Bucharest is the pretty capital of Romania, often referred to as "Paris of the east." I spent a long weekend there recently and enjoyed it very much: yummy food, warm weather, rad places to hang out. Added bonuses included a cool little concept store, rooftop bars, plus a contemporary art gallery that was stimulating yet not overwhelmingly large. Here are my highlights and black book of best addresses.
In the lead up to a trip, my research schedule for cafés, restaurants and bars is gruelling. You simply can't imagine. The Culture Trip ranks highly as a source and I seek out small personal travel blogs. And TripAdvisor? Well, TA is to be used sparingly and only for cross referencing purposes. Hours are then spent meticulously combing through menus, and Google Maps brings the lot together, pulling in all those loose ends to form a tidy route between establishments.
Arome, below, is a very cute little cafe in a residential part of town. The outdoor secret garden is a delight. I traversed the city twice to eat here and spent two blissful afternoons in the dappled light. You won't be disappointed if you do the same.
Arome's secret garden.
Pâine și Vin is that genius type of place where everything is based around bread (I counted 14 varieties) and wine. I told you it was genius. Oh, and they do pizza. I came here twice also. Choose a local wine (trust your server’s recommendation) and oooh over the charming descriptions of their local suppliers. Dusk dining al fresco. What more could one want?
J'ai Bistrot is in the same neighbourhood as Arome - similar but larger and louder. I poked my head in out of curiosity but did not eat here. I was too full from all my meals at the above two. But from what I gathered, J'ai Bistrot has good food, and good reviews. I personally vouch for the hidden, very green terrace. They seem to do secret gardens well in Romania.
So apparently the specialty coffee scene in Bucharest has exploded over the past few years. Well, the rumours are true. There are many, many little gems to discover, however my two favourites were:
Beans & Dots, which is tucked away, but worth seeking out. It's a coffee shop with a large indoor work space (possibly co-working?) and a spacious terrace. There's also a concept store in the space but it appeared to be all locked up (my glasses were at the bottom of my bag) and I didn't bother to enquire about it. I also appreciated their trippy website.
BOB coffee lab is a small but buzzy semi-hole-in-the-wall. Coffee is taken very seriously here, with the founders being World Barista Champions or something. Try to nab one of the in-demand outdoor tables. Another entertaining website. Wacky web design must be some sort of inside joke in the București-coffee scene.
See image below. Need I say more?
Linea / Closer to the moon is perfection on balmy nights.
It was August when I visited and the weather was absolutely perfect for my liking. I am Australian granted, so I consider anything sub 34.2 °C to be merely "pleasant." I will therefore advise you draw your own conclusions.
Nonetheless, the best part were the balmy evenings - no jacket required. Day time wanderings were, I confess, fuelled by road-testing the many cool coffee shops, as mentioned above, in pursuit of the city's best iced coffee. But I digress...
Far and away, the best rooftop I visited was Linea / Closer to the moon. The sign at street level is at the back of a foyer in what appears to be an office building. Keep your eyes peeled to spot it. Then... keep going up. Up. Up. And up the staircase. No lift, guys and gals. The restaurant (one floor below the rooftop itself) is chic, but don't expect swift service. There are table tops and far away bar counters to wipe. Or don't come starving. Either one.
Bordering the city's large lake - Lacul Herăstrău - Il Locale was recommended by a Romanian friend. However, just my luck - it was being set up for an evening wedding. The didn't seem to understand that my invitation had been lost in the post. Language barriers, I tell you!
So instead I retraced my steps back to the nearby Casa Di David, about which I have mixed feelings. It was a great place to rest my blistered feet, it had comfy seats and the breeze's caress was very pleasant. On the other hand it was very expensive (I'm talking almost Mayfair prices) and harboured a sparse, interesting crowd, shall we say. Trophy women were pouting between cigarettes and the men were... well... it was understood why they were together. Good value people watching, though.
Anyway, two heads are better than one, so let me know if it's a thumbs up or down when you go and we can settle the question once and for all. Or we can just go back to Il Locale.
When I landed in Bucharest I took bus 783 from the airport in to the centre. When a young heartbreakingly blind man boarded the crowded vehicle, every single soul whipped to his aid. They gently shuffled him towards the nearest empty seat, which happened to be the seat next to me. An older man took charge, asking him (I presume) which stop he needed, and spent the rest of the journey highly attentive towards my new companion. I was so moved by this scene.
His stop announced, my companion snapped his collapsable white walking stick back together and half dozen palms stretched out to help him down off the bus. As we roared off, I saw a young woman who had been waiting at the bus stop step towards him to help, her head tilted in earnest to assist the disabled stranger.
I had not been in the country 30 minutes and my heart soared. This is precisely the reason why I always take public transport from the get-go in any country. You immediately become a participant in the true spirit of the people.
The main tourist destinations rarely feature on my to-do list when I visit a new country. As you might be able to tell, I'm all about food, drink and relaxing. The only exception I make is to seek out the country's contemporary art gallery.
The National Museum of Contemporary Art is within the same complex as the infamous old dictator's Palace. For Palace tours you have to call 24 hours in advance, and "keep calling until you get through." I gave up after five attempts.
Given the museum was located in the same complex, I doubted very much being able to rock up at the south side entrance and just waltz in. But you can - just don't be put off by the severe looking guard. Simply say "Museum" and he'll nod gruffly and point. Keep on a-walking.
It's worth it.
Exhibition of Sorin Neamțu at the National Museum of Contemporary Art
Dizainăr is the only independent boutique slash concept store that I would rate in the city. Check opening times, and once you find it - don't be afraid to rap on the locked and very closed looking door. A jovial man with good English came to unlock the door and I had the store to myself as we amiably chatted away. There's a mix of furniture, books, cards, jewellery, ceramics and homeware all made by artists and small businesses in the country. They're talented folk and this is NOT your standard trashy souvenir shop. Quite the opposite. Do seek it out.