Bucharest’s new Old City
About 100m west of the church is the imposing National History Museum, a good rainy day option, particularly for fans of the Roman Empire. Inside is a giant replica of the 2nd-century Trajan’s Column (the original stands in Rome), which was built to honour the emperor who once conquered the territory of modern Romania and subjugated the ancient Dacian tribe, from whom Romanians trace their origins. Indeed the name “Romania” was adopted to recognise this historic connection to Rome.
Emperor Trajan also gets star billing on the museum’s steps in the form of arguably the most eye-catching modern statue of a Roman emperor ever conceived. Here, a dour Trajan is depicted stark naked while holding a curiously rigid wolf in his arms. Go ahead and photograph the statue to your heart’s content; in its short history of just more than a year, it has become the most Instagrammed icon in all of Bucharest.
Food and fun
In addition to the history and the sights, the Old City full of food and drink. If you are looking for good Romanian cuisine, try Caru’ cu Bere, a 19th-century beer house located near the Stavropoleos Church, for signature dishes such as sarmalute cu mamaliga (stuffed cabbage leaves served with a side of polenta). Do not be put off by the peasant-frocked hostesses who erupt into seemingly spontaneous can-can numbers on some nights; the classic cuisine is the best around. Be sure to make a booking for dinner.
Turkish and Middle Eastern food is all the rage in Bucharest right now and one of the liveliest spaces to sample enormous kebabs and plates of hummus and baba ganoush is Divan, where waiters in traditional Ottoman garb dazzle the crowds. Try to time your arrival for just outside the traditional meal hour (say 5 pm or 6 pm) to grab a rare free table on the terrace.
There is no end to the cafes, bars and clubs in the Old City. Str Smârdan is the epicentre of the action, but any street will have numerous options for a caffeinated pit stop or something stronger. Atelier Mecanic (Str Covaci 12, Tel 0726-767-611) is more laid-back than most, with an artsy crowd that comes for the unique junk-shop decor as well as great coffee, single malt scotches and a mellow DJ most evenings.
For clubs, it is a fool’s errand to choose one over dozens of others. The Old City Bar on central Str Lipscani was one of the first in the area and remains one of the best. On most nights, especially on weekends, you will find throngs of beautiful people sipping colourful cocktails through long straws, while dance beats pulsate in the background.