Yes, ‘Dracula’s Castle’ is located in Transylvania which is within Romania, and yes, it may be the most visited attraction in Romania but there’s so much more to see and do in Romania. Besides, ‘Dracula’s Castle’ (Bran Castle) isn’t much chop, to be honest (read on to find out why.)
No dramas if you’re Australian getting into Romania. We had our passports stamped at the border and the guard asked us a couple of questions to see if we had enough money for our stay in Romania (just to make sure we weren’t going to work illegally.) As always check the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for the latest visa info.
General Advice and how much to budget
- BEWARE! Hopping on the train at Bucharest station before the train gets going you’ll be hassled by people asking for money. They often do this in a very cunning way – e.g. we had a guy who called himself the ‘train conductor’ show us to our seats, he was very friendly but a minute later he started telling us he needs money to feed 80 children.
- Expect to pay more in the Old Town of Bucharest but, on the other hand you’ll find the prices aren’t inflated as much in the Old Town of Brasov.
- In museums, castles and the Palace of the Parliament, if you want to take photos you need to pay extra (it’s sometimes as much as another admission fee). In some cases if you want to video they’ll sting you for even more money!
- We had 7 days (6 nights) in Romania and spent $50 AUD per person per day that includes accomodation, transport, eating, drinking and tours.
- We heard some stories of trains being delayed for hours but we never experienced that. Besides, the train lines run pretty much all around the country so we stuck to trains instead of buses.
- Bucharest has a well connected metro that runs to most places of note around the city limits, take advantage of it!
- If you’re coming from Moldova on a train or you’re heading into Moldova on a train expect at least a 2.5 hour wait at the border while they change the wheels on the train.
- Check out: One of the best ways to get your bearings and a quick history lesson in a big city like this is to do the Walkabout Free Tour Bucharest, our guide (Andrew) was energetic, knowledgable and funny, which made it one of the best free walking tours we’ve been on. The Palace of the Parliament is the 2nd largest building in the world (behind the Pentagon) – you can do tours of the parliament and the tunnels underneath (the labyrinth of tunnels actually connect up to every major building in the city).
- Eat: Dristor Kebab shop pretty much the cheapest place to eat in old town and it stays open till the wee hours of the morning, good kebabs and good turkish coffee! In Old Town you can expect to pay a lot more for food and drink, so if you’re looking for something cheap, venture out. Distrikt 42 is a trendy place to have a drink at in Old Town. Some tradition Romanian food you need to try is Mici or Mititei which literally means ‘small ones’ they are usually a combination of beef, pork and spices that look very similar to cevaps.
- We stayed at: Antique Hostel – great location right on the edge of old town, and an awesome building with all the facilities you need. Being a big hostel it did get a little crowded at times and we were unfortunate enough to be put in a dorm with 3 snorers…but I guess that’s the beauty of staying in dorms.
- Check out: The Walkabout Free Tour Brasov is a good way to cover the main attractions of the city in a couple of hours. On the tour they take you to The Black Church, Rope Street (which is the narrowest street in Europe) and The White Tower (which was build in the 15th century). Mount Tampa is the big mountain overlooking Brasov with the big Hollywood style Brasov sign on it. It’s a great little hike or if you’re not into hiking you can take the cable car. Rasnov Citadel is a medieval fortress built in the 13th century (about 20kms out of Brasov). Bran Castle also known as Dracula’s castle – this is because in the novel ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker, Dracula lives in a castle in Transylvania and the only castle in Transylvania that fits Bram Stoker’s description is Bran Castle. Having said that, to put it bluntly the castle is overrated and overrun with tourists. Do yourself a favour and go to Peles Castle instead. It has got to be the most impressive castle in the region, and it’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. If you stay at Kismet Dao, they can organise a private driver which can take you to Rasnov Citadel, Bran Castle and Peles Castle all in the same day – it’s 80 Romanian Lei per person ($26 AUD). They offer other tours as well that take you to other breathtaking places around Transylvania such as Transfagarasan ‘the greatest driving road in the world’ – according to Top Gear (check out the video here).
- Eat: Beraria Ciucas – big portions and delicious pub food! Ciucas is also the name of the local beer which is a must if you eat here. La Ceaun is one of the best restaurants in Brasov, but the prices are very reasonable. They serve all local dishes and the menu changes with the seasons. You’ve got to try a few local dishes like Sarmale – rolled cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meats, rices, onions and spices. Papanasi is THE traditional Romanian dessert, it’s sort of like a donut covered in sour cream and sweet jam but you have to try it yourself, because my description doesn’t do it justice.
- We stayed at: Kismet Dao awesome hostel run by a great bunch of people PLUS they have a dog, and you get a free beer and free breakfast everyday! It’s a short walk from old town and they can organise a private car to take you to the castles in Transylvania. This is the first hostel we stayed in that’s part of the Balkan Backpacker network. The Balkan Backpacker hostels are great if you’re travelling through the region. Grab a Balkan Backpacker brochure from the hostel, book your hostels directly through the particular hostel (not a hostel booking website) and you get 10% off! Plus, once you stay at 4 Balkan Backpacker hostels and get 4 stamps on your brochure, at your 5th Balkan Backpacker hostel you get a surprise! (usually free beer for the night or free laundry).
Did you know?
- Even though Romania’s last communist dictator (Nicolae Ceausescu) commissioned the building of the Palace of the Parliament he didn’t actually get to use it – the revolution happened before the building was finished. Michael Jackson was actually the first person to speak from the balcony of the enormous building to the people of Bucharest in the 1990s…although it didn’t go too smoothly – he greeted the crowd by saying “Hello Budapest”.
- Nicolae Ceausescu didn’t like Paris having the longest boulevard in Europe, because of this the Bulevardul Unirii (Union Boulevard) was built in the centre of Bucharest. Thousands of homes, churches and synagogues were razed just to make way for this boulevard which is just a little wider and a little longer than the Champs-Elysées.
- If you haven’t figured out already Romania’s last communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were crazy. They ruled the country with a brutal iron fist and millions suffered, but with the revolution in 1989, swift justice was served to the Ceausescu’s and you can actually watch the court case and their subsequent execution immediately after court on YouTube. I’m not going to share the link here but it’s easy enough to find yourself if you really want to see it.
To say Romania is a beautiful country would be an understatement. You could spend weeks and weeks just jumping from city to city in Transylvania and still not get sick of the awe-inspiring mountain ranges. Brasov was our favourite place in Romania but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Bucharest. We met a lot of travellers who thought Bucharest was…well…I won’t repeat what they said, but let’s just say they didn’t enjoy it. But to be honest we had a great time in Bucharest, you’ve got everything from a big party scene in the old town to the rich political history throughout the city’s museums. Romania – cheap and beautiful…what more could you ask for?