Trains in Romania
Domestic Romanian trains were once astonishingly timely, but this seems to be inexplicably less true each year. This means that passengers need to be extra attentive for their destinations, as there are no station announcements on the train and usually only one ill-placed sign posted on each station.
The schedule book that CFR publishes is indecipherable, don’t waste your money. Better to use their web site, translated into English and French, which is a joy to use.
In Romania there are four different types of train, all of which travel at different speeds, offer varying levels of comfort and charge different fares for the same destination.
Regio (R) – Cheapest, slowest, least comfortable and most malodorous. Seating is a free-for-all. Buy your ticket and elbow your way on.
InterRegio (IR) – Faster, less crowded. Seat reservations are obligatory (and automatic) when you buy your ticket. These sometimes have dining cars.
InterCity (IC) – The most comfortable, but no faster than InterRegio trains.
Sleepers (vagon de dormit) are available between Bucharest and Arad, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, Timisoara, Tulcea and Suceava among others. As always, it’s more comfortable than sitting up on the longer trips and you save a night’s accommodations. First-class sleeping compartments are generally two berths, 2nd-class sleepers four berths and 2nd-class couchettes six berths.
If you’re traveling roundtrip within Romania, buy the round trip ticket, even if you don’t know your return date. You get a significant price break. If you get a roundtrip ticket and don’t provide a return date, the clerk leaves it open, meaning you need to stop in a reserve a seat before heading back. This can be done any time, right up until departure.
International tickets must be bought at least two hours before departure.
If you’ve got more time than money, here’s a clever, though tedious way to save on international train tickets that I received from an always frugal LP reader: “You could point out that international train tickets touching Hungary are a lot more expensive than national train tickets. So its preferable to buy only the shortest possible distance on the international ticket (e. g. bordertown to bordertown) and get an extra ticket for the remaining inland travel (this is no problem as trains normal stop long enough at the border town). The 10 km from Valeu lui Mihai to Nyirabrany was about 5 EUR while the 60 km from Nyirabrany to Debrecen costed only 2 EUR. This hard-to-understand tariff also applies to all other rail crossings from Romania into Hungary and you can save a lot by splitting up your ticket a the border!”
Those traveling on an Inter-Rail pass still need to make seat reservations (a few euros at a crack) on fast trains within Romania.
Trains between Romania and Moldova depart from Bucharest (overnight, about 12 hours) and Iasi (several daily). If you’re considering the bus – or worse, maxitaxi – between Bucharest and Chisinau, think again. It’s modern torture. Better to take the overnight train. You’re back and brainstem will thank you for it. Besides, when the train changes wheels at the border – Romania and Moldova trains runs on different gauge rails – it’s like getting a free trip on a carnival ride (except that it happens in the middle of the night, when you’d least like that kind of thrill).
Getting to Romania from Bulgaria and Turkey is cheap, but oh, the crowds (and glacial pace). It’s an 11 hour ride from Sofia (twice daily) and the couchettes fill up fast, so buy tickets in advance. The Bosfor overnight train from Bucharest to Istanbul (803km, 17-19 hours) and vice versa is about as bad as it sounds. Enjoy!
Train to/from Hungary Budapest-Bucharest (at least two daily trains, about 40 euro one way) takes 13-15 hours. Scenic and decent by day, harrowing and long by night. Either way you may have to share your compartment with families traveling with enormous amounts of goods. The crowding and the 20 kilo bag of fabric plopped in your lap can be a little trying. From Arad it’s only 253km to Budapest (fast trains take four hours, about 23 euros one way). There are also trains running to Budapest from Oradea, Constanta, Brasov and Cluj-Napoca.
Between Romania and Ukraine, there is a daily Bucharest-Moscow train which goes via Kiev. A second train, the Sofia-Moscow Bulgaria Express, takes a different route through western Ukraine to Chernivtsi (Cernauti in Romanian), and stops at Bucharest, Kiev and Minsk. These are all sleeper berths, which are surprisingly comfortable and clean. Make sure you have a transit visa if cutting through Belarus to Russia.
There’s direct train service from Bucharest to Vienna (around 75 euros one-way).