Katerina enjoys driving as long as it doesn’t involve getting stuck in traffic on her way to work. In contrast, I am not particularly fond of it. Travelling by car or motorcycle stresses me out more than any other means of transport. That said, I share Katerina’s enthusiasm for a good road trip and this is why we often travel by car within Greece. The first time we ever drove abroad was back in 2014 during a mini road trip across Tuscany, which we probably hadn’t planned so well, in retrospect. However, we recently planned an amazing Romania road trip thanks to the lessons learnt from our past mistakes. So, here’s our ultimate guide to help you plan and enjoy a fantastic road trip in Romania, one of Eastern Europe’s best kept secrets.
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Table of contents
- How to prepare for your Romania road trip
- What is driving in Romania like?
- Our 8-day Romania itinerary
- Day 1: Bucharest – Targoviste – Brasov
- Day 2: Brasov – Peles Castle – Bran Castle – Rasnov Fortress – Brasov
- Day 3: Brasov – Rupea Fortress – Viscri – Sighisoara
- Day 4: Sighisoara – Biertan – Medias – Sibiu
- Day 5: Sibiu – Corvin Castle – Sibiu
- Day 6: Sibiu – Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor – Transfagarasan Road
- Day 7: Bucsenesti – Bucharest
- Day 8: Bucharest
- Parking in Romania
- Final thoughts about our Romania road trip
How to prepare for your Romania road trip
- Allow at least one full week for your Romanian road trip.
- Rent your car way in advance so as to get the lowest price possible. There are both international and Romanian car rental companies to choose from, the latter being significantly cheaper than the former.
- Make sure your rental car comes with the vignette (road tax) required by the Romanian state, otherwise you risk a fine of 100€ or more.
- Keep in mind that during high season (summer), it is either impossible or outrageously expensive to have different pick-up and drop-off locations. So, it should be wise to plan your Romania itinerary in a way that allows you to start and end your road trip at the same city, ideally following a circular route.
- Book accommodation at different locations along your (circular) route rather than just have one or two destinations as a base. Avoiding multiple drives to and from a single location will save you loads of valuable time and energy.
- If there are more than one drivers travelling together, add everyone in your car rental contract. The extra fee for each additional driver is totally worth it.
- Definitely include the Transfagarasan Highway, probably the world’s best road according to Top Gear, in your road trip itinerary. Keep in mind that the Transfagarasan Road is open only four months a year, though: July, August, September and October.
- Don’t even think of going on a road trip without a GPS. Most local car rental companies include it in the rental price or charge a very small fee. If you choose an international car rental company though, you will be better off buying your own GPS device. Not only will this save you money, but the GPS will be yours to have in future road trips as well.
- Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to bring along your driver’s license and make sure that the latter is valid for driving in Europe.
What is driving in Romania like?
We mainly drove within the Transylvania region during our Romania road trip. There are very few motorways in this area. Most of the time we drove on two-lane (or partially four-lane) national roads. Even if there were motorways (which are reportedly under construction by the way), we’d still choose the laid-back national roads so as to enjoy the beauty of the Romanian countryside. However, we are very sad to say that drivers in Romania are careless, to say the least. Incidents of speeding and overtaking by trucks (on two-lane roads, remember?) were frustratingly frequent. Moreover, heavy traffic is yet another problem to take into consideration while driving through Romania, especially during weekends and public holidays. Last but not least, the condition of some roads requires extra attention so as not to damage your car.
Our 8-day Romania itinerary
To be entirely accurate, we spent 8 days/9 nights in Romania. While planning our Romania road trip itinerary, we chose to fly to Bucharest late at night, stay at a hotel near the airport and begin our road trip first thing the following morning. By the way, the hotel we stayed at offered us free shuttle transfers to and from the airport which was extremely convenient. Not to mention that we had an incredibly relaxing sleep in an impeccably clean and remarkably comfortable room for just 35€.
Day 1: Bucharest – Targoviste – Brasov
Bucharest to Targoviste Military Barracks: 1,5h (83 km)
Targoviste Military Barracks to Brasov Old Town: 2,5h (111 km)
Refreshed after a wonderful night’s sleep, we couldn’t wait to hit the road. We had arranged to pick up our rental car from the airport at 10:00 in the morning, thus saving ourselves the trouble of driving to Bucharest and wasting valuable time. Or so we thought. Although we chose one of the best Romanian car rental companies (according to numerous online reviews), we soon realised that our day wouldn’t go exactly as planned.
