Photo charges/foreign tourist charges
I don't think I've ever been to a city/country that had an additional photography/video charge on literally every tourist attraction but sights in Bucharest and the rest of Romania all seemed to have them. In most cases the photography charge was more than the admission, at the Palace of Parliament, the charge was a whopping 300,000 lei ($11 US) so I opted not to pay it. The rooms are so large that it's hard to get photos anyway, there are certain places you can't take photos and you only get to see 5% of the Palace anyway so I'd recommend buying postcards instead. Don't think you can get away with taking shots without paying, they were pretty strict here. Besides you can get postcards with much better pictures.
In addition foreign tourists pay more admission than Romanian citizens, I don't have a problem with this policy since Romanian citizens have already paid for these attractions and foreign visitors can better afford the higher admission. Besides admission is usually not very much, 30,000-40,000 lei ($1-2 US)
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.
Bucharest used to have a big problem with stray dogs which roamed the streets including downtown but this situation has improved in the last years. Now it seems that the only stray dogs left in Bucharest are the ones residing in a garden near my parents-in-law's apartment. Joking aside, their number has decreased considerably but you'll probably still see a few strays downtown. I don't think there's need for a rabies vaccine (of course, in case something happens seek medical attention, but it's very very likely that nothing is going to happen). I lived there for 24 years and was never bitten nor any of my friends were ever bitten (and I don't think that the dogs prefer tourists over locals). I'm one of the people that are really afraid of dogs and the dogs can feel it and start barking as soon as I get close. Still, I don't believe Bucharest dogs are agressive. What I usually do is refrain from walking alone towards a barking dog or pretend to be throwing something at them in which case they usually go away.
The dog in the picture is not a stray dog anymore, as it was adopted by my parents-in-law. Her name is "Mica" which means "The little one". They got her when she was a still a puppy and it's obvious that she exceeded their expectations.
Beware the roads
Bucharest's road system is very confusing, the city itself is a somewhat disorganised blend of many political influences, many of Chaucescu's communist buildings still stand. A lot of the roads meet on complicated junctions with many one way systems and many have large holes in them. There are also many stray dogs wandering about the city, keep your eyes open!
Dishonest taxi drivers
Dishonest taxi drivers are a problem in many European cities, Bucharest is no exception. We only took two taxis on our trip, the first one ripped us off even though we had the hotel call for us. I knew the fare was too high but it was 5 am and we were at the train station which is rather dodgy at that time of the morning and honestly just wanted to get into the train station.
The second taxi was to the airport. Once again I asked the hotel to call us a taxi, this time they did a voucher for 15E which still might be too high but I could add it to my hotel bill and I didnt have to worry all the way over that it would be more than the money in my pocket.
I had read about the fake tourist police in both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet and here on VT. We did not get approached by real or fake police on our trip, perhaps this is not as common of a scam as it once was.
If someone does approach you claiming they are the tourist police, there isn't such a thing. The guidebooks suggest telling them that you need to return to your hotel to get your documents or to find a real policeman and that they will likely find another mark.
Stray dogs are a problem not just in Bucharest but all over Romania. But I think reports of packs of wild, snarling, rabid dogs are misleading, we never had an unfriendly stray dog approach us, most just seemed to be looking for food or a scratch behind the ears.
It was heartbreaking seeing all of them, some with their little puppies, many eating out of garbage dumpsters. I had a couple of very anxious moments watching some of them chasing after cars in busy intersections.
Particularly around churches, you will find young children begging, mostly dressed in rags. We actually had few following us around the fountains around the Piata Unirii area. It seems rather heartless not to give them anything but local governments never encourage you to give to beggars so I don't.
I have travelled extensively through Romania and have not encountered any of the problems people are listing. The only occasions that come close are:
In Brasov, my travel companion was surrounded and had her purse sliced. Luckily nothing fell out before it was noticed. The other was occurred on several occasions, having Gypsie/tigani children harass you non stop with their begging. We resisted, but it was difficult. I'd rather pay a local for directions, or housing. I feel safer in romania than I do in downtown Phoenix. Just keep you wits, and everything should be fine.
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).
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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High value notes and paying in Euro
If you are jumping in a taxi, you may have problems with using notes of RON 50 or RON 100 (about EUR 16 and EUR 32 respectively), for short distance taxi rides. It is therefore recommendable to keep a few RON 10 and RON 5 notes in reserve just in case - especially as many cabs won't take credit card or debit cards. Some cab drivers might also take Euro but you would be advised to stick to RON - you will otherwise probably expose yourself to being ripped off (e.g. an airport taxi told me EUR 30 or RON 60 - RON 60 is about EUR 20).
Taxis in Bucharest - General Advice
A few pieces of advice regarding taxis in Bucharest:
- They all should have an oval license on their door, issued by the City Hall
- The price per kilometer should be written on the front door, as well as the price for starting (Ro. pornire)
- They should start the meter immediately when they start, or as soon as you get in the car (whichever happens first)
- In the end they have to give you a receipt indicating the total amount you have to pay
- When you go to the airport (especially to Bucharest Henri Coanda OTP, which is way out of the city), some of them (not TaxiFly, the cars of which are allowed to park there) will ask for "return money"; this happens because of the fact that TaxiFly is the only company allowed to have cars waiting in front of Bucharest OTP Airport; the others have to wait in the parking lot (far from the place where people come out of the terminal) or to simply leave the airport without customers. So this is up to you, and you should settle this with the driver before starting, whether you pay something extra, and if so, how much (10-15 RON should be a maximal amount, if ever).
- In Bucharest there is no "FIFO" rule for taxis. So, if there are 5 cars in a line in front of your hotel, choose the one you prefer, according to the company you want to use the services of, or simply to the driver you sympathize with.
- Tipping is customary, but not compulsory. If you appreciate the service, a 10% tip is enough.
- Have money ready in small bills, to avoid the driver's pretending he does not have change or running across the city to find ATMs and shop attendants to change your big bills.
- According to the law, the driver should not smoke in the car or play manele (turbofolk) when driving with customers. This is not always enforced, but you should know about it.
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thieves disguised as tourist police
Beware of civilian dressed young men who approach you and ask to see your pasport and money claiming that they are the tourist police - they take all the money or some of it and disappear - best way to avoid this is not to go alone in area that are not central - I was robbed like this a few years ago and it was quite a trauma
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.
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