Covered in castles (including the famous Dracula’s Castle) and mountains, Romania is the perfect place for history and nature lovers alike. Curiously, it is an often overlooked tourist destination in Eastern Europe, at least for Americans. In my mind, that only makes Romania an even more attractive travel destination since much of the country remains authentic and unspoiled by tourism to this day. This ultimate 4 day Romania road trip itinerary is perfect for a long weekend and can be easily stretched into a weeklong trip if your schedule allows.
Romania General Tips:
Currency: Romanian Leu, plural: lei (1 USD = 4.08 Lei, December 2018)
Dress Code: Casual, Western. Shorts and tank tops are acceptable for women in the summer, but you won’t see many local women wearing shorts.
Transportation: Train/Bus/Car. While this exact itinerary can be replicated via trains rather than by car, you will have a lot more flexibility with a car, and you can find affordable car rentals throughout the country.
Language: Romanian. Most people who work in the tourism industry and most younger people will speak enough English to communicate with you, but some of the older population, especially in the countryside, do not speak any English. Common phrases you should know are mulțumesc (MOOL-tza MESK), which means “thank you,” te rog (TA-rohg), which means “please,” and noroc (NO-rok), which means “cheers.”
Accommodation: Small, local hotels were my favorite. I can recommend Vila Camila Sinaia in Sinaia, Residence Central Annapolis in Brasov and Pension Casa Saseasca in Sighisoara.
Here are a few of the best tours in Romania:
Day 1: Visit Transylvania: Bucharest to Sinaia via Peles Castle and Bran Castle
This itinerary is intended to begin in the morning of your first full day in Romania, so if you are flying into Bucharest in the afternoon or evening, you can move the second half of Day 4 to your first day and start this itinerary on your first full day in Romania.
Pick up your rental car in the morning and head out of Bucharest toward Transylvania, where your first stop will be Peles Castle. The drive from Bucharest to Peles Castle takes about two hours. After Peles Castle, drive to Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) and spend some time touring there. If you have spare time and interest after touring Peles Castle and Bran Castle, you may wish to check out Rasnov Castle and the Dinosaur Park nearby. Then, drive back to Sinaia and spend the night there.
Even though Peles Castle is not the most impressive in terms of age and history, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful and grandiose. Built in 1883 as the summer home for the royal family, it was the first castle in all of Europe to be powered entirely by electricity. The furniture and carvings on the walls and ceilings inside the castle are so detailed and ornate even for 2018 that it’s hard to imagine how extravagant the designs were considered to be 150 years ago.
You can tour the 160 rooms here on your own for 30 lei or go with a tour guide for 60 lei. We went with a tour guide, although if I returned I would prefer to go around on my own since there are signs in each of the rooms explaining the history and significance of the room. Also note that photography is not permitted inside the castle, so if you wish to take photos, you’ll need to pay a photo tax beforehand. Peles Castle is typically open from 9:15AM to 4:15PM, but you can check the exact opening times here.
Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle)
Bran Castle, more commonly known today as Dracula’s Castle, got its start in 1211 by Teutonic Knights, a Catholic religious order formed in Palestine by German crusaders in the late 12th century, who built the original fortress surrounding the castle. Shortly thereafter, the Teutons were driven out of the region, and it wasn’t until 1377 that the Hungarian King Louis the Great commissioned the building of the castle, which was completed in 1388. The castle was originally used as a customs hub, managing goods transferred in and out of Transylvania, and the fortress was used in an attempt to try to stop the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Transylvania. Over the next 600+ years, the castle changed ownership many times and today is owned by the heirs of Princess Ileana of Romania and Archduke Anton of Austria and used as a museum for tourists.
How Bran Castle came to be known as Dracula’s Castle is actually through more of a stretch of the imagination than through history alone. Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula, was an Irishman who had never even been to Romania. Rather, he created the Count Dracula character and depicted Dracula’s Castle based on descriptions that were provided to him in Britain. Stoker’s Count Dracula character is believed to be modeled after Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracul, a former prince and ruler of Walachia. The only bit of history that connects Vlad Tepes to Bran Castle was that, as the prince and ruler of Walachia, he tried to punish the German merchants in Brasov who refused to play by his rules when trading from Brasov to Walachia, which passes through Bran. Eventually, the Hungarian army captured Vlad Tepes and locked him up inside Bran Castle for two months. Beyond this bit of history, however, the Dracula tale relies heavily on imagination and the belief in ghosts and spirits in Transylvania.
