You have never mentioned to me your desire to go to Transylvania (Romania)… but I know you like hiking and cycling and beer and cheap holidays so I feel like you and Transylvania might get on quite well. Here follows all my tips for the region. I have split my blog into sections with general stuff first and then specifics about places after, so you can just skip to the bits you need.
Romania does not use the Euro. It uses the Lei, it was 5 Lei to £1 when we visited but let’s see what happens with Brexshit... Confusingly for bigger purchases (car hire, hotels etc) the price will be listed in Euro. You can generally pay in Euro, but the change will be given in Lei. Pretty much everywhere took card and there are loads of ATMs.
Romania is a standard European country transport-wise. There are taxis which will try and rip you off. There is Uber which is really cheap. The trains are pretty good and they have a very good bus system if you want to take the time to work it out.
We flew into Bucharest airport, flights are super cheap from the UK. The best way to get into the city is the Airport bus, the 780 or the 783, which takes around 40mins and is less than a euro each way.
They drive on the right in Romania and the steering wheel is on the left, which means the gears are on the wrong side for us. If you want to get a car it’s worth booking early and getting an automatic! There’s Avis in Romania, but also some local companies which will be cheaper BUT the local ones we tried would only rent for 3 days over the weekend.
Romania is a winter sports capital and a hotspot for summer breaks, so obviously we went in the spring. We were mostly in the mountains which can get very cold and did get a fair amount of rain. Still lovely, but if you go in the spring imagine a springtime in Scotland (bring a waterproof).
Admittedly Bucharest is not in the Transylvanian region of Romania, but if you’re flying in it’ll most likely be to here, so I’ll include some tips so you have a chance at having an above average time in this pretty standard city.
Accommodation: There are two Podstel hostels in Bucharest and we stayed in both. Podstel Bucharest was well placed for the Old Town, Bucharest Umbrella was really really handy for the bus to the airport and to Therme (more on that later). Umbrella also has a really nice café/bar culture surrounding it. It’s the area that the Bucharest hipster created, there is a games café AND a café devoted to cereal. We (myself and Kirsty who came to Cambodia with me) stayed in privates in both and the rooms were lovely, £25-£30 a night. I’d highly recommend both, but would probably pick Umbrella if I was to return to Bucharest.
Activities: I wasn’t massively impressed by Bucharest, we only had a day here which felt like plenty. I regret not doing my research and missing the Monarchy Vs Communism free walking tour which looked great. We didn’t do a walking tour at all actually and that would have definitely made Bucharest more interesting.
Old Town: We went for a wander around Old Town. Looked a bit like Edinburgh. Had very pretty churches.
Umbrella street: There’s a street (Pasajul Victoria) with umbrellas, a bar and some pizza. Good for Instagram.
Therme: We spent and afternoon and evening in Therme, the biggest wellness, relaxation and entertainment centre in Europe. It’s really weird. There’s trees, slick lighting and hundreds of indoor sun loungers within a massive glass complex, it’s like being on the ship in Wall-E. There are three sections, one full of waterslides, one full of saunas and one which is basically a massive pool (with a bar). A day pass for all three costs 100Lei (£20) or you can pay for 4 hours in one section 68Lei. It is fun in the evening and must be brilliant in the summer as they have also built their own beach. We also ate at their international restaurant which was fine. By all accounts Therme is probably the best thing to do in Bucharest.
Pubs: I can recommend the Journey Pub which is just above Old Town. It’s pretty and has a games room, a roof terrace and all sorts going on. If you’re passing pop in, probably not worth a complicated journey to get there though.
Bucharest to Brashov
We took the train to Brasov, it took 2 hours 40 and cost 48Lei. We sat in an old fashioned compartment which pleased me greatly. The second half of the journey, as you get into the Carpathian Mountains, is stunning.
We based ourselves in Brasov for the next few days and explored the rest of Transylvania from there.
Accommodation: We stayed in the 4 bed dorm in the very pleasant Hostel Boemia (£12pn). It was in the perfect location for Brasov and the staff were super friendly. If you’re going to stay in a hostel in Brasov definitely stay here.
Activities: On our first afternoon we hiked to the Brasov sign which is about an hour of gentle uphill. Take a beer with you as there’s some beautiful places to sit at the top.
We also managed to catch the 6pm free walking tour which was well worth it. There’s a number of churches and museums you can go to in Brasov including the impressive Black Church and many many pubs a restaurants (more about those later).
Bran is the home of Bran Castle, the castle Bram Stoker never visited, in a culture that doesn’t believe in Vampires, which is nonetheless known popularly as Dracula’s Castle. It is impressive, set on a rocky hill with imposing turrets, you can see why Stoker borrowed it for his book.
Top tip for Bran – do not go inside the castle, it’s rubbish and crowded. It cost 40Lei, which made it one of the most expensive things we did, and all the interesting things, like the time tunnel and torture museum, cost extra. And the audio guide is rubbish, it just lists the stuff you can see.
If you go in good weather there are loads of hikes to do nearby, my advice would be to get to Bran, take a picture of the castle for free from the park and then go for a lovely walk. There’s also all the Dracula tourist tat you could ever need in Bran.
