The capital city of Romania is a spectacular sight to see. I’ve loved visiting, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. But some things about Bucharest make me think it wouldn’t be the best place for me to live.
Bucharest is really fun and interesting. I would consider it one of the more exotic cities and cultures I’ve ever encountered. It’s a little bit unlike anything I’ve ever seen. But it’s definitely a city where I would feel out of place, if not unwanted, if I lived here. People don’t really look happy, friendly, or helpful. I don’t see many people walking their dogs outside, which I think reflects a lot on a city. What kind of city doesn’t have a lot of dog lovers?
And the city center, though adorable to walk through, is almost empty during the day. Tons of restaurants line the streets but no one is there. And it’s because people only come out at night. The nightlife is really intense in Bucharest in a way I dislike. It reminds me a little bit of Bratislava which is a ghost town before 3 pm because everyone stumbled home drunk at 5 am, except that Bucharest is fancier. Around 11, there are cute hostesses trying to entice people to go to their loud neon-drenched club. And there are dozens of them. They’re all a little bit over the top and everyone is dressed to the nines.
Part of me suspects that at least a few of these places are a front for a prostitution ring based on the clientele (a bunch of bros and high-class hookers). That being said, there’s some great restaurants and bars to visit, that I would probably frequent often if I lived here, like 1974 Niste Domni Si Fiii, a “punk” bar with a cozy atmosphere and cheap drinks. However, you should be aware that their idea of punk is Blink 182 and The Offspring.
Socially, Romania is also a place that isn’t LGBT friendly. Though there are some legal protections, it’s still a deeply homophobic country. So even though Bucharest is a big, bustling city, there is absolutely no gay scene. And if you walked down the street holding hands with a same sex partner, you might get dirty looks or even some verbal abuse. I can definitely tone down any homosexual tendencies for a couple of days, but I couldn’t live in a place where I felt uncomfortable being affectionate with my girlfriend in public.
I’ve read a lot about Romanians being really underhanded with tourists, though I’ve experienced none of that myself. No one has been rude, and some people have certainly been friendly. But having visited some other places in Romania, people are definitely less friendly in Bucharest. Aside from being a little bit harsh, apparently they can be a bit hot-tempered. We saw two guys almost go at it on a relatively quiet Thursday night. As different as Czech culture is from mine and as cold as the Czechs can be, I’ve managed to make Czech friends in Prague, who are warm and lovely people. But something tells me that living in Bucharest would be far more isolating.
Though many parts of the city look like you might have accidentally ended up on the wrong side of the tracks, it doesn’t feel particularly unsafe. The driving is a little bit aggressive, so both as a car passenger or a pedestrian, this can be a little intimidating. But areas that can be particularly dodgy in some cities, like Metro stations, are perfectly safe. That being said, I’ve heard that unless you have a Romanian friend or guide, it’s best not to travel into certain parts of the city.
And there is a lot of security and police around, even in fast food restaurants. Not sure if that’s an indication of how unsafe the city can be. But something about the police makes me feel like they can’t be trusted. Like they might cite you for something fake just to extort money out of you. One afternoon in the Airbnb, we heard them knock on every door in the apartment building, so we stayed quiet and didn’t open the door. I would definitely try to avoid any run-ins with the police here. It doesn’t seem like they would be very sympathetic to foreigners.
One of the other striking things is that they recommend you not drink the water because it’s known to have some strands of E. coli. I hate buying bottled water for the house. I find it wasteful. So I wouldn’t love to live somewhere I couldn’t drink the tap water in my own home.
With actually just one mediocre exception, the food in Bucharest is stellar. Romanian cuisine is on the heavy side, with a lot of meat, potatoes, and cabbage. It sounds similar to the food in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, but is cooked and seasoned in a way that makes it stand out. One of the dishes had fried pork chunks which took me back the masitas de puerco of my Cuban upbringing.
Bucharest also seems to have a lot of Mediterranean food. We had some of the best Greek food I’ve had since I was in Greece. We also tried a burger from a steampunk-themed restaurant and cocktail bar that was amazing. Despite being desolate for the majority of the day, a lot of Old Town restaurants are nicely decorated or themed. And their drinks are just as hearty as their meals. Bucharest is a great place for strong drinks that don’t cost a lot.
Speaking of cost… Bucharest is definitely one of the cheapest places I’ve ever visited in Europe. “Expensive restaurants” will run you about $10-12 a plate. But for the most part, a proper meal or alcoholic drink will be around $5-6. Transportation is also very affordable. The city has a Metro, tram, and buses, which are relatively easy to use. Though frankly, the part you’d visit is mostly walkable. Not sure how I’d feel if I had to live in a concrete block outside of city center. Bucharest also has Uber and another popular app called Taxify which can give you a ride for just a few dollars. Even a ride to the airport costs less than $7. Mind you, it takes half an hour to get there from city center, so $7 is a steal.
Total Livability Score 4/10
Visiting has been fun, culturally unique, and really beautiful. But living here seems like it would be a drag.