A Perfect 24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a 24 hours in Bucharest itinerary! Bucharest, Romania’s capital, often gets a bad rap with travelers. They say that Romania is a beautiful country, but Bucharest is run-down, boring, and full of hideous communist architecture. Why would anyone want to have a 24 hours in Bucharest itinerary?

Now I initially wanted to enjoy a 24 hours in Bucharest itinerary because my father’s family is originally from there. But even if you’re not fortunate enough to be Romanian, Bucharest still has a lot to offer the intrepid traveler. There’s fascinating history, delicious food, and hidden architectural gems everywhere you look. Allow me to prove it to you!

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

Where to Stay?

Bucharest is not a small city, but all neighborhoods aren’t equally good for tourists. Some areas of Bucharest really don’t have anything of interest for the traveler. You definitely want to stay somewhere centrally located, near the Old Town. That’s why I recommend the Hotel Berthelot. It was near everything I wanted to visit, and it was clean and comfortable. Plus a proper breakfast buffet was included. There were Romanian style breakfast options with meat and cheese, but there were also more typical Western breakfast options.

If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’re looking for great deals on over 3000 other hotels in Bucharest, click here.

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

What to Pack

Bucharest is hot in the summer so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.

A Perfect 24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary 2

You’ll also need comfy sandals for all the walking we’re going to do around Romania’s capital. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.

A Perfect 24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary 3

Finally, if you’re not from Romania, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

Morning: Bucharest Discovery Tour

Though I’m very attached to Bucharest, I admit it’s not a city that’s easy to love right away. There aren’t many major museums. Some parts of the city are gorgeous, but some parts are hideous, and it can be hard for a stranger to find these places. That’s why I was excited to find the Urban Adventure Total Bucharest Tour. I could experience the city with a local and learn its hidden ways. I’ll be happy to share with you…

three fun facts: 24 hours in bucharest itinerary

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest
1) what’s the prettiest building in bucharest?

That’s a very subjective question! But I think a lot of people would say the Romanian Athenaeum  concert hall is the prettiest building in the city. It was built in the late 19th century when Romania was really trying to define its national identity. Romania is a relatively young country. The language is very old, but the nation itself got its official start around the same time as the American Civil War. Even the first king of Romania, Carol I, was a German. Until then, Romania was a colony of other, larger powers, including the Ottoman Empire.

All this background is to explain that when the Romanian leaders were trying to modernize the capital of Bucharest, they had to look to more Western European cities for inspiration. The Romanians modeled Bucharest after Paris, which is why so many buildings in the city have a French flavor. (Romania has often tried to link itself to other Romance-language speaking countries like France instead of its Slavic neighbors.) That’s one reason the Athenaeum  was designed by a French architect.

Athenaeum Bucharest interior

As pretty as the outside is, I think the inside is even more gorgeous. Unfortunately these two guys wouldn’t get out my picture. Too bad, Old Romanians! You’re Internet Famous now!!!

Athenaeum romania

And in case you thought Romanians weren’t francophile enough, here’s a fleur-de-lis!

Neo romanian architecture
2) isn’t there any romanian-style architecture?

Glad you asked! My favorite Romanian architectural style is called Neo-Romanian. This architectural style was popular in the late 19th century through the early 20th century until the Communists came to power. The best way to describe the Neo-Romanian style is if you took every possible cultural influence of Romania, from the Italians to the Ottomans to Romanian peasant houses. Then you put all those influences into a blender and then dumped the contents of the blender on top of a house.

The saddest thing about this beautiful building you see above is the graffiti on the bottom. Bucharest is really the only city in the world where you can find this kind of building. Why would anyone spray paint over it. But my guide told me that there are a lot of abandoned buildings in Bucharest, in part because when communism collapsed it was difficult to work out who actually owned which property.

securitate building bucharest
3) what about communist architecture?

The most famous Communist building in Bucharest is the Palace of the Parliament, which is the heaviest building in the world. We won’t be visiting that during this 24 hours in Bucharest. But we did see the Directia V Securitate building, which was a headquarters of the Romanian Secret Police. (You can see it in the distance in my photo. It’s the stone building with the glass top.)

