Official Name

The Romanian name is Bucureşti. Note that 'ş' is read as [ sh ], so the pronunciation would be 'Bookooreshtee'. The German name is Bukarest; the common English name Bucharest. Legends say that a shepherd called Bucur lived here. The name means something like 'joy'. It is said that he founded the town. His grandchildren were called 'Bucuresti', and so it's got its present name.

Location

Location of Bucharest
Bucharest

Roughly speaking between the Danube and the southern edge of the Carpathian mountains. Bucharest lies in the heart of Wallachia, which is dominated by rolling hills and some smaller lakes here and there. The small river Dâmboviţa flows through the town.

Population

About 2.3 million. Thus, Bucharest is by far the biggest town in Romania.

Orientation

At the beginning of the 19th century, Bucharest was also known as the Paris of the East. Well, that was a long time ago. The flattering comparison probably referred to the green and wide boulevards of the town and several beautiful buildings. Here and there, traces of the former glory can still be seen, but in wide parts it's just a smoggy, dirty chaos. The traffic is life-threatening. A green light at the pedestrian's doesn't mean that you can cross the road safely - au contraire, pedestrians seem to be legitimate prey. Somewhere else, this is called survival of the fittest.

Stray dogs are everywhere...
Stray dogs are everywhere...

The town can be divided into several parts. There's even something like an old town centre stretching between the National Opera, Revolution Square, Cişmigiu Park and Unification Square (Piaţa Unirii). Large parts of the old town centre are under reconstruction. Generally there's a lot of construction work going on in the centre, so in a few years things might look much better. Recently, many expensive boutiques and fine restaurants are mushrooming everywhere. Obviously, Bucharest is booming. The parts to the north and the south are characterized by insane urban development à la Ceauşescu - masterpieces of megalomania. See below to read more about. Furthermore there are mainly dull, grey and dirty suburbs. The suburbs start already north of Gara du Nord (north terminal). Rumours say that some visitors love the city. For me, this is hard to believe. By now it's just a dull big town. However, it's true that Bucharest is in transition and might become a much more pleasant town.

One of Bucharest's attraction is the vast number of stray dogs. It's not that it's boring - there are fat and slim, tall and small, grey and colourful, sometimes three-legged and other types of dogs. And they often come in packs. The good news is that (almost) all of those flea-catchers show great respect for two-legged living beings. They just run away or lie around apathetically.

History

As already mentioned above, legend says that the town was once founded by the shepherd Bucur. During the reign of Vlad Tepes, Bucharest was granted urban rights (1459) and became the capital of Wallachia. It was not before 1861 that it was declared capital of Romania. The town grew quickly and became quite popular. Things changed when Ceauşescu took over and started to realize his understanding of modern urban development. Several complete residential areas fell victim to the slightly Stalinistic urban development (hence the stray dogs - the owners had to leave and didn't know where to go and whether they can take with the dogs). Old residential areas were substituted by giant palaces and other buildings. Here and there, a Romanian-Orthodox church was left, reminding the visitor of where he is: Not in Russia, but in the Balkans.

Bucharest played a very important role in the revolution, which took place in 1989. This included heavy street fights and outraged miners trying to march on the heart of the capital twice. Today, Bucharest is a boomtown and a gauge indicating the gradually improving economy of the country. However, Bucharest does not really represent the country: No place in Romania looks like or similar to the capital.

Getting there / transportation

Bucharest: Gara du Nord
Gara du Nord - the North Terminal of Bucharest

For more information on how to get to Romania and its capital, see →Travel information Romania. Most of the long-distance trains arrive at the Gara du Nord, which is a few kilometres west of the old town. Safety around the train station is questionable. There are other train stations, mainly used for local trains. One of them is the Gara Basarab (Bessarabian terminal), from where trains to the west and to the south depart. This station is interesting for those who want to go to →Bulgaria on a local train. The station is easy to find - just follow the road left of Gara du Nord for a few hundred metres.

