Two things are guaranteed to get my attention: free and highly rated. When I discovered a walking tour of the historic part of downtown Bucharest, Romania, I signed us up.
I chose my time carefully. We were arriving on a flight from Paris in mid-afternoon. I didn’t know how long it would take to get from the airport to our hotel, and how long it would take us to settle in, so it made sense to commit to something that wouldn’t cost us if we decided we were too tired. Also, the end of the tour was a minute’s walk from our hotel (although the starting point was about a half hour away), so we wouldn’t have far to go at the end of a long day.
The tour lived up to its billing. Our guide was a young woman who spoke excellent English and seemed to genuinely enjoy showing us her city. She took us to some historic sites (the archeological excavation of Vlad Dracul’s Bucharest residence for example), some religious sites (there were a number of churches on the tour) some interesting and historic restaurants (we ate at one the next day) some cultural sites (museums and arts locations) and of course some political sites (we saw buildings with bullet holes from the 1989 revolution). The whole thing took us about two-and-half hours. At the end I felt we had a good understanding of Bucharest, both in terms of its history and also in what we as tourists should make our priority in the few days we would have in the city.
Of course not much in this world is really free. The minimum month wage in Romania comes about to about $300 Canadian. We were told rent for a small apartment in Bucharest would be about $450 monthly. You can do the math – if you have a minimum wage job and want to eat you need something else to augment your income. The guides for the walking tour are local people who love what they do, but I am sure they derive a fair percentage of their income from tourist tips. Given the state of the local economy a little tip goes a long way. A modest tip multiplies quickly with 20 people in the group – the hourly rate for the work is probably quite nice even by Canadian standards. I only see morning and afternoon tours listed this month, but we took one that started at 6:30 p.m. and ended just at dusk – I guess that doesn’t work in Winter.
There are other guided historical walks in Bucharest (and similar ones in other cities of course) besides the one we took, which means on our next visit there will still be more to discover.