Cars and drivers may be a constant problem in central Bucharest. Traffic signs and rules may exist but noone seem to follow them. People seem to drive on everywhere when possible. Cars often park on pavements and block other cars from getting around.
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No danger, you can go safely
No problems in Bucharest, we were drinking beer in the street until midnight, there where homless people around, some drunk people, but not problem at, all, kebaps are open and you have free and clean bathrooms in metro station, all very calm, good ambiance.
The only problem is the dogs in the street, there are big groups of them, otherwise all is pretty safe, more than Paris, london or any USA city.
Taxis in Bucharest
Thanks to VT members, I read that the passengers should ask the drivers to put down the meter to save us from high taxi fares. That helped somehow. BUT, the lewd taxi drivers, although they put down the meter, they drive you round and round before arriving to your destination. From the airport to our hotel, we were charged 80 Leis. This is too much but the driver took lots of unnecessary detours. On my way back to the airport, I found an honest driver. The meter read only 29.10 Leis.
Many buildings in Bucharest's Old Town have been neglected for a long time and some structures have reached the point where they are unsafe and dangerous for pedestrians. Which is why when strolling through areas with old buildings you'll often see signs reading “Beware! Danger of collapsing” or “Beware. Falling masonry”. There is a also a spin-off of the latter, in which more care is shown for the cars than pedestrians. That one reads “No parking. Falling masonry” or “Park at your own risk. Falling masonry”. Some of these buildings are still caught up in legal battles between descendants, some are owned by people who don’t have the financial means to repair them; there are also allegations that some of them are owned by persons or companies who wait for their collapse so they can sell the land, usually a prime piece of real estate. By law one is not allowed to torn down a historical building, but if the building collapses by itself then nobody can stop you from selling the land. It’s sad though that all this architectural heritage is on the verge of being destroyed forever.
The traffic in Bucharest, especially during rush hours, can be a bit on the nightmarish side. Occasionally, the subway workers go on strike and everyone who normally takes the subway to work takes the bus or their personal car instead. If you can imagine a sea of cars, all honking (why? since there’s no space to advance to) and just looking like they were parked in the middle of the road, you got the right idea. Many times the traffic of Bucharest looks like that, even when there’s no subway strike. A lot of the mess is brought on themselves by the Bucharest’s drivers who try to inch their way in intersections even when the light is red. Most intersections have crisscrossed yellow lines which are supposed the mark the “Do not block” area of the intersection. Not that anyone pays attention to that :)
A city of chainsmokers
Bucharest is by all means a smoker’s paradise. According to some numbers I found on the web, in Romania some 45% of men and 25% of women smoke, but I wonder if the numbers are correct because it feels like the percentage is a lot higher, especially among women. Smoking is still seen as harmless and fashionable, people still think cigarettes are cool and a way to express oneself. I’ve seen many parents smoking right into the noses of their children, I’ve seen pregnant women smoke and I’ve seen doctors smoking on the hospital’s hallways. Some tourists find it really annoying, some find it liberating. Smoking is not allowed in most public places but … if the law is respected that’s another story. Since January 1st 2009 the new law regarding smoking in restaurants and cafes demands that smoking is only allowed in areas completely separated from the non-smoking section, the smoking area should not form more than 50% of the total area of the restaurant or bar, and should not be areas used for transit nor near the entrance. Restaurants and bars which have a total surface of less than 100 square meters can designate themselves as smoking or non-smoking venues and that should be clearly posted on the door. What was the result of this verbose law? Almost all restaurants in Bucharest declared themselves as “smoking establishments” and have posted on their doors signs that read “Smoking IS permitted inside this venue” (see photo).
Pay the ticket.
If you think you will try to avoid the ticket in the bus in Bucharest, get rid of that idea. It is not worth it. It is really cheap anyway to use the public transport system. If they caught you, you have to pay 50 lei directly, if you can. Otherwise, you have to get a ticket and pay 100 lei. I guess you want to do something else for these money you have. Think about it anyway!!!!
