Planning A Romanian Road Trip

Filed Under: Travel

Once upon a time, before the days of revenue-based mileage earning and other lifestyle complications, Ben and I used to fly together a lot. Granted, these were almost always miserable-sounding mileage run itineraries where we’d spend two weeks going back and forth to Managua six times, with the occasional “why wouldn’t we get back to California from Chicago via Paris, Tokyo, and Taipei?” thrown in.

But it was fun, and in the days before ubiquitous WiFi those awful 737 flights were a good chance to catch up on stuff and talk through business challenges and whatever else. Nowadays we still make a point of seeing each other, but it’s more practical to just go and spend a few days at the other’s house, and our opportunities to actually travel together are generally limited to once every year or two.

So we’ve been trying to put something together for about 18 months now. We finally pulled the trigger this week and booked a trip to Romania for this autumn, which we’re both really excited about (and hope is fun for y’all to follow along with).

Flights

Ben picked the flights for this trip, and I have to say he showed admirable restraint. Normally our trips together require a ton of debate about what to fly (which usually leads to settling for crummy planes), or the itineraries have an outrageous number of flights, with universally miserable connections.

And while he flirted with a “We could do MEX-IST-CLJ that’s really a triangle route with a 6AM pitstop in Cancun!!!”, as though Mexico City is a convenient starting point for either of us, we eventually settled on something more reasonable.

For the outbound, we’ll be flying Turkish Airlines’ new 787 business class from Atlanta (with a connection in Istanbul that is probably too short), then continuing on to Cluj-Napoca.

We’ll be returning from Bucharest, where we’ll get to fly Romania-based TAROM to London, leaving just Aerolineas Argentinas and it’s non-stop faxing service as the only SkyTeam carrier Ben hasn’t flown.

Then we’ll fly to New York from London on Virgin Atlantic’s new A350.

Those should be some fun flights, and a pretty manageable itinerary.

Unless you consider that neither of us live in either Atlanta or New York, so there will be an entire truckload of domestic flights in there too. Mine will likely be better than Ben’s. 😉

Road trip time!

I’m actually shocked that Ben agreed to this. Obviously I’m not going to suggest a trip that I think we’ll hate, but spending a week driving through the countryside is more than a bit different than the kind of travel we’d normally do together.

The conversation went roughly like this:

“Hey. Would you go on a road trip with me?”

“A road trip. Like in a station wagon to the Grand Canyon?”

“Maybe…I was thinking Europe though. We had a really nice time driving through Greece last week, and the whole time I was thinking about how much you would have enjoyed it.”

“Ummmmm.”

“It would be fun! You can drive, I will navigate, we can listen to trashy pop music that our husbands hate…”

“You want me to drive? That will end well.”

“Well, I can’t drive a stick, and you sure as hell can’t navigate, so that’s really the only option.”

“A road trip.”

“A fun one. With me!”

“Where in Europe?”

“Romania? Wales? Coast of Portugal? It’ll make for great internet.”

‘Hah, okay, I’m in. Sounds fun-ish.”

And then I obviously picked Romania, because hello:

Given life and schedules the best timing for this trip is October, which sounds like it will be a beautiful time to drive through Transylvania (though I’m less thrilled about the potential for “oooooh! It’s close to Halloween and so we have to kick our Dracula Tourism into overdrive” nonsense.

Plotting out an itinerary

We’ll be flying in to Cluj, and then leaving from Bucharest six days later.

If we were to drive straight through, it would take ~7 hours to get between the two cities, which seems like it will give us a good amount of time to explore each day and take detours without feeling too rushed.

While I love the concept of just seeing where the drive takes us, that’s not wholly practical for this trip. We will both still be working (and are planning on WiFi being iffy, which makes the work day longer), so do have to plan ahead a bit.

This is the general outline I have so far, but I’m very open to making changes:

We’ll probably want to limit the driving to about three (not necessarily consecutive) hours each day, but are pretty flexible otherwise. If our past five or so trips are any indication, there’s also a better-than-decent chance that Ben will have some kind of cold or flu, so we have to preserve the option to just bail on everything until he feels better, even if means doing all the driving in one day.

Planning and questions

We’re definitely at the point in trip planning where we have more questions than answers, so would love to hear what you guys recommend, have heard great things about, or even what you would eventually like to see reviews of.

I would love to get OMAAT reader feedback, since the hive mind here is incredible at this stuff:

  • Are there any cities or towns we should definitely make a point of seeing?
  • Do we need to visit All The Castles, or just one or two? (I love architecture, Ben only likes it, but he loves scenic spaces and cute towns)
  • Any particularly great hotels or guest houses we should check out (or any we should decidedly avoid)?
  • Should we stay multiple nights in some towns and take day-trips, or keep to a cadence of changing locale every day (I’m naturally drawn to the momentum of the latter)
  • We both love hiking and nature, but assume October doesn’t always provide ideal conditions — if there are parks or otherwise maintained trails that are less likely to be a muddy mess in Autumn we’d definitely detour

And then of course there are the (somewhat) practical considerations, like:

  • Is one rental car company better than others for a one-way trip? (I know Ben needs an IDL, and that we have to get a toll sticker thingy)
  • How impossible is eating at local restaurants going to be with our fun “she can’t have most grains” and “he doesn’t eat pork” restrictions?
  • Do we need a special road-trip theme song?

