Day Trips And Weekend Getaways While Staying In And Around Bucharest
Road Trip 1 - The Five Day Adventure
The Perfect Journey For A Week Long Holiday Outside Of Bucharest
Five Day Adventure - Day One
This road trip features some of the greatest destinations in Romania. Of course we cannot include ALL of the greatest destinations in Romania as we have to fit the most places into the least amount of time for the most efficient “Country Tour”. Our “Five Day Adventure” begins and ends in Bucharest and is structured as follows:
Day One, 7am departure from Bucharest. You’re going to leave out of town Northwest on the A1 towards Pitesti. This route is just shy of 120km and can be comfortably driven in about 45 minutes to an hour. Arriving in Pitesti is a perfect time to stop for a snack and top off the car with fuel.
Once you’ve begun passing through Pitesti, you’ll pick up route 7c towards Arges. The travel distance here is about 40km and can be done in around 30 minutes, as traffic is slightly heavier here and the road is not as straight. You’ll begin meandering through some villages as you drive around the lakes and tributaries. Curtea de Arges is home to Poenari Castle, so if you’d like – set aside an hour or two to tour the ruins. Once you’ve seen enough of Curtea de Arges, continue along route 7c for about 40 minutes (through 30km of forest) to Vidraru Dam where you can park and sight-see.
Hopefully your snacks are lasting well in the car, as you’re now going to head out from Vidraru Dam along 7c through the Fagaras Mountains and over the Transfagarasan Highway past Balea Lac – the glacier lake at the top of the mountain ridge. This is a distance of 85km and could take the better part of two hours – stopping for many photos along the way.
As you come down off the Transfagarasan Highway, you’ll be taking 7c into route 1. West on 1 will direct you back to the north towards Sibiu – where you can jump on the A1 into the city. Time from the Transfagarasan to Sibiu should be roughly 76km and can be done in about an hour and a half – giving around 30 minutes for photos coming down the Transfagarasan switchbacks.
Day One finishes in Sibiu, where you’ll be glad to get out of the car and hit the old-town for a great dinner before winding down for the night.
Bucharest Expat’s Recommended Lodging – The Continental Forum Sibiu: When we first arrived in Sibiu we simply drove into town late at night seeking lodging. We had not booked reservations prior to arriving (we don’t advise you to do this of course, but it simply happened this way). We pulled into a couple hotels that were within walking distance to the old center and their walk-in rates were “obscene” to say the least. Our “last-dtich” effort was to go ahead and inquire with the “Big Hotel On The Hill” – which is the Continental Forum. The hotel literally sits adjacent to the upper city (old town area) right along the first of the pedestrian streets. It could NOT have been in a better location. Really. To our surprise, the rates were excellent. We booked two rooms immediately and even this late at night the staff was super friendly. The rooms were clean, and well presented (although a bit strange that our room had a shower surrounded by glass walls for all to see) and best of all the Breakfast in the morning lasted long enough to where one could sleep a bit late and still catch the buffet. For Reservations And Information Visit The Continental Forum Sibiu Website Now.
Bucharest Expat’s Recommended Dining – Restaurant Weinkeller; After settling in our hotel for the our stay in Sibiu, we wandered out onto the upper cities’ pedestrian streets to select our restaurant of choice for dinner. Pizza, Polenta, Pizza, more Pizza, Polenta, Polenta with Mici, some Pizza again…. not really finding what we were looking for quite yet. We meandered our way through the town, from Piata to Piata, seeing if anything caught our eyes. As we were just about to “give in” and order a pizza we noticed a small chalkboard sign on a sidestreet as we were descending down a little staircase. This sign advertised “Restaurant Weinkeller’s Evening Specials”. Looked great, and also looked “interesting” in that we had to walk down another set of windy stairs in order to enter the “basement” (hence the Wine Cellar name) of an old residence. This was certainly unique for us, and once entering, we were amazed at how quiant, cozy, and comfortable the atmosphere was. The staff greeted us as soon as we entered, and as friendly as they could be, offered to seat us wherever we felt comfortable. The food smelled delicious; being prepared in the kitchen of the same cellar of course helped the aroma to permeate the dining area. Once served, the food lived up to the smell – amazing dishes and great portion sizes. It’s hard for us to recommend one item, as we ordered a multitude of dishes to sample and pass around our table of four. The prices are very reasonable and the variety is excellent. How was our experience overall? Let’s just say that we at at this restaurant for lunch ad dinner for three days in a row during our four day stay in Sibiu. For Reservations And Information Visit The Restaurant Weinkeller Website Now.
Five Day Adventure - Day Two
Day Two begins in Sibiu – and should be started by grabbing breakfast in the old city center. The city center is broken up into three major parts; Piata Huet, Piata Mica, and Piata Mare (The large square and the small square). It should take around half the day to casually walk through all areas of this fortified area of the city, leaving you time for a late lunch prior to getting back into the car and driving around the lower town; taking a look at the rest of the city. We could fill up pages of text here with details about the historic fortified area, however that’s no necessary here as once inside you’ll notice the many placards and displays notating buildings and monuments of importance. For an interactive map of Sibiu’s upper (fortified) city please Click Here.