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Even if Romania has become a member of European Union, it is not a trouble. Especially in big cities you have many people and taxi drivers who want to rip off your money. I noticed that some of the taxi drivers werent fair, but at the same time I met also many good ones. Just be aware of it and think about when you take a taxi from the airprot. Make sure they will not rip you off, check the taxameter and ask them how much it will cost.
Be carefull to few things
Be careful to few things:
- do not change money on the street, use a bank or an exchange office;
- be careful to your bag especially in the crowd or in public transportation - that doesn't mean that you will be attacked but if you are a kind of dreamer, not careful with his/her belongings, you could have the chance of remaining without money or camera;
- try to call for a taxi not to take one from the street (it might cost you more if you take one from the street).
If you will be careful to these things you will have a good experience in Bucharest.
I thought that stories of stray dogs were nothing more than tales from paranoid travelers, but when I saw many stray dogs on the streets fighting, biting each other, starving and bleeding on the streets, I realized that it was more than just a tale.
The stray dogs became a problem when Ceausescu demolished large part of Bucharest and moved people in the concrete cages where they couldn't have dogs as pets, so they let them loose on the streets.
What to do: Do not touch, taunt, feed or yell at any of stray dogs you encounter, just ignore them. They won't attack if not provoked. Hopefully.
Roma muggers and dangerous in central Bucharest
Recently I have had to fight off a gang of Roma juveniles (14-18 years old) in the central area near the Royal Palace/Atheneum/Hilton Hotel. One other work colleague was not so lucky and lost a coat, mobile phone & had minor injuries. There have been other instances of foreigners being attacked in this area, so please be careful in this area - it appears so relaxed and open but it seems this particular gang rely on being able to make a rapid escape across this open area. Their modus operandi is for one to approach you for money, and while you are distracted, the second and third then to close in on you from behind and the sides.
Update - First, since posting the previous paragraph a couple of months ago, two more people known to me have had similar experiences in the same area - please be very careful, even in daytime.
Second - Please, please, avoid walking near stray dogs. Again, several of my colleagues have in the last year been bitten by one of these dangerous creatures. I went with one friend to an anti-rabies clinic - the doctor said there had been no rabies case in Bucharest in 35 years, but that was mainly due to the good availability of rapid post-bite treatment in the capital. Every he was dealing with dozens of bite cases.
Without being alarmist, both the dogs and muggers are real factors - about which it seems little is being done.
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The mean streets of Bucharest?
Prior to any trip that I make, I have a flick through the “Warnings and Dangers” tips here on VT and on various other websites just to see what sort of things I should be aware of. I did this before my trip to Bucharest, and it’s fair to say that there were quite a few warnings being made.
As always, I committed the warnings to memory (it’s better to be safe than sorry!), but didn’t really worry too much about any of them.
Here is a summary of the various warnings and dangers that I read about, and my own experiences of those dangers:
This was the warning that scared me the most. I’ve never been a big fan of dogs, and the reports of packs of wild dogs roaming the streets of Bucharest caused me some concern. Furthermore, I had read reports of a Japanese businessman bleeding to death after being bitten by a dog in the city and had seen some statistics that suggested that dozens of Bucharest residents are hospitalised each day as a result of dog bites.
The reality was nothing like I imagined it to be. Most of the dogs that we saw (and we saw only a tiny fraction of the number that I expected to see) were rather tired looking dogs, sleeping in the shade of a tree in the park or scavenging for scraps of food on the city centre streets.
Only on one occasion did I feel even remotely threatened. While walking down a dimly lit side street late at night, we could see a group of 4 or 5 dogs. One of them, quite menacing looking, walked towards us from across the street, but turned back half way and didn’t bother us at all.
Overall, my fears were generally unfounded, but I would still recommend avoiding quiet, dimly lit areas of the city centre after dark.
Whilst waiting for our luggage at Otopeni Airport, a Romanian girl who had been on our flight warned us of the danger of fake police in Bucharest. She believed it was a real possibility that such fraudsters would approach us in the street and demand to see our passports. She warned us not to, in any circumstances, hand over our passports to strangers in the street, and told us that genuine police would never ask to see our passports in this way.