Regardless of how the details end up working out (or even if they don’t), I’m super excited for this trip. As much as I love flying, there’s something about the natural unexpectedness that goes along with a driving adventure that really appeals to me.

Any thoughts on Romania, or on road trips in general?

(Romania pics courtesy of Ricky W.)

Comments
  1. What is the last picture? Looks amazing.

    I’ve heard Sibiu is awesome. And since you’re in Romania, you should make a trip out to the Black Sea. Not sure how long of a detour/drive that would be though.

  2. My husband and I just booked a European road trip over our Thanksgiving holiday this year. We are flying into Zurich and then driving to Vaduz, Munich, Salzburg and Milan over the course of 9 days. I just hope the roads and weather remain clear enough since it’s late November and the first week of December!

  3. @ Andrew L — I think that would be super fun, but maybe not in autumn with Ben driving 😉 Will save that for a trip with the husband, I think.

  4. Given that route, you must stay a couple days at the restored mansion and village houses partially restored by Prince Charles. Not expensive and a fantastic way to see the countryside of Transylvania.

  5. I’m from Romania and have driven through Transylvania multiple times. Don’t have much time now for a detailed response, but a few things come to mind:

    – Be careful on the roads. Be especially aware of people passing others where they shouldn’t (you may have to pull to the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision). Also, no drinking and driving. Not even one drink.
    – Bran isn’t really all that special. Do see it, but don’t get your hopes up. The interior is basically a display of hundred year old furniture.
    – Try to see a fortified church if you get a chance.
    – In the Cluj area, you also have Salina Turda, Cheile Turzii, the Village Museum, and Banffy Castle in Bontida
    – Climb a church tower for a view from the top in at least one of the cities
    – As far as food: There are plenty of chicken, beef, lamb, and veal staples if you don’t like pork. If gluten intolerant, mamaliga (polenta) and rice (in the form of pilaf) will probably be your basic starches.
    – In Cluj, try to stop at at least one “themed” coffee shop.

  6. I spent time in Transylvania years ago. Sighisoara is a beautiful city as was Brasov. Bran Castle (aka Dracula Castle) is fun, but definitely not to the same level as a Linderhof or Neuschwanstein in terms of architecture, in my opinion. In Bucharest, definitely get a tour of Ceaușescu’s palace if they offer tours still. The communist era and his (and his wife’s) history are very interesting.

  7. I lived in Romania for 2 years. VERY excited you’ll give a wonderful country some much needed press. The “Prahova Valley” – where Peles Castle is located is some of the most stunning terrain. Do check as I think renovations are happening & it might be closed. You’ll find Brasov to be a good town, modern enough w/ some decent tourist infrastructure. Bran Castle – “Dracula” is overrated – as is the whole Dracula narrative. Bucurest sucks, but do check out the sites & drink beer in old town. YES YES YES to Alba Iulia & the fortress there. It’s wildly underrated. EU spent $60m renovating. You’ll enjoy the pace of the spot.

    If you want to get off your tourist track – try to get up to Maramures & the Happy Cemetary or into the Apuseni Mtns. If your rental car is sweet, consider the “Transfagarasan Highway” – It’s a great race road. Eat lots of soups, sausages (mici), and meet old people. Few nations have a better sense of humor. “Drum bun”!

  8. I am a big automotive junkie so road trips are as much about driving as sight-seeing. Therefore the Transfăgărășan Highway is a must. In 2016, a group of us took exotic cars on an organized time-trial event and oh boy was it fun to wrestle the car through that road. The Transylvanian Alps are gorgeous, even in the winter.

    For more automotive drooling, go to Mamaia.

    Check out Season 2 of Travels with my Father for more inspiration in Romania 😉

  9. Good luck at IST AIrport. Was there 3 times last month. Their slogan “easy to love, hard to leave” was rather apropos. One time it took 90 minutes to get a driver, one time it was over 90 minutes to get our bags and the last time we say on the tarmac for 2 hours because it was raining a little. Hard to leave is right!.

    I think that whole airport looks like a shopping mall in Las Vegas. No sense of place in any way at all. Such a missed opportunity.

    I can’t wait to hear about Romania!

  10. Wow amazing idea for a trip! You got the bases perfectly covered. Let me help you a bit with the rest of your questions.