In this building, people who were believed to be the enemy of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu were brought to be “questioned” (read tortured). My guide told me that people were afraid to even walk past the building. The stone part was destroyed during the anti-Communist revolution of 1989. So it was decided to rebuild part of it in glass, to symbolize a new capitalist Romania rising out of Communism.

I’ve been to almost every former Communist or Socialist country in Eastern Europe, and in my experience, Romanians have the most negative impression of the Communist period. I’ve heard locals make positive remarks about Marshall Tito or some of the leaders of the USSR, but I’ve never heard one good word about Nicolae Ceausescu. Ironically, Ceausescu was once considered a “liberal” Communist. He even met with Richard Nixon back when Nixon was president.

24 hours in Bucharest

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

Afternoon: Bohemian Bucharest Tour

So we’ve had enough architecture and history. It’s time to eat! We’re going to much our way through 24 hours in Bucharest and see the more modern side. You can tell that hipsters live in this city because it has its own umbrella street. But there are much more delicious options on this tour than just umbrellas! Allow me to share…

approximately top 5: foods of bucharest

1) gelato

There are some Romanians who like to emphasize the connection between Romanians and Italians. After all, the Romanian language is descended from Latin too. But you don’t need to be Italian to appreciate a fine gelato. I was excited to try this organic gelato, made with real rum and figs. It was only two Euros, which is an insanely low price. All the ice cream in Romania is tasty and crazy cheap. I feel like the Romanian tourism bureau doesn’t use this fact enough in their promotional materials.

bucharest market
2) deli time!

Our next stop was at a local market for some sliced meat and cheese. Romanians love their cured meats. Our most famous cured meat in my hometown New York City is pastrami, which was brought by Jewish Romanian immigrants in the 19th century. There was even a sign in the market that said, “The best vegetable is pork”.

At this meat shack, I got to sample salami, as well as pure pork fat and a kind of pork belly terrine that is traditionally served at Christmas. As a solo traveler, sometimes I find that I get served too much food on a tour. Then I feel guilty when some of it has to go to waste. So nibbling like this was perfect for me.

romanian cheese
3) cheese please

As Francophile as Romanians can be, one area in which they do not emulate the French is their cheese. That’s not to say that Romanian cheese isn’t tasty. But while the French have hundreds of different cheese in every possible taste and texture, the Romanians tend to stick to white, soft cheese called brânză. There is hard cheese in Romania, but it’s harder to find, and it’s called cascabel.

It’s a little hard to describe the taste of branza, but it’s mild and a little salty. If you like feta cheese, you’ll probably like branza too.

cheese spread

Of course the best way to truly appreciate the variety of Romanian meats and cheeses is to sit down and enjoy them with some fresh vegetables from the market and wash it all down with a local beer. Even better is to sip on some palinca, local fruit brandy. (You can see my palinca in the teeny plastic cup above.)

Every country in Central and Southern Eastern Europe seems to have their own version of palinca. In most of the Balkan countries it’s called rakia, but Romanians refuse to do just about anything the same way that anyone else in the Balkans does. Whatever you call palinca, it’s very strong, so don’t drink it in one shot.

My guide and I couldn’t finish this massive plate, so I was glad that she gave some of the food to a woman who was begging for change nearby. Romania has been doing better financially since joining the European Union, but it’s still not a wealthy country at all. Many young people leave and go to other countries to find work.

Mici obor market bucharest
4) mici

The highlight of the food tour is getting to try fresh mici from the famous mici stand in Obor Market. Mici are basically sausages without skins. They are made with a mixture of various ground meats and vegetables. (And by vegetables I mean pork.) The best way to eat them is fresh off the grill. They are sometimes served with a bun, but I never eat the bun because the quality of the meat is so much better than the quality of the bread.