Of course, we had no intention of doing so.
We were never approached by any fake police while in Bucharest and, in fact, never approached by any locals looking to rip us off in any way.
Be on your guard just like in any other city, but don’t worry unduly.
I have written rather detailed tips in the transportation section of my Bucharest page detailing a few things to be aware of with taxis.
To summarise the main details here:
- some taxi drivers that pick up at the airport will attempt to charge a high fare and will refuse to give you a receipt if you haggle the fare down. My understanding of this is that they believe business travellers will pay the higher fare in order to get a receipt, thereby allowing them to reclaim the expenses from their employers. As we didn’t require a receipt, we haggled with the driver when he attempted to overcharge us and a paid a fare that we thought was more realistic. The driver refused to give us a receipt. We didn’t care.
- all of the yellow taxis in Bucharest display the fare per km on the door of the vehicle. You should have no problem finding a taxi that charges between 1.40 and 1.70 Lei per km. Note that all of the taxis look very similar, but some of them will charge over 7.50 Lei per km – which is quite a significant price difference on a long journey! Be sure to check the fares on the door before getting into a taxi.
- on several occasions we found that taxi drivers didn’t know the place that we were looking for, despite it being fairly close to the city centre and despite, on one occasion, us having a full address for the restaurant we wanted to visit. However, the drivers were always friendly and went out of their way (by phoning friends/colleagues) to ensure that we got to our intended destination.
I find that most major cities attract beggars in one form or another. It was no surprise to find beggars on the streets of Bucharest – after all, it is a city of over 2 million people in a relatively poor area of eastern Europe.
However, the problem was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. We saw the occasional amputee sitting on the sidewalk outside restaurants and shops with a begging bowl, and on one or two occasions we were approached and asked for money, but I have experienced far worse begging even in western European cities.
There is undoubted poverty in the Romanian capital, and we often saw people rummaging through bins in search of food scraps, but we were never seriously harassed. Unlike in Budapest and Toronto, to name but two cities, we didn’t see homeless people sleeping rough in the subways – but I’m sure that this must occur.
From a pedestrian’s point of view, walking around Bucharest wasn’t too much of an ordeal. I could name dozens of cities where crossing the road was much more dangerous than it was in Bucharest. There are lots of underpasses and pedestrian crossings in the city centre.
However, I would think twice before driving in Bucharest. Quite a lot of vehicles are in a relatively poor state of disrepair, and road rules aren’t always followed, especially when turning from one road onto another across a lane of traffic. We endured a couple of near misses during our various taxi rides in the city and we saw a van hit a motorcycle on the road outside our hotel.
I would like to start by making it clear that all the locals that we met in Bucharest were friendly and welcoming. However, I feel that I should share this anecdote in the hope that it might prove useful to somebody else:
One morning we asked the man on reception at our hotel if he could recommend any day trips from Bucharest. We were interested in visiting somewhere off the beaten tourist path, where we could perhaps see a more traditional way of life. He mentioned the name of a village or small town close by, that we may be able to visit by bus or train (he wasn’t sure), and where we could see traditional Romanian houses and experience local customs and ways of life. However, he then added, and I quote: “the only problem is that they might see you, think you are something, and beat you up”. I’m not sure what he meant by that, and I didn’t want to find out, so we gave it a miss. I was surprised – that warning was so far removed from the hospitality that we experienced from the locals in Bucharest.
We then asked him about the best way to visit that evening’s football match between Steaua Bucharest and UT Arad. Having not scared us enough, he told us not to bother going because there was likely to be trouble in the crowd and, as foreigners, we could be likely targets. He did recommend that we visited an Irish bar and watched the match on TV “with our own people”. Given that a match the previous midweek between two Bucharest clubs had been abandoned due to crowd trouble, we decided it was best to give it a miss.
We found Bucharest to be a safe and friendly city on the whole. We never felt threatened or unsafe at any time of day or night, we didn’t experience any real hassle from touts, beggars or scammers and we barely even noticed the stray dogs.