One of the very few useful projects initiated by Ceauşescu's was the construction of the Metrou (subway). There are three lines, the carriages and the stations are clean and modern. It's the best and fastest way to get around in Bucharest. One ticket is good for two rides and costs 0.8 Lei. Additionally, the town is well served with trolleybuses, trams and buses. And countless taxis. The standard fare for most routes within the town is 4 Lei.

Safety

Bucharest has a rather bad reputation regarding safety in public. Fake policemen, theft and more are not seldomly heard of. As in any other European metropolis, common sense should do, ie never show your passport and/or money to someone you don't know. If it's a policeman (or someone who looks like he could be one), insist on being accompanied to the next police station etc. Check if there's a meter and if yes, whether it's switched on, before you opt for a taxi.

However, one thing is for sure: The area around Gara du Nord is not safe!!! At night and sometimes even during the daytime, gangs of glue-sniffing kids loiter in the area around the train station (as we could see from our hotel room every day). Not the perfect place for a nocturnal walk.

 

 

Compared to other European capitals, there aren't so many "must-see" sights in Bucharest. It's more about the general impression. Unfortunately, the unique atmosphere of the old town was sustainably destroyed by the socialist urban development. One of the famous places in town include the Arcul de Triumf (Triumphal Arch) in Northern Bucharest, which is dedicated to the victims of World War I.

Typical scene in Bucharest
Typical scene in Bucharest

Other important historic buildings include the Catedrala Patriarhalâ (Archbishop's Cathedral) and Curtea Veche (ruins of the old Royal Palace). Between all these goodies, visitors will most likely be impressed by scenes as on the picture to the right: Pure traffic chaos in streets which are either too narrow or too wide and a strange mixture of old, crumbling buildings, new and dull buildings and many large gaps, which have been taken over by impressive weed habitats. Of course, places like these can be found everywhere, but in Bucharest it's more than usual. Unfortunately, it was raining almost all the time when we were in town, so things looked much worse than they usually do.

For many visitors, the main attraction of Bucharest appears to be the huge Casa Poporului (Palace of the People), which is today known as the 'Palace of Parliament'. This giant structure dominates the southern part of the city and is the masterpiece of Ceauşescu's Centrul Civic, Next to the palace there's a large and rather bleak park. A massive wall surrounds the palace, probably in order to keep the people away from their palace. Construction work started in 1984 following orders from the president Ceauşescu. Around 20,000 workers were busy realizing the plans of 700 architects. Amazingly enough, the chief architect was a very young beginner - at that time, the woman was around 25 years old, and the palace was her first commission. People might think whatever they want when they see the monstrosity, but it's a architectural masterpiece.

Bucharest: Palace of the People
Side entrance (!) of the Palace of the People

At the time Ceauşescu was swept away by the revolution, ie in 1989, only about 70% of the palace were completed. Some people voted for the destruction of the palace, but this would have been completely useless (and expensive), and so politicians decided to continue. Today, around 90% are completed. Except for the technical equipment, exclusively Romanian material is used - including tons of the finest Romanian marble in different shades and colours and lots of crystal for the dozens of chandeliers. In surface, it's the second-largest building in the world - No 1 is the Pentagon. In Volume, it's the third-largest, coming right after the Pentagon and...I've forgotten about the other one. Nowadays, it is used by the Romanian parliament, for congresses and partially as a museum. The nice young lade guiding us through the palace told us a story: The front of the building is characterized by a large, splendid balcony with a huge square in front of the building. Obviously, it was Ceauşescu's intention to address his people from the balcony. Well, the flying execution squad was faster. The one and only person having the honour of talking to masses from the balcony was Michael Jackson - he started his speech with a hearty "Hello BUDAPEST". What a...

Getting there:  Take the metro to the station Izvor or the bus/tram to Piaţa Unirii and walk the rest - it's impossible to miss the palace. Visitors can only enter the palace through the southern side entrance - the right southern entrance, to be exactly.

