Note: This is a guest post by Rachelle Gordon of Adventure is Never Far Away
Nothing is better than hitting the open road with the promise of good times ahead: discovering new favorites and hidden gems along the road; creating new memories and cultivating friendships with your travel partners; laughing and smiling along the way as you ramble around country roads and speed down metropolitan highways.
If life is a highway, then a road trip is the pulse that pumps the heart of every adventure-seeker. Road tripping through Romania is an adventure guaranteed to be a memorable experience.
There are so many corners of Romania just waiting to be discovered and fallen in love with. If you are heading to Romania and want to embark on an epic road trip, here are 10 stops for the perfect Romania road trip itinerary (and don’t forget to pack appropriately for your road trip!)
10 Essential Places to Visit on a Romania Road Trip
“Dracula’s Castle” is one of the most iconic destinations in Romania, and no Romanian road trip would be complete without it. Bran Castle is widely believed to be the influence for Bram Stoker’s classic novel, “Dracula.”
Although Bram Stoker never stepped foot in the castle and Vlad the Impaler’s actual fortress is miles away, Bran Castle has an amazing history and worthy of a visit. The iconic red roof is unmistakably striking against the lush green mountains of Transylvania and Wallachia.
Bran was named for the Turkish word ‘gate’ and the castle has provided protection over Bran town and its surroundings for centuries. The first documented mention of Bran castle was recorded in 1377 and the fortress has been used in defense against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. As soon as you walk into the castle, you can feel the whispers of history from within the walls.
Insider tip: Arrive early to avoid the crowds. Spend some time wandering around the grounds just outside of the castle, soaking in the sheer grandeur of the location.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable castles in the world, Peleș Castle is nestled in the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia.
Built in the late 1800s for Romania’s first king, King Carol I from Germany, Peleș originally served as a hunting lodge but is now considered a national monument and international treasure. Perched high in the mountains, the ascent into the courtyard is enough to set your excitement on overdrive. Your eyes are instantly arrested as you glimpse Peleș through the trees.
Touring Peleș Castle is a must-do during your Romania road trip. King Carol I approved building plans that included one-hundred and sixty rooms: from bedrooms to theaters, concert halls, weapons rooms, libraries, offices, card rooms, bathrooms, painting rooms, tea rooms, children’s playrooms, meeting rooms, breakfast rooms, and formal dining rooms.
But the best part is that each room, as well as the foyers and hallways, were originally decorated in differing styles, each drawing influences from the French, Moors, Florentines, Venetians, and Turks. Whenever you turn a corner, your eyes are assaulted with tapestries, a fantasyland-like architectural design of doors and staircases, and more crystal than anyone can imagine.
Insider tip: Arrive early for the tour. If the lines for the English-speaking are too long, hop into the shorter Romanian-speaking line. Even if you don’t speak Romanian, there are signs along the way in English in each room.
Have you ever seen the Hollywood sign in California? A stop in Brasov to check out the Romanian equivalent is a great addition to your Romania road trip itinerary.
High atop Tampa Mountain and visible from just about anywhere in the city, the gleaming white letters of BRASOV beckon visitors to this medieval city. If you need a break from your road trip, hike or take the cable car up to the sign for an unobstructed view of the city.
Spend your day roaming around the cobblestone streets, lined with lively cafes, busy shops, and street carts selling sweet-smelling kurtoskalacs.
Catch an organ recital or performance in the Biserica Neagra (Black Church), the center focal point of Brasov’s main square. Although the church itself isn’t black, it earned the title after a fire in 1689 darkened the walls from the smoke. On the exterior, see if you can find the grooves in the stone where residents used to sharpen their swords.
Insider tip: Brasov is known as the gateway to Transylvania and is a great place to make your home base!
Castelul de Lut
Tucked away in the Transylvanian countryside of Romania lies the Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor, translated to “Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies.”
This quirky, soon-to-be-open hotel is made entirely of clay, straw, and sand, with all 10 rooms having their own style. The structure was built by craftsmen from Maramures, a region in Transylvania known for beautiful wooden churches. If you want to experience something truly unique, a stop at Castelul de Lut should be on your Romania road trip itinerary.
As you make your way through the 10 unique rooms, marveling at the style and individuality of each one, you’re instantly transported to another time. Another reality. The building looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit.
Insider tip: After soaking up as much of Castelul de Lut as you possibly can, head over to the other side of the property and sit under the shady trees at the banks of the babbling brook to experience a true Romanian countryside.
If you’re looking for one of the most picturesque cities in Romania, the historical town of Sighișoara (sig-ee-SHWAH-ra) is most definitely it! Sighișoara is like something straight out of a fairytale: a walled city center, colorful buildings, cobble-stoned streets.
Hundreds of years of history breathe out of the old town, transporting you back to the medieval times. The city center looks like a box of brightly-colored crayons exploded all over the buildings, making it fun and easy to find your way around. Head to the old town center, which also happens to be a UNESCO heritage site and immerse yourself in the colors, history, and personality of the town.
If you’re a fan of Dracula, Sighișoara is surely your mecca as Vlad III (Tepes) was said to be born in the old town. Tour his supposed birth home and learn more about his role in shaping Romania’s future. Spend time climbing to the top of the clock tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. Check out the defensive towers situated around the city, each one representing a craftsman guild: tinsmith, butcher, bootmaker, etc.
