Bucharest: What to Know Before You Go
First and foremost, know that Bucharest is a hidden gem in the East. It is beyond beautiful and has an incredibly (still-relevant) interesting history, most commonly tied to the communist era. The city is representative of Paris in many areas, with cobblestone streets lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Intermittent blocks of communist buildings and apartments intertwine with intricate gothic buildings. The food is phenomenal. It’s an inexpensive place to travel, too. The list of Bucharest’s positive attributes goes on! Read on to find out more “must-knows” before you go to this unique beauty in the East.
Getting There and Getting Around:
At the Airport:
- Many airlines fly into Bucharest’s main airport, Bucharest Henri Coanda International Airport, including budget airlines. SO if you’re traveling from another European city, make sure to check out airlines like RyanAir, WizzAir, and EasyJet and see if you can get a really cheap deal (like I mean less than $10 USD).
- Once you arrive, you have a variety of options for getting to the city center (approximately 30-40 minutes away, not including rush hour). Options include bus, Uber, or taxi. There are pros and cons to each, but I recommend either the bus (bus 783 takes you into the city center and stops in all major areas) or Uber. We’ll talk about issues with taxis in a minute.
- Okay – taxis. Taxis are tricky. If you’re staying anywhere near a main stop (Piata Presei, Arcul de Triumf, Piata Victoriei, Piata Romana, Piata Universitatii, Piata Unirii), the bus is a safe and efficient way for transport from the airport. When you exit arrivals, you can purchase a bus ticket (good for two trips) at an automated machine or from the booth. Here’s a website that will give you more specific details on catching the bus.
From the Airport and Into the City:
- Okay, okay – Taxis!! I know in the last bullet I said I’d talk about taxis. SO here we go. There are definitely some “must-knows” about taxis in Bucharest. First, taxis must have the price displayed on their door. Taxis should cost 1.39 RON/kilometer. There are some higher-priced companies, but there’s no reason for this. Insist the taxi driver uses the meter, or don’t bother getting in – you’ll get ripped off. Read this article about “How to Avoid the ‘Bad’ Taxis in Bucharest”.
- If you want to take a taxi from the airport, use the automated system near arrivals. You go up to the machines and “order” your taxi this way. You’ll need to keep your receipt and make sure that the taxi number matches the taxi you catch. This system is hit or miss, though, and you can end up waiting over an hour to find a taxi – but it’s the safest way to make sure you don’t get ripped off!
- Other taxi considerations: Taxis are notorious for taking round about ways of getting to a destination. If you have google maps or some other GPS app on your phone, show them the address where you’re going to and the suggested route. This will signal the driver that you know where you’re going.
- Taxis only take cash. You can get money at the airport exchange (the currency here is NOT the euro – Romania uses Romanian LEI) or at an ATM. Try to break large bills so you have some smaller coins and denominations handy. Otherwise, taxi drivers may swear to you that they can’t break your large bills.
Even More on Transportation:
- Public transport is pretty good in this city. There are two main metro lines and an efficient bus system. Both will get you around easily.
- Bus and metro tickets must be validated. You can do this on the bus and before you enter the metro platform.
- Metro tickets can be purchased at metro stations.
- Bus tickets can be purchased at stands near all major bus stops – however, if you’re traveling at an off-hour, they will likely be closed, so plan to buy them in advance.
- Public transport is cheap. Period. Even if you get caught without a ticket (not encouraging this or anything), fines are the equivalent to $12 USD – so, not bad compared to other major European cities where you end up forking out over 50 euros per fine. Just saying – in a pinch, you know what you’re up against.
- UBER! I mentioned Uber in the first section. Uber is a very inexpensive way of getting around. It’s safe and it’s cheaper than taxis, and all payment is made electronically through the app. Uber charges 1 RON/kilometer. I seriously recommend it – you know it’s safe and you’re not going to get ripped off, and typically the service is much better than with a taxi. Download the Uber app. It’s free.
- We caught an Uber from the Old Town to the airport before an early morning flight. The 30 minute drive cost the equivalent of $9 USD and gave us some great peace-of-mind.
- Pickpockets are common in Bucharest. It’s a safe city crime-wise, but watch your stuff. Don’t be paranoid – it’s like many other major European cities. Just be aware and don’t have your stuff hanging out all over the place.
- The currency Romania uses is the Lei. It’s about 4 lei to the US dollar (so to quickly estimate costs, just divide the price in 4).
- People are different here culturally compared to the rest of Europe. They may come off initially cold and unfriendly. That being said, this is just cultural – they aren’t being rude, but (generally speaking) they just aren’t warm and fuzzy and talkative. Don’t let this offend you at all.
- Romania is very inexpensive to travel. The average income of Romanians ranges from 250 euro per month to 500 euros per month. This is not a lot. Be understanding when you’re here and don’t flaunt your wealth – not because you’ll be targeted or anything, but because it’s the respectful way to act.
- The country is still affected by the communist regime. Yes, they were officially considered democratic following the revolution of 1989, but they’ve had a more difficult time bouncing back from its effects when compared to their former Yugoslavian counter parts.
- The city has GREAT traditional food. They’ve maintained a great food culture. Eat as much Romanian food as you can. For my recommendations, see “Our Favorite Local Spots”.
- Accommodation is not expensive in Romania. I recommend looking not only on hotel sites like hotels.com or booking.com, but also check out AirBnB. We found a great studio apartment smack in the middle of the old town for under 40 euros per night and we had the flexibility of having our own kitchen and privacy.
- The Old Town has a lot going on, but so does Piazza Unirii, Victoria, University – all of the main stops listed above (where Bus 783 stops from the airport). Bucharest has a ton of great cafes, places for al fresco dining, bars, pubs, and restaurants. You’ll never run out of things to do here!
- It’s incredibly easy to spend at least 3-4 full days in Bucharest, but you may also want to consider taking a day trip to the mountains or to Transylvania (both recommended). The mountains offer tons of hiking, trekking, and mountain biking opportunities, and you could actually spend many days doing this. If you’re interested in seeing some of Romania’s sites (and yes – there are many Dracula-themed trips available), I recommend taking a day trip. To see my tour recommendations, see Our Favorite Local Spots.
- YES, people think of Dracula when they think of Romania – specifically Transylvania. As (I hope) you know, Dracula was not real. He was based off of the Romanian dictator, Vlad the Impaler, who by all means had his own form of torture (just google search “impaling” – I don’t recommend the images). Dracula was completely fictional, but you can absolutely learn more about how this story came to be, and you can visit the Bran Castle where the story is based off of and where the movies were filmed.
- Last, but not least, Bucharest is NOT Budapest – although I’m sure you’ve confused them before – as have I. Budapest in in HUNGARY. Bucharest is in ROMANIA. Once Michael Jackson came to Bucharest (right after the communist revolution, so you can imagine how exciting this was for residents) and announced how utterly thankful he was to see a democratic BUDAPEST. It was a sad day. It didn’t help when an entire team of football (soccer) supporters boarded a plane to BUDAPEST meaning to watch their Spanish team play in BUCHAREST. Yes, it’s true. They are NOT one and the same 🙂
With just a little bit of planning, your trip to Bucharest will be incredibly enjoyable. You’ll be awed by its beauty and its unique history. The city is absolutely phenomenal – a combination of old and new, of Eastern and Western, and of hope and struggle. I cannot wait to get back there. To learn more about Our Trip, click HERE. And if you’re planning your own adventure to Bucharest, check out Our Favorite Local Spots to get insider information on the best places to visit, eat, and be merry!