Black Sea Ordu Turkey Teleferik Gondola

TURKEY: Top 5 sites in Ordu, Turkey (and a BONUS one)

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen! ***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Now on to Ordu!

Black Sea Ordu Turkey Teleferik Gondola
Black Sea Ordu Turkey

Back in the 5th century BC, Ordu was the site of ancient Cotyora, founded by Greek colonists from Sinope. A lot like Samsun, it follows the history of most of the Turkish Republic being passed from one empire to the next.

At the turn of the 20th century, the city was more than half Christian (Greek and Armenian). Taşbaşı Church, a former Greek Orthodox church in the neighborhood Taşbaşı, is one of the only prominent surviving churches. It was first built in 1853, used as a prison between 1937-1977, and then restored in 1983 by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey. The church, which was converted into a cultural center in 2000, continues to be transformed into an archaeological museum. It was closed when we went but we peeked at the outside from the fence. 

With a population of 220,000, Ordu is the capital of Ordu Province. The main city spans along the 10 kilometers of beautifully maintained public Black Sea coastline. Quickly become a modern symbol for the city, the Boztepe teleferik, or cable car transports passengers from the coast to the Boztepe hill, a good 550 m (1,800 ft) and is THE thing to do here.

As well, Ordu produces 25 percent (YES, TWENTY FIVE!) of the worldwide crop of hazelnuts (Turkey as a whole produces about 75 percent of the world’s hazelnuts). This was a fun stop for us and we would definitely come back!

Black Sea Ordu Turkey

Read on to know what you should see and do in Ordu, Turkey:

1. Teleferik and Boztepe

  • Located 550 meters above sea level, Boztepe is the highest place in the city of Ordu. A quick 6-minute cable car ride takes you to a cobblestone road lined with little vendors selling everything from hazelnuts to little handmade trinkets. There are several little cafes, restaurants, and tea houses with a stunning view of the sea just waiting to serve visitors. For 15 TL a roundtrip ticket, it is one of the most affordable and enjoyable things to do in Ordu!
  • I don’t know much about the paragliding but we did see a couple gliding through the air as we enjoy our cable car ride. This website can give you a few companies to check out if it interest you!

2. Ters Ev (Upside-down house)  

  • Completed by Ordu Metropolitan Municipality in 2019, the Ters Ev (aka – Up-side Down House) is 150 square meter, 2 story home sitting on it’s roof and even has a small car ‘parked’ out front. A quick 2 minutes walk from the teleferik, visitors enjoy 2 of the cities most visited attractions.

3. Black Sea Coastline

  • I mentioned this in our Samsun post too, but really, it’s a must! Take some time to just stroll down the 10 kilometers of seaside and even take a dip in the sea. Multiple beaches are positioned along the way equipped with restrooms, changing areas and even showers.

4. Hazelnuts

  • Ok, not really a site but a ‘must-learn-about-and-try’ item! In between the Teleferik loading area and the Ters Ev lies an open market with several wooden stands for businesses to display their products.
  • Like I mention, Ordu produces a whopping 25 percent of the worldwide crop of hazelnuts – that’s amazing! So you can imagine they sell almost everything imaginable that they can do with hazelnuts! One of our favorite stands, Meşhur Ordu Helva, treated us with a taste of hazelnut and walnut Helva, and we definitely ended up buying some to take with us.

5. Colorful Buildings of Downtown

  • In my research about what to see in Ordu, NO one mentioned how COOL the downtown area is. A pedestrian-only street lined with colorful buildings where visitors can meander while window shopping is one of my favorite things! I wish we had more time to explore this area, but I was able to snap a few shots!

