My very first day in Romania (back in 2016) was quite jarring. This was the most ‘Eastern European’ place I’d been yet, despite having visited Prague, Budapest, Vienna and the like. It’s much different from those cities, which I would classify as more ‘Central European’. I arrived at a fairly chaotic airport, and tried to order an iced coffee to deal with the sweltering heat. I received, alongside many confused looks from the barista, a hot coffee with two iced cubes in it.
Honestly, I use iced coffee as a measure of how easy a place is going to be to get around as a tourist: if I can get the kind of iced coffee I want, it’s going to be pretty easy. If I get something like the above, it’s gonna be tough.
And tough it was! The bus ticket to the train station was hard to procure, the bus ride was confusing and sweaty, and at the train station I was immediately accosted by children trying to sell me flowers, which is always sad.However, it was also worth it. To be honest I didn’t reaaally do a lot – you’ll see from the photos, but I really just relaxed after a busy week in Cappadocia and before some epic adventures in Tanzania. From what I saw, though, Romania is absolutely stunning. The language barrier is high, but the locals are super friendly. The scenery is worth the sweaty train rides, and the cities are not at all what you would expect from the home of Dracula.
I stopped for one night in Bucharest, thinking I wouldn’t like the city much, and then had three nights planned at a hostel in more rural Brasov, mainly because a dog lived there. Here’s what happened!
Amazed by Bucharest
Oh my god, Bucharest was amazing. I genuinely had no idea that this city was everything I had ever dreamed about in a city. Years ago I wrote a post about 10 places I could see myself living, and Bucharest was on the list – here’s why, and I don’t think I can say it any better.
I literally stayed in Bucharest for a night solely because I had a flight out of the city the next day. I did absolutely zero research, had seen absolutely no pictures, and basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. I arrived at my randomly chosen hostel, befriended an Australian girl, went up to the rooftop bar and basically had a heart attack because it was so beautiful. On some streets, I could have sworn I was in Paris. Bucharest hosts a very unusual combination of rundown, post-Communism buildings and absolutely architecturally stunning buildings. Walking around was a treat, and the nightlife was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The area I stayed in was buzzing and I could have stayed a week. I also knew absolutely nothing about Romanian history, and my free walking tour was very illuminating and really taught me a lot about the hardships this country has gone through. Our guide was probably in his 20’s, and he still had stories to share about not having electricity and free access to media – absolutely unbelievable. It’s cheap, it’s got a language I could learn (Romanian is very similar to Italian!), it’s historical and it’s beautiful. It’s got it all.
What did I do in Brasov?
Answer: not much. I’ve written about this briefly, but it was extremely rainy the whole time I was there and I just couldn’t be bothered to explore. The area I was staying in was slightly outside the tourist centre. It would have been completely doable to walk into the historic area, but instead I frequented the same restaurant (Simone’s), hung out in the common room and cuddled the hostel dog.
The one thing I regret a bit is that some locals at the hostel invited me out for a bike ride one evening, and I said no because I was feeling shy and scared. Tanzania, directly after this trip, really broke open my shell but I was just not in the mindset to go on random adventures. I wish I had gone, but hindsight is 20/20!
I see online that the hostel I stayed at, Kismet Dao, has moved to a different location within Brasov, that is apparently even more convenient – so I would definitely still recommend it.
A Day Trip to Sighisoara
One day in Brasov, sick of laying around watching Youtube videos and waiting for my laundry to dry, I decided to embark on a day trip to Sighisoara. It’s quite easy to get the train there, and it was roughly $15 Canadian each way when I want. You do want to make sure you check departures and recent information first though – I always use the Man in Seat 61 for train information.
Yet again, it was rainy. I walked around for a while, but it was grim and cloudy, and not very enjoyable. The town is famous for being very colourful, and it certainly was, but the clouds diminished the effect quite a bit.
Regardless, it is a very pretty town and I would recommend visiting on a sunny day. However, it is quite small and it’s frustrating to take a two hour train ride to visit a town for about an hour. This blog post from the Blonde Gypsy has some better photos but pretty much agrees with me: it’s lovely, but it’s not very lively.
On the way back from Brasov to Bucharest to catch a flight out, I knew I needed to stop in one place: Sinaia. On a future trip there is tons of hiking in this area I’d love to do, but this time I just stopped for a few hours and visited a bucket list destination: Peles Castle.
The most popular castle to visit in Romania is the rumoured ‘Dracula castle’, or Bran Castle. To be honest, it just doesn’t look that pretty to me, so I opted for Peles Castle instead. I first saw this place on World of Wanderlust, which was the first travel blog that ever showed me women could travel the world alone. She inspired a lot of my first travels, and even some places in the last year – Dubai, Mostar, and Hong Kong are all places I added to the list because of her.
Anyway, this castle also featured in the god-awful Netflix Christmas Movie entitled A Christmas Prince, which I absolutely love. So regardless of your motivation, it’s worth a stop. The castle is walkable from the train station, so I asked a nearby hotel if I could leave my bag for a few hours and then came back to grab it before catching a train back to Bucharest. Easy peasy, and really broke up the journey!