Rasnov Castle & the Dinosaur Park
We attempted to see Rasnov Castle since it was on our way back from Bran Castle to Sinaia, but a series of unfortunate events (read: we were almost taken) prevented us from going inside the castle. To read the full story of how I was almost taken in Transylvania, click here.
There is also a dinosaur park adjacent to Rasnov Castle that looked to be a fun activity for kids.
After spending the day visiting castles, spend the night in Sinaia, a small town in the Bucegi mountains. Sinaia is surrounded by ski trails, so if you are visiting in the winter and are a fan of winter sports, you may wish to spend the night in a ski resort rather than in the town itself.
If you are visiting in the summer or have no interest in skiing, I would recommend staying at the Vila Camila Sinaia, an old, historic yet stately building that won’t break the bank. While located at the top of a hill, it is walkable to the main downtown area, where you can find numerous restaurants, bars, and shops.
Check out some of our favorite tours in Transylvania:
Day 2: Trekking Mt. Bucegi, Overnight in Brasov
If you are visiting in the summer months, spend day 2 of your Romania road trip hiking Mt. Bucegi, and if you are visiting in the winter months, spend day 2 skiing the slopes of Mt. Bucegi. At night, drive to Brasov to spend the night.
Try to leave your hotel as early as you can in the morning for Mt. Bucegi, as the hike to the top of Mt. Bucegi may take anywhere between 5-8 hours roundtrip or more, depending on your fitness level and how far you decide to hike. There is a large parking lot at Hotel Silva that you can park at for free while you hike up the mountain, and there are some small shops nearby where you can load up on some last minute snacks before going up the mountain.
Remember that while it is generally safe to hike Mt. Bucegi in the summer, the weather can be unpredictable, so it is always a good idea to continually reevaluate your safety during your hike and turn back if weather conditions start to look bleak. For example, when I hiked Mt. Bucegi at the end of May, there was still quite a bit of snow, which eventually made it impossible for my friend and I to continue with the minimal gear we had on us. We would have had to trek up a snow-covered waterfall, which I ventured out onto for a short while before realizing how dangerous it was and turning back.
If weather conditions don’t allow you to hike Mt. Bucegi, there is also a shorter trail that leads to a small waterfall that you should be able to do in just about any weather condition. Be sure to take a look at the trail map at the base of the hike, so you know which trail to follow.
After your long day of hiking or skiing, you’ll probably be ready to eat. Head back to Sinaia (you’ll have to pass through Sinaia again to get to your next destination anyway) and sit down for a meal at Rustic restaurant at the Hotel Caraiman. You can find many traditional Romanian dishes here, such as mamaliga, a polenta dish traditionally served under cheese and sour cream but covered with cheese and a fried egg instead here.
After filling up at Hotel Caraiman, you’ll be ready to embark on your one hour drive to Brasov, where you’ll be spending the night.
Brasov is the seventh largest city in Romania with about 20x the population of Sinaia, so you’ll be able to look forward to a lot more restaurants, bars, and sights to see in Brasov. Founded in 1211 by Teutonic Knights and settled by the Saxons, it sat on the intersection of trade routes between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. This gave residents of Brasov (called Kronstadt at the time) significant wealth and political power. As time passed, its residents erected a fortification around the city, which later became one of seven walled citadels occupied by the Saxons of Transylvania.
After checking into your hotel, take a stroll around Brasov’s beautiful Historical Center, starting at Council Square (Piata Sfatului), the arc-shaped historic center of Brasov. Based on how beautiful the square is today, it’s hard to imagine that the square was once used for public trials and executions during the Middle Ages and thereafter converted to a parking lot during Communist rule. Today, you’ll see the square filled with people at all times of the day and night, enjoying a drink or meal, or simply spending time with their friends and family.
