Most Romanian towns are easily reached by bus or maxitaxi (minibus), both long-distance services and local connections. The train system is being transformed, but at the moment there’s barely a skeleton service on major routes, taking much longer than they did a decade ago. Both forms of transport are still remarkably cheap. Driving can be an attractive proposition, allowing you to visit anywhere you please.
The SNCFR (Societatea Naţională a Căilor Ferate Române, generally known as the CFR, or ChéFéRé) network has many wonderfully scenic routes, particularly in Transylvania. Tickets are still cheap – a 100km trip (second class) costs €3–7.
There are two types of train: Regio (R) services, which stop everywhere, and InterRegio (IR), calling only at major towns, which are more comfortable and more expensive. EuroCity (EC) and EuroNight (EN) trains are international services.
Train timetables (orar trenurilor) are displayed in stations and CFR offices; arrivals are on a white board, departures on a yellow one. Watch out for services that run only during certain seasons (circulă numai, eg Intre 9.V şi 8.IX – between May 9 and Sept 8), or only on particular days (1 represents Mon, 2 represents Tues and so on; nu circula Sâmbata şi Duminica means the service doesn’t run on Sat or Sun). You can find details online at infofer.ro, and you should always check at the station. Details of main routes are given in the Guide chapters.
Left luggage offices (bagaje de mănă) exist in many train stations, where you’ll usually have to pay around €1.
Fares (calculated by distance travelled) are similar to bus fares; for example, a journey of 100km on an InterRegio service will cost around €7 second class, and around €10 first class (around €3/€5 on a Regio), which makes first-class travel a bargain. InterRegio tickets include a seat reservation. Ticketing is now computerized, with all information on one piece of paper, while return tickets (bilet dus-întors) can now be issued too.
Some long-distance overnight trains have sleeping cars (vagon de dormit) and couchettes (cuşete), for which a surcharge of around €13–35 and €7.60–11 respectively (depending upon how many berths there are) is levied.
Romania’s bus network consists of a confusing and uncoordinated array of private companies, but is often unavoidable. Towns may have several bus stations and calling points, and in the countryside knowing when and where to wait for the bus is a local art form; on Sundays many regions have no local buses at all.
In the 1990s the public bus system collapsed, to be replaced by a crazy patchwork of maxitaxis (minibuses, in those days usually overloaded and with no regard for safety). The more successful routes are now operated by bus companies again, and operate reliably to a timetable (most can be found on autogari.ro and cdy.ro). In general, they’re now relaxing and comfortable enough, although there’s usually little luggage space available. Expect to pay around €4.50 from Bucharest to Piteşti (100km), or €9.50 from Bucharest to Braşov (250km). Maxitaxis often begin and end their journeys from the local bus or train station. Details of main routes are given in the Guide chapters.
All towns have local bus services, and in the main cities you’ll also find trams (tramvai) and trolley buses (troleibuz). Tickets are normally sold in pairs (around €0.30) from street kiosks or machines. Validate them yourself aboard the vehicle; stiff fines apply if you don’t.
Outside the major towns and cities, you’ll find the roads relatively traffic-free, and many routes, particularly through Transylvania, are wonderfully scenic. That said, the overall state of the roads varies enormously, while Romanian driving habits often leave much to be desired; indeed, Romania has one of the highest traffic accident fatality rates in the EU.
There are presently just two complete motorways (autostrada) in Romania, the A1 between Bucharest and Piteşti, and the A2 between Bucharest and Constanţa. The main roads (drum naţional or DN) are, generally speaking, in good condition. The quality of the county roads (drum judeţean), however, is variable, while many of the local roads are disintegrating – potholes are a particularly nasty hazard. Being such a big country, long distances are best covered at a steady pace, especially if driving in the more mountainous regions where greater powers of concentration are required.
Aside from the very Balkan habit of overtaking at absurdly risky moments, other potential hazards include horses and carts, which are commonplace even on main roads, and stray dogs – squashed canines lying on the side of the road are an all too common sight. For these reasons, avoid driving after dark wherever possible.
If bringing your own car into the country you must purchase a sticker which acts as a road toll, known as a vignette (rovigneta; roviniete.ro), which cost €3 for a week, €7 for a month or €13 for three months; these are available online or from border entry points, most petrol stations or post offices.
Petrol stations (benzinarie) can be found almost everywhere, even in the most rural backwaters – the most common are those run by ROMPETROL, OMV-PETROM, LUKOIL (Russian) and MOL (Hungarian), many of which have good refreshment and toilet facilities, as well as wi-fi. Unleaded fuel (fără plomb) currently costs around €1.20 per litre. Credit cards are accepted at most stations. While most service stations operate from around 7am to 8 or 9pm, quite a few are open around the clock, usually those on the outskirts of larger towns and cities as well as the main roads.
Renting a car is simple enough, provided you are 21 or older and hold a valid national driving licence. The cheapest prices are almost always online; expect to pay around €35–45 for a day’s rental, though the price drops the longer the rental period. You may find that local companies, such as Pan Travel, offer better deals. Most of the major companies have branches in Bucharest (and Henri Coandă airport) and all the other major cities, and airports.
Given the mountainous terrain and the poor state of many of the country roads, you’ll need to be fit and self-reliant to cycle around Romania. Cycle shops are few and far between, although most village mechanics can manage basic repairs. Carry a spare tyre and a few spokes, and check carrier nuts regularly, as the potholes and corrugations will rapidly shake them loose. A touring bike is better than a mountain bike unless you want to go off-road; with the immense network of forestry roads (drum forestiere) and free access to the hills, genuine mountain biking is wonderful here. If you do bring your own bike, avoid cycling in Bucharest. Carrying your bike by train is easiest on Regio services, where you can simply put it in the carriage; on InterRegio, it can be stored in the baggage van (this should be indicated on the timetable).
Romania has a reasonably comprehensive network of domestic flights, serving most of the larger cities, which can be a useful alternative to the increasingly decrepit railway system. TAROM’s domestic services depart most days from Bucharest’s Henri Coandă airport to Cluj, Iaşi, Oradea, Satu Mare, Sibiu, Suceava and Timişoara. In addition, Blue Air (blueairweb.com) flies from Bucharest to Cluj and Iaşi. Singles start from around €40–50.
Hitchhiking (autostop or occasie) is an integral part of the Romanian transport system to supplement patchy or nonexistent services on back roads – it’s even common (although illegal) on the autostrada. It’s accepted practice to pay (equivalent to a bus fare) for lifts; although this is often waived, make sure you’ve got some small change to hand. As anywhere, exercise caution.
Traffic drives on the right and speed limits for vehicles are 50km/h in built-up areas, 90km/h on the open road (100km/h on European roads, denoted by E) and 130km/h on the motorway. Otherwise, the most important rules are the wearing of seat belts and the use of dipped headlights outside towns and cities. It is forbidden to use a hand-held phone while driving, and drinking and driving is severely punished. Police (poliţia) are empowered to levy on-the-spot fines for road traffic offences, but they cannot collect them; instead you’ll be issued with a ticket (typically €40–80); if you settle up within 48 hours – at a town hall or one of the CEC savings banks – then you’ll only have to pay half the fine. If you have an accident, you’re legally obliged to await the arrival of the police. You can get technical assistance and information from ACR (Romanian Automobile Club; acr.ro), whose main Bucharest office is at Str. Tache Ionescu 27 (021 315 5510). In the event of a breakdown, call ACR’s 24-hour breakdown service on 021 222 2222, whereupon an English-speaking operator will direct you to the nearest point of assistance.