24 hours in Bucharest, Romania

We marvel at the world's heaviest parliament building, rummage thrift shops for souvenirs and bike around picturesque parks during a trip to Romania's capital

Fountains along the tree-lined Bulevardul Unirii, a major thoroughfare in central Bucharest, with the Palace of the Parliament in the background.
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9am: Tuck into a hearty breakfast

Head to the periphery of the Old Town, where on Strada Negustori you'll find Simbio restaurant. The contemporary space is set within an old house and has seats in the garden. The energy boost smoothie for 16 Romanian lei (Dh13.6) is a good place to start. Other dishes on the menu include a hearty baked eggs and fondue in a home-made bread bowl (23 lei) and a croque madame sandwich (21 lei). Enjoy a meal in this calming setting before setting off to explore the city.

11am: Take a tour of the parliament building

Like the UAE, Bucharest holds its own world records, thanks to its Palace of Parliament. While it isn't the biggest parliament building in the world – that mantle goes to the Pentagon in the US – it is the heaviest, containing a colossal 700,000 tonnes of steel and bronze, and 3,500 tonnes of crystal. Take a tour of this behemoth and, over the course of an hour-and-a-half, you'll learn about its fascinating backstory, including the fact that the construction, ordered by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, commenced in 1984, with 20,000 labourers working in shifts, 24 hours a day, to complete the building in just five years. Ceausescu was assassinated just before its completion in 1989, so he never got to see the spoils of his imagination. You'll get a real sense of it, though, including the nuclear bunker eight storeys underground, as part of this guided tour. It costs 25 lei (about Dh21) and a valid passport is required for entry.

1pm: Lunch in the city’s oldest restaurant

Once you've completed the tour and spent some time taking pictures inside and out of the imposing building, head to the nearby Caru' cu bere, ­Bucharest's oldest restaurant, built in 1879. The building is grand in both scale and decor, boasting beautiful frescoes, carved wooden panelling and gold accents.

Bucharest’s oldest restaurant. Courtesy Melanie Smith
Bucharest’s oldest restaurant. Courtesy Melanie Smith

An orchestral quartet playing violin and cello heightens the dining experience. The choice of dishes is seemingly endless, with soups, sharing platters, salads, grilled dishes, fish dishes and traditional fare, as well as side plates and desserts. The set menus for 24.90 lei or 27.90 lei are served from noon to 6pm, and provide great variety and excellent value, since you'll get the chance to try a few Romanian classics. The meats as part of the mititei dish are succulent and sweet, and the chips are home-made. The tortul casei – cake of the house – is a standout. Spend time lapping up both the flavours and the atmosphere.  

3pm: Work it all off in Herastrau Park

One of Bucharest's largest and most picturesque parks can be found just north of the Old Town, about a 15-minute drive away. The space is vast, covering 187 hectares, and the enormous Herastrau lake cuts through it. Explore the space by foot to work off that big lunch, or rent bikes to cycle around it. Visit the Japanese gardens and the outdoor ethnographic Village Museum, and marvel at the opulent Elisabeta Palace. Then give your feet a welcome break with a boat ride across the water. 

5pm: Explore the Old Town

Head back to the arterial streets that feed into Bucharest’s historical Old Town, and sift through the souvenir shops, thrift stores and markets. Pop into the Antiques and Handmade market on Strada Doamnei 11 and prepare to spend a few hours browsing and snapping up some one-offs. If you’re into handmade jewellery and real silver, you’ll be in your element here. The handicrafts are also bound to impress, with everything from friendship bracelets and necklaces, to traditional delicate eggshells hand-painted with intricate designs. Explore the main street, but veer off into the side streets to the thrift shops offering a decent selection of adornments. If you’re prepared to rummage, you’ll land upon some real gems. Don’t miss Old Town Souvenirs on Strada Smardan 13 for a variety of keepsakes, trinkets and trip memorabilia. And for something quirkier, a little bit artsy and very novelty, there’s the cool little shop, Carturesti. From fun slogan fridge magnets to graphic novels to banana and chocolate-­flavoured spreads, there’s something for everyone here. 

Romania, Bucharest, Lipscani, Old Town, Pasaj Macca-Villacrosse, old arcade interior
The Old Town.

8pm: Dance the night away

In the evening, the Old Town really comes alive. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating areas, where you can enjoy a hearty meal and watch the world go by. Xclusive Grill & Crepes is a great spot to people-watch from. After soaking up the evening vibes, head to Trinity College Pub to experience the city’s nightlife. It’s a charming bar with a DJ spinning popular tunes. Sit outside early on to experience the bustle of the street as it gets increasingly busy.

Midnight: Rest your head

After taking in the city’s sights and immersing yourself in its vibrant nightlife, head to the four-star Hotel Ambasador, a short walk away. Try to get a room away from the street, as some of the properties in the vicinity have buzzing nightclubs in full swing well into the small hours. Doubles here cost from Dh358 a night. For something a bit more upmarket, there’s the five-star InterContinental Bucharest just down the road, which offers doubles from Dh432 a night.  

Getting there

Flydubai and Emirates fly direct to Bucharest from Dubai International from Dh1,395 and Dh1,735 respectively. Etihad flies direct to Bucharest from Abu Dhabi from Dh2,753.