The first thing you should know is that I love it here. I wasn’t expecting all of THIS.
We arrived just past midnight and the whole airport was alive and abuzz with people everywhere. I had pre-booked us a car service to the hotel (https://www.rideways.com/). This is a luxury I can’t afford in Los Angeles but here the roundtrip black Mercedes private car/driver experience was a grand total of $54 USD. Yes. That is $54 including both the ride from the airport to the hotel, and it also covers the roundtrip ride back to the airport on our day of departure. This is your first indication that Romania is an absolute bargain for travelers and it only gets better from here.
We got off the plane on the tarmac and took a bus to the airport. There we lined up for customs (the lady who helped me spoke perfect English) and then we made our way past the luggage carousels and through a crowded knot of folks waiting for their friends and family to get off the plane. I wasn’t expecting the whole midnight vibe of the airport to be a party, but welcome to Bucharest on a Friday!
We found an ATM in this area and took out some cash (400 Romanian Lei = about $27 USD) and then we found our driver, who was holding up his phone with my name printed out on the screen.
Our driver was breezily chatty and he threw in a lot of colorful commentary along with a quick drive around town to see the Parliamentary Building all lit up at night. I learned that he used to be a stuntman, that he thinks Steven Seagal is a great actor, he gave us a brief history lesson on why the Romanian President is German and he had a few choice words about the current politics of the United States (something I have discovered everyone EVERYWHERE has an opinion about!)
We arrived at our hotel and checked in with no problems. It’s the top picture of this post and one of the nicest hotels in Bucharest (Epoque Hotel, Intrarea Aurora 17C, București 010213). We got our room for a steal, about $240 for the whole trip (and that was with a room upgrade, too.) The room rate includes free wifi and a free breakfast spread of Scandinavian proportions.
I had done a little research before the trip (read: “checked Instagram” and “looked up the hotel on Google street view”) so I wasn’t totally shocked the next morning as we walked from the hotel to the old town and passed streets and sidewalks covered in graffiti. I thought maybe it was just our hotel’s neighborhood, but it’s all throughout the city. There’s something about this city that visually intoxicated me: it’s beautiful, it’s crumbling, it’s in a phase of growth and revitalization, and it’s full of (gothic, beautiful, decrepit) teardowns next to Soviet-era architecture next to glassy new buildings. The whole city is a juxtaposition of styles and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The vibe of the city is surprisingly safe (even if the streets sometimes look like they’d be sketchy as all get out.) Violent crime is low, homelessness is extremely low, and I regularly see more drug use and depressing human activity at the 7-11 in Studio City than I did anywhere in Bucharest. And another thing — this whole town feels like a place on the upswing, to quote the great philosophers Fat Joe and Remy Ma, this town is going ALL THE WAY UP. The economy is good, unemployment is extremely low, and the whole city is alive all night long with some of the best nightlife in all of Europe. It’s hard to believe that just 25 years ago or so they were living under the iron curtain of communism and blocked from the western world. Today, Romania is alive with an entrepreneurial vibe and the doors are wide open to tourists.
For the first few nights here I kept wondering to myself if I would feel safe here alone. Traveling as a single woman alone in a country is very different from walking around with a male companion. I’m not the bravest traveler, I definitely prioritize safety and comfort over adventure. So I am not sure I would have braved Bucharest on my own, and once we were here I definitely had my doubts about walking the dark, quiet, creepy-looking streets from the hotel to the old town. But after a few days I have revised my thinking.
If you are traveling alone and feel comfortable with some level of adventure this could be a wonderful destination for you. If I were solo I would stay much closer to the old town center and I probably wouldn’t be out walking at midnight like the Captain and I did, but it’s a beautiful, interesting city with a lot to offer (and at an incredible price!) Keep your wits about you as always and don’t get sloppy drunk out alone and I think you’d be fine. The real reason to travel here though is to get outside the city. Next up I’ll tell you all about our daytrip up to the Carpathian Mountains and to the castles of Transylvania. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before and it was worth the whole trip!