After having lunch in Sibiu and filling the car with fuel again, take a drive around town a bit to look at the suburbs and local German-Influenced architecture. Then it’s time to head up to A1 and drive westward towards Sebes. The drive to Sebes is a quick one; about 55km and a 40 minute drive with moderate traffic leaving Sibiu. Once at Sebes you can drive around the town a bit just to take a look. Once here, you’ll have the option to continue down A1 to route 7 (for a more scenic drive) West towards Hunedoara. If you choose to go to this major industrial and mining city – home to Corvin’s Castle (Castle Hunyad) you’ll have about 2 hours to tour the castle and have a quick drive around this unique town. Once you felt you’ve seen enough, you’re going to want to backtrack to Sebes again. Take A1 all the way once out of Hunedoara and the trip back will be a quick one – 68km around 40 minutes drive.
Now that you’re back in Sebes you’ll head north on Route 1 towards Alba Iulia. This is a 17km drive on country roads, so this leg of the trip will only take around 20 minutes.
Alba Iulia is where you’ll see the massive fortified city – The Fortress At Karlsberg. Park the car and take a walk around the city – sit down, relax, and have a cup of coffee and a snack. The Fortified city is quite picturesque, but don’t spend too much time there as you’ll need to get back on the road towards Cluj to complete Day Two.
SPECIAL NOTE: If you’re traveling during the winter months where snow and ice could be an issue – you may want to consider staying the night in Alba Iulia depending on the conditions of the roads.
Heading out of Alba Iulia very late afternoon (4-5pm) gives you ample time to continue North on the A1 towards Turda. If you choose to stay the night in Alba Iulia, you’ll have a lot of time to stop at the Salina Turda (Salt Mines) where you can tour one of their large mines (complete with a small entertainment complex inside). We’ve left this section off here in detail, as the Salt Mine may actually be closing temporarily. Give them a call before hand to confirm their hours of operation +40 364 260 940. Assuming you do stop to tour the mines, you’ll need an hour and a half to two hours of time – this puts you on the road to Cluj for a late night arrival – dinner and bedtime. The total distance and drive time from Alba Iulia to Turda is 70km and about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes depending on traffic. Once leaving Turda, you’ll continue up the A1 (at the time of this writing the Transilvania Motorway A3 is not yet complete) for 35km (about 40 minutes with traffic entering Cluj) into Cluj-Napoca. Your goal is to arrive to your hotel in Cluj by nightfall, unpack, and head out for a late dinner.
This concludes Day Two.
Five Day Adventure - Day Three
Day Two Begins In Cluj Napoca – Cluj-Napoca is truly an amazing city. We first ventured to Cluj in 2009, as we were amazed at the affordable flight rates we were able to get from Tarom Airlines flying out of Bucharest’s Baneasa Airport. We planned a week-long holiday in Cluj, actually for the purpose of buying/investing in the local real estate market. At the time, Cluj was having a surge in construction – new residential and commercial properties were starting to sprout, and city center renovations were beginning to occur regularly. Normally one would say it was too late to enter a market at that stage of growth, but not so for Cluj. Cluj, a northern Romanian City in the heart of Transylvania with a heavy Hungarian influence, was become highly desirable for international companies in the tech industry specifically. There was such a wealth of skill in Cluj, due mostly to the high calibre universities in the area. Cluj reminded us of “Palo Alto, California” from years back.
Now, fast forward the clock today, and Cluj is giving Bucharest a run for its’ money in what could very well be the next great destination in Romania. Cluj has a great city-center area, and the town is much more “walkable” then Bucharest. There is a great variety of dining, lodging, and entertainment options all within easy reach. This variety is quite important – in Bucharest there is so much of the same that it becomes rather monotonous. Not so here in Cluj. There’s a slight “counter-culture” mentality going on in Cluj that creates more of an “artsy” type feel to it – certainly this is aided by the high student population.
Driving through Cluj is fairly easy, as the city is nestled almost entirely in a small valley. The tendency is to drive in concentric circles, working your way up and down opposing sides of the city – from one “hill” to another. There’s a canal running through the side/center of the city, that helps you get your geographical bearings, but all in all, its’ difficult to get lost and easy to “learn” your first time there.
Bucharest Expat’s Recommended Lodging – Tulip Inn Sunny Hill; As done prior, we drove around and “tested out” quite a variety of hotels and pensions in town. After having stayed in over a half-dozen hotels over a period of time in Cluj-Napoca – we’ve found one that we continually return to; The Golden Tulip Cluj Sunny Hill. Now we will tell you upfront that you’ll want to have a car or access to one while staying here, as it is about a 5 to 8 minute drive from the hotel to the walkable area of the city center. For the room rate differential and the peace and quiet up in the “Countryside” it is will worth being slightly outside the center. The Tulip is a nice hotel newly redone. The staff is friendly and the rooms are very well done. The hotel is sectioned off into “wings”, wherein the central “glass floored” atrium acts as the centerpiece. As we were in Cluj on business many of the times, internet access and room to work was important for us – so in addition to the down-filled duvets and the great forest views from the rooms, we had a nice desk area upon which to set our computers. We could also “meet” in the central atrium areas to chat as opposed to congregating in each others’ rooms or some uncomfortable “hotel cafe”. For Reservations And Information Visit The Golden Tulip Sunny Hill Website Now.
Five Day Adventure - Day Four
Day Four Also Begins In Cluj-Napoca… Like us, you’ll likely fall in love with Cluj and decide that simply one day is not enough to take in the city. Granted, neither is two, three, or fifty days, but we do have much more to see in a five day road trip. We recommend getting up early and checking out of the hotel, actually grabbing breakfast in the City Center. Restaurant options are changing so often in Cluj, that it truly is difficult for us to recommend one specific venue – but if you wish to have something light, just swing by the Demmer’s Tea Haus in the main center across from the big Church. After breakfast, head towards the lower part of the city center, where you’ll be able to meander your way through more historic streets and pedestrian areas. For those of you that stayed up late the night before – having a great time with the local university inspired nightlife, then it’s time for lunch. Go ahead and grab lunch in Cluj prior to getting on the road. Departing mid-afternoon will give you plenty of time to get to Sighisoara for the next leg of Day Four. You’ll be on the road for a couple hours, so top of with fuel and snacks for the road.
