Romania has a very dense rail network that reaches practically every town and a sizable number of villages. Although some modernization is taking place, this network isn’t in a very good condition, with low speeds and limited train frequency on many routes. Nonetheless trains remain the best option for long distance travel.
Most trains are run by the state carrier, Căile Ferate Române, abbreviated as (SN)CFR. Many secondary lines are operated exclusively by private companies: Regiotrans, Regional , Transferoviar, and Servtrans.
Trains generally run without major delays, except on lines where there are repair works or during anomalous weather (heavy snow storms in winter, heat waves or floods in summer).
Three major types of trains are available: Regio, InterRegio, and Intercity. The last two types provide reasonable conditions but Regio trains are best avoided.
These are very slow trains, stopping in almost every station (including some in the middle of nowhere). Prices are dirt cheap, but they provide an extremely basic service and are sometimes uncomfortable (no seat reservation, no ventilation to speak of, sometimes crowded, no working toilets in some trains, poor lighting).
They usually have 1970s single-suburban or double-decker cars, with 4 seats per row. Most will not offer 1st class (but if they do it’s highly recommended to get a 1st class ticket, it will be less crowded and less miserable than 2nd class).
Western Desiro and French Z-type DMUs have been introduced on some routes, including Suceava-Cacica, Craiova-Sibiu, Sibiu-Brașov, Cluj-Teiuș-Brașov, Cluj-Bistrița, Brașov-Sfântu Gheorghe. Z-type cars provide a more comfortable seating arrangement but a bouncier ride, which is diametrically opposed to Desiro’s improvement. As these newer trains are designed for short-distance travel, expect to be uncomfortable if traveling for a long period of time.
Most of the trains operated by private companies are also ranked as Regio. They are usually cleaner than CFR Regio trains, but rarely run on the same routes.
Example: Bucharest-Brașov (166km) by Regio train costs ~23 lei in 2nd class, takes about 4 hours, and has up to 31 stops
Semi-slow trains traveling on medium and long distance routes, stopping just in towns. They are cheap (though nearly twice as expensive as Regio) and offer variable conditions.
Newly-renovated cars have been introduced on several routes including Bucharest-Târgu Jiu and Bucharest-Brasov. However, many consider these cars just as uncomfortable, if not more so, than older cars, with merely an improved visual element. There is little baggage room and little leg-room compared to 1980s carriages.
Some InterRegio trains have connection cars to destinations located on secondary lines; after they separate from the InterRegio train they run as RegioExpress (RE).
Example: Bucharest-Brașov (166 km) by InterRegio train costs 47 lei in 2nd class, c. 2hr45min, up to 8 stops
If presented with a choice of Intercity trains (classic cars or “Săgeata Albastră” – Blue Arrow DMUs) it is advisable to choose classic cars, as these are faster, more comfortable trains. Săgeata Albastră are small 3-car diesel trains with slower service (120 km/h top speed compared to 160 km/h).
Example: Bucharest-Brașov (166 km) by Intercity train costs 58 lei in 2nd class, about 2½ hr, three stops
Most InterRegio trains travelling by night also have couchette cars (with six or four beds) and sleeping cars (with three, two or one bed). Conditions are relatively good.
Example: Bucharest-Satu Mare (782 km), ~142 lei/bed (six beds couchette), 14 hours
Tickets for CFR operated trains are sold at train stations and CFR booking agencies (agentie de voiaj CFR), which exist in any sizable town (usually located in the central area). At these booking agencies and at a few major stations it’s possible to buy tickets up to six months in advance for any domestic route and for international trains passing through Romania.
It’s also possible to get tickets for domestic routes online through CFR’s relatively complicated booking site with up to one month in advance.
All trains types except Regio and RegioExpress require seat reservation (not to be confused with advanced ticket booking).
On lines operated by private operators tickets are usually issued on the train.
For up-to-date timetable information on CFR operated lines see CFR’s timetable site. For timetables on lines operated by other companies check.
A complete price list by distance and train type is available online.
Several scenic narrow gauge railways exist in mountainous areas, but trips on them are mainly available for small groups and not for individual tourists. One notable exception is the Valea Vaserului railway in Maramureș which has tourist runs daily in mid-summer and on weekends in early summer-autumn.
Groups can also rent the former Romanian king’s personal train or Ceaușescu’s private train but these trips are rather expensive.
Travelling by car or coach is the easiest way and a vast majority, over 60% of foreign tourists, use this way of transportation. The steering wheel is on the left and European driver’s licenses are recognized by police. For Americans, a passport, a valid U.S. driver’s license and a valid International Driving Permit are required for car rental. If you drive your own car, you must purchase a road tax sticker (the “Rovinieta”) either from the border or from the nearest gas station. Driving without one will incur a severe fine.
Rentals can be expensive; avoid the major international rental companies, as well as the “friendly” locals who are willing to rent you their own car. In Bucharest and throughout the country rentals start at €20-30 per day (without fuel) for a small hatchback, go around €65-90 for an average car or lame SUV and may go up to €170-200 for a luxury sedan or a luxury SUV. You may be denied renting unless you are 25 or older.
