Top Five of Romania
Romania is wrapped in an aura of mystery and timelessness. Even today when we mention Romania, people still seem a bit in awe by that sense of wildness we take away from the old stories of strigoi, Vlad Tepes, and Dracula. There’s something darkly romantic about the forests, castles, and the villages standing still in time with their horse-drawn carts and superstitions. We were very excited to visit Romania, and it didn’t disappoint! I would go back and wander those quiet, mountain trails and dark castles in a heartbeat. For now, here were a few of my favourite parts of our time in Transylvania, Romania!
It was love at first sight as Nathanael and I hiked uphill towards the old town of Sighișoara. It had this dark romanticism to it that I love about Romania combined with a pastel palette everybody loves about these medieval towns. The old town is perfect for walking around, but don’t bother with the restaurants. The prices are ridiculous (think double to quadruple what is typical), and just down the cobblestone road running beneath the clock tower are plenty of affordable options. We had some fantastic sarmale and a pork dish with a paprika sauce (which I NEED to learn how to make) in a little place tucked just beneath the old town, yum!
Before going into why I really liked Bran Castle, I should start off by saying two things: 1) Don’t visit Bran Castle thinking it has a connection to Dracula or Vlad Tepes, any historical connection is pretty weak to non-existent, 2) Visit in the off-season. A lot of terrible reviews I’ve read complain about feeling like they’ve been sucked into a Dracula (hahaha) tourist trap or being crushed in the crowds of high-season. We visited Bran in February and I loved it! The castle is smaller than I imagined, but was beautiful perched on the hill under a blanket of snow. I liked the interior as well, it was small but I felt like it portrayed a more realistic/relatable home-life, as opposed to the more ostentatious, don’t-touch-anything-ever rooms of grander castles. We had the castle almost to ourselves, so we really got to enjoy the rooms and the beautiful courtyard.
The “Romulus Vuia” National Ethnographic Park, Cluj-Napoca
We spent a fair bit of time wandering around Cluj-Napoca and had some great experiences. I would have to say though, the National Ethnographic Park was my favourite place we visited. The park is the oldest of its’ kind in Romania, and houses a collection of cultural buildings from around Transylvania. Buildings of cultural/ historical significance were tracked down, carefully dismantled, and diligently reassembled at the park. The oldest piece in the museum dates all the way back to 1678, isn’t that amazing? One of the churches from the 1700’s still holds officiated wedding ceremonies, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a venue with a one-of-a-kind backdrop 😉
Brașov was one of my favourite stops on our Romanian adventure! Once you look past the cheesy, Hollywood-style “Brașov” sign on the hill, you’ll find a lively blend of the old and new. The Council Square (Piata Sfatului) is a great place to start exploring. The Old Town Hall is centre-stage surrounded by cafés, restaurants, and the especially lovely, renaissance-style Merchant’s House. Just outside the square you’ll find the Black Church (Biserica Neagră), probably the most iconic buildings on Brașov’s skyline and well-worth a visit! My favourite thing that Nat and I did though was walking along the old city walls shaded by Tâmpa mountain. There’s a great path along the wall with hiking trails veering up the mountain if you’re feeling so inclined (and energetic), or you can simply continue ambling along past the towers and bastions taking beautiful panorama shots of the city below.
One of Europe’s best-preserved fortified, medieval churches, Prejmer is a magical, must-see stop when you’re visiting Brașov. Originally built by Teutonic knights in the early 13th century, they constructed a church in a Greek cross design, the only one of its’ kind in Transylvania. Things were quiet the day Nathanael, our new friend Eduardo, and I visited. We eagerly climbed the stairs up to the 272 “wall rooms” spread over four levels and scampered along the covered walkway that connects all the outer landings and where guards once patrolled. The rooms were originally assigned to families in the village, providing a place of refuge in dangerous times when the village risked attack from Mongols, Tatars, Hungarians, Ottoman Turks, Cossacks, and Moldavians. Many of the wall rooms had been left open for you to peek in and a few had been done up nicely according to their old purposes, like a school room or bed chamber. When you find yourself in Brașov, don’t forget a visit to Prejmer!