There are two main ways in which you can depart Cluj for Sighisoara. You can choose to head East on 16, coming in to Targu Mures from the North, or you can backtrack slightly to the South through Turda and then head East towards Targu Mures. We chose the latter of the two routes, as we find the northernmost route to be a bit monotonous (although parts of the Countryside are amazing). Google Maps will route you around Targu Mures, which we actually recommend. For the purpose of saving time, we do not advise you to go into the city of Targu Mures (please – no hatemail on this). While Targu Mures is a nice city, it simply cannot out-do the other cities and towns we’ve got you stopping at on this tour. Save the time and fuel and continue direct to Sighisoara taking in the Countryside sites as you go.
When you enter Sighisoara you’ll follow signage towards the center – but if you “get lost” inside the city you’ll again find yourself going in concentric circles like most of the cities in Romania involuntarily force you to do. It’s worth driving around a bit in town though, as it’s quite interesting and very “Medieval European City” looking and feeling. The “main street” area in Sighisoara is actually not inside the Citadel (which you absolutely cannot miss atop the hill) but runs along side the Citadel at the bottom of the “hill”. Along the Main Street area (Strada 1 Decembrie 1918) you’ll find modern shops and amenities, a nice pizzeria, and some side streets with more antiquated shops and residences that meander their way up the cobbled streets towards the citadel. The area of interest here is referred to as Piata Hermann Oberth – but you’ll see it. We’re mentioning this because while you’ll be staying inside the Citadel (the upper fortress) you will want to spend time in the lower area of the city too. This is why we’re giving you an overnight stay in Sighisoara even though its’ a small city.
As you’ll be staying inside the citadel, the best way to drive to the summit is to wrap yourself around to the opposite side of the hill from Piata Hermann Oberth (amusingly, this took us three attempts driving in a circle to catch the turn-off that brings you up the hill without ending in a one-way street). You’ll be told by security you can’t enter, so you’ll need your hotel reservation in hand to show that you’re simply unloading your luggage and then driving the car back down to the bottom. Nobody really told us how long we could take unloading our luggage – so we took two days, but each security guard will be a bit different. Presumably, the hotels and venues will wish for you to abide by the rules of the area. Whenever the team at Bucharest Expat visits Sighisoara, we reserve the hotel Casa Wagner – directly in the heart of the Citadel. You’ll be spending your evening inside the Citadel, where you actually have quite a wide variety of restaurants. There is the famous “Birthplace of Vlad Tepes” venue within the Citadel, which may or may not require dinner reservations, so plan ahead.
The sun will be down before you know it, and at night is when Sighisoara really shines. Head up to the high point of the citadel and challenge yourself to walk through the cemetery. Be sure to take a look at the amazingly steep and long covered staircase leading up to the church/monastery, then adjacent to the base of the stairway you’ll find a charming little cafe where you can grab a late night drink. Sighisoara is a photographers paradise, and during the daylight hours you’ll find yourself wandering around the town endlessly. You’re able to walk up to the top of the bell tower (you do have to buy a pass to wear around your neck if you wish to take photos) and although that’s the “touristy” element of Sighisoara, go ahead and do it. When mid-afternoon rolls around it’s time to get back on the road and head out towards Brasov for the next part of the trip. It’s time to head East then South down 13 to Brasov. Take your time on the drive to Brasov and stop along the way for any great photo opportunities. Once you arrive in Brasov you’ll want to check in to your hotel – as close to the “old center” as you can get, unpack, and head out to dinner and a night out on the Old Town. The Brasov experience continues to day five…
Bucharest Expat’s Recommended Lodging – Hotel Casa Wagner Sighisoara; Let’s just say that the team at Bucharest Expat has been single-handedly responsible for sending MANY travelers, tourists, and expats to this quaint little hotel atop the Citadel in Sighisoara, Romania. We first stumbled upon Casa Wagner by pure happenstance years ago when we went to Sighisoara. Again, this was a walk-in booking – we did not reserve before hand (not recommended). The first time coming here the security was a bit lax on allowing or disallowing cars up into the citadel, so we simply drove on up and wandered around in circles, ultimately parking in front of the “cottage-like” facade of Casa Wagner – leaving the car idling so one of us could go inquire within about vacancy. Out of pure luck, they had the availability of two rooms, at an amazingly affordable price. The staff and desk manager were absolutely pleasant – the combination was enough for us to check-in immediately. Make no mistake, Casa Wagner is in an old building. Let me say that again specifically for the Americans reading this… Casa Wagner is in an old building – some 400 years old. Yes, it’s likely that the doorknobs alone within Casa Wagner are older than the United States. Think about that for a moment. That being said, this is not going to be your five-star Ritz-Carlton when it comes to amenities. So why do we love this hotel so much? The staff is great, the rates are amazing, and the building, while old, is well renovated leaving enough of the old charm and architecture to be thoroughly enjoyable – an unforgettable experience that goes hand-in-hand with the Medieval surroundings. For Reservations And Information Visit The Casa Wagner Sighisoara Website Now.
