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.
Bucharest is divided in 6 official districts (sector, plural sectoare), numbered from 1 to 6, each has its own mayor and council. They are counted clockwise, starting from Piata Unirii. An unofficial district system is in far wider use, as people refer to places by using the neighbourhood they are located in (cartier, cartiere). Neighbourhoods cover the entirety of the city, both slums and rich suburbs. A neighbourhood may cover 200.000 persons (such as Balta Alba) or 1.000 persons (such as Primaverii).
Bucharest is usually the entry point for most people into Romania. On the other hand, the city itself isn't particularly appealing to all tourists, and it is usually a matter of personal taste whether 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. It can get really hot and dry during the summer (40ºC) and really cold during the winter (-20ºC). Best time to visit is April through June, September through October and early December.
Bucharest is in the Eastern European time zone (UTC+2, UTC+3 from April to October).
Bucharest has reasonable connections with most European capitals and with the largest cities in Romania, but it can be difficult to find a direct flight to Bucharest from outside of Europe.
Nearly all flights, both international and domestic, land at the Henry Coanda International Airport, located in Otopeni 10 km north of the city. The airport, built in 1970, is now undergoing a massive modernization effort, but is so far still lacking in means of reliable transportation to downtown Bucharest. To get there travelers can choose between car rentals, taxi, limo service and public transport bus no. 783.
Dating from the 1920’s the smaller Baneasa Airport is located much closer to the city center and is used primarily by low-cost airlines. Being situated in Bucharest proper it is easily accessible, either by taxi or public transportation. There are plans to build another large airport south or east of the city.
There are bus connections between Bucharest and large cities in Europe (especially in Southern Europe) and also to many large and medium sized cities throughout Romania. Bucharest has several bus terminals: Baneasa (for northern bound routes), Obor (east), Filaret (south), Alexandriei (south-west), Militari (west), Grivita (north-west).
The timetables for domestic routes are available here
Bucharest is linked through daily trains to all neighboring countries’ capitals, to a few Western European ones and obviously to all of Romania’s 42 counties.
All international trains and most long distance internal trains arrive at Gara de Nord (Northern) station, located quite near of the city center, to which it is linked by subway and several buses, trolley, tramway lines. Some trains to and from the Black Sea Coast use either Gara de Est-Obor (Eastern) station, or Baneasa station. The other three smaller stations (Basarab, Progresu and Republica) are used exclusively for local and regional trains.
The timetables for domestic routes are available here
The city’s entrances from the north (the E15 road coming from Brasov), west (the A1 highway from Pitesti), east (the A3 highway from Constanta), south (the E20 road from Giurgiu) and the avenues in the city center are very crowded, especially at rush hours. Inside the city there are few parking spaces and some of the secondary streets are in bad condition.
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 (M1,M2,M3,M4) 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 through the city to periferal industrial areas. 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.
The network is very frequent and fairly comfortable, reliable and easy-to-use.Surprisingly for some, it is by far the safest way to travel through the city.Since 2002, Bucharest Metro has embarked on a comprehensive modernisation plan, including the replacement of old trainsets with state-of-the-art Bombardier Transportation trains and the renovation of stations and tracks in collaboration with Alstom.
Line M1 runs west-east,meeting up with the M2 (which runs north-south) at Piata Unirii station.Line M3 runs on different west-east route serving the main trainstation Gara de Nord.The newest line ,M4, partially opened March 1st 2000, very modern and clean, starts from Gara de Nord and ,when completed, will link it with the airports in the northern part of town.
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. Once 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 and in some buses and trams, following stops are announced automatically and displayed on a screen inside the vehicle. However, these displays tend not to be very reliable, pointing to either a wrong stop or not working at all. If you are uncertain if a stop is the one you want, you can always ask your fellow travelers.
Tickets can be bought from RATB kiosks at a significant amount of stops.Single-use tickets (1,2 lei) are usable on any RATB vehicle, but they must be validated upon entering the vehicle and are valid for a just one ride on one route.Be warned that you cannot buy tickets in the vehicles and if caught by an inspector (controlor) you could be fined with 50 new lei.
It is advisable to buy tickets valid for a day (7 lei) or a week (15 lei) on all surface routes with unlimited rides.
The tickets cannot be currently used on the subway (however, the entire ticketing system is currently being upgraded to use smart-cards. Once the new system will be operational, the new cards will be usable on both RATB and on the subway).A one day valid card with unlimited rides on all subway lines costs 3 lei.
You can check a surface transport map here.
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. The light rail is operated by RATB (it uses an improved version of the standard Bucharest tramway as rolling stock), and is also known as Line 41. You can use any standard RATB ticket on the Light Rail.
There are a lot of taxi companies in Bucharest and you'll easily find a cab here. But be aware! Don't take any independent cab drivers, but use only the services of big taxi companies. Usually the cars from these companies have the rates displayed on the door. If it doesn't, then it's safe not to take that taxi, as you'll probably be charged a rate five to ten times than usual. And you should insist to start the meter. You can find a list of taxi companies here.
There are also a number of smaller museums, housing private collections, notably the “D. Minovici" Western European Arts Museum located in a beautiful eclectic villa (strada N. Minovici, nr.3) and numerous memorial houses dedicated to various literary, scientifical and political personalities.
Churches and monasteries
- Cismigiu Garden is a lovable small park, the oldest in the city (designed 1845-1860), located in its very center. Has boat rental in summer, ice skating in winter time, a reasonable restaurant and several bars.
- There are several parks around man-made lakes on Colentina River running through the city’s north and east side, the largest of them being Herastrau Park .It houses the Village Museum, an open-air theater, various sports grounds, something like an amusement park and numerous restaurants and clubs. Has boat rental and boat-trips in summer.
- The Botanical Garden, established in 1884 near Cotroceni Palace, displays a variety of plants from all over the world, including an indoor tropical plants exhibition. Small entry fee.
- Carol Park (1906), a quiet oasis not so far from Piata Unirii, has an open-air theater replicating a Roman arena and another construction replicating a medieval fortress. It houses the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as an infamous mausoleum built for the Communist nomenclature.
- Tineretului Park, just one subway station south from Piata Unirii, has a large multipurpose building (Sala Polivalenta) used for various concerts, sporting events, exhibitions etc., an amusement park for children, boat-rental, several restaurants and bars.
Beware street scams, especially the maradona, in which fake plainclothes police will try to take your money or papers. No civilian dressed police officer is allowed to ask you for papers in Romania. Romanian police officers will almost never fine a pedestrian, but they almost always pull over foreign registered cars, to see if the drivers have all the papers ok. Bribing is very common, but generally it is not demanded directly.
Avoid crowded buses and trolleybusses as you may lose your money and/or your cell phone. Thieves that operate in mass transit vehicles are referred to as "suti" and they usually operate on the most crowded buses : 226, 336, 368, 32, 41, 70, 102. Pickpocketting is very much exaggerated: it's not nearly as bad as Rome, but of course it's no Berlin. Use your common sense and carry crucial documents in internal pockets.
Stray dogs remain a problem in Bucharest, even though their numbers are gradually decreasing due to projects by the City Hall. Rabies vaccinations are not required but recommended. There have been no rabies cases in Bucharest since 1999. Most dogs will not give you a problem unless you go out of your way to pester them. Many dogs have been treated poorly by humans, and thus be extremely wary of them.