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Some of the most entertaining things to do in Bucharest are in and around Old Town Bucharest. You want old churches? It’s got old churches. You want delicious food? It’s got delicious food. You want a walking street that forks into two because a hotel owner refused to sell their land so the street was just built around the building? What an incredibly specific request. Lucky for you, Old Town Bucharest has one of those too.
How to get to Old Town Bucharest
The Bucharest Old Town is located in the center of the city and right in between two stops on the metro. The Bucharest metro is fast and easy to use and has some interesting history behind it. Hop off at Universitate and make your way south to reach the Old Town. Or if you want to mix things up, take the metro to Piata Unirii and head north. Once you see the cobblestone streets, you’re in the right place.
When you’ve arrived in the Bucharest Old Town, get ready to get your steps in on the cobblestoned streets. And make sure to watch your step as some of the cobblestones have come loose! Don’t worry, the potholes are easy to spot. Just make sure to take a look where you’re going as you look around at the beautiful surroundings!
We made a Google MyMap of all the places we mention in this article for you. Check it out here!
What to See In the Bucharest Old Town
Fun fact: In Romania, many important buildings are designated as palaces, even if they look nothing like a palace. Some are very ornate and beautiful and truly do resemble palaces, like the National Bank of Romania, The National Museum of Romanian History (in the former Postal Services Palace), and the CEC Palace. Others, like the Bucharest Telephone Palace, look more like the Empire State Building than a palace!
National Bank of Romania
The National Bank sits near the middle of the Old Town and can act as a marker in case you get lost wandering the windy streets. The building is a huge square at the northern end of the Old Town and is covered in columns and statues that lend to the building’s weighty importance.
National Museum of Romanian History (Muzeul Național de Istorie a României Bucureşti)
Romania has a long and complicated history, to put it mildly. The Bucharest Municipality Museum does a great job of telling the story of the past 1000 years of Romanian history. The National Museum goes back even further, all the way to the Roman Empire!
Inside the museum, there is a replica of Trajan’s column. It tells the story of how Trajan led the Roman Empire to conquer the Dacians, the people who were living in what is now Romania before the Romans showed up and killed them.
The original column in Rome stands over 100 feet tall (35 meters), but the reproduction on display in the museum has been laid out so that you can view all 155 scenes that tell the story of the Roman-Dacian war up close and personal. Spoiler alert: the Romans win.
Another permanent display in the bottom of the building is jewelry from kings and queens and other rulers throughout Romanian history including the crown jewels of the Romanian Monarchy, plus a crown made from melted-down cannons!
The CEC Palace is one of the most interesting-looking buildings in Bucharest. It sits near the edge of the Old Town, just across the street from the National Museum of Romanian History. Even though it more resembles an old-timey train station or a city hall, the 121-year-old building is actually the headquarters for CEC Bank.
Many of the churches in Romania are Orthodox churches which are built in the symbol of the cross and have similar decorations to Catholic churches. But there are a few easily distinguishable differences. First, there are no pews in an Orthodox church. Parishioners stand or kneel through the service. There are seats available on the edges of the church for anyone who wants to sit.
Second, and most obvious, are the massive and ornate screens that separate the sanctuary from the nave of the church. The iconostasis (the proper name for the screens which I totally didn’t have to look up) reach nearly to the ceiling, to impressive heights considering how large some of the churches are, and are covered in intricate religious iconography.
Another interesting thing about Orthodox churches is that they only use real candles. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but a few hundred years of smoke and soot can do a number on the painstakingly painted, hundreds-of-years-old murals that cover nearly every square inch of the churches.
Biserica Sfantul Nicolae Selari
Old churches never disappoint. The musk of history permeates the air and stepping inside is like going back in time. The golden domes of Biserica Sfantul Nicolae Selari will spring out above a copse of trees to greet you if you enter Old Town Bucharest from the north.
The entrance doors are remarkably heavy, probably to keep in the warmth and keep out the cold of the long Romanian winters. Once inside, there is a vestibule near the entrance where you can purchase incense, candles, and other pieces of Orthodox iconography.
Inside the sanctuary, the murals on the ceiling pull your eyes up to the light pouring in from the windows and the weight of years makes the world feel very quiet.
Stavropoleos Monastery Church (Biserica Mănăstirii Stavropoleos)
It’s always amazing to find buildings that stretch back hundreds of years and are still used for their original purpose. Originally built in 1724, the church still holds open services.
If you’re near the church at around 6PM, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon the chapel during one of their services. Listening to the call-and-response of the priest and the clergymen echoing off of the centuries-old muraled walls is an experience you will never forget.
The courtyard adjacent to the church houses artwork, murals, and stonework from churches that were demolished during the communist regime.
One of the most interesting things about the church is that many of the figures painted on the walls of the church don’t have faces. We were told that because of the smoke from the countless candles and years, the murals needed to be cleaned periodically and if it’s not done often enough, details can get lost.
