Romania

A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

We left the fairytale village of Sighisoara and went back to the reality of urban life in Brasov, a large city by comparison. The train ride from Sighisoara took less than three hours and cost around 65 lei (17 USD) per person. This leg was bookable online, so we already had the tickets in hand and were ready to board.

Where to stay in Brasov

We stayed at a place called Casa Iacob, a bit larger than the other guesthouses we’d stayed at but equally nice. There is a restaurant where we only had the included breakfast (abundant and tasty) but I’m sure they serve other meals as well. The room was airy and very clean, no complaints here. The location was great, not right in the center but tucked away in a quiet side street and still within walking distance from everything. I can’t recommend Romania enough for the standard of accommodation. This country is really overflowing with properties that rate 9+ on Booking.com!

Bran Castle, Draculas castle outside Brasov Romania

Visiting Bran Castle as a daytrip from Brasov

When we’d decided to go to Romania, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula as preparation, and learned that the book is mostly set in the UK and also that Bran Castle in reality has no connection whatsoever to Dracula. Either way, Bran Castle is a must visit when in Brasov.

Buses to Bran leave from Autogara 2 in Brasov, a bit away from the city center. The bus leaves often and takes about half an hour. The bus we went on had air fresheners hanging from literally all over the ceiling, like that scene in Se7en, which added a scary touch to the trip.

The castle itself is really just a castle. The location is really cool, it’s built on a cliff with lots of forest around, but the interior is pretty standard medieval stuff. Still, it was a nice visit and it was fun to walk around and look into all the different rooms. My favorite thing about the whole visit was the market outside, which is a huge tourist-oriented market of souvenirs and handicrafts.

Hiking from Brasov to Poiana brasov

A mountain hike over to Poiana Brasov

The forests around Brasov are really something else. Not only are they dense and deserted, they are also home to 800 bears. Yeah, that’s a lot. We read up on what to do if you meet one (hint: don’t climb a tree) and set out toward the next town, Poiana Brasov.

The trail starts by going up to the top of Mount Tampa just next to Brasov center, following a path where lots of locals were jogging. Seemed like excellent exercise. At the top of the mountain you can walk up right behind the huge Brasov sign. The trail from there toward Poiana Brasov is clearly marked, and also appears on Google Maps if you’re carrying a phone. The walk took a few hours but wasn’t too strenuous, apart from the first bit up the mountain.

Poiana Brasov is a ski resort of sorts, that looked deserted at the time. We found a restaurant that was open and served excellent food, then took the bus the short hop back to Brasov. All in all an excellent hike, and we didn’t see a single bear.

A free walking tour of the city

We joined a Walkabout Free Tour, one of those city tours that are available wherever there are students and tourists in the same place. We absolutely loved this one, which took us to most of the little sights in the city and gave us some history as well. They meet up every afternoon in Piata Sfatului and the tour lasts for over two hours. Don’t forget to tip your guide if you enjoy it!

The restaurants are so awesome

What I loved the most about Brasov was that around every corner was a little restaurant which served up amazing food. We looked some up on TripAdvisor, but mostly we just walked around the little alleys around the main squares, reading menus and popping our heads in to check the places out. The quality of food is SO high compared to what you have to pay for it. Don’t miss this fine opportunity if you’re in Romania!

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

A few days in Brasov Romania to visit Dracula's castle
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Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

The trains from Sibiu to Sighisoara leave several times a day, but the local trains aren’t possible to reserve online. Buying a ticket was no problem when we showed up at the station, but make sure you have some time if lines are long. The station in Sighisoara is not in the prettiest part of town, but a short walk from there you can take the long and winding stairs up to the old part of town, and once you’re in there, you’ll forget about the rest.

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Sighisoara is probably one of the prettier towns I’ve seen. All the little houses are painted in different colors, and it feels like being transported to a different time. It’s quite touristy, but in a controlled way, and most tourists seemed to come in on a daytrip, meaning that in the morning and late afternoon we had the place to ourselves.

Square in old town Sighisoara Romania

What to do in Sighisoara

To be honest, there isn’t so much to do in Sighisoara, which is part of the charm. There is a small tourist office in a basement in the center, but when we went there to inquire about guided tours, we were informed that the guide was away on vacation so no tour could be arranged.

Most of our time was spent just chilling in the square with one of many cups of coffee, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the people chatting away around us. All other activities included climbing hills.

Climb the hill to Vila Franka

The easiest hike out of town is up the hill to the camping and restaurant Vila Franka. You follow the road on the other side of the train tracks, but there is no traffic so it’s still nice. It’s a pretty steep walk up there, but it’s worth it for the views.

We sat down at the outdoor patio of the restaurant, overlooking the village down below. We ordered a coffee and a papanasi, the decadent Romanian dessert that is essentially a fried cheese donut swimming in whipped cream and jam. If that sounds a bit nasty, lemme tell you it’s really not.