While Romanians are generally friendly and polite, this doesn’t always apply to their driving style. Speeding is common, young (inexperienced) drivers driving performance vehicles are common in cities, angry drivers are the norm in the capital and the accident rates are amongst the highest in the European Union.
City roads tend to be heavily overcrowded, particularly in Bucharest. Beware of hazards, such as double-parked cars, pedestrians, sudden braking to avoid a pothole, or stray animals entering the road (in rural areas). Most intercity routes are 2-lane roads, used by everything from communist-era trucks to modern sports cars. So plan for longer driving times than in other areas of Europe.
Bucharest has a very dense and crowded city centre, with narrow, twisting roads, built mainly in the 19th century, with little traffic in mind. The roads are suffocated by over 1 million cars every day – it is possible to take 2 hours to drive a distance that could be walked in 20-25 minutes. GPS or local guide is a necessity. The best way to travel within Bucharest is either by public transport (as it is very cheap and fairly reliable) or taxi.
Romanian police now have high-tech radars to catch speeding motorists. Speed limits are generally 100 km/h outside of a city and 50 km/h or 70 km/h within built up areas. Some police units are equipped with performance vehicles, while others are the standard Dacia Logan cars. Although rare, some highway patrols have BMW bikes. On major roads, motorists in the opposite direction will sometimes flash their headlights to warn that they have passed a radar trap which may be just ahead of you. Also many national roads and motorways are discreetly watched by Police Puma helicopters. Even small offences are subject to heavy fines by the traffic police (Poliția Rutieră), they may even take one’s driver’s license for an irregular passing. Both hidden and visible speed cameras are becoming common on major roads and highways. Policemen sometimes seem to be more lenient with locals, than with foreigners – however, stricter fining applies for locals than for foreigners (for locals, as few as two or three minor offences will get their license suspended for six months). Bribing is ill-advised as most patrol cars have recording equipment and as of 2008, bribing is less and less accepted, so for a foreigner it is not recommended to attempt this get-away technique – it can easily land you in jail.
The Romanian police have a zero tolerance policy on drunk driving – controls are very frequent – and basically any amount of alcohol in your blood counts as drunk driving.
If you are involved in a car accident while driving and someone is hurt you must stop and wait for the traffic police. Driving away from the scene is considered hit-and-run. Accidents with no injuries can be solved with yourself and all parties involved having to go to a police station and make a statement, but, if in doubt, better phone 112 (Emergency Services) and ask for directions. In most of the cases, after an accident it is mandatory to take a blood test to establish if the drivers had consumed alcohol. Refusal to undergo this test is almost certain to land you in jail – the punishment is usually more harsh than the one for drunk driving.
Many important roads were once medieval trade routes which go straight through the centre of many villages. Passing while driving is the norm rather than the exception as slow moving trucks, horse drawn carts, and non-moving herds of cows often frequent village main streets.
Types of roads:
A lot of road infrastructure has been constructed in the past few years, and changes appear rapidly. Therefore, check up te date online sources before you go, as information might get outdated quickly.
Bus can be the least expensive method to travel between towns. In the Romanian towns and cities, you can usually find one or several bus terminals (autogara). From there, buses and minibuses depart for the towns and villages in the nearby area as well as to other cities in the country. You can find timetables on the autogari website.
Minibuses are usually very uncomfortable; some buses are old and slow. Schedules are not tightly followed, and delays of over an hour are not uncommon, especially for inter-city buses. Romanian roads are in a rather bad shape, with most of the trunk network being made of one lane per way roads (fairly similar with British rural roads), and only about 250 km of expressway. Most minibuses employed are small, crowded, 14-seat vans (some converted from freight vans), with some longer routes employing 20-seat mini-buses. For commuter and suburban routes, expect an overcrowded van (25 passengers riding a 14 seat van is quite common, with 40 passenger loads not being unheard of), with no air-conditioning, which stops several times in every village. Inter-city bus travel is only slightly better – most vehicles used are also converted vans, or, at best, purpose-build minibuses, with only some being air-conditioned. Seating is generally crowded, and in most cases there is no separate compartment for luggage. Most have no toilets on board, calling for 30 minutes stops every 2-3 hours. All in all, the experience of travelling by minibus is quite similar to that of traveling in a Russian or Ukrainian marshrutka.
However, buses are the best solution for a number of routes badly served by the railway network, namely Bucharest – Pitești – Râmnicu Vâlcea, Bucharest – Alexandria, Bucharest – Giurgiu, and Pitești – Slatina.
The comfort of vehicles is steadily improving, at least in Transylvania along the longer routes serving larger cities. You will find buses from respected companies (such as Normandia, FANY or Dacos and waltrans) which offer punctual and reasonable, though not always sparkling, conditions, and on which a luggage compartment will always be available. Toilet stops still need to be made, but they happen usually in places where you can also buy food or drinks. On Fridays, Sundays, and close to national holidays, these buses tend to be overcrowded, so a reservation by phone might be necessary.
Buses inside the cities are often crowded. This gives pickpockets good opportunities. The pickpocket problem seems to be not essentially worse than in any other European city. Please, pay attention.
