His gums duly numbed with painkiller, Michael reclined in the cushioned chair as the dentist loomed overhead with a whirring drill in her hand. Michael was about to start dental implant surgery to replace a broken tooth, a fairly standard procedure, except he was in a dental clinic in Bucharest, Romania. How did we end up there?

The short answer: affordable dental implants.

Dental implant cost: A mystery in the U.S.

Two years ago, we practically had to scrape Michael off the floor when he learned he needed a dental implant that would cost approximately $6,000. We’d gotten crowns and had root canals in the past, but never anything that rivaled the price of a decent used car. The high cost prompted us to explore less-expensive options. This endeavor proved to be more difficult than we expected.

It’s not easy to find published prices from most U.S. dentists. The U.S. practices we found advertising “discount” implants priced only the implant itself; they didn’t include the extensive prep work, including removal of the broken tooth and often the need for a bone graft, in the total cost.

 

Dental tourism Bucharest Romania intelident, affordable dental implants

We recalled that during a visit to Bucharest a few months earlier, we had noticed many billboards — in English — advertising dental services. Upon further investigation, we learned that Romania is a popular destination for European dental patients; the quality is top-notch, and  the prices are very low. Would we actually consider dental work outside the U.S.?

According to Patients Beyond Borders, a guide and website for medical tourists,  more than 150 million Americans lack dental insurance and are increasingly seeking dental work abroad. Currently, the majority of Americans traveling outside the country to see  dentists venture to Mexico from the border states of Texas, Arizona, and California.

“Dental tourism has been going on for more than two decades,” said Amid Ismail, dean of Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry.

Ismail had no statistical data — good or bad — regarding U.S. patients who had work done overseas. From our research, we learned it’s important to perform your own due diligence on any overseas provider.

“There is quality dental care everywhere, but the range is wider overseas, so you must be careful who you choose,” Ismail said. “Cheap care is most often not equivalent to good care.”

Affordable dental implants in Romania

Which left us still pondering the value — and risks — of using a dental clinic in Bucharest, Romania. We knew from our previous visit that English is commonly spoken in the capital city, so communication wouldn’t be an issue.

As part of our research, we contacted the U.S. office of Romania Tourism. The website addressed dental tourism and provided links to several dentists. Romanian law requires dental clinics to post their prices prominently — something we wish American practices would do.

We homed in on one dental clinic in Bucharest, Intelident, for several reasons. Its website was in English and provided detailed information about the education and work experience of the dentists. The clinic also posts prices online, which made our research easier. In addition, it is part of a network that provides dental services to U.S. employees of American companies (such as Citi and Oracle) that maintain offices in Bucharest.

affordable dental implants romaniaMost importantly, we liked that Intelident used top-notch materials. We were determined to get a standard of care similar to that of the U.S. or Western Europe; there was no reason to consider dental tourism otherwise. We had heard anecdotes of people getting “cheap dental implants” in Eastern Europe, but details about the materials (and potentially the dental clinics) were sketchy. We wouldn’t seek out some back-alley practice back home; we sure as heck weren’t going to go that route in Romania.

We communicated extensively with the manager of the practice by email and clarified prices and approximate timelines. Unlike the U.S., where many dentists price the procedure in total, pricing in Romania is more of an a la carte model. Therefore, it’s important to understand exactly what is required for your complete procedure; a front implant cost may be different than a back tooth, for example, or you might need to factor in tooth extraction. (All cost comparisons here are as “apples to apples” as possible.)

The total cost to install Intelident’s most expensive titanium implant, made by highly regarded Swiss manufacturer Straumann, was approximately $1,500, including a replacement crown;  1/4 the cost of the same procedure in the U.S.

Now that we knew we could obtain affordable dental implants in Bucharest, was a saving of $4,500 enough for us to fly to Romania? Perhaps not. But what if we considered additional work?

We both had several metal-based crowns that were nearing the end of their useful lives; the replacement cost of a nonmetal zirconium crown in the U.S. was estimated at $1,400. The cost in Romania for a similiar crown would be only $350; root canals were similarly priced. If we got a significant amount of preventive work done, the trip would be worth it.

The Procedure

Our first appointments entailed a general examination, including a review of new X-rays. The dentists then prepared a complete treatment plan for each of us. Michael focused on getting his new implant, and  Larissa addressed replacing her old crowns, some of which required root canals. We were given specific pricing upfront. They even said we should defer some work they didn’t feel was necessary, so we never felt “up-sold.”

Dental tourism romania bucharest intelidentX-rays are taken in another office, about a mile away, saving the dentist the investment in equipment that is not often used. The excellent prices ($18 for a full set of digital X-ray bite wings, $6 for a single tooth) at the state-of-the-art imaging facility offset the slight inconvenience of an extra errand for the patient.

Throughout all our work, the Romanian dentists used sterilized equipment and sealed products that they opened in front of us.

For Michael’s implant, his dentist even shared the packaging materials to demonstrate their authenticity. Straumann implants come with a unique serial number, and Michael was able to verify his through the company’s website. Tomas Konrad, a Straumann representative, agreed that best practices include sharing the package with the patient.

