Old Towns and Castles: A Week in Transylvania
After a month travelling in Europe, I’ve reached an insightful and possibly world changing conclusion: There are lots of old buildings in Europe. Do people get sick of seeing old town after old town? I haven’t yet, but it’s going to be hard to beat some of the places I went during my week in Transylvania, so if you’re looking for an old town fix and you want it cheap you should head to Romania.
Here are some of the towns I visited in Transylvania…
Brasov: The base for our week in Transylvania
Brașov is the ideal base for a week in Transylvania. The old town is really well restored but still keeps its lived in feel – you won’t only see tourists while walking around Brașov, but that’s not to say there’s nothing worth seeing. The huge Black Church is a photographer’s nightmare – how are you meant to get a good photo of something so big! There are a few other churches and towers that are worth checking out, and a short walk up the hill brings you to the old fortress (if you’ve been there leave a comment and tell me what it’s like inside, it was closed when I was there). Accommodation in Brașov is great value – my girlfriend and I stayed at Casa Marius and I remember telling her it was about as good as it’s going to get on our world trip. Marius picked us up from the train station and gave us great information about buses and trains, and we even shared a few shots of a local Romanian spirit while we sorted out the bill.
*I didn’t receive anything for mentioning this place; it was just a really awesome guesthouse!
Apparently this is the narrowest street in Eastern Europe
Bran, about a 40 minute bus ride from Brașov, is home to Bran Castle, more commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle. It’s a pretty impressive building but the whole Dracula link is tenuous to say the least. I did a full post on Bran Castle, check it out here.
We visited both Bran and Râșnov on a day trip from Brașov. Râșnov is famous for its hill fortress, and after getting slightly lost we eventually found it, via some leaf filled woods. Parts of the fortress were crumbling and others almost looked new, but the atmosphere remained firmly in the past. The views were pretty amazing from up there as well, and after a power walk back down to catch the bus (which we made with seconds to spare), we were back in Brașov in time for dinner.
It took an extremely early train ride (we had to leave the guesthouse at 5.45 am) to reach Sighișoara, and when we arrived the cold hit me hard, even though I was wearing a hoody, 2 jackets, gloves and a woollen hat. It’s the coldest place I’ve been to in Europe so far, but the advantage of being in a tourist town so early is that everyone else is still in bed. The old town in Sighișoara is full of brightly coloured houses and imposing churches and towers. It’s small, but it packs a lot into its tiny frame. We spent most of the day wandering around the old town, and a strange thing happened – the masses never came. There was the occasional tourist, but you’d expect a lot more in a town this nice.
I did a little bit of research on Transylvania before the trip, but I hadn’t heard of Buşteni until a guy sitting next to us on the train to Brașov told us about it. He was an architecture student on his way home to Buşteni for the night and said we should definitely make room for his home town during our trip. We didn’t end up having much time there; we had planned to ride the cable car up into the mountains until we saw the price and realised we didn’t have enough money (or enough time to go and exchange more). It was a nice town though, and the views of the peaks behind the town were some of the best we saw in Transylvania. Busteni was the last town we visited in Transylvania — unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca and beyond.
Transport in Transylvania
Train travel in Transylvania (and Romania in general) can be expensive or really cheap, it depends which train you take. R trains make more stops (which means they take a bit longer) but are often half the price of the other trains. The timings aren’t always great for the R trains though, hence having to get up at 5.30am to catch a train to Sighișoara!
The currency in Romania is Lei; 1 USD = around 3.5 Lei.
Bucharest to Brașov: This trip took around 4 hours and cost 25 Lei.
Brașov to Bran, Bran to Râșnov and Râșnov to Brașov: This day trip was easy – head to Autogara 2 in Brașov, a 1 way bus trip from there to Bran costs 7 Lei. From there you can catch the same bus to Râșnov and then back to Brașov.
Brașov to Sighișoara: This trip took just under 3 hours and cost 19 Lei.
Brașov to Buşteni: This was under an hour by train (it’s on the way to/from Bucharest) and cost 5.5 Lei.
Brașov to Budapest: We took the night train to Budapest which took around 12 hours and cost about 220 Lei.
We stayed 5 nights in Transylvania (and 1 on the train) and had a great time, but I know what you’re thinking… that’s not a week! Well, as you know, I’m from New Zealand, and we actually run on a different calendar to the rest of the world. We have 6 day weeks, just don’t look it up online as we like to keep it a secret.
FURTHER READING: A Guide to Romanian Food
Have you been to Transvlania? Let me know how it was!