Horse-drawn carts, hearty cuisine, Dracula vibes, Medieval fortresses, German old towns, stunning green mountains and even a subterranean theme park.

Despite a wealth of memorable sights, Transylvania somehow hasn’t yet grown into a mainstream tourist destination which makes Romania’s central region one of Europe’s last hidden gems. But it’s only a matter of time until the tour bus hordes start pouring in so get down there soon!

Suggested Transylvania Itinerary 

If you’re up for a road trip (which I highly recommend in Romania) here’s a driving itinerary I’d like to suggest. It works well as a loop for a 1-week trip, but you can probably fit most of this into 5 days if you’re a more intense traveller. As the map shows, the loop only really involves the centre of the country.

Transylvania Road Trip Itinerary Map

 

We did the loop clockwise from Cluj Napoca which has flights to London, but you can also start in the capital Bucharest with a few more hours of driving to account for. Sibiu is another airport city to look into.

The Medieval Gem of Brașov

Brasov, Romania Panorama

Best remembered for its Hollywood-like sign overlooking the city from the steep hill above, Brașov was our favourite Romanian city. With its stunning and large old town, lush hilly backdrops and just a very welcoming atmosphere, Brasov proved a great base for a few days.

As you wander through the town, make sure to find one of the narrowest streets in the world, Strada Sforii. Then on a finer day take a cable car up to the green hills above where the big “BRASOV” sign is to get a stunning panoramic view. And you’ll struggle to miss the Black Church (Biserica Neagră), another legacy of the German times and one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture you’ll find.

 

About Hidden Gem Guide - Nikita

If you’re not keen on a road trip, Brașov would serve as a great base for your Transylvania trip. And if you’re starting in Bucharest it’s just over 3 hours’ train ride away.

Fortified Church Villages of Viscri & Biertan

Viscri Fortified Church, Transylvania, Romania

Times were tough back in the Middle Ages for the villages that were too small to build castles and fortresses. So they fortified their churches instead, leaving a special legacy for the lucky few tourists who venture out on the rugged roads to the few villages where they remain perfectly intact.

A couple of the best options (pick one) are the villages of Viscri and a very German-sounding Biertan. And the reason it sounds German is that they were built by the many German settlers (Saxons) like plenty of Transylvania’s fortified old towns. After visiting the fortifications, you can enjoy a traditional homemade meal literally in some of the locals’ homes (which sort of still count themselves as restaurants).

Sighișoara: Vlad Dracul’s Birth Town

Sighisoara Fortress Castle, Transylvania, Romania

No-one will know for sure now, but allegedly the infamous Vlad Dracul was born in Sighișoara, his birth house turned into a tourist-trap restaurant called Casa Vlad Dracul. Vlad or not, the beautifully scenic town of Sighișoara is full of well-preserved medieval architecture and cute cobbled streets with colourful houses. It’s a small town so you can really see everything in a day but is worth spending a night at least for the spooky walk in the dark!

Sighisoara Cobbled Streets - Romania's Travel Itinerary

Peleș Castle

Peles Castle, Transylvania's Road Trip Itinerary

As far as castles go, the over-hyped Bran Castle (which pretty much has nothing to do with Dracula) was a tourist-conveyor-belt kind of disappointment. Peleș Castle, on the other hand, impressed even the more castle-numb tourist like myself – both for its green, mountainous surroundings and its Neo-Renaissance architecture. It’s really more of a palace than a castle, and if you have interest and patience for that sort of thing then get a tour of the countless lavishly decorated rooms. It’s overwhelmingly posh. If that’s not your thing, just go for a scenic walk in the area and enjoy the Carpathian views.

Fagaraș Mountains and Transfagarașan Road

Fagaras Mountain View & Road, Romania

If you drive down from the North side, the Fagaraș mountain range opens up dramatically in full view to contrast the vast green plains you’re approaching from. 

Home to the now-famous Transfagarașan Road with its countless serpentines, it makes for one of the most stunning drives you’ll enjoy on an asphalted road. At least that’s what they said on Top Gear… because when we got there in late May, the top section was still closed off due to snow. Yes, apparently it’s only usually open from June until September and even that’s not 100% guaranteed.

