The 'Pretenia' train from Bucharest to Chisinau, having its wheelsets changed

London to Moldova by rail...

Why not?  You travel on comfortable trains from London via Vienna to Bucharest.  You then take a venerable Moldovan sleeper train called the Prietenia from Bucharest to Chisinau, capital of Moldova.  This page explains how to travel by train from the UK via Munich and Bucharest to Chisinau in Moldova.

Pictured right, at the Romania-Moldovan frontier each sleeping-car of the Prietenia is lifted on hydraulic jacks to change the bogies.  You remain on board while this is done.

Update 2021International trains between Romania & Moldova aren't running due to covid-19, but the Bucharest-Chisinau sleeper train will resume in early November 2021, initially twice a week.

small bullet point  London to Chisinau train times, fares, tickets

small bullet point  What's Moldova like?

small bullet point  Useful country information

small bullet point  Recommended guidebooks

small bullet point  Hotels in Moldova


large bullet pointUseful country information

Train operator in Moldova:

CFM (Calea Ferata din Moldova), www.railway.md.  To check train times in Moldova & from Moldova to other ex-Soviet states, see www.poezda.net Eurostar times & fares.  All European train times: http://bahn.hafas.de

 

Time zone & :

GMT+2 (GMT+3 last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).

Dialling code:

 

+373

Currency:

£1 = approx 23 Leu.  €1 = approx 20 Leu.   Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.moldova.org   What's Moldova like?   Hotels in Moldova   Tripadvisor   Guidebooks

Visas:

From 1 January 2007, UK, EU & US citizens no longer need any visa to enter Moldova.  UK & EU citizens do not need a visa to enter Romania.

Page last updated:

5 September 2021.


large bullet pointLondon to Chişinău (Kishinev)

London, Paris, Bucharest ► Chişinău

Chişinău ► Bucharest, Paris, London

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets...

What is the Bucharest-Chisinau train like?

The Prietenia has elderly Soviet-era 4-berth 2nd class sleepers & 1st class 2-berth sleepers.  There is a bar car selling snacks and drinks, but no restaurant, so take your own provisions.  The train's name Prietenia means friendship in Romanian.  The cars are jacked up at the border station of Ungheni to have the bogies changed, from Romania's standard gauge (4'8.5") to Russian gauge (5').  You remain on board while this nis done.

Chisinau-Bucharest train about to leave

The Prietenia from Chişinău to Bucharest about to leave Chişinău.  Photos courtesy of Malcolm B & Peter Brogdale.

A 2-berth 1st class sleeper on the train to Chisinau (Kishinev)   Destination board of the Prietenia

1st class 2-berth compartment.  Larger photo.

Destination board in car 4.

Travellers' reports:  On the train to Moldova...

Traveller Josy Spooner wrote this illustrated blog about a journey on this train in 2015:  happinessisthe.wordpress.com/2015/09/20/a-vintage-train-journey-to-chisinau-moldova/

Traveller Robert Hall reports:  "The Romanian boarder was reached at 0400ish where our passports were taken away and scanned.  The Moldovan’s are much more efficient and had a portable passport reading machine, although a second inspection resulted in ours being taken away again – I guess this is because our passports had a fair number of stamps and visa’s in them and they wanted to check them a bit more!  The train was comfortable enough and bedding was provided. A pillow case, basic towel and two sheets were supplied in a plastic bag.  In the space that went over the corridor from our compartment was a choice of either blankets or duvets.  We had to make up the beds ourselves – no seats had to be taken apart. Whilst the gauge change itself at Ungheli went without issue/notice some of the shunting does not encourage sleep!"

Traveller and group organiser Neil McDonald describes his party of sixty kilted Scotsmen knocking back the Moldovan champagne on the Prietenia :  "I would describe the comfort as typical Soviet type comfort, although I enjoyed my journey on this service and indeed I intend using this service again.  There were comments about bugs in some of the carriages but I never had any problems with my carriage.  The Staff were a mixture of personalities, and with a party of 65 people spread over 6 carriages I got mixed reports about the stewards.  Some (well most) were extremely friendly towards my group (almost all Kilted Scotsman) however some were grumpy and one steward seemed on the take.  Most were very good with dealing with lost documentation and some of my group ended up sleeping in completely the wrong carriage without any problems.  The train buffet was a very cheap and cheerful effort.  I managed a small plate of chicken from the train buffet for the grand sum of 70p (it was soon sold out as word spread of the price through the train) and we discovered bottles of Moldovan Champagne going for £2.50 (have a guess how long that lasted too).  Other items were going cheap as well."

The 'Pretenia' train from Bucharest to Chisinau   The 'Pretenia' train from Bucharest to Chisinau, having its wheelsets changed

Sleeper corridor aboard the PrieteniaPhoto courtesy of Jon Ethridge.