Just take the usual precautions.
First time tourist impressions.
I wrote this little review in this particular section ,since this is where i looked before going. I went to see some people in Romania, and i was extremely pleasantly surprised by the capital. My friends live on the other side of the country, so Bucharest was unknown to them too. They were clearly not from around either, since the accent is noticable i was told. WE stayed with a friend who lives in the city. Onto the safety-issue at hand. There is none if you stay in the center :) . I will tackle the three main issues at hand (taxi's,mugging/gypsies, dogs). I live in Brussels (which i think sucks now, see my review there), and i feel Bucharest is a lot safer. Because Bucharest is pretty big, all crime and scum are kept easily away from the center, into some suburbs as i understood it. The first thing i noticed is how nice the cars are. I'm talking high end special editions models from every brand including Maseratti,Bentley, Ferrari, you name it. They drive around together with the older Romanian cars. I can honestly say i saw more high end cars then small romanian cars. And these small cars are being replaced by Renault Symbol's (which i've never seen before, and i drive renault ;) ). Its kinda like the new Dacia logan, but nicer. Dacia = Renault btw, so .. Point is that from this point of view, you don't have the feeling of poverty or whatever one might expect. Hell, if i look at the cars in my BRussels street right now, i feel poor. The danger here is that they idd do not stop for anything except a red light. You can cross safely, but ONLY if its green. Unless ur a pro like the natives ;-) Taxi's are extremely useful. They drive fast and but good. And you get service ;) For ur 10 €'s he will honk and squeeze his way trough anytime accompanied by the sound of pop music. You have no idea how good these people drive. I took about 3-4 cab rides, and they were all very fast and had excellent control. They had the gloves and special steering wheel and everything so ;-) But the prices... yeah. They might not seem much, but even my romanian friends had to argue for a while before getting an acceptable price of 40 LEI from baneasa airport to the appartment in the south west of the centre. The problem isn't really finding a cab with a normal price (just walk the 50 meters to the main street at baneasa, at the bus stop). The problem is getting rid of the cab drivers who offer services right away. This isn't ur normal tourist place;) You have to be a bit firm. You are perfectly safe at all time, failing to get away just gets you 20 minutes of arguing untill he gets ur not gonna go along. Just say "no, no" (or better yet "nu,nu") and keep walking. He will run after you with reviewed prices. Do not be afraid, he just wants to bargain :-) You are at no point in actual danger. Its not hard to find a good taxi. It clearly shows 1.x lei / km. Just make sure its a 1 and not a 7. Look at them while walking, stand still and get offered services :p As for the dogs, aah, the dogs. I have been there 2 days, and i love them already. There is NO dog PROBLEM. But there are dogs, but not as much as you might imagine. Far less actually. Only at one point did i see more then one lone ranger. And they made me think of elderly men sitting outside, looking at the world go by. They will not attack you, they will only look at you a bit. If ur afraid, just keep walking. But you wont, they are so bloody cute. They are like birds in any other city. They are just there. People feed them, they walk around amongst us. Don't be surprised if you see one in the airport check-in area haha :-D. If you imagine this the way i did prior to going, don't .. they don't run or bark or follow you. They just walk around.. everywhere. You will love them after a few hours, and throw them ur spare fries after one day. Just don't approach them to be safe, ur not that local :p I didn't spend the night in the center either, it was 2 metro stops away, same cute dogs there. (one actually "lives" in the hallway of my friends appartment building. I bet you don't have that kind of security :p About the buildings. Most still indeed look a bit run-down. BUT, these people are working their *** off. New, shiny, glass buildings grow like mushrooms, and the old buildings are being renovated as extremely fast pace. In just a few months they but new windows and doors in, upgraded the stairs to nice marble ones with built in lights and gave the whole place a new lick of paint. Looks brand new (remember, this is not in the center). Give this place 5 years and it will be absolutely stunning. As for the gypsies... As a tourist you will only be in the center. There is no problem at all in the center. Cops are omni-present, security guards are present in subwaystations and subways, everywhere. Their