Insider tip: the early morning sun makes the colors of the city pop. Spend some time in the morning wandering around the cobblestoned streets and enjoying the stillness.
A visit to the city where the houses have eyes should be on your Romania road trip itinerary.
Sibiu was built in the 12th century by German Transylvanian Saxons and the houses in the old square have a particular unnerving feature on their roofs: eyes! The eye-shaped windows were added to houses to assist in cooling the attics, but they still give the impression that the houses are watching over the old town.
Sibiu is also home to the Bridge of Lies, an iconic landmark and full of legends. The legend of the Bridge of Lies says that the bridge itself has ears and unexplained mystical powers. The bridge listens to those who walk across it, and creaks when a lie is told. The bigger the lie, the more the bridge creaks. And if you tell the biggest lie of all, legend says the bridge will collapse. Although the legend is fanciful, locals are still known to avoid the Bridge of Lies.
Insider tip: Sibiu has many dilapidated doors that lead to beautiful courtyards. Peek through a few!
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, a stop at Corvin Castle in Hunedoara should definitely be on your Romania road trip itinerary: it looks like Hogwarts!
Originally built during the 14th century (exact date unknown) for Charles I, King of Hungary and Croatia until 1342, the fortress acted as a keep and strategic stronghold.
When it became the home to John Hunyadi, regent-governor during the mid-1400s, Corvin Castle underwent the first of many transformations. Over the next few centuries, wings, halls, rooms, and towers were constructed for reasons both aesthetically-pleasing and defensive.
Now known as one of the Seven Wonders of Romania, Corvin Castle is one of the largest castles in Europe and probably one of the least well-known outside of Eastern Europe.
And if you’re fond of historical legends, Corvin Castle has its fair share. One such legend states that Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his novel Dracula spent 7 years in the dungeons of Corvin Castle. While this isn’t true and has absolutely no physical evidence to support the theory, visitors are still told the tale.
Insider tip: Take time to explore every nook and cranny of the castle. Each view from the towers is different and breathtaking.
Since you’re already on a Romania road trip, why not head over to the Transfagarasan Highway?
The Transfagarasan Highway is a strip of road that winds through the Carpathian mountain range, connecting Sibiu County with Arges County, about 150 miles northwest of Bucharest. The section of the Carpathian mountains the Transfagarasan Highway cuts through is sometimes called the “Transylvanian Alps.”
Put your vehicle’s top down and get ready to drive one of the best highways in the world, according to the guys from Top Gear. Hundreds of corners and hairpin turns along an impressive mountain range, leading up to Balea Lake and one of the most stunning views. Don’t drive the Transfagarasan Highway to make good time: drive it to have a good time. Here are some tips for driving it!
Insider tip: There aren’t any suitable rail guards as you drive up the highway, so take your time. Heed the speed limit and only drive if you’re comfortable.
No road trip to Romania would be complete without a stop in the country’s capital. Bucharest is one of the most underrated and surprising capital cities in Europe.
The country itself is still waking up to tourism, so the capital city still has that raw, yet-to-be-discovered feel. From hidden bars and passageways to lush city parks and green spaces to an Instagram-famous bookstore, Bucharest has a little bit of everything.
At first glance, you see communist-style buildings adorning some of the main plazas, run-down apartment complexes tucked into corners, derelict and vacant shells, all encompassed in an earth-toned color palette. But if you take the time to look a little bit deeper and understand a little more about this city, it just might surprise you how much you are drawn to it.
Take a free walking tour. Follow the #experiencebucharest Instagram posts to some of the most photogenic locations you didn’t expect to find in post-communist Romania. Rent a bike and see if you can understand the love Romanians have for green spaces.
Insider tip: Ask a local for restaurant recommendations. It’s always a great idea to go local!
As you arrive in the city of Rasnov, your eyes will immediately be drawn towards the heavens…where you’ll find the town name spelled out in white letters, similar to neighboring Brasov.
The fortress dates back over 700 years and has a strong history as a successful defensive point. The fortress was its own self-sufficient community, serving as a place of refuge and safety during attacks, rather than being a getaway for royals.
The fortress has been restored recently, making it one of the best-kept ruins of its kind throughout Romania. Get lost in the maze of streets within the fortress. Pop into some of the restored structures and imagine what it must have been like back in the medieval times. Climb up on one of the high ridges and take in the breathtaking views of the valley. Walk along the fortification walls and fully appreciate how difficult it would have been for invaders to penetrate the inner part of the stronghold.
Insider tip: Parking can be tricky, but if you follow the signage, you shouldn’t have any issues.
Romania is full of small villages that motorists will inevitably pass through along their journey, where shepherds still tend their livestock, little old ladies sit on their front benches to share the latest gossip, and haystacks far outnumber the local population.
Be sure to spend time exploring these small villages, because they won’t be around forever. Romania is swiftly developing now that it has been able to finally shed the old skin of its communist past. During your Romania road trip, visit the villages where you can still find fresh homemade bread and butter on the table every night, where a traffic jam involves horses and buggies hauling hay and firewood, and where life is simply beautiful.
About the Author
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.