For many, Romania is a country steeped in legends of vampires with spooky, gothic castles. To be honest, those legends are what peaked my interest and drew me to Romania to start with, but the more I looked into Romania as a destination, the more I realized that it had a lot more to offer than just the Dracula legend.
I ended up spending a week in this beautiful eastern European country, and I quickly fell in love with it. While English isn’t as abundant throughout the Romania in many other European countries, the people are incredibly kind and helpful and I always felt safe. The scenery is beautiful, and the castles definitely did not disappoint.
I easily could have spent more time here, however a week was enough to win me over. So if you are planning a week-long vacation to Romania and want to get a taste of a little bit of everything, this is what I suggest.
Days 1-2: Bucharest
Bucharest has it’s own airport which is serviced by many budget European airlines. You can also arrive by train or bus from neighbouring countries. Chances are you will get in partway through the day which is perfect, because I think Romania’s capital is worth a day and a half. It’s doable in a day if need be, but for a capital city that most people choose to bypass, I rather enjoyed my visit. Here are my recommendations:
Take a Walking Tour
Romania, Like many other cities in Europe, has ‘free’ walking tours that operate for free on the assumption that visitors will tip at the end. I used Walkabout Tours and was quite happy with the result. Guides will share stories from the time of Vlad the Impaler to the most recent history. Tours are about 2 hours long and run daily at 10:30am and 6pm.
The Palace of Parliament
The Palace of Parliament, for me, was a definite must. Especially after hearing so much about it from the walking tour. It is absolutely massive and the opulence is mind blowing. There are multiple levels of ticket prices for this attraction depending on the tour you take so check the schedule ahead of time. Important note: a passport is necessary upon arrival and be prepared for airport-style security checks. Those wanting to take pictures should expect to pay an additional camera fee.
Take a Break in the Parks
Stroll through any of Bucharest’s parks or gardens; there are quite a few. They are perfect places to get away from the crowds for a bit of just sit back and relax. I loved the Cismigiu Gardens.
Wander through Old Town
Like in any other city, Old Town is always fun to explore. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes here as well making it the perfect place to end your day. Some of my favourite Old Town stops include: the Macca Villacrasse Passage, the oldest church in Bucharest, and the magical Carturesti Carusel bookshop. If you are in the mood for traditional Romanian food be sure to grab a meal and Caru’ Cu Bere. The food is good and reasonably priced, but it’s the interior of the building that is the real highlight. Be sure to go early to get a seat inside or else you will end up like me and just be able to grab a quick peek.
The city itself is pretty walkable. There is a metro system but if the weather is good it’s better to be above ground and see more.
Day 3: Day Tour From Bucharest
Travellers on a time crunch should plan an additional day in Bucharest for a day tour to see two of the country’s most famous castles and some of the picturesque countryside. I used Bucharest City Tours Two Castles in One Day tour and loved it. It’s a long day with an early departure and a late arrival but it’s worth it. From the fairytale Peles Castle to the infamous Bran Castle, a traditional Romanian lunch, and a visit to the picturesque town of Brasov, it’s the perfect way to explore some of Romania’s most renowned attractions. There are also plenty of great stories to be told on the tour, including the truth behind the legend of Dracula.
Days 4-6: Transylvania: Sibiu/ Sighisoara
From busy Bucharest I recommend traveling into the smaller towns of Transylvania. Public transportation is available by bus or train. The train is often much slower, but it is very picturesque and relaxing. If you don’t like to rush, it’s probably best to stick to just one of these small towns, however both looked so pretty I decided to get up early to explore and travel in order to have the time to see a bit of both.
Sibiu’s cobblestone streets and multi-coloured houses look straight from a storybook. The tiny medieval town is definitely a tourist attraction, but not nearly as crowded as other similar medieval cities in Western Europe.
Old town is divided into upper and lower old town. Upper town is where most of the historic sights are, but lower town is quite picturesque as well. Be sure to visit the citadel area and climb the Tower of Stairs for the views, and the legendary Liar’s Bridge which is said to move, shake, and even throw off any liars who dare standing on it’s planks.
Sibiu is about 3.5 hours by bus from Bucharest or nearly 6 hours by train.
Sighisoara is a small fortified city and UNESCO world heritage site, but it is probably best known as the (supposed) birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. Like Sibiu, Sighisoara is lined with cobblestone streets and colourful houses.
The fortified city is where the majority of attractions are. Must visits include the clock tower (also the museum of history). Visitors can climb to the top for beautiful panoramic views of Sighisoara and the surrounding area. Be sure to also check out the many towers, and the Scholar’s Stairs which lead to the church on the hill. This church has a crypt underneath that visitors can also check out. You can also visit the house that Vlad the Impaler was supposedly born in, however many claim it to be quite gimmicky.
Sighisoara is about 3 hours from Sibiu.
Days 6-7: Cluj- Napoca (Cluj)
The final stop on this week-long Romania itinerary is Cluj. Though not as large as Bucharest it is one of the biggest cities in Romania.
The central core of Cluj is walkable but there are also plenty of bus lines, taxis, or bikes for hire. I always prefer to walk as it’s easier to explore. One of my favourite areas to explore was around Union Square. Union Square itself is surrounded by many attractions including the Teleki and Banffy Palaces, a Franciscan Monastery, the first union church in the world, and Old St. Michaels Church which hosts murals dating back to the 15th century. The area around Union Square is filled with shops, and smaller alleyways and courtyards with older churches, medieval sections of walls etc. that are fun to explore as well.
For the best view in the city be sure to go to Cetatuia Hill (Fortress Hill). It’s an easy walk from the city centre and not too steep at all. There are plenty of benches around to enjoy the view overlooking old town Cluj.
Cluj is primarily a student town, which means it has lots of nightlife options including karaoke bars, clubs, cafes, and bars. My first night I club hopped until 5am. The second night was much quieter (especially since I had a 7am flight out the next morning) and we spent it at a really cool spot called Samsara Tea House.Visitors here sit on cushions by low tables and can order all kinds of drinks ranging from milkshakes to alcoholic beverages, and shisha.
Cluj has a small airport making it easy to get out and fly to other European cities. There are also daily train routes to Budapest. If you are departing from Bucharest you can also take an overnight train back to the capital from Cluj.
Romania is an amazing country with lots to offer. From busy city centres to picturesque medieval towns there is something for everyone, and a week is just enough time to get a good taste of it all.
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*This article was update January 2018