Five Day Adventure - Day Five
Day Five welcomes you to Brasov, Romania. You’ve now been here briefly, overnight – hopefully had dinner in the old center, and you’re ready to start the day early getting back onto the town to see what it has in store for you during the daylight hours. Brasov is a very popular “vacation” destination for those from surrounding areas – especially Bucharest. It’s a short drive from Bucharest (unless you ask a native Bucurestian in which case it may as well be a drive to Siberia) but the proximity does draw a crowd. For New Year’s and Christmas the place is absolutely mobbed – especially nearby Pioana Brasov, where a weekend reservation at a hotel, dining reservations, and tickets to any one of a dozen events can set you back a few thousand Euros. We’ve never attended the “festivities” for the holidays in Pioana Brasov, as it tends to attract the “I want to show off my new-found wealth” type crowd from the Capital City, which isn’t our cup of tea. However, the old city of Brasov is indeed worth seeing and experiencing.
Brasov’s old city is quite large – not nearly as sprawling as Sibiu – but certainly full of history – dating back to 1211. The two must-sees in Brasov would be the centrally located Black Church (built in 1380 and is the largest Gothic Church in Europe) as well as Strado Sforii (Rope Street) which is the narrowest street in Europe at 1.3 meters wide. Rope Street is adjacent to str. Poarta Schei, 19. If you wish to spend a bit more time in Brasov, you can check out the Cultural Itinerary Here. Go ahead and have lunch in Brasov, as it’s time to head out for the 15-20 minute drive to the Fortress at Rasnov.
You can take route 73 or 1E to Rasnov – pick one. Both make for a short drive. The Rasnov fortress is a site worth seeing, and you’ll approach from a flat valley with Rasnov up on a bluff next to the big “Hollywood-esque” sign that says “Rasnov”. Parking is down below, and believe it or not you’ll spend almost as much time walking up and down the old ox-cart path getting to the fortress as you will touring the inside. To us, Rasnov represents a well-preserved and partially restored example of what you’d imagine a “castle” to be like – both inside and behind the castle walls. The Citadel, built in 1215 by the Teutonic Knights, was supposedly “captured” only once in history around the year 1600. Give yourself around an hour and a half to casually walk through the citadel and note the details. After you’ve had your fill of Rasnov, we have you continuing down 73/73A towards Sinaia via Predeal and Busteni.
This leg of your trip should take around a half an hour and put you just in the middle or Predeal and Busteni. According to our map we have you driving a bit north towards Predeal. Go ahead and make the 10-15 minute drive to the village of Predeal just to see the sites – maybe stop in at a local bakery and try a loaf of fresh bread. You can turn around in the village center, and head South back down route 1 along the river, through Busteni and towards Sinaia. In the winter, from Predeal on through to Sinaia is well known for skiing, and in the summer there are even some hiking trails – but as this is primarily a road trip, continue on for 30 minutes to Sinaia.
Sinaia is home to three main sites, the Sinaia Monastery, Peles Castle, and Pelisor Castle. If you wish to see a monastery, then you can follow the signs from the main street in Sanaia up the bluff “in the clouds”. If you’re good to pass on the Monastery, then it’s time to spend a few hours at the Castles.
Peles and Pelisor, built as residences for the Romanian Royal Family, our truly worth the visit. Both residences do charge for tours, and some complain the price is a bit steep, but if you’ve never toured them before, you should. The castles themselves are reminiscent of the mansions you may find along the New England Gold Coast in the US, or even of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, USA. Any Google Search for Peles Castle will return a wealth of results.
Our goal is to have you leave Sinaia by very late afternoon/early evening as you’ve got a 1 hour 15 minute drive down 71 towards Targoviste. We want you to pass through Targoviste on your way home to Bucharest, as there’s a rather important site to see there.
When you enter Targoviste, you’ll pass directly through the center of town. Don’t bypass it. Once in the center, you’ll have a park named Parcul Chindia on your left. You can park alongside the park and give yourself about 30-45 minutes to walk around. It’s a nicely done park – with a main promenade lined with interesting statues and bust heads. This is the area that belongs to the ancient Royal Court – which was the centerpiece of Targoviste during its’ time as the Capital City of Wallachia. It was said that this was a regular home and “stopover” of Vlad Tepes.
This now concludes the Five Day Road Trip and you’re now ready for the hour and a half long drive back to Bucharest – hopefully in time for a late dinner!
For some stunning mountain scapes, one really needs to take the time to slowly pass through the Busteni and Predeal areas. Predeal, nestled amongst the Bucegi Mountains, is one of the highest towns in Romania at 3,281 feet asl. You’ll want to have your camera at the ready, as you’ll have plenty of opportunity to take some postcard-esque photos what would would imagine to be the quintessential European mountain village. While Busteni and Predeal are indeed two separate towns, we tend to lump them together here as while you’re driving through looking at the scenery you tend to move between the villages quite quickly. The town has been certified as a climate resort by government decree (H.G. 226/1992) due to the strongly ionized air rich in ultraviolet radiation and the low atmospheric pressure. Because of this, Predeal is popular within the holistic healing community. Predeal has five major ski runs, each with a difficulty grade. Most of them have snowmaking guns, and some are fitted with floodlights and ski lifts. The length of the pistes range between 790 metres (2,590 ft) (Clăbucet variantă) and 2,243 metres (7,359 ft) (Cocoșul).
