“We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things. Nay, from what you have told me of your experience already, you know something of what strange things here may be…”
I am ashamed to admit that I only started reading Bram Stokers classic novel as I sat on the train, bound for the novel’s most notorious setting, the mythical Transylvania.
Perhaps it was the anticipation of arrival, the weariness of travel, or the silhouette of the Carpathian Mountain, but the eeriness of the story took a hold of me and I was a little on edge when we pulled into Brasov. It wasn’t helped that when I tried to get into my hostel room, the door was jammed shut and I was stuck in a spooky little courtyard bathed in moonlight…
Was that a wolf I could hear howling in the distance?
An overactive imagination settled down after a good night’s sleep. In the morning light, the once spooky courtyard of Hostel Mara Brasov was now charmingly nostalgic. And I now realised that it opened right up onto the magnificent Piata Sfatului, medieval Brasov’s main square.
Fringed with pastel-painted baroque buildings, Piata Sfatului is a picture-perfect square. Walking tours of the town run by local students depart from here and take in the nearby sights including the Town Hall; the Black Church (the largest Gothic church in Romania, so named because of the colour left behind by a devastating fire in the interior), a visit to one of Europe’s narrowest streets and more.
The square also sits at the foot of Tampa mountain, where you can take a cable car up to the Hollywood-esque Brasov sign on the side of the mountain.
We had dinner in the square one night, usually a rather obvious no-no if you’re trying to avoid tourist traps. However, we visited a restaurant called La Ceun on the advice of our hostel owner. Situated right in the square, it offered reasonably priced Romanian fare such as stews, pastries, drinks and desserts; a good local’s recommendation!
Brasov is a great base for exploring nearby Transylvanian attractions. To save money, you can take local buses to nearby towns, such as Bran, Rasnov, Sinaia and more. The main bus station in Brasov (where buses bound for Bran etc depart from) looks kind of sketchy, but it’s ok once you’ve found your bus – look for destination signs in the bus windscreen and pay the bus driver the fare in cash. A one-way trip from Brasov to Bran costs 7Lei.
We got off the bus early, however, to visit the medieval town of Rasnov. Rasnov is a small town (approx pop. 15,000) and is best known for the historic citadel, as well as having its town name in huge letters on the side of a mountain.
After following the signs up the road, we arrived at what kind of looked like a small market in the carpark of a recreation centre. They sell tickets for a “mini-train” ride up the mountain to the citadel entrance. Or you could just walk it. It only took like 10min and there are some nice views. Plus also, oddly enough, you’ll also pass a dinosaur-themed park, which seemed to be a hit with the visiting Romanian school groups.
Once you reach the top, you’ll see the entrance to the citadel. It costs 12Lei to enter, the signs are in English and you can see right over the town and beyond. We also trudged through the autumn foliage along the side of the road to reach the Rasnov caves. We were a bit disappointed in them though, given the cost (15Lei) and effort it took to reach them. I would probably advise to skip them unless you have a burning desire otherwise.
Then, after a quick lunch from the corner store and a couple of wrong turns to find the bus, we were off to Bran!
Bran is probably most famous for NOT being the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, apparent inspiration for the original vampire. A fairly odd distinction to make I realise, but it is usually the first thing mentioned in conjunction with the small and otherwise unremarkable town. To me, this fact is a little irrelevant, as just because it doesn’t truly have the historical connection it is associated with, doesn’t mean it didn’t serve as inspiration for the novel, or indeed, not worth visiting at all.
However, that being said, it is very touristy. I mean seriously, where did all these tourist even come from? Because they sure as shit weren’t on the bus, or in other towns that’s for sure haha.
Given we visited 3 days before Halloween though, I think I can understand the carnival-like atmosphere. It felt like it was trying a little too hard to meet outsider perceptions of what a Transylvanian town should be like. Anyway, it’s all good fun!
The entrance to Bran castle is substantially pricier than it’s neighbours, coming in at 35Lei. You probably spend around 1-2 hours in the castle, and while it has been outfitted with some obviously 21st-century homewares, I felt it did a good job at explaining the history associated with the castle. No vampires included!
Sinaia & Pele’s castle
I actually didn’t get a chance to visit Sinaia myself, which I really regret. I’m mentioning it here because I want to suggest that, given the recommendations, I heard from other people, that you should seriously consider making time for a visit here.
I had one night in Sibiu en-route to Cluj Napoca and didn’t really get much of a chance to look around here. However, I enjoyed a climb to the top of a church tower and then a delicious dinner in the main square. It was also notably where I first had a chocolate langosi, which is kind of a fried pastry. Sibiu had a bit of a younger, student vibe, and by that evening they were all starting to line up at the bakeries to grab one of these cheap snacks. So I thought I’d better join them!
I really enjoyed my few days in Romania & Transylvania, but it just wasn’t enough time! It wasn’t even close to enough time for just the surrounds of Brasov! I would recommend at least 2 weeks exploring this region; visit some of the other picturesque medieval towns like Sighisoara, and perhaps spend some time in the Carpathian Mountains, particularly if you arrive during the ski season. I found it quite easy to get around by public transport, but you may also enjoy the freedom of your own car if you’re staying for more than a week.
Until next time Romania!