Another definition question that interested me was: What is the easiest transportation to use throughout Romania for a foreigner? I plan to visit at some point but I'm still relatively ignorant of how to get about. I'm particularly interested in more rural areas and the mountains (the difficulty of crossing which I am also ignorant of).
- Cars are by far the most popular way to get around, so renting a car would be the first choice if you look for comfort and flexibility. Just be prepared for very long driving times. Roads are not bad, but they are usually 2 lanes (which means you can get stuck behind trucks or other slow vehicles), and pass through villages (where speed limit is 50km/h). I'd say average speed is < 50km/h on Romanian roads, unless you are pushing it really hard. Just get a road atlas (or ask for GPS when you rent the car) and come with a lot of patience.
- Hitchhiking is very popular. Might be a bit hard if you don't speak the language, but if you know where you're going you can just say the name of the place (or even write it down on a piece of paper and wave it in front of the cars passing by, so they don't need to stop and ask). Be aware that you are generally expected to pay for hitchhiking. I think people usually just "know" how much they are supposed to pay, because they do it often. You could either just ask how much it costs - or just try to hand out some random amount - 5 or 10 lei - probably more for long distances - and see how that goes. Might work out (they might be OK, or ask for a bit more - keep some small notes in a separate pocket for this exact purpose, so you don't look like a foreigner full of money and easy to rip off when you browse your 500s). Of course, being nice and engaging in a conversation will help with that too.
- There are plenty of buses - but it's a bit hard to find them, as they are operated by private companies - there is not always a good way to look for a bus or to know where it leaves from. People often call the bus companies directly to ask. http://www.autogari.ro/ seems to find quite a few buses, but I never used it.
- Trains are cool, comfortable and have good coverage (even a lot of small towns and villages have train stations), but they are very slow and inconvenient (time-wise). Average speed of all Romanian trains is said to be ~40km/h nowadays (down from ~90km/h in the late 80s) due to the advanced state of disrepair of the tracks. Of course - the actual average can be less than that if you need to make a transfer (which is pretty common). Use http://infofer.ro to search for trains. I heard you can buy tickets online, but I never did. Alternatively you can go to a train station or a "agenție de voiaj" to buy tickets.
- Biking is probably not much slower than the train. :) You can rent bikes in major cities, or you can bring your own. Although narrow, roads generally have a tiny "emergency lane" which you can use to bike. Here is a post about biking in Romania: http://www.productive.ro/blog/get-on-your-bike-and-see-romania.html
Any way you choose - be prepared with a lot of time and patience. Getting around in Romania is completely inefficient, but fun and rewarding at the same time. Remember that slower is not necessary worse when you're traveling. ;)
UPDATE: Slightly related and funny story. Today I tried to make a train trip in Romania (haven't lived here for 4 years now - so I'm pretty much a stranger here as well now, although I grew up here and I can speak the language). Never mind that the 200km trip was supposed to take 4h20min and involve 1 transfer according to the timetable. 15min and 6km after the train leaves, it stops for no reason. The staff tries to start the train for more than 1h. Seems that one of the cars suddenly stopped and they couldn't start it anymore. They ask everybody in that car (I was also there) to move to another car, so they can just leave without that car (they say we will leave in ~20min - which would mean being at least 1h30min late). I realize that I have no chance to catch the connection, so I get off, take a taxi (I was still in town - only 6km from the train station!) back to the train station and ask for a refund. 2h later I am back to where I started from. The trip was a complete failure - but I had a lot of fun and I don't regret it. :)
I was there in 2009. I highly recommend it, and the trains are very easy to use and are quite comfortable. Even when we had an overnight train on chairs, they have a 'backpacker' carriage just for the foreigners, and if there's space they assign you an empty seat next to you at all times, so you can stretch out and try and sleep.
I'v also been told hitching is totally fine and quite common, although I didn't try it myself. I'd prefer not to drive on some of those roads, they could be quite ... interesting.
Recommend Brasov as a base in Transylvania - near to Dracula's castle!
We have been in Romania in 2003 and we were using public transport most of the time - very reasonable, I don't remember having any issues with it. Both trains and minibusses were fine. Hitchhiking is quite popular, but beware that you are supposed to pay for it! (similar fee as for the bus). If we couldn't find any form of transport, we actually ended up chatting to random people with cars and we found some young blokes to drive us where we wanted (for a fee obviously).
I don't have any experience with renting a car, sorry.
The most comfortable and popular way is by train. There are trains toward most of the cities/villages. The train station in Bucharest is called "Gara de Nord"
You can go fast from Bucharest to mountain cities such as Brasov, Sinaia, Predeal (all these in the same zone) or farther to Sibiu. I think you may hire guides for mountain trips. Young Romanians also hike by foot (with rucksacks) and go camping.
Some cities might be connected by buses. There are also vans (called maxitaxi) which are fast.
The taxis in the cities are easy and convenient, though they will probably charge you more if you don't speak Romanian. Make sure they reset their meter when you get in (and that the meter is even on!).
Going between cities, I recommend the train. I once took the train from Timisoara to Bucharest (an over-night trip). Three one-way tickets (for three adults) in a sleeping car had the total price of about $50 USD, and the tickets can be purchased online from Căile Ferate Române - the official designation of the state railway carrier of Romania.