From Council Square, wander around the pedestrian-only streets of Brasov’s Historical Center and step into some of the restaurants and bars. Here are a few of our favorites:
Where to Eat and Drink in Brasov
- Bibliotheque Pub: a pub surrounded by books and other quirky decorations with plenty of outdoor space; perfect for drinks and dinner or snacks
- Tipografia: a modern and clean coffee and tea house with gourmet sandwiches, juices, and artisanal beers; a great place to bring your laptop and do work during the day
- Kafe Pub: similar to Tipografia, Kafe Pub doubles as a coffeeshop and bar with eclectic decorations inside
- Bistro de l’Arte: a great place for a meal with a diverse food and drink menu that is often busy during dinner time; it is advisable to go early or make a reservation
Alternatively, if you arrive in Brasov before 6:00pm, you may wish to start your time in Brasov with a free walking tour so that you can get a sense of where everything is and which sites you want to return to and spend more time at tomorrow.
Day 3: Things to Do in Brasov + Drive to Sighisoara
On your third day in Romania, spend some more time in Brasov to see the sights in the morning before continuing on to Sighisoara in the afternoon.
Things To Do In Brasov
Since most attractions were probably closed already by the time you arrived in Brasov the night before, you’ll want to take advantage of your time on day 3 to see some of those sights. Weather permitting, you can also take advantage of your time this morning to hike to the top of Tampa Mountain. If you are too tired from your previous day of hiking or skiing and do not wish to make the hike, you can also take the cable car to the top. Note that the cable car may not run if there is inclement weather, so be sure to check with the cable car operator on the day of to make sure you’ll be able to go up to the top. If you decide to make the hike, plan for about a one hour walk to the top. The hike is not too challenging, and you will be rewarded with gorgeous views.
After your hike, stop by one of the many delicious gelato shops in the historical center and indulge in one of these:
Best Gelato Shops In Brasov:
Aside from glimpsing beautiful views of Brasov and treating yourself to delicious snacks, here are some other sights you might want to see:
The Black Church is the largest gothic church in Eastern Europe, located just off of the main square. It is quite the misnomer, however, and if you set out looking for a black-colored church, you’ll never find it. Rather, the Black Church got its name after it was burned in a fire during the Great Turkish War of 1689, and its walls darkened from the smoke. Originally built as a Roman Catholic Church called the Church of Saint Mary, it later transformed into a Lutheran church during the Protestant Reformation and was renamed the Black Church after the fire of 1689. A Lutheran service is still held every Sunday for Brasov’s German community.
Originally built in the 13th century as the meeting place for councilmen (called centurions), Brasov’s Old Town Hall now houses the Brasov History Museum (Muzeul De Istorie Al Brasovului). Here, you can find all sorts of exhibits, from artwork to tools, that showcase the history of Brasov.
Both towers were built in 1494 to keep watch over Brasov from the northern part of the city. Despite its name, the Black Tower is in fact white and received its name from the same event that gave the Black Church its name: the fire of 1689. You can immediately spot which tower is which by its shape. The Black Tower has a square shape, while the White Tower is shaped like a semicircle. Today, you can climb to the top of both towers for gorgeous views of the city and the mountains, but be prepared to exert a lot of energy climbing the towers.
Brasov Fortress (now Restaurant Cetate)
What was once the Brasov Fortress has now been reduced to a mere restaurant. You can find the fortress located at the top of a hill overlooking the city. Originally built in 1524, it was quickly abandoned in the 17th century after the advancement of technology allowed for cannons to be made that were stronger than the building.
After getting your fill of Brasov, it’s time to make the 1.5 hour drive to Sighisoara, another one of the seven walled citadels occupied by the Saxons of Transylvania. This walled city really stood out to me as particularly beautiful because it is so well-preserved from its original state, which is perhaps one of the reasons why its historical center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The walled city of Sighisoara is quite small, and you really don’t need more than one day here. There are only a couple of sites to see, and the experience is really in strolling around the walled city, walking the narrow, cobblestone streets, and trying some authentic Romanian cuisine. Depending on what time you get in to Sighisoara, you may wish to push some of these activities to the next morning.
Things to Do In Sighisoara:
- Clock Tower: Climb the steps of the clock tower to get the best views of the walled city. The steps are quite narrow and steep, so be careful (or maybe consider foregoing the climb) if you are traveling with elderly or very young individuals. There is also a small history museum inside.
- Church On the Hill (and cemetery next door): The church on the hill is hard to miss and can be quite spooky to visit at night, since it is located next door to a cemetery, which offers gorgeous views since it is built on an incline.
- Casa Vlad Dracul: This is the house where Vlad Dracul, the man whom the Dracula character is modeled after, was born. Today, it is a restaurant, so you can dine inside the house where “Dracula” was born.
