I had never considered Romania as a travel destination until I was searching for a cheap flight to Eastern Europe. My plan was to visit a few Balkan countries that are known to have particularly good mountains (I’m so predictable, I know). Flying into the capital city of Bucharest was the best deal I could find, so I went ahead and booked it.
My expectations for Romania were almost non-existent. The only images that came to mind were of Dracula and gypsies. I figured that since I was flying into this country, I might as well spend a few days exploring.
From Bangkok, I flew to Dubai and then to Bucharest. Customs was easy to get through. I didn’t even have to fill out an arrival card. They just took my passport, typed in the computer for a few seconds, then stamped it and sent me on my way. I bought a bus ticket and got on the 783 line to the city center.
During my time in Bucharest, I stayed at Bucur’s Shelter which I highly recommend. It had a social yet relaxed atmosphere. By that I mean it was easy to meet people, but it wasn’t a party hostel. My favorite part was that the complimentary breakfast involved cooking my own eggs and real coffee (a rarity in hostels).
I went to the National Museum of Art of Romania. The entrance fee was 15 lei ($3.80) for the main exhibit. The museum had a wide variety of art. There were relics from churches and from the royal and high society families. Some of the paintings dated back to the 1500s.
My favorite was the preserved pieces of frescos. Frescos are paintings that are made directly onto the plaster of walls or ceilings (think Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel).
Another stand out activity was the free walking tour. It happens every day (twice a day on weekends) and lasts for two hours. The tour guide was full of information on the recent history of Romania.
I found it interesting to learn about how Romania was under communist rule until the revolution in 1989. She told us that previous to the revolution it was a time of secrecy in Romania. Roughly 15% of citizens worked for the secret police, so people were always worried about if their neighbors or co-workers were spying on them. There was no heat in the winter, and there was only two hours of TV a day. 10 minutes were for cartoons, and the rest was government propaganda.
Brasov and the Mountains
I initially wanted to go to Brasov (pronounced “Brashov”) because of Dracula’s Castle, which is actually called Bran’s Castle. However, after a bit of research I found out that Brasov is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. What luck!
I booked Mara’s Hostel for two nights, and took the train from Bucharest to Brasov. Brasov is a small city (or large town, depending on your definition). The Old Town area fits the picturesque European image of cobblestone walkways and vine-covered houses. The rest of Brasov seems like any other small city/ large town.
It was worthwhile to learn how to take the public buses because I ended up using them every day. Tickets are 4 lei ($1) and are good for two bus rides.
Seven Ladders Canyon and Piatra Mare
By far my favorite Brasov hike was Piatra Mare. The lower section of trail is through Seven Ladders Canyon (10 lei entrance fee). As a person who used to live in the American Southwest, I think it’s generous to call this park a “canyon”. It’s more like a stream bed that’s carved into the rock a bit.
However, they did an awesome job making bridges and ladders through this “canyon”, and it was lots of fun to walk through and climb around. The scariest part was a ladder that was about 30 feet high and right beside a waterfall. The ladder was cold and wet, and I had to stop myself from looking down until I reached the top.
After Seven Ladders Canyon, I continued up the mountain. There were signs and trail markers all the way up. Granted, the signs weren’t in English, but I could pick out the words “Piatra Mare” when necessary. It was actually a much steeper hike than I had anticipated, but finally I broke through the tree line and had views all around.
The Carpathian Mountains are gorgeous, and many of the biggest mountains hover around 6000 feet (1800 meters). This means that it’s accessible to reach peaks by doing day hikes, but it’s also not easy. A trip to Romania’s mountains would be perfect for someone who wants to be immersed in nature and be active while traveling, but also doesn’t want to lug around a bunch of outdoor gear.
If you want to do this hike from Brasov, take a bus to the train station. Assuming you’re staying in Old Town, you can take either the 4 or 51 line. From the train station, take 17B all the way to Dambu Morii village. From there, just walk through town to the park entrance. When the hike is over, you will end up in the same spot. Return the way you came.
Allow 2-3 hours for the 7 Ladders Canyon hike. For the canyon and Piatra Mare, give yourself at least 6 hours. Don’t forget to bring water and lunch for the day.
