We live in Bulgaria, but from time-to-time, we love to hop up to our neighbor to the north for some amazing vacations. But what should you do if you have limited time and you have to decide whether to visit Romania or Bulgaria? Here’s how to pick your winner in a travel game of Romania vs Bulgaria.
Looking more specifically at whether to visit Bucharest or Sofia? Check out Sofia or Bucharest: Which East Balkan Capital Should You Visit?
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Choose Romania if…
Here are four reasons to pick Romania over Bulgaria.
…you love castles
While we adore Bulgaria’s castles, they’re definitely less famous (and less castle-y) than the castles in Romania’s. Between Bran Castle, Corvin Castle, and Raznov Fortress, you really won’t run out of fairy tale-esque places. You can even visit Clay Castle, the future eco-hotel that looks like it’s been ripped from a Disney cartoon storybook.
…you’re a salt tourist
If you’re a salt tourist like me (yes, it’s a thing) you’ll want to make sure you spend some time in Cluj. Nearby is the Salina Turda salt mines, a spectacular underground world where you can explore the mine while taking advantage of the health benefits you’ll get from spending so much time underground breathing in the salty air.
…you will travel for Dracula
Everyone knows that Bram Stoker, the inventor of Dracula, actually lived in Ireland and never set foot in Romania. There is no historic Dracula vampire, outside of the legacy of Vlad the Impaler. That doesn’t mean that you can make it through a trip to Romania without embracing the Dracula legacy though.
Whether you want to see Bran Castle, visit Bucharest, or walk through Sighisoara, you’re never too far from someone touting about how Dracula (or Vlad) is related to some local spot.
If you want to kick the Dracula tourism up to high gear, spend your Halloween in Transylvania. Allison and I were able to spend the spooktacular holiday in the region a few years ago, and we had a blast at the kitschy shows and themed parties happening in the region.
…you want to shop til you drop
While you won’t leave Romania or Bulgaria empty handed, we do have to admit that we love the craft scene in Romania more. In fact, so many of our favorite Romanian souvenirs are textiles and handicrafts. There’s also amazing local Horezu pottery and of course, amazing Dracula-themed gifts to bring home with you.
Yes, we love Bulgarian souvenirs (especially rose and lavender products), but we prefer shopping in Romania.
…you’re prepared to visit more than three cities
Romania is a large country, and you really can’t get to know it if you don’t get out of Bucharest, Sibiu, or Brasov. In fact, you don’t really know anything about Romania at all until you’ve seen its undiscovered corners like Moldavia and Bucovina, not to mention the Danube Delta.
Just seeing the capital and Transylvania hotspots will not cut it here, so if you only have time to check out two or three cities, stick to Bulgaria, where you can experience a lot by spending time in Sofia, Plovdiv, and the coast.
Romania is perfect for those who want to road trip. It has epic scenic drives, like the Transfagarasan Pass. Of course, like any Balkan road trip, you’ll want to give yourself extra time in case a political protest or flock of sheep cause a traffic jam.
Choose Bulgaria if…
Here are five reasons you should choose Bulgaria over Romania.
…you think a trip isn’t complete without good food and good wine
Also, Bulgarians love to eat vegetables, while it was hard to come by a vegetable in certain parts of rural Romania (other than raw red onions cradling slivers of pig fat, of course).
Beyond the local cuisine, the restaurants in Sofia are leaps and bounds ahead of the restaurant scene in Bucharest.
For wine lovers, I prefer Bulgarian wines to Romanian ones, and wine tourism here is booming.
…you love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Both countries have UNESCO sites, but if you want to be based in Sofia or Bucharest and see a few, then you have to pick Bulgaria. There are three easily accessible from Sofia, while the UNESCO sites in Romania are not that easy to visit from Bucharest.
Overall, Bulgaria has ten world heritage sites on the list, including the stunning Rila Monastery and Sofia’s medieval Boyana Church.
My favorite UNESCO sites in Romania include Horezu Monastery and the painted Monasteries up in Bucovina.
Overall, Bulgaria is the winner with ten UNESCO sites to Romania’s eight.
…you want to relax on the Black Sea
Yes, you can visit the Black Sea in Romania or Bulgaria, but…it’s better in Bulgaria. We have almost four hundred kilometers of Black Sea coast on the Bulgarian Riviera, and over a third of it is made up of sandy beaches.
