At the end of January I went on a short city break with my friend – my very first holiday of the year in the very first month of 2018 – to Romania. Unlike all my previous holidays this was a tour, and instead of staying in one city for the five days we was in Romania we travelled from the capital city of Bucharest, to Peles Castle in Sinaja, to Brasov, to Bâlea Lake, and finally to Bran Castle in Bran.
Was it a lot to pack into five days? Yes, but was it an amazing holiday? Also yes.
Bucharest is like plenty of capital cities I’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have something unique to offer. Most of our time there was spent wandering around the winding streets of the Old Town and seeing what hidden gems we could find. We saw the Stavropoleos Church and the Old Court where Vlad the Impaler used to reside. After Bucharest we headed off to Peles Castle, which is probably one of the most gorgeous buildings I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Given we went to Romania in the middle of January the further into the country we travelled the more snow there was, and the colder it got as well, but it really added to the fairytale atmosphere the city of Brasov had, which was our next stop. If I had to pick between Bucharest and Brasov for my favourite city Brasov would win.
The highlight of the trip for me had to be the time I spent at Bâlea Lake. We took a cable car up the mountain and most of the day was filled with the various snow activities the lodge hosted; I went tubing, snow mobile-ing, rode a raft and banana boat around on a frozen lake until the hood of my coat was covered in ice. That evening dinner was served in the ice restaurant amazing, food but really cold considering I was sitting on a block of ice, and at night I slept in the ice hotel.
If you have a chance definitely definitely try to go to the ice hotel in Romania. While absolutely freezing (and honestly I can’t emphasise that enough; even wearing a pair of thermal socks and a pair of slipper socks under my boots I still lost all feeling in my toes) it’s the experience of a lifetime, and the views at the top of the mountain simply cannot be missed.
Our last stop was Bran Castle, the famous home of Vlad the Impaler (or Dracula). More of a fortress than a castle I can’t say Bran was as gorgeous as Peles Castle was, but it was still a great part of the trip. After all when you think of Romania Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula, is normally one of the first things that comes to mind.
Advice (a.k.a. learn from my mistakes)
- If you are going in the winter, take sunglasses…When I saw this advice in the brochure I laughed; travelling somewhere in the middle of January, when there is going to be snow on the ground and below freezing temperatures, sunglasses are the last thing you’d think to pack. However in all seriousness you will need them, and possibly sun cream too, if you’re going up into the mountains and it’s a clear day.
- Make sure to try the local food, especially the desserts…Papanași is a traditional fried Romanian dumpling/doughnut and it is beyond yummy, I’m tempted to travel to Romania again just to get another one, also the kürtoskalács (chimney cakes) cannot be missed. I’ve had them in Prague and Budapest now and they’re probably my favourite food ever.
- Make sure you have good shoes, and wrap up well if you’re going in the winter…Take thermals, take multiple pairs of socks, take plenty of woolly jumpers. The temperatures get really cold, and while inside any building the heating is cranked up high outside it doesn’t take long before the freezing cold starts to affect you.
Like Krakow and Budapest Romania is a good place to go if you’re on a tight budget. Everything there was quite cheap and you get a lot for the money you’re paying as well.
The tour me and my friend went on, if you’re interested, is called The Ice Hotel Experience and it was all arranged through Untraveled Paths. I would highly recommend this company; they did an amazing tour and it wasn’t expensive to book either. We got to see so much more of Romania with them than we would have if we’d gone and arranged everything ourselves.