Bran is very easy to reach from Brasov, there’s a bus that runs every half an hour from coach station 2 that costs 8Lei each way. Do check the times back though, they’d randomly cancelled the bus we needed.
Rasnov is a very pretty mountain town with an impressive citadel you can visit. It’s on the same bus route as Bran, so we did it on our way back (you have to buy separate tickets if you break your journey). The citadel is a 20 minute of a walk from the bus stop and then you can get the road train up, or just walk up the hill, it’s really not far. The citadel is interesting enough, for 28Lei you can wander around the walls and get a lovely view of the surrounding town and forests. Be warned there are lots of stalls selling tourist tat and medieval themed things, including axe throwing, within the citadel itself.
Libearty Bear Sanctuary
‘Bear or Wolf?’ was one of our favourite games in Transylvania. There’s lots of stuff in the wilds of Brasov county, including both bears and wolves. When you see something coming you have to be the first to guess which it is. Admittedly the answer was normally dog or car, but it was still a fun game.
For actual bears head to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary. The tour starts at specific times in summer and winter so definitely check the website and it’s probably worth buying the 40Lei tickets online, it was busy and there was a massive ticket queue when we arrived for our 11am tour. The sanctuary is lovely, it’s huge and there’s a lot of happy looking brown bears wandering around, swimming, eating and in one case getting frisky (‘Go on lad!’). There’s also some wolves that they rescued from closing zoos which made me very happy.
The sanctuary is tricky to get to but it is possible with public transport, your hostel will help you with that. We decided to get a car for a day so did the 40min drive from Brasov.
On our car day we also travelled to Viscri a beautiful medieval town, about an hour from Brasov, with no roads and an ancient Saxon fortified church. This church was especially fun as it had signs saying things like ‘Climb the tower at your own risk’, then at the top there were shaky planks and holes you could fall down! Exciting! There was a museum of olde stuff to look at and the lady at the gate was full of solid Saxon facts. Interestingly Prince Charles frequents Viscri and owns a B&B there. But most exciting off all there was an excellent dog called Cora who looked like a wolf and hung out with us throughout our trip.
Called ‘unmissable’ by pretty much everyone, we managed to squeeze a visit to Sighisora into our roadtrip. It is beautiful, a perfectly preserved 16th century fortified town and UNESCO world heritage site. We arrived as the sun was setting and most things were closed but we still saw some beautiful churches, some beautiful covered stairs and some beautiful views. We went for a feed at the Medieval Café in the citadel which was very pleasant.
Seven Stairs Canyon
Our trip to the Seven Stairs Canyon was probably my Transylvanian highlight. The route starts close to Brasov (we took an Uber) and you have an hour’s hike through a beautiful forest to reach the Canyon. It’s then 10Lei to access the Canyon itself and it’s well worth it. You climb a series of metal ladders up through the Canyon, none are very high, but I was a little nervy about the biggest, this activity is not one for anyone with vertigo. It’s also several degrees colder in the Canyon than the surrounding forest and you do climb past a waterfall, so bring layers!
There is a zipline course back to the start of the trail which looked incredible but wasn’t quite open when we were there (early April) so look out for that. We did however get a lift part of the way back in the maintenance buggy from one of the guys who worked there which made my day.
Brasov food and drink
We ate a lot of different places in Brasov, the outstanding ones for me were:
La Ceaun, a traditional Romanian restaurant which made me like Romanian food, had very friendly service AND excellent blueberry liquor. We were going to come back and eat there every night, it was that good.
Tipografi, where we went for a very enjoyable night out. Tipografi wouldn’t have been out of place in East London, it had a huge range of local craft beers and very pleasant bruchetta.
We did go to the local Irish bar and it was entertaining. It’s where the locals go out out, dancing on the table is allowed there? It’s called Deanes, I’m not recommending, but I’m sure you’ll find your way there.
Sinaia and Peles Castle
On the way back to Bucharest we broke our journey at the mountain town of Sinaia, home of Peles castle. We left our bags at the station for a reasonable 5Lei (ask the toilet attendant) and did the 45 minute walk up to the castle. The castle was stunning inside and out, and your 30Lei admission fee includes a guided tour of the bottom floor which is fascinating (unlike Bran). It’s crowded, so an early or late tour might be less annoying, but even with all the other people there it was still enjoyable. It really was so much better than Bran. God, the inside of Bran was terrible, instead of going inside Bran I can set up a load of random shite in a magnolia room for you to look at and save you £8. Anyway, Peles, gorgeous.
We ate at the Ramayana Café in Sinaia, where we sat in a red lit, red velvet booth, I had a small but delicious curry . It was very pleasant.
Train back to Bucharest
The train from Brasov to Sinaia cost 11Lei and the train from Sinaia to Bucharest cost 16Lei, so you actually save a little money when you break your journey. We did have to buy the Bucharest ticket in the train, so don’t be surprised if that happens. Also try not to travel at 5pm on this line, it was BUSY and really hot for some reason.
Here ends my guide to Transylavania!
I hope you have a lovely time if and when you go. Also see you tomorrow in the Glasvegas! Greatest city in the world!