    1) I think your itinerary is close to optimal given your wishes what you want to see and maximum driving time. There are a few suggestions I would like to add, although feel free to ignore them as you might pack the trip to full.
    – Cluj is a great city with a lovely restaurant and cafe scene. Worth at least a full day/night.
    – On your way from Cluj to Alba Iulia, make a stop in Turda to visit the salt mine (Salina Turda) as you will be literally passing by this and won’t have to make a detour. If you want to do a bit of hiking, the Turda Gorge (Cheile Turzii) is just a few miles out of town and easily accessible. The scenery is gorgeous, and hiking from one end to the other and back takes about 2 hours.
    – This might be a bit optimistic as driving times are long (ca 2 hours one way from Corvin’s castle), but Sarmizegetusa Regia (basically the Romanian Stonehenge and old capital of the ancient Dacians before it was sacked by the Romans under Trajan) is relatively close by. Last few miles of the road are unpaved but easily doable with 2WD car, and it takes you through lovely forested/hilly scenery.
    – Probably way too optimistic: driving the Transfagarasan road. One of the best roads in the world, fantastic views. Can be technically done out of Sibiu as a half day trip to the top of the pass and then back if giving it an early start, but would add a lot of mileage and time on the road, which you said you want to avoid
    – Sibiu and Sighisoara are two of the prettiest cities in the country, so yes, they are definitely worth it.
    – The Brasov area has a third castle: Rasnov Citadel. It’s very close to Bran and I actually prefer it. I personally find Bran overrated (too much Dracula kitch – and the Dracula connection is rather fake actually) and Rasnov has the added benefit of sweeping views over the countryside and cute town of Rasnov itself.
    – Peles castle in Sinaia is an absolute must. One of the most fantastic, romantic royal castles in Europe, located in a lovely mountain valley. If you have time, you can do some hiking in this area. Cable cars take you all the way up from Sinaia to the mountain tops. You can for example hike to Sfinxul (a stone formation resembling the Sphinx – approx 3 hours) and take the cable car from there back to the town of Busteni, from where there are frequent minibuses back to Sinaia. Alternatively, the Canionul Sapte Scari (7 ladders canyon) is right off the Brasov-Sinaia road and is a lovely hike too.
    2) You don’t need a toll sticker. Any Romanian rental company (or the big international ones) will have this included already of course (it’s not a sticker, but rather a virtual toll in which you need to register your car’s number plate online or at a gas station and buy the permission).
    3) Internet speeds are fast and 4G connections are great everywhere along your route (unless you decide to head up on a mountain or so). You won’t have any problems getting work done. Don’t forget that Romania has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world.
    4) For hotels, it depends on if you want to go for the big chains or might be interested in some great local boutique hotels? Eg. in Sighisoara Casa Savri is lovely.
    5) For food, I don’t think you will have much problems – certainly not in bigger Romanian cities like Cluj and Bucharest. Sure, Romanian fare is mostly meat-based (and pork features heavily), although there are plenty of dishes which do not involve pork. English will be almost universally spoken, at least in the Cluj, Sibiu, Brasov, Bucharest and in all hotels/major restaurants – so do ask about dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, the two most famous dishes of sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls) and mici (grilled Romanian sausages) can exist out of pork (most often a pork-beef mix is used, although each restaurant/family uses their own recipe and there are beef only, chicken and lamb variants too). Papanasi is a must-try dessert
    6) October is great for road tripping. Lovely autumn foliage and often still clear blue skies and temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (although if unlucky, you can have rain and 10 degrees too, although it is far more likely to have lovely weather).
    7) In Bucharest, stop at Caru cu Bere for food (traditional Romanian; lovely restaurant interior, huge menu card so easy to find something that pleases you both) and end the trip with a dinner at The Artist, the closest thing Romania has to a Michelin-starred restaurant (reservations required for both, so call in advance – English is spoken). The Artist has lovely spoon-tasting menus and is exceptionally good priced for a restaurant in this class (Romania in general is extremely affordable from an US perspective). Also, do not forget to try some of the great Romanian wines!

  11. I’d recommend stopping in the town of Brasov, as well as doing tours of the Peles Castle and Bran castle (Dracula). Would also recommend spending at least a night in Bucharest. Lots to see and the old town is nice with lots of history. Lots of good boutique hotels and some decent chain options, like JW and Sheraton.

  12. @ Unhoeflich — For realz. There are about a dozen books or movies that Ben is going to need to consume before this trip in order to not be annoyed at my jokes.

  13. Looks like a nice plan. Since I am very familiar with Romania, let me give you my 2 cents:

    1. If you already start at the north, I would start at Oradea (which is a couple hours drive west of Cluj) and spend a night or two there. This is my favorite city in Romania. Very nice historic downtown and very good restaurants. This is more of an authentic Romanian city as opposed to Cluj, which is more a college town, with tens of thousands of students from all over the world.

    2. Roads in Romania are tough and nothing like what you are used to in the USA. If you are thinking the road from Cluj to Bucharest is a highway, you are going to be disappointed. Most of it is only one way, with a lot of twists. Only the part from Ploiesti to Bucharest resembles a highway. I once did the trip from Cluj to Bucharest in a car in one day. took me more than 8 hours and was a nightmare. However, if you only plan to no more than 3 hours a day, that is reasonable.