You can find similar sausages everywhere in the Balkans, but in most other countries they will be called cevapi. I get that Romanian is not related to any of the Slavic languages, but sometimes I still wonder why Romanians need to have a different word for everything. Was Romania stung by another Baltic country as a child?

wallachian donut
5) wallachian donut

We’re super lucky, Internet Stranger, because we’re getting two desserts on this tour. The first is a warm and sticky Wallachian doughnut. You might be asking, “What’s a Wallachia?” Modern Romania is made up of several smaller regions. The four main areas are Moldavia, Wallachia, the Danube region, and the most famous, Transylvania. (People associate Vlad the Impaler with Transylvania, but he was actually a Wallachian prince.) Before Bucharest was the capital of Romania, it was just the capital of Wallachia.

“Enough with history!” I can hear you cry. “Just give me the doughnut!” You know that modern science hasn’t developed the technology for me to give you a doughnut through the internet. But I’m sure that it will be easy for you to find one when you spend your 24 hours in Bucharest.

rom candy
6) why is the rom gone?

The last dessert was my favorite. Plus it’s historically very interesting! Rom candy is chocolate filled with rom. During Communist Romania, the country was allied with Cuba. Therefore Romanians were told that it was patriotic to…drink Cuban rum. That’s why they started putting rum in their chocolate. You can tell the candy is patriotic because it has the Romanian flag on it. If drinking rum makes you a patriotic Romanian, I guess Captain Jack Sparrow is the most loyal Romanian of all!

cismiglu park bucharest

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

Late Afternoon: Cismigiu Park

Even people who lack a proper appreciation of Neo-Romanian architecture agree that Bucharest has some sweet park action going on. The most beautiful park in the city is King Mihai I Park, but that’s too far out of the way for this itinerary. Instead, I suggest you walk off all the meat we ate on the 24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary in more centrally located Cismigiu Park.

It’s got shade…

cismigiu park bucharest

Statues of Romanian writers who mysterious look like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner….

Mihai Eminescu

And this odd replica of the Bocca della Verita.

bocca della verita bucharest

Oh Bucharest! You’ll never be Paris or Rome! Embrace your individuality! What other nation has patriotic rum candy and a vampire prince?

ciorba de burta

24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary

Evening: Dinner at Caru’ cu Bere

Bucharest doesn’t have as fully developed a restaurant culture as many other European cities. The most famous restaurant in Bucharest is Caru’ cu Bere, a large and casual restaurant dating back to the 19th century. It’s definitely a popular destination with tourists, but you can’t really spend a 24 hours in Bucharest itinerary without experiencing it. I strongly suggest making a reservation.

Caru’ cu bere actually means beer wagon, so the best way to start your meal is with the house beer. It’s refreshing and crazy cheap. For an appetizer, it doesn’t get more Romanian than a sour soup called ciorba. (The word ciorba actually comes from Turkish.) If you want to really prove you’re ready to eat like a local, get the ciorba de burta, a vinegary tripe soup. I think the taste is delightfully sour, but if you’re not ready to take on the stomach of a cow, get the bean or meatball soup instead.


24 hour treat: sarmale

How can we spend 24 hours in Bucharest without trying the national dish of Romania: the sarmale? Sarmale are cabbage rolls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, and tons of yummy spices. The only side dish for sarmale is mamaliga, a true Romanian peasant dish made from cornmeal. It’s basically the Romanian polenta. Sarmale cu mamaliga isn’t exactly haute cuisine, but it’s flavorful, filling, and satisfying. It’s the sort of thing people call peasant food, but I’m sure no medieval Romanian peasant ever ate so well.

24 hours in Bucharest night

That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Bucharest Itinerary!

What would you do with a 24 hours in Bucharest itinerary? Do you think Krispy Kreme will start selling Wallachian doughnuts? And can you still drink rum in Romania now that the country is no longer Communist? Please leave your thoughts below!

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend a 24 hours in Bucharest itinerary. If you want to add 24 hours in Sinaia, try this itinerary. If you prefer 24 hours in Brasov, I’ve got you covered here. And if you’re interested in 24 hours in Tulcea, just click here.

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