Review: Prietenia Night Train Bucharest to Chisinau

This review details a trip on the “Prietenia” night train between Bucharest (Romania) and Chisinau (Moldova) in a private sleeper.

Train to Moldova

As I already wrote in the trip report introduction, I had to make my way from Bucharest in Romania to Chișinău in Moldova in order to catch my flight to Uzbekistan.

Fortunately, this is rather straightforward as due to the close historical and cultural links between Romania and Moldova there are daily departures by plane, train and bus.

Personally, I prefer to take the train between Romania and Moldova as it’s much cheaper than a flight and certainly more comfortable than a bus.

If you want to travel between Romania and Moldova by train you have the choice between an overnight train and daytime trains.

A daily sleeper train called the “Prietenia” (which means “friendship” in Romanian) links Bucharest with Chisinau.

If you want to travel during daylight hours from Romania to Moldova there is also a twice daily Iași to Chisinau train.

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The Prietenia sleeper train has arrived in Chisinau after the overnight journey from Bucharest. ©Paliparan

Prietenia train and prices

To reach Chisinau, I would take the Prietenia night train from Bucharest.

It’s certainly not a fast way to travel between Bucharest and Chisinau as this train takes 14 hours to complete its journey – almost twice as long as a bus between these two capital cities.

However, there are a few reasons why you may want to opt for the Prietenia train.

As the journey is overnight, you can save a night’s hotel bill and still use the daytime hours before departure for sightseeing in Bucharest or Chisinau.

Secondly, the train is an experience in itself and if you can look beyond the obvious downsides it’s a glorious throwback in time.

Moreover, prices for the Prietenia are highly affordable, making this train a perfect budget option as well.

sleeper wagon corridor
Corridor inside a sleeper wagon on the Prietenia train. ©Paliparan

Ticket prices

There are two classes available on the Prietenia night train between Bucharest and Chisinau.

The 2nd class couchettes have four berths in each compartment, while 1st class sleepers have two berths in each compartment.

Unless you book all berths in a couchette compartment or opt for a single sleeper, you will share your compartment with other travellers of the same gender.

Tickets can be bought online at both website of the Romanian Railways (CFR) and the website of the Moldovan Railways (CFM).

If you search online for train timetables you can find the Prietenia night train back under train number 401 when travelling between Chisinau and Bucharest and as train 402 when travelling in the reverse direction.

The Bucharest to Chisinau Prietenia train costs 131.30 RON (€26) for a berth in a 4-person couchette compartment, 192.91 RON (€39) for a bed in a shared first class compartment, and 258.56 RON (€52) for a first class compartment for single (private) occupancy.

Do note that when you book your Prietenia tickets at the CFR website you have to collect them at a Romanian train station before departure, so it’s better not to use it when you start your travels in Chisinau!

train tickets
Sleeper train ticket and a single compartment reservation for the Bucharest to Chisinau train. ©Paliparan

Bucharest Gara de Nord

Let’s take a look at how the train journey between Romania’s capital and the capital of Moldova actually looks like.

I arrived at București Gara de Nord (Bucharest North Station – the main railway station of the city) some 30 minutes before the departure of my train.

Although the façade of the train station is pretty impressive, the station itself is a bit derelict and can be rather gloomy in the evening hours.

However, despite the fact that the platforms are badly lit the station does have some charm and will certainly bring you right in the mood for an exciting new travel adventure.

There are plenty of shops, supermarkets and fast food restaurants at Bucharest Gara de Nord to eat something before departure or to stock up for the journey ahead.

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The station of Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan
bucharest gara de nord train departure board
Train departure board at Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan
bucharest gara de nord platforms
Bucharest Gara de Nord platforms. ©Paliparan
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Trains at Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan
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Waiting at the platform for the Chisinau train to arrive. ©Paliparan

The train arrives

As Bucharest Gara de Nord is a terminus, trains are reversed into the station.

The Prietenia train is usually shunted into the station some 15 to 20 minutes before departure, which was also the case this time around.

You will immediately notice that the Prietenia looks different that the other trains around it.

The Prietenia, which is operated by the Moldovan Railways, has blue-and-yellow coloured wagons similar to those used in Ukraine.

Indeed, it’s basically your typical Soviet-era train as the wagons, travel classes and on-board facilities are similar as those which you will find on the trains in many other countries which once were part of the USSR.

In fact, the wagons used on the Prietenia train were built in the early 1980s in the GDR (German Democratic Republic – former communist East Germany) by a company called VEB Waggonbau.

