Bucharest is the primary entry point into Romania. Bucharest is a booming city with many large infrastructure projects changing the old face of the city. Known in the past as “The Little Paris,” Bucharest has changed a lot lately, and today it has become a very interesting mix of old and new that has little to do with its initial reputation. Finding a 300 year old church, a steel-and-glass office building and Communist-era apartment blocks next to one another is a common sight. Bucharest offers some excellent attractions, and has, in recent years, cultivated a sophisticated, trendy, and modern sensibility that many have come to expect from a European capital. Bucharest has been undergoing major construction and modernization works in recent years, such as the Basarab Overpass and the National Arena. Bucharest has benefited from an economic boom along with the EU grants that have helped rebuild neglected parts of the city, such as the historic Lipscani area.
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All scheduled flights, including those operated by low cost airlines, land at Henri Coandă International Airport (IATA: OTP), located in Otopeni, 18 km north of downtown. Henri Coanda airport is often referred to as Otopeni on airline bookings, because of its location . The airport, built in 1968, underwent a massive modernization effort since the late 90’s and is set to be further enlarged. It is the main hub for the Romanian flag carrier Tarom. All concessions inside the airport (shops, cafes, restaurants) are extremely expensive (everything is about twice more expensive than in the city). Avoid exchanging money in the airport, exchange rates are 20-25% worse than what you would find in the city – you are advised to use a credit card at an ATM in the lobby for immediate needs and exchange money downtown. There is a supermarket on the bottom floor (domestic departure) which is a reasonable place to get a snack and/or spend your last few Lei on departure.
The smaller Aurel Vlaicu International Airport (IATA: BBU) was used for commercial flights as early as the 1920s and became a low cost hub in its final years. From March 25th 2012 it is no longer used by passenger airlines. It’s located inside the city, in Băneasa, about 4-6 km to the city center and is set to become a sort of business airport.
Expect the trip with bus 783 to be about 40 minutes long (from Piaţa Unirii to the airport) or even longer during rush hour traffic.
Express bus 780 links the airport with the main train station, Bucuresti Nord (Gara de Nord). It runs approximately every 40 minutes, daily (including weekends and holidays) from 5.30AM to 11PM.
When taking the 780 bus from Gara de Nord train station to Otopeni airport, note carefully that Gara de Nord is not the end of the bus route, hence, the 780 buses that pass Gara de Nord actually run in two directions. Therefore, at Gara de Nord, to catch the 780 that takes you to Otopeni airport, you need to catch it from the 780 bus-stop that requires crossing a road, i.e. not the 780 bus stop that is directly outside the Nord station. Best to ask locals where the correct bus stop is.
Lowest price option for any of these express buses is 8.6 lei (two rides uploaded on a Multiplu card). Cards can only be purchased from the booth in front of either the Arrivals or Departures terminals (respectively on the return trip from ticket booths in stations along their route), they can’t be bought from the driver. As of April 2012, there is a ticket machine in front of the Arrivals terminal in service 24 hours a day. Remember to always validate your ticket on boarding the bus, these two bus lines are a prime target for ticket inspectors. The bus is far superior to the train in terms of both time and cost.
Tickets can be bought inside the airport at CFR ticket counter; price is 8.1 lei. The trip starts with a transfer by shuttle bus to a small train stop two km away from the airport, followed by a 30 minutes train to Gara de Nord. The shuttle bus transfer is included in the train ticket. The total duration of the trip from airport to the Gara de Nord is approximately 50 minutes. From Gara de Nord you can take public transport (metro and buses) or you can depart by train towards other cities in Romania. The service runs approximately once every hour between 5.15AM and 8.20PM.
Should you end up in a situation like this, where the car is driving and the doors are locked and your luggage is in the trunk, then the only way out is to buy your way out through bargaining and lots of yelling back and forth. When lucky you might be able to settle for 120 lei with the driver, but 200 lei or more is not unheard of, especially when you end up having to pay a ‘personal escort’ of multiple people.
The safest way to get a taxi with the normal rate (1.39 lei/km) is to order one using the electronic touch-screen kiosks on the Arrivals level (after you claim your luggage and exit). This will provide you with a printed ticket (which you should be sure to keep) for a specific taxi which will arrive within minutes. Check nonetheless the rate before getting in (it should be written on the taxi’s doors) and also check that the meter is turned on. With a normal-rate taxi the ride to the city center should cost about 30-40 lei.