tastes, you can either time your visit to be there for the Count's
appearance or not. Given even a moderate tolerance for kitsch, it's a
first-rate alternative to being overcharged by a "historic"
About US$10. English-speaking staff.
- Golden Falcon, Str. Hristo Botev 18-20, phone (40 21) 314 28 25, open
12:00-24:00. Wonderful Turkish food, mainly vegetarian appetizers and
I guess this one is a little out of the price range I just gave (closer to
US$15 a person) but worth it.
English-speaking staff. A bit less central than most of what I'm
listing, best reached by taxi if you do not know the city, so add a few
bucks more for the taxi ride. Still, worth the trip, if only for the
experience of the bizarrely attentive female serving staff, who perform
sort of a live-action menu and vacuum up the table between courses.
Cafe de la Joie, Str. Bibliotecii 4 (the street is also known as
Nestor), phone: (40 21) 315 0937, open 18:00-24:00, closed Sunday. A
romantic little candlelit French bistro, featuring good fondues,
excellent (warm) seafood salads, and scrumptiously rich desserts (sadly,
I'm told the
meat dishes fall short). Although it is less than 50 meters from the
Piata Universitate, the actual location is a bit obscure: the restaurant
has only one tiny sign and is located in the basement of an office
building off of a pedestrianized street of bookseller's stalls. About
US$10. Minimally English-speaking staff, menu in French and Romanian.
[May 2006: defunct]
- Casa Veche, Str. George Enescu 15-17, phone (40 21) 315 78 97, open
11:00-02:00, Mon 13:00-02:00. Very central, located in the same building
as an excellent bakery of the same name, the best-known of Bucharest's
many good pizza places features excellent thin crust pizza and a very
Expect to pay US$4-5 for a meal-sized pizza and a beverage. Staff speak a
little of everything, but don't expect fluency. Menu in Italian and
Bucharest also has a number of fine public markets. The most central
Piata Amzei (Amzei Market), with a good selection of imported and domestic
several small supermarkets (one of which is open 24 hours), and a 24-hour
flower market. The largest is
Piata Obor (Obor Market), an indoor/outdoor market covering several city
blocks, with perhaps fifty butchers, twenty fishmongers,
hundred produce vendors, and hundreds of more vendors selling everything
from Turkish jeans to tropical fish.
Obor Market and the shopping district between the market and the Obor
Metrou station (especially the sprawling "Bucur Obor" complex,
fills in the ground floor of half of the block between the metrou station
and the Market) are also among the best places to buy CDs and cassettes
of Romanian music.
Obor is a few kilometers out of the
center, near the Metrou station of the same name. It is also on the route
of the 66 bus, which comes through the center on B-dul Regina Elisabeta.
If you're not ready to contend with public transit, you can get to Obor
by taxi. I happen to think it's very worth seeing, but recognize that if
central Bucharest itself feels to you like you have left civilization as
it, Obor feels that way to people from central Bucharest.
Bucharest is not a big nightlife city like Berlin or Madrid, but on the
other hand it doesn't
exactly go to sleep at sundown. Here are a few places I like, all within a
kilometer of the center of town. At any of these, mixed drinks run about
US$3, local beer (Ursus, etc.) about half of that.
Str. Sf. Vineri 4, phone: (40 21) 323 18 68
, open 21:00-05:00. Impressive multi-story villa
conversion; techno, disco, and the occasional live act. Until recently
this was free entry, lately they've been charging men (but not women)
about US$2 at weekends, also typically US$2 for live acts. [May
2006: I'm told this has detriorated: more for the "girls gone
- Cafeneaua Actorilor, B-dul Balcescu 14, open 24 hours - The
a hip (but not too-hip) bar next to the Operetta. In good weather,
the entire ground floor is open to the elements and becomes sort of a
roofed terasa. If that doesn't sound appealing, there is plenty more
space in the basement.
