Bucharest’s only airport, officially known as Henri Coanda but still primarily called by its former name of Otopeni, is a bit of a dump and a far from satisfactory welcome to the Romanian capital. Built in the early 1970s, despite being extended in the 2000s it remains far too small for the ever-increasing number of flights which use it. At certain times, notably early in the morning and last thing at night, it approaches breaking point as the sheer weight of passengers force systems to break down. Whether arriving or departing, it can take up to an hour during the busiest periods to pass through passport control (still done entirely by airport staff: there are no automatic gates). Then, if you have been unfortunate enough to check luggage, you will need to wait even longer for your bag. There are just four baggage carousels, often serving three for four flights each, resulting in an almighty and rather unholy scramble.
Do not be tempted to change money at any of the currency exchange points which lurk strategically next to passport control and baggage claim: they offer appalling rates of exchange and/or charge high rates of commission. The best way to get your hands on local lei is to use one of the many cashpoints in the chaotic, always busy main arrivals hall. Here you will also find an overpriced café, while to your right is a long walkway linking the arrivals and departure terminals. Along its length are a number of key service points: all of the major car rental companies are located here, as is a chemist and newsagent. In the basement of the departure terminal is a supermarket and – if needed – a doctor’s surgery open 24hrs.
Otopeni is around 17 kilometres north of the centre of Bucharest. The best way to get to the city centre is by cheap local taxi, although it depends on which kind of taxi you take. You will see signs for ‘Rapid Taxi’: ignore them. These are expensive, rip-off taxis which for some unknown reason are allowed to wait for unsuspecting passengers directly outside the arrivals terminal. Instead, you should order a cheap taxi using one of the touch screens in the arrivals hall. There are four of these (two to the left as you exit, two to your right). At busy times you might have to queue, but the wait is usually worth it. Note however that the machines offer taxis from a number of Bucharest taxi companies, both those charging the correct fee of 1.39 lei per kilometre and a couple charging much more: be careful which one you choose. When the machine has found you a taxi it will dispense a ticket that informs you of the waiting time, the name of the taxi company, the taxi’s registration number and the taxi’s ID number. You then go outside and wait for the taxi. Hold on to the ticket as you need to hand it to the driver. A ride to the city centre with a cheap taxi should cost between 30-40 lei, and not one ban more. You can also call an Uber if you have the app on your phone, although they are not allowed to pick you up directly outside the terminal: they will wait for you on the top floor of the car park, opposite.
Then there is the bus. Number 783 runs rather slowly from the airport to Piata Unirii (stopping at Piata Victoriei, Piata Romana and Universitate along the way). It stops in front of the ground floor of the arrivals terminal and departs every 30 minutes throughout the day, and then every 40 minutes throughout the night. Another bus, No. 780, runs to Bucharest’s main station, Gara de Nord, from 05:30-23:05. To take either bus you will need a ticket, in the shape of an Activ Card which needs to be purchased before you get on board. You can buy one from the little kiosk on your right hand side as you exit the arrivals terminal. A return journey to the city centre costs 7 lei (there are no singles) and you will also need to pay 3.70 for the card itself. However, it can be loaded with funds as often as you like at any ticket kiosk in Bucharest and used on all buses and trams.
Note that the buses - meant to be 'airport expresses' - in fact stop at every halt along their routes. What's more, the buses are standard Bucharest vehicles not adapted for those travelling to and from the airport (there is nowhere to put your luggage, for example). Still, it's cheap.
For a more comfortable ride into the city centre you can use a private airport transfer company. We recommend two companies: TransVision and S Tours: book in advance and your driver will be waiting for you as you exit the baggage area.
Finally, a word on departing from Otopeni. The road to the airport can get very busy during the morning and evening rush hours: always make sure you leave yourself enough time to get to the airport: at least an hour if you are taking the awfully slow bus.