    3. Hilton in Sibiu is nice with decent lounge and nice Spa, but located far out from center of City (but if you have car no problem)

  14. My wife and I went to Romania a few years ago right around Halloween. My observations/suggestions:

    – Weather was actually just about perfect – 55-60 degrees during the day with sunshine, a little chilly at night. We may have gotten lucky with the sun, but even under normal conditions, it doesn’t rain much in Romania in October.
    – I’d recommend seeing all the castles. They are just different enough, architecturally and historically, that I think you’ll enjoy the various perspectives.
    – The “Transylvania Halloween tourist overload” really wasn’t a thing while we were there (we visited Bran Castle literally two days before). There were a few decorations but it was hardly obnoxious. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
    – I might suggest at least a couple of days in Brasov, as it provides a convenient base for visiting Bran and Peles, as well as exploring the countryside. It will be GORGEOUS in late October with the fall foliage.
    – Driving in rural Romania is far from the worst but is challenging; especially in the mountains, locals have no qualms about aggressive passing maneuvers on blind corners, etc. Main roads themselves were well-signed and in pretty good shape. Take it easy and don’t drive at night, and you’ll be fine. However, don’t even THINK about driving in Bucharest. Dump the rental at the airport on your way in and take a taxi or shuttle from there.
    – Romanians are gaga about Italian food. The area around Brasov has heavy German influence so you’ll see more of that type of food there. I really don’t think either one of you will have issues.
    – Romania isn’t really the place for chain hotels, so Lucky should be prepared to be disappointed if he’s expecting a Hyatt or Marriott every night. You’re better off avoiding the chains anyway because of the price difference. We stayed at a place called Hotel Scala in Bucharest – $95 a night got us a truly palatial suite with breakfast included. The Hilton would have been $141 a night for a standard room, for comparison.

    Hope this helps; feel free to reach out directly if you have more questions.

  15. I’m a Romanian so here are some tips based on my extensive traveling in the area:

    1) For driving – I wouldn’t miss the Transfagarasan. Especially the section from Sibiu to Balea. And, if the weather permits, the views and/or the hiking from Balea are truly outstanding.

    2) Places to visit:

    a) Peles Castle is exceptional. I wouldn’t bother too much with others, especially if you’ve visited castles in Western Europe.

    b) Sighisoara is nice. I’ve always been there for short visits (half a day).

    c) Don’t miss the Astra Museum near Sibiu. This is a truly outstanding outdoor museum, with authentic traditional rural houses moved here from all over the country. Half a day to a day.

    d) Sibiu – I wouldn’t spend more than half a day.

    e) Try visiting the Viscri village. Prince Charles owns some property they’re (traditional houses) and comes to visit the area once in a while. Go there and you’ll understand why …

    f) Brasov – max half day in the old city.

    3) Hiking – absolutely wonderful and there’s something for every type of hiker. You can take nice walks in the woods or over the hills or you can hike the Fagaras mountains (from Balea, for example), or the Piatra Craiului mountains (close to Brasov), or Bucegi (next to Peles Castle) which are very rocky and have spectacular, jagged, rocky cliffs.

    4) Food – pretty wide selection so I wouldn’t worry about the dietary restrictions.

    5) Internet – the mobile internet is dirt cheap and the coverage is usually excellent. See here for details: https://prepaid-data-sim-card.fandom.com/wiki/Romania

    6) Lodging – when outside the cities look for “pensiune” (small hotels/villas).

    7) Weather – usually October is pretty good.

    All the best!

  16. Two more points:

    1. In Bucharest stay only at the JW Marriott – a notch better than any other 5 star hotel in the city.

    2. As soon as you arrive in Bucharest return your rental car and move around in Taxis, which are very cheap. This will save you from looking for parking, paying for parking etc. Look for cabs that say “1.39 Lei/Km) on the side or just use an App like StarTaxi

  17. Sighisoara is pretty, they have a DoubleTree that is decent with good parking. You can see it in a few hours, but a whole day would be better. Hire a guide from the official tourist information. Villa Hermani in Măgura might be a cool base to use for the last part of the trip. It’s quit, but not too remote, although it involves a dirt road ;-). They also can take you out to see bears and maybe some cubs.

  18. FWIW, This probably isnt helpful since I haven’t tried in Romania but I’ve rented cars in ~15 countries and never once been asked for an IDL (I just show my NY license).

    Also, learning stickshift was one of the best travel decisions I’ve ever made. 3 days of stalling out a lot in Chile led to me having the confidence to drive all over the world.

  19. I’ve been to Cluj a couple of times – and it’s a very livable city, though the downtown tourism attractions aren’t that impressive.
    – The best points hotel in town is the DoubleTree, which is also very centrally-located
    – There’s a very good vegetarian restaurant in town, with some creative re-interpretations of local cuisine (along with more cosmopolitan fare) : https://samsara.ro/
    – I’ll second the suggestion for Turda Salina, but more for the surreal quality of the place. I went there expecting a lot of geeky detail about early modern salt-mining, and broke down into uncontrollable laughter when I saw that someone had placed a Scandinavian Modern amusement park in the bottom of a salt mine

  20. Hi,

    Romania is very good choice! I have been three times in Transylvania. I was at Bran once and it was really overrun with other tourists. I think the other two castles will have the same problem as well, in my opinion one is enough in my opinion.
    If you look for some hidden gems: I highly recommend to visit some fortress churches (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortress_church), there are over 100 in the region (find them all here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_von_Orten_in_Siebenb%C3%BCrgen_mit_Kirchenburg_oder_Wehrkirche). The “best” fortress churches are these which are UNESCO World Heritage (http://www.cimec.ro/Monumente/unesco/UNESCOen/indexTrans.htm) but there are a lot of good others as well. The highlight of every fortress church is their tower which is often very adventurous. If you have luck, you will find at the fortress churches also some old people who still speak German.
    Others mentioned the Transfăgărășan – this is a must-do (particularly the northern part)! But only if there is good weather.
    The best cities there are Sibiu and Sighișoara, Brașov was not *so* nice. I wasn’t in Cluj-Napoca so I can’t say something about it.