For those of you that are familiar with the historical accounting of Vlad Tepes, then you’ll likely know the value of the town of Targoviste (also Tirgoviste). Targoviste was made the Capital of Wallachia towards the end of the 14th century due to it’s economic growth and great central location (between Wallachia and Transylvania). Vlad III Dracula took up part time residence here, completing the Chindia Tower, still a famous landmark in the city. As the story goes, Vlad invited some dignitaries to the city when upon arrival, were impressed with the prosperity and the safety of the city. Vlad proclaimed that in order to keep the city a safe place, those that were caught stealing or committing any crime no matter how minor were immediately “dealt with”.
Entering into the Sinaia area (Prahova County, Romania) is where the scenery begins to take a dramatic turn; from the flatland along the highways to the foothills of the Bucegi mountains. Sinaia, Romania is likely one of the most popular winter vacation destinations for locals (aside from Pioana, Brasov) due to the abundance of historic sites as well as the “charm” and “Christmas-y” feeling of the local town. The main street through downtown Sinaia is a quaint, picturesque village that looks as though it may have jumped straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. There’s quite a bit to do in Sinaia, so you may want to set-aside half the day for sightseeing. Sanaia is named after the Sinaia Monastery here (after the Biblical Mount Sinai), so if you’re in Romania for the Monasteries and Churches, then you’ll want to take a drive up the mountainside (just follow the signs of the main road) and tour the Monastery. If you’re not here for this purpose, then skip it.
Probably the most famous landmarks in Sinaia and why one would make the trip (aside from the scenery) is to tour the summer home of Romania’s King Carol I (and latter royal family members). This is known as Peles Castle. Peles was built between 1873 and 1914 and was designed in the Austrian/German Renaissance style combined with Italianate interiors. The cost of the work on the castle undertaken between 1875 and 1914 was estimated to be 16,000,000 Romanian lei in gold (approx. US$ 120 million today). Between three and four hundred men worked on the construction.
Also on the grounds is Pelisor Castle. Pelişor Castle is part of the same complex as the larger castle of Peleş. It was built in 1899–1902 by order of King Carol I, as the residence for his nephew and heir, the future King Ferdinand (son of Carol’s brother Leopold von Hohenzollern) and Ferdinand’s consort Queen Marie.
Both castles can be toured, and should take approximately 3 hours to adequately digest. If you have the time it is worth the money and worth the tour simply to say you’ve seen it and understand the architecture and history.
There’s no question about it; Rasnov Castle (Citadel/Fortress) is one of the more imposing of the castles in the region. Rasnov sits atop a bluff surround by vast flatlands – the valley along the road that links Wallachia and Transylvania. Rasnov is about 15km outside of Brasov (trust us, you won’t miss this when driving by). It is possible this name is derived from Slavic “žrŭnovy”, meaning (village or valley) “of the mill”. In 14th century, German documents used the name Rasnov, but the modern German name, Rosenau, is based on a popular etymology, being influenced by the German word “Rose”. In Râșnov a citadel was built around the year 1215 by the Teutonic Knights and it was mentioned for the first time in 1331. The citadel was conquered only once in its history, around the year 1600 by Gabriel Báthory. In 1856, the Roman fort of Cumidava was discovered near the town. In 2002, the Râșnov Citadel and surroundings were used during the shooting of several scenes from the American film Cold Mountain.
Rasnov is certainly worth the tour, as you’ll get a chance to walk through the inner sanctum of what was once a thriving Medieval fortified village. The ruins are still intact well enough that you can visualise daily life inside the fortress. A must for photographers and a must for tourists. The only downside is you’ll want to be sure it hasn’t rained prior to (or of course during) your visit, as you have to park at the base of the mountain and walk a bit up a dirt cart path to get to the entrance of the fortress.
The team at Bucharest Expat has spent a lot of time in Brasov, as it is a major city in Romania. In some ways, Brasov is a bit more “liveable” then Bucharest, but still relies heavily on Bucharest for commerce and business due to it’s close proximity. Property values are less then Bucharest; one can get more for their money but still have everything they need at their fingertips all while being close to the Capital City. Brasov also has a wonderful “Old-City”, and it by itself makes Brasov a popular weekend getaway. It’s a nice place both in the summer and winter; for walking the streets or skiing the slopes. Brasov is full of many dining, entertainment, and lodging options, and it is also home to many historic sites.
Aside from the city itself, a site worth visiting is the Black Church. The Biserica Neagră or Black Church (German: Schwarze Kirche; Romanian: Biserica Neagră; Hungarian: Fekete templom) is a cathedral in Brașov, a city in south-eastern Transylvania, Romania. It was built by the German community of the city and stands as the main Gothic style monument in the country, as well as being the largest and one of the most important Lutheran (Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession in Romania) places of worship in the region.
It can be slightly difficult to make Brasov into a day-trip, so you may considering spending the night here unless you can arrive early in the morning.
Somewhat farther away from Bucharest is Sibiu (also known by its’ German name of Hermannstadt). Sibiu, unlike Brasov, draws more of an international crowd – due to publicity. Sibiu is one of the most important cultural centres of Romania and along with the city of Luxembourg, it was designated a European Capital of Culture for the year 2007. Formerly the centre of the Transylvanian Saxons, the old city of Sibiu was ranked as “Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live” by Forbes. There’s no doubt that Sibiu is a beautiful city, but we must warn you that you may not want to plan a long stay here, as once you’ve covered the old town and seen a bit of the surrounding city, you can tend to “wander” looking for things to do. Sibiu, established in the early 12th century, is now a mix of old and new – blurring the lines of the past and present. In the 14th century, Sibiu, Romania was already an important trade centre. In 1376, the craftsmen were divided in 19 guilds. Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities that gave Transylvania its German name Siebenbürgen (literally seven cities), and it was home to the Universitas Saxorum, the assembly of Germans in Transylvania.
