It would be easy to say that Bucharest’s Botanical Garden is one of the city’s great, overlooked sights: a bit like the Bellu Cemetery. Yet while it doesn’t usually top the list of casual visitors to Bucharest, for locals it is one of the city’s most popular attractions: to call it overlooked would therefore be wrong.
Attracted by its relatively central location, easy parking on surrounding streets, cheap entrance fee and – most of all – by the fabulous greenhouses, the garden is a gorgeous place and is packed on weekends. It’s not without its problems though: more of those later. For starters, let’s concentrate on what we like about the place.
Entrance costs 5 lei for adults, 2 lei for concessions, while the under-sevens get in for free. An extra one leu buys you a map: few attractions in Bucharest (and no museums) offer maps (imagine if the Village Museum published a map of its houses…)
From the main entrance most people head straight towards the greenhouses, for they keep short hours.
Most of the greenhouses have been renovated (or even entirely rebuilt) over the past couple of years, and they look better than ever. They get gradually hotter as you move around them, and the plants within them increasingly weird and exotic. Captioning is good: the origins of each plant are given in almost all cases, and the whole experience of walking through the greenhouse complex is at once pleasant and fascinating. Kids (if ours are anything to go by) will find plenty to keep them occupied, not least the cacti and the rather impressive collection of venus fly traps.
The rest of the Botanical Garden is a vast expanse of various flora, from micro-forests to flower gardens, some more impressive than others, but all with merit. The plants are divided into their geographical areas of origin, be it Romania or further afield: there is a section devoted to the Carpathian mountains, another to Dobrogea, another to the Mediterranean. Captions and display boards are excellent throughout (some are even in English as well as Romanian). Look out for squirrels, and worry not about dogs: we explored more or less the whole garden and saw not a single stray mutt.
The Botanical Garden is also home to the Botanical Museum, which we had planned to visit as we left. Alas on Saturdays it closes early, at 13:00 (during the week it is open until 15:00). Quite why somebody decided that Saturday would be a good day to close up early is beyond us.
We should also point out that it is hard to ignore the enormous factory which lurks behind the garden, so we will not.
Nevermind, museum or no museum, factory or no factory these are small gripes compared with the overall visitor experience, which is overwhelmingly positive. Take a morning, the kids, and go. It’s five lei very well spent.