    October is a very good month: Not too warm, not too cold and usually little rain, sometimes a bit too dry.

    Some general notes:
    Driving is quite dangerous, especially at night. There are horse buggies on big roads without any lighting nor reflectors even if it’s completely dark.
    I don’t eat any meet – this wasn’t a problem at all.
    Young people have reasonable English, some people (especially older) speak sometimes German.

    Have a nice stay in Siebenbürgen,
    Ulf Müller

  21. I loved Romania. It was cheap enough for me to hire a car WITH a driver to take us around. That was much more relaxing than driving myself. It’s easy and cheap to do this in Romania.

  22. About the navigation, and I’ve never visited Romania however, I rent a lot of cars and do lots of long road trips to remote places in Europe each year and sometimes navigation can be an issue. Last year I rented a car in Bordeaux France with embedded GPS and having routinely done this many times in the past, I figured no problem, until I tried to load an address in the device and I couldn’t figure it out. I looked for a manual but there were no manuals in the glove box. I even pulled into a gas station and asked if the attendant knew how to load an address, but no luck. So, thankfully I had my phone with my newly acquired T-Mobile International plan and I was able to navigate with the phone but it wasn’t optimal. When I turned in the car, I asked the rental car attendant to show me how to load an address and he couldn’t figure it out either. The point is, make sure you’re checked out on the GPS device before you leave the rental car place or alternatively make sure you have good phone coverage where you are headed. It seems crazy to worry about these things in this day and age, but some areas are not well mapped, have poor phone coverage and some foreign GPS navigation devices are counterintuitive. The trip sounds amazing! Can’t wait to read all the reviews.

  23. I don’t know anything about Romania, but after seeing the photos in this post, I want to go! 🙂

  24. You will love Romania and your itinerary is not bad at all. Oradea is also worth a visit but it means going west of Cluj and then back. Transfagarasan would be awesome, but might be closed depending on weather. Do not miss Peles castle in Sinaia.

    Bucharest is lovely, but never take a taxi there – always use Uber (cheaper and much safer than taxis); I don’t really recommend driving there but ride sharing apps are very cheap and efficient.

    Enjoy and looking forward for the trip report!

  25. Go see Salina Turda (biggest salt mine in europe or something like that).

    Corvin castle is a must see, followed by Peles castle.

    Pit stop by the Transfagarasan (Top Gear once called it the world’s Most beautiful road) on your way to Brasov (slight detour).

    Try to stick with Major taxi companies in bucharest… around 1.5 lei per Km should say on the door.

    As everywhere, avoid people who are offering flat fee rides or who are offering rides. it’s better to hail a cab / you can find them parked together in large crowds.

  26. The itinerary sounds quite good, if you would decide on a single castle, I would recommend the Peleș, altough it has nothing to do with Dracula.
    Corvin castle from Hunedoara has an impressive architecture, however, but the city is not so nice and might not worth the detour?
    Sibiu is amazing, Brasov-so-so, and if you are in Bucharest, you have my email and we could do some city-seeing.

  27. Sibiu is a truly beautiful city! You should spend a night in the Castelnor hotel in Paltinis (30 mins by car from Sibiu) high up in the Carpathian mountains, with an incredible view. Castelnor is brand-new with gorgeous rooms.

  28. George and Romanianflyer are on the task. All I can add is that Cluj is a nice town; hopefully they still have that steampunk-themed bar from a few years ago. Romanians are wonderful people (true, you could say that about most of the world), and you do right to only pull three hours a day on the road: sometimes it takes longer than that to get places.

  29. We always rent with Europcar when in Europe. Why not rent an automatic so either of you can drive?

  30. Romania is road trip is on my bucket list. Would be nice to see a detailed review later, so I can copy some ideas from it 🙂

  31. Yes, don’t miss Peles Castle – one of the best in the world. I’d also recommend Brasov and might as well see Vlad the impaler (Dracula) castle in Bran. Don’t skimp on Bucharest – there are things to see there too. Enjoy.

  32. I’ve only been to Bucharest so that’s the extent of my advice, but:

    -Traffic in Bucharest is truly like nothing I’ve seen before – “ridiculously congested” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Ubers are super cheap and reliable – for your stay in the city, I’d definitely recommend this over taxis or trying to drive yourself around.

    -I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Old Town, and I really liked both the hotel and the location – nothing fancy compared to what you’re used to, but certainly nice and clean with a great location. Old Town can get wild at night, but during the day there’s a lot to look at and do.

    -The food is excellent and cheap. We wandered around Old Town and just randomly stumbled across places to eat and drink – all delicious and all inexpensive.

    -Caru cu Bere is great, but another recommendation is Hana Berarilor Casa Soare. Excellent food, great atmosphere, and it’s the first place I ever tried papanasi, a traditional Romanian dessert. Holy cow – fantastic.

    -You must go visit the Carturesti Carusel in Old Town – it’s a stunning bookstore. I could’ve spent hours in there.

    -We didn’t tour the Palace of the Parliament (Ceausescu’s palace) due to time constraints, but we did walk up and around it. It’s unbelievable and worth a view.

