If I asked you what’s the first thing that springs to mind when I mention Romania, I bet you’d say Dracula’s Castle! I’ll be honest, that’s all I knew about Romania when I first started researching my trip there – it’s what intrigued me about Romania in the first place.
Since those early days of research, I discovered there’s a lot more to Romania then the Dracula myth, such as the picturesque towns of Brasov and Rasnov, and the old town of Bucharest.
On my recent trip to Romania, I based myself in Brasov – the jumping point for the Transylvania region. Here’s the top things to do in and around Brasov.
Bran Castle is what you probably came to Romania to see in the first place.
But first, let’s clear up the myth around Bran Castle and Dracula. Dracula is a fictional character created by Bram Stoker in the novel of the same name, but it is thought to have some relation to the life of Vlad Tepes – also known as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad grew up in the Transylvania region and would often pass through the Bran area, stopping near Bran Castle for taxes to be collected. He was known to impale his enemies and used to sign documents with his father’s name Dracul, which is close to the Romanian word for devil or dragon. But the tale was also derived from the legends of vampires throughout Transylvania. Villages in this region of Romania believe in evil spirits called “steregoi” who were just normal people during the day, but when they slept, their souls left their bodies and tormented people in their sleep.
Bram Stoker’s tale is also said to be linked to the shocking exploits of 17th century Hungarian countess Elisabeth Bathory – a serial killer who was said to be a real life vampire because of the way she treated her victims.
Dracula is also set in Transylvania and Bran Castle is the only castle existing in Transylvania that fits Stoker’s description in his novel, and is therefore linked with the figure.
Bran Castle sits on top of a hill in the tiny town of Bran (blink and you’ll miss it). It is believed to have been built in the 1300s. It is known that it was used in defence against the Ottoman Empire in the mid 1400s.
Wind your way through souvenir shops selling traditional Romanian clothing, cheeses and souvenirs and up the hill to the castle.
Entrance is $A11 and the ticket gives you access inside the castle. You can walk through the inside of the castle and the balcony areas. Signage explains each of the rooms and also gives you a detailed history of how Bran Castle became associated with Dracula and the mythology around vampires.
If you’re not interested in the inside of the castle, save your money as the best view of Bran Castle is actually from the below park and it costs nothing to enter.
You can reach Bran Castle by bus in about 45 minutes from Brasov. Buses leave every hour from Bus Station 2 to the west of the city centre. You can buy a ticket on the bus for $2.25 (7 Romanian Lei).
To reach Bus Station 2 from the Brasov city centre, catch bus 41 or 16. Tickets can be bought from ticket stands at major stops such as the Central Bus/Train Station and Lovesti Plosti. Tickets are $A1.30 (4 Romanian Lei) each and are valid for two journeys. You can validate your ticket inside the bus.
On your way to or from Bran Castle, make a quick stop to check out the Rasnov Citadel. The citadel is believed to date back to the early 1200s.
There’s a chairlift up to the fortress or you can take a short hike up. The citadel offers views over Rasnov Old Town.
Explore the Old Town
My favourite part of Brasov was the colourful and winding cobblestoned streets and the Upper Promenade.
The town is quite small so you can’t get lost here. Enjoy the beautiful streets, do some shopping, and try some tasty treats along the way such as langos (fried dough typically topped with cheese and sour cream) or a piping hot Kürtös Kalács (Chimney Cake). A Kürtös Kalács is dough made into a hollow roll and then coated with your choice of toppings such as cinnamon, cinnamon sugar, cocoa, nuts or coconut. They are typically served warm – and best eaten when they’re fresh. You’re sure to smell the waft of cinnamon before you see these tasty treats!
The Upper Promenade gives you a good view of the city’s fortified walls and the Old Town. There’s signage along the way telling you about key historical buildings such as the Weaver’s Bastion. On your way back to the city centre from the promenade, make a stop at the imposing Gothic style Black Church.
Get a bird’s eye view of Brasov
You can easily spot Mt Tampa as soon as you arrive in the Old Town. Mt Tampa is the one with the Hollywood style Brasov sign up the top.
For a great view across Brasov, hike to the top of Mt Tampa or take the cable car up.
Cost of the cable car is $A3 one way or $A5 return.
You can also get a good view of the Old Town from the Brasov Citadel. The citadel is located opposite Mt Tampa on the other side of the Old Town. Signage leads you up a short but steep hill to the citadel and a great view. It’s a good spot for sunset.
Onwards from Brasov
Romania is bursting with picturesque castles and colourful Old Towns.
Other places to visit on your Romanian adventure include Peles Castle in Sinaia, and the towns of Sibiu, Sighisoara and Timisoara.
Photo supplied by Marina Zoppei.
Things You Should Know:
- Romania’s currency is the lei. 10 Romanian Lei equals about $A3.
- Trains are an efficient way to get around Romania. There are regular connections to Brasov from Bucharest and then you can go onward to the picturesque towns of Sighisoara or Sibiu. Romania is also connected by rail to Serbia and Hungary from Timisoara. You can reach Sofia in Bulgaria via bus or train from Bucharest.
- Watch out for bed bugs in Romania. Many hostels across Romania seem to have a problem with bed bugs. Check out the reviews on HostelWorld or Booking.com before you book. I recommend Umbrella Hostel in Bucharest and JugendStube Hostel in Brasov – both are very clean and modern hostels.
- Be careful with taxis in Bucharest. If you must catch a taxi, make sure they put the meter on. From the train station, use the official taxi stand. There are many signs pointing you in the right direction, however there will be many touts trying to get you to take their taxi.
- Romania gets a bad wrap in the safety stakes. Pickpocketing is common in Bucharest just like many major cities, but I felt safe walking around by myself in Bucharest during the day. In Brasov, I felt extremely safe and people were very friendly – often trying to help me and my friends with buses even when they didn’t speak any English.