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The night train to Chisinau is being shunted into the station of Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan
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The Prietenia train is being shunted into the terminus station of Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan
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The Prietenia night train which links Romania with Moldova has arrived at the station of Bucharest. ©Paliparan
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The wagons of the Prietenia train were built in communist East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republic). ©Paliparan

On board the Prietenia train

I had booked a ticket for the sleeper wagon on the Prietenia train, which was not even a quarter full when I travelled.

Travelling on the night train between Bucharest and Chisinau really is a throwback in time.

Whether it’s the curtains or the carpets inside the dark corridor, the Prietenia night train for sure has a bit of an old-fashioned vibe.

Although you should certainly not expect any luxury, the sleeper compartment itself is perfectly comfortable.

Each sleeper compartment has two beds, a small table and two power sockets.

With its bright but ghastly gold colours, the interior design of the sleeper wagon compartments is however rather kitschy, it probably being designed by the secret love child of Donald Trump and a Soviet train designer from the 1980s.

The fake flowers and giant mirrors on both of the walls are other unique design elements.

However, if you take down the gaudy golden seat covers the real interior of the sleeping wagon is revealed, as the beds actually have a much more classy Bordeaux-red colour with a delicate pattern.

There is plenty of storage space in each compartment as you can place your bags in a storage compartment underneath the beds or in a vestibule above the corridor.

As you can lock the doors of your sleeper compartment, it’s perfectly safe to travel on the Prietenia night train.

sleeping car corridor
Sleeping car corridor. ©Paliparan
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A sleeper compartment on the Prietenia night train. ©Paliparan
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Once you take down the gold-coloured seat covers, you will notice that the original interior is much more classy. ©Paliparan
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Sleeper compartment on the Prietenia night train between Romania and Moldova. ©Paliparan
golden curtains
Golden curtains with CFM Moldova logo and a fake plant. ©Paliparan
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Interior of a sleeper compartment on the Bucharest-Chisinau night train. ©Paliparan
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Fake flowers on the table. ©Paliparan

Couchettes

The couchette compartments on the Prietenia train are perfectly comfortable too, although a bit more basic than the sleepers.

They feature four berths – an upper and lower berth at each side of the compartment.

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A 4-berth couchette compartment on the Prietenia night train. ©Paliparan
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Upper berth in a couchette compartment. ©Paliparan

Toilet facilities

Whether you travel in a sleeper or a couchette, you will have to make use of the shared toilet and washroom facilities.

At both ends of each carriage you will find a rather basic toilet, with soap, toilet paper and hand towels being provided.

When walking through the corridor towards the toilet you will certainly notice the many bilingual Romanian and  Russian signs and posters on the train.

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Toilet on the Prietenia train. ©Paliparan
washbasin
Train washbasin. ©Paliparan
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Bilingual notice in Romanian and Russian. ©Paliparan
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Emergency brake, which is called a “stop-kran” in Russian. ©Paliparan

Sleeper Train “Prietenia” Bucharest to Chisinau
Train 402 – Departure: 7.15pm – Arrival: 9.27am (+1 day)
Duration: 14h12m – Distance: 593 kilometres
Private sleeper – Costs: 49 EUR

bucharest chisinau train map
The route of the Prietenia sleeper train between Bucharest and Chisinau. ©OpenStreetMap/Paliparan

Departure

When you travel in late autumn or winter, there isn’t much you can see from the window after departure as it will already be dark.

This was also the case during my journey.

However, you can try to look out for the station buildings at some of the intermediate stops in places such as Ploiești and Râmnicu Sărat.

Râmnicu Sărat station
The train station of Râmnicu Sărat. ©Paliparan
Iași station stop
The railway station of Iași as seen from the train window. ©Paliparan

Dining car

The Prietenia night train has a dining car as well, although in practice it’s actually more of a bar wagon.

Don’t expect to get a full meal here as the food on board is limited to crisps and small snacks only.

However, the bar wagon on the Prietenia train is excellent for those who want to have a drink as it does sell beer, wine and strong alcohol.

A bottle of beer will set you back around €1.30, while a bottle of Moldovan red goes for just €3.50.

I ended up buying a bottle of Cricova sparkling wine for €4.50 and drinking it at one of the standing tables inside the bar wagon.

Card payments are not accepted, so make sure you bring Romanian lei or Moldovan lei cash.

If you travel from Romania to Moldova you will have no problem whatsoever exchanging any surplus Romanian lei in Chisinau, although changing Moldovan lei is more tricky in Bucharest.