Where to Eat and Drink In Sighisoara:
- Taverna Romaneasca Piata Cetatii: While the food here was not the best, you are able to try some authentic local dishes here and enjoy a few beers while people watching in the main square, so for the convenience of the location, we found ourselves here on multiple occasions during our short stay in Sighisoara.
- Vlad Dracul Restaurant: While a restaurant located in the birthplace of Vlad Dracul sounds like a major tourist trap, the food here is surprisingly decent, and it’s one of the few places in the main square that serve breakfast, for all you early risers.
- Medieval Cafe Restaurant: Located just off the main square, this restaurant serves a variety of dishes, including local cuisine and vegetarian/vegan options.
- Baum Games: This underground sports bar was not something we were expecting to find in an old citadel, but the drinks were cheap, the atmosphere was relaxed and casual, and there were plenty of games available in the large space to keep you entertained.
Where to Stay In Sighisoara:
- Casa Saseasca: I would highly recommend staying inside the walled city, and a good hotel to stay at is Casa Saseasca. It’s a no frills hotel located on the back side of the main square and perfect for one night in Sighisoara. Note that when staying inside the walled city, you will need to park your car at the bottom of the hill and walk up to the walled city. The guards will, however, allow you to drive into the walled city to drop off your luggage so you don’t need to carry your luggage up a hill.
Day 4: Things to Do in Sighisoara, Bucharest Free Walking Tour
If you didn’t have the opportunity to walk around or see any of the sights in Sighisoara the day before, spend some time doing that this morning. However, you’ll want to leave Sighisoara relatively early in the day, as the drive back to Bucharest will be quite long, especially if you decide to go through Sibiu and drive the iconic Transfagarasan.
If you have more than four days in Romania, this is where you can break up your itinerary into multiple days. From Sighisoara, drive to Sibiu and spend a night there. Make sure you make the trip to see the nearby Balea Lake as well. Then, the next day, make the drive back to Bucharest via the Transfagarasan. You can also spend an extra day in Bucharest if you have the time.
The Transfagarasan is the second highest road in the country and one of the most winding and beautiful in the world. It is so steep and winding, in fact, that it is only open in the summer months when there is no possibility of inclement weather. Unfortunately, the Transfagarasan was closed when I was there at the end of May, so now I have a good reason to go back to Romania again in the future.
If you get back to Bucharest by 3:00pm, I would highly recommend joining a free walking tour of the city. While you’ve just spent a few days road tripping around Romania, seeing the sights and experiencing the culture, you may not have learned some important parts of Romania’s history, including the lingering effect that Communist rule had on the country even to this day. Walkabout Free Tours offers free walking tours of Bucharest every day at 10:30am and 3:00pm.
The tour will take you to key landmarks in Bucharest, including Kilomtre Zero (the center of the city), the Romanian Athenaeum (a concert hall), and the Instagram-worthy umbrella street, with colorful umbrellas covering an alleyway of restaurants and bars. If you have time, come back to umbrella street after your tour to have a meal or drink outside in the alley under the umbrellas.
Your tour will end right around dinnertime, so start heading over to Old Town to find some food and have a fun night out on the town. Bucharest’s Old Town is one of the youngest in the world and well-known for its nightlife. Its cobblestone streets are lined with restaurants and bars, but the most popular ones may require a reservation.
Luckily, we were able to get a table at the famous Caru’ cu Bere without a reservation. The restaurant is located in a historic gothic revival building with art nouveau interior decorations, and the food, while a bit overpriced, is delicious. There is a plethora of local dishes for you to try here, as well as refreshing local beers. Midway through our meal, there was even a performance throughout the restaurant by waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional Romanian clothing. I would highly recommend dining here if you have the chance.
Either before or after your meal, stroll over to Cărturești Carusel, the most beautiful bookstore I have ever seen. Its all white decor, intricate carvings, and spiral staircases make it one of the most Instagrammable sites in Bucharest – and in the world. Not only is it Instagram-worthy, though, it is also impressive in the number of books it holds. Even though it only opened in 2015, it already holds more than 10,000 books.
Romania is a beautiful country, full of lush greenery, towering mountains, beautiful castles, and lots of history and culture. Our ultimate 4 day Romania road trip itinerary is designed to help you see and experience aspects of all that Romania has to offer. Safe travels, and have fun!
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