A verification document with details about the implant also ensured that Michael could have follow-up work performed by any dentist around the world trained to use Straumann implants — which includes the dental clinic at Temple University.

“That’s a good [standardization] model,” Dr. Ismail said.

The result

To date, there have been no complications with the dental work we had done. Three months later we were back in the US where Michael had the work reviewed by an American dentist, who was impressed with the high quality level.

In the end, we saved more than $18,000 by seeking work outside the U.S. Of course, travel expenses must be deducted from that amount, which is a different variable for everyone.

Visit Romania: Travel considerations

By European and American standards, Bucharest is an inexpensive city. We found a fully furnished apartment in the heart of downtown on Airbnb for $850/month. (For more information on places to stay, please see our detailed guide to lodging in Bucharest.) The dentist’s office was within walking distance, so there was no need for a car. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Bucharest, but Delta’s SkyTeam alliance offers several connections through European gateways. We flew from New York to Bucharest via Amsterdam.

Dental Tourism considerations: Do Your Research

Dental tourism is not right for everyone, but with the increasing costs of dental procedures in the U.S., it’s an option worth considering if you are facing extensive work. The ideal candidate is someone without comprehensive dental insurance who has an open mind and time to travel abroad.

If you choose to explore this option, it’s essential to do your research. Consider the following:

  • Education: Where did the dentist study? How good is the school? Has he or she done specialty training abroad?
  • Experience: On how many patients has he or she performed this procedure? What’s the success rate? According to the Journal of Dental Research, success rates for most implant procedures are 90 percent to 95 percent; be wary of  dentists who  say they have a 100 percent success rate.
  • References: Ask for names of patients, and contact them  about their experience.
  • Pricing: Be sure to ask for all costs related to the procedure, including X-rays and any prep work.

Even with satisfactory answers to these questions, there are still risks involved. If there is a problem with the work, the burden of extra costs falls to you. We acknowledged that if there were any problems, we’d have to take care of them in the U.S.

“Health tourism in a global economy is a reality of life, but we prefer that patients stay in their home country for continuity and follow up care,” said Ismail.

Prospective patients also need to verify the timing of their procedure to determine how long they will be overseas. One or two weeks are usually needed for a crown; an implant might require two separate short visits. Michael had already had his tooth removed in the U.S., which allowed several months for the bone to grow back before having the implant procedure performed in Romania.

We planned a month for our work in Bucharest, which also gave us plenty of time to explore the city and surrounding area. Overall, our experience as dental tourists was pleasant, and we will consider having work done here again. Plus we miss the Romanian pastries!

If you’ve got further questions about dental tourism, please click the “contact” tab at the top of the page. We’re not dental care experts, but we’re happy to share more about our particular experiences.

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Dental Tourism Romania, Affordable dental implants

 

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We have spent more than 5 months in Bucharest during multiple visits in the past two years and love the city. Read on for our recommendations for the best hotels in Bucharest, Romania (plus apartments) in all price ranges. If you’re planning a trip, where to stay in Bucharest will depend on how long you’re planning to visit and which Bucharest attractions you’d like to see. Keep and eye out for Field-Tested Travel Tips sprinkled throughout–these are our personal recommendations based on our travels in Bucharest.

Hotels in Bucharest Romania|City hotel Bucharest|Capitol Hotel Bucharest

Where to Stay in Bucharest: Best Neighborhoods

Already know the area where you want to stay? Use these links for quick access to reviews of Bucharest hotels in each neighborhood:

  1. Bucharest Old Town Hotels & Apartments
  2. The Cultural District (along Calea Victorei)
  3. Palace of the Parliament Area
  4. Piata Universitatii-East (Including the Jewish Quarter)
  5. Dorobanti/Primavera Neighborhoods
  6. Bucharest Airport Hotels (Baneasa/Otopeni neighborhoods)

Before you choose your Bucharest accommodation, it’s important to understand the way the city is laid out. Many hotels and apartments will describe themselves in a particular sector. The 6 sectors are shaped sort of like wedges of a pie radiating outward. Old Town is at the point  all the sectors meet in the center (see below). The sectors extend to a ring road on the outskirts of the city.

Map illustrating the geographic sectors in Bucharest, overlaid with neighborhoods. (Map designed by Bogdan Giuşcă in XaraX, used by Creative Commons; it was enhanced with landmarks/neighborhoods by me ☺️)

These sectors are great for giving you an idea of whether you’re north/south/east/west of the city center. But they’re not particularly helpful when choosing your accommodation. Bucharest is a big city; you might select a hotel in the same sector as the sights you want to see. Then upon arrival you to discover you’re staying out near the ring road several kilometers away. Oops.

Rather than use the city Sectors, we’ve used Bucharest attractions as a guide and grouped lodging around popular landmarks. This will help you determine which are the best hotels in Bucharest for those sights and activities of interest to you.

The center point from where the Sectors radiate is very near to Old Town. Most of the Bucharest attractions of interest to visitors will be north of this.

Accommodation in Bucharest: Excellent value

No matter what your budget or preference in accommodation, Bucharest has plenty of options. Bucharest accommodation runs the gamut from 5-star luxury, to cheap hotels, to apartments. Romania is a good value for travelers from Western Europe and North America. You can “upgrade” your lodging standards while here.

