Bucharest is the capital of Romania and is somewhat young by European standards. It was first mentioned in 1459 and became the residence of Vlad III the Impaler. Settled on the banks of the Dâmbovița River and with a tumultuous geopolitical past, it was nicknamed Paris of the East in the Interwar period. Nowadays it is the economic, cultural, and industrial center of the country.
Here’s what you need to know for planning a hassle-free trip to the Romanian capital:
Romanian leu/lei = RON
Although Romania is bound to replace the Leu with the Euro as part of its EU accession process, this is not scheduled to happen until 2024. Many establishments accept Euros, but unless you want to get ripped off with their exchange rates, get yourself some Lei.
ARRIVING in Bucharest
If you arrive by plane, you’ll land at Bucharest Henri Coandă (Otopeni) International Airport (OTP). It is the headquarter of Romania’s national airline TAROM but also a base for low-cost Ryanair, WizzAir, and BlueAir. It is located 17km from the city center— for this post, Union Square [ro: Piața Unirii].
The best way to reach the Old Town [ro: Centru Vechi] is via rail. Take the train to Gara de Nord (North Railway Station). It runs at 40min intervals, with a journey time of 20min and around the clock. From there, change onto the M1 to Piaţa Unirii.
Although taxis are not expensive — a ride to Piața Unirii would cost approx. 26-67lei (~€6-15) — locals absolutely advise to avoid them at all costs if you don’t speak the language. Several scams involving taxi rides are reported, but if you really want to give it a try, stick to the electronic ticketing system on Arrivals. Attention: do not hand over the receipt, as this is your only document and must be retained in the event of a dispute or other complication. Taxi drivers may attempt to keep the ticket.
Finally, there’s also the Express line no. 783. It costs 7 lei for 2, or 27 lei for 10 express trips — loaded into a Multiplu or Activ card (see Getting Around section below). But keep in mind that during rush hours, the journey time can easily exceed 1h15, so I cannot recommend it.
ATTENTION: Control is extensive, especially with tourists. So don’t forget to validate your ticket!
The main railway station is Gara de Nord, roughly 3km from the Old Town, so it’s better to take the M1 to Piața Unirii (7 stops) than try to walk.
There are several bus stations at Bucharest but if you are coming from Western Europe, you’ll likely arrive at Rahova. From nearby Depoul Alexandria stop, you can take tram 32 to Piaţa Unirii (10 stops).
GETTING AROUND Bucharest
The public transport system is operated by two entities: Metrorex, for the metro; and Societatea de Transport București (STB) for trams, buses, trolley-buses, and light rail.
The metro was not designed to move around the city center but instead, to allow commuters to move between the city and outlying neighborhoods. So it’s likely that you’ll use the other means when you are not up for walking.
The system is quite confusing and it is very easy to find yourself in violation of the ticketing rules. Combine this with ostensive inspections and inspectors (controlor) who will take advantage of tourists unfamiliar with the system as an opportunity to extort heavy bribes and you have a recipe for headaches. Avoid this with daily or weekly passes.
For the entire network, including the metro, you have to purchase the Combined Trip Card Daily Pass, which costs 17 lei (~€3.50). Beware that these time-based passes do not include the Express lines, like the bus no. 783 to the airport.
If you stick to public transport without the metro, then you have two options:
- Non- or Nominal Daily Pass: 8 lei (~€1.65);
- Nominal 7-days Pass: 17 lei (~€3.50).
You need an ACTIV card, a contactless smart-card, to load the passes into. The card costs 3.7 lei but if you get the nominal one, it’ll be free of charge when first issued.metromap2020_en_bucharest
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