Known to many people because of Dracula, Romania was always a place I had heard about, but had no clue where it actually was. Is Transylvania an actual place or just some mythical spot made up to enhance the Dracula story? Is Dracula himself an actual person, or is he a fictional character that was said to live in Romania?
As always, the best way to find the answer to these types of questions is to simply visit the country. Since I was already in Bulgaria, visiting Romania was an easy and attainable place to get to! My first stop was the capital and largest city, Bucharest.
Unfortunately, my two-day stay in Bucharest was marred by tremendous amounts of rain. Because of this, I didn’t take many pictures to add to this post. Bucharest is a massive city (2.5 million people) that has a lot of old school communist buildings, but the city has a bit of charm to it for sure. Definitely spend a day or two checking it out.
My next stop was the more interesting Transylvania region of Romania. Brasov, supposedly the most beautiful city in Romania, is surrounded by small mountains and is extremely charming!
- A famous homemade soup restaurant in Brasov. A bowl is only $3 CDN. A bowl of sour cream is served with every meal as well!
The 7th largest city in Romania has about 250,000 people and is a short train-ride north of Bucharest (2 hours on the fast train, 4 hours on the slow one). As you can see, Brasov is a beautiful city and its main core contains a crazy amount of restaurants and cafés. There are also some nice parks in the centre and the whole city is extremely peaceful to walk around!
My next stop was Sinaia which is about an hour south of Brasov. I rented a car with some friends for 40 euros total (per day). Having a vehicle was super helpful but you can also get to pretty much any town in the area via train as Romania is nicely connected..
Sinaia is known for hiking and is a popular winter destination. Below are pictures of the Peles Castle, the largest in the region.
- In my opinion, Peles is more impressive than the famous Bran Castle (the one associated with Dracula).
- Here’s the Bran Castle. While impressive, the town is an absolute tourist trap. Be aware!
- As for Dracula, he was indeed a real person. However, he only stayed one night at the Bran Castle and his connection with the castle is mainly made up. He was from Bucharest and he ruled there successfully for a number of years. Dracula was initially known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ and he is a hero in the area for routinely fighting off the more powerful armies of Ottomans and Turks!
My next stop in Transylvania was Sibiu. Located right in the centre of Romania, this 150,000 person city has a lot of charm to it. You really only need a day or two to explore as it’s relatively small and everything is basically situated near the old town.
- cabbage rolls, pork and a type of porridge/mashed potatoes. A typical dish found in Romania. Of course there’s some sour cream involved…
In 2007, Sibiu was named the European Capital of Culture (along with Luxembourg City, Luxembourg) and it’s easy to see why! It’s such a quiet and peaceful place and in my opinion, a must-see if you’re in the Transylvania region.
A town close to the Serbian border, Timisoara is roughly a 6 hour bus ride from Sibiu ($16 cdn). With a population of 320,000 Timisoara is the 3rd largest city in Romania. It is rich with revolutionary history and it contains the most parks of any city in Romania. Amazingly, it was also the first European city with street lights (in 1884), only trailing New York on a global scale!
Timisoara, sometimes called ‘the Vienna of Romania’, is currently under city-wide construction to prepare for 2021 as it has been nominated to be the ‘Culture Capital of Europe’. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the city at it’s most beautiful stage, but it would be nice to return sometime between 2018-2020 as Timisoara shows tremendous potential!
If you do happen to stop in Timisoara, you have to visit the museum dedicated to the revolution of 1989.
- You are showed a 25-minute movie clip containing footage and testimony of what occurred during December 1989.
- Here’s a very quick overview of what happened! The communist government in charge for 42 years was overthrown during violent protests over the span of under two weeks. Mass demonstrations started in Timisoara and spread throughout the country. On Christmas day 1989, the long-time leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, was put on trial. The entire process lasted only a few hours before he and his wife were ordered in front of a firing squad.
- In the span of two weeks, Romania changed more than it had over the previous 42 years.
- The first free elections were held in 1992.
- Here’s a photo showing the mass amount of people participating in the demonstrations.
- The Romanian flag with a hole through the centre, the flag of the revolution. 1100 people died during the revolution.
- Apparently, Romania had one of the most brutal secret police forces in the world throughout the communist times.
Alright, well that sums up my 8 days in Romania. It would have been nice to check out the eastern part of the country as well, but time didn’t allow me to do that. I really enjoyed Romania and I would definitely recommend spending some time there. In my opinion, the Transylvania region is the nicest part of Romania. Brasov is an excellent city and the surrounding mountains and greenery are a nice change from the relatively flat landscape of the rest of the country. For real, it felt like I was driving through the Canadian prairies at times….
Another bonus is that the Romanian language uses the Latin alphabet and it’s language resembles French and Italian. In fact, ‘Merci’ is the common way to say thank you! While not as well-off as its Western European neighbours, in my estimation, Romania has a much more Western feel to it than nearby countries in the East.
So, go visit and decide for yourself!