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Bulgaria & Romania: The Black Sea Coast to Transylvania13 days from $2,149 (USD)
See why this region is becoming a favorite for savvy travelers.
Once a treasure of the Ottoman Empire, Romania is, today, one of Europe’s last hidden jewels. If you seek a color and authenticity lacking in the big stops on the continent’s beaten path, you will find your bliss within this historic, naturally beautiful Balkan nation. The delta of the Danube nestles here, and rolling hills abound - it’s as if Romania were made for romantic picnics, drowsy afternoon boat rides, and long conversations over bottles of sweet wine! Between painted monasteries, medieval fortresses, countless museums, and endless amounts of cobblestone streets wending through fascinating small towns, you’ll never grow bored.
Romania’s reputation is a diverse, fascinating amalgam of many influences: the majesty of the Carpathians, which wrap around the country like an embrace, the mythos of Transylvania and Dracula, the legacy of civil war, more than a tinge of classic Latin, and fields of sunflowers growing in warm sunshine.
And then there are Romanians, one of the country’s greatest assets. Gregarious, welcoming, and, on average, more proficient at English than most anywhere else in the Balkans, the friendships you make here will last a lifetime and span thousands of miles. In small pockets of the countryside, you’ll still find the wandering Roma, who will tell your fortune for a coin and a smile. Little does the rest of the world know, but magic is alive and well in Romania. All one has to do is seek it out.
Romania Top Attractions
A capital with centuries under its belt, Bucharest wears on its skin the legacy of conquerors, Communists, and changing attitudes. A mishmosh of architectural styles line the streets - blocky concrete apartments cozy up to the shining glass edifices of modern construction, with ornate Baroque churches right around the corner. The city has become downright trendy in recent years: darling cafes and restaurants dot the city center, and history buffs are rediscovering the appeal of Bucharest’s eventful past life. Don’t miss the Palace of Parliament, one of the world’s largest buildings! Or take a picnic to one of the quiet, pretty parks, and let the bohemian vibe enchant your daydreams.
One of Romania’s most-visited destinations, Brasov is a cozy enclave encircled by the Carpathian Mountains. Quaint old world charm abounds throughout this neat-as-a-pin city. Double-decker bus tours are a fun and popular way to check out the sights here, which include the Black Church and old synagogue, as well as Strada Sforii, or Rope Street. At just four feet wide, it’s the narrowest street in Europe! Brasov is, perhaps, best known as the location of Bran Castle, or Dracula’s Castle. While there’s no evidence that Bram Stoker even knew about the castle, it was once the home of Vlad III, “the Impaler,” the putative inspiration for one of the world’s most famous vampires.
The gem of Transylvania, Sighisoara was the stronghold of Saxon settlers, who inhabited the area for almost a thousand years. Their enduring, unique buildings and city center are a testament to this lost, German-inspired culture, which is the reason the historic section of Sighisoara has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The citadel at Sighisoara is notable for being the last inhabited medieval fortress in the world. The town is tiny enough to be explored thoroughly by foot. You can climb the 14th-century clock tower, the balcony of which overlooks most of the town, stop in on Casa Vlad Dracul (alleged to be the birthplace of the emperor whose bloody exploits inspired Dracula), or hike one of the hills outside town for spectacular views and a picnic lunch.
Meticulous baroque squares and cobblestone streets wend their way through Sibiu, a town that could very well be the most charming in Europe, let alone Romania. It enjoys a reputation as the country’s cultural heart, and is replete with museums, cafes, and festivals. The Old Town is constantly popular with tourists, sporting both an Upper and Lower town with unique appeal to each. Those with brave hearts can stand atop the Liar’s Bridge - it’s said it will collapse if one ever speaks a falsehood upon it. The Christmas Square is a gorgeous seasonal treat, appearing in the central square (usually under an unbearably picturesque blanket of snow) during the holidays.
