Trekking by train from Bucharest to Transylvania sounded like the best option when it came to discussing our next trip. We’re both (aspiring) amateur literary buffs and my travelling companion was keen to see Dracula’s Castle(s). It was decided – Romania by train was next. No better reason, eh?
Romania by train from Bucharest to Transylvania is billed as a pretty, traditional and rural journey. I remember lounging on the velvet seats of the battered silver train on the segment from Bucharest to Brasov. My mind expanded that little bit more as we clacked along river-edged train tracks, through lush, steep valleys that extended up to snowy peaks that made me smile. My fellow traveller and I exchanged a glance. This is what all the planning had been for! Picture windows in all directions revealed modest smallholdings that were interrupted by curiously German-style villages and dotted with lofty, Instagram-friendly castles and forts that peeked through the forests.
For our trip, we’d planned to base ourselves in three centres: Romania’s capital, Bucharest, then two smaller towns in Transylvania. I’ll tempt you with a snippet of each base.
Arriving at at airless Bucharest airport late at night, we could hardly believe the heat. It turned out Romania was experiencing something of an unusual spring heatwave. Bucharest is a dinful city with muscle cars screaming all night around purposefully widened boulevards lined with elegant, neo-classical, supersized buildings funded during the reign of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Its deserved reputation as ‘Little Paris’ is set against a curious backdrop of jarring, functionalist Stalinist, residential apartment blocks. You can even experience centuries-old Byzantine worship still being practised and tucked into the mix. There is little wonder that many movie scenes are shot here. The architecture is at once ornate, colossal, functional and overwhelming particularly for non-city dwellers. I loved it!
Brașov is a tourist Mecca in the plains of Transylvania with just enough of an Old Town to keep us away from its modern centre. Though baking and busy with tourists in April, it has a relaxed, sprawling square teeming both with modern cafes and breakfast options. Side streets branch off into eating places with nods to the past influences. Think German-style bakeries that display enticing rows of pretzels dispensed from convenient, modern perspex kiosks and Moorish coffee prepared on hot sand accompanied by delectable French pastries.
If you’re a leather bag fiend, Brașov is the place to come. It could not have been more different from the clashing noise of Bucharest and we explored it first by way of a free Brasov walking tour then easily by ourselves also on foot.
Expect upcoming blog posts on the castles and forts in the area. Râșnov Castle Fortress which has hosted the Rockstadt Extreme Fest and King Carol I’s Peleș Castle in the Carpathian mountains get a special mention. Both were visited during a tour we organised privately by taxi from Brașov.
It was in Sibiu where I developed a lifelong love affair with ancient wooden German-style doorways, gloriously dusty and lumbering and extravagantly carved. Smaller doors cut into these garage-sized entrances led into cool, intriguing and well worn long, thin courtyards that housed bicycles, scooters, outdoor seating, washing, and even cars, their domestic business obscured by trees and plants in giant, grey stone pots.
Sibiu felt like a step back into a gentler way of life and is clustered around a central square with meeting places for families, weekenders and travellers of all kinds.
Expect upcoming blog posts on churches through the ages, food and drink, and on the wonderful Brukenthal Museum that has been open to the public since 1817.
Information on Travelling by Train from Bucharest to Transylvania
- Train stations, local and national, have all the usual facilities, including maps (usually on a wall, not free from stands) and toilets. Most, like the world over, have at least one kiosk serving food of dubious nutritional value. But, you’ll generally find a bread and pastry kiosk, if nothing else, which suited us fine. Unlike in Northern Europe, they’re also delightfully drafty (great in the summer).
- It’s possible to find out what you need without any knowledge of Romanian. Many signs are in both English and Romanian. And many train station staff speak enough English (and often several other languages) to issue a ticket, make sure you’re on the right train from Bucharest to Transylvania, or move you to better seats. Look out for sosire (arrivals) and plecare (departures).
- Beware of threatening taxi hawkers outside stations, especially in Bucharest. Read How Not to Look Like a Tourist to help minimise this.
- Trains are roomy and (in late April/early May) uncrowded. They’re not terribly clean, but they’re certainly not the worst I’ve seen.
- While we stuck to the trains (Romania train timetables) and Uber, you should also become familiar with Romania bus routes and taxi prices.
It is really quite difficult to write about travelling by train from Bucharest to Translyania without devolving into pastoral clichés. We arrived home a few days ago. I apologise for forthcoming blog posts. 😉
Or, if you’d like to read about another country and culture with a similarly rural nature, check out our posts on Northern Ireland.