Friday, 2 August 2013

Sightseeing in Bucharest

Almost 18 years of experience as a Bucharest resident have taught me much about what to see and what to avoid and this kind of inside knowledge is too precious not to share with any potential tourists here.

First of all, hotels that I recommend you stay in:

The best areas to visit in Bucharest are those between the Piata Unirii and Piata Presei Libere, so mostly the city centre and the north. It would be pretty overwhelming to say all there is to say about Bucharest in one place so I'm simply going to tell you what some of my favorite places are, as a bit of a holliday inspiration :)

Everyone who knows me can tell you that I love nature and so parks are my go to destination for relaxation. Over the past few weeks I've went to Herastrau park numerous times, on foot or via rented bikes from ivelo and it was a massive blast from the past as my parents used to push me in my pram on the same alleys as the ones I used to skip rope and draw with chalk on the ground.

On hot summer days, it's the perfect combination between fun, sport and some fresh air. It would have been a shame to miss passing through Kiseleff street - also known as the embassy street - as it's one of the most beautiful ones in Bucharest. You also get to pass by the Arch of Triumph, a smaller version of the french Arc de Triomphe.

If you feel like taking a break, there are a few fashionable terraces and restaurants on the edge of the lake and they have everything from pizzas to iced coffees and ice cream.

Another area I've been walking in ALOT is Calea Victoriei (Victoria's way). It's one of the poshest areas in Bucharest because it holds the major cultural places as well as expensive boutiques so it can be quite exclusive. I think I've walked the length of this street about 10 times...which makes people ask 'Why didn't you just get a cab??'. Because I have legs and I like to use them, plus the view is very nice.
I'd say allow a full day for this, just because it's so pretty and there's tons of things to see on your way. Start your day at Casa Capsa's sweet shop, which is seriously on par with the French ones. The sweets and cakes they sell there are to die for and whenever I come home there's a massive carton full of cakes and cookies to the brim, it makes me feel all cozy just mentioning them (I like sugar a lot in case that didn't come across). 

Then you pass the controversial Novotel hotel, with which people seem to have a love-hate relationship. Personally, I think this kind of merging between a classical facade that keeps with the original architecture and a modern core that will benefit Bucharest's image in a few years' time. Same thing applies to the Architects' building, very cleverly thought out.

If you've gotten this far, it means you're in Revolution Square, where -as the name very aptly suggests- the 1989 revolution against communist leader Ceausescu began. On your right you have what is popluarly known as the olive because of it's shape. It's actually a modern piece of art that's meant to symbolize the struggle of the Romanian people and the sacrifice of those who died in the revolution (?!).

On the left side is MNAR - the National Art Museum. It's a lovely magical place and I would gladly camp there if they let me. It holds a combination of Romanian and foreign artists so there's something for every artistic taste. 

Directly facing it is the University Library that hosts the Galateca exhibition space. Next to it is Artmark, the biggest art auctioning house in Romania and the newly opened Theodor Aman memorial house. The latter I visited and it was done so tastefully and the paintings restored with so much care that I actually felt guilty not paying an entry fee. The museum is meant to expand as soon as renovations permit and it would be a missed opportunity not to have a look around.

Oh, and the Atheneum is here too, where the annual George Enescu festival takes place.

The last cultural stop I propose to you is the Museum of Art collections, which literally left me speechless. It is also newly opened, this time by Prince Charles and it is done flawlessly. From perfectly curated exhibitions of the biggest Romanian artists to friendly staff and a smooth flow to the building... if only I knew about it earlier so I could volunteer. In my opinion, as a museum goer, it is at an European level and I was so pleasantly surprised that I can't wait to go back.

Now onto less intellectually challenging things. Where to shop. I have a few cult favorites where I go each time but I'm also proud to say I've made a few discoveries. One of them is Debauve & Gallais. I would love to summarize it as my 'Sofia Coppola meets Marie Antoinette meets French culinary tradition meets magic' place but you wouldn't get the gist would you? I've linked the name with their website where you can read the history  behind the company and the deserts but to summarize, it holds the seal of royal purveyors to the former French royal court and their trademark chocolate is the Marie Antoinette pistoles - a flavored chocolate coin created for the queen by Debauve. I off course bought a box and felt downright royal minus the flowery taffeta gowns sadly...

Another great shop, this time Romanian, is PNK casual and I recommend you check out their facebook page where they also have a shopping section. I love their casual but feminine style so I always take time to have a look in their shop.

Although technically not on Calea Victoriei, a stop at Carturesti is obligatory. It's a cool concept store, a cross between a bookstore, tea place and gift shop. It's here that I found two very interesting books, one by a French phylosopher and the other 'Vile Bodies' about the roaring 20s and the Beautiful Young Things. 

My final shopping destination is a store called 'eva', opposite from Carturesti, that has recently had a makeover and now hosts a suite of Romanian designers' creations. It's so refreshing seeing young local talent being properly exhibited, I can't explain myself why this hasn't been the case until now. 

Next to 'eva' is a fun little place with splendid food. It's called Journey Pub and it was recommended to us by a friend. The whole concept of the place is that it serves international food (very good too might I add) in a relaxed and 'hip' environment. It's also here that I had the best frappe coffee in Bucharest - which says a lot!

If you're only looking for something sweet, go to 'Camera din Fata', a sweet little place where you can enjoy all natural things, from cakes baked in house to Chinese tea and strawberry lemonade - perfect for Bucharest summer heat.

And if this isn't to your liking either, then walk a few minutes to Acuarela, a terrace that serves a contemporary art gallery. The space is super relaxed, with fun fruity cocktails coming from a painted BMW wagon and umbrellas hung as a a tent, pretty hipster I'd say.

We're now moving onto the Old City centre, also known as Lipscani. It's full of Parisian style cafes, restaurants and nightclubs and it's really the heart of the city. I especially like the architecture as there are no modern buildings here, just beautiful baroque ones - albeit some of them are crumbling to pieces. What were those contrasts I was talking about?

It's also here that you can find the best ice cream place in Bucharest. It's so tasty it's not even funny. The place is called 'INNI' and they serve freshly made organic and low fat ice cream in the best flavours you'll ever have. Classic chocolate and pistachio asside, I tried a lavender, then grapefruit and lime and then a parmezan one served with paella-style rice ... very very unusual but addictive! It's a must if you arrive in the old town. 

Another place I adore is 'Petru', selling authentic handmade Romanian pretzels. These have been my lunch way to many times to call myself healthy but they're so damn good I can't help it.

Another place you need to visit is the Muzeul Satului (Village Museum), very close to Herastrau Park. It's a very unique place where traditional old houses from all over the country are exhibited so you can see what a genuine village would look like. It makes for a relaxing day out, a little oasis in the middle of the city.

If you can, I also recommend a short trip outside of Bucharest to Mogosoaia. It's again a perfect day out. Placed on the banks of the Lake with the same name, Mogosoaia is a beautifully restored palace in the Brancovenesc architectural style. It's more of a complex of buildings, with a church, palace and restaurant area together with a greenhouse and lovely green spaces. It's also here that you'll find the best cotton candy ever...

Excuse the quality, the photos were taken with my phone :)

We have finally reached the end of this post...god, was it not a long one? I didn't really feel like making a super structured tourist leaflet type article because I was more interested in telling you what places I've enjoyed lots and what amazing new discoveries I've made in my pilgrimage to my hometown. Hope you've gotten your dose of travel inspiration and I'd love to know if any of you have been to Bucharest and if so, what did you like best?

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