 

Chişinău railway station, Moldova.   Photo courtesy of Jon Ethridge.

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  Seats on the Chisinau to Odessa train
 

The Chisinau to Odessa train.  Courtesy of Discoverbyrail.com

London to Moldova via Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev & Odessa...

There's another option.  Why not travel from London via Berlin and Warsaw to Kiev, sleeper to Odessa, then use the Odessa to Chisinau train?


What's Moldova like?

Travel David Keating reports from a visit back in summer 2006, still relevant although much has changed since then:  "I cannot foresee Chisinau becoming a tourist hotspot.  It was from what one can see from old photographs once a very attractive city, but it was mostly flattened in WW2.  There are one or two individual buildings of note still left, including a fine old station recently restored.  It is a very green city with plenty of trees and parks.  The central market is an excellent old fashioned food and general market which no longer exists in places like Poland.  No one hassles you in Moldova, it's cheap to eat and drink though accommodation can be more pricey.  At Orhei Vecchi there is an UNESCO heritage site comprising an unusual limestone cliff exposed by river erosion in which over the centuries mankind has burrowed, with many interesting remains.  There are also half a dozen attractive monasteries.  There is no where really to stay outside the capital, but the country can be reached usually on appalling roads in a day trip.  The countryside is unspectacular otherwise, rolling landscape, greatly impoverished villages.  There is a village by the river near Orhei, Trebushen, where an enterprising family provide pleasant accommodation with all meals and local wine at €30 per day per person.  People do stay from all over the world, for example stray Japanese, Scandinavians, Italians and French.  The village is not spoilt by modern buildings, there is walking to be done and otherwise pottering about. Some venture on the river.  The family arrange collection of guests from Chisinau, which is about 40 km away.  The place is desperately poor, and with the embargo placed on all imports by Russia the situation can only get worse.  Over 80% of agricultural produce, wine etc was exported to Russia.  Putin is putting the squeeze on to prevent Moldova following in the track of Ukraine.  Transnistria, the breakaway enclave supported by Putin is a difficult place to visit.  Tales come through of tourists having to pay for so-called visas etc.  The rail link from Ukraine and Russia passes through Transnistria, as does the Russian gas supply, and the main power station providing over 80% of the electricity comes from there.  When Stalin carved up the Romanian territory of Moldavia, he cut some off and gave it to Ukraine, in particular its coastal territory  and took a piece of Ukraine and stuck it on. The heavy industry, military base, power stations were located on the other side of the Dniestr river in what had not been part of Romania. It is that chunk which holds many assets which together with a slice seized on the Romanian side of the river that comprises the breakaway enclave. The EU has declared it illegal and none of its henchmen can visit or pass through EU territory. It is a major conduit of arms made there, drugs, people trafficking, etc.  This autumn the Russian embargo will really start to bite harder. More than a third of the population has left for greener pastures mostly as illegal workers in Portugal, Spain, Italy, the UK of course and here in Ireland.  The ones that go are the young fit ones.  In rural Moldova 80% of women between the ages of 16 and 36 are missing most of them forcibly taken into prostitution. It is a major scandal."

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large bullet pointEuropean Rail Timetable & maps

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineTraveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable) has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team set up a private venture and resumed publication of the famous European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online at www.amazon.co.uk (UK addresses) or www.europeanrailtimetable.eu (shipping worldwide).  More information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

Rail Map Europe is the map I recommend, covering all of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  Scenic routes & high-speed lines are highlighted.  See an extract from the map.  Buy online at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu (shipping worldwide) or for £9.67 at www.amazon.co.uk (UK addresses).

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large bullet pointRecommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - buy online at AmazonLonely Planet Romania & Moldova - buy online at AmazonYou should take a good guidebook.  For the independent traveller, this means either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both series are excellent.  The Lonely Planet range offers an in-depth guide for Romania and Moldova or a guide covering all the countries in Eastern Europe.  You won't regret buying one!

Click the images to buy at Amazon...

 

 

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large bullet pointHotels in Moldova

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

www.tripadvisor.com is the place to find independent travellers' reviews of all the main hotels.

Backpacker hostels...

www.hostelworld.com:  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in most cities at rock-bottom prices.

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large bullet pointTravel insurance & VPN...

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Confused.com logo

Always take out travel insurance...

You should take out travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I use an annual policy myself.  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flagwww.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & covers you even if the FCDO advises against non-essential travel.

UK flag

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

UK flagYou can use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

 Australian flag New Zealand flag  Irish flag    If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct.

 US flag If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card to save on foreign transaction fees...

Banks often give a poor exchange rate, then charge a currency conversion fee as well.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I use a Curve Blue card myself - I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card - they'll give you £5 cashback through that link, too.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.

 


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