View over Sighisoara, Romania

Climb the hill to the old graveyard

To get up to the Church on the Hill, Biserica din Deal, you climb the covered, tunnel-like staircase, Scara Şcolarilor, from the old town. From up there you have an okay view over the town, but the trees do cover most of it. The church charges an entrance fee (for real) and we opted out, instead we walked over to the old graveyard on the back of it. That was a really nice place to stroll around, looking at the old headstones, located in the middle of a forest-like area.

Climb the clock tower

Inside the clock tower, by the entrance to the old town, there’s a history museum that I would recommend. From the top of the tower you’ll get a good view over the center of the old town, and every floor has a little exhibition of historical artefacts. It does get quite crowded in there when a busload of tourists drop in, so try and time your visit well.

Pension am Schneiderturm Sighisoara Romania

Where to stay in Sighisoara

We stayed at Pension am Schneiderturm, and if you ask me, so should you. It’s one of the nicest guesthouses we have ever stayed at. The house dates back to the 18th century and is built on the city wall, and in the room we got, the bed was actually built inside the old city wall! Pretty cool. The host told us everything we needed to know about what to see and do around town. In the evening he offered us a glass of local wine before going out to dinner, and we got a shot of palinca that actually didn’t taste so bad. The breakfast was also made up of various local foods, and I think I managed to try all different kinds of cheese even though it was a struggle. We really loved this place!

… and where to eat?

We were told that the restaurants up in the old town are priced for tourists, while the restaurants down the hill are for regular folks, which seemed pretty accurate when we looked at the menus. Just down the hill from the old town there ‘s a small square with several restaurants, offering some traditional Romanian meals but also a lot of pizza and beer. Plus wifi. The vegetarian options were somewhat limited, but hey, it’s countryside Romania, and we did get a fried cheese with fries.

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

Sighisoara, Romania, picturesque village
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Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

We went to the station Gara de Nord in Bucharest, the main train station to catch our train for Sibiu at 10 am. The ticket cost 60 lei (around 15 USD) each for the six-hour journey.

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

We were seated in a compartment with six seats, not the most comfortable but nice in that old fashioned kind of way. The train actually passed by Brasov, that we were later to visit, on the way there. The landscapes were amazing, always with a backdrop of snow covered mountain tops. At the stations, vendors would pass through to sell weird little things, my favorite being a glow in the dark crucifix which I obviously bought.

A relaxed historical center

When we arrived in Sibiu we went straight to our guesthouse, where we were greeted by the lovely host and escorted to our room. We were pretty tired after the long journey, but really wanted to get out and see the town, and more importantly, find something to eat.

Like in Bucharest, there was a big Easter market in the main square, although this one was a little bit more dormant. The weather was so nice and people were sitting outside all the restaurants having drinks and snacks. We strolled around the squares, checking out the churches and trying to get an overview of the town.

old buildings in Romania

What to do in Sibiu

Astra museum of folk civilization in Sibiu RomaniaASTRA museum of folk civilization

The highlight of our visit to Sibiu was the open air museum ASTRA, a large area showing old buildings to give an idea of what life was like in Romania a long time ago. You can reach it by bus, but it’s only a few kilometers outside of Sibiu city center so we walked there along a very nice bike path. The museum area itself is very big, and walking around most of it took us several hours. There are hundreds of buildings but you can’t enter most of them. Still, they’re nice to look at, too! Afterwards, we were too tired to walk back to town, so we bought bus tickets in the museum reception and went to the bus stop just across the road. Very convenient.

The museum of pharmaceutical history

The pharmacy museum is part of the Brukenthal museums, and is housed in an old pharmacy building. It showcases old equipment for making medicine, bottles and scales and such, which is quite cool. It’s a very small museum so try to get there when no tour group is coming in.

Where to stay in Sibiu

We booked our stay at Casa Timpuri Vechi, which had outstanding reviews on Booking.com. It’s located close to the main square, Piața Mare, with everything in the historical center just a few minutes’ walk away. We loved these guesthouses in old buildings in Romania, I can’t even imagine why anyone would pay more to stay at a Ramada in the new part of town. At this place, I especially liked that our room opened to the outside, so we could come and go as we liked without passing a reception area.

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

what to do in sibiu, transylvania
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Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

We arrived at Henri Coandă International Airport in the evening and located bus 783 going into town. One was pulling out just as we arrived, but another one arrived shortly. The tickets were sold in a kiosk by the bus stop, setting us back 3,5 lei (about 1 USD) per person. There was a bus stop at Piața Unirii, from where we could walk to our hostel. It was Friday evening and people were already having cocktails in the outdoor patios of the restaurants lining the streets as we walked by.

The following morning we went out at around 10 am trying to score some breakfast, and to our surprise almost nothing was open, save for some clubs with guests who had clearly not stopped drinking since the night before. In the end we found a quite uninspired café that would serve us a croissant. The vacation could finally start!

The national history museum

We went off to visit the national history museum, Muzeul Național de Istorie a României, which is only partially open due to ongoing restoration work. Still, it had enough historical artefacts to keep us busy for several hours, and one area had costumes that you get to try on!

