Bucharest, the mysterious and post-communist capital city of Romania.
If you’re like me you probably didn’t know too much about Romania’s biggest city unless you planned to visit or live there. Up until a few weeks before I arrived all I knew about Bucharest was that it was a city in the Balkans – and not much more.
If you’re planning on living in Bucharest in the future or you’re already living there and looking for some helpful information then you’ve come to the right place. In this guide I’m going to go over everything you need to know about living in Romania’s capital.
- Population: 1.9 million (unofficially 3 million)
- 6th largest city in Europe
- Known as “Little Paris”
- First mentioned in 1459
- 500-700 Euros average monthly salary
- Close to Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Turkey
Where is Bucharest?
Bucharest is located in the southern part of the country and situated nearly 70 km away from the Danube River. Nearly every major highway in Romania links up with Bucharest and although the country is quite large it’s pretty easy to get to the capital whether you’re driving, taking the bus or train, or you’re arriving at the airport.
Less than two hours north of the city are the Carpathian Mountains and other such popular tourist destinations like Brasov, Cluj-Napoca and Sighisoara. A few hours east and you’ll reach the popular coastal resort city of Constanta.
- Distance to Budapest: 820km
- Distance to Belgrade: 600km
- Distance to Sofia: 360km
Living in Bucharest
It shouldn’t be surprising that Bucharest is one of the cheapest cities to visit in Europe, as well as live in. Whether you are an ex-pat or long-term traveler there are plenty of options when it comes to accommodation and you’ll find that most young people speak English quite well.
Is it safe?
For a city of its size Bucharest is extremely safe and the chance of any violent crime happening is very low. Petty crime is common, like in any other city of comparable size, but as long as you practice common sense it’s unlikely that you’ll run into trouble.
When you’re looking for a place to live or stay there are a few areas of the city you want to avoid. Most of Sector 5, except that which is near the Old Town, and the area surrounding Pantelimon should be avoided.
The safest areas are Sector 1, 2 and any areas that are within walking distance of the Old Town. Calea Victorei is a wealthy street that runs from one end of the city to the other and it also has many options for safe and affordable living.
Public Transportation and Getting Around
While the public transportation in Bucharest is quite old it’s completely reliable and extremely affordable. When it comes to public transportation you can take a bus, streetcar or tram, or the newly renovated and upgraded Metro. No matter where you want to go in the city you will be able to find public transportation that gives you the best connection.
The city is also very well-connected should you want to get around and explore on foot. Besides cars taking up half the sidewalk there are plenty of pedestrian walkways, park paths and hidden passages that will take you all around the city. Bucharest is also very flat so you won’t have to walk up or down any steep hills very much at all.
If cycling is more your thing you will be pleased to learn that the city has begun to install a network of bicycle lanes across the urban core that bring cyclists from one end of the city to the other in a short period of time. Certain streets, like Calea Victorei, actually have a dedicated bike lane similar to ones you see in Paris and Amsterdam.
Most of the drivers are well aware of cyclists and I have yet to see any problems between motorists and somebody on their bike. Traffic actually runs quite slow and is often congested in the city center so a bicycle is one of the best ways to get around if the weather is agreeable.
Bucharest Cost of Living
Compared to Western standards the cost of living in Bucharest is quite low.
Rent is cheap, food is cheap, public transportation and taxis are extremely affordable and, for the most part, entertainment is also very inexpensive.
The currency that Romania uses is called the Lei. At the time of writing the current exchange rate was 1 Lei = 0.25 USD. The bills come in denominations up to 100 Lei and there might be larger bills but I haven’t encountered any yet. To every Lei there are 100 parts that make up the 1 and these are called bani. So, 1 Lei is equal to 100 bani, just like the pennies and the dollar in the US.
Lately the city has been experiencing somewhat of a modern Renaissance and everywhere you go there are construction, renovation and upgrade projects underway. You will definitely be surprised when you take the Metro for the first time as it is extremely modern and similar to metros in Western Europe.
Whether you want to spend a lot of money and live like a king or spend less and be more frugal you will still live a comfortable life in Bucharest.
Many of the basic food choices are very inexpensive so if you’re planning on doing a lot of cooking at home you’ll be able to save a lot of money. Eating out can be cheap but there are also fancy restaurants that are comparable in price to Western Europe.
The options are endless and you can spend anywhere between $3 USD and $50 USD for a meal for one person. It’s possible to eat out every day for $10-$20 USD but eating and preparing your meals at home will cost less than half of that.
Here are some examples of the costs (in USD) you can expect when it comes to food:
- 1 large pretzel from a bakery – $0.15 to $0.75
- 1 500ml can of domestic beer – $0.35 to $.125
- 1 slice of pizza – $0.75 to $1.50
- 1 chicken wrap or kebap – $2.25 to $4.00
- 1 can of coke – $0.30 to $0.65
- 2L bottle of water – $0.30 to $1.00
- 1 bakery item – $0.10 to $1.25 (including bread rolls to pastries and cakes)
- 1.5L of organic milk – $1.50 to $3.00
- 10 organic eggs – $1.25 to $2.75
- 1kg of chicken breast – $4.50 to $7.50
- 1 coffee and a pastry – $1.50 to $3.00
- 2 scoops of fresh, local ice cream – $2.50
- 3 course meal for 2 people at a mid-range restaurant – $15 to $22.50
As you can see these are definitely some inexpensive and affordable costs. Compared to the cheapest cities in other EU countries these prices are still far below what you would expect to pay in somewhere like Prague, Krakow or Bratislava.
Overall Thoughts on Living in Bucharest
You might not think that Bucharest is a beautiful, interesting and engaging city but after spending some time here or even living here I’m sure you’ll change your mind. Romania was the only country to violently remove their dictator when communist fell in the late 80s and early 90s and corruption was rampant until the mid 2010’s.
It’s only in the past few years that the city has begun to make the changes needed to allow Romania to compete on a global scale when it comes to tourism and economics.
Everywhere you go there are enormous projects underway that are changing the face of Romania and its many cities and in a few years I can see Bucharest becoming a top tourist destination for people looking for somewhere cheap and off the beaten path.
With more global companies opening headquarters and building offices in the city center and a rush to promote Romanian tourism there are plenty of new jobs opening up for expats, English speakers and even locals.
One by one Bucharest is tackling the problems left over from the Communist regime and they’re now considered to be a serious contender for Schengen membership.