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Bucharest: A short guide to a city of contrasts

Bucharest: A short guide to a city of contrasts

Despite of the fact that Bucharest’s history extends for more than five centuries, the capital city of Romania is a relatively new entrant on the global tourism market. However, its lack of experience as an international travel destination does not mean Bucharest is less attractive than other European capitals.  Bucharest currently attracts almost 1 million foreign visitors per year and the numbers are still growing.

But still, why should you come to Bucharest?

Vibrant culture, but without the crowds

First of all, Bucharest offers an incredible blend of European culture without the crowds that are so typical to well-known tourist destinations. Situated at the crossroads of Central and South-Eastern Europe, Bucharest is a city of cultural contrasts. In just a few hours, a traveller can experience both the urban atmosphere of narrow streets with Beaux-Art buildings and elegant cafés as well as the simplicity of rural art and life in one of Europe’s largest open-air museums – the Village Museum.

Beautiful byzantine churches dating from the late Middle Ages, such as the Radu Voda monastery, are just blocks away from the Palace of the Parliament, the largest civilian building in the world and a symbol of the communist “Golden Age”. In less than ten minutes, one can go from the vibrant streets in Bucharest’s historic centre, with their numerous shops, bars, restaurants and clubs to beautiful and tranquil nineteen century parks such as Cismigiu and Gradina Icoanei.  And the city’s most well-known clubbing area is situated right next to the ruins of the Old Princely Court, built in the fifteenth century by Vlad the Impaler and now operating as a museum.IMG_20120503_105128

Big city life at affordable prices

With an official population of approximately 2 million inhabitants (and unofficial estimates of over 3 million), Bucharest is the sixth largest city in Europe, after London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Rome. Still, big city life does not automatically translate into expensive life. According to Forbes, Bucharest is the second cheapest tourist city in Europe after Kiev; the daily Backpacker Index rate (the total amount of expenditures undertaken by a backpacker in the course of one day) is only $26.38, far lower than in the case of other capital cities in Eastern and Central Europe such as Budapest ($31.23), Bratislava ($40.95) or Vienna ($73.57).

This is not surprising however since a 62-rides metro pass or an unlimited monthly buss pass barely exceed €12! Moreover, there are plenty of hostels and budget hotels to choose from and a decent two-course meal should cost no more than €15 at most restaurants, tips included.

Authentic life. Authentic art. Authentic fun!

Apart of being a flourishing tourist destination, Bucharest is the place where people live, love, eat, drink and go to work. Escape the cobbled streets in the city centre and take a tour of the so-called “workers’ neighbourhoods” – residential areas with standardised grey blocks of flats that offer you a glimpse of what life was like during communism. Or go into one of the city’s numerous farmer’s markets, where peasants still sell traditionally harvested fruits and vegetables grown in their own yard with no added chemicals. Dine in a restaurant that features instrumental folk music (“lautari” or “taraf”). In the mornings, watch merchants go about their business, listen to the humming of the crowded streets and enjoy the smell of freshly baked pretzels – these are the small and simple things that add value to life and make tourism a cultural experience. IMG_20120503_092412

Bucharest life is simple and at the same time grand and sophisticated. Romania’s capital city is home to the George Enescu international festival, one of the most important classical music festivals in Europe. Every two years, the festival brings together experienced artists and orchestras from all over the world. The event is held at the Grand Palace Hall, which is situated next to the Romanian National Museum of Art, but also at the Romanian Atheneum, a beautiful neoclassical concert hall built in the nineteenth century.

Although Bucharest has never received the title of European Capital of Culture, it could certainly qualify for the title of European Capital of Nightlife and Clubbing! House clubs, jazz clubs, adult entertainment clubs, rock clubs welcome hundreds of party seekers each night. The historical city centre is crowded with pubs and bars, so if you’re in for a “pub crawl”, Bucharest is the place to go! And if the morning finds you hungry after an all-night party, there are plenty of cafés, bistros, restaurants and pastry shops to choose from.

It is thus not surprising that Bucharest has been known for over two centuries as “Little Paris” or “Paris of the East”. Its impressive architecture, its bohemian atmosphere and the busy lifestyle of its inhabitants bare much resemblance to that of the French capital. But Bucharest has a life of its own – a life that is strongly rooted in its turbulent past and still reflects the daunting years of communism. Still, it is a life that boasts energy, optimism and vitality. A visit to Bucharest will be more than a tourist experience – it will be a life experience.  For this reason only, come to Bucharest!

 by Anamaria Ravar