When we were looking at places to visit in Europe it didn’t take us long to decide on spending a substantial amount of time visiting eastern and central Europe – places we hadn’t been before. And when it came to flying from Thailand (check out our recap of Thailand) to Europe, the cheapest flight was headed to Bucharest via Athens. So in the end we said, Why not?
Bucharest, being the largest city in Romania, has most of what you’d expect from a big city. We spent the majority of our time in country here. When we told locals how long we staying in Bucharest they always responded with surprise, “Why so long?”
And while you may not need to spend as much time as we did there, Bucharest has some sights you need to see.
First and foremost is the Parliament building. Wow! Weighing in at the heaviest building in the world and 2nd largest (Pentagon is first), the Parliament building was supposed to be the crowning gem in the “Victory of Socialism”.
Keep in mind the rationing the Romanian people had to endure was the prime motivator in building this monstrosity. As an example of the rationing, consider this: during winter, a household was allowed 2 hours of heat a day; a medium-sized family received one chicken for food per week; the waiting list of a new car was 5-7 years – and even when you got it you had no say in options, nor was any gasoline available. Such are the wonders of communism. Today it remains only about half full.
Secondly, you need to go on a city tour and learn about the history of communism and the resulting revolution in the city. We chose to go on Bucharest’s Walkabout Free Tour the second day we were in the city and found it absolutely gripping. Especially so was learning about dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s last speech, which can be seen below.
The angry crowd (forced at gunpoint to hold supportive signs) cut short his speech, forcing Ceaușescu and his wife to flee the city. The revolutionaries later captured, tried and executed the dictator and his wife…on LIVE TELEVISION…on Christmas Day! (the trial and execution are also on the LiveLeak.com for those curious)
It’s a rare look into the moment a revolution begins. Seeing the look of disbelief on Ceaușescu’s face the moment he realizes something is wrong is especially satisfying.
You also must eat some traditional Romanian food. We ate at Caru’ cu Bere. Reviews were great, food was affordable, and the decor was a lot of fun. Typical Romanian dishes you can try here include:
- Sarmale, cabbage rolls filled with pork or beef.
- Typical stews and soups, which are very popular to eat in the winter and as a starter.
- Caltaboș, minced pork and rice sausages.
- Papanași for dessert, fried doughnuts topped with jam and sour cream.
When it comes to Bran, it’s international claim to fame is Dracula’s Castle, or Bran Castle. Key inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the castle now stands as the most famous landmark in Romania – and for good reason.
We were on our way to Brasov for a few days, so swinging through Bran was easy enough with our car rental. The town is small, parking is decent, and most of the economy revolves around the castle. Locals have plenty of cheesy vampire gifts around. We did our best to ignore that and headed right into the castle.
We paid about $10 for tickets plus $2.50 for access to the “torture chamber”. You can easily buy them on the Bran Castle website before you go and have them up on your phone when you want to enter the castle. It sounds melodramatic and goofy but is pretty horrifying once you get in there.
We spent most of our time in Brasov working. We were there for a few days but could have easily seen everything in an afternoon. The drive there was probably the most memorable thing about visiting Brasov.
We visited the town’s major sites, which include:
- Old Town’s Public Square
- The Black Church
- The Black and White Towers
- Rope Street, one of the most narrow roads in Europe
The Rasov Fortress (pictured below), was also a short drive away and had some fantastic ruins to explore. We also spent a couple of days working.
Beyond that, we just didn’t have a solid connection to this town. It didn’t help how rainy it was, but in reality not much else kept us wanting to explore the city.
Sibiu felt like the town we thought Brasov would be. It’s smallish and quaint, filled with shops and squares. It’s the most authentic town we visited in Romania, and if we could do it again we would spend less time in Brasov and a few more days in Sibiu.
What’s there to do? Well, if you’re looking for adventure: not much. But if you’re looking for lazy days exploring small shops and bakeries it’s perfect. Our airbnb was one street off the old town, right next to the best Romanian food we had on the trip.
Here’s what we’d recommend seeing in Sibiu:
- The Big Square and Small Square
- Piata Marta
- The Council Tower
- Liar’s Bridge
- Strada Nicolae Bălcescu
…and if you happen to be in town when there’s a local market, that’s always fun to check out.
10 days in Romania has been fantastic, although I don’t think we’d stay as long if we visited again. Our highlights were Dracula’s castle, the walking tour in Bucharest, and all of the delicious pretzels.
Have you been to Romania? Are you from Romania? What did we miss? Sound off in the comments below.