Search for Dracula’s ancient castle, charming medieval towns, and true relaxation when you explore Bucharest, Romania with our set of travel city guides.
Nestled in the far south of Romania, Bucharest sits close to the border with Bulgaria, west of the Black Sea. You don’t have to travel far from the city itself to find a wealth of places perfect for exploration. Whether it’s towns and attractions that are only a short drive away, or legendary castles that take a few hours to reach, driving in Romania is a unique experience.
Take a day trip from Bucharest and you’ll pass through beautiful landscapes, unassuming towns and villages where centuries-old folk traditions still live on. You’re also in the country of Count Dracula – the fictional character based on the real-life ruler Vlad the Impaler, whose hotly-debated life can be explored at a number of fascinating locations.
Bran lies to the north-west of Bucharest, close to the gorgeous medieval town of Brasov. There’s one main attraction here and people visit from across the globe to witness the myth and legend first-hand. This is the home of Dracula’s castle.
Well, maybe. Some experts say Irish author Bram Stoker wasn’t inspired by – and had probably never heard of – Bran’s castle when he wrote his most famous novel, Dracula, back in 1897. There’s not even any firm evidence that the original, real-life Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, ever stayed here. But none of that should stop you visiting. It’s an incredibly atmospheric place, a fortress high on a bluff that makes for a spookily impressive sight by day or night.
Built in the late 14th century, it has a royal history and today hosts art and furniture collected by the former Queen Marie. The Communists ousted the royals from the castle, but it recently moved back into the ownership of the descendants of the famous Habsburg line.
The small village nearby has an interesting museum, a market and a smattering of local restaurants serving traditional dishes. Close by is Rasnov, another fascinating town that boasts an impressive fortified citadel. It’s in remarkable shape considering the numerous battles and sieges that have unfolded here since its construction around 1220.
It’s hard to miss Brasov – especially with its very own Hollywood-style sign on the side of Mount Tampa. There’s nothing so brash about the town itself, however. It’s a beautiful medieval town that looks like it’s fresh from the pages of a fairytale. The Saxons built the town in the 13th century and many of its buildings have been carefully preserved ever since.
The huge Black Church, the Council Square and Council Tower all deserve your attention, while fascinating museums and a cathedral should also be on your agenda for your day trip.
The Gothic Black Church, built over nearly 100 years from the late 14th century onwards, takes its name from the damage it suffered in the great fire of 1689. Restored since, it contains a beautiful 19th-century organ, rare Anatolian rugs and a soaring bell tower. There are stories waiting to be discovered in St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, too, a 15th-century Gothic church where the locals plastered over the murals of Romanian royalty when the Communists came to power so that they didn’t remove or deface them. They were restored again this century.
Wind your way down Strada Sforii – or Rope Street – said to be one of the narrowest in all of Europe, measuring just 53 inches across at its widest point. This handsome town is packed with wonderful old houses and squares to discover, alongside fine traditional restaurants.
Carnivores will love Keller Steak House. Alternatively, there are numerous Italian eateries. At Bella Musica, a unique, but winning, mix of Romanian, Hungarian and Mexican dishes are served in a 16th-century building. Look out for the superbly cooked paprikash stew, Transylvanian bulz (a mixture of roasted polenta and cheese) and piles of grilled meats. After dinner, enjoy live jazz at the intimate L’etagè on Strada Republicii.
Less than an hour from Bucharest, Comana Natural Park is the perfect place to commune with nature in Romania. There are miles upon miles of forest and wetland, containing unique wildlife and an adventure park that attracts families from far and wide. Hike or cycle through the park, where you’ll find numerous spots to picnic and camp.
Take a kayak out on the lake, or ride a horse and discover the old Orthodox monastery. It was originally built on the orders of Vlad the Impaler in 1461, although it was later demolished and replaced in 1589. Some historians claim a headless body found buried nearby is that of Vlad himself. The monastery is free to visit and has an elaborate painted interior.
A castle with a beauty to rival any others, Peles Castle in Sinaia looks considerably older than it actually is. Construction began in the 1870s to build a summer retreat for King Carol I. It was opened in 1883, but not finished until 1914. Architects and artisans from across the world worked on the hugely expensive Neo-Renaissance building and today the interior is lavish and luxurious, packed with Murano glass, stunning rugs and suits of armor.
Sinaia itself is pretty and petite, with a mixture of wooden buildings and resort hotels. It makes a great base to go hiking or, in winter, skiing in the nearby mountains.
Bucharest may not be close to the Black Sea, but you can experience the next best thing at Therme, only minutes away from the city. Open since 2016, it’s the perfect antidote to the sometimes-sluggish Eastern European weather – a huge tropical wellness center.
Covering almost eight acres, it includes balmy pools, a huge urban beach, a botanical garden, waterslides, mineral pools and more. You’ll find places geared towards family fun, relaxation and wellness. Ample restaurants, cafes and hammocks mean you can spend a whole day relaxing here.
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