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Bucharest with kids: your family travel guide (2024)

Bucharest with kids: your family travel guide (2024)

Romania’s capital, Bucharest, is not your typical European city break with kids. Before our visit, we knew very little about it except for a vague link to Dracula. So why did we visit Bucharest with kids? Well it was the cheapest place to fly to from Manchester (our nearest airport) for February half term, and that method of letting the flight prices choose where we go for half term holidays has always been successful in the past.

And bingo! It worked again!

Travel doesn’t always have to be bucket list experiences and ticking off big sights. More often than not for us, it’s just hanging out at a new destination with no agenda, and time to explore however we feel.

Our time in Bucharest was exactly that. We had four full days to soak in the history and flavours of this Eastern European capital, and whilst it lacks the big ticket sights of Paris or Rome, we absolutely loved hanging in this gritty city, filled to the brim with raw history.

Here we share from our personal experience the best things to do in Bucharest with kids, as well as where to stay, how to get around, and where to eat. So if you’re planning a family visit to Romania’s capital, we’ve got you covered to make the most of your time.

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Tips and things to note for families visiting Bucharest

  • Use Bolt to get around. This is an e-hailing app similar to Grab and Uber and getting around this way is so cheap. Plus we had super interesting chats with taxi drivers about communism, the war in neighbouring Ukraine, and modern day politics, which we just wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere.
  • Even though Romania is in the EU, they don’t use Euros. Instead, Lei is the currency and we were able to use bank cards absolutely everywhere.
  • People smoke inside restaurants and, even though there are separate non-smoking areas, obviously the smell of cigarettes drifts over. However, there is always lots of seating outside with heaters and blankets in the winter months.
  • You can get local beer for under £2 per pint in the Old Town and it is good!
  • Graffiti is everywhere and not in the funky, modern street art way seen in other European cities as a tourist attraction. Expect to see willies drawn all over playgrounds.

Things to do in Bucharest with kids

The below map shares the location of each recommended thing to to in Bucharest with kids:

1. Wander the Old Town

On the first morning of any European city break we wander around the Old Town. This helps us get a feel of a new city and helps get our bearings. Plus, kids’ attention span to historical buildings and architecture is always better towards the start of a visit, rather than the end.

The Old Town is compact and easy to get around on foot. You’ll probably want to return here in the evening to enjoy the lively restaurants and bars (no one batted an eyelid to us walking in with our two boys). Although do be warned, there are a few seedy nightclubs dotted around and there may be a very different atmosphere later in the evenings, although we were tucked up in bed at this time.

Don’t miss the hidden Macca-Vilacrosse Passage. This an impressive pedestrian passage between Calea Victoriei and Strada Eugeniu Carada. As well as Stavropoleos Monastery, one of the most beautiful churches in Bucharest. And in amongst the grand architecture, a grittier side of Bucharest is displayed with graffiti everywhere.

2. Palace of Parliament

If you have older kids, perhaps take a visit to the Palace of Parliament. Famously known as the heaviest building in the world, it’s certainly an impressive sight as you approach from the main road. Once inside, you have the option to take the guided tour (in different languages, the English one runs every couple of hours).

It’s not possible to tour the building independently, although you can wander around the lobby area and check out the art exhibition. If you’re going on the tour, adults will need to show their passports, and you have to book in advance (on the day was fine when we visited but if you’re set on taking the tour, consider booking online in advance).

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For our kids (aged 10 and 8), the tour of the palace didn’t seem too appealing as the focus is on large, grand rooms and their place in recent history. Whilst no doubt impressive, it’s likely to appeal more to adults and teenagers.

3. Cărturești Carusel Bookstore

Whilst exploring the Old Town, do make a special stop in at the Cărturești Carusel Bookstore. This is a beautiful bookstore over four floors and there’s even a good children’s English book section, if you want to treat the kids. There is also a small selection of toys and games.

4. Cișmigiu Gardens

After the hustle and bustle of the Old Town, it’s a good idea to head over to Cișmigiu Gardens. This is a perfect green oasis in the Romanian capital and just a short walk from the Old Town. In the winter there is ice-skating, in the summer you can rent boats, and there are lots of little kiosks selling food and drink.

