First off, the airport.
Do not change any money here, as exchange rates are poor (as in the rip-off end of poor). Instead, use one of the many, many ATMs in the arrivals area.
Next, getting into town from the airport: making sure that this step of the journey does not end up costing you more than your flight is one of the reasons we exist.
In fact, avoiding rip-off taxi drivers at Bucharest’s Otopeni Aiport is now easier than it ever has been. You can get the full rundown over at the day job, Bucharest In Your Pocket, but in brief, here’s what to do.
As you exit the baggage reclaim area, on both your left and right you will see a number of ATM-like machines offering the services, in a number of languages, of just about all of Bucharest’s taxi companies. That makes you the luckiest football supporters ever to arrive in Bucharest. (In the past, you had to run the gauntlet of taxi touts, who thought nothing of taking you for every penny you had). The rates of all the companies – do not pay more than 1.69 lei per kilometre – are well displayed. Choose a taxi company (for what it’s worth Meridian is our company of choice) and wait for a ticket to be printed. The ticket will contain the ID number of the taxi. Keep it, as you will have to give it to the driver. Then just go outside and wait for the taxi. It really is that simple. Ignore – and we mean ignore – the sign for ‘Rapid’ taxis on the lower concourse. These are the rip-off merchants, which, for some unfathomable reason, are still allowed to pick up passengers. A standard Bucharest taxi (a Dacia Logan) will take four passengers at a push, and a ride into the city centre will cost no more than 50 lei.
We should also add that there is also a perfectly good bus which goes right into the city centre (it stops at Piata Victoriei, Piata Romana and Piata Unirii). Details here. The train into town is a total waste of time.
Unfortunately, elsewhere in the city you still need to be very careful about which kind of taxi you jump into. Only ever take one from a trusted company (we list some of those here). Some fans and journalists here in 2011 for a Manchester United game were right royally ripped off.
Once in town, if you don’t have accommodation already sorted, you will need somewhere to sleep. Here is a decent-sized list of recommended places to stay, with direct links to booking.com.
While some Romanian news reports have suggested that Northern Ireland’s legendarily thirsty supporters will do wonders for the failing Romanian economy, it is worth noting that not all of Bucharest’s bar, pub and restaurant owners are likely to welcome big groups of lads with open arms. Best stick to places used to accommodating football fans: Mojo, on Strada Gabroveni in the Old Town, is one such place. It’s our local for a start, it has a British owner, Sky Sports, the beer is cheap and these days it’s pretty much the city’s main expat hangout.
(You night also be interested to know that Bucharest is a big casino city. The best, by a mile, is the Casino Bucharest at the InterContinental hotel).
Lots more Bucharest nightlife listings here.
For food, we suggest City Grill or even historic Hanul lui Manuc: both are big enough to cope. There are plenty of other options in the Old Town area, everything from kebabs (the best is Gyros Thessaloniki) to high class French cuisine courtesy of La Bonne Bouche and Bon.
Lots more Bucharest restaurant listings here.
We understand that tickets for the Northern Ireland section will be picked up from the Europa Royale hotel on Thursday and Friday. It’s here, right on Piata Unirii, from where special buses to the stadium and back (which are usually – but not always – laid on for visiting supporters) depart from.
The Romania-Northern Ireland game will be played at Bucharest’s impressive Arena Nationala (and not Steaua’s ground, as was the case until a few years ago). The closest metro station is Piata Muncii, about ten minutes from the stadium. There’s a map of the metro (designed by Son of Bucharest Life) here. Piata Unirii is the closest metro station to the Old Town. It should take no more than 15 minutes to get to Piata Muncii (change at Dristor).
There is also a bus, No. 104, direct from Piata Unirii to the stadium, and if previous experience is anything to go buy, the city will run free buses to and from the stadium before and after the game: these will probably depart from the bus stop in front of Hanul lui Manuc (see the map below).
The chances are, however, that you will take a taxi. Be careful, and pay no more than around 15 lei (it isn’t all that far).
And be warned: getting back into the city centre after the game (which will end at close to midnight local time) could be a bit of a nightmare. Expect to do a bit of walking. Finding a taxi is usually impossible. If you can, jump on one of the buses which will (probably) be laid on to take visiting supporters back to the Old Town area.
Chances of any trouble? None. There was a little bit of handbags when Hungary came to town, but that’s local history at play. Norn Iron fans – like most visiting supporters – can expect a fabulous welcome. Chelsea have been in Bucharest twice over the past 18 months (to play Steaua) and on both occasions we sat in the Steaua sections wearing Chelsea scarves. Even in last year’s Champions League game (which Chelsea won 4-0) there was nothing more than the odd funny look to deal with as the goals flew in. As a rule, Bucharest – be it inside a football ground or elsewhere – is an incredibly safe city.
We have mapped most of the places we mention:
Don’t forget to download a PDF copy of Bucharest In Your Pocket before you leave, and then pick up a hard copy when you arrive: ask your concierge for it by name if you do not find one on your hotel room.
Finally, if anyone wants to ask us anything about Bucharest between now and the game, feel free, either here or on Twitter.