Taxis are relatively inexpensive in Romania. It costs about 1.4-2 lei/kilometre or slightly more, with the same price for starting. The very low prices make taxis a popular way to travel with both locals and travellers (it can be cheaper than driving your own car) – so during rush hours it may be hard to find a cab (despite Bucharest having almost 10,000 cabs).
A notable exception is the Fly Taxi company that operates from the Henri Coanda (Otopeni) Airport. The price for a ride from the airport to the city centre can be about 70 lei. Either call a taxi by phone to pick you up near the airport or chose the 783 bus line to get into the city. Alternately, you can go to the departure terminal to avoid expensive airport taxis. To do this, after you exit baggage claim, immediately turn right. Literally dozens of taxi operators will approach you and ask if you need a taxi, having marked you as a foreigner (it’s their job to do so, after all). Be polite, shake your head no and keep walking. You will pass though about 200 m of shopping and service areas in a little mini-mall connecting the two terminals, and will then arrive at the 2nd level of the departures terminal. Walk out the door and you will see plenty of taxis dropping off passengers. Flag one down and make sure the fare posted on the side is less than 2 lei/km. They are not supposed to pick up there, but you aren’t doing anything wrong by trying, and not many drivers can say no to 30 lei for a trip back to the city centre that they were going to make anyway. Just make sure they use the meter. Some taxi drivers use remote controls in their pockets that raise the tariff price suddenly by small increments that are otherwise unnoticeable until the end of the fare. It might be easier to negotiate the tariff price upfront based on your destination and pay that amount at the end.
Kiosks for reasonably-priced cabs can be found inside the arrivals terminal, and the police are constantly watching for pirate taxi drivers. Kiosks are a safe and reliable to hitch a €10 trip by taxi to downtown Bucharest.
Be careful to look at the cost posted on the outside of the taxi, and then to look at the meter to see that you are being charged the same fare. Be especially careful in Bucharest, where some taxis post 7.4 lei instead of 1.4, but the 7 looks very much like a 1. Ask if you’re not certain – they are obliged to post and clearly state the tariff up-front. All taxis must have a license – a large, oval metal sign bolted on the sides of the car, featuring the city markings, and a serial number inscribed, usually using large numbers. Do not use any taxi without those markings. Also, do not use a taxi with a license from another city (for example, never use an Ilfov taxi in Bucharest or a Turda taxi in Cluj-Napoca).
The driver may try to cheat you if he sees you are a foreigner. Insist that he will use the meter, or have a Romanian guide with you. Don’t negotiate the ride fee in advance, as it may be 2-4 times higher (even more) than the real fee (even if it would seem cheap to you). Check whether it is going in the right direction, follow the way on a map (if you have any!) Do not take cabs from the cab stand in railway stations, unless they are from a reputable company and do not take any of the services of those offering you a cab ride in the train station. They may end up being amazingly expensive (up to €50 for a cab ride that would normally be around €3). If you need a taxi from the train station (or airport), order it by phone from a reputable company (see the city pages for the cities you want to visit) – most dispatchers speak some English as do many taxi drivers.
Air travel as a means for domestic transport is becoming more and more popular as increased competition resulted in lower prices (sometimes less than the cheapest train or bus ticket). This, coupled with an improved airport infrastructure leads to increases in the number of passengers compared to past decades.
Two airlines offer domestic flights in Romania – Tarom, with a hub in Bucharest and “no-frills” Blue Air with its domestic hub in Bucharest.
In 2010, Bucharest and Timisoara were linked by up to 12 daily flights (operated by Blue Air and Tarom – Tarom operated some of the flights on the routes with A310 wide-bodies), Bucharest and Cluj by up to 10 daily flights (operated by Tarom and Blue Air), Bucharest and Iasi by up to 4 daily flights (operated by Tarom), Bucharest and Oradea, Bucharest and Sibiu, and Bucuresti and Satu Mare by 2-3 daily flights (operated by Tarom), Bucharest and Suceava and Bucharest and Baia Mare by 1 daily flight (operated by Tarom). Bucharest and Arad are also connected through a daily flights by Blue Air. Constanta and Bacau, owing to the short distance from Bucharest, only see flights a couple of times per week. Frequencies on Saturdays may be reduced, especially to smaller cities.
Prices can begin from as low as 40 lei one way if booked in advance with Blue Air, or through a Tarom ‘Superspecial’ fare. Even 2-3 days before the flight, it is not uncommon to find tickets for under €35-€50 with a little shopping around. While Tarom style themselves as full-fare full-frill airlines, Blue Air considers itself a low fare carrier, and subsequently, has followed the model of not allowing price aggregation through reservation systems (a la Ryanair, Easyjet or Southwest), and as such, tickets for their flights will not be available through booking engines such as Orbitz or Kayak, but only directly through their website.
Some airports may be fairly distant from city centers, and, while some larger ones have adequate public transport (Bucharest, Cluj, Timisoara, Oradea), in some (such as Craiova or Iasi) you have to rely on taxis. Even so, a taxi fare from any airport downtown should not cost more than €5-10 outside of Bucharest.