Bucharest, once known as the little Paris of Romania, set an example for its outlying villages, like Braşov. Following suit, they look like small Parisian villages with their crepe stands and cafes making a boulevard down main street. Often overlooked on the regular European tourist trail, Romania remains an eminently worthy travel destination in its own right. Romania is a great country for those who’ve seen all the major European cities and want to get away from the overcrowded tourists hot spots. I found that Romania offers plenty of tourist attractions without the craziness of tourist groups, lines, and prices.
My husband and I met up with some of our expat friends in Romania for a 5-day reunion. Our traveling group consisted of 4 adults and 2 babies. Our friends, coming from Dubai, wanted to escape the boiling, brown desert for cooler green, lush forests. We just wanted to enjoy some European foods not readily available in Izmir and more reasonably priced than Paris or London, for example. And we both hoped to escape our towering apartments for a few hours via a road trip through the mountainous central area of Romania.
Romania’s 20 million people are spread over 240,000 square kilometers, perfect for a road trip meets city type adventure. After meeting our friends at Bucharest international airport, we picked up our rental car, purchased sim cards with 3G data for 40 lei (€8.5), and headed north on the 2.5-hour drive to Braşov. The Romanian roads are easy to navigate and having a sim card helped with GPS directions and finding restaurants.
Lying in the center of the renowned Carpathian Mountains of Dracula fame, Brașov is a city in Romania’s Transylvania region. Established by the Teutonic Knights in 1211, and later occupied by the Saxons, Brasov was a walled citadel during the medieval times, for protection against invaders. Today the city is still surrounded by those medieval Saxon stone walls.
For centuries, the city’s central location has given it a strong political influence in the region, especially during the Ottoman Empire dynasty, while also providing a trading doorway into western Europe. Brasov’s German and Latin names mean “Crown City”. Its coat of arms bears a crown with oak roots, and can be seen on walls and buildings throughout the city.
The city center is lined with romantic cobblestone roads. The inelegant looking, yet stunning, Gothic-style Black Church (named for the fire that turned its walls black) peeks from behind colorful baroque houses that shield the Council Square of Piaţa Sfatului, and the former town hall, Casa Sfatului.
Just beyond the city, towering mountains clad with thick forests cover the countryside. One of our favorite tourist activities in Brasov was riding the gondola to the top of Mount Tampa. For 17 lei a person (€3.7), you can purchase a roundtrip ticket, and it’s a great way to see panoramic views of the city. Or if you like hiking, and the weather permits, 10 lei (€2) will get you a one way ticket either direction.
For the history lovers, the free Braşov walking tour is ideal. This interesting two-hour tour covers 800 years of the city’s history. You’ll hear stories about the citadel and Dracula while walking through one of the narrowest streets in Eastern Europe. The tours covers the history of the Black Church, the Council Square, Rope Street, St. Nicholas Church, the Citadel’s Walls, the Schei Quarter and Ecaterina’s (Catherine’s) Gate. The tour runs daily at 18:00 in all weather (sun, rain or snow!). It meets at the Piata Sfatului (the Town Hall Square next to the fountains). While the tour is ‘free’, the guides work from tips. We suggest tipping at least €5 per person, and we felt it was well worth it.
Braşov is a unique location. Even with its small-town, quiet feel in the middle of the mountains, restaurants and activities remains plentiful. Braşov offers much to explore within, and around, the city. The nearby city of Bran is home to Bran Castle, a.k.a. the famous Dracula’s Castle! A quick 30-minute drive from Braşov, the castle is easy enough to find.
Castle tickets are 30 lei (€8) per adult. The uphill walk to the castle takes 10 minutes. While the attraction is kid-friendly, the castle itself with its many stairs and turns is not stroller friendly. The village of Bran offers tempting strolls along the streets, lined with local shopping goods and souvenirs, and plenty of places to eat along the way. Other surrounding villages offer the same atmosphere usually with fortified churches or castles.
Three days are sufficient to explore all that Braşov has to offer, but if you want to see more of Transylvania, you can easily add a few more nights! On our return from Braşov to Bucharest, we found the well-maintained Peles Castle, and the nearby city Sinaia, provided a cozy half-way stop.
Bucharest started from a humble beginning; founded by a shepherd in the Transylvania area named Bucur, or joy. The area was name after the shepherd and the river named after his wife, Dambovita.
From these humble beginnings grew a thriving city. Ironically enough, the Ottomans officially wrote about Bucharest when their dynasty was under occupation by Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Dracula, of Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire novel. Bucharest, by now the nation’s capital city, was an important stop along the Silk Road. Living in Turkey gives me an instant connection to Romania’s long forgotten history.
In the 1900s, Bucharest earned the name of “Little Paris” for its European architecture and tree-lined boulevards. But since then, World War II, earthquakes, and 45 years of communist rule, have taken their toll on the city’s former majestic beauty.
However, today you can still find plenty of these majestic buildings and architecture like major boulevards, the Palace of the Parliament, and the Transfagarasan, considered by many to be the most beautiful road in Europe.
Nowadays, 25 years after the Romanian revolution against the Communism, Bucharest is once again starting to resemble its former title of “Little Paris” as an urban location, full of culture and life.