Admission fee:  Foreign visitors pay 10 Lei (€ 3, Romanians pay 5 Lei, Students 3 Lei), a photo permission costs an extra 9 Lei. The admission fee includes a tour in English. It's not allowed to explore the palace on your own. The whole tour takes around 45 minutes. It's only possible to see a small part of the building.

Some more impressions of our stay in Bucharest:

Bucharest: One of many uncompleted buildings
One of many uncompleted buildings

Bucharest: Near Curtea Veche
Near Curtea Veche: The old Bucharest

Bucharest: Ceauşescu's idea
Ceauşescu's idea of a perfect metropolis

Bucharest: Feeding the pigeons
Poisoning pigeons ...?

Bucharest: Fata Morgana
Old and new - almost like a Fata Morgana


 

 

In the middle of nowhere: Wallachia
In the middle of nowhere: Wallachia

There's not so much to see near Bucharest - the area around the capital is part of the historical district Wallachia and consists of mainly flat land and endless fields. By the way, in German 'Wallachia' (here: Wallachei) is a synonym for 'in the middle of nowhere'. You will understand why once you are there. Around 40 km north of Bucharest, there's the small but historically important town of Snagov. There you can see a church, a monastery and the tomb of Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula's tomb. Don't go there between dusk and dawn...

Some 100 km south of there's Giurgiu (pronounced jur-jou) - a large industrial town close to the river Danube. It makes a good base for crossing the border, since →Ruse on the other side of the river (→Bulgaria) is not far. There's not much to see in the town itself, and as you can see on the picture, there's also not much to see on the way to Giurgiu. There seems to be no direct local train, so it's necessary to change trains in Videle. Shortly before arriving in Videle you will notice several old-fashioned derricks - yes, Romania produces its own crude oil. Not enough but...

From Giurgiu, you can cross the longest steel girder bridge in Europe spanning the river Danube resp. the Bulgarian-Romanian border. It's a long walk from the centre of town to the bridge, so you might want to hire a taxi. Most locals trains - also the one from Videle - terminate at Giurgiu Nord, which is even further away from the border.

 

There are countless hotels in town - fleapits as well as luxury hotels. Some are located in the centre, others are far away from it all. If you travel by train and don't have the intention to stay an eternity in Bucharest, it's quite convenient to stay in one of the hotels concentrating around Gara du Nord. Walk out the station, turn right, cross the first street and you will find yourself standing in front of Hotel Cerna. A double costs 80 Lei per night, which is € 10 per person. Toilet and bathroom are shared. The hotel is clean and the service appropriate. The only drawback to it is the fact that the area around the train station is not very safe at night. Address: Blvd Golescu 29, Tel.: 637 40 87.

Hotel Reginetta II

020123 Bucharest · Sfantul Stefan Street nr. 13


Since: 1890
Location: Map
Number of floors: 2
Number of rooms: 12
Rates from: US$69
Rating: 9.3/10

More Information
Located in Bucharest City Center, Hotel Reginetta II is a perfect starting point from which to explore Bucharest. The hotel has everything you need for a comfortable stay. Safety deposit boxes, tours, shuttle service, 24hr room service, bicycle rental are just some of the facilities on offer. Each guestroom is elegantly furnished and equipped with handy amenities. Take a break from a long day and make use of massage. No matter what your reasons are for visiting Bucharest, Hotel Reginetta II will make you feel instantly at home.

Hotel Christina

010602 Bucharest · 13 ion slatineanu street,


Since: 2009
Location: Map
Number of floors: 6
Number of rooms: 24
Rates from: US$81
Rating: 9.0/10

More Information
Located in Bucharest City Center, Hotel Christina is a perfect starting point from which to explore Bucharest. Featuring a complete list of amenities, guests will find their stay at the property a comfortable one. All the necessary facilities, including elevator, meeting facilities, Wi-Fi in public areas, concierge, room service, are at hand. Guestrooms are designed to provide an optimal level of comfort with welcoming decor and convenient amenities like ironing facilities, balcony/terrace, television LCD/plasma screen, internet access – wireless (complimentary), internet access – wireless. The hotel's peaceful atmosphere extends to its recreational facilities which include massage. A welcoming atmosphere and excellent service are what you can expect during your stay at Hotel Christina.