- Lăptăria Enache
B-dul Balescu 2,
Fri/Sat 10:00-04:00, Sun 13:00-02:00, other days 10:00-02:00. Located over
the National Theater (enter by the side near the Hotel Intercontinental and
the Operetta), Lăptăria Enache is certainly Bucharest's
contemporary bar, and possibly its best and most genuinely hip. Usually
free entry, though cover for live acts can be up to about US$2.50. Live
acts typically Fri/Sat/Sun at 22:00. The Lapteria also has a legendary
- The Harp, Str. Bibescu Voda 1, phone (40 21) 335 65 08, open
Remarkably legit Irish pub with very good Irish pub food, on Piata
Unirii. The owner is an Irish expatriate, and it is a gathering place for
Irish (and other English-speaking) expatriates of all ages, as well as
in their twenties and thirties.
- TZ's Cotton Club, Calea Victoriei 40-50 (Pasajul Victoriei), phone (40
21) 313 13 13, open 24 hours. A near-random schedule of entertainment
(theatrical skits, lounge acts, theme parties) a hip, slightly decadent
crowd, and a reasonably priced buffet (under US$3 for salad bar or
breakfast bar, depending on the time of day) make this a lively, often
crowded, and not entirely predictable venue.
- Fire Club, Str. Gabroveni 12, phone: (40 740) 39 09 46. Don't be
discouraged if the crowd looks sparse from outside: the action is in the
basement (which has half-decent ventilation, so it is not quite as
oppressively smoky as some basement discos). Music, mostly from the UK or
US, ranges from the Violent Femmes to Nick Cave to Lenny Kravitz. Cover
varies with day of week, but is never more than about $US1.50, less for
women. Open till dawn, cheap drinks: anyone who runs through $US15 in a
night here is either buying for their friends or drinking to
Bucharest with kids
I don't have a ton of suggestions for doing Bucharest with kids, but
here are some thoughts:
- Children's theater, mostly with morning preformances. Sure it's
in Romanian, but it tends to be pretty lively.
- Gradina Cismigiu: central, great park, lots of playgrounds.
- Natural History Museum (Muzeul
National de Istorie Naturala
- If they are reasonably well behaved, this is a good city to take
kids to the opera or ballet: they tend to be more welcome than in
some other places.
Contemporary Romanian music
There is a lot of good contemporary music going on in Romania, mostly
in Bucharest itself. There aren't all that many chances to hear bands play
live, so take advantage when the opportunity arises.
Local recordings are a bargain, with CDs typically
running about US$4-5 and cassettes half of that. Some of my
favorite contemporary Romanian
- Traditional gypsy music from Taraful Haiducilor ("gang of
thieves"), so far the only Romanian band to receive international
attention (unless you count the dreaded Gheorghe Zamfir; actually, when
Zamfir sticks to traditional Romanian music, he's fine, but the problem
is he doesn't stick to traditional Romanian music. Taraful Haiducilor
- Twenty-first century hybrid gypsy/Romanian/rock from
Zdob si Zdub
hail from the tiny, neighboring former Soviet republic of Moldova.
- Rougher (though still melodic) hybrid gypsy/Romanian/rock and
untranslatable lyrics from Spitalul de Urgenta (roughly, "emergency
room". Due to a lawsuit, they may be changing their name to Spitalul
de Nebuni, "lunatic hospital").
- Brilliant acoustic rock from Taxi
song "Americanofonia" features
(believe it or not) hot Nashville-style guitar licks and makes wonderful
fun of the way American English is engulfing the Romanian language.
- Female vocal Europop from the not-quite-interchangeable duos Bambi
and Blondi, who are each striving to be
Romania's answer to Abba. Bambi seem to have more of a sense of humor
about it all.
- Surprisingly well-done Romanian rap from slick, menacing B.U.G. Mafia
and the highly respected, musically minimalist Paraziti.
- Energetic, contemporary teen pop from Hi-Q
whose single "Da
Tare" (roughly "Give Me Louder Music") should by rights get
than Britney Spears, but doesn't stand a chance because it is in
- Cabaret jazz from Alexandru
notably his Muzica de
There is also an entire genre called manele, which is
essentially something between a lounge music and a rock music reworking of
traditional Turkish folk material. It is generally looked down upon by
are serious about either rock music or folk music, and
probably even by anyone who is serious about lounge music, but it can be
kind of fun. I have no particular groups to recommend: nothing I heard
stood out from the pack.
Originally written: May 9, 2002
Last modified: July 20, 2007
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