The painted monasteries of Bucovina are a national treasure, seven of which have been fittingly tapped as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The wooden churches and small, ancient houses of this region hearken to the past - time truly stands still. Frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and the Apostles bedeck the walls. You may see the nuns and monks of the monasteries tapping the walls as a call to prayer: this tradition was begun in the Middle Ages, when conquering Turks forbade the ringing of bells. The surviving painted monasteries are located in or near the towns of Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Suceava, Sucevita, and Voronet, and can be visited with a pleasant driving trip.
|Primary Airports: Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP)|
|Government: Parliamentary Republic|
|Currency: Ieu (RON)|
|Population: 19,043,000 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European)|
|Time Zone: UTC +2|
Romania Travel Reviews
Viewing a Transformation: The New Romania
While my wife wasn’t with me, she remembers my oft-told stories about what life in Romania was like under the repressive regime of Calcasieu. It was my first sight of actual blocks-long lines for bread and visiting of stores with largely empty stores. She was, therefore, apprehensive, as I was a bit, when we traveled there from Poland to visit in Bucharest. The differences were stunning, and there was no hint of those dark days just a few decades past. She took several walking tours that covered the many historical sites while I was meeting, and especially enjoyed the shopping in Old Town and her visit to Cismigiu Gardens. For me, the highlight was the time spent viewing the amazing classic cars housed at the Tiriac Collection – and even greater contrast to what I had seen before. We also enjoyed the Patriarchal Cathedral. Friends had warned us not to pass it by because of the unimpressive exterior, and they were right. The relics were amazing, and the decoration of the interior spaces were some of the most attractive we have seen. We have made it a point on our travels to stay in a Grand Hotel if a city has one after our first visit to the Grand Hotel Taipei. The GH Continental in Bucharest certainly does meet the expectations of the name. I bought a postcard of the exterior at night since my shot didn’t do it justice, but the rooms were equally impressive. This was a great choice also because of the public transportation choices, the wife could get around famously without me during the visit. Bravo to the Romanians for their incredible rebuilding.
Romania: Europe's Hidden Gem
Our first stop in Romania was Bucharest, and the place we visited that struck me the most during the visit was the magnificent Parliament Palace, or, formerly called the People’s Palace. The wide boulevards in some areas of the city and the city park with wide walking paths and trees overarching the paths were amazing. The dichotomy of this paired with the sight of the occasional horse and cart reminded me that Romania still faces a lot of poverty.
From there, we traveled to historic Brasov. This city boasts medieval, Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture. The Council Square is nice for walking and viewing architecture. We also saw some of the defensive structures around the city. Brasov is situated in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, which makes this ancient city that much more picturesque. (Just a word of caution: the trains in Romania are pretty out of shape if you want to travel cheaply, but they are so much fun!)
Another German-influenced city like Brasov, Sibiu is home to the historic Brukenthal art museum, but I particularly enjoyed the ASTRA Open Air Museum, which is a tribute to Romania’s technological past. It includes windmills, farm houses, and architecture from different areas of the country.
We ended up outside of Sibiu, in Cisnadioara. Cisnadioara is 8 miles outside Sibiu. It is close to Cisnadie. Cisnadioara is a gorgeous place to hike and try to talk to some local German-speaking residents. We explored some old ruins, perhaps of a church or defensive building, with a local teenager affiliated with a charity at which we were volunteering, called Little John's House.
Visiting Brasov and train travel in Romania
Romania is a remarkable country where visitors can still see scenes that will remind them of their childhood fairy tales such as people traveling by horse cart or little old houses in wooded areas that evoke mystery. The country is very much a mixture of tradition and growing modernity.
I spent most of my time there in Brasov. This city has a beautiful old town square that includes the gorgeous 15th century Black Church. Also, just off the square is a terrific restaurant, Gustari 1, that serves traditional Romanian food. Even though I was only in Brasov for a few days, I liked this place so much I ate there twice. I recommend the cabbage rolls and a polenta-like dish called mămăligă.
There are a number of worthwhile day trips around Brasov as well. I particularly enjoyed visiting the ruins of the 14th century Rasnov Fortress. This place is warren-like, and it's worth spending a couple of hours here to take it all in.
