In February I had the pleasure of travelling to Romania for a quick getaway. I grew up in Hungary but never had the chance to explore the area much. When return flights for €40 became available, I notified 3 of my friends and we quickly booked and packed our bags. With only 5 days to travel around, we decided to narrow our scope to the capital, Bucharest and a few cities in Transylvania.
Bucharest is a great city that displays much of the charm and intrigue that can be found in other former eastern-block countries. In some ways the city resembles Budapest, but clearly has a much stronger Soviet influence on the architecture. One of the most notable things in Romania is its rich cultural mixture with Latin, German, French, Hungarian, and ex-Soviet elements present in the language, cuisine, architecture, and culture.
To get around Bucharest, your best bet is to use public transport, especially the subway. At only 4 Lei (90 Cents), the tickets are cheap; accessibility is also not an issues as the metro stops near the most important stops.
For accommodation, it is best to keep an eye out for good prices through the usual booking sites. If you are travelling in a group, you can rent a room for about €7–10 euros per night. Some hostels are even cheaper. Whatever the case, staying in the Old Town near the University Place is definitely recommended for getting around.
In terms of sights, I wouldn’t describe Bucharest as a city that is bursting at the seems with monuments and places to see, rather what I enjoyed was walking around the city and enjoying the Old Town. As such, the Old Town is definitely one of the major places worth visiting along with the University Place as it is pleasant to walk around and sit into one of the many bistros and cafes.
One of the major sights to see in Bucharest is the Palace of the Parliament, a.k.a. ‘Ceausescu’s Palace’, which is the second biggest building in the world after the Pentagon. The building is truly impressive and very indicative of the former dictator’s autocratic rule. The building is immense so it is quite hard to take a picture that does its size justice. The building also holds a museum, though we did not take the time to visit it.
Another area worth visiting is the diplomatic area towards the Arcul de Triumf, an arc that strongly resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Unfortunately it was being restored when we saw it, but it is definitely a site worth seeing. The nearby statue of Charles DeGaulle is much less impressive in person than on photographs.
In terms of sights, there are many nice museums and buildings, but the best bet is to just walk around and discover what the city has to offer.
The food in Romania is great and is quite similar to German and Hungarian food. Sarmalute (Stuffed Cabbage) and Ciorba de Perisoare (meatball soup) were personal favourites of mine. There are many little cafes and bistros to eat at, but the one I would most recommend is Caru’ cu Bere; a traditional Romanian restaurant in a really beautiful building. It is not expensive and is quite reminiscent of the 1960s.
The best thing about Bucharest must be the nightlife. Cheap student bars and edgy clubs make for a very vibrant and exciting nightlife. With beers, shots, and mixers usually costing below €1.50, and the place we visited having free entry, it made for nights out that weren’t heavy on the budget. The best place by far is Club A. It is a bar/club that serves quality alcohol at a ridiculously price (1L of Staropramen for €1.20 on Thursdays). The music isn’t bad either. As for nightclubs, Kulturhaus makes for an amazing club night with cheap cocktails and other drinks, a large underground venue, and great music ranging from pop to electronic. One thing you will have to brace yourself for is secondary smoke: every club and bar is full of people smoking, and ventilation is often lacking.
All in all, Bucharest is a great city for having fun and it has a lot of culture to offer too. It went far beyond my expectations and it is definitely worth a visit for those that want a quick getaway for a few days.
After a couple of days in Bucharest, we rented a car and decided to do a little roadtrip to Transylvania. Our first stop on the list was Brasov, a small city about 4 hours drive from the capital. The road to Brasov was a strange one,with scenery ranging from soviet pipelines to Transylvanian wilderness. We saw a lot of strange things on the way there, making the drive alone worth it.
I was pleasantly surprised by Brasov; a nice city with some interesting sites. The main things to see in Brasov are the Town Square and the Black Church, both are definitely worth a visit. There is also a funicular, though we didn’t have the chance to go on it.
The main site in the area, of course, is Bran’s Castle, a.k.a. ‘Dracula’s Castle’. The castle was supposedly one of the residencies of Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The castle is truly breathtaking and the area definitely gives you that ‘Transylvania feel’. The building is beautiful, especially from the outside. Inside, there are all sorts of exhibits, many on Dracula, though I must say that, to my pleasant surprise, they didn’t overdo it. Bran’s Castle is definitely one of the lost wonders of Europe and is most certainly worth a visit.
In Brasov, we once again rented an apartment, and I can only assume that there is slightly less availability for hostels. In terms of food, we discovered a brilliant restaurant called Gaura Dulce that was cheap and served amazing traditional food of the region. Ticked away behind the Casa Hirscher, Gaura Dulce is a chic traditional restaurant with a great menu. The Goulash Soup and the Sarmalute were particularly good. There was also a great lounge-style bar on the main square, on the same side as the KFC. I cannot remember the name of it, but it was a really nice place, perfect for a couple of drinks after dinner.
After Brasov we decided to drive to Sighisoara, a small but stunning little town about 2 hours by car from Brasov. Unfortunately we arrived there at night, but it was definitely worth it. The town is small, quiet, but has some very impressive buildings. The most notable monuments are the beautiful Basilica by the river (which actually had bats flying around it) and the castle where Vlad the Impaler was raised as a child. There are some nice cafes and bars, but not too much else in terms of entertainment. Walking through the town I couldn’t help but feel that a lot more could be done with it as it really is a beautiful place to visit. The drive from Brasov to Sighisoara was particularly good as we drove past the Transylvanian mountains, still covered in snow.
A lot of the thrill of visiting these towns is driving through Transylvania as it is quite unique in many senses, from the small town you drive past, to the wild Transylvanian scenery.
Our last stop on our trip was Sibiu, a couple of hours from Brasov. Sibiu was also a nice town, with a large European-style town square, though there was less going on than in Brasov. Most of the city can be seen in just one morning or afternoon, the main sights being the Main Square (Piata Mare), the Tower, the Cathedral, the Church, and the Brukenthal Museum. Apart from the Museum, which was nothing special, I would recommend seeing all of them, especially the tower as it provides an amazing view of the entire city and the Transylvanian mountains in the background.
We had dinner at a restaurant called Crama Sibiul Vechi, which was a cozy little traditional Romanian restaurant. The food was very good and the atmosphere pleasant. In terms of nightlife, Sibiu has little to offer, but there was one great place I would recommend: the Music Pub. This was a vintage, pop-arty, music-themed pub that had a great atmosphere, cheap drinks, good music, and amazing pizzas. The pizzas were huge and pretty cheap. The Music Pub is definitely a good place to chill out at night if you are visiting Sibiu, and it is a surprisingly cool place considering the lacking alternatives. You can also go there for lunch if you want to share a massive pizza with friends.
All in all I must say that our trip to Romania was great. In only 5 days we managed to see a lot, enjoy the nightlife to its fullest, and heavily indulge in the country’s cuisine. The highlights for me were the Bucharest nightlife and Bran’s Castle, both far better than I expected. Romania is definitely a place I would recommend if you are looking for an affordable getaway or for something different from the rest of Europe. I think that pairing Bucharest, Sibiu, Brasov, and Sighisoara together definitely makes for a great trip that is both manageable and exciting.