A 9-day travel itinerary for Romania
First the good news: Romania is as beautiful as you’ve heard. Rolling fields; looming Church spires; delicious (albeit) fatty food; minimal tourists; ancient traditions; crazy folklore; rural charm; it’s all true. And the bad news: it’s not as cheap as you’d think; the locals not as obviously warm as you’d like. And it’s a bit tougher for solo travellers to navigate through.
But in the end, you’d be glad you made the effort. It’s a whole new world to discover; get in here before the rest of the world does and discover its mysterious secrets. There’s plenty more to Romania than just the Dracula.
Travelling inside Romania
Travelling inside cities: Uber and Bolt work best. Download the apps and travel hassle-free. Buses work well too but are known to be slower, infrequent, and connections not too helpful.
Travelling from one city to the next: If you can, it is best to hire a car for your nine days in Romania. Not only is driving hassle-free, the roads decent enough, also you will get to see nearby places easily from each city and not have the hassle of figuring out buses. A fallout of burgeoning and not yet full-blown tourism is connections to tourist attractions are not many. BlablaCar works well too. For example, a trip between Brasov and Cluj cost my 45 lei and 4 and half hours with door to door pick up and drop. A trip between Cluj and Sibiu cost me 20 lei and 2 hours.
Trains provide a good panoramic option to travel between Romanian cities. Usually, they are timely and clean too. I’ve had mixed experiences with travelling in Romanian trains, so here goes.
Bad: I found the process of booking and travel a hassle when I did it between Bucharest and Brasov. I waited in the queue at Bucharest Nord for almost an hour with people cutting queues, until on my turn, I was told tickets to my train were sold out. I bought a ‘standing ticket’ and sat next to the toilet for most of my 3-hour journey, being pulled up by the Ticket Checker later for doing so. I finally did find a place, in the last 30 minutes leg. Lesson learnt: Reserve online.
Good: On the other hand, my ride from Sighișoara to Sibiu was a dream. I booked online, having learnt from my last experience. The train was stopping over at Copsa Mica. The fare for the 2-hour journey was 27 lei (while the minivan was costing me 95 lei and the shared cab ride through Mydaytrip cost me 10 euros or 45 lei. Both would have taken an hour less to reach though)
For more on practical transportation options and my experience with them travelling solo, click here.
To look for and book trains, click here.
To look for and book buses, click here.
When to visit Romania
Romania experiences hot summers and harsh winters. September is a great month to visit, when the temperatures are still warm but not too much so and children are returning to school, so tourists (most of which are currently domestic) are receding too. Tours are still on but prices are competitive. April is another good month to visit.
Definitely check out the festivals in Romania. Romanians take their festivals seriously and it’s an exciting time to be around. Some examples are:
- The International Jazz Competition in Bucharest in May
- The Sighisoara Festival of Medieval Arts and Crafts in June
- Neversea Festival in Constanta in July
- Electric Castle and UNTOLD in Cluj Napoca in July and August respectively
- International Theatre Festival and ARTmania in Sibiu in June and July respectively, Astrafilm in October
- Halloween in October, across cities
Here’s a list by Culture Trip of the unique traditional festivals to attend in Romania.
In Sibiu, during the months of August and September, there’s plenty to do. Every day, there’s an event or two. For example, as I write this, the music festival is blasting beats at Piata Mare and the folk festival is on at the open-air ASTRA Museum.
Good to know
Romania and money
Lei and Ron (i.e. new Leu) are used interchangeably. When I travelled, 1 Euro equalled 4.78 Leu (plural lei). Both card and cash are accepted in most places but cash is preferred in government establishments such as train and bus stations, and the Palace of the Parliament. If you use Blablacar, it is cash only. Thus, it makes sense to carry cash with you at all times. Be sure to withdraw only from bank ATM’s so as to not get charged a bad commission.
Every city centre has a Vodafone showroom where you can purchase a 1 month SIM for 28 Lei. Total value for money, if you ask me.
The nine-day Romania itinerary
1 Day in Bucharest
Bucharest may underwhelm you at first and several travellers suggest it’s not worthwhile, but I thought otherwise. No other city in Romania can rightfully demonstrate the impact communism has had on the country. I, for one, thought it was a good introduction to what was to follow. In its earlier glory days, Bucharest was often called ‘ Paris of the East’ and the French influence is easy to spot as soon as you step in. These days though, all the past is embellished graffiti, a sign of what plagues the city. But 24 hours in the city is sufficient to get a feel of it. The Palace of Parliament and Arthur Verona Street were the highlights for me.
Here’s a 24-hour guide to Bucharest.
2 Days in Braşov
If you are going to Braşov from Bucharest, be prepared to be amazed. The town square is one of the prettiest I have seen, surrounded as it is by the lush Carpathian Mountains. Braşov is a beautiful mix of the old and the new, the quaint and the modern. The town is small enough to move around on foot, yet large enough to host some awesome restaurants, cafes, and shops. You should definitely plan to spend more than a night here.
