Top Things to Do In Romania
We spent a month exploring Romania and we still ran out of time to do everything we wanted to do.
Chances are your international flight landed here in Bucharest. If you're one of the many tourists stopping here for a few days, there is plenty to see. Do yourself a favor and sign up for a free walking tour (we went with the Walkabout free walking tour and had a great time). There is so much history here that we never learned in school and going on a walking tour really helped us understand Romania a little better. Aside from the history, there are numerous buildings that we would never have even noticed if they weren't pointed out to us. For instance, churches all over the city were torn down during communist days but some were saved by literally rolling the church back to make room for the new buildings.
You'll probably notice a gigantic building in the middle of the city - Palace of the Parliament. It holds several world records due to its size and is the largest physical reminder of Nicolae Ceausescu and it's certainly impressive. If you have time and room in your budget, it's an incredible, though somewhat cavernous, building to explore. If the history of Nicolae Ceausescu interests you, his home is open to visitors and provides better insight into this Romanian dictator's life.
“Dracula’s” Castle a.k.a Bran Castle
When you hear Transylvania you probably immediately associate it with "Dracula". Yes, there was a historical Romanian figure named "Dracula" but the Bram Stoker version is entirely fictionalized. In fact, Bram Stoker never even went to Romania let alone modeled his novel after factual events. Nevertheless, Bran Castle has been given the coveted title of "Dracula's Castle" and the tourism around it is booming. Did the real, non-vampire Dracula live at Bran Castle? No. And it seems somewhat doubtful he even visited. But the description Bram Stoker gave in his famous novel seemed to fit (again, remember he never actually visited) and the throngs of tourists don't seem to mind some of the historical discrepancies.
Brasov is a great base for exploring Bran Castle. It's easy and affordable to rent a car and head there for the day and that's why we decided to visit Brasov. However, it didn't take long for this little town to steal our hearts. The historic center is small and easy to navigate with tons of little restaurants and shops to visit. There are several historic spots, like the Black Church, and a wonderful hike up Mount Tampa to iconic "Brasov" sign that overlooks the town.
While Bran Castle is the more famous castle, Peles Castle is the more impressive one. It is incredibly ornate and detailed and will likely be the most decorated castle you visit while in Romania. We had never heard of Peles Castle but we didn't need to go too far in our research to discover it. While you could technically do a day trip from Brasov, we preferred to take the train to Sinaia and spend two nights there so we could fully explore the castle and grounds. Once you arrive the castle might start to look vaguely familiar. It's not some sort of spell washing over you - you probably recognize it from one of the many movies it's been in.
In fact, not long ago I was watching The Christmas Prince on Netflix (don't judge me!) and I immediately recognized the fictional, Christmas palace paradise as Peles Castle! We visited in autumn and thought the castle looked a little creepy, but after seeing how beautifully it can transform during seasons when we don't have Halloween on the brain I'm convinced it's just beautiful.
We didn't get a chance to visit Sighisoara but if time allows you should definitely check it out. It's a UNESCO world heritage site and is beautifully intact with its history dating back to the 15th century.
How to Divide & Conquer (your trip to Romania)
While your international flight likely lands in Bucharest and it may be tempting to spend all of your time there - we would highly suggest trying to fit your Bucharest touring into just a few days and head out to the Transylvanian countryside as soon as possible. We ended up spending about half of our time in Bucharest in an apartment catching up on work. If course we loved Bucharest - but once we got out to Transylvania we were just stunned by the beauty of it all.
The train system worked well and we were able to get between Bucharest - Brasov - Sinaia by train quite easily, but renting a car will give you the additional flexibilty to get out into the countryside and see even more. It will certainly give you more flexibility (and better pricing) than booking a group tour. One word of warning - you need an international drivers license. Be pre
pared before leaving for your trip because they will ask to see it before renting you a car.