Owing to Romania’s relatively large size and the poor condition of some of its roads, it is not the easiest country in which to nip about.What’s more, many of its highlights are off the beaten track. But even if your time is limited, provided you structure it well, you can have a rewarding mini-break and still experience, in small doses, a lot of what country has to offer. For those on a more relaxed schedule, the little-known delights of Romania will prove more than rewarding.
If you have only a weekend or so in Romania it is likely that your starting point will be in Bucharest. Although it is much maligned, there is plenty to see and do in this lesser-known European capital, and it is certainly worth spending a day or two here. The must-see is the Casa Poporului, Ceaușescu’s gargantuan vanity project. If you have time, take the 45-minute tour of the interior.
Provided teh weather is bearable, your next stop should be the outdoor Village Museum. Not only does make for an enjoyable couple of hours in its own right, but the collection of 60-plus original homes, farms, churches and other buildings from across the country presents a microcosm of rural Romanian architecture. If the 15 ha (37 acres) of museum tire you out, take a break in one of the boutiques cafes in the Lipscani district, Bucharest’s historical heart. The area also merits a stroll for its cobbled alleys, antique-cum-junk shops full of curios, and shabby-chic houses.
Depending on your interests, you may also want to take in the Muzeului Național de Artă al României (National Art Gallery), Muzeul Țăranului Român (Peasant Museum) or Grădina Cișmigiu (Cișmigiu Gradens).
For dinner, teh twice-weekly Dracula Show at Count Dracula Club is hilariously kitsch.
Alternatively, Caru’ cu Bere offers traditional Romanian food in a historical building often accompanied by a folk dancing show. But if the local fare doesn’t appeal, there are at least a dozen top-class international restaurants from which to choose. After your meal -and if you have the energy- head to a basement dive bar or, if it’s summer, enjoy a few drinks on a terrace.
If your stay is short it’s better to take taxis from place to place rather than try to fathom the sometimes complicated public transport system. Some of the central places can be visit on foot.
Unless you have just two days in the country, you will probably want to see something other than capital. The best choice on a long weekend is Brașov, around two hours from Bucharest by train or car. There is plenty to see around the city centre, which is small enough to explore on foot. You don’t want to leave Brașov without seeing Bran Castle, about an hour’s drive away from the city. En route you’ll pass the fortress at Râșnov, the climb to which is fairly tiring.
Buses go between Brașov and Bran, but if you are in a group, it may be worth negotiating with a taxi driver to take you there and back.
With a week you can also fit in one other destination, perhaps two if you have your own transport and don’t mind rushing. If it’s summer, you could pay a visit to the seaside. Hippies snd other admirers of counterculture should go for Vama Veche, a sort of Eastern European Goa, replete with dreadlocks, DJs and nude bathing (although officially prohibited). If you enjoy decent food and a wider range of activites, head for Mamaia. In spring or autumn, a better choice would be the Danube Delta, as there are peak avian seasons. In winter, break your journey to Brașov to Sinaia. Not only does it have two great castles and a monestery, but you can also go skiing. While things are easier with your own car, this trip is easily done on trains, buses and maxi-taxis.
Extend your stays in Bucharest and Brașov, and see some of the smaller, more esoteric museums. Depending on the seasons, you can visit the coast, another mountain resort and even thr Danube. You’ll be able to reach remoter – and often more rewarding- parts of the country, particulary with your own transport. If you choose to do so, it is worth considering a homestay. Some such places are in tiny villages, and afford an authentic glimpse of real Romania. You can also extend your Transylvania foray further. Sibiu and Sighișoara are both beautiful medieval towns, if you have to pick one go for Sibiu, as it has a livelier cultural scene. In two weeks you can also plan to take in a festival.
A longer trip of, say, a month, gives you the chance to get all around teh country. On top of all the aforementioned locations, you can go further west to Cluj, Timișoara and Oradea. You can also head north and see the striking monasteries for which the country si famous, in Maramureș and Bucovina. There are places, and the north is one of them, where having a car will make things more easier, but a mounth gives you time to do the trip using public transport. You could even take a train or two – woefully time- consuming but a wonderful way to see a colourful slice of Romanian life and some tiny hamlets. You can plan your route to see any festivals that take your fancy as well.
By simply wandering in the suburbs, you’ll get a much truer picture of Romanian life than if you stick to the tourist trail. Of course there are some areas in which it might be unwise to wander, check with your hotel before you set off.