I also recommend train travel in Romania. I took two journeys by train, and both times, I ended up chatting a lot with Romanians. The first time, we didn't share a common language but communicated with a dictionary and shared food. The second time was a student who spoke English well. On that journey, I'd accidentally boarded the wrong train, a slow local one instead of a faster express, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of my trip.
Trip to Romania
When my friends and I planned our trip to Eastern Europe, Romania wasn't originally on the list of countries we planned to visit. But when a translation error at the train station put us en route to Bucharest, we were excited to see it!
Romania is the home of the famous Danube River - the same one that inspired composer Johann Strauss to compose his "Blue Danube Waltz" about it! Today, the Danube is home to 300 bird species, and we were lucky enough to arrive in spring, when the Egyptian white pelican flocks had just begun to set up their nesting sites.
We were also excited when we learned that the town of Transylvania (of "Dracula" fame) was just a few hours away, so we made yet another detour to see it. Transylvania is rumored to have an unusually strong magnetic pull, and it definitely looked mysterious when we arrived at dusk! The next day we explored Bran Castle, where Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) once ruled.
The local people were so friendly, which was a real treat, seeing as how we needed lots of recommendations since we hadn't planned what to see or do. One of my friends was super excited to visit because she had studied gymnastics, and Romania is the birthplace of her favorite gymnast, Nadia Comaneci.
On our last night we ate at Bistro Jaristea in Bucharest and tried the traditional meat stew, Romanian cheese, and (of course) Romanian wine - delicious!
Romania: Gorgeous Views, Good Food and Plenty of Historical Sights
While visiting friends in Europe, my wife and I had the chance to travel to Romania for a few days. We visited Bucharest and the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara. In Bucharest, we stayed at the Grand Hotel Continental, an absolutely spectacular place with high ceilings, intricate decorations and a definite French vibe. We felt like royalty! We took a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city on top of a bus and learned about its main points of touristic interests. The tickets are valid for 24 hours, so try the tour again at night to see the beautiful lights of the city.
The highlight of the trip was the view of the gigantic House of People. We took a peaceful walk in the old Cismigiu park and listened to the military orchestra playing in the wooden gazebo. In the evening, we ate traditional Romanian food at the gorgeous Caru’ cu Bere restaurant while watching traditional Romanian dances. We learned that everything tastes better with polenta.
We took the train to Sighisoara and saw the Carpathians with their rocky walls and pine forests. Sighisoara is a real gem! We walked through the medieval streets and enjoyed the panoramic view of the city from the Clock Tower. The museum in the tower was small but interesting, with artifacts including creepy medical instruments and ballroom shoes from centuries ago. We also saw the house where Vlad the Impaler was born. The prince was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Touring the Romanian Countryside
On my visit to Romania I decided to stay away from the capital of Bucharest and settle in the middle of the Transylvania region, in a town called Brasov. Brasov was a breath of fresh air, with the peaceful feel of a quaint village rather than city. Walking the streets was a peaceful experience and full of stunning centuries old churches and towers. There is a Hollywood-esque sign high in the hills that can be reached by either a short hike or lift, and from the top you can get an amazing birds-eye-view of the town.
The country side surrounding Brasov is absolutely stunning in its rolling hills and greenery. I booked a castle tour, which included Pales Castle, Castle Bran (or Dracula's Castle), and the Rasnov Fortress. Pales castle, a royal summer residence built in the 1800's, is the picture of elegance, Castle Bran didn't quite meet my expectations and was extremely touristy, but also riddled with history, and Rasnov offered amazing views and a chance to throw battle axes. Who could pass that up?
My next day trip was to Sighisoara, a small medieval town to the northwest of Brasov, whose claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the real Count Dracula. It is quaint and charming in a way that takes you back to another place and time. It will not take more than a few hours to explore the cobblestone streets, bastions, churches, cemetery, and the world's longest covered stairwell.