I bet you immediately think of London. Or maybe Paris. Or possibly Rome.
Maybe your mind drifts to Amsterdam, or perhaps Vienna or Prague or Dubrovnik.
But Bucharest? I bet your mind never wandered there.
Mine hadn’t either. Until I was in the midst of planning some travels around Europe this May and June, and stumbled across Experience Bucharest. Described as an event to bring together 100 travel bloggers and influencers and show them the best of Romania’s capital, Experience Bucharest immediately intrigued me — though perhaps not entirely for the right reasons. (What? Did I just make a Bachelor reference? Moving on…)
As Wanderful’s Brand Relationships Manager, I am always keen for opportunities to present Wanderful to members of the travel industry, be them bloggers, influencers, brands, or organizations. After all, Wanderful is many things — we are a homesharing network, an online community, a collection of chapters, an influencer network, an influencer for women travelers, and more.
So, when Wanderful was selected to be a part of this brand-new event, I gleefully packed up my business cards, thrilled for the opportunity to showcase Wanderful and network with members of the travel industry.
And yet, I didn’t really put much thought into Bucharest itself. That — that right there — was actually the whole idea behind Experience Bucharest.
The brainchild of Tudor and Anda Maxim, owners of the Pura Vida hostel collection and leaders of Bucharest’s Travel Massive, Experience Bucharest was born out of a desire from local businesses to bring more people to Bucharest. According to Tudor, many people only regard Bucharest as a city of transit — to connect to Transylvania, famed for its Dracula legend, or transferring through Eastern Europe south to Turkey.
Without much government buyin, a collection of local businesses — from hotels to restaurants to tour operators — worked to bring influencers to this city in hopes of changing people’s perceptions of Bucharest and driving more visitors to the city.
And what an incredible job they did.
From dining at fine restaurants to riding motorcycles through the city at dusk, the attendees of Experience Bucharest were introduced to a very underrated city.
But let’s be honest: seeing a place with 99 other travel influencers is not going to be everyone’s typical Bucharest experience. That’s why I stuck around town for another six days after the event — to explore this city on my own and determine whether I would recommend it as a destination for Wanderful members.
The verdict? Abso-fucking-lutely.
What I found in Bucharest as a solo woman traveler is exactly what I would look for in any solo destination: I like to wander the streets with my headphones on, without fear of danger or cat-calling; I like to pop into cafes that line unique streets for a coffee or glass of vino; I like to have the opportunity to meet other locals and travelers; and I like to learn what makes a city special.
Oh, how I found this and so much more in Bucharest.
Have I rendered you intrigued? Allow me to explain just a few of the reasons why Bucharest is the perfect destination for a solo jaunt or a weekend girl’s trip.
1. It’s easy to get around.
My first few days in Bucharest, I’ll admit: I just couldn’t get my bearings. I arrived in the city after midnight and my first tour took me on a bit of a roundabout route around the city. However, once I took a biking tour a couple days later, I was finally able to figure out where I was in relation to everything else — and realized just how walkable (and bike-able) this place truly is, especially in and around the Old City, one of the most charming (and popular) parts of Bucharest.
But don’t feel like walking (or walking after dark)? Uber is alive and well in Bucharest (as is another app, Taxify, that I tried out with a free code and worked just as well).
Thanks to the late nights of Experience Bucarest (read: Bucharest has amazing nightlife, if that’s your thing), I found myself rushing out the door a few mornings, so I grabbed an Uber from my hotel (the beautiful Athenee Palace Hilton Hotel — HIGHLY recommend for couples or groups of girlfriends wanting a upscale stay) instead of walking 17 minutes to our conference’s morning meeting points. Each time, the car came to no more than $2.92 Canadian (that’s around $2 USD — so, yeah).
There’s also an active Metro and streetcar scene here, which, if I had had more time in the city, I absolutely would have tried out. It certainly helps that most people in the city center speak English and are very willing to help with offering directions and suggestions on where to go.
2. It feels so safe.
Of course, at Wanderful we always impress on solo woman travelers to have their WITS about them (pun maybe a little intended), no matter where they are in the world. (Hey, one time a friend of mine had her iPhone taken out of her pocket at a mall in Toronto, one of the safer cities in North America — so it can happen anywhere.)
That being said, I never once felt unsafe or even unsure about my surroundings during my time in Bucharest.
This is one of the number one reasons I wanted to experience this city on my own for awhile — it’s easy to feel safe in a group, not so easy when you’re alone. But in Bucharest? It actually is that easy.
I walked around alone both during the day and at night (side note: I did wear headphones during my walks during the day, though not at night, as I would never recommend that). Only one time (that’s right — one time) did I think anyone was calling out to me in any way, but I quickly realized the man in question was actually just asking if I wanted my photo taken in front of the street art I was photographing.
I also usually never recommend that solo women travelers go out on their own at night, but in Bucharest, most of the popular bars are right in the old city, an area packed with tourists and groups of friends — and it feels remarkably safe to walk around during all hours. While I never actually went out by myself — I met up with people from Experience Bucharest or girls I met in my hostel — I did walk home through the Old City by myself several times, and would have felt comfortable popping in for a nightcap at one of the many thriving bars and restaurants.
After the conference, I stayed at the Pura Vida Sky Bar Hostel in the heart of the Old City, which made walking home at night especially convenient — and during the day, there was never a thought in my mind strolling around the cobblestoned streets of the Old City or venturing further afield to see some of the city’s most iconic sites.
3. There’s something for everyone.
The main thing that stuck out to me in Bucharest was just how much variety there is here for a solo traveler or for groups of women.
Yes, nightlife is a huge part of social life in Bucharest, but the place’s real charm comes on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when the outdoor cafes lining the cobbled streets of the Old City are packed with locals and visitors alike enjoying a glass of Romanian wine, or when families and couples walk hand-in-hand through the expansive green spaces of Cișmigiu Park and Herăstrău Park.
In Bucharest, you can find all the little charms that make a weekend city break so special — and there is also so much to learn.
Although there are plenty of museums in Bucharest that tell its rich and varied history, there are also free walking tours on offer that will literally walk you past places like Revolution Square, where communist leader Ceaușescu was overthrown in 1989. I also took the half-day Communist Walking Tour to dive deeper into this history, one I knew very little about — and it provided me with a great lens with which to experience the city for the rest of my visit.
But Bucharest isn’t called the city of contrasts for nothing, something that was particularly apparent to me during a specially-organized tour with Open Doors Travel to learn more about Roma culture in Bucharest. This tour was developed in partnership with the NGO Asociatia Impreuna and provided a very real and honest look at some of the tensions that exist within Bucharest.
This was one of the most interesting activities I did during my entire time in Bucharest, and what made me love this city even more: even though Bucharest is filled with beautiful green spaces, world-class restaurants, great shopping, spas, and everything in between, it also has a gritty side. A side of abandoned buildings, graffiti, street art, and past (and present) revolutions and tension.
Yet instead of brushing over these aspects, the people of Bucharest embrace them, and use them as an opportunity to showcase a city that is not perfect, but that is growing — and is ready to take on a new era.
Bucharest may not come to your mind when you think of your next European city break, either solo or with your girlfriends — but it should. I have no doubt that it’s on the brink of something amazing.