Transylvania is a region known to all as the home of Dracula but visited by few. The city of Brașov is set in the heart of this region in Romania and surrounded by the Carpathian Mountain range. It is a gorgeous town off the beaten path and one of our most enjoyable visits within Europe.
Brașov is has a population of 275,000, but feels very much like like a small town. The city is known both for ancient Saxon walls and lively cafes. It was fortified in the early 1200s, but has traces of continuous inhabitation since 9,500 BC. King Andrew II commanded the fortification of the former Hungarian border which included what is now Brașov. A citadel was constructed to help defend the area which included three stone walls, with the fourth defended by the mountains themselves. Some of the original walls and bastions still remain.We spent four nights in Brașov as part of a ten night visit to Romania. This country is the sixth stop in our round the world trip and the last before moving to our next continent, Africa. During our visit, $1 USD was trading for 3.88 RON. We were able to roughly calculate conversion costs by using 1/4 of the stated price.
We arrived in Romania by plane from Prague. We had a direct hour and forty-five minute flight to Bucharest with Tarom, which cost $119 per person and included lunch. If you are traveling to adjacent countries, for example Hungary to Romania, look into sleeper trains which will combine your hotel and transportation costs in one.
Upon arrival, we took the 780 airport transport bus to the main train station which took around 40 minutes. The ticket for the bus had to be purchased from the window attendant, which is located outside on the bottom level of the airport arrival deck. Tickets were issued on a reloadable card required for Bucharest local transportation. The bus left the bus stop next to the ticket booth on the :20 and :50 of each hour (780 schedule). The one trip price of the ticket was 7 RON. If you wanted to go directly to the city center, there is an airport transfer bus numbered 783 which leaves every twenty minutes (783 schedule). We took a two and a half hour train from Bucharest to Brașov after our flight in. The main train station is Gara de Nord, which connects all major train routes to and from the city. We had read horror stories about the seediness of this place before arrival, but found it to be better than our expectations. The ticket for the train could be purchased online through the Romanian train system website (CFR). The site is user friendly and has English options. The ticket cost around 45 RON per person for a second class seat which included a required seat reservation and 5% discount for purchasing an e-ticket. Make sure to check the offers tab on the website to see if there are any specials running. There was a 20% discount for traveling on Monday-Thursday and Saturday if traveling with more than 2 individuals (mini-group), much like the Einfach-Raus Ticket in Austria (discussed in our Austria post).
The train was an ancient relic, likely from the days of communism. The A/C was broken in our car and the afternoon sun was cooking the inside through the windows. We did not have enough water and the train did not have a food cart, so plan accordingly. Some trains are better than others.While in Brașov, we stayed in the old town area with a window view of the flanking mountains. We had a Airbnb private room in a flat with a very engaging host who gave us tips on things to see in the area, including some which are not known to tourists. We had an amazing experience, and highly recommend a stay here! Airbnb title: “Private Room in Brașov, Old Town Center”.
We visited the main highlights including the Black Church, citadel walls, town square, the Rope Street, and the castle. We also took a one day trip to visit the neighboring towns of Bran and Râșnov, and another day hiking to the Brașov sign and through nearby Seven Ladders Canyon. Our host shared an informative short YouTube video, This is Brașov, which shows the town and surrounding areas.
The old town area is centered around a cobblestone town square, lined with colorful shops and restaurants. There is a Hollywood style sign on the overlooking mountain which can be seen from just about anywhere in town. An ancient castle guards the town, which is a short walk from the square.We took a walking tour around the city with, Walkabout, a NGO sponsored company. Our guide, Simona, was the best walking tour guide we have had to date. She was very energetic, informative, and humorous.
A beautiful basilica, referred to as the Black Church, is located near the square. The name originated from a fire which turned the stone walls black in 1689, although it has since been cleaned and no longer matches the title.We walked through the narrowest street in town, Rope Street, which is the last remaining passage used by medieval fireman to get between the walls of buildings. The buildings in town were constructed with adjoining walls to create an interior barrier in case the citadel walls were breached, but needed a quicker passage for fire protection. The street is just wide enough for a man carrying two pails of water.Other stops included Catherine’s Gate and St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Both of these buildings display a large tower surrounded by four small towers, which signified the ability of those in command to exercise capital punishment on criminals at the time.