BONUS: Nearby Yason Kilisesi

  • The location isn’t exactly in Ordu, but if you are driving from Samsun to Ordu, like we did, then take the detour to Yason Cape just before you get to Persembe. Do NOT miss it! I PROMISE if the weather is even somewhat good then this place is the best stop you can make!
  • This small peninsula facing the sea is currently a governmental environmental protection area and there is no charge or touristy thing about it. Yason’s, or Jason in English (my Jason loved that!), Church built in 1868 by Georgians and Greeks still stands among the ruins of its garden wall. It is said the church was built in the place of an old temple that was built as a protector of the sailors of Black Sea‘s treacherous waters. The church held a similar mission.
  • Nearby the church is a lighthouse and a quiet, beautiful area full of green grass and wild flowers. We even took a dip in the calm, little cove.
BlackSeaRoadTrip Ordu Persembe Yason Church Lighthouse Turkey

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
  • Looks like Pegasus Airlines may have a few direct flights from Izmir to the remote Ordu-Giresun airport. Otherwise, most flights will have 1 stopover via Istanbul airports.
  • Istanbul has direct flights to the Ordu-Giresun airport.

Lodging: 

  • Hampton by Hilton Ordu: Rooms are a little tight for space and we had some issues with our check-in. Otherwise, the location is PERFECT. It is literally 3 minute walk to the sea-side and restaurants.

Restaurants: 

  • Tomur Cafe: Great outdoor space by the water. It is known more for it’s burgers, pizza, salad – not a traditional Turkish food restaurant.
  • Our hotel provided breakfast, and we fill up on all the treats while touring in the morning so proper lunch was not necessary.

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Samsun is the provincial capital and starting point of the 1919 Turkish War of Independence.
  • As you continue eastward, Trabzon and Rize are next two stops you can not miss. Videos and blog post for this area coming soon!

Overall, Ordu is on our ‘visit again’ list. The beauty of the Black Sea and friendly people made want to come back for more! Even though a day is sufficient time for a short visit, I am sure a few more days would give you a deeper view into the city. You can explore Ordu with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Ordu video and see what all we did in our late afternoon/ morning visit!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Ordu now?
  • Have you traveled to Ordu before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just a piece of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO
Black Sea Samsun Turkey

TURKEY: Top 5 sites in Samsun, Turkey

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen!

***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Black Sea Samsun Turkey Teleferik Gondola
Black Sea Samsun Turkey

Samsun is the largest city, an important shipping port, and the traditional provincial capital of the Black Sea region of Turkey. We learned it was supposedly the home to the legendary Amazon warriors. According to Greek legends, these women warriors were famous for wielding bows and arrows and using double-headed axes for fighting in battles.

Samsun, like the rest of Turkey, has passed through the hands of many empires. One of the oldest names it holds is Amisos given by Miletusians (Miletus), which was one of the Ionian city-states, between 760-750 BC.

Unfortunately, most of Samsun was burnt to the ground by Genoese raiders in the 1400s. So, even though it is very old, there is not much old architecture left to enjoy.

Regardless, this city will always have a special in the republican history of Turkey. Samsun is the location of the start of the War of Turkish Independence in 1919 by the republic’s founder, Kemal Atatürk. The most famous symbolic monument in the town is a bronze statue depicting equestrian Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Read on to know what you should see and do in Samsun, Turkey:

1.Amazon Warrior & Twin Lions Statues:

  • Located near Bati Park in Baruthane along the seafront, the twin gold lion and Amazon warrior statues are hard to miss. A man-made canal runs through the center of the park. Supposedly, the park has lots of activities for children such as go-carting and play areas as well as plenty of wide shaded areas for picnicking. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there wasn’t much open. For a small fee currently 5 lira, you can also visit the nearby Amazon village.

2. Black Sea Coastline

  • 14 kilometers of seaside…. just enjoy a long beautiful walk (hopefully if it’s not too windy!)

3. Amisos Hill and Gondola/Cable Car:  

  • The first settlement in Samsun, formerly known as Amisos, was around 750 B.C. by the Milesians, a Hellenic civilization. While I didn’t see any ancient tombs, I heard there were some scattered along the walking path to see.
  • At the top of the hill, a cafe with a stunning view of the sea waits for you to enjoy a cup of tea, or even a meal. The cable car is right beside the cafe. A quick 5-minute ride takes you down to the park close to the twin lions.

