Romania may give the impression of a grey country with tragic history. It is not a popular travel destination, yet I had a memorable time here. If you are bored of all the bright stories of those ‘top destinations’, perhaps you can do something different in Romania by visiting the shadowy city of Bucharest or explore the magnificent castles filled with myths and stories.
Romania is a non-Schengen country in Europe, so we have to go through the passport control twice (when enter and exit the country). Before we came, Ben questioned if we should visit Romania, as it seems nothing much to see and do there. I insisted on coming so I can fulfil one of my dreams: visit Dracula’s castle.
Is Romania worth visiting?
In my opinion, Romania is definitely worth a visit as there is something unique about this country. But, do not over-plan your holiday here.
The famous Bran Castle, Peles Castle and Brasov are located in Transylvania (a popular region to travel in Romania). Since we stayed in Bucharest, we joined a one-day tour to Dracula’s Castle, Peles Castle, Brasov and Sinaia Monastery. The tour was not cheap – about NZD$160 (€105) for two-person. This is a reasonable price for a semi-private tour. There are many tours available on Viator.
I am not a tour person, but joining a tour in Romania is a good idea especially if you are staying in Bucharest with limited time to travel. By doing so you can avoid the hassles of transportation, which will take you at least 6 hours for a return journey (will be longer if you take public transportation).
Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle)
I love Dracula because he is the character of my favourite game (Castlevania) in my childhood. Until today I still remember the joy of playing this game with my brother. I also like to watch the movie ‘Hotel Transylvania’, where Dracula is a cute and caring vampire protecting her daughter all the time.
But this is not the ‘truth’. The Dracula is originally a character in a fiction book written by Bram Stoker in 1897. Many people believe that he got the inspiration from a real person ‘Vlad the Impaler’, who was an extremely cruel guy in the 15th century. It was a long story.
Cut it short: Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, was the ruler of Wallachia region of Romania. He killed 40k European civilians in some very cruel ways. The most famous story is that he set a trap to hundreds of people knowing they would challenge his authority; stabbed them and impaled their bodies on spikes… Since then there was a legend saying the Vlad drink their blood as well. He was the ‘real Dracula’ (sort of).
He was very brutal, but was he a bad guy? I don’t know, perhaps he was doing so to protect himself and the people who trust him. Anyway, the real Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) has never lived in Bran Castle! Yet, the Bran Castle has attracted thousands and thousands of visitors each year because of this story, including me. 😝
A castle always looks more impressive from its outside. We went inside the castle but it was nothing too special, though we found some good spot and turning into a vampire haha. 😄
When Ben was taking a photo of me, he asked me to put my hand up higher so I look fiercer. But the end result is that I look more like a rat instead of a vampire. 😡
I look very scared, maybe I did something bad.
We didn’t spend too much time here because it was too cold. Really, really cold.
A very important advice: Peles Castle is closed on Monday and Tuesday!
Since we joined the tour on Tuesday, the tour guide gave us two options: whether to see Peles Castle from the outside or visit Cantacuzino Castle in Busteni. Of course Peles Castle!
Peles Castle is one of the top attractions in Transylvania region of Romania. It is a very beautiful and magnificent castle. The architecture looks very different from the other castles I have seen. It is worth a visit even if we did not have a chance to go inside the castle.
Perhaps it was not a bad thing that the castle was closed, as it meant fewer people. So we managed to take a few photos without many people on it. As I said, a castle looks more impressive from the outside!
After that, our tour also visited Sinaia Monastery which was very close to Peles Castle.
Brasov is a lovely city in Romania. Our tour bus stopped in the city centre of Brasov while on the way to Bran Castle. We were given 2 hours to explore Brasov. Unlike Bucharest that looks grey and depressing, Brasov is a sweet and lovely city.
I hope I can spend more time here. It is not a bad idea to stay a few days in Brasov.
Bucharest (Capital city of Romania)
First, Bucharest (capital city in Romania) is not Budapest (capital city in Hungary). 😝 Many people are confused between the both although they are in different country.
In 1990, Michael Jackson said “Hello Budapest!” at his concert in Bucharest; it was very embarrassing. But he was not alone, many people made the same mistake after that. Looks like Budapest is more popular (sorry Bucharest!). And to be honest, I was confused too before the trip and I feel better now… 😂
Free walking tour in Bucharest
As usual, we joined the free walking tour in Bucharest as we did in other cities of Europe. Our tour guide, Tudor was really good. I am not interested in history but I like to learn about the tragic recent history of Romania.
When the free walking tour finished, Ben wanted to join the Communist tour provided by the same company.
The Communist Tour
Our tour guide was Stefan. He did a very good job taking us through the dark history of communist and the successful revolution in Romania. It seems that Romania had a very tough time during the communist era. Now we still can see many communist buildings in Bucharest.
Cut it short: Nicolae Ceaușescu ruled Romania as the communist leader from 1965 to 1989. During the Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, the life of Romanians was tough. For example, they need to queue for a few hours to get the basic necessities such as food and grocery; and are only allowed to eat half a kilo of chicken per month (I won’t be able to survive!).
The communism was instilled into everyone in Romania, e.g. through textbook, radio and newspaper.
Of course, Romanians were not happy about this. The revolution happened in 1989 and as a result, Ceaușescu was killed. Therefore, Romanians are free now! By the way, the palace built for Ceaușescu was never completed… it is about 70% complete and is still consuming a lot of money to maintain each year. But it is too late to destroy it. It is now called Palace of Parliament. Although it is famous and located nearby our hotel, we did not have enough time to visit the palace.
We look happy as this place was where Ceaușescu gave his final speech… but no one listened to him. Not long after that, he was killed.
The communist tour costs €15 per person; Ben gave a tip of €5 in the end as he was very happy. Ben is my Wikipedia. He knows everything and explains to me when I look confused. I won’t be able to follow the tour without Ben explaining to me.
It was really cold in Bucharest (I knew I said this many times) even in Autumn – a big contrast to the hot weather in Santorini. We should really take care of our body, yet we had KFC as soon as we arrived in Bucharest. So, both of us have sore throat on the next day…
There is something unique about Romania
Go visit Romania. It may not be the most beautiful destination, but it must be a memorable place showing something that you won’t see in other cities. My suggestion is to spend about 2-4 days in this country.
The story of Romania is inspiring. It is really hard to imagine the Romanians were going through the disaster as well as a big revolution in just less than 30 years ago. If you are visiting Romania, I strongly recommend equipping yourself with some historical knowledge of Romania, so you will know the stories behind Dracula’s Castle or appreciate the unique communist architecture in Bucharest city.