We are now in the midst of a freezing European winter, but if you are willing to venture out of the igloo, Romania’s capital Bucharest is an interesting, budget-friendly weekend destination. Bonus points if you live in Bulgaria, or have relocated somewhere else in Eastern Europe, and can just drive to Bucharest. As I entered the city one numbingly cold Monday morning, I had no idea that Bucharest was actually hiding some pretty cool places. If you want to know what you can stumble upon in Romania’s capital, or are planning a trip there, scroll down for some info. Enjoy! 🙂

What’s the Easiest Way to Get from Sofia to Bucharest?

Being based in Sofia, Bulgaria at the moment, this was the starting point for my trip. If you are also a resident of lovely Sofia, the fastest way to get to Bucharest is by car – 380 km through the town of Ruse, on the Danube River Delta.

Second-best is the bus. The ticket to Bucharest costs around 27 euros and you can buy it from the Flixbus app or website.

There is a daily train service as well, but it leaves Sofia at 9:00 AM and arrives in Bucharest at 7:00 PM, with a transfer in Ruse. Rumour has it it‘s not the most comfortable or reliable service, so I thought it best to avoid wasting a whole day on the train.

A one-way plane ticket from Sofia costs no less than 100 euros unless you use a budget airline with a layover, usually in Milan.

Since I was only going to spend a day in Bucharest, to catch my flight to Amman, Jordan the next morning, a night bus seemed like the most painless option. It leaves from Serdika Bus Station in Sofia and arrives at the Militari Bus Station in Bucharest. But that’s not all! During the ride of supposedly 7 hours (more like 10 in reality) you get to feel like you’ve entered an escape room that there is no escaping from.

Don’t Want to Turn into Human Jerky? Bring Your Own Water!

That night I realized how much I miss Colombian bus stations. At every single one I’ve been to, no matter how small or how deep in the middle of nowhere, there were always at least a few kiosks. Street vendors would sell candy, snacks, drinks, even fruit, bread, fish, and meat at all times. The Serdika Bus Station in Sofia at 11:00 PM was so dark and deserted, that it makes Colombian wilderness seem like Times Square. Don’t be fooled by the two vending machines that gave me false hope of getting a sip of water before the bus’s next stop (4 hours later). They are both tightly wrapped in chains and there is no place to buy water anywhere around. So if dying of thirst doesn’t seem like a titillating concept, better pack your own (reusable) bottle of water before you leave.

Ready…Get Set…Run to the Bus!

You can’t book seats on the bus to Bucharest. In retrospect, that explains why everyone ran like crazy to get on, the second the bus came to the station. I didn’t realize what was going on before I tried to find a seat, after taking my sweet time saying goodbye to my boyfriend at the terminal. The bus was packed, with one single aisle seat (of course) left at the very back. Who doesn’t love propping up their head on a bag all night? It’s awesome! If you happen to be some weirdo who likes to travel comfortably, I’d suggest you try to be one of the first to get on the bus.

But even then, don’t expect a luxury journey. The seats don’t recline at all and it’s so cold that most passengers spent the night wrapped up in their winter coats, scarfs, and hats. On the upside – the toilet works and is fairly clean, plus we didn’t have to get out of the bus at the border, in the middle of the night.

I can’t help but wonder what the train is like if the bus was the better option. If you’ve experienced it, please share in the comments below 🙂

Entering Bucharest

You know those moments when you’ve banged your head against the wall trying to decide what path to take, and then just wanted to hug yourself, when the decision turned out to be “right?” My flight to Amman, from Bucharest, was at 10:00 AM and I thought it might be best to arrive from Sofia the same day. It seemed that I would have enough time, as the bus was supposed to arrive in Bucharest around 6:00-7:00 AM. At the last moment though I decided to give myself an extra day and get to know Bucharest a bit.

Boy oh boy was I happy with myself! Entering Romania’s capital, we had to wait at the Prelungirea Ghencea traffic jam for nearly 3 hours, which would have definitely meant missing my flight. I am not sure if the traffic is this bad in other areas of Bucharest, or at other times of day, but in the morning it was pretty heavy, so be prepared to wait a while if you are coming by bus or car.

I was hoping that a full day in Bucharest would give me enough time to walk around, get lost on cobbled streets, and get a feel for the city. But the snowy, freezing, drab Monday morning I arrived on meant I had to be flexible with my plans.