First of all, the guy who was supposed to bring us the car at 10:00 am was almost an hour late. When he finally came, we realised that this wasn’t the car we had paid for (a Fiat Panda) but one that cost less at the time of booking (a Chevrolet something). I started to protest only to be met with a shrug of the guy’s shoulders and a this-is-the-only-car-available-take-it-or-leave-it kind of response. Katerina, as always, restrained me from entering an endless and, probably, fruitless discussion and we signed the contract in the hope that we were just a couple of minutes away from our road trip adventure.
Alas! It turns out that the guy had forgotten to bring the GPS. So we jumped in the car as he drove us to his Bucharest office to get it. In the end, we didn’t avoid what we dreaded the most. Being stuck in traffic and watching the clock ticking against us. When Katerina and I finally set off, we were at least 2,5 hours behind schedule already.
Flash forward to the day we returned the car. It was between 12:30 and 13:00 so we considered ourselves entitled to a partial refund since the car was actually given to us at about the same time during pick-up. Not to mention the extra fuel left in the tank. Yet the guy was adamant. He couldn’t do anything about it. So, although we kept the car for 6 full days, we paid for 7 as per initial agreement. Katerina implored me not to let this ruin our last two days in Romania and I played along. It won’t happen again, though. OK, enough with all of this. We just wanted you to have an idea of the trivial issues you may or may not come across if you decide to rent a car from a local rather than an international brand.
Departing from Bucharest city centre rather than the airport meant further delay. Soon, we managed to leave the city behind, though. The farther from the capital we drove, the more it felt that we were entering a totally different world. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the first horse drawn cart on the road. A few minutes and a couple of carts later, we realised that this is still a means of transport in rural Romania.
Targoviste was our first stop. This small town in the Wallachia region would probably never make it into any Romania itinerary had it not been for the events of one cold Christmas Day back in 1989. When the people of Romania massively protested against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the latter and his wife fled Bucharest only to be captured near the city of Targoviste. There, they were held in the military barracks and, after a show trial, executed on Christmas Day.
I was only 10 years old when footage of the Ceausescus dead bodies was all over the news. Katerina was too young to remember anything but these images literally haunted me. How could a 10-year-old kid understand who these people were and why they had to die such a brutal death? Therefore, standing on the exact same spot where those bodies had been lying lifeless for the entire world to see almost 30 years ago made me shiver. Apart from the actual execution spot, there are also other rooms on display which narrate in detail the events of 1989 which changed Romania’s history for ever.
Our visit to the military barracks in Targoviste was an overwhelming experience that we can’t recommend enough. For just 8 lei (1,70€) we got to travel back in time and feel as though we stepped inside modern European history itself. The building of the military barracks is rather unassuming without proper signage so it’s easy to miss. We had to ask directions from a couple of locals in order to find it. However, it’s super easy to spot if you keep in mind that it is very close to Targoviste’s train station.
Our initial plan was to visit Peles Castle on our way to Brasov from Targoviste. However, our unexpected delay in the morning ruined our plans. We couldn’t possibly make it to Peles Castle before closing time. So we drove from Targoviste directly to Brasov, one of the best places to visit in Romania. The route was very pleasant as we drove through the spectacular Romanian countryside for the most part. However, at some point it started to rain. Combine this with the fact that it was Saturday and there you have it. We got stuck in traffic. Again. Therefore, as soon as we arrived in Brasov, we couldn’t wait to stretch our feet. So, a stroll around the utterly charming Old Town was the first thing we did in Brasov, Transylvania’s most visited city.