It’s apparently beautiful in the summer. However, for our very off-season February half-term visit, the lake was drained, the ice-skating rink was being dismantled, and none of the kiosks were open.

Nevertheless, it’s a lovely, airy space to let the kids run wild, and there is a fantastic playground here too. Our boys spent a good hour playing here, and us parents were more than a little gutted the kiosk selling local beer was closed.

5. Pasajul Victoria – Bucharest’s Umbrella Street

It’s worth a little detour from the Old Town centre to the Instagrammable Pasajul Victoria (Bucharest’s Umbrella Street). Here, colourful umbrellas create a shelter through this otherwise non-descript passageway where you will also find a restaurant and bar.

If your kids love woodfired pizza, the pizzas here at Trattoria Colosseum are excellent. Bookings are advised on weekends and school holidays. There is a non-smoking section inside the restaurant, but as with most restaurants in Bucharest, the smell of cigarettes in omnipresent, and annoyingly, smokers get the best tables next to the window for people-watching.

6. Go wild at Therme Bucharest

A city break in Bucharest with kids doesn’t have to be all about sightseeing; if you fancy a change of pace, head over to Therme Bucharest, the waterpark and spa complex to the north of the city.

The site is split into three separate areas (Galaxy, The Palm, and Elysium) although only Galaxy is open to children under 14. The Palm and Elysium comprise of wellness and wellbeing areas, spas and saunas, which are great for adults but not applicable if you’re travelling with kids.

By contrast, Galaxy is a fun-filled area aimed squarely at kids (and adults) with multiple slides, pools and play areas, although note that some of the slides are restricted either by age or height. It’s a full-on, busy visit here (choose between 3 hours, 4.5 hours, or one day), and if you visit during the school holidays or weekends it gets very, very busy with long, disorganised queues and a severe lack of places to sit. The kids will enjoy it but bring some patience if you’re visiting at a busy time.

It’s not the best waterpark we’ve ever visited by a long stretch, but for a break from the city and to earn brownie-points with the kids, it’s a recommended day trip.

It’s easiest to take a Bolt from the city (about 45 – 60 mins depending on traffic), although the 442 bus from the city (Piața Presei) also runs to Therme.

7. Enjoy the rides at Children’s Town (Orășelul Copiilor)

As we approached the entrance to Children’s Town, a permanent fairground to the the south of the city, we were unsure if it was open. None of the rides were moving and there were very few people around. But we walked up to the large Ferris wheel and noticed that there was indeed someone in the little kiosk selling tickets. We bought four tickets, boarded the Ferris Wheel, and enjoyed a private ride for 7 minutes with superb views over the city!

There is no entrance fee to Children’s Town. Instead you pay individually for each ride (10-20 RON per person. Plus, it’s open all year round!

As well as the Ferris wheel, there is a rollercoaster, bumper cars, a floating swan lake, a magic castle, a swinging pirate ship, a miniature train that goes around the park, and much more. And dotted around the array of rides are many kiosks selling snacks and drinks, several restaurants and free public toilets.

Whilst the rides offered aren’t anything special or different from your standard fairground, it was such a novelty visiting a place like this with no queues whatsoever, and for this reason alone we loved it.

8. Herastrau Park and Village Museum

Bucharest is blessed with one of the largest city parks in Europe, Herastrau Park, set around the glorious lake of the same name. With the large number of activities hugging the lake shore, this is the perfect place to come on a sunny day and take a stroll. If you visit on a Sunday, you’ll notice the locals have the same idea, and this is when the area is at its busiest.

The Village Museum is a quirky outdoor, large-scale museum, displaying the architecture, building techniques, and way of life Romanians followed over the centuries. Each of the buildings, windmills and machinery have been dismantled at various sites around the country, shipped to the capital, and then re-assembled at the park!

Whilst the novelty of seeing the wooden buildings wanes during the visit, it provides a good opportunity to get a feel for how Romania looked (and still looks in places) out in the provinces. Unfortunately, most of the buildings are locked, but you can peer in through the windows and see the furniture and decorations. It’s over quite a large site, so allow an hour or so for your visit.

