Not that you shouldn’t visit Budapest. I can give you many, many reasons to visit Budapest, but the poor city of Bucharest in Romania has had it’s name uttered incorrectly more times than you have inadvertently dropped your exes. Now that’s sorted, why should you visit this Eastern European gem?
1. That architecture. Dubbed “Little Paris” for many years, Bucharest boasts similar architecture and a general Parisian feeling whilst wandering the streets. Not only are these buildings and churches beautiful to look at, and some of the biggest in the world, they each have very interesting, and sometimes creepy, stories behind them.
2. It’s home to the world’s most mocked statue. It’s not the phallic shot at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or again putting the Eiffel Tower between your legs, nor that perfectly timed shot in the Bolivian salt flats, but it is almost as photographed. Surely this wasn’t sculptor Vasile Gorduz’ intention when he created the statue of Trajan and the She-wolf, which is located on the steps of the National Museum of Romanian History. Why does this statue provide such giggles and clever photography for walking tours and the like? It’s a nude dude holding, but not actually touching, a wolf ,with a snake thrown in for good measure.
3. It’s cheap. Despite the sexy European atmosphere there’s no hefty Euro price tag. Enjoy delicious pastries for pittance (think 1 lei or 20 cents), shop for hours without needing your credit card, dine out with extravagance and no need to mortgage the house, stay at little longer because it’s better value than the Francophile-inspiring alternative, and of course drink and have the ability to shout the bar because you’re basically a baller here.
4. Take your pick for shopping. The budget conscious and fashionistas unite in Bucharest for the important pastime of shopping. You can find what you’re looking for at gypsy markets, the regular retailers and high-end options. And the streets are a constant source of inspiration. Locals take their fashion pretty seriously and it’s common culture to ‘dress up’ daily. Even if that means dressing up jeans, tracksuits or uggs. Hair and makeup is still usually immaculate. For the adventurous and energetic a trip to Dragonul Rosu can be fruitful. These Chinese markets are less than a 20 lei taxi away and are huge with massive sheds and plenty of them. These are the markets the markets buy from. We will not judge if you return with 50 pairs of underwear and 20 fur beanies. You do you. Just don’t ask us to help you pack. The bazaar near Sun Plaza is a semi-open market is also worth a whirl around.
4. Dracula, derr. Bran Castle is only a day trip away from the city. As one of the world’s most famous pieces of literature with such a huge impact on popular culture, you’d be a bit of a silly Sally to miss it. Where would the world even be without Edward Cullen, Count Von Count, or the mumblings of Blade? See where it all began for Bram Stoker. Or see all the other beautiful castles which have a very vampiric feel to them.
5. Nightlife. Parties. Pubs. Gigs. Raves. Shows. There are countless licensed establishments here. Each and every night you can whet your whistle, dance like no one’s watching, and make new friends whose name you’ll hopefully remember the next day.
6. Street art. You aren’t worth your weight in hipster gold without exploring the work of the city’s local street artists. You can find amazing pieces in Bucharest’s many, many parks. Or your bravery will be rewarded for walking some seedy back streets with at least 50 Likes on Facebook.
7. A big eff-off building. The Palace of the People is the world’s second largest building, only behind the Pentagon. Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had some serious penis envy going on when he commissioned the building. As with most of his whims, they needed to be bigger than what somebody else had. The place is 3.7 square feet measuring 890 by 790 feet, 282 feet high and another 302 feet underground. It has 1100 rooms, all completely necessary we’re sure. In 2009 the Palace appeared in Top Gear with the show’s three hosts racing a Aston Martin DBS Volante, Ferrari California and a Lamborghini LP560-4 Spyder to the Palace and driving through the underground tunnels and garages. The underground tunnels were once only a rumour, some locals not believing their existence until the show confirmed all.
8. Want to shred some pow. Or whatever you snow bunnies say. The areas of Brasov are worth looking into during the winter for skiing. Everything looks extra picturesque snowcapped – the mountains, rivers, castles, and even brown bears should you be ‘lucky’ enough to cross their path.
9. Day trips. Less than a two-hour train ride from Bucharest and you can be in the picturesque town of Sinaia. The town boasts the usual charms of a smallish village but its main attraction is the Peles Castle. This bad boy is touted as the castle which kicks the ass of the home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, that is Bran Castle.
10. Raise your food expectations. Ask around where can I grab a bite in Bucharest, and you’ll be reamed with a list of options and odds are each group of recommendations will include Caru Cu Bere. What is it? A giant beer hall filled with hearty, quality and well priced food. With meticulous detail, the interior is stunning complete with painted ceilings and ornate woodwork. So it’s nice to look at it. And they serve beer. In the tradition of all good beer halls, the beers are as big as your head. They also serve a lot of other drinks, so you can get tipsy/merry/drunk. But generally people go to a restaurant for food. Generally. And in this case you won’t be disappointed. For the budget conscious there is options, including a giant bowl of soup served in a bread bowl from as little as 10 lei. All with silver service. Head there Monday to Thursday from 1pm to 6pm and enjoy the “best lunch offer”. This is a selection of six options which include soup, salad, a meaty main and decadent dessert. For 22 lei you can’t go wrong really. Considering a meal at McDonalds can still set you back about 25 lei and all you get there is dodgy wifi, screaming children and way too many students dressed in black. Must-Dos get thrown around like a blown up condom at a festival. But Caru cu bere fits snugly in this category and can wear their MD badge with scout’s honour pride.
11. A new kind of escapism. Forget the bad reality TV shows, escape, literally. Enter Escape Rooms Bucharest and put your intellect and wit to the ultimate test. This premise is completely out of the ordinary. But life is about the extra-ordinary moments so sign up so you’ve can give yourself a thoroughly well deserved pat on the back at the end. What is an Escape Room? Get locked in a room and try to get out within 60 minutes. Connect clues, solve puzzles, use logic, be intuitive, search for hidden objects and forever be on the lookout for “what else is there”? Feel the adrenalin kick in as time ticks away as you and your team panic and use your brains like never before. Who will crack under the pressure? Discover the taste for mystery you didn’t know you had.
12. It’s out of the Schengen area. Schengen, it’s a word most Australian, US and Canada travellers to Europe have heard of. It sounds Chinese but it’s basically a bitch. The Schengen area is a group of European countries that have grouped together abolishing passport and immigration controls at their common borders, essentially making them one big country, with a singular visa policy. What this visa policy is you can spend 90 days visa free in this area within an 180 day period. So what if you want more than 90 days in this area? There are plenty of forum posts dealing with this but one option is to leave the area for 90 days to head back in for another crack. So where to spend your 90 days of Schengen purgatory? Romania is yet to officially join the Schengen Area, even though they are EU and will eventually. But in the meantime get yourself to Bucharest because they’ll let you in.
12. Plastic money. New to this “phenomenon” or plain homesick, get excited. The Romanian lei is not paper. Why anyone is still putting up with paper notes, a favourite for pockets and washing machines, is a common question. Why did Romania get into this type of bling bling? The guys at Guided Bucharest Walking Tours joke that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advised the people at the National Bank to start encouraging the use of plastic money, but they took this literally, putting into production the plastic banknotes. What they meant was for people to use more ATMs and visa cards. Romania was the first European country to introduce the full set of circulating polymer banknotes in 1999, and the third country after Australia and New Zealand. In 2003 they also threw together a blue 1 million lei note. Imagine getting your hands on this baby.