Even if you don’t normally opt for a luxury hotel, Bucharest is the place to consider a splurge without busting your budget. With some advance planning, you can find a major 5-star hotel in Bucharest for under $200 per night. That’s virtually unheard-of in most European capitals. If your tastes run more toward a boutique hotel, Bucharest has plenty to offer in in that category.

For more budget-minded travelers, there are an abundance of midrange and cheap hotels in Bucharest city centre. Even if your lodging preference is for a hostel, Bucharest has them, but we suggest considering a hotel or studio apartment. It’s easy to find a simple hotel with a private bath for what you might pay for a hostel in other European cities.

Bucharest apartments for travelers are plentiful, and available throughout the city. They are a great alternative if you’re planning to stay for a week or more, or if you’re looking for a family option.

A note about pricing: whether searching for an apartment or hotel, central Bucharest offers an excellent value. That said, prices can fluctuate based on availability. For the purposes of this guide we have used US dollars and grouped accommodations into four general categories:

  • $$$$:  $150 and higher
  • $$$:    $100-150
  • $$       $  60-100
  • $          under $60

All price categories are based on double occupancy and include a private bath, unless noted otherwise.

 Best Hotels in Bucharest: Old Town

Best for: Sidewalk cafes, Bars, Nightlife

Old Town is very near the geographic center of Bucharest. It’s a cluster of narrow, mostly cobblestoned streets open only to pedestrians. The neighborhood has a few beautiful old churches and the remains of a medieval estate. But the majority of the streets are lined with restaurants, bars and cafes that are wedged in side by side, with seats spilling onto the street. It’s arguably the core of Bucharest nightlife. If you love being in the center of the action, this is the spot for you.

Hotels in Bucharest Old Town are tucked in amidst all of this. Keep in mind that you might have to walk a few cobblestoned blocks to reach the entrance of your lodging.

The Mansion Boutique Hotel: $$$-$$$$ Chic & Swanky

Mansion Boutique Hotel Bucharest|Best hotels in Bucharest Romania

Repurposed from an elegant 19th century home, the Mansion Boutique Hotel is one of the newest additions to bustling Old Town. A cleverly designed atrium brightens up the interior, and all of the 19 rooms in this 100% smoke-free property are uniquely decorated. Field-Tested Travel Tip: rooms at the back, facing the atrium, are quieter. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Europa Royale Bucharest: $$$ Traditional & Central

Best hotels in Bucharest Romania| Europa Royale Hotel Bucharest

The Europa Royale is a classic European hotel, 100% smoke-free with 92 updated traditional rooms at the southern edge of Old Town (which means taxis can get you close to the front door). Outward-facing rooms on the upper floors have sweeping views over nearby Unirii Square park; request an atrium room facing the interior garden for a quieter stay. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Tania-Frankfurt Hotel: $$ Comfort & Value

Best hotels in Bucharest Romania|Tania-Frankfurt Hotel

This small (17-room) hotel is perched on a pedestrian corner right in the thick of Old Town. Rooms are comfortably furnished, with a few singles offering excellent value for solo travelers; 100% smoke-free interior. Breakfast is included in the room rate. Field-Tested Travel Tip: Check out the 3rd-floor outdoor lounge, where you can watch all the Old Town bustle from high above. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Apartments in Bucharest Old Town

CityLife Suite: $$$$ (Sleeps 6)

This Bucharest Apartment at the edge of the Old Town boasts 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms, making it an excellent option for a family or several couples traveling together. It has a central living area, along with modern kitchen and big dining table. Field-Tested Travel Tip: a large Carrefour supermarket is about 2 blocks away. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Antic Apartments: $-$$

Best hotels Bucharest Romania

These 10 newly renovated (2017) apartments occupy the 4th-6th floor of a building right in the center of Old Town. Sizes range from studios with basic kitchenette facilities to 1- & 2-bedroom apartments. They are furnished in a simple, comfortable style, with modern bathrooms. Field-Tested Travel Tip: check out Carturesti bookstore around the corner, which is in a beautifully renovated old theatre building. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Cultural District

Best for: Art Museums, Concerts, Revolution Square

Many of Bucharest’s cultural museums, concert venues and beautiful Belle Epoque buildings are located in this neighborhood. Calea Victorei, one of the city’s main north/south streets, is the common thread that unites them all. This area is slightly north of Old Town, and houses the majority of 5-star hotels in Bucharest (although there are some moderate options as well.) If you choose this area for your city hotel, Bucharest and most of its main attractions will be within walking distance. Stay in this area if you like the sophisticated ambiance of a European capital.

A centerpiece of the neighborhood is the Athanaeum, a magnificent old concert hall that is one of the prettiest buildings in Europe. Field Tested Travel Tip: attend a performance at the Athanaeum to experience this magnificent building as it was intended. With its pocket park and nearby genteel sidewalk cafes, this is the area that earned Bucharest the nickname “Little Paris.”

Field-Tested Travel Tip: Check multiple dates around your intended travel time. Hotels here offer excellent deals on non-busy dates. A recent search yielded prices as low as ~$135/night for 5 star hotels. Bucharest is truly a rarity for affordable luxury hotels in a European capital.

Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest: $$$-$$$$ Grand & Traditional

Best hotels Bucharest Romania

Cited by many as the Grande Dame of Bucharest hotels, the Athenee Palace Hilton occupies pride of place adjacent to the Athenaeum. It has been welcoming guests since 1914. Despite an exterior renovation in the 1930s to give it a more updated Art Deco look, the interior retains its Belle Epoque elegance. There are 272 rooms (some in a more modern wing), and all the amenities you’d expect from a 5-star hotel. Field-Tested Travel Tip: Try French Revolution pastry shop just up the street. They specialize in eclairs in a variety of flavors that are tres magnifique! Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Radisson Blu Bucharest: $$$-$$$$ Sleek & Contemporary

Best Hotels in Bucharest Romania|Radisson Blu Bucharest

The Radisson Bucharest is a large (487 rooms) hotel. It’s Bucharest’s “Rich Playboy Nephew” when compared to the historic Hilton across the street. The atrium lobby bar/cafe, with its cool under-floor water feature, is often abuzz with activity and looks out onto the swanky pool area. The adjacent casino is a magnet for young bucks looking to strut their stuff. Field-Tested Travel Tip™: Caffé Cittá, the restaurant just off the lobby, serves up some of the best pizza in Bucharest (our fave is the Pizza Cittá, with prosciutto and arugula). Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Grand Hotel Continental: $$$-$$$$ Regal & Understated

Everything about the Grand Hotel Continental Bucharest oozes Old World elegance. The Belle Epoque architecture, stately entrance courtyard and gilded furnishings are reminiscent of 19th-century Paris or Vienna. With only 59 rooms, guests have the feeling they are staying at the country chateau of a rich relative, rather than a hotel. An excellent option if you like luxury in a calm, understated atmosphere. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Mercure Bucharest City Center: $$-$$$ Edgy & Subtle

Best Hotels in Bucharest Romania|Mercure City Centre Bucharest

The 114 rooms at the Mercure Bucharest City Center are decorated in a modern, edgy style with nice amenities and great rainfall showers. This 100% smoke free hotel is a great choice for someone who wants a central location, but on a quiet side street, about 1 block from the Athenaeum. Field-Tested Travel Tip: check out m60, one of our fave Bucharest cafes, just around the corner. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Hotel Capitol: $$ Traditional & Comfortable

Hotels in Bucharest Romania|City hotel Bucharest|Capitol Hotel Bucharest

The Hotel Capitol Bucharest is a pleasant 3-star hotel in a wonderful old building that is an excellent value. Located right on Calea Victorei midway between the cultural attractions and Old Town, the Capitol Hotel is a super convenient. The hotel’s 80 rooms were renovated in 2014 and are comfortably furnished. Field-Tested Travel Tip: the hotel restaurant serves an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch on weekdays. Each day features a different cuisine from Eastern & Central Europe, along with live music. The quality is excellent, and at €5.50, it’s one of the best values in town. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Hotel Amzei: $$ Boutique & Discreet

Housed in a former early 20th-century residence, the Amzei Hotel has the feel of a country house hotel tucked into central Bucharest. The 22 rooms are elegant without being stuffy, and the public rooms off the simple reception area are a nice spot to rest and read up on the nearby sights. The location is a pocket residential area and fairly quiet. Field-Tested Travel Tip: an excellent bakery with a simple walk-up window is just outside the hotel entrance. Be sure to try the polonez cu nuca, a pretzel-shaped walnut danish that’s the best we’ve ever tasted. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Bucharest Apartments, Cultural District 

Coming Soon!

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Parliament Area

Best for: Visiting Palace of the Parliament, Attending Conferences

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest|Best hotels Bucharest Romania

Palace of the Parliament is hard to miss. The massive structure dominates the neighborhood southeast of Old Town. Despite its name, only part of the building is used for government purposes. The complex also houses a contemporary art museum and a large exposition hall for conventions. With huge surrounding grounds, there’s not much of a conventional “neighborhood,” and lodging choices are limited. However, if you have business with the government, or are attending a conference here, this is the best area to stay.

JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel: $$$-$$$$ Stately & Palatial

Best hotels in Bucharest Romania

With 402 rooms, several restaurants, a pool, spa, casino and shopping arcade of exclusive boutiques the 100% smoke-free JW Marriott Bucharest is practically a resort! Its location directly behind the Parliament complex makes it convenient for conferences there. Field Tested Travel Tip: this hotel is a bit of a walk to Old Town & the Cultural District, so plan to use taxis (which are plentiful and cheap in Bucharest). Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Piata Universitatii-East

Best for: Proximity to Sights, Local Neighborhoods

Best hotels Bucharest Romania

Piata Universitatii is the main traffic circle north of Old Town with a metro stop on the main north/south line. It is one of the busiest intersections in Bucharest (so busy that pedestrians must use an underground passageway). Hotels east of the Piata are also walking distance to Old Town and the Cultural District, but a bit farther away. This added distance provides some quiet neighborhoods and affordable options. Stay here if you are looking for good value and don’t mind walking a bit.

