Our nine-day visit to the Transylvania area (including an epic Romania Road Trip) is something that will definitely stand out in our travels. From wandering the quaint, medieval streets of Brasov and Sighisoara to driving the twisty-turny Transfagarasan Highway – and so many moments in between.
It’s difficult to narrow down our Romania highlights, since we just loved this country so much, but we’ll give it a try.
1. Wandering Brasov
The first major stop of our trip was the beautiful town of Brasov. We arrived on a Saturday via train from Bucharest, expecting it to be crowded as most European cities often are on the weekends. But, it was calm, quiet and a relaxing place to wander. We were instantly in love with the medieval architecture, delicious (and inexpensive!) food options, and happy people. It really set the tone for a great trip.
Side Note: Truth be told, we may have very much loved Bucharest as well, but we didn’t see any of it. By the time we got to our hotel after our flight in from Athens, it was getting dark and we were exhausted. We didn’t even leave the hotel for food since we found a Pizza Hut and ordered some very lack-luster food online. But, that’s the extent of our experiences there!
Getting Around & Where We Stayed
Since we didn’t have our car rental at the start of our Romania trip, we just train hopped to our first couple of destinations – including Brasov where we needed to use public transport to go into town. Funny enough, we had read some blogs and reviews that it wasn’t a safe area – we’d be pickpocketed or things would be stolen from the table at dinner, we had to have our guard up at all times. NO!!!! Not this at all. These must have been old blog posts, because the only time we felt unsafe in this city was when our Uber driver decided to prioritize talking to us over driving. [FACEPALM] Of course, don’t be irresponsible, but there’s no need to be afraid.
However, I’ll note that we did stick to Uber over taxis because of the TripAdvisor notes about them trying to trick you out of more money and we just didn’t want to deal with it. May not be true, but we went the easy route just to be safe. Plus, we like using Uber as to not exchange cash.
We also stayed out of the main part of the city to be closer to the train station we used to get into and out of Brasov. Plus, it saved us some money and we got to stay at the fairly new and very nice Victoria Boulevard Hotel with a great breakfast included for US$78. Since the Ubers were so inexpensive, we thought this was well worth it.
Cost: About US$2 each way for Ubers to and from the hotel (since we stayed out of town), and US$8 each for meals.
2. Going Up Tampa Mountain in Brasov
One of the must-do activities in Brasov that we kept reading about was taking the cable car up the nearby Tampa Mountain to the iconic Brasov sign. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit to this beautiful city.
It’s quite easy to get to the cable car from town as well. However, there’s also a trail for those wanting a little more exercise on the way up and/or down the mountain. But regardless, at the top of the mountain, be sure to spend some time walking around to the various viewpoints. It’s lovely on a sunny day!
Cost: To take the cable car round trip, it is 17 lei (about US$4) . But for a free option, you could hike both ways! It’s only about an hour to hike up … just a steep climb!
3. Venturing into Salina Turda
We are total suckers for anything unique. So, when we saw we could go to an apocalyptic-looking amusement park deep underground in a salt mine, we couldn’t be stopped from going to Salina Turda.
This otherworldly place has a Ferris Wheel, mini-golf, bowling, ping-pong, and even some boats to paddle around on the underground lake. It’s a wild place that we highly recommend visiting. You can read more about our visit to Salina Turda, but trust us – it’s a hidden gem!
4. Turda Gorge
Late summer and early fall is the perfect time for a hike into nature. The cliff-side hike into Turda Gorge was just what we needed to stretch out our legs before a full day of driving.
It’s a GORGEous place with a fun trail that takes you over bridges and along rocky trails. You can also easily do this and a visit to Salina Turda in one day! See more from our visit at the end of the blog.
Cost: A few lei at a kiosk early on in the hike, but it appears it isn’t always working. So, sometimes it may be free!
5. Driving the Transfagarasan Highway
If you do one thing while in Romania, rent a car and drive this road. It’s a must if you love a good adventure or nature or beautiful views. The 130+ km drive twists and turns up into the mountains, over a stunning dam, and through lush forests. You may even see a bear, like we did!
To really extend the adventure, plan to stay at the lodge at Balea Lake (about US$60) at the top of the highway where you can take in the serene views until the stars come out. You could also plan to camp or just leave extra early to have plenty of time to enjoy this unforgettable area – and maybe even make a sheepdog friend. Oh – and in winter, there’s a cable car up to the lake and an ice hotel! YESSSS, please!?!?!
Cost: Just the cost of fuel (and lodging, if you want to stay overnight – which you totally should).
