Transportation is one of the first things that I check when booking a new trip. It’s not always easy to find the fastest, safest and cheapest way to travel around a big city.
Personally, when I’m on vacation I’d rather find a decent accommodation somewhere near the city center because I like walking and it saves me the trouble and time to figure out buses, trains or taxis. However, if you’re not spending your vacation in San Marino or another mini place like this, you will need a bus or train eventually.
Bucharest is not New York or London big but visitors might still find the matter of transportation a bit challenging. To be downright frank about it, I am definitely not a fan of how things are running in this department currently, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Of course it has its good parts like it's cheaper than most capitals in Europe and even some other towns in the country. The basics are somewhat covered and on days with light traffic it goes pretty decent but this is it. Let’s take it one by one:
The metro is the number one choice for every breathing soul in Bucharest. In a city with 2 million inhabitants and 1 million cars, you don’t really want to be caught in traffic during rush hours so the subway is the fastest, easiest and safest way to go.
The map of the subway is available in every station and on the train itself but there are no printed versions. You can print it out beforehand, download or photograph it on your phone or any other gadget.
Usually the stops are announced either on electronic display in every car or verbally.
There are several types of tickets. Minimum is a 2 journeys ticket which costs 4 lei. If you plan to use the subway often then you can get the 10 journeys ticket for 15 lei. There is also the one day unlimited ticket for 6 lei but once you use it then you can re-use it only after 15 minutes . For longer stays we have the unlimited monthly for 60 lei or the 62 journeys monthly ticket for 50 lei.
IMPORTANT: Starting the 28th of March 2015 the new prices are: 2 journeys- 5 lei, 10 journeys-20 lei, monthly unlimited- 70 lei, weekly unlimited- 25 lei, daily unlimited- 8 lei. The 62 journeys tickets will no longer be available.
The working hours are between 05:00 and 23:00 with a high tide of people between 08:00-09:00 and 17:30-19:00.
I am not a guru when it comes to buses in Bucharest. I tried to avoid them as much as I could because they don’t come often therefore are always cramped with people (when it comes to buses we believe the more the merrier) and they get stuck in traffic. But it's a very authentic cultural experience.
Three buses are important to visitors: express lines 780,783 and 761. The 780 takes you from the main train station Gara de Nord to Henri Coanda Airport, the 783 from Piata Unirii (Unirii Square) to the airport (and return both of them).
The third express line 761 covers all the main touristic landmarks in Bucharest. The first bus departs at 10:00 every morning from Piata Unirii and passes by: Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of Parliament), CEC (CEC Palace), Piata Revolutiei (Revolution Square), Piata Victoriei (Victoriei Square), Arcul de Triumph (Arch of Triumph), Muzeul Satului (Folks Museum) with an end point at Piata Presei (Press Square)- with the same stops on the return route. For the complete timetable click here and for the return here; the first table is for working days, the second for the week-end.
The fares for the buses are: 1,3 lei for the urban lines, suburban is 1,5 lei and express 3,5 lei. There are three types of cards: The nominal Activ card (green card) which is free of charge but issued on the basis of your ID. It’s not transferable but in case you’ve lost it, you can recover the remaining amount from it. The minimum amount loaded upon issue is 15 lei, maximum is 50. The non-nominal Activ card (also green) costs 3,7 lei to be issued and you can load it with minimum 2,6 lei and maximum 50 lei. This one is transferable but in case of loss you cannot retrieve your money. The third one is the Multiplu card (blue), designed for occasional passengers. The issue of this card is cheaper-1,6 lei but it is not rechargeable. You can load it with either a general day pass for 8 lei (no express or suburb) or load from 2 to 10 journey (urban, suburban or express).
The tickets need to be validated every you get on a bus. You do that by pressing them against the orange machines. Now, if you did that and you get a red light and a long beep, don’t worry! It’s just the machine trying to embarrass you. Patiently, wait for it to stop and press it a second time and hold it super still. You should get the green short beep this time. To find out the amount of credit left on your ticket just keep it pressed a little longer and it will come up on the display.
Taxis in Bucharest are everywhere and with a price of 1,39 lei/km they are quite affordable. They are rather safe, I remember getting taxis at any hour of the day or night without any problems. Unfortunately something happened lately as some dubious stories appeared. I had a couple of shady rides myself with drivers giving me the pros of starting WW III or stories about how great life was during communism.
I have a series of rules I hang on to when taking taxis, especially at night-time:
Avoid as much as possible picking up taxis on the street. Order them by phone or use apps like Star Taxi and preferably pick companies such as Meridian Taxi, Apolodor Taxi or Speed Taxi.
Never go for the passenger's seat but the back seats.
Don’t be too friendly or familiar. Polite but distant is best.
Pay attention to the route. Ask for details at your accommodation so you have an idea about the itinerary, distance and price.
If you do pick up a taxi from the street, pay attention to the prices on the door and if they have a taxi company label on them. Private taxis have much higher rates and cannot be verified easily.
If you are alone, try to let someone know on your whereabouts and keep your phone close to you.
If you do not have any arrangements to be picked up at the airport use the yellow ticket machines to get a car. They are on the right just as you pass the doors at arrivals.
My number one rule about driving in Bucharest is to avoid as much as possible driving on the following moments: Monday mornings/ Friday evenings, 1st day of school, any holiday eve, rush hours and, the worst, rainy days (it’s a tradition in Bucharest to always go for the car not the umbrella when it rains). If it is absolutely necessary to face the traffic, try to find a way to go either before or after the tide. Otherwise you won’t be doing a lot of driving so best be prepared with some audio books, snacks, a friend for company.
Rule number two is always have a GPS with you. I've been driving in Bucharest for over 5 years and I still don’t go anywhere without the GPS. It is a big city, some neighborhoods are mazes of small streets, alleys and one way roads and not exactly packed with route signs.
Rule number three: be careful where you park the car. Parking is quite a problem in Bucharest and not only in the centre of the city. It is better to drive around a bit to find a parking place than to leave it randomly on the side of the street. An hour of parking usually costs 1,5 lei in the public ones, exception being the one at the University Square which is 3 lei/hour. You should also be careful for people that are trying to help you park and are asking you for money in return. This is illegal and you shouldn't discuss with them. Usually they pop up on streets where you can park but it's not actually public parking or in actual parking places during hours when parking is free like evening or week ends. You should pay for parking only to authorized people that wear uniforms and are able to give you a ticket. Also try to pay a lot of attention when driving in Bucharest, we are good drivers but always in a rush and never get into arguments with taxi drivers.
We do not have bike lanes in Bucharest. We have a yet to be finished bike lane on Calea Victoriei which turns out pretty good and people are discovering the joys of riding the bike but its mostly for leisure purposes. There is a growing community of bikers in Bucharest so probably in the coming future we will see some improvements in this area. For now, you have to be brave and venture in traffic alongside cars.
I put this one in a separate section because its not your usual means of transportation. It’s the touristic way to see the landmarks in Bucharest, on a route that adds in a couple of extra stops than the ones from the express line, such as the University, Romana Square, Herastrau Park. On sunny days its quite relaxing to sit on the open deck and enjoy the ride. Tickets are more expensive for the tour bus. A 24 hour ticket is 25 lei, for children between 7 and 14 years is 10 lei, children under 7 ride for free.