Romania is most well known for Dracula and Transylvania,
the capital city of Bucharest,
and the Transfagarasan
showcased in Top Gear
. If you only do those three things you will be impressed. But there is even more to see and experience. Romania is a very beautiful country best experienced as a road trip. You can easily fill up 2 weeks driving to various castles and fortresses through the country and I didn't even get over the coast.
Suggest Staying: 1-2 weeks
Transport: Taxi, metro, bus, train
Highlights: Driving, mountains, lake, waterfalls, views
Suggest Staying: 1 day
I first learned about this amazing highway in the mountains near Transylvania while watching Top Gear. They said it was a race track carved into the mountains. Hairpin turns complemented with mountain views make this one of my favorite drives in the world. Located closest to Sibiu, there are different ways to approach it depending on which direction you’re traveling and which route you choose to take. I drove south from Sibiu on my way to Bucharest. This direction takes you up the mountain passing waterfalls, the lake, and dam, so it kind of builds up to a crescendo in a way. Seemed the best direction in my opinion.
See & Do
- Driving. Obviously the main activity. Drive safe. Keeps your eyes peeled for cows and sheep as well as streams, lakes, and waterfalls.
- Waterfalls. Keep your eyes open as there are several waterfalls along the way you can see from the road.
- Balea Lake. Located at the top of the mountain. Best place to take in views of the highway down below. The lake itself is very beautiful, possibly snow capped depending on the time of year.
- Vidaru Dam. Massive dam with great views. Look for the 540 foot statue of Prometheus with a lightning bolt.
- Time. Runs about 56 miles encompassing many hairpin turns and elevation. Takes minimum half a day, but I would suggest allowing the entire day so you can stop and enjoy things along the way.
- Shortcut. There is a funicular (cable car) at the base of the big waterfall you can take to the top of the waterfall. There is a small town (or at least a bunch of shops and stuff) that you will see. This assumes you’re going the direction I was going.
- Weather. Since you’re pretty high up in the mountains, you may experience heavy clouds and mist. For me, this was intermittent and literally went about in a few minutes. Up at the lake the clouds were blocking my view, but I stayed up there and waited. The clouds lifted and I was left with an amazing view of the highway I had just climbed.
Highlights: Dracula, castles, mountains
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Brasov (Old Town)
Transylvania is an area, not a city, the main part of which is Brasov. I’m not exactly sure what comprises the area, but everything included below is either in or very close to Transylvania. There are several castles and various attractions all located in a beautiful mountain area. Made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this fictional character is inspired by real life Vlad The Impaler. His story is fascinating and Vlad is actually very similar to Robin Hood. He would take money from the rich and brutally punish them, hence the nickname.
See & Do
- Brasov. Sites include Old Town, Black Church, Council Square. Reminded me of Dubrovnik.
- Bran Castle. “Dracula’s Castle.” Amazing. Be sure to read the stories of Vlad The Impaler and Bram Stoker.
- Sinaia. Sites include Peles Castle (one of my favorite “castles” ever), Pelisor Castle (smaller residence), Sinaia Monastery. All three are located near each other.
- Rasnov. Sites include Rasnov Fortress (inspiration for Robin Hood), Pestera Valea Cetatii (cave), Dino Parc (life size dinosaur models, great for kids and adults, get some really hilarious pictures).
- Sighisoara. Birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. A pretty, walled village with a castle.
- Biertan. Saxon village with a fortified church. Nice drive to get there through the countryside.
- Cetatea Rupea. Castle on the hill.
- Saschiz. Cetatea Taraneasca castle ruins.
- Pictures. Some places charge extra to take pictures inside. Bran does not, but Peles does. I would highly suggest going for pictures at Peles, the collection is incredible. I regret not having done so.
3. Turda Salt Mine
Turda Salt Mine Ferriss Wheel
Highlights: Salt mine
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
Sala (Salina) Turda Salt Mine is an old salt mine converted into an amusement park. It’s truly a sight to behold and you have to see it to believe it. There is mini golf, bowling, a ferris wheel, and even a lake! Also supposedly good for asthma treatment due to the salt in the air. You can spend the whole day there if you want, but plan to spend at least 2 hours. I heard about this place from Roadtrippers, a fantastic app/website I use to help me plan all my road trip itineraries. Great off the beaten path find for sure.
See & Do
- Salt Mine. Obviously the main attraction.
- Turda Gorge.. Nice view located nearby the town of Turda.
- Pools. There are some mineral pools outside the mine.
- Temperature. It’s about 50°F/10°C, maybe colder, so definitely bring a jacket.
Highlights: Old town, countryside
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Old Town
Said to be one of the most idyllic European towns. Very quaint and lovely old town, not to mention the countryside around Sibiu is gorgeous. A nice relaxing place to spend some time. Also gives you access to the amazing Transfagarasan and Transalpina highways.
Highlights: City, parks, churches
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Old Town or University of Bucharest
Arguably the most popular and well known place in Romania, at least among tourists, this city has a lot to offer. It’s European style is a little bit different than other major European cities. Personally, I was a bit disappointed after the hype I had seen, but I still enjoyed touring around for sure. I especially liked the many parks. It’s just that there are other places in Romania I thought were more impressive.