6. Exploring Rupea Fortress
We initially planned to see all the castles in the Transylvania area of Romania. Well … apparently, early September is still quite busy and the ones we were looking forward to seeing most were absolute madhouses when we got there. Parking was a nightmare (if even possible) and it just didn’t seem enjoyable with so many other people crammed into the same narrow hallways.
We’re a bit bummed to not have gone into Bran Castle or Peles Castle, but will definitely plan for it next time (because there WILL be a next time). And will likely just take a tour to avoid the crazy parking and traffic nonsense. Luckily, we found better weather and better success elsewhere.
We did get to go up to Rupea Fortress with no issues at all. It was in a wonderful location up on a hill in the small town of Rupea. And it was an interesting place – one of the oldest archeological sites in Romania – with great views. Best of all, it was easy to get to and we had it almost all to ourselves.
Cost: Entry fee was 10 lei (less than US$2.50) per adult at the time of our visit. There was no fee to park. Note, both Peles and Bran Castles had a parking fee and much higher entry fees!
7. Eating at Viscri 32: White Barn & Blue House
Nestled in the old-timey Saxon village of Viscri (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is an amazing foodie find. After parking around the corner in a designated lot, we walked down a trail past farm animals, until we found the back entrance to an adorable little historic farmhouse – Viscri 32: White Barn & Blue House. We had been told about this must-try place by another nomadic couple we met on a train, so I added it to our list!
This is the type of place I dream of finding in every little town we stumble upon. Delicious, local dishes, served in a lovely atmosphere with kind staff who seem to really enjoy their work. They even have an AirBnB on-site for those wanting to explore this unique little village more – or for those wanting to eat multiple meals at Viscri 32!
For our meal, we went for the four-course tasting menu option and split it. This included a starter plate of traditional cheeses, soup (went with the veggie one with pickled tarragon and potato), a main (Buddy had to try the traditional dish of potatoes and local sheep’s cheese with sausage), and a dessert of lush chocolate cake. Such a delicious and special meal.
Cost: We spent 110 lei (about US$25) for a four-course meal that we split. And it was so worth it for the experience and delicious, fresh food. It was definitely split-able as well. We were both stuffed.
8. Wandering Around Sighisoara
This city!!! I really wish we had planned more time to just take in this amazing medieval city. There were all these narrow paths leading to surprising new views of the countryside or surrounding city. And, of course, the architecture was absolutely stunning.
For you history lovers, it is one of seven fortified citadels that the Transylvanian Saxons built in the 12th century. It’s also where Vlad the Impaler was born (the actual man who is said to be the inspiration for the fictional Dracula character).
While there for our one night, we stayed at the classy and conveniently located Hotel Central Park Sighisoara (US$83 per night) which had great views of the city and free parking in an actual parking lot rather than the street. Hallelujah!
Cost: Free to wander! Food was also reasonable at about US$10 each for a meal with a beer.
9. Exploring the Best Bars & Restaurants in Cluj
While not as architecturally beautiful as places like Brasov and Sighisoara, Cluj-Napoca was a foodie dream and so much fun! It was actually voted as the European Youth Capital Winner in 2015, which makes so much sense. We could definitely hang out there for a longer period with its awesome youthful vibe and so many great food options from around the world.
A few food & drink highlights in Cluj for us were:
- Tortelli: The best pasta – obviously homemade and delicious. It took all of our strength not to eat here for every meal. So good!
- Eggcetera: This place had a fantastic breakfast that even came with a small bite to enjoy while we waited for our main course. I had avotoast because duh and Buddy had an amazing fruity french toast. Great fresh juice, too!
- Blend: We stopped for beers after some yummy Indian food next door. We loved how helpful and chatty the bartender was. When we told him we were from Colorado, he was psyched to talk beer and travel. Our fave was the Sencha Japanese Tea Pale Ale from Hop Hooligans.
- The Soviet: This bar basically mocks communism and makes damn good cocktails. Themed drinks, silly propaganda, and lots of red. It’s a popular spot!
It’s also worth noting that while we found most Romanians to be nice, the younger people in this town especially were very friendly and happy to speak to us in English. Definitely a bonus!
Cost: Since it’s a bit more hipster, food was slighlty more expensive. But, we could still easily eat for around US$10 each at most places and get some cheap beers.
Logistics for a Visit to Transylvania, Romania
We began our trip by flying into Bucharest from Athens (fairly easy!), then did some train hopping from Brasov to Sibiu to Cluj-Napoca, then rented a car round-trip to go see some beautiful natural places and small villages we couldn’t get to by train. And it was absolutely lovely!