Hotel Intercontinental Bucharest: $$$$ Classic & Omnipresent

This hotel is hard to miss–at 24 stories high, it’s one of the tallest buildings in central Bucharest. Perched right at the Universitatii intersection, it offers excellent access to most major Bucharest attractions. Despite its wonky 1970s exterior, the interior is hushed and genteel, with rooms befitting this luxury brand. Field-Tested Travel Tip: check out the rooftop health club for spectacular views of the city. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Boutique Hotel Monaco: $$ Comfy & Quiet

Best hotels Bucharest Romania|Hotel Boutique Monaco

If you are seeking a city hotel in Bucharest that’s a bit removed from the hustle and bustle, the Boutique Hotel Monaco is a good choice. The hotel is set on a leafy side street across from the Hungarian Embassy, in a renovated Belle-Epoque style building. The mansard roof and the neo-19th-century French decor in the super-comfy rooms will have you feeling like you’re in a Parisian arrondissement. Field Tested Travel Tip: surf the internet al fresco at nearby Gradina Icoanei Park–the city of Bucharest provides free WiFi in all public parks. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Flower’s B&B: $ Cozy & Affordable

Best Hotels Bucharest Romania

Flower’s is a traditional B&B in a converted early 20th-century home on a quiet street southeast of Universitatii. Rooms are folksy, clean and comfortable. Breakfast is available in the walled garden in warm weather. Field-tested travel tip: there is ample street parking adjacent to the hotel, making it a good choice for departing/returning from a road trip to the Romanian countryside. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Apartments in Universitatii-East

Coming Soon!

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Dorobanti/Primavera

Best for: Parks, Outdoor Museums, Embassies

The neighborhoods of Dorobanti and Primavera are arguably Bucharest’s “gold coast.” Located at the northern end of central Bucharest, the leafy streets are filled with pretty homes and many embassies. Herestrul Park (the city’s largest) is nearby, as are both the Peasant and Village museums. Because of the residential atmosphere, hotels are located on the periphery; there are more options for apartments on the residential streets. Stay here if  you like a quieter location with a bit of greenery.

Sheraton Hotel Bucharest: $$$-$$$$ Classic & Modern

A classic big-city hotel, the Sheraton Hotel Bucharest is a good option if you’re seeking a full compliment of amenities and hotel services with well-known standards. Its location just off the bustling Piata Romana provides easy access to Old Town via the metro. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Hotel Christina: $$$ Stylish & Eco-Friendly

A member of the Bucharest boutique hotel scene, Hotel Christina is tucked away on a quiet street north of Piata Romana in an area with chic apartments and private homes. The smoke-free interior boasts some unique design features with clever lighting and eco-friendly materials. Field-Tested Travel Tip: For a taste of local cuisine, try the traditional Romanian communal dinner offered in the hotel restaurant every Monday night. Check hotel rates and availability on Booking.com.

Apartments in Dorobanti/Primavera

Coming Soon!

Best Bucharest Airport Hotels (Baneasa/Otopeni)

Best for: Airport, American Embassy

Bucharest city center is fairly close to its airport. As a result, there aren’t many hotels near Bucharest airport (Henri Coanada International). However, if you have an early flight, there are a few good options. The American Embassy is located on a compound in the Baneasa neighborhood just south of the Airport. If you are doing business with the Embassy, this area might be a good choice for a hotel.

Vienna House Easy Angelo Bucharest: $$$ Contemporary & Convenient

Yes, it’s an unusual name. But that doesn’t take away from from the modern, well-fitted rooms and convenient amenities at this hotel, Bucharest Airport’s nearest lodging. The hotel has conference facilities and is popular for business meetings, so be sure to book ahead if you have an early flight. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Best Western Plus Hotel Briston: $$ Classic & Reliable

Traditional airport hotel with comfortable rooms and good service with a smoke-free interior. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

 

Note: If you found this information useful, please consider booking your hotel through one of the links provided above. We receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep things humming here at Changes in Longitude, while providing valuable travel tips free to our readers 😊.

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Best hotels Bucharest Romania|hotel Bucharest Airport|luxury hotel Bucharest

 

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Sometime I select destinations just to see very tall buildings, which has gotten us to places as far flung as Dubai, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. But in Bucharest, Romania we met up with a unique one: the world’s heaviest building. You read that right. It’s not the world’s largest or tallest but the world’s heaviest building. I’m not even sure how one calculates a building’s weight but there you have it. Don’t just take my word on it, even the good folks at Guinness World Records have declared the Palace of the Parliament the world’s heaviest building. (BTW, it’s also, after the Pentagon, the world’s second largest government building.)

World's heaviest building Bucharest

During the 1980s dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu decided Romania should have a massive world-class building to reflect the country’s might during his rule.

Worlds heaviest building Romania

He razed about 1/6th of the city to build this monument to himself. Unfortunately, a major portion of the old city was demolished to make way for the development.

Palace of the people interior Bucharest Romania

Designed by 28-year-old architect Anca Petrescu, it is known as the Palace of the Parliament and houses the seat of Romanian government. The building holds over one thousand rooms (over half of which is empty) and is made of all Romanian materials. There are an additional eight floors which are underground. In addition to government offices, it now also hosts the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Ceaușescu never saw the building completed. He was executed on Christmas day, 1989, after a bloody, but relatively quick, revolution.

