Romania is the perfect country for a road trip. Long, winding roads cut through deep green valleys, across wide plains, and over monolithic mountains. It’s not uncommon to begin your day sipping coffee at a chic cafe in some sprawling city. Then find yourself enjoying lunch on the edge of a glacial lake, in the towering Carpathians, just a few hours later. Throw in a castle or two along the way, and you’ve got yourself a fairly standard day from a Romanian road trip itinerary.
The ability to reach remote, peaceful little farming villages, is an experience difficult to do without your own wheels. Being able to drive one of the worlds most exciting roads — the legendary Transfagarasan highway — is reason alone to take a road trip in Romania. On top of it all, rental prices are considerably cheaper than most of Europe, making driving in Romania a great option.
So get your car snacks packed and prepare to have one arm tanned more than the other. It’s time to road trip Romania!
Romania Road Trip Itinerary
This itinerary follows almost exactly the journey we took on our second road trip through Romania. The first was in the far north, in the spectacular region of Maramures. And while visiting that area is highly recommended, it doesn’t offer many of the sights people actually come to Romania to see. Our itinerary will take you through the centre of Romania, to the castles and mountains of Transylvania.
Bucharest is a fantastic city, it reminds me of Belgrade or Budapest. It’s got a gritty feel to it, without a dangerous vibe. Before beginning your road trip proper, I’d highly suggest spending a few days exploring the sights of Bucharest.
The reason I said before, is that while car rentals are relatively cheap in Romania, everything costs more in Bucharest. So to save a ton of cash, and the headache of driving through the congested city, you’ll be starting the road trip itself in Sibiu.
Take either the train or a bus from Bucharest to Sibiu. Both options are fairly similar in cost and duration of the journey. Personally, I prefer train travel, as you often see a lot of scenery in areas you otherwise wouldn’t. Flying is an option as well, if you’re fancy like that.
Before picking up your car, spend a couple of nights in Sibiu, it’s a wonderful city. Wander the streets, eat some fantastic food (Crama Sibiul Vechi is a great option!), and snap a few photos of the iconic “squinting eye” windows.
Alright, it’s time to get this Romanian road trip started.
Road Trip: Romania!
Car Rental in Sibiu
We rented from multiple companies during our time in Romania, and without a doubt, Klasswagen is our top pick. Their prices are unbeatable and the office has a great location on the side of town you’ll be leaving from.
Take either a taxi or bus (#11) from the centre of Sibiu to the Airport. It’s only 10-15 minutes away, but away from the traffic of the city. If taking the bus, purchase a ticket from one of the machines at the bus stop. It should be 1.50 lei. The Klasswagen office is a few minutes walk back towards the city centre from the Airport. It’s on the north side of the road in an industrial area.
Whatever time you pick up the car, be sure to set the drop-off time for later in the afternoon. This is important for the final day of the trip.
Sibiu to Hunedoara
Once you’ve picked up your sweet ride, it’s time to get started. Head west from Sibiu to the town of Hunedoara, a couple of hours away.
Hunedoara itself is a fairly standard Romanian city, it doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in the centre. However, just on the outskirts of town, is one of the most incredible castles in the entire country.
Corvin Castle is straight out of a fantasy movie. With its sharp spires, capping ancient stone towers, and long wooden bridge over the stream below. It’s truly an epic sight — and I don’t throw that word around lightly.
If you make it to Hunedoara in time, head to the castle late in the afternoon for some great photos. The grounds close at 5 pm, so arrive a little before this for the best lighting and lack of crowds. The following morning, head back to the castle and head inside, you can spend hours exploring the different rooms.
- Cost: Adult, 30 lei
- Hours: Mon. – 12 – 5, Tues. to Sun. – 9 – 5
Hunedoara to Baile Olaneşti – A long drive day.
The following morning, head south from Hunedoara towards Petroşani. Note the unusual houses on the outskirts of Hunedoara, brightly coloured with ornate silvery towers. These are owned by wealthy Roma people, commonly (and derogatorily) known as gypsy’s. You’ll find houses like this throughout Romania, though this was one of the largest concentrations we came across.
Stop to check out Peştera Bolii, a massive cave tunnelling beneath the earth. To reach the other side, you must cross several bridges over the river flowing within. It’s an impressive sight and not far from the highway.
Make your way south from Petroşani, through the majestic Defileul Jiului National Park and stop at the Lainici Monastery for some wonderful photos. Continue toward Targu Jiu and turn east, following highway 67 until you pass the Garden of Paradise. This painted forest contains nearly 600 trees, coloured to protest deforestation. It’s stumbling upon peculiar sights like this that make road trips so awesome.
Passing through the town of Horezu, you’ll notice a lot of ceramics. It’s their specialty in these parts, and if you’re looking to pick this sort of thing up, this is the place to do so. Also, there’s a great restaurant as you enter the town called Restaurant 2 Cocosi, right on the side of the highway. They have an extensive menu with huge portions of classic Romanian dishes at really great prices.
After lunch, if you feel like checking out another beautiful monastery head north on 669 and stop in at Horezu Monastery. I think it’s the nicest of all the monasteries in the area.