In fact, there are so many great beaches in Bulgaria that when we wrote up our favorites we included fifteen of them! And yes, there are great all-inclusive beach resorts to hang out at if you want to relax even more.
…you want to learn about Communist architecture
While both Romania and Bulgaria are great places to learn about the legacy of Communism in the twentieth century, Bulgaria is the superior place to hone in on the arts and architecture of these regimes.
In Sofia, you can visit the Museum of Socialist Art to see the city’s collection of Social Realist propaganda statues, including the giant one of Vladimir Lenin that stood where the Saint Sofia statue stands today.
If you have a day to explore, you should take a trip out to Buzludzha, the Communist UFO in the middle of the Central Balkan Mountains. An easy day trip from Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo, or Plovdiv, this is one of my favorite places to visit in Bulgaria.
…you find pink lakes enchanting
Bathing in the salty waters of the pink lake followed by covering yourself in its black healing mud and dipping yourself in the Black Sea is one of the best (free) ways to relax in the Balkans.
Choose either Romania or Bulgaria for…
Here are four great experiences awaiting you no matter which country you choose to visit!
…stunning Orthodox monasteries
While I personally prefer Bulgarian monasteries to Romanian ones, if I’m being completely honest the truth is that you can’t go wrong either way.
My favorite Bulgarian monasteries are Rila Monastery outside of Sofia, Transfiguration monastery outside of Veliko Tarnovo, and Shipka Church (okay, not technically a monastery but simply stunning nonetheless).
In Romania, you have to check out the painted monasteries in Bucovina and Horezu monastery in the southern Carpathian mountains.
It’s kind of a well-kept secret abroad, but the Balkans are an awesome place to be in winter! There are amazing Balkan ski resorts in almost every country, but Bulgaria and Romania are both truly blessed.
In Bulgaria, I love visiting Borovets. It’s easy to get to Borovets from Sofia, there are great Borovets restaurants to enjoy, and the slopes are famous for being a great budget-friendly way to enjoy a ski vacation without sacrificing quality.
If you find yourself leaning towards a trip to Romania, check out the ski resort town of Poiana Brasov. While I personally preferred enjoying the outdoor hot tub to being cold, you’ll find the slopes are just as great as the apres ski.
…an escape from the Schengen Zone
You may be researching whether to visit Romania or Bulgaria because you’ve run out of days you can spend in the Schengen Zone. The great thing about both countries is that they are part of the EU but NOT yet full members of the Schengen Zone.
Thus you get a different set of days here (depending on your passport). These days DO NOT count towards your day in the Schengen Zone.
While neither Romania or Bulgaria is likely to break the bank, we love that both offer affordable luxury options. If your goal is to come here for a week or two, you can enjoy one or two levels nicer on your accommodations, meals, and tours compared to a similarly priced trip in Western Europe.
If you come to either Balkan country with the ability to spend $75 USD per day or more, you’ll find your money stretches very far.
For those traveling on tight budgets ($35 USD or less), you’ll find ample hostel options, cheap eats, and free activities that will help you have an amazing trip without blowing a hole in your budget.
Romania Travel Resources
If you’re going to Romania, we have a goldmine of resources for you to take advantage of! First, check out this guide to planning a trip to Romania. It’s a good starting point for planning your trip.
Where to Stay in Romania
We’re in the process of creating comprehensive guides on where to stay in different Romanian cities, but for now, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. While Romania is underrated by international travelers, many of the best places can book early during the high season because Romanians know where to go.
Bulgaria Travel Resources
If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, we have some resources to help make your first trip here a breeze. Check out our guide on how to plan your trip to Bulgaria, which goes over everything from visas to ground transportation to budgeting your trip.
You should start with our guides on what to do in Sofia, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo, which are the most popular destinations in Bulgaria you are likely to visit. We also have overviews on our favorite Bulgarian beaches and the best places to visit in Bulgaria.
You may also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva (easy – it’s pegged at 2:1 to the euro!) and what to tip in Bulgaria.
Where to Stay in Bulgaria
Whether You Choose Bulgaria or Romania, Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in either Bulgaria or Romania (or anywhere in the world)! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While the Balkans are perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” — and we think it’s true!
Pin this Guide to Romania vs Bulgaria for Your Trip!
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.