4. Onur Park/ Downtown

  • Sandwiched between the seaside and downtown is a beautiful city park perfect to enjoy a chat with a friend or a well–equipped park for the kids. The Onur Anıtı positioned in the middle of the park depicts the equestrian Turkish founder, Ataturk, riding a horse.

5. All the Museum: (Unfortunately most do not have lots of English translations.)

  • Bandirma Ship Museum – Entrance Fee: 5 TL – I wish we would have seen this one! The ship is a replica of the original ship that was destroyed in the 1920s. The ship reminds the visitors of Mustafa Kemal’s journey to the city in 1919 at the start of the War of Independence.
  • Samsun City Museum – Good museum to learn about the city’s history. Even though most signs do not have English, there are supposedly audio guided tours recorded on a device in multiple languages.
  • Archeological and Ethnographic Museum and, right next door, the Atatürk Museum

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
  • Pegasus Airlines and Turkish Airlines have daily flights from Istanbul to Samsun. No direct flights from Izmir unfortunately.
  • Bus service is frequent and convenient to Samsun, especially with the Ulusoy company.

Lodging: 

  • Park Inn by Radisson Samsun: Although it is in the next town over and not in the hussle and bustle of Samsun, we really enjoyed staying here. The hotel has high standard, a great room service menu, and a friendly staff making it one of my favorite hotels we stayed at on our 2 week trip (and we stayed in 7 different places!).

Restaurants: 

  • no special recs (because we order room service at Park Inn and it was fantastic) but this is the side location we stopped at downtown at a local place a grabbed some pide for the road.
Black Sea Samsun Turkey  Pide

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Sinop is the highest point along the Black Sea Coastline of Turkey.
  • On the way to Ordu is a town called Giresun. It’s another easy little stop if you want to spend some more time experiencing the Black Sea Region.

Overall, Samsun is a must-see location for Turkish history buffs but otherwise, I would say a full-day visit (or 2 if you have kiddos that nap) should be sufficient. You can explore Samsun with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Samsun video and see what all we did in our late afternoon/ morning visit!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Samsun now?
  • Have you traveled to Samsun before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just a piece of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO

TRAVEL: Your Travel Guide to Braşov, Romania

Note: This article was first featured first in the DestinationsMagazine – Transylvania: A Guide to Braşov, Romania. (Link no longer available). You can see all my published works on my portfolio page.

Also, make sure you catch the Travel Guide to Romania to see our 4 day travel guides.

As you arrive in Braşov, you’ll see the town’s name boldly announced in white letters, perched high on the hilltop. Brașov lies in the center of Romania’s Transylvania region in the renowned Carpathian Mountains of Vampire Count Dracula fame. Later, during medieval times, Braşov was occupied by the Saxons, who turned the city into a walled citadel for protection against invaders. Today the city is still surrounded by those same medieval stone walls.

For centuries, the city’s central Romanian location has given it a strong political influence in the region, especially during the Ottoman Empire, while also providing a trading doorway into western Europe. Braşov’s name means “Crown City” in both German and Latin.  Its coat of arms bears a crown with oak roots, and can be seen on walls and buildings throughout the city.

Romania Travel Guide

Here is your ultimate guide for visiting Brasov, Romania:

History, Architecture, and Culture

Braşov offers a diverse number of gothic, baroque, and renaissance architectural styles. Architecture, crepe stands, and cafes line Braşov’s wide pedestrian-only boulevard. Visitors will find themselves looking up, entranced by the artistic architecture all around them. 

The city center is lined with romantic cobblestone roads. The inelegant looking, yet harmonious, Gothic-style Black Church peeks out from behind colorful baroque houses that shield the beautiful Council Square of Piata Sfatului and the former town hall, Casa Sfatului.  Here, you can relax at an outdoor cafe while you soak up the ambiance that reflects Braşov’s heart and soul.

Built from 1383 to 1480, the Black Church earned its name after the smoke from a 1689 fire darkened its walls. Although the largest Gothic church in Eastern Europe may not be as striking as some Western European cathedrals, its gothic architecture and the Anatolian Carpets that adorn the walls reflect the crossing point of the cultures and influences from the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Saxons. 

