Travel Tramp is all about slow travel. I took the old Soviet sleeper train from Bucharest to Chisinau, on the long over land route between these two European capital cities. It was slow, sleepless and…did I say slow already? It was just how overland travel should be. Here’s my guide to catching the sleeper train from Bucharest to Chisinau.
There’s one train a day from Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, to Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. And there’s one train a day in the opposite direction too. And they’re both slow. Really slow. But if you want to travel overland, it’s the best option. And if you love Soviet nostalgia as much as I do, then you’re in for a real treat. This train is as authentic as it gets. It’s a genuine Soviet Sleeper Train. The Prietenia.
The train currently (2016) departs from Bucharest at 19.35pm, every day of the week, arriving the following morning around 09.00am.
The other way, from Chisinau, the train departs at 16.45pm, arriving into Bucharest around 06.00am.
Check the Man in Seat 61 for updates!
Getting A Ticket…
Your first step is picking up a ticket. Pretty easy right? In Bucharest, head to the main terminal. The Gara de Nord. It’s on metro lines M1 and M4. There’s a map HERE you can peruse at your leisure. You buy a ticket at the booth, and this will be valid for two journeys on the metro! At the station go to Casa 1, the international ticket office. A second class sleeper berth cost me around 25 Euros one way. Watch out for a few chaps who hang around, talking to you in English and being all friendly and helping you out. They then ask for money and get pissed off when you don’t give them any!
Here’s the location of Bucharest’s Gara de Nord:
In Chisinau, the station is much smaller, it’s much easier to find the ticket booth. I think there’s only one. The central station is much grander than the sprawling Romanian beast in Bucharest, but a lot of the signs are in Cyrillic which can be tricky for some to follow! The station is about a 20 minute walk from the centre of the city. A taxi is cheap, and a trolley bus even cheaper, but unless you speak Romanian or Russian, or have been here before then you might struggle with either of these options! I just walked.
Chisinau central station is located right here:
I don’t think it’s possible to buy a ticket online, but I rocked up an hour before the departure and easily purchased a ticket there and then. This was winter and midweek, so things may be different on weekends or in busier periods, but generally the route is pretty quiet these days. Did I mention how slow it is?
At The Station…
The trains leave bang on time. Not that they will arrive when they should. In Bucharest it rolled up to the platform about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure. I was slightly worried that I was standing in the wrong place until it physically appeared. Then I just flailed my ticket around in the conductor’s face and she directed me to the right carriage. It turns out everything is numbered fine anyway. Load up on snacks, beer and water before you leave. There’s nothing on the train, unless the conductor lets you in on their secret Vodka stash.
On The Train…
It was quiet. I had an entire sleeper cabin to myself. I’d booked a second class berth, there were four beds in the cabin, and just me. It was rather pleasant. From my walks up and down the train, it seemed that most people had their own carriage, so you can probably asked to be moved if you want more privacy too. The train stopped a few times to pick up more passengers, but no one intruded on me the whole way to Chisinau.
The attendant gave me some blankets, showed me how the lights worked, took my ticket away and I didn’t see her again until the morning. Don’t be scared if they take your ticket. They give it back again when the train pulls into its destination. A slightly confusing system.
Everything on the train is authentic. Or old. It depends how you see these things. The train has been in use since the 1950’s but they have changed the blankets since. The toilets were genuine Soviet toilets.
Crossing The Border…
The train trundles across the land. Slowly. Painstakingly slowly. It’s around 500 km, which high speed trains could probably cover in a few hours these days. This takes over 12 hours. You’re in for a long ride, so take extra vodka.
Around 2am the train hits the border when travelling from Bucharest. This is the fun part.
Moldova and Romania have different sized rail gauges. Stalin was a paranoid dictator, and wanted to slow down any invasions of the Soviet Union. It didn’t stop the Germans though. Now it means the carriages have to be individually lifted off one set of wheels and placed onto another. It’s rather tedious. And very loud.