After the Village Museum, depart via the exit near the Arcul de Triumf and enter the park itself. The wide tree-lined avenues make for easy and pleasant walking, you’ll pass a few snack stalls if you get hungry or need a drink. Keep an eye out for the Michael Jackson memorial, something we weren’t expecting!

The Japanese Garden was no doubt beautiful when it was built but it’s now badly neglected and a shadow of what it was. It still makes for an interesting, if slightly depressing, ten minute stroll. Elsewhere in the park you can rent boats on the lake (during the summer), rent bikes, or enjoy a meal in one of the restaurants lining the lake.

Towards the northern end of the park, there’s a small fairground called Miramagica which has a few simple rides for 10 Lei each (buy a card first then add credit). It’s not Disneyworld, but gave our kids a fun few minutes before we exited via the north-eastern gate and hailed a Bolt ride.

9. Museum of Senses at AFI Cotroceni Mall

Get ready to be confused and perplexed at the Museum of Senses, a small museum in the AFI Cotroceni Mall where not everything is as it seems.

The scene is set as soon as you enter the museum, with a mirror maze to navigate, certainly a clever approach to crowd control. The effect of walls and corridors changing around you is brilliant, just make sure you keep your hands out to avoid a bruised forehead (you’re thoughtfully provided with plastic gloves to avoid smearing the mirrors).

Split into several rooms, our kids enjoyed exploring the optical illusions and interactive displays, the highlight being a nail bed and revolving tunnel. Adults will love it too; it’s a non-stop tour of the senses, although can get crowded if you coincide with a tour group.

Free lockers are available at the start, which are worth utilising because you don’t want to be weighed down with coats and bags during your visit.

The museum is located in the AFI Cotroceni Mall, which is worth some of your time in itself. There’s the usual array of shops, restaurants, and a cinema but perhaps the highlight is the play area at the food court, complete with slide, climbing area and even an ice-rink.

A couple of extra options for a rainy day in Bucharest with kids

Our February half-term family visit to Bucharest coincided with some gorgeous, sunny weather, so we spent much of our time outdoors. However, if you are in need of a couple more rainy day activities in Bucharest in addition to Therme and AFI Cotroceni Mall, we recommend visiting House of Experiments (Romanian Science Center) and/or Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History.

How to get around Bucharest with kids

When we travel to a European city as a family of four, we’re increasingly finding that public transport doesn’t work out for us. With the cost of four tickets, navigating route maps and interchanges, being dropped off a long walk away from the final destination, and the risk of cancellations, it doesn’t feel like a decent option.

Instead, we’ve become full-time users of e-hailing apps, especially in cheaper European cities, and the best one in Bucharest is Bolt. If you’re looking to get around Bucharest with kids, this is the easiest option, with fixed fares, GPS tracking, driver ratings, and the option to pay by credit card or cash. For most journeys, the price is very similar to buying four public transport tickets.

However, if you would prefer to use public transport, Bucharest is well-served, with buses, metro, trams and trolleybuses. Check out this site to get all the latest information on fares, timetables, and routes.

Alternatively, how about exploring Bucharest on a bike? We did look into this, but there are no discounts for kids, and for a family of four the cost adds up. Maybe something for next time.

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How long should you spend in Bucharest?

We spent four full days exploring Bucharest with kids, and this felt like enough time. If we were to stay any longer, we would probably look at doing a day trip out of the city, or renting a car and exploring further. Check out this guide for How to get from Bucharest to Translyvania.

For many families, a day or two is probably enough (you will need a full day to visit the waterpark at Therme). However, we’re always ones to prefer slow family travel, and allowing ourselves time to see how each day unfolds and time to just hang out at a restaurant playing cards, or a lazy morning at the hotel with a late breakfast. Indeed, both our boys mentioned on this trip that they were pleased they weren’t packing their travel backpacks each morning to move onto a different location.

