Traveling from Budapest to Bucharest by train – The Ister

Budapest and Bucharest are two of the biggest cities in Eastern Europe. They are the capitals of Hungary and Romania, respectively. Both are becoming increasingly popular with tourists (particularly Budapest), and they are worth exploring.

We give you everything you need to know to travel between Budapest and Bucharest by train. Though, if you are traveling from Budapest to Bucharest, you might as well take the opportunity to visit Bucharest and Budapest.

Note: you can easily do it the other way around, from Bucharest to Budapest.

Important facts about the Ister night train
Budapest Train Station – Budapest to Bucharest train

What’s the train between Budapest and Bucharest?

The train connecting these two cities is usually called the Ister Express, EN 473 (EN472 if doing it Bucharest-Budapest). It’s an intercity train that stops many times along the way. Alternatively, you can use the train connecting Vienna to Bucharest, which stops in Budapest. This train is called the Dacia Express, EN 347 (346, if doing it Bucharest-Budapest).

Fun fact: Ister is the ancient name for the River Danube.

How is the Train Budapest to Bucharest
Budapest to Bucharest sleeper train

At what time is the Budapest-Bucharest Train?

First, we should point out that both are night trains! The Ister leaves at 19:10 and the Dacia at 22:04. They take the same 16 hours and 55 minutes: the Ister arrives at 12:05 and the Dacia at 22:00! They are both daily trains, available every day.

Both trains leave from Budapest Keleti and arrive at Bucuresti Nord.

The timetable of the Ister express train (EN 473)
The timetable of the Ister express train (EN 473) – the train from budapest to bucharest

How is the Budapest-Bucharest sleeper train?

As mentioned above, the Ister is a night train with several different coaches and seating options.
The train connecting Bucharest and Budapest is somewhat aged but still in good condition.

In fact, it was more comfortable than we expected. You can buy the seat only or the sleeper carriages with couchettes or beds. There are 4-berth couchettes and 6-berth couchettes, both with a shared bathroom. If you want a private bathroom, buy a sleeper ticket with 1, 2, or 3 beds.

Inside of a 4 berth couchettes in the train Budapest-Bucharest
The four berth couchettes in the Ister train

First of all, this is a long trip, and unless you are on a really (and I mean really!) tight budget, I strongly suggest you go with a couchette. If you are in a group of 4 or 6, it should be a no-brainer.

I think the four berths are a much better choice between the four and the 6-berth. The 6-berth is crowded, and many people in such a small place mean sleeping will be challenging.

How is the Budapest-Bucharest train?
Seats in the Ister Express train (EN 473)

What do the couchettes look like?

The 4-berth couchette was surprisingly comfortable, with an air conditioner and more space than what we expected. The layout is simple, with seats that convert into four berths, looking like two bunk beds.

You are provided with sheets and a pillow to make the experience comfy. Furthermore, the couchettes have an automatic air conditioner, making it even better. Finally, each couchette had one electric plug, which was a lovely surprise, and there were also a few in the corridor. 

How are the 4 berth couchettes in the Ister train
The 4 berth couchettes in the Ister

We have never tried the private sleepers, so we can’t tell you how much better it is or if it’s worth it. If anybody has tried it, I would really love to hear from you.

The coaches have two shared bathrooms on each end of the coaches. They are very small but fairly clean, similar to airplane ones.

Tip: Don’t forget to take your own toilet paper; sometimes they have, and sometimes they don’t… you don’t want to try your luck, do you? 🙂

Finally, note that we never did the Dacia train. All the information here is about the Ister train to Bucharest! If anyone tried the Dacia, feel free to let us know.

How is the Budapest-Bucharest train trip?

The trip starts in Budapest-Keleti, and fortunately, it’s very easy to get to Keleti as there is a metro station right next to the train station. To get there, you just need to get to metro lines 2 or 4.

Keleti train station tends to be a little messy in peak hours, mainly when there are too many tourists. There are several supermarkets, bakeries, and fast food joints where you can have dinner and buy food for your long journey.

As we said above, these are night trains, and they depart at night, so unfortunately, in the first hours, you won’t be able to enjoy any scenery. You won’t be able to see anything in Hungary at all. A few minutes into the trip, the Stewert will come to check your tickets. Note that he will keep them until the end of the journey.

How is the Budapest- Bucharest train trip
The Budapest – Bucharest train trip

How’s the border crossing between Hungary and Romania?

The border crossing happens around midnight and takes more than an hour. Note that Hungary is part of the Schengen area, and Romania isn’t! So you need to exit Hungary and then enter Romania.

However, the whole border process is very simple, and you don’t even need to leave the train or your compartment. The officer asks for your passport, scan it in a portable machine, and you are done!

Border crossing between Hungary and Romania
The border between Hungary and Romania

The voyage was very smooth, much more than I expected, and then the Bucharest – Istanbul one! I usually have trouble sleeping, but this time, I slept rather well. The beds were comfortable, wide enough but a little short! I suppose people taller than 180cm could have problems…

In the morning, one can have a coffee in the bar and enjoy the wonderful scenery of the Carpathian mountains, particularly the stretch between Braşov and Bucharest. Note: You can pay using Euros or Leus but can’t use a card.

Bar of the Ister Train
Bar of the Ister Train

Should I take entertainment on this trip?

YES! Don’t forget to take entertainment with you! A book, a laptop, cards… anything! It will be a very long trip if you have nothing else to do! And, as we said above, you have electricity, so you can recharge your phone/laptop/tablet!

Bucharest to Budapest by train

Is the Budapest-Bucharest train trip safe?

Sleeper carriages in the Ister Express train
Sleeper carriages in the Ister Express train

You may be wondering if this trip is safe… We can only say that it was perfectly safe for us. We weren’t bothered at all! You can lock your compartment during the night to sleep relaxed.

We were a little worried because we read a few bad reviews about night trains in Eastern Europe, but we never had any problem or saw anything that could indicate a problem.

No matter how safe a trip is, we always recommend you buy travel insurance!

How to buy Budapest Bucharest train tickets?

Everyone will tell you to buy them on the spot! We do agree that most of the time, it will be your best option, but you need to consider a few things:

  • If you buy locally, you may have access to a discount price, which makes the trip much cheaper;
  • However, you may also get there, and the tickets are sold out. This is very unlikely during most of the year, but in peak season, it may happen;
  • Tickets with a discount may have all been sold, and now you have to buy more expensive ones!

All in all, we suggest you buy beforehand if you are traveling in the Summer. If it’s the low season, you are probably safe buying directly in Budapest. Anyway, note that you are taking a risk!

Buying tickets for the Budapest- Bucharest train
Romanian train

What to do when I arrive in Bucharest?

Arriving at Bucharest Nord, which is close to the city center but not close enough to walk, we recommend using Uber, which is cheap and easy.

We strongly recommend staying as close to the center as possible. It’s where everything happens and where almost all the tourist attractions are. The box below allows you to search for hotels, hostels, and apartments.

All you need to now about the Ister Express train
Bucharest train station

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