I had a cold for the entire time I was in Romania. This was most likely because of the sudden transition from hot and humid Thailand weather to brisk autumn in Romania. It hit me the hardest during my second day in Brasov.
Bran Castle was the final destination of the day, but I also wanted to get some hiking in. I looked at the Brasov public transportation map, and found a little ski town called Poiana Brasov. I took the bus there, with the intention of making the 5 mile walk to Rasnov where I could then grab a bus the rest of the way to the castle.
The trail was through the forest, and was peaceful. There were no other people around. It wasn’t too exciting though and eventually led me back to the road. I would only recommend this hike for someone who is just looking for a mellow stroll through the woods.
Upon arrival in Rasnov, I located a bus stop and waited for the one to Bran. By this time, my nose was running constantly and I was almost out of tissues. I debated taking a bus back to Brasov and returning to my hostel to rest, but I had already come so far.
After a long wait, the bus arrived and I was on my way to Bran. The entrance fee was 35 lei ($9). The castle was full of other visitors. It was cool to see the castle, but because of my cold I didn’t have much patience for the crowd or to read all the information boards.
I’m still not entirely sure what the connection between Bran Castle and Dracula is. I know that Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler. Vlad never lived in Bran Castle, but apparently he spent the night one time. The author of Dracula never traveled to Eastern Europe, let alone visited Bran Castle. So it’s hard to say why exactly this castle is known as “Dracula’s Castle”.
I was going to leave Brasov sooner, but was enjoying the mountains so much I decided to squeeze in one last hike. I befriended a fellow American from my hostel, and we took a bus up to the ski town of Poiana Brasov once again.
This time we followed a trail that intersected with ski runs and gondola routes. It took about two hours to reach the top, and we spotted a fox along the way. After some snacks and soaking up the view from the peak called Postavaru, we joined a group of fellow tourists to ride the gondola down. I was surprised by how high the gondola hovered in some parts. The cable was connected to two peaks, and the valley was deep below.
From Old Town, go to the Livada Postei bus stop and take the number 20 all the way to Poiana Brasov. From there, locate the bottom of the gondola and follow the trail up. The hike will take about 2 hours.
As I said previously, I went into this Romania visit free of expectations. However, I’ve enjoyed it so much. I originally only planned to stay in Romania for 4 days, but I ended up traveling here for 7 days.
Bucharest is such a cool city, and it’s worthwhile to spend a day or two exploring here. Transylvania had so much to offer, I could have easily committed a few weeks to hiking there. The trails are maintained and marked by signs. I didn’t stay in any of the mountain huts, but it seems like that would be a cool way to do a multi-day hike.
Romania Travel Guide
Romanian Lei, $1= 4 lei
The $30 a day budget is doable here. I stayed under budget for 5 of my 7 days of Romania travel. I went over one day because I bought shirts and underwear at H&M. The second day I went over was because I bought a 140 lei ($35) train ticket from Bucharest to Sofia, Bulgaria.
It’s important to note that I stayed under $30 a day because I didn’t eat at restaurants or buy alcohol. From looking at menus, it seemed like most restaurant meals were 25 lei ($6.50) or more. Instead, I went to the supermarket to buy fruit and salads. Both hostels I stayed at had kitchens, and I often saw other travelers cooking for themselves instead of going out.
There’s also walk-up bakeries everywhere, so often I bought strudel for breakfast (2-3 lei) and pizza slices for dinner (4 lei). Not the healthiest of options, but a good deal.
For longer journeys, trains are the way to go. Schedules and prices can be found online. To buy tickets, show up at least 30 minutes ahead of time. As far as getting around locally, both Bucharest and Brasov have a bus system. Using Google Maps directions feature will tell you which bus line to take.
I also met quite a few people who have been getting around Romania by hitch-hiking. They say it’s common here and easy to get rides.
Like me, most travelers don’t consider Romania as a destination. While there were always fellow travelers at my hostel, during the day I usually blended in and was mistaken for a local.
Beautiful mountains, low prices, and lack of other tourists made Romania an awesome travel destination for me.