Day 2: Brasov – Peles Castle – Bran Castle – Rasnov Fortress – Brasov
Brasov Old Town to Peles Castle: 1h (46 km)
Peles Castle to Bran Castle: 1h (49 km)
Bran Castle to Rasnov Town: 15′ (11 km)
Rasnov Town to Brasov Old Town: 30′ (18 km)
The following day we had a very early start. Before getting in the car, we took a stroll along peaceful Brasov for some precious early morning shots. Then we drove to gorgeous Peles Castle. We parked the car and started walking up the marvellous path that leads to the castle. Peles Castle is fabulous in terms of architecture and interior decoration. Surrounded by lush greenery, the castle was built as a summer residence for King Charles I of Romania. Nowadays, Peles Castle is one of Romania’s must-sees and an essential stop for all road trippers.
Probably the most famous of all of Romania’s attractions, Bran Castle is considered to be Dracula’s castle. Hence its popularity. However, the truth is that Dracula was in no way connected to Bran Castle. On the contrary, the castle was the favourite residence of Queen Marie of Romania, the country’s last and most beloved queen. This is evident to whoever visits Bran Castle as it is still decorated and arranged the way Marie herself wanted it to be. Dracula or not, Bran Castle is a fascinating place which is well worth a visit.
It would be such a great shame not to visit Rasnov Fortress on our way back to Brasov. Just a 15′ drive from Bran Castle through amazing natural scenery, Rasnov Fortress is one fine example of how the people of Transylvania managed to turn a medieval fortress into a long-term place of residence.
It turns out that Rasnov was one of the most charming towns we saw during our Transylvania road trip. To get to Rasnov Fortress, which is built atop a rocky hill, there is either an uphill path to walk or the Citadel Elevator. A ride on the latter lasts 2′ and costs 12 lei/adult (2,5€) for a return trip. We went for the elevator option which also offers beautiful views to Rasnov. After taking our time at the beautiful fortress, we headed back to Brasov for our second and last evening at its enchanting Old Town.
Day 3: Brasov – Rupea Fortress – Viscri – Sighisoara
Brasov Old Town to Rupea Fortress: 1h (68 km)
Rupea Fortress to Viscri: 30′ (16 km)
Viscri to Sighisoara Citadel: 1h (65 km)
The following day we were sad to leave our cosy apartment so early in the morning. However, we were absolutely excited for what lay ahead. Travelling by car in Romania meant that we saw many a gorgeous landscape along the way. Most of the times, the unspoilt green scenery was interrupted only by the silhouette of the occasional fortified settlement perched on top of a hill in the distance. Transylvania is famous for its large number of existing fortified churches which date back to the medieval times. Back then, Transylvania suffered from constant Ottoman invasions. The concept of fortified churches grew out of the need of small village populations to protect themselves from those frequent raids. Only seven of Transylvania’s fortified churches are included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites but there are more than 150 of them scattered across the region.
Our first stop for the day would be Rupea Fortress, one of the most imposing medieval structures in Transylvania. When we reached the town of Rupea, we started wandering around the charming uphill cobbled streets towards the Citadel. At some point we asked for directions on how to get to the fortress itself. We were happy to find out that we didn’t have to climb all the way to the top of Rupea Citadel as there was a ring road which led right outside the gate of the fortress by car. Good news! So, after strolling around the small town for a while, we jumped in the car and 10′ or so later we were at Rupea Fortress.
Rupea Fortress enjoys spectacular views to the amazing green hills surrounding it. Once inside, we couldn’t get enough of the Citadel’s peacefulness and irresistible beauty. After about an hour, enchanted and smiling, we set off for our next destination.
In order to get to Viscri from Rupea we had to exit the main road at some point. And that’s when magic happened. The landscape from that point onwards was one of unsurpassable beauty. We had found Tuscany in the heart of Romania. Yet the road was terribly broken. Filled with crater-like puddles as it was, we needed to be extra careful not to lose a tyre or worse. At some point along the way, the asphalt was replaced by dirt road. We had reached Viscri, an enchanting village which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with its fortified church.
Viscri is worth a visit not just for its amazing fortified church but, first and foremost, for its overall charm. From the moment we got off the car, we were hit by the uniqueness of a place literally trapped in the past. There are no paved roads and there are food and water troughs everywhere for the convenience of the various domestic animals which roam freely around the village. We felt as though Viscri actually belonged to them and we were intruders of sorts. After our visit to the fortified church and a fair share of wandering around the utterly pretty and colourful village, we sat to have lunch before hitting the road again.
