Bucharest, the capital of Romania, dates back to the mid-1400s. It’s filled with the incredible history of many eras and beautiful architecture of many styles. It is also home to some of the funkiest and most interesting places in Europe.
You can explore famous sites including one of the world’s largest Parliament buildings and the Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul, do some shopping, and enjoy traditional cabbage rolls called sarmale.
After you take in the usual sites, you’ll want to keep an eye out for some of these incredible gems the average tourist might not find without a little help and forethought.
1. Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse
Bucharest is often referred to as the Little Paris of the East, thanks to its abundance of French-inspired architecture. As you wander the streets of the beautiful city center, there’s one specific place that will give you the impression that you’ve left Romania and stepped into France. The Huassmannian-style buildings of the horseshoe-shaped passage in Old Town are known as the Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse.
The arcaded, forked street is covered in yellow glass and nestled into the center of Bucharest. Tourists pass by, not realizing the treasures that lie within. One building was originally the home of the Bucharest Stock Exchange while another was the Campineanu Inn, which was purchased by Petros Seraphim and then gifted to his two daughters as their dowries.
The central portion of the site was occupied by the Pesht Hotel and the owner refused to sell, which resulted in the unique shape of the passage that stands today. The two wings built around the hotel were covered by a glass roof to allow for natural lighting while keeping out the rain. The two ends of the unique street-under-glass open into the Calea Victoriei and the National Bank in the historic Lipscani district.
2. Mihai Voda Church
There are many famous churches in Bucharest that you can visit when you stay in the country’s largest city. But one often overlooked church is Mihai Voda, built in the late 1500s by Michael the Brave -- first man to unify Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia. The church is one of the oldest preserved buildings in Romania. The church was surrounded by large defensive walls that towered above the rest of the city, but they no longer exist, and it is now hidden behind communist-era apartment blocks.
Nicolae Ceausescu, the former communist ruler of Romania, wanted all churches removed from the sightlines of his Palace of Parliament. He ordered all churches be destroyed, but the clever Chief Architect of Bucharest at the time managed to not only save the church but 13 other buildings through an engineering marvel that leveraged railroad-like tracks.
3. Antiquities Collectors Market
If you love shopping and vintage goods, the Antiquities Collectors Market is a jewel of Bucharest you’d regret missing. The Bazaar is held in front of the neogothic Sutu Palace -- home of the Museum of Bucharest -- every second and fourth weekend of the month.
The market usually only hosts about 25 to 30 exhibitors, but the shopping could still take you all morning as you dig through the flea market-like collection of unique wares that range from hand-painted furniture, antique jewelry, and locally made goods to vintage clothing, books, analog cameras, and old vinyl.
It’s best to arrive at the market early in the morning to find the most interesting deals and beat potential crowds.
4. The Abandoned Buildings Of Bucharest
Bucharest is a treasure trove for architecture lovers and tourists who love beautiful snapshots of unique buildings. But some of the best hidden gems in the city are the abandoned buildings scattered throughout. Bohemian romanticism merges with street art in many locations, so be sure to have your camera ready.
Unfortunately, you can’t visit these abandoned buildings on your own. But there are tours offered by companies in the city that will take you through some of the most interesting abandoned buildings -- such as the Truth Newspaper Trust and the Macca House -- along with some other unique spots you probably wouldn’t find on your own.
5. Carturesti Carusel
Bibliophiles rejoice upon entering this huge and incredibly beautiful bookstore in Old Town. While it’s popular with Instagrammers, it’s not the most obvious shop to find, unless you’re looking for it. The outside of the building doesn’t look like much -- which is probably a large part of why most tourists pass it by -- but once you step inside, you’ll be amazed at this reconstructed building that still belongs to the Chrissoveloni family. During communist times in Romania, the building was seized and turned into a general store.
After the collapse of the communist regime, the building fell into decay until the grandson of the original owner rescued the beautiful building with an investment of about 1 million euros. The building has been leased to Carturesti for their main flagship store and has more than 10,000 books and 5,000 albums and DVDs for sale. The top level also houses a bistro, the first floor an art gallery and exhibition area, and the basement a multi-media area.
To avoid Instagrammers and the busiest shopping hours, visit the store during the middle of the week in the morning or late afternoon.
6. Vlad The Impaler’s Castle
When you come to Romania, you will probably think about Bram Stoker’s Dracula and all the subsequent vampire tales that place the blood-thirsty undead in Transylvania. But if you’re not familiar with the legend, you might not even realize what you’re missing if you pass on by the replica of Vlad the Impaler’s castle: Tepes Castle in the heart of Bucharest.
The building is located in the middle of the city and originally commemorated the 40th anniversary of the coronation of King Carol I. The castle was designed to host a water reservoir but replicates the famous Poenari Fortress that once belonged to Prince Vlad the Impaler, more famously known as Dracula.
You cannot enter the castle, save on October 25 and on Heroes’ Day -- Ascension Day on the Orthodox calendar -- as the castle is a military objective, but the grounds are worth a visit. You’ll walk away with some interesting photos and memories of your brush with the famed Count.
It should be noted that this is not the same castle as Bran Castle -- also associated with Dracula tales -- outside of Bucharest. Bran Castle and multiple other sites around the region, including Prince Vlad’s gravesite and the village of Arefu where Vlad Tepes -- also known as Vlad the Impaler -- once lived also have their share of Dracula lore.
7. Pura Vida Sky Bar And Hostels
Folks who stay at youth hostels are likely to find this little gem, but others might miss it unless they know where to look. Pura Vida Sky Bar offers some of the best views of the city and serves some delicious cocktails.
When you arrive at the hostel, you’ll climb five flights of stairs to get to the bar. The climb up is especially worth it at sunset as the rooftop bar has some incredibly clear views of the city. You’ll love the menu, but honestly, you’re coming for the views and the unique atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in Old Town.
8. The Xenofon Stairway Street
Built over 200 years ago, the strange, narrow ascent known as Xenofon Stairway Street features just 100 steps. It’s a small, out-of-the-way little place, but it’s worth looking for when you’re strolling through Carol Park. The tiny segment of the street is the only stairway street in the Bucharest, and though it’s short, the stairs are a unique piece of Romanian history.
The city repaints the stairs each year. Each painting displays a different theme -- perhaps a beautiful waterfall or a famous monument of Bucharest.
The stairs lead to the highest point in the city. The walk won’t take you long, but the views going up and at the top of the stops are well worth the climb.