The Brașov sign overlook is accessible by a one hour hike up the mountain, or via Tampa cable car. The hike took us just under an hour to complete on a relatively nice trail with wide switchbacks. Despite the grade of the mountain, the zigzag path keeps the angle low for a moderate climb. We went after a rainstorm, so the worn rocky path was slick. Hiking boots would be recommended.Later that day, we took a trip to Seven Ladders Canyon for some more hiking. The reserve is accessible via bus 17B which leaves every hour and ten minutes from the main train and bus station (Gara Brasov) to stop Danbul Morii. From there, you have to walk through a neighborhood before arriving at the entrance of the park. It is an hour hike along the yellow marked trail (follows red trail which was flooded in parts) to get to the canyon, which has a 10 RON entry fee. You can also try a risky self guided zipline course down for 50 RON. The narrow canyon is cut through the Jurassic limestone walls, and includes seven waterfalls throughout. The original ladders and platforms were renovated in 2013 apparently making them much safer. The area is accessed by a series of metal ladders and walkways which make their way over the water, and tend to get slick even without rain.
We only learned about this hike from our host, so there were relatively few people in the area. We regret not having more time here. The trail continues on to a ridge on the Piatra Mare Mountains which is supposed to have amazing views.
Our hike from the bus stop to the Canyon was a two and a half hour round trip. You can hike to a old stone house which is advertised as a five hour trip. If you hike to the top, the round trip time will be between five and seven hours.
Our day trip to Bran gave us a chance to visit the infamous Bran Castle. This was supposedly the building which inspired Bram Stoker to create Dracula’s Castle. Other than this, it has almost nothing to do with the story or the legendary ruler, Vlad Tepes Dracul, or Vlad The Impaler. The castle is extremely touristy and was completely shoulder to shoulder with people throughout the narrow hallways. The adult entry is 35 RON. All the signs are also in English so you don’t need an audioguide.
The trip to Bran takes about 40 minutes and is accessible by charter bus from station Autogara 2. It is not a numbered bus, but has a sign in the front window which includes Bran in the short list of stops. The ride costs 7 RON and is payable to the bus driver.
On the return trip, we stopped by Râșnov to eat lunch and see the last fully intact citadel in the area. As we discovered, the town is very light on restaurant options so lunch was not very enjoyable. You can hike to the citadel and Râșnov sign or take an option elevator for 12 RON. The citadel entry is an additional 12 RON. Both are only payable in cash. It is an easy 15 min hike with wide switch backs and stairs.In our opinion, Bran and Râșnov could both be skipped if short on time, or to allow more exploration of the Carpathian Mountains around Brașov and Seven Ladders. There is also a small lake to the south of Brașov which locals visit regularly.
At the end of our visit, our host took us to a spot with an overlook of town to watch the sunset. He then sent us on the train to Sighișoara with a liter of his family’s homemade wine. While in town, we found a few restaurants which we really enjoyed:
- La Ceaun – Traditional Romanian soups and stews with bread, all homemade in large cauldrons. Our meals cost around 12 RON ($3) each and were very good.
- Terroirs Boutique Du Vin – Wine bar and restaurant. We decided to have the first date night of our trip and went here. They have 500 wines and no wine list. The waiter chooses tastes based on your food pairing and descriptions of your preferred style of wine. Two dinners and three total glasses of wine ran about 124 RON ($32).
- Gigi’s Bakery – A small bake shop which sells traditional covrigi (Romanian round pretzel-like bread) along with other delicious pastries. A regular covrigi costs just 1 RON ($0.25), but you can get them chocolate or apple filled for only 2.5 RON ($0.65).
Overall, we had an amazing time in Brașov. This area is well worth a four to five day visit. The people were extremely nice, food options were plentiful, and surroundings are beautiful.
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What we learned while in Brașov:
- Fly Tarom (Romanian air) in and out of Bucharest or research taking an overnight train from Budapest, it may save you some money.
- Local Train system is reliably 15 minutes late, dated, less clean than desired, and may have some AC malfunctions. If you are on a budget, it’s a standard way to travel for the cost. Buy e-tickets online for a discount.
- Highly recommend staying with Airbnb hosts in a private room. There are significant benefits from a having a local perspective.
- Romanians are very hospitable to their guests, they love sharing food/wine. Consider having a small gift to give in return for their generosity.
- Save several days of your trip to hike up around the Carpathian Mountains, to the Brașov sign, and around Seven Ladders Canyon and Piatra Mare Mountains.
- +/- Bran castle to discover the inspiration of Dracula and lore of Vlad the Impaler. Very touristy, skip if you are short on time and spend more time in the mountains.
- If going to Bran Castle, stop in Râșnov for the fully intact citadel. Hike or elevator ride to the citadel. 12 RON entry and optional elevator ride 12 RON/pp, cash only. Limited restaurant choices, may want to pack a lunch.
- Drive up for a mountain sunset.