Built in 1559, Ecaterina’s (Catherine’s) Gate, is one of the oldest portals in town. Complete with a drawbridge, and four corner towers, Catherine’s Gate was once the only entrance into the northern part of the fortress.

Catherine’s Gate survived fires in 1689 and 1759 , but an earthquake in 1738 damaged its walls. Closed up and used for storage, the gate was finally restored to its original state between 1971-1973, and is undeniably the city’s most beautiful gate.

Due to repeated raids by the Turks, Braşov’s residents fortified their city in the late 1400s, building thick stone walls with strong bastions, two outer watch towers, and a Citadel. On the opposite side to Braşov’s mountaintop sign, you can visit the striking white tower and newly renovated black tower which is, ironically, also constructed of white stone.  In 1599 the Black tower was destroyed by fire from a lightning strike, which blackened its walls, hence its name. Today, this pyramid-shaped glass roof tower is no longer black and houses a museum. Both towers can be toured and provide magical panoramic views over the city. 

The free Braşov walking tour is ideal for history lovers. This interesting two-hour tour covers 800 years of the city’s history including Romania under the “Golden Era” of communism. You’ll hear stories about the citadel and Dracula while walking through one of the narrowest streets in Eastern Europe.  The tour 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. 

Offered daily at 18:00, the tour is held in all weather. The guides are personable and used stories and humor to captivate us as she explained the history of Braşov. 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, which we felt was well worth it.

Extra Fun

Strada Sforii, also known as “Rope” and “Skinny” Street, is claimed to be Eastern Europe’s narrowest street. It’s one of Braşov’s most interesting tourist attractions and was originally used as an access route by firefighters. Found between Cerbului Street and Poarta Schei Street, this 13th-century alleyway is 53 inches at its widest point and just 44 inches at its most narrow point. Most visitors miss Strada Sforii, and never get to explore its narrow, winding path. Look for the tiny sign marking the entrance to the street.

Nature

Just outside Braşov, towering mountains clad with thick forest cover the countryside. One of our favorite tourist activities in Braşov was riding the gondola to the top of Mount Tampa. For 17 lei/ person (€3.7) you can purchase a round trip ticket, that offers marvelous views of the city. If you like hiking, 10 lei (€2) will get you a one-way ticket in either direction. Make sure you stop to admire the view of downtown Braşov. The Black Church and square can easily be spotted from above. 

Castle Lovers

Braşov is a unique location. Even with its small-town, quiet feel in the middle of the mountains, restaurants and activities are 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 to find.  

While Bran Castle is best known as Count Dracula’s castle, this wood and stone fortress had an essential role in protecting the Hungarian king from Ottoman and Tartar invasions. Built in 1378, the castle served both protective and commercial purposes. In 1836, Bran became the official border and in 1920, the Braşov Town council donated Bran Castle to Queen Maria of Great Romania, who lived there with the royal family until 1947. Since then, the Castle has been converted into a museum.

Romania Travel Guide Dracula's Castle Bran Castle

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.  Lined with local shopping goods and souvenirs, and plenty of places to eat along the way, the village of Bran also offers tempting strolls along the street. 

The 14th-century Rasnov Fortress, on a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains, 650 ft above the town of Rasnov, was recently restored. It’s a quick day trip from Braşov’s historic center. For decades, this perfectly positioned citadel provided refuge for inhabitants of the area.

For 12 lei adult admission fee (€2.5), you get access to the maze-like inner rooms of the fortifications, a museum, a school, hundred-year-old stone houses, a skeleton buried beneath a glass floor,  a few so-called secret passages, and sweeping views of the countryside. 

For Festival Goers

Braşov offers many festivals throughout the year. The Beer Festival, Etnovember, and the Junii Feast, are a few that are well worth scheduling your travels to Romania around. 

The Beer Festival in Braşov is a smaller version of Oktoberfest, held in the fall. You can enjoy the beers and ales from several local beer companies in the dozens of tents. Taste Romanian grilled sausages (called mici) and other traditional foods, while enjoying local and national bands and artists. 