Balea Cable Car Accident, Romania Fagaras Mountains

The alternative, then, is a cable car up to the glacial Lake Balea at the top of the pass. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately!) for us, the cable cars suffered an accident 15 minutes before we were about to get on, injuring some poor guys inside and forcing everyone still up at the Lake to be evacuated by foot as the only way back home. So while this, I’m sure, was a one-off freak accident, take the Balea Cable Car at your own peril!

Balea Hike Fagaras Mountains

Plan B (C?) then, was to go for a nice hike up through the evergreen forest to Balea Waterfall which is what we ended up doing. That took around 45 minutes although I think could have taken less. Fagaraș mountain range offers many more hiking options too, with the most popular being along its dramatic sharp ridges reaching up to 2,500m.

Sibiu – The City of Eyes

Sibiu Old Town, Transylvania's Road Trip itinerary

The city of Sibiu is best remembered for its eye-like rooftops, the attic windows giving you the feeling that you’re always being watched. Eyes aside, Sibiu has a lot going for it culturally and gastronomically, and has so much Saxon history that at times it’s hard not to feel like you’re strolling through an old Bavarian Stadt instead. And yes, it also has a great Christmas Market if you choose to brave the Romanian winter. 

Sibiu Roofs with Eyes

Turda Salt Mines: An underground theme park

Turda Theme Park

Where else in the world can you find an active subterranean amusement park?! If you’re intrigued by the idea of rowing a boat 100m below ground in an abandoned salt mine, then be sure to add this little gem to your itinerary. Salina Turda is by no means a world-class theme park nor does it pretend to be. But it will most certainly leave an impression, and is a great place to hide from the summer heat as the temperature is pretty much an ever-constant +12 (so do bring a jumper!)

Turda Salt Mines

Cluj Napoca: Romania’s Little Hungary

Cluj Napoca

The lively city of Cluj is a great option to start or end your trip, served by a decent number of low-cost flights. Thanks to a large student population it has a young, buzzing vibe and with plenty of outdoor spaces made us feel we spent more time seeing it. 

Once under Hungarian rule, Cluj still has a large Hungarian diaspora and you’ll find this dotted around the city centre – like the Hungarian state theatre and opera. It’s worth spending a night if you can.

 


What’s the best time to visit Transylvania / Romania?

June to October would be your best bet. As always in Europe, August can get scorching hot and busier so perhaps avoid if you don’t like heat. We visited in late May which was already warmish, but as we’ve learned this can be a rainy period. And the Transfagaras road is unlikely to open until June/early July due to snow high up.

What’s driving like in Romania?

Driving actually felt pretty safe against what you might expect. Didn’t notice much of the erratic driving seen in some parts of Southern or Eastern Europe other than the occasional aggressive overtake. Watch out for the occasional horse carts on the roads!

Most main roads are in a good condition. However if you’re visiting some of the fortified villages or other off-the-highway destinations expect lots of potholes and far slower progress than your GPS might suggest. A comprehensive car insurance would be wise.

How Expensive is Romania?

Romania is a cheap, great-value destination from a European perspective. You can quite comfortably find a decent Airbnb apartment or hotel room for €45-55 / night (Remember local currency is Lei rather than Euros so don’t forget to exchange).

Dining out won’t hit the wallet either (but you might struggle more with the amount of food to finish!). Expect to pay around €10-15 for a typical meal, with a drink.

Most attractions won’t charge more than €5 for tickets.

Language barriers in Romania

Unlike with its’ neighbours, Romanian is a Latin language with plenty of guessable words especially if you happen to speak some Italian or even Spanish. Otherwise, most younger Romanians will understand some English so you’ll rarely struggle to be understood.

Quick tip on pronouncing words with letter “ș”. It means “sh” so “Sighisoara” will sound like “Sigishoara”, Brasov” will be “Brashov”.


 

So there you have it. A wonderful European hidden gem of a region to explore, which at times might seem more like somewhere in Germany than in Eastern Europe. But definitely at the prices of Easter Europe.

Lloyds Horse Spotted in Transylvanian Countryside, Romania

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