  33. I’m a Unitarian Universalist and Unitarians have a long history in Transylvania. You’ll see the little white steepled churches in many towns there. About a dozen years ago, about 8 of us from the church I was at trekked from Bucharest to Budapest, stopping in many towns to see the Unitarian history. Had my purse stolen off a bed side table while I slept. It had my passport in it. The tiny town police descended like CSI, so excited with a crime to solve. Three years later I got a package in butcher paper all taped to hell; it was my passport which was found in a ditch, turned into police and passed to the consulate.

  34. A few comments. I haven’t read all of the above, so some of it may have been mentioned already. I spent a lot of time in Romania while I was the Military Liaison Officer to Eastern Europe. I love the country and especially the people. The hands down best trip I ever made was along the northern part, skirting the Ukrainian border. Maramures and Moldavia are fabulous. The painted monasteries are mind blowing. And definitely tour Peles castle. The interior wood carvings are incredible. You will love it.

  35. I just rented a car in Bucharest three weeks ago. The agency charged 10 euros as a road tax but they no longer require a sticker. They explained that cameras now utilize the plate number. I rented from Payless; they were fine but I have no idea about one way rentals.

    If you like hot springs Baile Felix near the Hungarian border was best.

  36. You and Ben are going to have a wonderful time in Romania. We wish you both a fantastic road trip!

    We were fortunate enough to spend 6 weeks in Romania. If you can fit it into your itinerary (and the road isn’t seasonally closed), we highly recommend adding the Transfargarasan Highway.

    We originally heard of it on the BBC’s Top Gear, which touted it as one of the world’s best road trips. We’re happy to say that in our humble experience it didn’t disappoint. The country side is gorgeous, Balea Lake (at the top of the mountain) is beautiful, and the switchbacks are incredible! And if you decide to stay the night, there’s even an ice hotel at the top.

    If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can take the train from Sibiu to Sighisoara. It’s a great way to see the countryside. 🙂

    If you’re interested in what to expect, how to plan, and what you’ll see on the Transfagarasan road trip, here’s our write up: https://screwtheaverage.com/blog/transfagarasan-highway-road-trip-romania

    We hope you and Ben have a great time!

  37. @ Frog :
    I would not recommend the Transfăgărășan on a first trip to Romania, especially in Fall.
    We did it, round-trip from Curtea de Argeș to Sibiu and back, on October 12, a few years ago – it was border line weather… a lot of fog. We were alone, except for one other car we saw; we couldn’t stop at a couple of places we wanted to, because of the stray dog packs. We had a good car, a brand new BMW that we drove from Munich (BMW European Delivery), but the road was not in such a good condition that we were having fun driving.

  38. You already got a lot of good information, we’ve been to Romania only three times, maybe a little more than a month in total.

    The first trip was Bucharest to Krakow, by public transportation. Bucharest-Brasov-Sighisoara-Sibiu, Cluj-Oradea to Hungary-Slovakia-Poland. Trains in Romania are comfortable and easy to book online.

    The second trip was shorter and going to Sinaia by train, for a day trip, to visit Pelisor Castle, Peles Castle and Sinaia Monastery. Then we flew to Belgrade and took the train from Belgrade to Budapest, with 5 overnight stops… but that’s another story.

    The last trip we drove around Romania, hitting a few of the difficult places to see: the amazing Maramures (including the Merry Cemetery), †he painted churches around Suceava, Bran Castle (good overnight stop), and the south of Romania… not to forget driving the Transfăgărășan round-trip. And finally Timisoara for one night on the way to Budapest-Slovakia-Vienna to send our car home.

    This will not not be your last trip to Romania!

  39. Tiffany: Here’s some serious advice. Years ago, when the Iron Curtain was still up and few Americans visited Romania, I asked some Romanian students I met in Bucharest what I should see during a short stay in Romania. They said, “The painted monasteries of Moldavia!” All I had, by the way, was a train pass. So, starting in Suceava, I hired a driver (don’t ask how or with what) who took me to the monasteries of Humor, Moldovita, Voronet and Sucevita. Another version of this trip was written up — with a map of the route — some years ago in the New York Times by Erik Sandberg-Diment, “Artistic Route Through Romania: A circle tour of Moldavia’s spectacular 15th- and 16th-century painted monasteries, and a side strip to Dracula’s castle,” N.Y. Times, June 21, 1998, Travel Section pp. 15-16.

    I’ve never seen anything like these beautiful, simple buildings, before or since and remember them to this day. (Don’t ask me about smuggling, the black market, and worse besides; those were wild, wild times.) If you email me, I would be happy to send you a copy of the NYT article.

  40. Great timing. I am planning a road trip at the moment from Bucharest to Sarajevo leaving at the end of this month. Will definitely add the Transfagarasan highway. Comments have been great as I am thinking of similar route in reverse – but need to travel through to Belgrade and then on to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have a blog and will be posting along the way so you can follow. (The Site is currently being updated and will complete that before this trip.) Thanks for timely post!

  41. Very excited to hear about Romania trip! I go to Bulgaria every summer now and plan to take a week to go to Romania so I’ll be building my plans based on your experience!

    Also are you going to publish a report about driving through Greece? Would love to hear more about it!

