Bucharest is Romania's capital and largest city, as well as the most important industrial and commercial center of the country. With its 2 million inhabitants in the city proper and more than 2.4 million in the urban area, it is also one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe.
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Bucharest is usually the entry point for most people into this fascinating country. On the other hand, the city itself isn't particularly appealing to all tourists, and it is usually a matter of personal taste if visitors like it or not. Some people adore it and think it really has a special feel to it, others feel uncomfortable due to the grey Communist-era buildings and lack of charm or tourist attractions. Yet again, others believe the urban myths about crime, homelessness and poverty, even though these are only what they state to be - myths. Bucharest offers some excellent attractions, and increasingly has the sophisticated, trendy and modern edge to it that defines a European capital. If you're in the region, it would be negligent to not visit it, even if just for the curiosity of seeing such a paradoxical city.
The official (and native) language is Romanian. Most educated people born after about 1970 will speak reasonably good English; most educated people born before about 1970 will speak reasonably good French. The Gypsies speak their native Romany, as well as Romanian, and sometimes English. Other than that, you'll find some people who know German and Italian. Beyond that, as in any major city, there will be a smattering of other languages.
Bucharest has, like most of Romania, a temperate-continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. This region of Romania gets all four seasons, although spring is brief and falls mainly in April. The average high daily temperature in summer is about 28ºC and in winter about 0ºC.
Bucharest is in the Eastern European time zone (UTC+2, UTC+3 from April to October).
Bucharest has one of the most extensive systems of public transport in Europe, even though it can sometimes be confusing and crowded.
The metro, which has four lines and covers the city quite extensively, is usually a good way to get around even though there are surprisingly few stops in the city centre, since the system was originally built to transport workers and commuters from outlying quarters into the city. If you're staying outside the city center, or even if you want to travel within it, the Metro can be a very fast and convenient way of travelling to your destination avoiding the traffic jams and crowds that frequently characterise surface transport such as buses and trams.
The network is very frequent and fairly comfortable, reliable and easy-to-use. Since 2002, Bucharest Metro has embarked on a comprehensive modernisation plan, including the replacement of old trainsets with state-of-the-art Siemens trains and the renovation of stations. Note that the Bucharest Metro is one of the only networks in Eastern Europe that does not use old Soviet-style train cars - all Metro cars were either built in Romania (in Romanian style) or the newer ones built in Germany by Siemens.
The new line 4, completed in 2001, is also very modern and clean. There are also currently many extensions in construction and planning, including a link from the city to Bucharest's Henri Coandă International Airport.
Buses, trams and trolleybuses
Bucharest has a very complex network of buses, trams and trolleybuses which is, at first glance, fairly confusing to the tourist. This is not because of any inconsistencies within the network, but rather due to the intricate web of hundreds of bus, tram and trolleybus routes found in the city. On you know your way around the network, however, public surface transport can be a very good way of getting around since there is a bus, tram or trolleybus stop virtually everywhere in this city. The vehicles are usually very frequently, although they can also get terribly crowded at peak hours. Make sure you know the stop you're getting off at - in most trolleybuses or buses, following stops are announced automatically and displayed on a screen inside the vehicle.
Tickets can be bought from RATB kiosks at a significant amount of stops. If you're staying longer than a few days, your best bet is to buy a weekly ticket (abonament săptămâmal), which is cheaper and enables you to travel as much as you want.
RATB, Bucharest's surface transport operator, recently unveiled a snazzy new light rail network, which they call "light metro", in the western part of Bucharest. The network is modern, fast and clean, although its reach is currently fairly limited. If you're staying in this area, though, it can give you the best of both worlds - the coverage and convenience of the bus network combined with the speed and comfort of the metro network.
Beware street scams, especially the maradona, in which fake plainclothes police will try to take your money or papers.
Stray dogs are endemic in this city. Rabies vaccinations are a preventative measure all travellers should take. Most dogs will not give you a problem unless you go out of your way to pester them.