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest

We also visited the neighborhood where the communist party apparatchiks lived. As is usually the case, their homes were much nicer than the common folk. We stood outside Ceaușescu’s former home, which was surprisingly modest, and learned that if we had been standing on that same spot 30 years earlier we would have been arrested and executed. Times have certainly changed for the better in Bucharest.

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest exterior side view

Considering the dark times the city endured, it was one of our favorite places to visit. Bucharest offers diverse architecture and sights along with a unique culture that we enjoy. For digital nomads like us it also has the fastest Internet in Europe; even taxis are WiFi hotspots and the driver will give you a WiFi code to use during your ride. This is particularly helpful on the ride in from the airport if your mobile phone has not yet synced with the local network.

Bucharest Palace of Parliament night

We’re your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Transfagarasan Highway signBrakes? Check. Map? Check. No fear? Check.  We were about to drive on the  Transfăgărășan Highway, made legendary by the BBC program Top Gear as one of the world’s great road trips. The winding, twisting road carries intrepid drivers over the Carpathian  Mountains back to Bucharest from Transylvania. Picture what a plate of spaghetti thrown against a wall looks like and you’ll have a good idea of this tribute to automotive spunk.

The road was built in the early 1970s under the command of former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, apparently as a monument to himself. Beginning in alpine forests it looks like it was designed by an engineer with a severe chip on his shoulder before reaches a bucolic alpine meadow.

drive on the Transfagarasan Highway

Although the road is only 56 miles long it boasts dozens of hairpin turns and switchbacks (we lost count) that resemble a giant alimentary canal. Drivers soon note that guardrails are few and far between as the Transfagarasan climbs to its peak of almost 6,700 feet to reach the pristine glacial waters of Bâlea Lake.

Transfagarasan Highway curve

Fortunately as the driver I got to sit near the centerline during our drive on the Transfagarasan Highway, while Larissa had to stare out the window at the yawning chasms beyond the road’s shoulder.

People sitting on guardrail on Transfagarasan Highway

At this overlook that offers the best photo op (notice the road twisting off into the distance) people like to get out and stretch their legs. We met this nice group of Romanian retirees who were out for a Sunday drive.

Vidraru Dam Transfagarasan Highway

Vidraru Dam Romania

On the down stretch towards Bucharest one of the highlights is driving across the 540-foot-high Vidraru dam, one of the tallest in Europe.

Statue of Electricity Transfagarasan Highway

A shiny metal statue of Prometheus wielding a lighting bolt rises to the skies above the dam. Also known as the “Statue of Electricity,” it’s a remembrance of an era of massive industrial projects in the communist country.

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The Transfăgărășan can cause a few testy moments between the driver and the passenger, who sits on the outer edge staring down into the abyss. But it was better for me to drive because as Larissa will tell you, I make a lousy passenger.

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You never know what you’ll come across during a drive on the Transfagarasan Highway. The photo above is of a random German motorcyclist giving us a thumbs up as he drives by with an inflatable doll strapped to the back of his bike. Oh those crazy Germans.

Transfagarasan Highway

After arriving safely in Bucharest we treated ourselves to some tasty Romanian pastries.

Pin it!Romania's Transfagarasan Highway is a must-drive for road trip lovers!

Information for a drive on the Transfagarasan Highway

Location: When driving north start out in the town of Curtea de Arges, about 100 miles northwest of Bucharest via route E81. If you’re taking the road south like we did start your journey in Cartisoara, south of route E68

Open: The Transfagarasan Highway is usually closed from late October through May due to snow. For a full description and tips for this road trip go to drive the Transfagarasan Highway.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We recently enjoyed a week in Bucharest, a city that pleasantly surprised us. While the Romanian capital is not among the first cities people think of when visiting Europe, we found it quite charming and extremely affordable. Initially we looked for enough activities to spend a week in Bucharest but ended up enjoying it so much we extended the stay.

Military Academy in Bucharest

Romania provides an authentic European travel experience at low prices that we haven’t enjoyed in decades. Part of that value is due to the strong dollar but part of it is also the fact that central and eastern Europe still provides many bargains. Those who treasure their old copies of Europe on $25 a Day would feel right at home here.

Bucharest park bench

During the late 19th century Bucharest was known as “Little Paris” and in certain sections, despite decades of an authoritarian regime that razed parts of the city, it actually does feel like Paris of times gone by, with a bit of Middle Eastern influences sprinkled in.

Bucharest School of Architecture

Avenues are lined with ornate domed buildings. Cafes with wicker chairs and tables sprout from wide sidewalks on sunny days while bakeries selling Turkish-style breads populate virtually every block.

Covrigul pretzel Bucharest

Don’t miss the covrigi (sunflower and poppy seed studded pretzels); in keeping with Romania’s good tourist value they sell for only 25 cents.