Our four day Bucharest itinerary looked something like this:

  • DAY 1: Day exploring the Old Town, including Cișmigiu Gardens, with pool time back at the hotel before heading back out to dinner.
  • DAY 2: Walked to the Palace of Parliament via a playground, Children’s Town, Museum of Senses at AFI Cotroceni Mall
  • DAY 3: Therme and evening meal along Umbrella Street
  • DAY 4: Herastrau Park to visit Village Museum, enjoy a walk around the lake, and Miramagica.

Where to stay in Bucharest with kids

We stayed at Novotel Bucharest City Centre for 5 nights over February half term. This a striking building in a great location in the city. You’re only a short walk from the Old Town, and the hotel feels vibrant and fresh.

Novotel Bucharest City Centre review

A fantastic buffet breakfast is served every morning until 10:30am (which is handy with the two hour time difference from the UK) and the onsite bar and restaurant are good places to hang out and have some food or drink.

There’s also a small pool, which is a bonus and a handy option if you need some time away from city sightseeing and for the kids to play. We managed to time our pool visit so that we were the only ones there!

Our room was clean and welcoming, with a panoramic view of the city from the ninth floor. We felt it was a few square metres smaller than usual for a family room, and the sofa bed wouldn’t suit light sleepers, or kids who wanted their own bed. However, there are larger rooms available if you pay for the upgrade, which we recommend as worthwhile.

Where to eat in Bucharest with kids (or rather where not to eat)

Caru’ cu Bere is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Bucharest and so many followers on both Instagram and Facebook recommended it to us. Advanced booking is absolutely necessary, and days in advance. However, we were really disappointed with the experience.

There’s no denying that the setting is stunning with stained-glassed windows and ornate woodwork, but it’s become quite the tourist attraction and the service is absolutely appalling. The food came out extremely quickly from the rather surly staff and the quality far from matched the price tag, yet we tried for over thirty minutes to order drinks. In the end we gave up, and after a further twenty minutes wait for the bill, we had to beg someone to let us pay so we could leave the premises.

So our advice is to not eat at Caru’ cu Bere. Instead, pop in during the day for a drink, and take a pack of cards with you if you want to stay for more than the one drink.

Alternatively, there is a plethora of dining options along the main streets of the Old Town where the service is much better. All restaurants are rather meat-heavy, with little in the way of vegetarian options, but do not worry, vegetarians won’t go hungry. Our boys loved the local sausages and especially loved papanasi (a heavy doughnut desert that’s often covered with strawberry jam and berries or chocolate sauce).

We did find the smoking inside the restaurants to be pretty gross. There are always non-smoking areas inside, but the waft of cigarette smoke is omnipresent. Where possible, we chose to sit outside under heaters and blankets, and some restaurants even had little bubbles to sit in, which the boys absolutely loved.

Best time to visit Bucharest

Underneath all the grit and graffiti, Bucharest is a beautiful city which offers something throughout the year, but the weather can be cold from November through to early March. The summers never get too hot in this part of Eastern Europe, but the city will be busier with tourists and you’ll find hotels and activities are more expensive.

The best time to visit is really in either spring (April and May) or autumn (September or October), when the temperature is still warm (12-18 degrees) but less tourists are visiting. Particularly in the spring, the city becomes more colourful as the flowers start to bloom, and the lighter evenings make for the perfect conditions to stroll around the city and take in the sights.

However, we loved February half-term for the smaller crowds and although the parks lacked their spring colours, the sunshine and blue skies more than made up for it.

Final thoughts on visiting Bucharest with kids

Bucharest isn’t your typical family city break and it’s not for everyone. But for us it was gritty and fascinating, plus the blue skies and sunshine were very much appreciated. It’s a good idea to choose a hotel in the centre, like the Novotel Bucharest City Centre, as you’ll never be far from the action.

The mixture of architecture and history is of interest to kids and adults alike; there’s an interesting building around every corner in the city centre. The Old Town is perfect for family strolls and you’ll never be short of places to eat or to grab a cheap glass of beer.

Finally, we’d suggest downloading the Bolt app before you arrive, it makes moving around both the city and surrounding areas so much easier, freeing up time to visit this beautiful city.

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