main purpose seems to be to escort gypsies out. You will still be aproached once or twice by one of them with a kid. Just look them in the eye and say nu, in a way you do it everyday (i'm sure you do if u live in a city) . Don't ignore them. It's not nice,and they will stay around.Don't be afraid to get cornered by them or whatever. All this being said.. Bucharest is a city, with mainly romanians. It is not your theme park. Tourists are not omni-present as in other big cities. You will have the best time in your live if you adapt a bit. You can take pictures and do everything you usually do, just don't look like a tool. It's very stupid to walk around with a map and your camera in its nice camera bag shouting in English. Take pictures, just to it casually. Walk amongst the Romanians. Don't whine about the smoke, don't look weirdly at things etc .. common sense really. I know paris and london too. You will also be approached by all kinds of people looking to rip you off if you do that. You'll just be more afraid in bucharest because you expect it to be dangerous. If ur from the states or from a village or so, you might get overwhelmed by the city. Everything is everywhere, cars on sidewalks, dogs in airports, old "traditional" ladies opening your door for whatever you can spare. Just act as if you would be in new york. Now, if you get overwhelmed, just head to the mall locatd at the first huge roundabout with the people's house in your back. you will feel like "home", and can get some excellent food at the 4th floor. Long story short, act as you would in new york, don't stand out and try to do as everybody else does, you will love it.
There has been already a lot of debate on this subject; if only the dogs could benefit from this advertising campaign, they would be well fed at least. There are many dogs in Bucharest indeed. When Traian Basescu (n. actual President of Romania) was Mayor of Bucharest, he began a campaign of collecting the stray dogs and euthanasiating them. This campaign was stopped when several NGOs intervened debating in favour of the dogs. If coming to Bucharest, you will certainly notice these dogs. Some people love and feed them, some others despise them, while others pass by without looking at them. Fact is that, if you look around and do not stir or scare them, you will not have any problem. I am saying this as someone that - not paying attention to where I was walking - I almost stepped on a dog and got bit, beating the path to the anti-rabies section of a hospital afterwards. Every now and then I for one like to play with them; it does not hurt to be human in the end of the day. After all, so much unlike the Bucharest Driver (TM), dogs bring colour, life and a bit of joy to the city. And I like that.
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Taxis in Bucharest - Companies and Rates
There are three kinds of taxis in Bucharest:
- Taxis belonging to reputable companies, that charge an average fare per kilometer and use smaller Dacia or, more and more often, Skoda and Renault cars. The companies I would list here are Leone, Cobalcescu, Meridian, CrisTaxi, Rodell, Apolodor, Taxi 2000, Mondial. They will charge about RON 1.40 - 1.90 / km. plus the starting, which is RON 1.00-2.00. In the situation where you notice one of these drivers is trying to cheat in any way (it usually does not happen), keep in mind the 4 digit phone number of their company and their registration number / company assigned number and inform the company of that. They have strict rules about that generally speaking (and usually fire the driver instantly provided you prove to be right) and you will help other travelers.
- Taxis belonging to expensive companies, that charge more, have bigger / better cars or simply have the same type of cars with the ones above, but charge more. I would list here Taxi Grand and Fly Taxi. They charge up to RON 3.50 / km.
- Taxis that will cheat you. As simple as that, and the ways they will attempt to do so are various. Some of them imitate the logos of reputable companies. Others will write 7.50 RON / km. on their door, with the "7" so narrow that it looks like a 1. Others will simply do something to the meter, so that it indicates more than it should. They will come to you at Bucuresti Nord railway station, saying the subway no longer runs, that they want to go home anyway and will give you a big discount (I have heard this so often that I wonder who it works with), that they know a shortcut, there is no other taxi and they are your last chance on earth. Avoid them. Not being careful here can end with paying even 100 lei for a ride, and the stupid part of is that in some cases this might be legal (if they are licensed to charge RON 7.50 / km. and Buddha knows how much for starting).
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