Return flights: €69.98 (approx £60.47*) (Blue Air)
Accommodation: RON 245.94 (approx £44.71*) Old Centrum Bucharest (Booking.com)
*Exchange rate at time of writing
Summary and Highlights:
- When booking day trips, don’t book the first one you see – search around for reviews and prices
- If checking in out of hours, see what arrangements the accommodation can make, even if they don’t have a 24-hour reception.
- Palace of the Parliament
- Old Town
- Transylvania/ Bran Castle tour
I’ve made quite the habit of visiting former Soviet countries so Romania was always going to come around at some point. It’s not one though that’s regularly served by our favourite Irish low-cost airline, especially at the airports I do have access to nearby. That said, the benefit of smaller airports such as Liverpool means the Hungarian low-cost Wizz Air and Blue Air which is Romanian have established routes to various parts of Eastern Europe. I had flown with Wizz Air before but Blue Air was a new one to me, as long as it got me from A to B (and back again) for a decent price. The only qualm I had was that I could barely sit in the seat due to the lack of legroom on their a bit outdated 737-400. Thankfully on the way there I had the row to myself so could stretch my legs out.
I knew that I’d be arriving late due to the flight not leaving until 6pm and the 2 hour time difference. It didn’t bother me that much since it meant I didn’t have to take a day off work and could just go straight after and also I wouldn’t lose any of the day. Thanks to Uber and other ride-sharing apps, expensive pre-booked taxis or overpriced hailed taxis are a thing of the past. I think everywhere I’ve been has had Uber (or equivalent) and it’s now one of the most affordable ways to travel. I’d messaged the property in advance to let them know that I’d be arriving late and had seen from the reviews they had made other arrangements for other guests previously. Don’t let limited check-in hours constrain you from choosing accommodation by only looking for 24-hour receptions. See what provisions they can make for you (hopefully at no cost) as with me where the door was left unlocked for me and the key inside.
After an unusual lie in for me due to my late arrival (with the best bedsheets ever with Tigers on), I set out for a day of walking tours. First, a communist tour highlighting Romania’s turbulent history, especially during the time of the notorious dictator Ceauşescu and how everyday life was during these times. This culminated to end at probably Bucharest’s most famous and problematic building – The Palace of the Parliament. The second-largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), there’s no missing it and getting a picture of all one side at least is a task. I had to stand at least halfway across a car park to get corner to corner in on my iPhone. The afternoon’s tour focused on the history of Bucharest and a glimpse into (what’s left) of the Old Town. I found out in Soviet times a lot of buildings were either physically moved or built around others to hide them (usually churches or old buildings). So entering the Old Town is a bit like going through a portal back in time but demonstrates the various influences of Romanian culture.
Romania’s probably most famous for being the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula so a trip to Transylvania and Dracula’s castle (Bran Castle) would probably be on your list. I did quite a bit of searching to find a reasonably priced tour because a lot seemed to be overpriced for what they were. I expect this is partially due to them being on third party sites. I would advise always booking through the tour operator themselves where possible. I eventually chose One Excellence Tours as they offered the most reasonably priced at €44. This included pick up and drop off from the accommodation and a guide/driver all day (which lasted about 12 hours). I’ve forgotten the guides name but he did a great job looking after me and a group of 6 Belgian tourists all day as well as driving us to Transylvania and back. It was nice being in a small group as it felt more personal and there wasn’t the whole waiting around for people to come back from the stops etc.
Our first stop was Peles Castle, the summer residence of the former monarchy in Romania overlooking the nearby mountains. Since we were a smaller group, we gave our entrance fee to the guide who got the tickets for us and jumped us ahead of the bigger groups as well as leading us around the castle. Some of the other tours do have the entrance fees and sometimes lunch included but I think even with factored in, it’s still an inflated price. There is also a cost associated if you want to take pictures inside the castle, which has a series of impressive themed rooms including French, Turkish and Moorish as well as armouries, libraries and music rooms.
I love castles so 2 in one day was a treat and Bran Castle is the most popular. Again our guide was able to get the tickets for us and we skipped the line but self-guided ourselves this time. Originally built as a fortress and home of infamous Vlad the Impaler, it’s more well known for being the home of the vampire, Count Dracula. As it was a fortress it’s a lot smaller and less lavish as Peles Castle but with an overcast day and some drizzle, has a nice spooky feel to it. Although I took my pictures in constant rain, it wouldn’t have been the same if it was sunny and bright. Naturally, it’s very busy so I’d say spend more time looking at the outside than inside.
Transylvania itself is stunning with an air of mystery and the gateway to is the city of Brasov. It’s a medieval city with cobble lined streets and preserved buildings. We stopped for lunch here but as I had mine with me used most of the time to wander around and head up to The White Tower to get a view over the whole city. After lunch, our guide took us on a brief walking tour of the city before wrapping things up for the journey back to Bucharest.
My last day in Bucharest wrapped up the bits I hadn’t seen and there are some real gems you might not expect to find. Now that I’ve been to several former communist countries, you’d assume they all might look the same but they’re all unique and Romania is up there with one of the best in my opinion.