It had been a super full day so we were thrilled to arrive at romantic Sighisoara. Not to mention very excited to be spending the night within the walls of one of the few still inhabited fortified medieval towns in Europe.
Day 4: Sighisoara – Biertan – Medias – Sibiu
Sighisoara Citadel to Biertan: 30′ (29 km)
Biertan to Medias: 45′ (33 km)
Medias to Sibiu Old Town: 1h (58 km)
After waking up early to catch some morning shots of Sighisoara from the top of its iconic Clock Tower, we drove to the nearby village of Biertan. Home to yet another impressive UNESCO fortified church, Biertan is a quaint village of colourful houses, running streams and the occasional duck or hen strolling around in the most carefree way.
Our next stop was Medias, the second largest city in Sibiu County and home to one of the best preserved historical centres in Romania. Once there, no sooner had we parked the car than it started to rain heavily. As in cats and dogs heavily. So we had no choice but to step inside the first café we came across and wait. After about an hour or so the sky was clear again so we set off to explore Medias on foot.
We started our walk from the fortified church of St Margaret. Unlike Viscri and Biertan, the fortified church at Medias had an aura of neglect and we didn’t really like it to be honest. The fact that there were cars parked within its walls didn’t help much either. Then we walked towards the Old Town’s main square, Piaţa Regele Ferdinand I, before getting lost inside the colourful narrow streets surrounding it. We don’t know if either bad weather or the fact that we had already seen some of Transylvania’s prettiest towns was to blame, but, overall, we weren’t impressed by Medias. We didn’t hate it but we didn’t love it either.
One of Romania’s major cultural hubs, Sibiu, would be home for the next couple of nights. So, after a long day driving across magnificent landscapes and constantly changing weather, it was time for us to park the car and take in the unique ambiance of Sibiu Old Town.
Day 5: Sibiu – Corvin Castle – Sibiu
Sibiu Old Town to Corvin Castle: 1,5h (137 km)
We woke up determined to explore yet another Transylvanian castle. The drive from Sibiu to Corvin Castle was really dull compared to the routes we had followed the previous days as we drove along a grey and boring motorway for the most part. Hunedoara, the industrial city where the castle is located, was equally colourless. However, Corvin Castle itself is a sight for sore eyes. It is indeed the kind of castle that could be used as a setting for a fairy tale or a Game Of Thrones episode. Although very crowded the day we visited, we enjoyed Corvin Castle immensely.
The initial plan was to stop at Alba Iulia before heading back to Sibiu. Yet the drive all the way to and from Corvin Castle got the better of us and we decided to spend more time taking in the elegance and charm of Sibiu instead.
Day 6: Sibiu – Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor – Transfagarasan Road
Sibiu Old Town to Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor: 45′ (42 km)
Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor to Balea Waterfall: 1h (44 km)
Balea Waterfall to Balea Lake: 25′ (8 km)
Balea Lake to Vidraru Dam: 1,5h (55 km)
Vidraru Dam to Bucsenesti: 20′ (13 km)
Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor
So the big day for us had come. We had always regarded our drive along the Transfagarasan Road as the highlight of our Romania itinerary. We were right. But first things first. We left Sibiu very early in the morning under an ominous grey sky. Having seen photos of the somehow hobbit-like Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor but without knowing much about it, we decided to make a tiny detour so as to have a look at it before hitting the Transfagarasan Road.
It turns out that, contrary to what we thought, the Clay Castle, as it is called, is a brand new construction built exclusively from natural materials rather than an old restored one. It costs 5 lei (1€)/person to enter and have a walk around the charming castle and the surrounding natural space. It’s a serene landscape among trees and running streams. Now, you must be wondering what this Clay Castle really is, aren’t you? Well, it is actually a 10-room hotel and restaurant complex which hasn’t opened as such yet. So, in essence, visitors pay 5 lei so that the guys who built the hotel can maintain it until they’re ready to open it to the public. It sounds super crazy, we know. Still, it’s worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.
Once we got back in the car and entered the famous Transfagarasan Highway, we knew that the weather wouldn’t be on our side this time. We could see the mountains in the distance covered in thick fog. Those were the exact mountains we were headed for.