A busy market scene in Sibiu, 1818
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the city became the second and later the first most important centre of Transylvanian Romanian ethnics. The first Romanian-owned bank had its headquarters here (The Albina Bank), as did the ASTRA (Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Romanian’s People Culture). After the Romanian Orthodox Church was granted status in the Habsburg Empire from the 1860s onwards, Sibiu became the Metropolitan seat, and the city is still regarded as the third most important centre of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Between the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and 1867 (the year of the Ausgleich), Sibiu was the meeting-place of the Transylvanian Diet, which had taken its most representative form after the Empire agreed to extend voting rights in the region.
After World War I, when Austria-Hungary was dissolved, Sibiu became part of Romania; the majority of its population was still ethnic German (until 1941) and counted a large Romanian community, as well as a smaller Hungarian one. Starting from the 1950s and until after 1990, most of the city’s ethnic Germans emigrated to Germany. Among the roughly 2,000 who have remained is Klaus Johannis, who is currently mayor of Sibiu City.
As a side-note, and interesting thing to do while in Sibiu, is to drive outside of town a bit towards the Hilton Hotel (up 106A) and venture off on some side streets to look at the homes and residences. You’ll be able to find some of the unique “Gypsy Houses” which are large “mansion-like” family homes complete with ornamental roof decor. It’s worth the driving around if you’ve arrived here by car.
There’s no arguing the fact that this castle is straight out of a movie (or your imagination and vision of what a gothic castle should be). Hunyad Castle (also known as Castle Corvin) was laid out in 1446 under the orders of John Hunyad, who wanted to transform a former keep built by Charles I of Hungary. It was built mainly in Gothic style, but has Renaissance architectural elements. It features tall and strong defence towers, an interior yard and a drawbridge. Built over the site of an older fortification and on a rock above the small Zlaști River, the castle is a large and imposing building with tall and diversely coloured roofs, towers and myriad windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings. One can tour the Castle, but be aware that the inside is more of a shell, and is much less impressive than the exterior. One interesting tidbit about the castle, is that inside you’ll find a well that was said to be dug by slaves who were left in the bottom to rot after the hole was dug. Doesn’t make for very tasty drinking water but does make for an interesting story.
Hunyad Castle is located within Hunedoara, Romania; an interesting city in and of itself. When we first traveled to Hunedoara, we were enamored by a massive steel mill along the main road entering town. The structure itself measured over a kilometer long and was owned at one point in time by Lakshmi Mittal. This mill (the main structure has since been razed) was just one element that made Hunedoara such a unique industrial town. Driving through the town you truly get a feel for the mill and mine industry that this town is known for. There’s something a bit creepy about the city (aside from the massive Hunyad Castle) that made it the perfect home for Nicolas Cage’s filming of Ghost Rider. If one has to choose between visiting Bran Castle (popularly known as Dracula’s Castle even though its’ not) or another castle, you should definitely choose to see this castle and the surrounding town.
A very interesting site and landmark that’s off the beaten path and worth the visit. Sarmizegetusa Regia, also Sarmisegetusa, Sarmisegethusa, Sarmisegethuza, Ζαρμιζεγεθούσα (Zarmizegethoúsa) or Ζερμιζεγεθούση (Zermizegethoúsē), was the capital and the most important military, religious and political centre of the Dacians. Erected on top of a 1,200 metre high mountain, the fortress was the core of the strategic defensive system in the Orăştie Mountains (in present-day Romania), comprising six citadels. Sarmizegetusa Regia was the capital of Dacia prior to the wars with the Roman Empire.
It should not be confused with Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the Roman capital of Dacia built by Roman Emperor Trajan, which was not the Dacian capital, located some 40 km away. Sarmizegetusa Ulpia was discovered earlier, was known already in the early 1900s, and initially confused with the Dacian capital. This inevitably led to inaccuracies regarding Dacian wars and Dacians military system based solely on insufficient information.
The primary reason that we’ve structured this road trip the way that we have is for the Transfagarasan Highway. The best way to drive this highway is to enter from the Vidraru Dam side, climbing up the opposite side of the mountain you’d expect for a Trasnfagarsan Adventure. The scenery passing the dam is quite amazing, and needs to be seen when there is the most daylight – as there’s dense forest that blocks a lot of light. As you pass up the mountain you’ll drive through tunnels – each sloped with the grade in order to provide natural ventilation. When you “pop out” at the top of the mountain you’ll be at Balea Lac. Balea Lac is a glacier lake situated at 2,034 m of altitude in the Făgăraş Mountains, in central Romania, in Sibiu County. There are two chalets opened all the year round, a meteorological station and a mountain rescue (Salvamont) station. It is accessible by car on the Transfăgărăşan road during the summer, and the rest of the year by a cable car from the “Bâlea Cascadă” chalet. As you drive past Balea Lac, you’ll begin your decent down the famous Transfagarasan Highway. This highway was constructed as a direct route mountain passage by Nicolae Ceusescu for strategic transport, but has since become a great destinations for photographers, adventurers, and motorists. The highway presents amazing views but be aware that it does close during inclement weather and snowy/icy seasons.
During the 12th century, German craftsmen and merchants known as the Transylvanian Saxons were invited to Transylvania by the King of Hungary to settle and defend the frontier of his realm. The chronicler Krauss lists a Saxon settlement in present-day Sighișoara by 1191.