Of course, you can always bring a small picnic with you on board and consume your own food and drinks in the comfort of your compartment.

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The dining car of the Prietenia night train. ©Paliparan
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You can buy drinks or snack at the counter of the bar wagon. ©Paliparan
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The bar wagon on the Bucharest to Chisinau train. ©Paliparan
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Prietenia bar wagon. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying some Moldovan sparkling wine in the bar wagon of the Prietenia night train. ©Paliparan

Smuggling

A trained eye will notice that the wooden panels in the dining car of the train are held together with adhesive tape.

These pieces of tape all have the words “opechatano” and “oplombirovano” (meaning “sealed” in Russian) written on them and feature an official government stamp.

The reason why these seals are placed is to help out the Romanian and Moldovan border guards during customs checks as they know that a broken seal could mean that someone has placed some contraband behind the wooden panels!

Especially the smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco has always been a problem at the Moldovan-Romanian border, with both organised crime and small-time local smugglers involved in it.

However, thanks to anti-corruption drives and increased professionalism of the authorities of both countries, the situation has much improved in recent years.

sealed panels
The wooden panels in the bar wagon are sealed. ©Paliparan
moldovan stamp seal
The bits of adhesive tape all have a stamp of the Moldovan Interior Ministry on them. ©Paliparan

Trenulețul

In 2022, the Chisinau to Bucharest Prietenia train was immortalised in the lyrics of Moldova’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest and suddenly became well-known across Europe.

This Eurovision song by the famous Moldovan band Zdob și Zdub and the Advahov Brothers is called Trenulețul (Little Train) and tells the tale of a ride on the train from Chisinau to Bucharest.

When you watch the official music video, you may already recognise the train from some of the pictures I have posted so far in this article!

However, the dining car they use in the clip is unfortunately not featured on the real Prietenia train as it was used on the trains linking Chisinau with Moscow, a connection that has been discontinued since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Time to sleep

Having finished the wine, it was time for me to go to sleep.

When the train departs you will be given a package with freshly washed bed linens by the sleeper wagon attendant.

Inside both the sleeper and couchette compartments you can already find a mattress pad, blanket and pillow.

You will however have to make up the bed yourself – even when travelling in a sleeper!

The bed linens were all a complete mishmash of styles and seemed to be in circulation for at least two decades and randomly picked together by the Moldovan Railways washing ladies.

Even though it might not be the epitome of luxury, you can have a good night of sleep on the Prietenia train.

However, if you are a light sleeper who is not used to night trains you should note that the train does rock a bit around and can be a little noisy due to the poor quality of the railway tracks.

Because of the poor state of the railway lines, the train won’t travel much faster than 50kph (31mph) during most of the journey.

bed linens train
Bed linens are provided in plastic wrapping. ©Paliparan
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With my bed fully made, I was finally able to go to sleep. ©Paliparan

At the border

At around 3am at night, the Prietenia train arrives at the Romanian border station of Ungheni Prut.

Here, Romanian border guards will board the train to collect the passengers’ passports for a check.

You remain on board in the comfort of your own compartment when this is done – the border guards will simply return your passport about half an hour later when they have finished their checks.

The train will then cross the River Prut and enter Moldova, stopping at the town of Ungheni proper for Moldovan customs and passport control, which is done in a similar way on board the train as well.

When travelling the other way around from Chisinau to Bucharest, don’t be surprised if the Romanian border guards want to check your luggage (although this is relatively rare if you are a western-looking tourist).

As you will be entering the EU, the customs checks performed in this direction are quite a bit more serious, with border guards keeping an eye out for the illegal smuggling of cigarettes and other goods.

Because of the late night border checks and interrupted sleep I do actually prefer to take the Prietenia train the other way around from Chisinau to Bucharest, as in this direction you will cross the Moldovan-Romanian border at more humane hours between 8pm and 11pm.

ungheni passport stamp
A passport stamp of the Moldovan railway border of Ungheni (top left). ©Paliparan

Bogie exchange

Another reason why it takes the Prietenia night train 14 hours to cover the relatively short distance between Bucharest and Chisinau is the change of bogies at the border between Romania and Moldova.

This is done at the Moldovan side of the border in Ungheni.

Here, railway workers will change the bogies (wheelsets) of each wagon, which is needed as there is a difference in railway gauge between Romania and Moldova.

Just like most of continental Europe, Romania uses standard gauge tracks (4 feet and 8.5 inches wide) while the countries of the former Soviet Union such as Moldova use Russian gauge tracks (5-foot wide).