Initially, I was hoping to join the Free Walking Tour – one of my favorite ways to explore a new city. However, the tour starts at 10:30 AM and by the time I got to the hostel it was already 10:20, so that plan went out the door. Besides, in the 5 minutes it took me to get from the subway station to the hostel, my fingers and toes had already gone numb from the cold, so walking around was a no go.

An old street vendor in Bucharest

What to Do in Winter Bucharest

I went down the TripAdvisor and CultureTrip rabbit hole, to try and figure out what one can do in Bucharest when the city is covered in ice and snow. As it was a Monday, most museums and galleries were closed, and I didn’t really feel like hanging out at restaurants and cafes by myself. The Parliament building has a few guided tours per day, which are supposedly pretty intriguing, but I was looking for something a bit more out-of-the-box.

If you’ve spent a bit of time staying in hostels, you’ve probably noticed how the magic happens right when you need it. As I was anxiously googling how to spend my day in Bucharest without falling prey to the winter, Jovani from Italy and Ana from Russia came over (as I am typing this I realize that these are the most stereotypical names ever for both countries but, coincidentally, they are not made up). They had met the previous day, but as it often happens in hostels, they were already best buds. Their invitation to join them to a gallery was music to my ears. Lately, art has been a must for me in every city, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Ana, Jovani, and I went to the Romanian Kitsch Gallery, which you shouldn’t miss if you like art and quirky, unexpected venues. Afterward, I found another gem of a gallery (Orizont) – set amidst a classic socialist interior, the exhibition was fabulously diverse. I also walked the cobbled streets of Bucharest, to figure out why it was once known as Little Paris. You can read about these spots, how to get there, and what you need to know about them here.

The kitsch gallery in Bucharest
Entering the Kitsch Gallery in Bucharest
Kitsch gallery, Bucharest
Wearing the exhibit at the Kitsch Gallery
The Orizont gallery in Bucharest, Romania
“Orizont” Gallery

The second part of my day in Bucharest was dedicated to the SPA & Wellness haven that is Therme Bucuresti. It’s a huge wellness center, right outside of Bucharest, with several mineral water pools, 6 saunas, and a stunning relax area in the form of an indoor palm forest. I’ve described the experience here. It wasn’t exactly perfect but still worth the trip. In the article, you’ll also find useful information and tips on the Therme Bucuresti.

Wellness paradise in Bucharest
The Therme wellness center in Bucharest

How to Get from the Center of Bucharest to the Airport by Bus

Every 15 minutes or so, the 783 bus line makes the trip from the center of Bucharest to the airport (length depends on time of day and traffic, I got to my early morning flight in about 40 minutes). The reception staff at my hostel assured me that I’d be able to purchase a ticket at the bus stop, but there were no vending machines or tickets booths in sight. No tickets are sold inside of the bus, but a fellow passenger pointed to a poster on the window. Supposedly, you can send a text message to (+40)7464 with the bus line number and that’s like buying a digital ticket. However, I got no confirmation for my purchase, so I spent the entire journey hoping that no ticket controller would come on the bus and make me miss my flight to Amman.

The Hostel

Pura Vida Hub Coworking and Hostel

At first, the view and the fact that this hostel is also a coworking space, got me really excited about the place, even though I had to lug my suitcase up 3 floors, as the elevator is permanently out of service. The people at reception were super sweet, and the advice they gave me on the city was fairly useful, apart from the bus to the airport hiccup. On the other hand, the common areas had zero heating. Not only was this horrible for the guests, some of whom lounged around in their full winter gear, but it also makes it difficult for the staff, who have to brave the cold during their 12-hour shifts.

Pura Vida Hostel, Bucharest

The so-called coworking area is useless, in spite of the beautiful view from its French windows, because your fingers just freeze on the keyboard. There is central heating in the building, but for some reason, management has decided to turn it off – an absurdity that can be resolved by installing a few electric heaters. To save money at the expense of your guest’s basic comforts is just unacceptable and I will make sure to leave them a thorough review on the topic.

Ultimately, in the short time I had, I managed to see enough of Bucharest to get a feel for the city. It’s a great spot for a weekend break, the locals are way nicer than in Transylvania, the prices and manners are similar to what you’d see in Bulgaria. So, if you are looking for some budget-friendly novelty, Bucharest seems to be an easy pick.

Have you been to Bucharest? It would be really awesome of you if you take a couple of minutes to share your experience and some advice on what I can do there next time I visit, in the comments below 🙂