Central Sighișoara has preserved in an exemplary way the features of a small medieval fortified city. It has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Each year, a Medieval Festival takes place in the old citadel in July.
View from Villa Franka
Sighișoara is considered[who?] to be the most beautiful and well preserved inhabited citadel in Europe, with authentic medieval architecture. In Eastern Europe, Sighișoara is one of the few fortified towns that are still inhabited. The town is made up of two parts. The medieval stronghold was built on top of a hill and is known as the “Citadel” (Cetate). The lower town lies in the valley of Târnava Mare river.
The houses inside Sighișoara Citadel show the main features of a craftsmen’s town. However, there are some houses that belonged to the former patriciate, like the Venetian House and the House with Antlers.
In 2001-2003 the construction of a Dracula theme park in the ‘Breite’ nature preserve near Sighișoara was considered but ultimately rejected, owing to the strong opposition of local civil society groups and national and international media as well as politically influential persons, as the theme park would have detracted from the medieval style of the city and would have destroyed the nature preserve.
The salt mines of Turda (Salina Turda) can be a quick and optional trip from Cluj. Quite an interesting site, Salina Turda is now retrofitted salt mines which are is to a small recreational park inside and is responsible for quite a number of local and international tourists. The following is an excerpt taken from the Salina Turda Official Website (so apologies for the poor grammar):
The deposit of salt formations from the Transilvanian plateau took place in middle Bandenian-Wielician.The absolute age attributed to the salt deposits from Transylvania is 13.6-13.4 million years. The salt sedimentation took place in isolated marine basins, in warm and wet climate ,with vague tendencies towards dryness,on grounds of an active subsidence.The subsequent tectonic evolution of the basin determined the formation of long folds N-S orientated,lying in the West and respectively,East of Transylvanian Plateau,on the axis of which the salt is concentrated in diamond-shaped seeds.
The salt deposit of Turda belongs to the western front which developed from Maramures,in the North ,up to Sibiu in the South.To the same front belong the deposits at Ocna Dej,Sic ,Cojocna ,Valea Florilor and Ocna Mures. Lying in the north-eastern part of the town the deposit covers an area of about 45 square kilometers while the average thickness of the layer of salt is around 250 meters.In the axial area of the fold average salt thickness frequently goes to over 1200 meters.The salt from Turda is a monomineral rock,consisting of mineral halide (NaCl)whose proportion surpasses 99%.The insoluble elements ,mainly formed of CaSo4 do not surpass 0.7%. The geologic reserve supply is of 37,750 million tons.The terrigene formations at the surface are between 0.5 m and 20 -25 m thick.The salt coming to surface as a consequence of the erosion of the sterile rocks by Valea Florilor (Flower Valley)and Valea Sarata(Salty Valley)at the deposit’s surface made it know from very old times. Click Here To Read More From The Source.
Alba Iulia, Romania is indeed a town worth visiting. Take a moment to do a Google Search for Alba Iulia, and look at an aerial satellite image of the city. You’ll clearly notice the star-shaped fortress marking the upper city of Alba Iulia. The main historical area of Alba Iulia is the Upper Town region, developed by Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor in honour of whom the Habsburgs renamed the city Karlsburg. The fortress, with seven bastions in a stellar shape, was constructed between 1716 and 1735 by two Swiss fortification architects. The first was Giovanni Morandi Visconti, who built two old Italian stile bastions. The second was Nicolaus Doxat de Demoret—nicknamed “Austrian Vauban”. After 1720, the two architects radically transformed the medieval fortress shaped by the former Roman castrum into a seven-bastion baroque fortress, developing Menno van Coehorn’s new Dutch system, of which the fortress of Alba Iulia is the best preserved example.
Inside the fortress are The Union Hall with the National Honour Gallery, The National History Museum of Unification, the Princely Palace (Voivodal Palace), the Orthodox cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, the Batthyaneum Library, the Roman Catholic bishop’s palace, the Apor Palace, and the University of Alba Iulia. Built in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Roman Catholic cathedral is the most representative building in the medieval Romanic style in Transylvania, and is considered to be an important monument of early Transylvanian medieval architecture. The tombs of John Hunyadi and Isabella Jagiełło—Queen of Hungary are located there.
On the way to to Transfagarasan Highway – one should make a point to pass by the Vidraru Dam area during the daylight as it’s a great scenic drive. Vidraru Dam is a dam in Romania. It was completed in 1966 on the Argeş River and creates Lake Vidraru. The arch dam was built with the primary purpose to produce hydroelectricity. The dam’s height is 166 metres, the arch length 305 meters and it can store 465 million cubic metres of water. The reservoir has a total shoreline (perimeter) length of 28km.
Situated between Frunţii Mountains and Ghiţu mountains, the lake collects the Capra, Buda and some other smaller rivers (Râul Doamnei, Cernatu and Vâlsan, Topolog, Valea lui Stan and Limpedea), with a total flow of about 5.5 million l /s. The total surface of the lake is 3,930,000 sq m, 10.3 km in length, with a maximum width of 2.2 km in the Valea Lupului zone – Călugăriţa. Normal level or water retention is 830.00 metres above sea level (mdM).
The dam’s construction took 5 and a half years. It required 42km of subterranean tunnels, excavation of 1,768,000 cubic metres of hard rocks, out of which approximatively 1 million had to be extracted from underground, 930,000 cubic metres of concrete, out of which 400,000 cubic metres were underground and required the installation of 6,300 tons of electro-mechanical equipment.
When completed, it ranked 5th in Europe, and 9th in the world. In an average hydrological year it can generate approximately of 400 GWh/year.