A cross between the words ‘ethnic’ and ‘November’, the intercultural festival ‘Etnovember’ reflects both the cultural traditions of the communities present. Since 1998, all ethnic groups from Braşov, Romanian, Hungarian, Jewish, Gypsy, German and Greek communities gather to celebrate their diversity and support friendship, tolerance, respect, and understanding. The three-day festival offers a wide range of art forms including dance, music, painting, photography, and design. If you want to see the heart of the Romanian people, visit Braşov during this time. 

The Junii Braşovului festival (‘The Feast of the Youth’) is an ancient tradition dating back to 1728, celebrating the start of spring, the renewing of nature, and the beginning of new life.  On the first Sunday after Easter, or the new year of the ancestors of the Romanians, the seven “Junii” (young men) groups from the Schei, the old district of Braşov, ride on horses from the mountains and ride around Braşov. Dressed in unique costumes, they carry mace batons, scepters, and flags, parading in front of the St. Nicholas church. In true Romanian spirit, where traditions live on, with dancing, games, and barbecuing, the festival has multiplied and an occasion to be marked on all Braşovians’ calendars. 

Eating Out

From Bucharest to Braşov, stop about 1 hour outside of Braşov in a little railroad town of Posada for supper and take a break from the car. Enjoy a traditional Romanian dish such as cabbage rolls or smoked sausages with a side of cornmeal with salty cheese and sour cream at the restaurant called Cernica.

In Braşov, grab a pastry from one of the many window stalls and find a table in the middle of the boulevard on the main street of Strada Republicii. For a wonderful brunch experience, choose from sweet or savory crepes at the laid-back La Republique. Lunch or dinner at the stylish but still kid-friendly pizzeria, Trattoria Pocol. For an afternoon snack, the adorable bakery near the Black Church, La Vatra Ardealului, will wake you up with their strong cappuccinos and delightful tiramisu, cakes, or chocolate truffles. 

Who Visits Braşov?

Often overlooked on the regular European tourist trail, Romania remains an eminently worthy travel destination in its own right. Romania is a country for those who’ve seen all the major European cities and want to get away from the overcrowded tourist hot spots. It offers plenty of tourist attractions without the craziness of tourist groups, lines, and prices.

The rich history and sights in Romania’s soon-to-be major tourist destination of Braşov in the Transylvania region make a perfect week-long getaway. 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.

How to Get There

With Romania’s 20 million people nicely spread over 240,000 square kilometers, the country is perfect for a road trip meets city type of adventure. Serviced by most major airlines, Bucharest airport makes an easy starting point. Sibiu International Airport or Aeroportul Braşov-Ghimbav airports near Braşov are closer options to consider. 

After landing, rent a car, purchase a sim card with data, and head north for your 2.5-hour drive to Braşov. Romanian roads are easy to navigate and sim cards help with GPS directions, and finding restaurants. 

During the return from Braşov to Bucharest, explore the well-maintained Peles Castle, and eat lunch in the nearby city of Sinaia which provided a cozy half-way stop. 

Getting Around

Because flexibility is important for travel, rent a car via your favorite car rental website. Most car rental companies provide a free shuttle from the airport to their company only 5 minutes away from the airport.  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

Hotels are easy and plentiful to find. Below are a couple of hotels to consider for your time in Romania:

  • Kronhaus Bed and Breakfast in Braşov
  • Conacul Ambient in Cristian
  • Rem’s Pension in Rasnov
  • Conacul Bratescu in Bran

If your group is large or you are traveling with children consider opting for a more family style lodging through private apartment rental. 

When to Go

For sunshine and warmer weather, the summer months are generally drier and good for walks, but don’t be surprised if you are caught in a rainstorm or two in June. Fall time creates an autumn color tour for travelers as the trees and ground are splashed with orange, yellow, and red leaves. While winter weather can be inclement, holiday time in Romania invites guests to celebrate with locals still wearing traditional clothes while caroling, admire traditionally decorated wooden houses, and enjoy homemade sausages. 