Palace of the parliament bucharest

Palace of the Parliament

After that, we went to check out the Palace of the Parliament, the world’s second largest administrative building once ordered by Ceaușescu. They offer tours in there, and there are several museums on the site, but since the weather was nice and we’d just been to one museum, we opted to just have a look from the outside instead.

On the other side of the big road was an Easter market, with loads of little stalls selling traditional foods and handicrafts. We strolled around it for a while and had a Hungarian langos with cheese.

Cismigiu park

In the afternoon, we walked over to the Cismigiu park, a quite big park near the old town, with walking paths, playgrounds and ponds. It was a really relaxing place, and many local families had come to spend the nice spring day there. Traffic can be a bit exhausting in Bucharest, and this was a great place to get away from it all for a bit.

Where to stay in Bucharest

We had booked two nights in a double room at Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel for the start of the trip. It was located smack bang in the middle of the old town, with loads of restaurants and nightlife nearby. When we came back at the end of the trip for one more night, we stayed at Hotel Opera right next to the Cismigiu park, which was a bit more fancy but still good value for money. I would recommend both for a night or two in Bucharest, although neither is as special as the other places we stayed on this trip.

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

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Nine days in Romania: our itinerary

Nine days in Romania: our itinerary

Going to Romania had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. Just kidding, who goes to Romania? No one I knew. As a matter of fact, all I knew about Romania, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, was that Dracula came from there. And that novel was mostly set in the UK anyway.

What I did learn was that flights to Bucharest were really cheap, so off I went for nine days in spring. And when I was there, I also learned that people do go to Romania! One segment in particular that goes there is older Spanish and Italian people who don’t speak foreign languages, because those who work in the tourism industry in Romania seem to speak EVERY language. Plus, with all the nice Italian food on offer, Italians must feel right at home.

Our itinerary for nine days in Romania

Where we stayed

Bucharest (1 night)
Sibiu (2 nights)
Sighisoara (2 nights)
Brasov (3 nights)
Bucharest (1 night)

Train travel in Romania

View over mountains from train window in TransylvaniaWe traveled by train between the cities, which was really convenient. The trains were of high standard, were quite punctual, and we could choose between several trains each day for our destinations. For all of these routes, except from Sibiu to Sighisoara, we booked tickets online in advance. I found the website easy to navigate, and all info is available in English. I received the tickets by emails as pdf files to be printed out.

For the local train between Sibiu and Sighisoara, we just showed up at the station and bought the tickets from a window inside. The person who was there at the time didn’t speak much English, but as we were traveling with the next train it was easy. If you are booking for a later train it would probably help to look up the time and write a note with the hours beforehand. All trains seemed searchable on the website, even those that weren’t possible to book.

Bucharest

Bucharest was not a charming city. We stayed in the old town, which is not a quaint and tourist-friendly place, but where all the clubs are. Still, we found enough sights to entertain us for a few days. There is some history, after all.

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

Sibiu

Sibiu was a lovely small town with a great historical center, and lots of little things to see, such as the museum of pharmacy. We also strolled to ASTRA, the open-air rural history museum with real buildings from the past, located just outside of town, a perfect half-day excursion.

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Sighisoara

I’m really not one of those people who can’t walk through a quaint little town without stopping at every corner to take a picture. Oh, wait, apparently I am. Sighisoara is hands down one of the prettiest towns I’ve seen. We spent the better part of two days just strolling around a very small area, chilling on the square and drinking coffees at every place in town that sold them.

Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

Brasov

Moving on to Brasov meant getting used to traffic and city life again, but also to excellent dining, long walks both in nature and the city, and to finally get to see the famous Bran castle, also known as Dracula’s castle although there is in reality no connection other than that it’s scary enough.

A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

Some of my favorite guesthouses in Europe

Accommodation is cheap in Romania compared to Western Europe. On average, we paid around €30 per night for really nice double rooms with breakfast at small and homey guesthouses. The standard was really unbelievable. I would highly recommend Casa Timpuri Vechi in Sibiu and Pension am Schneiderturm in Sighisoara. But it was hard to choose, and probably hard to really go wrong, as the review scores for guesthoses in these towns on Booking.com are through the roof.

Being a vegetarian in Romania

I eat cheese and eggs, and in Romania I ate a lot of that. I think I really would’ve struggled as a vegan, as far from all restaurants could offer a single meat free dish that wasn’t a plate of lettuce. The traditional Romanian dishes didn’t work for us, but luckily the Italian influence is strong and the quality of food in general was amazing. We had some really fancy pastas that didn’t seem like the last resort as Italian food often does where vegetarian food is scarce. In Brasov in particular we found some really nice and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and we also did manage to try a more traditional dish, the mămăliga, a polenta-like baked dish with a fried egg on top. It tasted a lot nicer than it was presented.

Mamaliga, Romanian food

9 days in Romania itinerary
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