Why you need to add Bucharest to your travel bucket list
Claudia Siron unpacks the nightlife, hostel vibes and pub scene of Romania's very own "little Paris".
When planning my Europe trip, which has now sadly come and gone, my friend and I wanted to venture beyond the usual places like Greece or Spain. We wanted to try something a little different. Then, Romania came to mind. At first, it seemed like a bit of an odd choice and we thought it might not be the safest place to go… well, at least that’s what we thought after our parents lectured us about it for days on end.
When friends asked me where I was thinking of going in Europe, I’d list: “France, the U.K, Amsterdam, Bucharest…” and they’d stop me and ask “Bucharest? As in… Romania? Um, are you sure?” – which, to be fair, was kind of expected. There is a huge social stigma that Bucharest is flooded with ‘gypsies’ and has a high crime rate, which doesn’t make it sound very attractive to tourists. But underneath every European countries’ downfall, is something that offers beauty and a unique experience. We stayed in Bucharest for five days, and without a doubt, I felt it was the highlight of my trip.
Here’s a breakdown of our escapades.
My friend was in search of hostels with a strong party vibe, and Podstel was exactly the opposite… it was tranquil AF. Having just come from Mykonos, it was the hangover cure we desperately needed – and a nice break from listening to bunk-bed sex.
In Podstel, you’re walking around a bohemian wanderlust tea garden; people are reading books, drinking wine and playing Cards Against Humanity in the outdoor lounge area. Podstel has around five rooms that fit six people. The bunks are so comfy, you actually feel like you’re home in your own bed. Every backpacker had a strange story to tell, usually travelling solo or living just down the road and popping in for the tea and storytelling.
The Teahouse 5 was open to the public and had a constant calm, communal vibe. The tea was quite exotic mixing a wide range of flavours. My personal fave, the Treasure Island, consisted of pear, papaya, apricot, maracuya, lemon, rose and sunflower seeds. I had a teagasm.
We had never cooked so much food in our lives. Pretty much everything in Bucharest is cheap as chips, so grocery shopping over five days was $30 AUD – the price of a cocktail in Paris. The communal kitchen is the heart of this beautiful hostel. People chatted for hours and cooked for everyone: scrambled eggs, nachos, or maybe a pasta dish. They were the simple meals we are familiar with at home, but they were unforgettably tasty.
I’m not a morning person... at all... but this kitchen at 8am was my happy place.
The best pub in Europe
We went to this pub, Fabrica, a few times; it was just a ten minute walk from the hostel. On the last night, we went to watch the World Cup grand final. I’m guessing every pub in the entire world was lively that night, but there was something special about this place. It was bursting with urban personality that flaunted danger and excitement. I felt very, very far from home but I loved it.
The aesthetic was industrial with beautifully crafted graffiti covering the venue from top to bottom and the food was out of this world.
On our first night in Bucharest, feeling exhausted and starving, a shy romanian girl we met at the tea garden took us to Fabrica. She couldn’t translate the menu for us because there wasn’t an English version (welcome to Eastern Europe). It turns out the majority of the menu involved various kinds of meat – and lots of it! So steer clear if you’re a vego, cause this ain’t for you. The funny part of that story was that the girl was vegan, so we were very confused why she took us here. She literally just sat there and watched us eat while she talked about how hungry she was.
The shopping strip
The central part of Bucharest has a strong Parisian feel. In fact, they do call Bucharest ‘The Little Paris’ of Romania. You might have an uncomfortable first impression after seeing the unique characters that walk the streets and every shop has a gothic, haunted house vibe. There were also people carrying toy guns in the street and alarms going off constantly. Maybe I’m not selling the experience, but it was such an authentic town, so different to what I’m used to. I felt out of my comfort zone in the best of ways.
There is a cafe to check out in Old Town called The Rembrandt Hotel. They serve a cheesy pumpkin seed pasta that quickly jumped into my top 10 pasta dishes in Europe.
From our experience, the night clubs weren’t a highlight. TBH, they were pretty seedy. I recommend looking for bars and pubs where there a big groups, and go out in numbers.
There’s a solid mix of entertainment to fit your personal desires from live folk music bands to heavy metal DJ sets. There are plenty of pubs with large terraces and small, quaint cocktail bars. There really is something for everyone!
Overall, Bucharest is a wonderful hidden gem in Europe. If you keep safe but also keep an open mind, you will absolutely love it. It’s not the place to get too rowdy, two americans I roomed with came home after the World Cup screaming and crying from being pepper sprayed because they were wildly drunk, rooting for France, which clearly wasn’t the right idea… but maybe they should have known better.
However, if it’s a taste of the ‘real’ Europe that you’re looking for, look no further and jot it on the bucket list. You won’t regret it, unless you get pepper sprayed of course.
Claudia is a Sydney-based writer who is addicted to 'useful' BuzzFeed quizzes, a diehard Sex & the City fan. She's also well-versed in pretending to know a Cab Savs from a Pinot Noir. You can find her Instagramming as @claudia_siron and you can check out her portfolio here.