With a British passport (and presumably any EU passport), it’s easy to travel between Romania and Moldova. The Romanians came on and checked my documents. They asked if I had any drugs or guns. I said no. Then the Moldovans came on shortly after and seemed perplexed that I was a tourist in Moldova. They also asked if I had any drugs or guns. Again, I said no. They stamped my passport and then the train moved on (about two hours later when the wheels were added….).
*As as side note, when I left Moldova I never received an exit stamp as I travelled through the disputed territory of Transnistria. I don’t know if this means the Moldovans would give me trouble if I went back through a different entrance, and many months or years after my stamp had expired. Does anyone know?*
The sleeper train from Bucharest to Chisinau is a long ride, but take enough Vodka and it’s rather enjoyable. You’ll have your own cabin (probably) and you get to experience an authentic piece of Soviet history. And as a bonus Bucharest and Chisinau are awesome places to travel to.
If you’re heading to Moldova, then check out Transnistria, a breakaway territory with Lenin statues still standing!
For my adventures in Chisinau, then click HERE!
Thanks for this…hoping to take the train from Chisinau back to Bucharest nest week!
How did the trip go guys?
Great! Here are all the details… http://www.travelwithkevinandruth.com/2016/12/we-dont-like-cutting-things-that-close.html
Love it! The train looks exactly how I remember it haha! It’s almost like it hasn’t changed since the day’s of Stalin…!
Hey! Great reading your report! As a side note, the wider track gauge has nothing to do with Stalin and even with military reasons – it was done in the 19th century before Stalin, at a time when there was no one standard gauge in Europe or elsewhere (UK used wider ones as well for a little bit).
as for your question about Moldova stamp – you’d be fine, as long as you received a Ukrainian entry stamp. 🙂
I am planning on doing this trip in the summer, we’ll see how easy it is to get a “private” compartment!
By the way – did the Romanian border guards give you a stamp in the passport or just the Moldovans?
Thanks for the info! The Romanian border guards gave me no stamp as I have an EU passport (UK), so only the Moldovans did!
Hi. FYI. I was told today (June 27, 2017), by Chisinau’s station ticket office, that the train from Chisinau to Bucharest only runs on Mondays and Thursdays. I asked twice.
Hi Cyn thanks for the update! I’ll add it into the post for everyone. I made the journey almost two years ago now so its good to have more recent information from fellow travellers.
From Deutsche Bahn site (link by CFR, romanian railway) about Chișinău – București Nord: „…runs daily, not 19. Jul, 21. until 23. Jul 2017, 25., 26. Jul, 28. until 30. Jul 2017”.
I like taking train journeys, because they are so excellent getting the glimpses of people and scenery around, though they can be slow and mundane sometimes but you get to see lots of people and fellow travelers; I liked reading this post about your train journey;
Hi – I was reading up on this route a little bit and noticed an blog post on the same route published 11 months after yours…with some alarmingly similar wording. Google ranks it one position above yours when searching “Bucharest to Chisinau”. Just wanted to make you aware of this.
Yours: Watch out for a few chaps who hang around, talking to you in English and being all friendly and helping you out. They then ask for money and get pissed off when you don’t give them any!
Hers: Tip: Watch out for a few guys who hang around, talking to you in English and being all friendly and helping you out. They then ask for money and get pissed off when you don’t give them any!
Yours: Stalin was a paranoid dictator, and wanted to slow down any invasions of the Soviet Union. It didn’t stop the Germans though.
Hers: Stalin was a paranoid dictator, and wanted to slow down any invasions of the Soviet Union. (It didn’t exactly stop the Germans though!)
Hi, thanks for the heads up it is very similar indeed…
Thank You, Richard !! I will go from Bucharest to Chisinau next week and this helps me to decide how to get there.
Hi Richard! Do you think this route is safe for a woman traveling alone?
I will be taking this train during my trip next month! Thanks for a preview with this blog!