ESSENTIAL INFO

  • Most shops and hotels will take credit cards but many restaurants, bars and smaller shops and outlets will only accept cash.
  • Most people speak English, but a translation app is handy for rural areas that don’t have English menus.
  • Purchase sim cards with 3G data for 40 lei (€8.5).
  • Download a maps app to help you navigate the city.
  • Take comfortable shoes. The best way to see all the cozy nooks in Braşov is by walking or cycling.
  • Pack for all weathers as even the summer weather can be unpredictable.
  • Currency: Leu ( plural Lei — pronunciation “lay” — abbreviations: Lei or RON )

USEFUL LINKS

Now to you! 

  • Have you been to Romania???
  • Have you been specifically to Brasov?
  • What did you love about it?
  • What else should we see next time we go?

TRAVEL: Your 4 Day Travel Guide to Romania

Quick Note: This article was first featured first in the Lale Magazine – Reminiscing Romantic Romania (pg.46-49) – Direct Link You can see all my published works on my portfolio page.

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.

Romania Travel Guide

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.  

Romania Travel Guide Dracula's Castle Bran Castle

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

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.

Romania Travel Guide Bucharest

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.

Romania Travel Guide Peles Castle

SIDE BAR: 

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:

Braşov

  • 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

Posada

  • Cernica – Dinner stop on our way up to Braşov

Bucharest

  • 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:

Now to you!

  • Have you been to Romania???
  • What did you love about it?
  • What else should we see next time we go?

Baristas Best Travel Guides

Why Baristas Make the Best Travel Guides

NOTE FROM CATIE: Michael is a long time friend! It is crazy to think we met one another over 10 years ago now! He is also the one who encouraged me to give up my heavily flavored cream (with a bit of coffee) and to ‘just drink it black.’ It took me a few years longer than he probably would have liked, but now I am a very proud black coffee drinker! Now on to the article

The best-informed travel guide just might be the person making your coffee. The role of barista has long gone beyond the role of “bartender” like the original Italian might suggest. Baristas are cultural critics, political wonks, and amateur music historians. They know where the best Banh Mi is (which by the way, Catie cutting in here, is a Vietnamese sandwich). They’re probably eating it on their lunch break. 

Your barista very likely has a liberal arts degree if not an MFA. Their band has appeared on public radio and opened for some nationally known acts.  But more importantly for you, they’ve learned how to craft a perfect cappuccino, and that attention to detail has attracted the city’s top chefs, museum curators, and journalists to their café.

In short, they know people. 

Baristas Best Travel Guides

(Of course, this is contingent on being in a good, independent coffee shop. I cofounded thecoffeecompass.com to help people find the best cafés around the world.) 

Barista knows where the hidden gems are.

They know which sights are overrated, which restaurants are past their prime, and where the queue is too long to make it worthwhile. They’ve already been to the up-and-coming place no one has written about yet. 

Lucky for you, your barista will more than likely share a few tips with you— provided you’re a friendly customer and they’re not slammed making drinks.* (Do not— I  repeat—  do not ask for a travel recommendation in the middle of the morning rush!)

Baristas Best Travel Guides

The technique here is very simple. 

1. Order a coffee. If appropriate in local culture, leave a tip.

2. Drink said coffee. 

3. After you finish your coffee, thank the barista. 

4. Mention you are visiting from out of town, and ask if there are any restaurants/bars/museums/ etc you should see while you’re in town. 

Mosts of baristas love their cities, and can’t resist showing it off to out-of-towners. More than once, a barista recommendation has had a waiter or bartended asking me, “How did you find us? We don’t get many tourists here.” 

In short, your barista can curate an unforgettable travel experience

Just make sure you leave a tip.  

*Do not try this in Manhattan. Those baristas are battle-weary and interact with far too many tourists to care whether you find the best natural wine bar (it’s the Ten Bells, btw). 

Baristas Best Travel Guides

Michael Butterworth is the cofounder of thecoffeecompass.com. (Instagram)

He lives in Istanbul with his family.