We were really excited for our trip to Romania, the deepest into Eastern Europe either of us had ever been. Our 3-day trip began with a scenic mountain drive up to the Transylvania region, where our stops included Sinaia and Bran which is home to Dracula’s castle! We spent the night and following morning enjoying the cute town of Brașov. The next morning we took the train to Bucharest through snow capped mountains for the last leg of our trip. In Bucharest, it was really interesting to see architecture from the city’s distinct periods all mixed together: beautiful 19th century buildings, sterile communist-era apartment blocks, modern glass design of recent years, with beautiful historic Eastern Orthodox churches in between. One of our biggest finds on this trip: Romanian wine is delicious!
Getting Around in Transylvania
It is quite common and rather affordable to hire a private driver to take you on a tour of Transylvania. You can hire a driver for the day at a reasonable price and pick where you want to stop; we used Transport Airport Bucharest. The train runs from Bucharest through Transylvania, which we took from Brașov directly to Bucharest, but driving is really the only way to get to all the sights. Our driver was very friendly, and offered plenty of local knowledge throughout the trip. The car was modern, clean, and even had WiFi!
Top Things to Do in Transylvania
Located in Sinaia, this monastery dates back to 1695 when it was founded by Prince Mihail Cantacuzino. It is currently inhabited by Christian Orthodox monks and consists of the Old Church and the Great Church. The Old Church is the original church from 1695 and was recently restored to its original beauty, full of beautiful interior wall paintings and adornments. Completed in 1846, the Great Church contains gold mosaic paintings and original wood furniture and is an interesting mix of Byzantine, Ottoman, Baroque and late Renaissance architecture.
Peleș Castle is a really impressive palace near Sinaia, built as a summer home in 1874 for King Carol I, comprising of hundreds of rooms decorated in themes from various cultures around the world. It also contains of one of the best collections of art in Eastern and Central Europe. From the exterior, it is quite impressive, with its Gothic and Neo-Renaissance influence and multiple spired towers.
Tips: Guided tours are the only offering, so make sure to allow 1-1.5 hours for the tour and additional time to walk around the grounds. You can spend a little more and see more of the lavish rooms on the first floor of the palace. To take pictures inside, you must pay a special photography tax, which you need to specify when you are purchasing your tickets.
Bran Castle is commonly known as Dracula’s Castle as it fits Bram Stoker’s description for where Count Dracula lived in his famous novel. The castle is perched on a rocky hilltop near Bran, dating back to the 14th century, and its many rooms offer great views of the surrounding town and mountains. The tour at Bran Castle is self-guided, so you can take your time making your way through the maze of rooms and staircases.
Tips: Walk around the Parcul Regal for some great views of the castle. Visit the nearby market (if open) for local souvenirs.
Top Things to Do in Brașov
Brașov is a quaint town with lots of charm and a great place to experience the culture, food and wine of central Romania. The main square is a great spot to just relax and soak in the surrounding beauty.
A visit to the top of Mount Tampa is a must in Brașov. You can ride the old (yet robust!) cable car up to the top and walk out to the “Brașov” sign perched at the top of the mountain. From Mount Tampa, you can experience amazing views of Brașov and the surrounding areas from an altitude of 3,000 ft.
Tips: In winter, bring warm clothes and wear shoes with tread, as it gets snowy and slippery at the top. We both definitely took a few falls!
Saint Nicholas Church
A Romanian Orthodox church established in 1292 with Gothic and Baroque styles. It is a great example of Romanian style architecture, with elongated spires and towers.
Yekaterina’s Gate (Catherine’s Gate)
A gate along the old city walls of Brașov that has survived in most part from medieval times that is worth a visit for its fairy-tale look.
A nice place for a walk and great views of the town. There are a few paths that take you through a few monuments, including the Turnul Negru (Black Tower) and the Turnul Alb (White Tower).
Although we were not able to get inside during our stay because it was closed, the Black Church (Biserica Neagra) is a Gothic style church built by the Germans in the late 14th century. Once a Catholic church that was later converted to Lutheran during the Protestant Reformation, it survived a major fire in 1689 during the Great Turkish War, hence dubbed the “black church.”
Other tips for Brașov
Pretu: Visit Pretu on Strada Republicil for an amazing pretzel dog.
Hotel Bella Muzica: Located right in the main square, Bella Muzica is a nice hotel and restaurant, perfect for a convenient stay in the center of town.
Top Things to do in Bucharest
Bucharest is Romania’s capital city and has a nice Old Town with shops, restaurants, and some historical buildings.
Romanian Parliament Building
One of the most impressive buildings we've ever seen, the Romanian Parliament Building is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon in the US. Book a guided tour and see some of the amazing rooms of this Palace of the Parliament. The building is so colossal that there are parts on the upper floors that have yet to be finished in the interior! It also has eight levels underground, one being an atomic bunker that only few have ever been inside. Energy costs (heating and electricity) are $6 million a year.
Tips: Book a tour in advance online; a call 24 hours in advance to confirm is required. Bring cash for tickets (no credit cards accepted), and make sure you have your passport or you won't be allowed in! The entrance is on the North side (right side if you are standing in front), so give yourself plenty of time to walk there and find it.
Founded in 1724, this Eastern Orthodox monastery and church is located right in old town. Inside, the church is full of beautiful handmade chandeliers and paintings.
Parcel Unirii is located right at the intersection of some of Bucharest’s main streets. The park contains gardens and a large fountain and is located near the Dâmbovița River.
Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral
This cathedral was completed in 1658 and known for its a cappella choir during Orthodox mass.
Beer and Food at Caru Cu Bere
Enjoy a very authentic Romanian dinner and craft beer at Caru Cu Bere, dating from 1879 and located in old town. Order the mixed minced meat, Moldavian stew or the house specialty, slow roasted pork knuckle, for some homemade local eats.
Other things to do in Bucharest
Romanian Athenaeum: A very ornate concert hall built in 1888 with a circular and domed design.