  42. I would add a very important thing. Starting this year, I believe, you will need an international driver’s licence in order to be able to rent a car in Romania. You can have this done on the spot for about $30.00 at CAA/ Triple A.

  43. We just got back from a driving holiday in Romania a week ago! It was well worth it. The scenery is amazing, beautiful villages and countryside like how Europe would have been maybe 100 years ago. The castles are also very pretty.
    Some advisories from our experience:
    1. The roads are often very very bad. Both IN Bucharest and out. In fact I would suggest some of the worst roads we saw were in Bucharest itself. There are some new motorways that have been built and these are to a normal European standard.
    2. Driving standards are not like the rest of Europe. I have driven in Eastern Europe before (CZ, Poland, etc.) but Romanian driving reminds me of those Russian dash cam videos you find on Youtube. Outside of the motorways, there are lots of long, single lane roads where speed limits are not adhered to by some, and also there are old cars that go slowly. This results in some VERY dangerous overtaking decisions that will be experienced.
    3. Country roads are genuinely full of gypsies on horse drawn carts, cows on roads, chickens on roads, sheep on roads, dogs on roads, goats on roads, etc. etc. etc. So you gotta be careful.
    4. Food wise, you wont have much a problem. We had pretty excellent food the whole time we were there, and it’s all very affordable. Even in Bucharest, if you stay out of the tourist traps in the Old Town area.
    5. When in Bucharest, make sure you visit the People’s Palace (built by Ceaușescu). It’s a truly fascinating place. You can only visit with a tour, and you need to book it by phone the day before you want to go.
    6. Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) is the busiest tourist attraction in Romania. We went in the middle of summer, and on a Sunday so it was INSANELY busy and it really reduced our enjoyment of the facility. You can also book tickets to this castle online, which we did, and I would highly recommend doing so. When we were there, the queue for tickets was looonnng. We had our printed online tickets and were just waved through to the next queue to get into the castle itself. Even in shoulder season, I would recommend trying to do Bran on a weekday so you miss out on the Bucharest people who drive out there for a day trip.
    7. Rental cars are pretty basic. The Skoda we ended up with was pretty new, but had no USB input, cruise control, parking sensors or anything like that (manual winding windows – so old school!). It did have airbags, air con and all that though. I am sure you can book an automatic rental car though, I remember seeing that option although it was a bit more money.
    8. Petrol is the most expensive I have seen in a while. Even more than the UK. For my little Skoda, would cost close to US$100 to fill the tank! Coming from Malaysia, where I pay USD$20 to fill my tank, that was a shock!

    Overall, it was an awesome country. The people are friendly. Everyone speaks English, even in the small towns that we visited. And we always felt safe. Enjoy!

  44. Stick shift v. Automatic?

    Use an aggregator site (eg, Holidayautos) which lets you search for just automatic transmission rentals.

    If there are two of you plus dodgy roads, and the main driver anyway has a propensity to get sick as a dog, it’s just common sense to rent a car that both of you could drive, even if the plan is for only that person to drive.

    For tiny European backroads I’d rent something of modest size (if you’re adventurous, many roads will be single lane + passing places), and with a bit of dirt track capability — Skoda Karoq or similar.

    Sounds like a fun trip.

  45. Haha – I am leaving in about two hours to the airport, flying to Cluj. And then doing a road trip for 8 days and flying back from Bucharest. What a coincidence :).

    We have already a high level plan on what to do, but will definitely read through all the comments here, if we missed something.

  46. Great place to visit. Been three times on road trips.
    The main roads are generally OK but be alert for random potholes and other surprises. Back roads vary from some potholes to all potholes. As said above, it will take longer than you think to get places. But very do-able. I would take a GPS with Europe maps instaĺled, more to deal with the towns. However your itinerary is pretty basic so michelin map would get you by. In car would be nice.

    I would highly recommend Hunter Prince Castle & Dracula Hotel in Turda. I’d spend the first night there. It’s a hoot. English spoken. Get a suite. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g1074312-d1539383-Reviews-Hunter_Prince_Castle_Dracula_Hotel-Turda_Cluj_County_Northwest_Romania_Transylvania.html

    Otherwise, dont bite off much more than you have. Transfargarasan (?) Road is an epic drive, but you’ll burn a day. Monasteries wonderfull but a two day detour.

    I agree, Bran “Dracula” castle is over-hyped, but OK if you’re passing by.

  47. Definitely fun , we did Romania 3 years ago.
    My recommendations are to see as many castles as possible , all on the internet tourist sites .
    Bucharest is OK , but smaller towns more interesting to us
    In Bran we rented an Airbnb to see Draculas castle and made day trips out .
    Both Booking.com and Airbnb have good coverage .
    We decided not to stay in big towns whenever possible because parking can be difficult , there are lots of country places ( like small farms ) that offer bed and breakfast and let you use their kitchen if you wish . We preferred to buy local delicacies in a supermarket and cook ourselves , because some restaurant food is poor, especially outside Bucharest.
    Cluj Napoca is a nice town , big university , lots of fun places

  48. That looks like an amazing trip! Since you are going to my hometown, Alba Iulia, I would recommend you to go to the Apuseni Mountains and visit the towns of Abrud and Campeni, and take a trip on the narrow gauge train (mocanita). It’s a unique experience! Greetings from NJ.

