Crime & Safety
We do not exaggerate when we say that Romania's cities are amongst the safest in Europe. Violent crime is rare and almost always carried out exclusively between rival gangs who often fight for territory in the less-salubrious areas of Bucharest and other major cities.
However, if you do not go looking for trouble the chances of you getting into any are tiny. While pickpockets are everywhere (you should be particularly careful on crowded buses, and always watch your bag in busy pubs and clubs), petty thieves are a cowardly lot in Romania and will run a mile at the first sign of any resistance. Knife-crime is unheard of, and even women can walk the city’s streets alone at night in safety.
The Romanian police force is also far better and less corrupt than it used to be and keeps a visual presence on city streets, especially in busy areas.
In a nutshell though, do not worry. Of all Romania’s many, many problems, crime really is the least of them.
In an emergency call 112 for Police, Ambulance or Fire Services.
In Bucharest, the main police station is at Str. Lascar Catargiu 22 (halfway between Piata Romana and Piata Victoriei), tel. +40 21 212 56 84).
It was once written that you couldn’t swing a cat in Bucharest without hitting a dog (by us, in fact, in our first issue, some 16 years ago) and for almost two decades the subject of the city's stray dogs was a highly sensitive one, not least as hundreds of visitors were being bitten each year.
Finally, however, there is progress to report. Indeed, in many parts if the city, the strays have gone. Yep, while you may still spot the odd stray here and there, the number of vicious stray dogs terrorising the Romanian capital’s streets is decreasing fast.
The agency responsible for dealing with stray dogs, ASPA, published in January a report which would suggest the dog problem is indeed becoming a thing of the past: it estimates the number of strays in Bucharest to now be as low as 4,000: that’s a huge decrease since the last major dog census was carried out in 2013, when there were almost 65,000.
This of course begs the question: Where have all the dogs gone? To be perfectly honest, we don’t really care, but according to ASPA around 20,000 have been adopted, 2,000 remain in shelters and 26,000 have been put down.
What’s important of course is that the dogs are no longer on our streets, and that things stay that way: dog numbers have fallen in the past (although never as low as current levels) only to increase again very quickly. Keeping the streets safe is an ongoing task. It is also a shame that a small boy had to die (a four-year-old was mauled to death by strays in 2013) before something got done.
Should you be bitten during your time in Bucharest, present yourself at once to the casualty unit (Camera de Garda) at the Institutul Matei Bals, Str. Dr. Calistrat Grozovici 1, tel. (+4) 021 318 60 90. The wound will be cleaned up, and you will be administered both an anti-tetanus and an anti-rabies jab (the anti-rabies injection is the first of a course three: the others must be done seven and then 21 days afterwards). You will also get a prescription for a course of antibiotics.
There are left luggage lockers (which include plugs where you can charge phones and such like) at Gara de Nord in the First Class ticket office. They cost from 5 lei (for three hours) to 10 lei (for ten hours). There is also a conventional left luggage service close at the station, close to the main exit, where it costs 5 lei per small bag per 24 hours. You will need ID. There are no left luggage facilities at the airport.
The Romanian currency is the leu (plural lei), which comes in the following denomination banknotes: 1 leu, 5 lei, 10 lei, 50 lei, 100 lei, 200 lei and 500 lei. Each leu is divided into 100 bani, available as coins of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50.
Always change money in a bank, never in an exchange house or with poeple on the street.
€1 currently equals around 4.44 lei. See the current exchange rate here.
Smoking has been banned in Romania in all indoor public spaces since March 17th, 2016.
As we predicted, despite a few objections from loutish reactionaries, the law has been generally well received and impeccably observed and enforced.
This is partly due to the huge fines being handed out to those venues allowing people to smoke where they shouldn't.
While individuals can be fined between 100 and 500 lei – not an inconsiderable sum - it is venues which can be hit the hardest. Substantial, eye-watering amounts of between 5000 and 15,000 lei await venues whose patrons are found puffing away. Places repeatedly caught turning a blind eye to smokers will be forced to close. This has meant that the law has been enforced by the management of venues themselves.
So, where can you still smoke in Romania? Well, outside: that’s about it. There will be a smoking section at the airport (and in Romania’s prisons, should you get arrested) but otherwise you will need to leave the building to have a smoke. As the weather gets warmer this should not be a problem: almost all venues in Bucharest have terraces on which you will be able to smoke.
Finally, a word on the price of cigarettes: this has not change at all, and Romania is still home to the Euopean Union’s cheapest smokes. Expect to pay around 15.50 lei for a pack of 20.
There are decent public toilets at Piata Victoriei metro station (free), and at Gara de Nord (for which you have to pay, 1 leu). You will find free portaloos around the city, but these should be used only by the very desperate. Otherwise, find the nearest McDonald’s and make use of their facilities. (Note, however, that entrance to some McDonald’s toilets in Bucharest is protected with a four-digit code, which you will get when you buy something).
When Things Go Wrong
In an emergency call 112. You do not need to use the city code. You will be asked which service you require (Politia/Police, Ambulanta/Ambulance or Pompierii/ Firemen). Emergency call centre operators should speak English or French but in our experience they do not always do so. At least make sure you know the name of the street you are calling from. If you get into trouble with the Police, demand to call your embassy. There is a list here. The city‘s main police station is at Str. Lascar Cartagiu 22, tel. (+4) 021 212 56 84. The best Casualty Unit (Emergency Room) in the city is at Spitalul de Urgente, Calea Floreasca 8, next to Dinamo Stadium. If you do not fancy waiting, use the private Regina Maria Euroclinic hospital just up the road. Emergency consultations cost 220 lei.
There is a list of 24-hour pharmacies here, and an English-speaking dentist here.
Where Am I?
Bucharest, capital of Romania. Situated in that part of the world which will - to those of a certain age - always be known as Eastern Europe, it would be more accurate to describe Bucharest’s geographical location as south-eastern Europe.
Founded, legend has it, in the 14th century, Bucharest is in that part of Romania known as Wallachia, one of the three historic principalities which make up the modern country (the others are Moldavia and Transylvania).
The official population of Bucharest is just under two million, but as many migrants from the rest of the country do not bother to register as citizens of the capital, the true number is thought to be closer to three million.
Bucharest is close to the Danube (which is just 69 kilometres to the south), the border between Romania and Bulgaria. The main crossing point is at Giurgiu, linked by a bridge with Ruse, the Bulgarian town on the other side of the river, whose pleasant centre is well worth a day trip. Alas you will need a car, as train services between Bucharest and Ruse (and the rest of Bulgaria) are poor.
Bucharest is around 240 kilometres from Constanta and the Black Sea coast, and now that the A2 motorway goes all the way to the Black Sea port, the journey can be done in just over two hours. The train service to Constanta is slightly faster. To the north of Bucharest is Ploiesti - once the centre of Romania’s oil industry - and beyond that the Carpathian Mountains, a two hour drive away.