Explore Bucharest’s most impressive neighborhoods, from the winding old town streets to botanical gardens, before heading into the president’s palace.
No two neighborhoods are the same in Bucharest – this is a city of contrast and diversity. You’ll discover striking monuments from the years of Communist rule standing toe to toe with ornate historic buildings that tell of life before the Iron Curtain came down. There are areas that have benefited from the end of the Cold War era, with redevelopment and gentrification breathing new life into them, and others that remain remarkably untouched by time.
It’s in these districts and neighborhoods that you’ll find many of the hidden gems of Bucharest. There’s the old town, of course, but many other areas have treasures waiting to be unearthed. Our guide will take you through the essential ones to visit.
If there’s one part of town that most people see when they explore Bucharest, it’s Lipscani. This is the city’s Old Town, or Centru Vechi, which houses the last remaining parts of the city that weren’t destroyed by bombs during World War II or razed by the Communists to make way for more functional buildings.
Before the fall of Ceausescu, there wasn’t much to shout about here – mainly because Bucharest wasn’t the tourist attraction and city break destination it is today. Modern Lipscani is studded with excellent restaurants, revamped hotels, cafes and clubs. It’s also perfect for shopping in the daytime before it comes alive at night.
It’s a joy to wander, with narrow streets that wind past art deco houses, and the remains of Curtea Veche, the court from which Vlad the Impaler ruled in the mid-15th century. There are loads of places to eat, including the legendary Caru’ cu Bere, with its gorgeous interior and generous portions of Romanian cuisine.
You may also come across two examples of fine design, built centuries apart. The Stavropoleos Church is a well-preserved monastery from 1724, while Carturesti Carusel is a bookshop with a stunning and modern interior, housed in a 19th-century building. Vegetarians take note, the restaurant inside the Carturesti Carusel will be just what you’re looking for.
Primaverii has long been an enclave for Bucharest’s well-to-do. The top dogs of the Communist hierarchy lived here, often in purpose-built houses and mansions, and numerous presidents of Romania have called the area home.
The most famous – or perhaps notorious – landmark here is the Primaverii Palace, or Spring Palace in English. This is where Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s dictator, lived with his family. As you’d expect from the man who also built the vast 1,000-room Palace of Parliament elsewhere in the city, it’s not a modest affair. It sprawls across 80 rooms, contains gold-plated faucets in the bathroom and boasts a swimming pool, spa and tropical garden.
It has only been open to the public since 2016, having been extensively ransacked during the 1989 revolution. There are handsome rooms where the many architects involved were allowed to build as they pleased, and other rooms that are just garish and tacky. The living room is particularly notable, while another room was based on the Palace of Versailles. In a time of scarcity for many Romanians, it’s staggering to see how their ruler lived.
As this is an affluent area, there are plenty of good places to eat. Osho Restaurant is notable for its steak, pasta and risotto. Try the aged beef cuts, wagyu or the mushroom risotto with truffles.
Translated as ‘Youth’ and built in the 1960s as an area for workers, Tineretului is a great place to stay in Bucharest, as it’s so close to the city center. Its architecture isn’t particularly pretty – the apartments here were functional and cheap – but it does have a wonderful park.
Tineretului Park is built around a huge artificial lake and contains numerous areas to relax, enjoy a picnic or just take in some fresh air. It’s ideal for families, and you’ll find playgrounds, trampolines and even dodgem cars. There’s also a funfair, a concert venue and a go-kart track.
A short stroll away is a smaller park – Carol – that’s over a century old. It’s worth exploring the north side of the park, which has some well-maintained old houses, hotels and restaurants. The moving Heroes Cemetery is nearby, which commemorates the 281 people who died during the 1989 uprising.
By way of contrast, the residences of Cotroceni are much more aesthetically pleasing. So are the streets, which are lined with linden trees, providing shade in front of the remaining 19th century villas. It’s perhaps the area of Bucharest most unspoiled by war or the Communist era bulldozers.
There are highlights galore to find here. The Romanian National Opera, art deco buildings, the home of the president, the new St Elefterie Church and countless beautiful homes with gardens and courtyards. The Botanical Garden has stood here since 1860, although it was completely decimated during World War II. There are more than 40 acres of grounds in the rebuilt gardens, housing 10,000 plant species, many of them rare. There are few better places to be on a sunny Bucharest afternoon, while evenings can be even better if you visit in summer, with live music playing in the serene setting.
You’ll need to reserve the guided tour of the president’s home, Cotroceni Palace, ahead of time to ensure a spot on the tour, especially since it’s the only way to see inside. The building served time as a monastery in the 17th century, but was then razed and rebuilt in the 19th century by King Carol I. The Communist rulers evicted the royals and made it one of their headquarters. Since the fall of the dictatorship, it has doubled as both the living quarters of the president and a museum. The tour explores state and function rooms, many with whimsical decoration, a fine art collection and unearthed remains of the original monastery to complete the circle of history.
Have you explored Bucharest lately? Let us know on Twitter if there’s a must-see Bucharest neighborhood we’ve overlooked.