  49. Sounds amazing Tiffany! But one request: If you are flying out of ATL, then how about a meet & greet for your uber fans? 🙂

  50. Hi guys, you will have a fabulous trip there, as most commentators noted.
    I must highlight Romanianflyer, George and Aussie Expat. Right on the dot. I was a tour guide there long time ago and continued overseas as a side job. I return to Romania as often as I can afford. What I’d like to add, or underline previous remarks is:
    – rent an automatic car (you might need an IDL), take the trains if you can and use taxi or Uber in Bucharest. The roads are quite bad everywhere.
    – avoid gypsies, but they are a bigger problem in Italy, France or UK. Keep your money, passport or other valuables (phones, contact notes) in a travel pouch close to your body (waist, chest) just to be safe.
    – try the unusual, unbeaten path, chose anything but chain hotels, eat local food, talk to the locals as they are welcoming, fun and friendly people. They get a kick out of a few uttered Romanian words, if you could master them (try Google translate for simple greetings and “thank you”). It’s fun and useful.
    – Bran Castle is not worth the time, Peles Castle, Corvin Castle are pure gems.
    -October is a perfect choice, although weather can be unpredictable. Transfagarasan is a unique experience, I wouldn’t miss it.
    – one week is hardly enough. You might want to extend your trip.
    – keep us posted with pictures and comments.
    I wish I was there as a tour guide, driver and enthusiastic fellow traveler with you. Have fun and good luck! I am certain you’ll never regret or forget it!.

  51. I did a trip to Romania a few years ago (via public transport). Given your current itinerary and timeframe (~6 days), here are my suggestions:
    – The Transfagarasan Highway is open during summer months (July to end of October). While I am sure it is a breathtaking journey to drive through, it is located between Sibiu and Bucharest, so if you do this route you probably have to skip Sighisoara and Brasov, so I recommend saving this highway in a future trip assuming you will be back someday 🙂
    – In your planned driving route from Sibiu to Sighisoara, I recommend leaving Sibiu in the morning and make a brief stop at Medias halfway between Sibiu and Sighisoara. Medias is one of the seven original German fortified towns that makes up Siebenbürgen (German name for Transylvania). After Medias, I recommend taking an detour to the village of Biertan. The village is famous for the largest fortified church in Romania (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
    – On your drive from Sighisoara to Brasov, consider making brief stops in Sachiz fortified church and/or Rupea Citadel; if you have time you could also make a detour to the beautiful fortified church in Viscri (a.k.a. “Prince Charles village”).
    – Corvin castle is absolutely worth a detour visit. I agree with other reviews that Bran castle is touristy and may not live up to your expectations (especially because it has nothing to do with Dracula). I like Rasnov Citadel better (halfway between Brasov and Bran).
    – I took a few bus journeys in Transylvania and I recalled that highways were new and smooth. It’s a different story if/when you drive towards villages.
    – Hotel recommendations: DoubleTree by Hilton Cluj, Hotel Bulevard Hunedoara, Chic Boutique Sibiu, Doubletree by Hilton Sighisoara, Kronwell Brasov (best hotel in town)
    – If you only have 6-7 days I recommend prioritizing Transylvania over Bucharest. I spent ~2 weeks in Trasylvania and I still think it was too short.

  52. Heh. We did this trip about ten years ago via BUD on Malev before they cratered. Picked up a Ford Mondeo diesel at the very commie-era OTP and had a nice road trip through Brasov, Sibiu, Peles, Bran, etc. This was towards the end of the idiotic vampire craze and my partner went through a serious Twilight phase so this whole trip was his idea. I ended up doing all the driving because he refused to drive stick, even though he knew how, and we ended up paying almost $8US per gallon for the lower-grade diesel. Yikes!

    Oh and watch out for livestock and mule-carts.

  53. @ Mirabella Dali

    “avoid gypsies, but they are a bigger problem in Italy, France or UK.”

    Yes, nothing like a bit of racism to spice up a comment on a travel blog. Presumably you’d also recommend avoiding African-Americans in Chicago, or Maori in Auckland, or….?

    Still, good to know “they’re a bigger problem” in other countries. (That was sarcasm)

    I know Lucky believes in light moderation (thank God, or I would have been banned years ago), but is casual racism considered acceptable now?

  54. I second Salina Turda and Transfagarasan. You can take a cable car up to the lake (the road won’t likely be open) and have a cup of tea with fantastic views. We even saw a fox! It was terrible weather at the bottom but nice and clear at the top, so you never know.

  55. Enjoying reading the comments as we will be in Romania for two weeks this October. Spending two days visiting painted monasteries.

  56. Been researching for the last month regarding an identical trip I’ll be taking in late Sep… Even starting out in same city.I appreciate that I have been able to pick up some tips.

    CF Frost wrote that he hired a car and driver… Haven’t been able to find same, anyone have any suggestions to set me in right direction?

  57. You have a ton of comments, but I highly recommend a hidden gem for lunch: Casa Simy, it’s on your way in Sebes. I just took 30 Americans there and they loved it.
    Also – there’s a bear sanctuary in Zarnesti, near Brasov.

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