Two days in Braşov can be spent thus:
Day 1: Take a walking tour of the city to see its major sights. Start with the beautiful Main Square or Piața Sfatului. See Rope Street next, which is purportedly the narrowest street in Europe. Go to the imposing Black Church. See Yekaterina’s gate. End at the Prima Scoala Romaneasca or the First Romanian School and St Nicolae Church. There are several great places to try local delicacies as well around the main square. You will have a full day in your hand.
Day 2: Visit the Bran Castle or what to the outside world is known as Dracula’s castle. Visit Rasnov fortress which was built as part of a defence system for the Transylvanian villages exposed to outside invasions. And see Peles Castle, a 100-year-old castle in Sinaia, considered one of the most stunning castles in Europe.
Here’s a 48-hour guide to Brasov.
3 Days in Sibiu
If you have 3 days in Sibiu, what can you do? As it follows, far too much! After a while, your head will reel, unable to deal with the beauty in front of you, making your eyes look much like the attic air vents on Sibiu’s roofs.
What can you see with 3 days in Sibiu? Here are some ideas:
Day 1: Savour Sibiu with a DIY tour since no free tours ran while I was there. But the city is easy to see yourself. Start from Piata Mare, which is Sibiu’s main town square. It is surrounded by cafes and restaurants, as well as the Brukenthal Museum and Turnul Sfatului or the Council Tower. Walk along Strada Nicolae Balcescu for food and shopping. Go to go to Piata Mica or the Small Square, which was once a centre of trade in Sibiu. See the Bridge of Lies and the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary. As you walk along savouring the medieval town, almost intact-ly ancient, notice carefully the eyes on the roofs following you around. Apparently, in the old days, they were built to function as cooling vents in the attics where grains and cereals were stored. Creepy or cute?
Day 2: Do a Transfăgărășan road trip. ‘Transfăgărășan’ literally means crossing over the Făgăraș (pronounced ‘fugurash’) mountains. The road, built in the 1970s, connects Wallachia and Transylvania and is considered one of the best and the most picturesque roads in the world. Many thanks ‘Top Gear’ 2009. The road is usually closed between October to June because of snow. The only way to do this route is to drive or take a tour.
Day 3: A day trip to Sighisoara
A well-preserved dreamy medieval town, Sighisoara is best done from Sibiu because it is closer (95 km vs. 120 from Brasov) Sighiaosara is located by the Târnava Mare River in Mureș County, Romania. It is a small town, with a population less than 30,000, and you can cover it in less than half a day.
Here’s a 72-hour guide to Sibiu.
2 Days in Cluj-Napoca
Cluj Napoca, often called the ‘Heart of Transylvania’, is Romania’s third-largest city and Transylvania’s largest. The city is over 2000 years old! It is not a quaint medieval town like Brasov or Sibiu; I’ll call it a trendy, cool crossover between Bucharest and Sibiu. Actually, Cluj was my fav city in Romania, and there’s a lot to do in two or more days if you want to really soak it in.
You can spend your two days in Cluj thus:
Day 1: Take a walking tour to see the old town area. Highlights are Unirii Square, the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Opera house, the old town. Next, visit the open-air Ethnographic Museum and Hoia Baciu haunted forest. At night, hang in the old town square and eat local delicacies. Watch as the lights come on above you all at once and gape in wonder.
Day 2: Take a day trip to Alba Iulia and Salina Turda. The Alba Carolina Citadel is one of the most well preserved and gorgeous I have seen in Romania. The citadel is a star-shaped fortress, built during the during Habsburg rule in Transylvania. Inside, there are Baroque gates, a Catholic Cathedral, an Orthodox Cathedral, the Union Museum and Hall, a few ancient and medieval fortifications as well as Roman Ruins. Salina Turda is a unique salt mine in Turda town, Cluj County. Inside, not only will you see how salt was extracted and transported along with the equipment used, but there is also an area to indulge in games (mini-golf, bowling alley, ping pong etc.) and boat rides at the lower levels. Locals invest in passes to come here and partake in the healthy salt air.
Here’s a 48-hour guide to Cluj Napoca.
1 Day in Timisoara
Timisoara is a city in the north-west of Romania close to Serbia. It is also known as Little Vienna (Thanks to its buildings) or the City of Flowers (thanks to its parks). Considered the informal capital of the Banat region, Timișoara is located at the divergence of the Timiș and Bega rivers. Timișoara has been designated to be the European Capital of Culture in Romania in 2021. While a gorgeous city, I thought 24 hours was enough to see the highlights and experience the city’s unique vibe.
Here’s a 24-hour guide to Timisoara.
An overnight train runs from Timișoara to Bucharest (Night train IR 1696, leaves at 10:30 p.m. and arrives at 8:22 a.m., timings subject to change) if you want to head back to the capital in order to go to your next destination. Alternatively, you can plan to go from Timișoara to Belgrade (Using GEA travels) or to Sofia (using Flixbus or local bus) to continue on your Balkan travels, as I did.
For a crash course on the people, pick up the book: ‘Never Mind the Balkans Here’s Romania‘ by Mike Ormsby. Read it with a pinch of salt of course. It’s a funny take on locals from the point of view of a British expat.
Of course, I’m sure you’ve read Dracula?