If flying isn’t your thing, or, like me, you’re traveling Europe with a dog, trains are an excellent option! Not only do trains cut down on your carbon footprint while traveling, but there’s something romantic about a long train ride across countries. Sometimes, however, train travel across country borders can be nerve-wracking if you’re unsure of what to expect. So, here’s everything you need to know about taking the train from Budapest to Sibiu, one of the most epic train rides in Europe!
In January 2020, I had to make my way from Italy to Romania without flying. Andre’s first flight was from Boston to Rome and he didn’t love it, despite him being in the cabin with me. I decided my best option was to take the overnight train from Rome to Vienna, train to Budapest for a few days, and then take the train to Sibiu.
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There are two trains running from Budapest to Sibiu, one during the day and one overnight train. Both take just under 11 hours. I opted to take the day train because I wouldn’t be able to check-in to my Airbnb in Sibiu until many hours after arriving in Sibiu. I didn’t want to deal with lugging all of my stuff (and my dog) around an unknown city all day. The night train departs in the evening around 19:00, so I would also have to spend a few hours in Budapest after check-out. The night train is scheduled to run from 19:10-07:01 (next day).
Exterior and interior of my Budapest VRBO
After spending a few short days in Budapest and cramming in some activities, I felt like a day of relaxation spent reading on a train would be welcomed. The day train is scheduled for 09:10-20:52. Mine didn’t arrive in Sibiu until almost midnight, which was entirely my fault – more on that later.
Check-in and check-out are things that you’ll have to factor in when deciding which train you want to take.
One VERY important thing worth noting is that international train tickets departing from Hungary cannot be printed at home. They must be collected from a ticketing agency in Hungary. Your best bet is to purchase your ticket straight from the Keleti Railway Station. This will save you from any confusion or losing money when taking the train from Budapest to Sibiu.
Thankfully I’d done enough research prior to purchasing my ticket and bought it the night before departure from Keleti. The ticket for the day train cost me 19 euro.
The overnight train will run between 29 euro (2nd class, no bed) and 119 euro (single sleeper compartment). Couchettes are available for 60 euro. Purchasing this option consists of a bed in a compartment of 6 bunks. Meaning, you’d be potentially staying with strangers depending on how many are in your group.
As you can see, the day train is much less expensive if you’re watching your budget.
I was told that I’d pay for Andre on board the train, but, similar to my overnight train from Rome to Vienna, I was never charged. Andre has proved to be a very cheap travel buddy!
My first faux pas was incorrectly reading my ticket and sitting in the wrong train. This is SUPER important because at the border between Hungary and Romania, part of the train detaches! A kind Hungarian attendant helped me find my correct seat. I had so many bags, she actually took my dog for me! Be sure you are in the correct coach!
The journey isn’t necessarily what I would call scenic. It was early March in Central Europe. We passed through a lot of barren farmland in the Hungarian Great Plains region. It was peaceful and quiet, however. I spent my time reading a book on Romanian history to acquaint myself with my next destination.
A few hours later I realized my second mistake. In my frantic rush to collect all of my belongings and make my train, I’d forgotten to pack any water or snacks. For eleven hours. There was a snack cart somewhere but it detaches after crossing the border. Not to mention, I had a dog and multiple suitcases and wasn’t comfortable leaving them unattended.
Crossing the Border
Here’s where things got really interesting. Since Romania is not a Schengen state, there were border police. Leaving Hungary I had no problem. We stopped in Lőkösháza for border control, my passport was stamped. The Hungarian portion of the train detached and we continued to Romania.
Upon entering Curtici, the Romanian border police stepped on and began checking passports. They looked at mine briefly, asked where I’d been.
I replied nonchalantly, ‘Budapest.’
‘OK, before that?’
‘Italy.’ The patrolman took a step back.
Fuck. It was March 4, 2020 – days after Italy had been placed on lockdown due to the COVID pandemic. I’d barely made it out of the country, and yet the gravity of my current situation didn’t register with me until that moment.
The officer took my passport and left the train. Cue panic attack. I didn’t know whether I should get off the train or stay. I began packing up my belongings, prepared to be held at the border.
After about 45 minutes, the officer returned with at least five others. He asked where I’d been in Italy and, since I hadn’t been in the Northern red zone, I was permitted to enter Romania after filling out a number of forms declaring where I’d be staying and contact information. I also showed him my overnight ticket from Rome to Vienna, which proved that I left Italy on March 1st, prior to the national lockdown.
At the Romanian border – we made it!
The Rest of the Journey
The rest of the journey, while long, was very relaxed. The Hungarian plains gradually turned to the low-lying hills of Romania, atop some of which were ancient fortresses and castle ruins.
I made small talk with a few Romanians who were very surprised I was visiting their beloved country. I’ve found this to be common in Romania – citizens are very intrigued with your motives for visiting.
Although I was supposed to leave in June, I’ve been in Romania for 15 months now! There are certainly some things I wish I knew before moving to Romania, but adapting has been relatively easy.
Sibiu proved to be a truly wonderful city, though I moved to Cluj-Napoca in June. Despite only being in Sibiu for three months of lockdown plus one month of freedom, it made a lasting impression. There is a myriad of things to do and delicious places to eat and experience traditional Romanian food.
If you want to held elsewhere in Transylvania from Budapest, this same train route will continue on to both Brașov and Bucharest. A different route from Budapest will take you to Cluj-Napoca.
In retrospect, I’d absolutely take this train ride again and would recommend it to anyone. It was safe, lax, and comfortable. I’d just remember to bring water (and snacks) next time!