The reason behind the different track gauges is historical, as the Russian Empire decided to build their railways a bit more wide than those in continental Europe as this way it wouldn’t be as easy for an invading army to transport their troops into the country by train!

This is why the stop at the Moldovan border station of Ungheni lasts almost two hours as the wagons of the Prietenia train are jacked up one by one to have their bogies changed.

ungheni bogie exchange
Bogie exchange facilities at the border station of Ungheni. ©Paliparan
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Change of bogies at the Ungheni border. ©Paliparan

On to Chisinau

With the bogie exchange being complete and passport control done, the Prietenia train can finally start its final stint towards Chisinau.

It takes the train around two-and-a-half hours to cover the distance between Ungheni and Chisinau.

I managed to have a bit of extra sleep and woke up when the train was riding along the banks of the Ghidighici Reservoir.

It doesn’t take long before the blocks of flats in the outskirts of Chisinau show up in the distance.

moldova morning view
Morning view from the train window somewhere in Moldova. ©Paliparan
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Riding along the shores of Lake Ghidighici just to the north of Chisinau. ©Paliparan
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Approaching the outskirts of Chisinau. ©Paliparan

Chisinau arrival

Although it’s not uncommon for the Prietenia night train to be delayed, we arrived spot on time in Chisinau this time around.

Chisinau has a cute little railway station and it’s well-worth to have a short look around the place.

You will however instantly notice that there aren’t many other trains around.

Once the passengers from the Prietenia have all disembarked and left the station, the premises are eerily quiet.

Unfortunately, the Moldovan Railways are struggling with financial problems and lots of other issues and there are barely any domestic train services operating.

When it comes to international train travel, the situation isn’t great either.

Although trains between Chisinau and Kyiv have been reinstated, the international services from Chisinau to Odessa, Moscow and Saint Petersburg have all been suspended due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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The Prietenia sleeper train has arrived in Chisinau. ©Paliparan
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The rear end of the Prietenia train at Chisinau station. ©Paliparan
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Passengers disembarking from the Prietenia night train. ©Paliparan
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The train shed of Chisinau’s railway station. ©Paliparan
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Wonderful entrance towards the main station building. ©Paliparan
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Inside the train station of Chisinau. ©Paliparan
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The front entrance of Chisinau train station. ©Paliparan
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Chisinau train station as seen from a nearby bridge over the railway tracks. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

The Prietenia sleeper train linking Bucharest to Chisinau is a convenient and affordable way to travel between the capitals of Romania and Moldova.

The train has comfortable couchette and sleeper compartments and a fun bar wagon selling cheap drinks and snacks.

However, the Prietenia night train might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The train is a bit old and basic and given that the ride quality is rather poor due to the bad state of the tracks it might not be the best option for light sleepers.

Although the 3am border formalities are certainly inconvenient when travelling from Bucharest to Chisinau, it is however great fun to see the train wagons being jacked up for the bogie exchange in order to overcome the break of gauge between Romania and Moldova.

Taking the Prietenia night train between Bucharest and Chisinau can therefore be best described as a travel experience in its own right.

If you don’t mind the lack of luxury, the old facilities and the long travel time, the Bucharest-Chisinau train will make for a fun ride.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘From Uzbekistan With Plov‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Prietenia Night Train Bucharest to Chisinau (current chapter)
2. Chisinau Guide: A Visit to Moldova’s Capital
3. Istanbul Ataturk Airport and the Turkish Airlines Lounge
4. Review: Turkish Airlines Business Class Airbus A330
5. Tashkent Travels: A Day in the Capital of Uzbekistan
6. Tashkent to Samarkand by Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ Train
7. Samarkand Visit Guide: Travelling Through Silk Road Splendour
8. Review: Afrosiyob High-Speed Train Samarkand to Bukhara
9. Bukhara: Exploring Unique Historic Sights and Timeless Charm
10. Bukhara to Khiva by Train: My Travel Experience
11. Khiva: Uzbekistan’s Unique Desert Oasis City
12. On a Night Train Across Uzbekistan: From Urgench to Tashkent
13. Guide: How to Travel From Tashkent to Shymkent
14. Shymkent: The Gateway to Southern Kazakhstan
15. Sukhoi Superjet: Flying Russia’s Homemade Plane

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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One thought on “Review: Prietenia Night Train Bucharest to Chisinau

  • July 19, 2023 at 5:20 pm
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    Great review! Thank you!

    Reply

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