See & Do
- Old Town. Pretty walking street, restaurants, shops, nightlife.
- Romanian Athenaeum. Tribute to philosophy and culture. Concerts. Strada Benjamin Franklin.
- Bulevardul Unirii. Reunification Boulevard.
- Revolution Square. Monument.
- Cotroceni. Hipster neighborhood. Palace.
- Cismigiu Gardens & Lake.. Beautiful. Oldest park in the city.
- Tineretului Park. South end has restaurants, amusement park, and people sunbathing.
- Herastrau Park. Large park near the lake.
- Chiaina Monastery. Legends buried here. Located on the outskirts of the city.
- Mihai Voda Monastery. Old, surrounded by walls like a fortress.
- Arcul de Triumf. Modeled after Paris’ Arc de Triumph.
- Kretzulescu Church. Small, Eastern Orthodox.
- Antim Monastery. Small, old.
- Stavropoleos Monastery. Small, old, decorated.
- Village Museum. Open air museum with old houses modeled after what the city used to look like in old times. Not super interesting, but it’s pretty big and located in a nice park.
- Caru’ cu Bere. Traditional Romanian food. Located in old town.
- Metro. Take to get around the major attractions in the city.
- Guide. Try Bucharest In Your Pocket for more attractions, nightlife, food, and other tips.
The second greatest drive in Romania, the Transalpina Highway is kind of like the little brother of the Transfagarasan. Almost as impressive, this high altitude arrangement of hairpin turns through the mountains is a little more rugged. There is a river that runs through part of it, you get sweeping views, and it is a popular area at the higher elevations for skiing. You will find campgrounds and ski resorts. Some of the road is a bit rough, so expect that. I made it through with a sedan, so I don’t think 4WD is required unless there is heavy rain or snows. I would imagine it could be a little treacherous.
See & Do
- Driving. Obviously the main activity for hairpin turns and hills.
- River. Great for picnicking or just hanging out. You’ll see locals soaking up the sun on a nice day. Down along route 7 between Petrosani and Transalpina Rd. Mostly unpaved.
- Lakes. Along the way. Large one at Voineasa.
- Directions. The Transalpina goes off into different directions at points and is pretty long. It runs basically south from Sebes all the way down to Ranca, which seems to be the highest part of the mountains. Also goes east towards Voineasa. Some food stops. Driving north seemed to have less traffic.
- Time. Due to the turns, places to stop, and condition of the road, expect to spend at least a couple hours if not most of the day, depending on how much of the road you chose to drive and where you’re headed.
Located in Hunedoara, this gothic renaissance castle is massive and very impressive. It’s exactly what I’d imagined a real medieval castle would look like. Something you would see in the movies. In the nearby town there is gas and groceries if you need it since the place is a bit out in the countryside.
Slanic Salt Mine
Slanic Salt Mine
Salina Slanic Prahova is another salt mine in Romania, the biggest salt mine in Europe in fact, is almost as impressive as the Turda Salt Mine. Less flashy though. Inside it looks like a giant airplane hangar. There are sports activities, inflatable slides, and even a wellness area where you can chill out with a blanket on a lounge chair while reaping the supposedly medicinal benefits of the salty air. Popular place for asthma treatment. There is also a small park nearby.
- Temperature. It’s 54°F/12°C, so definitely bring a jacket.
- Logistics. Located about an hour north of Bucharest, it’s easy to visit on your way north to Transylvania. When you arrive, purchase a ticket from the window. An elevator will lower you into the mine, but it was broken when I was there. I suspect this is typical. We instead descended into the mine by mini van, an interesting experience. Takes about 15 minutes. You will have to wait until the van fills up before they head down. Open Tues-Sun 8:30am-3pm, which is the last descent. Closed Mon. Cost 20 leu. Plan to spend 30-60 minutes down in the mine.
Very cool, young, hip city. Less touristy and more of a local feel than Bucharest. Good nightlife and old town area. I didn't spend much time here, just met up with a friend and wandered the old town a bit. I would go back and spend at least a full day. Good place to stay and explore if you visit Turda.
Wallachia / Poienari
Home of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula.
See & Do
- Curtea de Arges Monastery. Really pretty monastery with lavish decorations both inside and out.
- Poienari Fortress / Castle. Hilltop fortress of Vlad that he used to keep watch of the city and also to torture his opposers and other victims. Interesting story you can read about. Also get great views at the top.
- Poienari Fortress. Located a few minutes past the dam, you can park near the restaurant or along the side where there is space near the entrance sign. It’s pretty steep, a total of 1,480 steps to the top of the hill where the fortress stands. Takes about 1 hour roundtrip. You pay at the base of the fortress at the top just before entering. Not expensive.
Large fortress. Located between Sibiu and Cluj.
- Lodging: $256 (AirBnB)
- Transportation: $401 (train, taxi, rental car)
- Activities: $39 (castles, salt mine)
- Food: $200 (estimated $20/day)
- Rental Car. I used Sixt, after having used them several times in Europe. Great company and customer service at reasonable prices. Much better and cheaper than the "bigger" guys. Very prominent in Europe. Office in Bucharest city center at the Radisson Blu lobby or at the airport. Go in person and you will get a better deal.
- Discounts. If you're a student, bring your ID to get 25-75% off!