Perhaps because of its many decades of communist rule, Romania remains one of Europe’s lesser coveted destinations. However, now that the shadow of communism has well and truly lifted, Romania – and Bucharest in particular – is emerging as something of a haven for digital nomads.
Indeed, the low cost of living, general air of mystique and perhaps most importantly of all – phenomenal Internet speeds - have helped to turn this once unknown city (to westerners anyway) into a highly desirable, semi- secret nomad bolthole. The fact that Bucharest is also the perfect base for exploring the Hungarian forests and the beaches of Montenegro doesn’t detract much from its charm either.
So how does a digital nomad like yourself get ensconced in this grand yet wholly intimate municipality? Well, following the steps outlined below will get you off to a promising start...
Step 1: Get Settled
Although Bucharest isn’t blessed with a wide array of hostels, it has to be said that the overall standard is really pretty good. Many digital nomads (especially those with a Jim Morrison complex) make a beeline for the centrally located Doors Hostel when they first arrive as this laid-back haven, with its large garden and hammocks, has a way of making you feel immediately welcome and very relaxed.
As tempting as it may be to stay in hostel digs for the duration of your stay (and plenty of nomads do), chances are you’ll want to rent a place of your own if you’re hoping to stay for an extended period of time. Fortunately, Bucharest has a wealth of accommodation options available to suit all budgets (the city is often cited as being the cheapest large European city for expats to rent property in.
Choosing an area to live in is pretty simple. If you like the idea of being close to restaurants, galleries, theatres and the general hubbub of urban life then the city centre is where you’ll want to lay your hat. If kicking back in altogether leafier and more sedate surroundings is more your thing then suburban neighbourhoods like Dorobanti, Kiseleff, Primaverii, Floreasca, Domenii and Herastrau should probably be high up on your list.
It is generally the case that you’ll be limited to renting an apartment or perhaps a townhouse in the city centre. If you’re happy to stay out in the suburbs then, you can add larger houses and villas to your list of potential homes. On average, suburban properties tend to be cheaper than city centre accommodation, although prices will vary according to size and access to essentials like public transport and shopping malls.
As is often the case, using a specialist online accommodation finder like airbnb is often the best way to find a short or long-term let in a new city. However, if you’re keen to do things the old-fashioned way then help yourself out by getting in touch with a local estate agent. Their (shockingly impressive) knowledge of English, French and sometimes even Italian, Spanish or German will make the whole process much easier for you. Of course, you’ll have to pay for this assistance: this normally equates to around the equivalent of one month’s rent. The usual lease period in Romania is 12 months, although shorter leases can be arranged.
Step 2: Get Around
Bucharest’s spotlessly clean streets make it an eminently pleasantly city to navigate on foot. Indeed, the capital’s streets and buildings are so clean that they make Berlin look almost apocalyptic in comparison. One thing you do have to be aware of when walking around Bucharest though is stray dogs: there are hundreds of thousands of them. Suffice to say, you should avoid these homeless canines as best you can, particularly those that congregate in packs. Although the cycling infrastructure is limited by Western European standards, pedalling around on two wheels can be an enjoyable way of getting from A to B (more so on Sundays).
Bucharest’s metro system is clean and affordable. In fact, the only problem with it is that no new lines have been added to the original four since the communist era ended in 1989. The system operates between 5.30am and 11.30pm and trains tend to run every five to seven minutes during peak times and roughly every 20 minutes during less busy periods. If you’re staying for a while then, it is well worth spending 60 Lei (just over €13) on a one-month unlimited travel ticket. Bargain!
In addition to the metro, Bucharest is also well served by buses, trolley buses and trams. These three forms of transportation are run by RATB - the local public transport operator – so they all use the same ticketing system. Tickets can be bought from street kiosks (casa de biletes) located next to bus stops all around the city.
Although a lot more reputable than they once were, it is fair to say Bucharest’s taxi drivers still don’t have the cleanest of reputations. To be fair, it is mostly the unscrupulous activities of the rogue cabbies who congregate outside the Gară de Nord train station (avoid them like the plague) that give the industry a bad name. If you do need to use a cab then be sure to opt for one that has a meter (and uses it). Better still, call one of the well established taxi firms like Cobalcescu, CrisTaxi, and Taxi Sprint, or get a hostel/restaurant owner to phone one for you. Most taxi drivers will expect a tip of around 10 per cent.
Step 3: Get Wired
Many well travelled digital nomads cite Bucharest’s Internet performance as being the jewel in the city’s crown. Not only is it super-duper fast (the sixth fastest on the planet), it is also widely available for free. As such going online out on the street, in a restaurant or in a coffee shop without paying a bean is part of daily life here.
Anil Polat of Fox Nomad described this set-up perfectly:"Romania, and Bucharest specifically, is something of a travel blogger’s digital fantasy come true. Walk down most streets, stop on any corner, whip out your smart phone and more often than not you’ll find a wireless connection. That’s open. No password required; generally because a commodity as common as an Internet connection here isn’t worth stealing."
This means that there is really no need to pay extra for having Internet access in your home nor do you need to search around endlessly for a particular type of cafe or coffee shop (although the Brit C@fe in the courtyard of the British Council on Calea Dorobantilor is always worth a few hours of your time).
If you enjoy working in the company of others then, you may want to find a co-working space to socialise in. If this is the case then do yourself a favour and head for the Impact Hub in Uniril Square offers. As well as funky work spaces, special networking events and workshops, this friendly co-working space in the heart of the city also provides workers with gourmet lunches on Tuesday afternoons - well worth going along for!
The fact that Bucharest remains a little bit off the increasingly well worn digital nomad track – away from the Chiang Mais, Berlins and Bangkoks of the world – is what, I believe, gives it its charm. Sure, it’s not the most exciting city you’ll come across, nor is it one of Europe’s ’must-see’ destinations. What it is though is a charming city that is able to provide a very good standard of living, a great social scene, and some fantastic transport links to many other parts of Europe and Asia – and all for some of the cheapest lifestyle costs on the entire Continent.
It’s definitely worth checking out.
Have you spent some time living and working in Bucharest? If so, let us know your opinions by leaving a comment in the box below.