Hotel Herastrau

014101 Bucharest · 7-9 Soseaua Nordului street,district 1


Since: 2002
Location: Map
Number of floors: 1
Number of rooms: 38
Rates from: US$74
Rating: 9.0/10

More Information
Ideally located in the prime touristic area of Herastrau Park, Hotel Herastrau promises a relaxing and wonderful visit. The hotel offers guests a range of services and amenities designed to provide comfort and convenience. Wi-Fi in public areas, room service, smoking area, salon, restaurant are just some of the facilities on offer. Designed for comfort, guestrooms offer satellite/cable TV, internet access – LAN (complimentary), refrigerator, bathtub, internet access – wireless (complimentary) to ensure a restful night. The hotel offers various recreational opportunities. Hotel Herastrau combines warm hospitality with a lovely ambiance to make your stay in Bucharest unforgettable.

Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel

Bucharest · 1-3 Episcopiei St., District 1


Since: 1914
Location: Map
Number of floors: 7
Number of rooms: 272
Rates from: US$168
Rating: 8.8/10

More Information
Stop at Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel to discover the wonders of Bucharest. The hotel offers a high standard of service and amenities to suit the individual needs of all travelers. Meeting facilities, business center, tours, casino, 24hr room service are on the list of things guests can enjoy. The well-appointed guestrooms feature balcony/terrace, internet access – wireless, bathtub, desk, separate shower and tub. The hotel offers various recreational opportunities. No matter what your reasons are for visiting Bucharest, Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel will make you feel instantly at home.

Novotel Bucharest City Centre Hotel

010061 Bucharest · 37B Victoriei Str.


Since:
Location: Map
Number of floors:
Number of rooms:
Rates from: US$96
Rating: 8.8/10

More Information
Novotel Bucharest City Centre Hotel is a popular choice amongst travelers in Bucharest, whether exploring or just passing through. Featuring a complete list of amenities, guests will find their stay at the property a comfortable one. Service-minded staff will welcome and guide you at the Novotel Bucharest City Centre Hotel. Designed and decorated to make guests feel right at home, each room comes with separate shower and tub, mini bar, non smoking rooms, shower, bathtub. Enjoy the hotel's recreational facilities, including spa, fitness center, massage, indoor pool, golf course (on site), before retiring to your room for a well-deserved rest. Novotel Bucharest City Centre Hotel combines warm hospitality with a lovely ambiance to make your stay in Bucharest unforgettable.

K+K Hotel Elisabeta

030242 Bucharest · 26 Slanic Street


Since: 2005
Location: Map
Number of floors: 7
Number of rooms: 67
Rates from: US$92
Rating: 8.7/10

More Information
K+K Hotel Elisabeta is perfectly located for both business and leisure guests in Bucharest. The hotel offers guests a range of services and amenities designed to provide comfort and convenience. Safety deposit boxes, 24hr room service, business center, executive floor, elevator are there for guest's enjoyment. Designed for comfort, guestrooms offer internet access – LAN (complimentary), internet access – LAN, air conditioning, desk, television LCD/plasma screen to ensure a restful night. Access to the hotel's fitness center, massage, sauna will further enhance your satisfying stay. For reliable service and professional staff, K+K Hotel Elisabeta caters to your needs.

Rembrandt Hotel

Bucharest · smardan street, no.11


Since: 2005
Location: Map
Number of floors:
Number of rooms: 16
Rates from: US$95
Rating: 8.7/10

More Information
Ideally located in the prime touristic area of Bucharest City Center, Rembrandt Hotel promises a relaxing and wonderful visit. Offering a variety of facilities and services, the hotel provides all you need for a good night's sleep. All the necessary facilities, including family room, laundry service/dry cleaning, meeting facilities, bar/pub, concierge, are at hand. Guestrooms are designed to provide an optimal level of comfort with welcoming decor and convenient amenities like DVD/CD player, bathtub, hair dryer, television, in room safe. The hotel offers various recreational opportunities. No matter what your reasons are for visiting Bucharest, Rembrandt Hotel will make you feel instantly at home.