National Museum of Old Maps and Books Bucharest

Try to decipher Romania’s long and complicated history at the National Museum of Old Maps and Books; located in an old mansion at 39 Strada Londra in a quiet leafy neighborhood. Atlases and maps from the 16th through 20th centuries demonstrate graphically how the size and borders of Romania have transformed over the years as competing empires claimed parts of the strategically located country and also influenced its architecture, food and culture.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest 2

Bucharest’s orchestra hall, the circa-1880s French-designed Romanian Athenaeum, is an outstanding example of neoclassical architecture that is also a tribute to philosophy and culture. Names of great minds are chiseled in stone at the base of its dome: Moliere, Beethoven and others, along with our fair city of Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest

The best way to view the Athenaeum is during a concert. During our visit to Bucharest the biennial George Enescu Festival was taking place. While enjoying a chamber orchestra concert we were able to appreciate the interiors many murals making up the “Great Fresco”: 25 scenes related to Romanian history that ring the circular auditorium.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest

A few blocks away the Old Town section of Bucharest offers a pedestrian-friendly area of cobblestoned streets full of boutiques, restaurants and bars. The neighborhood is not yet inundated with the weekend party-seekers that have turned other cities’ historic sections into interchangeable outposts of faux Irish pubs and chain restaurants.

Old Town Bucharest

The funky Left Bank atmosphere attracts primarily locals—unlike similar neighborhoods in Prague or Paris where English and German speakers dominate—Romanian is the language most often overheard. As the city sees increased international tourism in the next few years this vibe may disappear, but for now it still feels like visiting “Old World” Europe.

Four decades of communist rule left an indelible mark on the city, yet Bucharest is assimilating that part of its past into the capitalist present. It is impossible to miss the Parliament Building, a brooding hulk of marble perched imposingly on a hill at the western end tip of Bulevardul Unirii (Reunification Boulevard).

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest

Ceaușescu’s massive monument to the glory of the party (and himself) was still unfinished at the time of his overthrow in 1989. It now is famous as the “world’s heaviest building.”  Unfinished at the time of Ceaușescu’s death, Romania’s central government now occupies it.

Venture two blocks from the Athenaeum to Revolution Square (formerly Palace Square) to witness the site of Ceaușescu’s downfall. In December 1989 Ceaușescu delivered his final speech from the balcony of the building fronting the square that housed the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. Encouraged by the fall of the Berlin Wall, change was coming quickly to Romania. During the speech the crowd turned on the dictator, leading to protests that were met by government gunfire into the square. The resulting revolution was brief but bloody: over 1,000 civilians killed and a fleeing Ceaușescu and his wife executed within days.

Revolution Square Bucharest Romania

Today the space is peaceful with the pylon of the Memorial of Rebirth honoring the fallen piercing the sky. Rotating art exhibits fill the square while the Royal Palace across the street is now the National Museum of Art of Romania featuring Romanian artists along with Old Masters like El Greco, Rembrandt and Rubens.

Ateneuli Park, a small wooded space sandwiched between the Athenaeum and Revolution Square, is a perfect spot for an impromptu dessert picnic of a salted caramel éclair from the nearby French Revolution bakery. Like the fresco in the Athenaeum’s rotunda, Bucharest has come full-circle and “Little Paris,” with a few 21st-century twists, has returned.

For a tasty look at Romania check out our story on Romanian pastries.

 Visitor Information for a week in Bucharest:

  • There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Bucharest, however there are airline alliance connections through many European gateway cities.
  • The unit of currency is the leu (plural lei, pronounced “lay”). The exchange rate is around 4 lei to $1.00.
  • The language is Romanian, although most Romanians in Bucharest speak at least some English. Romanian has its roots in Latin; anyone familiar with French, Spanish or Italian will notice similarities.
  • Bucharest in Your Pocket is a free online guide that offers helpful, up-to-date tourist information http://www.inyourpocket.com/bucharest.
  • Our top travel guides for visiting Bucharest.

The lovely city of Bucharest, Romania offers plenty to see during a week-long visit

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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(Note: As of March 16, 2016 a new law went into effect in Romania banning smoking in public places. We visited the country later in the year and found almost 100% compliance with the ban. Dining (indoors) in Romania is now a smokefree experience.)

We really enjoyed our time in Bucharest and the beautiful Romanian countryside. One of the things we did not enjoy is the lack of non smoking restaurants in Bucharest and all over Romania. It is one of the few remaining European countries that still allows smoking in restaurants and public places. One travel expert about Romania even refers to it as Europe’s smoking section and suggests, in a perverse sort of way, that they use that distinction to attract more tourists who smoke.

According to the official Romanian tourism web site:

“It sometimes looks like almost every adult in Romania smokes. Unfortunately, some of those who do smoke have little regard of non-smokers’ comfort. The Romanian Government recently approved legislation that bans smoking in every public place but as in many countries in Eastern Europe some smokers might ignore smoking ban.”

While I appreciate their honesty, I wish they would just enforce the rules to reflect that a majority of their citizens do not smoke.

With all the smoke in the air, we were reminded of when we first visited Europe in the 1980s. However, we found a few leading edge non smoking restaurants in Bucharest which we share below.

