One of the more unusual spots I visited while in the Romanian capital or Bucharest was Văcărești Nature Park, also known as Parcul Natural Văcărești. Touted as the only urban delta in Europe and the first urban nature park in Romania, this unusual natural spot is a mere subway ride away from downtown Bucharest and a remnant of a rather tumultuous time in Romania’s history. I took a walking tour with Bucharest Walkabout Free Tours as a part of the Experience Bucharest festivities to learn more about the story behind Vacaresti.
History of Vacaresti Nature Park
This patch of greenery was actually meant to be a lake, built by order of President Nicolae Ceausescu during the Communist times, which explains the strange sloping concrete sides reminiscent of a dam all around the area. However, the engineers had not done a very good job and the soil was not particularly waterproof, and it could not hold the water in the lake. Combine that with the Romanian revolution in 1989, the failed lake project was abandoned. Left to its own devices, the failed Vacaresti lake became its own little wildlife area and to the surprise of a nature study that was undertaken, a surprising plethora of biodiversity and a favourite habitat for birds and other small creatures.
Walking through Vacaresti Nature Park
My first impression of Văcărești was honestly that it wasn’t particularly impressive. The place looked to me like a rather overgrown unkempt park with long grass and man-made dirt paths, but what made it interesting was how large it was, and that you could see the bits of city and industry at its edges.
The park is apparently a popular place for jogging and morning strolls, and for a long time, home to one large family of gypsies who lived off the grid and survived purely on this wild land, which is pretty bizarre to consider in this day and age, and with modernity and city life so nearby! The gypsies have since been relocated after the place was awarded National Park status in 2016.
Our tour was led by Carmen from Walkabout Free Tours, and we were lucky enough to also have Mr Cristian Lascu along for the ride. Cristian is one of the park rangers currently in charge of protecting the park, but more importantly, he was also the editor of National Geographic in Romania and one of the people responsible for producing a beautiful photo story that highlighted the beauty and nature of the park in 2012, bringing it to local and international attention. (Check out the 2018 update as the same team returned to the park to see how the park has evolved)
While we were visiting, Cristian was also making sure that the park was in good condition, occasionally approaching the people around the area to say hello and tell them that poaching and fishing were not allowed on site. The park isn’t a spot that many locals know about themselves, and with the newly achieved National Park status, much still needs to be done to educate the local community about what they should and should not do here. In true Singaporean fashion, I asked Cristian whether they had rules/fines for people caught flouting the rules, and he said he generally preferred the friendly educational approach.
It can get pretty muddy in the park so wear good shoes and think about repellent especially if the weather is hot, but luckily our guide was more than familiar and led us through fairly unscathed. We headed to the observatory which is located in the penthouse of one of the nearby high-rise buildings bordering the park and where the park’s HQ is as well. 17 stories up, we had a pretty great view of the delta below, and I do look forward to seeing what developments they put in place for the future – there’s so much potential here!
Where is Văcărești Nature Park?
Vacaresti Nature Park is located in the south-eastern part of Bucharest, just about 5km from the city centre. It covers 183ha and is the first urban nature park in Romania, as well as the largest green space in Bucharest.
I went with Walkabout Free Tours who also organise a free walking tour around Bucharest City – you can see their account of this visit here. They don’t have this particular walk listed as a regular tour on their website though so drop them an email if you want to find out more.
When I was there in 2016, the park had just received National Park status thanks to active lobbying from its supporters, so there wasn’t any proper tourist infrastructure at that point like boardwalks or signboards. Check out the park’s website for latest information and updates.
- Take the subway Line M2 to Piata Sudului
- You can also take the subway to M1 station Mihai Bravu, which puts you much closer to the observatory
- If you want to see the delta from the Observatory, you will need to make an appointment with the park association – it’s free! The Observatory is located on the rooftop of one of the buildings in the northeastern corner of the delta
Thanks to Walkabout Free Tours for organising and sponsoring the tours as a part of Experience Bucharest, a tourism project led by the people of Bucharest where bloggers from around the world were invited to check out this beautiful city. Our tours were a taster of what the agencies normally offer, so do check with the organisers for more details if you are interested.
Looking for more cool things to do in Bucharest? Check out forgotten areas like Chimopar Factory, hunt for some street art around Bucharest or get your hipster on with this guide to cafes and photo-worthy spots in Bucharest.