Grand Hotel Continental

Bucharest · Calea Victoriei, no 56


Since: 1886
Location: Map
Number of floors: 3
Number of rooms: 59
Rates from: US$100
Rating: 8.7/10

More Information
The 5-star Grand Hotel Continental offers comfort and convenience whether you're on business or holiday in Bucharest. The hotel offers a wide range of amenities and perks to ensure you have a great time. Take advantage of the hotel's laundry service/dry cleaning, bar/pub, meeting facilities, shops, concierge. The well-appointed guestrooms feature desk, air conditioning, complimentary bottled water, satellite/cable TV, television LCD/plasma screen. The hotel's peaceful atmosphere extends to its recreational facilities which include spa, steamroom, fitness center, jacuzzi, sauna. Friendly staff, great facilities and close proximity to all that Bucharest has to offer are three great reasons you should stay at Grand Hotel Continental.

Doubletree By Hilton Bucharest Unirii Square Hotel

31041 Bucharest · 3A Str Nerva Traian St. Sector 3


Since: 2006
Location: Map
Number of floors: 11
Number of rooms: 88
Rates from: US$440
Rating: 8.7/10

More Information
Located in Unirii, Doubletree By Hilton Bucharest Unirii Square Hotel is a perfect starting point from which to explore Bucharest. Featuring a complete list of amenities, guests will find their stay at the property a comfortable one. Take advantage of the hotel's room service, meeting facilities, coffee shop, Wi-Fi in public areas, restaurant. Relax in your comfortable guestroom, featuring air conditioning, daily newspaper, bathrobes, mini bar, internet access – wireless (complimentary). Access to the hotel's sauna, massage, spa, fitness center will further enhance your satisfying stay. Convenience and comfort makes Doubletree By Hilton Bucharest Unirii Square Hotel the perfect choice for your stay in Bucharest.

Capital Plaza Hotel

Bucharest · Blvd Iancu de Hunedoara No. 54, Sector 1


Since: 2009
Location: Map
Number of floors: 5
Number of rooms: 95
Rates from: US$108
Rating: 8.6/10

More Information
The 4-star Capital Plaza Hotel offers comfort and convenience whether you're on business or holiday in Bucharest. Featuring a complete list of amenities, guests will find their stay at the property a comfortable one. Facilities like tours, disabled facilities, concierge, laundry service/dry cleaning, room service are readily available for you to enjoy. Designed and decorated to make guests feel right at home, each room comes with in room safe, ironing facilities, television LCD/plasma screen, daily newspaper, hair dryer. Take a break from a long day and make use of fitness center. Convenience and comfort makes Capital Plaza Hotel the perfect choice for your stay in Bucharest.

 

  • www.romania4you.com A good place to look for restaurants, hotels and more. In English.
  • www.pmb.ro The official website of Bucharest. Maybe the English version will be ready some time?

Do you have or do you know a good website about Bucharest? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.

 

 

Danny Montana wrote:

The best website about Bucureşti is www.bucuresti.ro. You'll find there whatever you're looking for. I noticed from your story, that you've missed the Athenaeum. Too bad! It's great. Also, a walk on Calea Victoriei might have left you with a better impression.

Posted by Danny Montana on November 1, 2011 19:04

alston wrote:

My first trip to Bucuresti was 2006, and I went back in 07, 09,11 and 2012 (as my entryway for probing all of Romania)-- To me, I never had a problem in Bucuresti, and consider it a beautiful and exciting place. I've ridden the trams to the ends of the lines and walked about. Since my first visit, and the last there has been alot of changes due to EU entry. The glue sniffers have all been run off by the police-- but they I never felt a threat from them... they were there because they lived in the underground tunnels... but the police have run them off and Gara Nord has been refurbished with a wide range of restaurants and pastry stands.

Posted by alston on February 2, 2013 01:54

 

 

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