Getting Around Romania
A quick search into transportation in Romania is quite concerning. The comments on the trains, buses, and taxis are not very positive. And while traveling Romania by car is easy for the most part – renting one and managing not to damage it while there is a whole nother story. But we did it! We traveled through the Transylvania area by train and bus and Uber and even spent five days road tripping. And it is one of those trips that will be top of our list for a long time to come.
Tips for Romania Train-Hopping
- They can get busy, so it’s best to order online beforehand (we used this site).
- We found spending a little extra for fist class was usually worth it for more room for us and our bags. But each train is different.
- Sometimes it is necessary to pick up your tickets in advance (have a form of an ID, if needed).
- It’s often not clear where your seat assignment is, so just try to read the signs and nicely ask for help.
- There usually isn’t a dining cart. So, bring food and water – especially if on a long journey.
- Don’t expect anything fancy or fast. The trains are very basic and very, very slow compared to others in Europe. But not as bad as some reviews made it sound.
- Also, if going from Romania into another country via train, they will stop the train to stamp passports and will likely take your passport for a few minutes then return it. Nerve-wracking, but apparently normal.
Romania Car Rental & Planning a Road Trip
- Rent with a reputable company and read all the paperwork. Seriously. There are all sorts of extra fees and rules. We had a good experience with Avis – they even gave us some helpful tips. But, that’s mainly because Buddy read about all the sneaky small print for days!
- Be very clear on the insurance you need and what you have if using a credit card with it included (what we did). They are notorious for charging crazy amounts for something like a small scratch, so its best to be fully covered. Apparently, hub caps falling off is a common issue, so maybe check they are on well!
- Plan to get the roadside assistance, just in case. It’s not that much more and worth the peace of mind.
- The WAZE App is really helpful for avoiding potholes and construction, since you’ll get warnings.
- Take photos and videos when picking up and returning the car. And get a paper receipt, don’t have it emailed to you so your wife has to panic for an hour that they are going to claim you never brought the car or something. Or wait until it’s in your inbox before you leave.
- Look out for donkeys, women walking with cows, farmers, donkeys, stray dogs, and people aggressively trying to hitchhike.
- Have fun and don’t be afraid to explore some places you didn’t initially plan to. That’s the best part of a road trip.
Finding Great Places to Stay
We had really great luck using Booking.com to find hotels and apartments to rent during our visit to Romania. The only time we didn’t use this site was when we went to Lake Balea and just paid cash at the counter.
Here’s a rundown of everywhere we stayed (we’ve starred our faves):
- Bucharest: The Embassy Nord – US$49. Near the train station since we were just in town to sleep, nothing fancy, but wouldn’t recommend if trying to explore more.
- *Brasov: Victoria Bulevard Hotel – US$78. Near the train station again to make life easier, but no issues at all Ubering into town. Very nice with good breakfast included.
- *Sibiu: Villa Bohemia – US$43. Close to great dining options and walking distance to town. Nice room and LOVELY people! We had to leave early, so the owner made us egg sandwiches to take with us. So sweet!
- Turda: Hunter Prince Castle & Dracula Hotel – US$51. Aside from the quirky theme, this wasn’t anything very special. Basic room, good breakfast, and parking included.
- *Lake Balea: Cabana Balea Lac – US$60. A fantastic value for the views and location! Very basic room, but a good breakfast was included.
- Busteni: Complex Cochet – US$83. We stayed at this nice hotel with the best breakfast spread we have yet to see in order to be close to Peles Castle. However, we didn’t realize it would be such a busy and expensive place, so after driving into the madness, we turned around and headed north.
- *Sighisoara: Hotel Central Park Sighisoara – US$82. I loved this conveniently located, beautiful hotel. It had breakfast and secure parking included as well – a must on a road trip.
- Cluj-Napoca: Central Park Apartments – US$38. This apartment had everything we needed for a comfortable visit – even a laundry machine! YES!!! However, we’ve since decided not to stay anywhere without a self-check-in or 24-hour reception because meeting someone to get a key is a hassle.
Final Tips for Visiting Transylvania
- Talk to the locals! We found them all very nice and excited to share about their homeland.
- Expect slow trains with minimal amenities, but they’re cheap!
- Be careful about budget car rentals. There are tons of up charges and we read they will really get you for minor damage.
- Uber is often easier and faster than taxis and buses.
- Visiting Bran & Peles Castles can be crazy in the busy season, so if we were to go again, we’d likely just book a tour to avoid the hassles of parking and driving in traffic. Or get there before opening time!
- Download the WAZE app for tips on where there is construction, potholes, etc. This was a life-saver for our road trip.
Did we just add Romania to your must-visit list, or did you already know how magical this wonderful country is? Let us know in the comments!