One of the great things about travelling across Europe is that there are a million different ways to get around. Buses, trains and flights are available in nearly every major city and with the advent of low-cost carriers and rail passes, it has never been easier to travel around the continent. That being said, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of hopping on board a train to get to your next destination. Riding the rails allows you to see a country, meet new people and have an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Home to one of Europe’s most extensive train networks, Romania is the perfect example. Its capital, Bucharest, welcomes travellers from all across Europe every single day and the rest of the country is connected by a variety of different rail systems. With so many different options for train travel here, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle, but here are five easy tips to make sure your Romanian rail experience is as convenient as possible.
Know the types of trains
Start your rail journey through Romania in Bucharest. Photo courtesy Nico B.
With over 11,000km (6,835 mi) of track in Romania, it’s no surprise there are multiple types of trains including the local personal trains, accelerat, rapid, expres, and InterCity. When booking your passage make sure you know which type you’ll be travelling on.
Local trains are the cheapest, but they’re also the slowest (as they make every single local stop) and can often be crowded as well. Accelerat trains also make most stops, but travel faster than local trains and are usually less crowded. Rapid and expres trains only make major stops, travel quickly and even boast dining cars. As a result, they’re often the most popular for travelling long distances. The InterCity train is the most expensive of the five options and while definitely the most comfortable, the rapid and expres trains travel just as quickly. With so many options, consider the one that best fits your needs.
Make a reservation
Advance planning can help make sure you have a comfortable ride.
If you’re taking a local train, you only need to show up at the train station within two hours of departure and buy a ticket. Local trains operate as the main form of transit for locals, making it easy to just rock up to the ticket counter. For the other types of trains—international, or with a rail pass—make a reservation; otherwise, you risk not finding a seat and maybe even being refused boarding. And if you’re travelling overnight, make sure to reserve a spot in a sleeping compartment or you’ll be stuck sitting up all night long while trying to fall asleep.
If you have your travel dates arranged ahead of time, it’s a good idea to book your train tickets online in advance (no matter what type of train you’re taking). It guarantees you a spot and reduces your risk of missing your ride. For example, with train stations only selling tickets two hours in advance, lines can often be quite long and you may be forced to buy a first-class ticket just to be sure you get on board. Also, some ticket offices don’t sell same-day tickets for any trains other than local ones, so if you show up without a ticket already booked, you may be left without any other options.
Take local trains
The old city of Brasov, Romania. Photo courtesy Sorin M.
It’s definitely not the type of train to take when travelling long distances, but if you’re travelling between smaller towns and villages, a local train is the way to go. Because of the ability to buy local tickets mere hours before departure, along with the fact that there are multiple departures for local trains from every station every single day, travelling by local train allows for day-trips to explore different parts of Romania from your “home base” and to act on last-minute or spur-of-the-moment travel decisions. On top of that, taking a local train is a great way to immerse yourself and experience Romania.
Know the extra fees
The charming streets of Sighisoara. Photo courtesy Charles R.
As with travel in general, it’s always important to know what you’re paying for. The easiest way to spend more than you should when travelling by rail in Romania is to book a first-class ticket because you feel you have to. Simply put, you don’t. Romanian rail companies have invested heavily to make sure all trains are nice and comfortable. And in reality, first-class cars for rapid, expres and InterCity trains are very similar to second-class cars. If you’re looking to save, there is no need to book a first-class ticket.
More importantly, Romanian train stations are home to lots of touts looking to get as much as they can out of unsuspecting marks. If you arrive at a station here and are bombarded by men or women pretending to work for the rail companies and asking for “extra fees,” disregard them. If you’ve bought your tickets online or from a ticket office then there are no extra fees to pay. A last resort to ward off touts is to yell “politai” (“police”).
Discover the amenities
Take in the lush forest landscapes of Romania from your window seat.
Different types of trains have different amenities on board. InterCity, rapid and expres trains often have dining carts while accelerat and local trains do not. Most trains have accessible bathrooms, but some local trains do not (or they may have bathrooms that lack toilet paper). Higher-class trains usually have cars with observation decks, but depending on the route some may not. So depending on what you want or need, make sure to check what will be available to you onboard. I also recommend picking up some snacks before your journey. Even if your train has a dining car, picking up some local treats from vendors before you get on the train is the tastiest way to go.
Travelling by train in Romania can be memorable and exciting because you’ll end up seeing everything from the breathtaking views of the Carpathians and Transylvania, to the beauty and serenity of the sea along the coast, and the stunning architecture in villages and towns. You’ll get to interact with locals from all over the country and you’ll be able to do so from the comfort of one of many different types of trains. Romania is an amazing country to visit and there’s no better way to do it then by train.
Hop aboard our Budapest to Istanbul by Rail trip and ride the rails through Romania. G Adventures is thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.