Non Smoking Guide to Bucharest

Pin it!A guide to finding smoke-free restaurants in Romania's capital city of Bucharest

Non smoking restaurants in Bucharest

Caciula lui Guguta Romanian pastry

La Placinte – A Romanian mini-chain that specializes in the foods of the Moldovan region. The setting is attractive and the meals are affordable and delicious. Since they also have locations in other cities, we were actually working our way through their menu during our Romanian road trip. Our favorite location was at Bd. Gheorghe Magheru Nr. 26 near the Old Town. The dessert pictured above is Caciula lui Guguta. Various locations.

Carousel Bookstore Bucharest

Carturesti Carusel (Carousel Bookstore– This multi-storied bookshop is located in an elegant 19th-century building. The first several floors are devoted to books but the sunlight streaming top floor houses the wonderful Bistro Carusel. The menu focuses on light meals as well as hot beverages and fresh-squeezed juices. It’s conveniently located right in the popular Old Town. Strada Lipscani 55

non smoking restaurants in bucharest

Tucano Coffee – Located at the edge of the Old Town, this coffee bar offers excellent South American coffees and North American desserts like Oreo cheesecake and brownies. There are also smoothies, milk shakes, alcoholic drinks and teas. For a light snack try a salad or panini. Notice the table above? No ashtrays, a rarity in Bucharest. Strada Lipscani 79 A second location is near Pizza Romana at Calea Dorobanților Nr. 18

Beca’s Kitchen – Per Trip Advisor this is the #2 restaurant in all of Bucharest and came highly recommended by everyone we know who’s been to the city. The menu is limited at this small place to ensure the freshest ingredients and preparation. Mihai Eminescu 80, Sector 2

Origo Coffee Shop Bucharest – Coffee, tea, ice cream drinks, alcohol drinks, fresh fruit juices and a few cakes make up the limited menu at this place with a slick atmosphere a few blocks west of the Old Town. Strada Lipscani,  9

And if you’re really desperate to find a smokefree establishment in Bucharest you can always count on chains like Starbucks and McDonalds. 

Non-smoking hotel in Bucharest

flowers b and B Bucharest

Flower’s B and B Bucharest –  Tucked away in a neighborhood a five minute walk east of Old Town, this comfortable small hotel offers clean rooms in a quiet setting. Cold and hot breakfast included. The rooms also boast a rarity in Europe, window screens so you can let in fresh air without also inviting in the bugs. We stayed there our last night in Bucharest and would return. Strada Plantelor Nr. 2

Airbnb in Romania – Airbnb is also a good option when looking for smoke free lodging in Romania. We stayed for a week in a smoke free Airbnb apartment in Bucharest near the Old Town. It was actually hard to find one because Romania is one of the few countries we’ve visited where many of the Airbnb properties allow smoking.

Please add below in the comments section any smoke free places in Bucharest we should add to this list.

In our smoke free dining in Romania we did enjoy a variety of sweet treats like the dessert pictured above. Here’s our guide to Romanian pastries.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

When we arrived in Romania much of what we knew about the country was its role as an elusive nation behind the Iron Curtain during our childhood. What we found surprised us. A vibrant nation with a beautiful countryside that is rapidly putting the past behind it. Another surprise, the 3rd fastest Internet in the world and by far the fastest we have seen in our travels to over 70 countries. But as usual we start with food and having a sweet tooth, we soon found ourselves tasting Romanian pastries on a daily basis.

Romanian papanasi

Papanași (papanosh) are little tater tot sized donuts (or bigger at some places) topped with sour cream and cherry jam. It’s the first donut treat I’ve met (and I’ve met many) that you eat with a spoon.

Romanian pastries

Carpathian Mountain Cream Cake with sour cherry jam at the Fronius Residence, a 16th-century inn located in the walled medieval village of Sighisoara.

PastryinRomania (1)Caciula lui Guguta is a pile of rolled up pancakes stuffed with wild cherries and topped with vanilla whipped cream and grated chocolate. Despite the fact that Larissa ordered something else she ended up eating half of my dessert. We found this version at La Placinte, a mini-chain of restaurants with several locations in Bucharest and a few other Romanian towns.

Bucharest pastry layer cake

According to the menu this is “Honey sponge cake impregnated with creamy nuts and sour cream.”  Something may have been lost in translation but I did feel stuffed and like I had eaten for two afterwards.

romanian pastry rulada swiss roll

I think these are actually Swiss Rolls (the Yodels of my youth) but they sound more exotic as “rulada.” How can vanilla cake twirled around chocolate icing then rolled in nuts be bad?

*** Hungry now? Check Amazon for Romanian cookbooks ***

And now for something completely different . . .

I haven’t yet mentioned what an incredible travel value Romania is. Here’s an example. The delicious meal below of spicy goulash, Romanian potatoes and sauteed carrots in the posh Restaurant Transilvania in Brasov was $4.50. Most of the pastries above were about $3.

Romanian goulash

 

Brasov4Cardinals

The breakfast above was included with our $58 per night room (including tax) at the high-end 4 Cardinal’s Hotel in Brasov. We found Romania to be a great place for food and to stretch a European travel budget. In future posts we’ll talk about surprising Bucharest and the medieval villages we visited on our road trip through the Transylvania section of Romania.

Please let us know if you have any questions about travel to Romania.

*** Hungry now? Check Amazon for Romanian cookbooks ***
We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.