Cluj-Napoca is an amazing city in the Transylvania Region of Romania. Cluj, is rapidly becoming the “techie capital” of Romania, with a highly educated population emerging from technical schools and universities in the area. The town itself is a very walkable city, with the old center centrally located and a city center that has the “everything at your fingertips” feel. Cluj has many dining, lodging, and entertainment options; offering a wide variety for nearly every taste and lifestyle. Cluj actually seems to offer a wider variety of things to do then Bucharest (we find that Bucharest has so much of the same thing). As of 2011, 324,576 inhabitants live within the city limits, marking a slight increase from the figure recorded at the 2002 census. The Cluj-Napoca metropolitan area has a population of 411,379 people, while the population of the peri-urban area (Romanian: zona periurbană) exceeds 420,000 residents.
The city spreads out from St. Michael’s Church in Unirii Square, built in the 14th century and named after the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Cluj-Napoca. The boundaries of the municipality contain an area of 179.52 square kilometres (69.31 sq mi).
Cluj-Napoca experienced a decade of decline during the 1990s, its international reputation suffering from the policies of its mayor of the time, Gheorghe Funar. Today, the city is one of the most important academic, cultural, industrial and business centres in Romania. Among other institutions, it hosts the country’s largest university, Babeș-Bolyai University, with its famous botanical garden; nationally renowned cultural institutions; as well as the largest Romanian-owned commercial bank. According to the American magazine InformationWeek, Cluj-Napoca is quickly becoming Romania’s technopolis.
On this trip, we’d highly recommend Cluj as a multi-day/night destination and not just a pass-through.
If time is short in Bucharest, we wouldn’t really recommend making a trip to Poenari solely to see the ruins that are claimed to be the real Castle Dracula, as it TRULY is ruins – up on a mountain – you have to hike to – to see what you can see in a photo. BUT it is of historical importance; and if your driving the Transfagarasan as we recommend you do, then you’ll pass through Arges on the way. Historically, the REAL Castle Dracula was actually located across the riverbank from Poenari and is no longer standing. So… Poenari Castle was erected around the beginning of the 13th century by the rulers of Wallachia. Around the 14th century, Poenari was the main citadel of the Basarab rulers. In the next few decades, the name and the residents changed a few times but eventually the castle was abandoned and left in ruins.
However, in the 15th century, realizing the potential for a castle perched high on a steep precipice of rock, Vlad III the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure, making it one of his main fortresses. Although the castle was used for many years after Vlad’s death in 1476, it eventually was abandoned again in the first half of the 16th century and was in ruins by the 17th century. Due to its size and location, control of the castle was difficult to take, even by natural forces. However, in 1888, a landslide brought down a portion of the castle which crashed into the river far below. Nonetheless, the castle was slightly repaired and the walls and its towers still stand today. To reach the castle, visitors need to climb 1,480 steps.
During the Communist era in Romania, foreign visitors sometimes spent the night inside the castle ruins.
Additionally, this castle was featured on the tv series Ghost Hunters International.
Claims that the Poenari Castle would be the “real” Castle Dracula as featured in Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel have no basis in Stoker’s book. Stoker never heard of the Poenari Castle. It is ca. 200 km away from the novel’s place of action in the north-east corner of Transylvania. As discovered by the Dutch author Hans Corneel de Roos, Stoker’s own handwritten research notes confirm that the novelist had a specific location in that region for the Vampire’s stronghold in mind while writing his novel: an empty mountain top 2,033 m high, located in the Transylvanian Carpathian Mountains, near the former border with Moldavia.
Total Point-To-Point Travel Distance = 1,101 km (684 miles)
Total Point-To-Point Travel Time = 17.5 Hours
Road Trip 2 - A Weekend Getaway
Leaving Bucharest For A Two Night Holiday In The Mountains
Weekend Getaway - Day One - Sainaia, Peles, And Pelisor
Weekend Getaway - Day One - Evening At The Carriage House
Weekend Getaway - Day 2 - Through Predeal And On To Brasov
Weekend Getaway - Night 2 And Day 3 - Brasov
Weekend Getaway - Day 3 - Returning Through Targoviste
Bucharest City Tour 1 - A Breif History Of Bucharest
Stroll Around Calea Victoriei And Into Old Town Lipscani
A Brief History Of Bucharest - Piata Victoriei
A Brief History Of Bucharest - The George Enescu & National Art Museums
A Brief History Of Bucharest - The Hilton & Athenaeum
A Brief History Of Bucharest - Iconic Landmarks And Monuments
A Brief History Of Bucharest - Old Town Lipscani
Bucharest City Tour 2 - Natural Escapes
Even In Romania's Capital City, Nature Is All Around Us. Come With Us Through The Nicest Parks And More.
Natural Escapes - A Walk Through Kiselef
Natural Escapes - The Gardens At Herestrau
Natural Escapes - Relaxation On The Lake
Natural Escapes - A Walk Through Dorobanti
Natural Escapes - A Dinner At London Street Bistro
Bucharest Specialty Tour 1 - A Romantic Evening
A Romantic Evening - Dinner At XYZ
Romantic Evening - A Walk At The Lake
A Romantic Evening - See A Show
A Romantic Evening - Dessert At Blank
Bucharest Specialty Tour 2 - Key Points Of Interest
When Visiting Bucharest There Are Certain Things You Shouldn't Go Without Seeing...
Recent Road Trip Articles
Sights To See, Places To Go, And Stories From Expats And Travlers From Around Romania