To reach Baile Olaneşti, continue heading east on highway 67. To take the scenic route, turn left towards Stoenesti on 651 and follow the winding road past tiny villages and horse-drawn wagons. For the less-scenic drive, continue all the way to Ramnicu Valcea and turn northwest from here. Once you arrive at the end of the highway in Baile Olaneşti, settle in and wander the quiet streets for the evening. In the morning, treat yourself to some time at the TISA Spa Resort (and splurge on one of their incredible massages!) before getting back on the road.
Baile Olanesti to the Transfagarasan
Leaving Baile Olaneşti, follow the highway through Râmnicu Vâlcea and up the 73C to Curtea de Argeş. Turning north here, you’re officially on the Transfagarasan highway — one of the best driving roads in the world! The only real sight in town is the Arges Monastery. Though it’s also the last city before heading through the mountains, so stock up on snacks and fuel.
Until you reach the town of Corbeni, there isn’t really anything special. However, once you pass this final town, the next 90 kilometres are outstanding. When we made this drive, we spent a couple of nights in Corbeni, though any of these little towns will do fine. This isn’t necessary, although we liked the extra time to visit some of the nearby sights. Vidraru dam, for example, and the Poenari Castle ruins are both worth a visit.
Poenari is the real Dracula’s Castle.
At least, it’s the only one in Romania that is accurately known to have belonged to Vlad the Impaler.
It’s best to combine this with a visit to Vidraru Dam. Due to bears in the area, access is restricted to twice per day, 10am and 3pm, escorted by local forest rangers.
Be prepared to climb 1480 steps to reach the fortress. Entry fee is 5 lei.
Driving the Transfagarasan highway is one of the best experiences we had in Romania. Though the road itself is only part of the excitement. There are few places on earth where I’ve seen such incredible scenery. You’ll travel from flat plains, through dense forests, and over drastic mountain peaks in under two hours.
Upon reaching the summit, treat yourself to some roadside snacks of grilled corn, local cheese and salty cured meats. Or stop in at the Balea Lake Cabana for a relaxing lunch.
For a bit of leg stretching and some phenomenal views, hike up over the ridge to Capra Lake. It’s a bit of effort, but worth every minute. When you’re done with the crisp mountain air, continue for the second half of this incredible road.
Fagaras to Bran
Once the mountains are behind you, head to Fagaras. Visit the well-preserved citadel in the centre of town. It might not be as remarkable as Corvin Castle from the outside, but the interior has an impressive collection of artifacts worth checking out.
- Cost: 15 lei
- Hours: 8 – 5
From here you’ll go east, turning south on 73A towards Bran. Spend the night at any of the amazing hotels or B&Bs in town. Stop in at Casa Thomas for their awesome pizza! The following morning, it’s time to visit the most famous castle in Romania. Bran Castle, though equally as stunning, is much different than the one in Hunedoara. It’s got a darker, more imposing vibe. It’s no surprise that it’s often — though mistakenly — considered the inspiration for Dracula’s castle in Bram Stoker’s famous novel. There is so much to see and do in the little fairytale town of Bran, see this post.
- Cost: Adults, 40 lei
- Hours: Mon. – 12 – 6, Tues. to Sun. – 9 – 6 (closes at 4pm in low season)
Bran to Brasov
When you’re done exploring the castle grounds and snacking at the carts near the entrance, it’s time to move on. This time only an hour up the road to Brasov.
Explore the city centre and walk one of the [smallest roads in Europe]. Hike (or take the gondola) up the mountain to the famous Brasov sign for some stunning views. Recharge at one of the many cafes lining the main square or eat some more great Romanian cuisine at Restaurant Transylvania or Draculas Cave. Don’t let the tourist-trap names fool you, both have delicious food!
Brasov to Sighisoara
From Brasov, you’ll drive north towards Sighisoara. Along the way, stop at Rupea and marvel at the old, crumbling fortress, towering above the town below (10 lei entrance fee). From Rupea, take a slight detour from the main highway and visit the tiny village of Viscri. This well-preserved town is a wonderful glimpse into what life has been like here for centuries.
Spend the night in Sighisoara and rise early to catch the first light of morning warm the colourful buildings. Wander the winding streets and climb to the top of the city. Explore the oddly-beautiful cemetery behind the cathedral here.
Final Day, or do you want more?
If time permits, consider spending an extra few days travelling further north. Take in some more fantastic architecture in Targu Mures or Cluj-Napoca, the capital city of Transylvania. Stop in the salt mines of Turda or the majestic gorge of the same name.
For those on a tighter schedule, once you’re done in Sighisoara, it’s time for the final day. On the drive back to Sibiu, be sure to check out the fortified church of Biertan; an impressive sight that many skip over.
- Cost: 10 lei
- Hours: Tues. to Fri. & Sun. 10 – 7 (closed from 1-2), Sat. 10 – 5
Now, remember at the beginning when I mentioned organizing the car return for late in the afternoon? When you arrive back in Sibiu, spend the afternoon visiting the ASTRA National Museum Complex. This outstanding outdoor museum showcases traditional Romanian culture throughout the centuries.
It is possible to visit by bus or taxi, but since you’ve already got the ride, you might as well use it!
- Cost: Mon. & Tues. 12 lei, Rest of Week 17 lei
- Hours: Winter: 9 – 5, Summer: 10 – 8
Once back at Klasswagen, organize a ride back into Sibiu. The company should offer you a ride, if not, just ask. Kick back in the centre of town as the sun sets, sip on a cold beer or glass of wine and celebrate the completion of your Romanian road trip.