A visit to Bucharest will never leave you bored. It offers more than 50 museums, 12 theaters, 29 sites, and one Arc de Triumph. While I can’t vouch for any of the museums, I can tell you that the walking only area around Old Town provides plenty of walking-only historical sites, lined with international food options.
The same company, Bucharest Walkabout Tours, offers free Bucharest walking tour of the Old Town. The two-hour tour covers a 500-year span of history, with stories about the life and times of Vlad the Impaler through to the 1989 Revolution, and how that has affected modern-day Romania.
You’ll also hear about Romania under the “Golden Era” of communism. This tour runs daily at 10:30 am and 18:00 pm, in all weather (sun, rain or snow!). It meets at the Unirii Square Park in front of the Clock (next to the fountains). While the tour is ‘free’, these guides also work from tips.
Since 1692, Calea Victoriei has been one of Bucharest’s most famous streets. Lined with fine houses, palaces, churches, and hotels, you’ll also find upmarket shops and museums along its length.
From the Brancovenesque houses at the northern end to the art-deco, 1920s apartment blocks further south, the vast number of architectural styles is an impressive sight. Several major attractions are found on Calea Victoriei including the monument to the revolution called Piata Revolutiei, the eloquent French architecture of the Atheneum and Athenee Palace Hilton hotel, and the National Museum of Art (once the Former Royal Palace). The Former Central Committee Building and the Revolution Memorial—which locals call ‘an olive on a stick’—are also found along the Calea Victoriei. If you start your walking tour at the northern end, and explore the full length of the street, you can then end up relaxing in one of the cafes of Old Town.
Our days were filled with strolling past buildings of Belarus architecture, and resting on benches along shaded tree-lined boulevards lined with fountains. Bucharest’s mammoth Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world. Once a symbol of Ceauceșcu’s utilitarian rule, the building is today a testament to Romanian history, and the country’s recovery from his iron rule.
The Palace of the Parliament, known by the locals as ‘Ceauceșcu’s Palace’, with 1,100 rooms and 12 stories, can be seen from space. Its construction took 13 years to finish! Depending on what you want to see, tickets can be purchased to see a certain number of chambers, the basement, and the main balcony. Ticket prices range between 25-45 lei (€5-10). For children and students (with student ID card) entrance is free.
If you want to see more than the Old Town and the Palace of Parliament, the popular Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour sells 24-hour tickets and covers a 10-mile route. This bus also takes you past the 27meter high Arc de Triumph and the 462-acre Herăstrău Park, built around a natural lake.
Be sure to visit the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum, Bucharest’s largest, open-air museum which showcases the diversity and charm of Romanian traditional village architecture. It boasts 300 houses, farms, windmills, and churches imported from all regions of Romania. Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tickets for adults are 25 lei (€5), children (age 7-14) are 10 lei (€2) and children under 7 travel free.
My favorite part about Romania is that neither Bucharest nor Braşov made us feel rushed. Instead, our first visit to Romania made us feel like we lived there like the locals, and not like tourists. Travel should always feel like that.
The rich history and sights in Romania’s capital city of Bucharest and the soon-to-be major tourist destination of Braşov in the Transylvania region made for a perfect week-long getaway.
From Bucharest to Brasov, we stopped about 1 hour outside of Brasov in a little railroad town of Posada for supper and let the children take a break from the car seats. Enjoy a traditional Romanian dish such as cabbage rolls or smoked sausages with a side of corn meal with salty cheese and sour cream at the restaurant called Cernica.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Istanbul, Pegasus Airlines has direct flights to Bucharest via the Sabiha Gokcen Airport at around $150 roundtrip. As we live in Izmir, we has a short 1.5 hour layover between our Izmir to Istanbul then Istanbul to Bucharest airports. Turkish Airlines has a few more locations available besides Bucharest in Romania via Cluj-Napoca and Constanta.
IN COUNTRY TRANSPORTATION:
Because we wanted flexibility in our travels, our group decided to rent a car via the Pegasus’s car rental section of their website. The free shuttle provided by the car rental company took us from the airport to their company only 5 minutes away. If driving in another country is not your cup of tea, taxis, buses, and even trains between cities are easy to use and inexpensive as well.
WHERE TO STAY:
Because our group was 6 people (4 adults and 2 kids) we opted for a more family-style lodging and stayed in Airbnb apartment-style housing. Before deciding to go the Airbnb route, below are a couple of hotels we had looked at booking:
- Hotel Coroana in Braşov
- Chic Apartments in nearby Sibiu
- Sarah & David Studios in Bucharest
WHERE TO EAT:
- La Republique – Laidback breakfast crepes in the town center
- Trattoria Pocol – Stylish pizzeria but still kid-friendly
- La Vatra Ardealului – Bakery near the Black Church
- Cernica – Dinner stop on our way up to Braşov
- Caru’ Cu Bere – Romanian food for lunch in Old Town
- Emilia Cremeria – Personal favorite ice cream shop in Old Town
- Chinese Garden – Chinese Food
- El Toritos -Mexican food we ordered online and they delivered!
WHAT TO DO:
- Bran Castle
- Braşov Gondola or Tampa Cable Car (Telecabina Tampa) – Tel: 0268 478.657
- Braşov Walking Tour
- Bucharest Walking Tour
- Bucharest Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour
Now to you!
- Have you been to Romania???
- What did you love about it?
- What else should we see next time we go?