The Transfagarasan Road was constructed during the Ceausescu era. It became famous quite recently when the British TV show Top Gear named it the best road in the world. The Transfagarasan is indeed one of the most scenic routes in the world as it literally winds its way through scenery of incredible beauty in the heart of the Fagaras Mountains. Apart from the road itself, other sites not to be missed along the route include Balea Lake, Vidraru Dam and many more. We knew this day would be very long so we had made plans to spend the night in Bucsenesti, a small town on the Transfagarasan, rather than keep driving towards Bucharest.
Day 7: Bucsenesti – Bucharest
Bucsenesti to Bucharest: 2,5h (170 km)
After a long and relaxing sleep we drove the last part of the Transfagarasan Highway. The latter wasn’t even remotely as interesting as the part we had driven the previous day though. The Transfagarasan ends in the town of Bascov. From then on, it is a rather dull drive to the centre of Bucharest. We arrived at the Romanian capital just in time to drop off our rental car and hurry to Casa Ceausescu for our scheduled guided tour to Ceasusescu’s former residence before getting a first glimpse of Bucharest itself.
Day 8: Bucharest
Our final day in Romania didn’t involve any driving whatsoever. We just strolled around a very hot Bucharest all day long and tried to see as much of the Romanian capital as possible. To be honest, we didn’t exactly fall in love with Bucharest. We now think this was because we had suddenly found ourselves in the heart of a large city after having spent so many days in the stunning Romania countryside. The extremely hot weather wasn’t pleasant either. That said, we had a great time in Bucharest and we’d love to be back one day to see more of it.
Parking in Romania
Parking was never an issue during our Romanian road trip. We could always find a free spot very easily. As a general rule, keep in mind that there are parking spaces with a very small fee in the vast majority of the most popular Romania tourist attractions. As far as towns and cities are concerned, you can park for free in side streets. However, when you see lines drawn on the road look for a nearby parking metre to get your parking ticket. Alternatively, someone will approach you and you will pay the parking fee to them.
Parking in Romania costs next to nothing. On average, you are supposed to pay about 5 lei (1€)/day in most towns. In some of the smaller towns, such as Rasnov, Viscri and Targoviste, parking was entirely free of charge. With the exception of Rupea Fortress, all other castles and attractions we visited had paid parking lots. The most expensive was at Bran Castle (4 lei or 0,85€/hour) but you probably won’t spend more than a couple of hours there anyway. A word of caution. Parking at Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor is free but you will most probably be surrounded by young boys who will try to convince you of the opposite. Don’t fall for it.
Regarding Bucharest, we can’t tell for sure, but it seems that parking as well as heavy traffic can be a nuisance. We would advise you against using a car in the Romanian capital. Bucharest has a very good public transport system and it’s a totally walkable city as well. Plan accordingly so as to rent a car only for the days you will be staying in other towns. That’s what we did anyway.
Final thoughts about our Romania road trip
We absolutely loved our Romania road trip and we can’t recommend it enough. Romania is a country of superb natural beauty waiting to be discovered. Although we visited during high season (July) and there were loads of Romanian holiday-makers everywhere, foreign travellers were scarce. We honestly believe that a trip to this beautiful yet really affordable country is absolutely worth adding to your bucket list. We leave you with a mini survival guide but you can always refer to our other Romania articles for more information. As always, we will be more than happy to respond to any inquiries you may have. So, see you in the comments below!
CURRENCY: Leu (plural: lei)/RON
LANGUAGE: Romanian. Do not assume that everyone speaks English, especially in smaller towns. In a couple of occasions, not even hosts in apartments and B&Bs spoke English.
FOOD: Meat-based. Vegetarians may have a hard time finding something different to eat every day. I, for one thing, got tired of fried cheese, no matter how much I love it.
PEOPLE: During our trip, we sensed that the Romanians weren’t exactly prepared for this sudden influx of tourism. Although we did meet some super welcoming people during our stay in Romania, this wasn’t always the case, I’m afraid. However, we believe that, as years go by, the Romanian people will open up and embrace their international friends.
WEATHER: We visited in July and weather went from super chilly up in the mountains to unbearably hot in Bucharest. So, even if you plan to be in Romania during summer, definitely pack a light, preferably waterproof, jacket.