Once the faces were obscured beyond recognition, artists stopped trying to retouch them and left them blank. It’s not something immediately apparent as you enter the church, but once you know it’s there, or rather not there, you can’t unsee it.
Walking Around Old Town Bucharest
At first glance, Old Town Bucharest can feel like a bit of a maze. But as you spend more time walking the streets and taking in the sights, you’ll realize that there is a method to the madness. And if you ever figure out what that method is, please let us know! Here are some of the walking streets you can’t miss in the Bucharest Old Town.
Macca-Villacrosse Passage (Pasajul Villacrosse)
The Macca-Villacrosse passage forks because the owner of the hotel in the center of a proposed walking street refused to sell, so the walking street was built on the narrow streets around the building. The passageway was then covered in yellow glass that lets the sunshine and keeps the rain out and on a sunny day gives the walk a lovely golden glow.
Nowadays, the streets are populated with bars and restaurants. At night, the bars and restaurants are full of people drinking beer and smoking shisha under the stained-glass dome.
Strada Hanul cu Tei
What appears to be a nondescript alley at first glance is actually home to some of Bucharest’s most interesting art studios. There are many different pieces of artwork on display as you walk down the path. From pastoral images, ships at sea, to a vastly oversized colorful cat statue that a couple of kids were trying to climb on, and its companion piece, an equally colorful and vastly undersized giraffe, the strada has everything you’re looking for and more.
Cărturești is a chain of bookstores across Romania, and this has to be their crown jewel. There are six floors of books, journals, and toys. There’s even a basement full of board games and comic books, which is fitting.
The main draw of the bookstore, other than knowledge and yet another expansion for Settlers of Catan, is the bookstore itself. The grand staircase that greets you as you enter, the flowing balconies, and the spiral staircases are all painted a soft-cloud-white, a massive chandelier drips shining stars overhead, the stacks and rows of books kaleidoscope out like rainbows. Walking around the bookstore feels like walking in the sky.
Cărturești Carusel is a must-see in Old Town Bucharest. Because reading is what? Fundamental.
What to Eat in Old Town Bucharest
Bucharest restaurants are plentiful and offer a wide variety of Romanian food which is typically bready, meaty, and heavy. And it is amazing. The same can be said of Bucharest’s bread smoothies: beer. Old Town Bucharest has some historic establishments, including the oldest brewery and the oldest restaurant/hotel in the city!
Hanu’ lui Manuc Restaurant
Romanian history never ceases to amaze. This restaurant began its life as a waystation for wagon caravans to stop and rest on their travels. The restaurant is built like a fortress because that was its original purpose! Originally, the building had no windows facing the outside to protect the goods that were being carried to and fro across Romania. And, like any good crossroads, it was also a place for the exchange of goods and ideas.
Today, there are windows facing the outside, but the good stuff is what’s inside. The courtyard is still in the same place, except now instead of silks and furs, you can buy beer and pork. Well, I guess you could buy beer and pork in the courtyard in the past too. But I doubt they had circulating fans.
Caru’ cu bere
Caru’ cu bere (which means beer cart. Fun!) is the oldest brewery in Bucharest and has a great assortment of Romanian food and beer on offer. Check out the chef’s recommendations for a smorgasbord of Romanian flavor. The Master’s Delight is full of an unbelievable amount of porky goodness. The portions are large enough to share with a friend, but also manageable for a normal human to put down in one sitting and still be able to make eye contact with yourself in the mirror afterward.
Oh, and the bread! Oh, the bread! We snuck some out in Jen’s purse after eating lunch. Not really sure that we needed to sneak it out, but there’s no shame in our game and, in our defense, we had been drinking.
The house beer comes in 300ml, 400ml, 1000ml, and meter. A meter of beer is four liters of beer served in ten glasses. All ten glasses come served at the same time on a meter-long slab of wood, all carried by one server. It’s an impressive feat of physics and man’s hubris. If you’re going to try the meter of beer, bring some friends or at least your emergency contact number.
A personal favorite. Romania is famous for its cold winters, but the summers can be as hot as the winters are cold. Luckily, gelato is plentiful and cheap. The gelato on offer rotates often, but the staples like chocolate and vanilla are almost always there. Branch out and try something new, like lemon or raspberry, in a cone. You won’t regret it.
We even got a tip for spotting the good gelato places from a friend who knows these things. Look for the gelato places where the gelato sits inside the container and is not piled up in a big display. The real stuff, the good stuff, would melt if displayed like that. I don’t know if that’s true, but we have had some darn good gelato following those guidelines.
Linea/Closer to the Moon
One of the best ways to get a lay of the land is to get up high. And if they happen to sell beer up there, all the better. Linea/Closer to the Moon is a rooftop bar and restaurant near the edge of the Old Town which makes it the perfect spot to end your day of walking by looking over the winding streets of the Old Town and watching the sunset.
Old Town Bucharest is an amazing place to walk around and explore. No matter how much time you spend here among the restaurants, churches, palaces, and cobblestone streets, you’ll always be able to find something new and interesting.
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