In this article you will find the information you need on planning a road trip to Transylvania, such as places to visit, and things to see and do as well as information on how to plan your road trip. I’ve included as much as I know although I must admit a lot of the information initially comes from my friend and guide Alex, who was just as excited to travel his own country as we were to discover it.
It’s no secret I love road trips! Around this time last year, I found myself somewhere along the winding roads of Transylvania, Romania’s heart and soul when it comes to nature, crafts and ancient traditions. Today I’m telling you everything you need to know to create an awesome road trip yourself!
Transylvania is one of the wildest places Europe still has to offer. Although things are changing fast, setting foot in this region, feels like stepping back in time for at least a hundred years. Don’t be surprised to meet a horse and carriage in your way (or a bear..). Add in some medieval town and fortresses and you’re all set!
I personally planned this road trip through Transylvania to give my boyfriend a speed course on Romania. With the help of my Romanian friend and guide, we planned a trip to soak up as much autumn colors as possible. Because of our awesome guide, some guts and the ever returning illusion that we could make it before sundown, we embarked upon a trip that I can now only call a crazy adventure I would gladly bore my grandchildren with some day.
As you know, I’ve written about this country extensively. Not just because I’ve spent a good two and a half month traveling through it, but because in Transylvania alone there’s so much to see and do that I couldn’t cover half of it even if I really tried. Also, I only had a week to get from the Netherlands to Romania and back. Quite impressive, you will soon see.
Sfatului Square, Brasov
How to road trip Transylvania: where to stop
Because it’s simply impossible to list all the awesome things to do in Transylvania I’ve created a list of these highlights. Below you’ll also find a list of smaller stops – good for stretching your legs and photo opps – and a list of scenic routes.
Do you already know where you’re going? Scroll down to plan your road trip through Transylvania.
My road trip started in Brasov, where we rented our car at a little place called Melania – I highly recommend it! I can bore you all day by telling you about Brasov and its many sides, but I will leave you with this: the important highlights of the old town can be seen within half a day. When you add a visit to Mount Tampa – which will be looking like a bouquet of autumn shades by then – you’re off to a great start!
If there’s one place to see in autumn, it’s the lake of St. Ann, or Sfanta Ana as the Romanians call it. This lake dresses itself in autumn colors and because I traveled in the low season, there was no-one to disturb me while admiring the lake and the colorful forest around us.
Sfanta Ana in autumn colors.
The best way to wake up is by staying at the Lostrita pension, a small family owned hotel located at the shore of lake Bicaz in Potoci. Take a walk around the lake, relax on one of the sun beds next to shore and dig into a meal of freshly caught trout when you’re done exploring.
Tip: before reaching lake Bicaz, you’ll first come across the red lake (Lacu Rosu) and the Bicaz Canyon. Both spectacular and breathtaking places you can’t miss when in the area!
When you’ve been in Romania before, you’ll probably recognize the name from one of the many water brands the country has to offer (it happens to be my favorite!). Apart from drinking healthy spring water, Borsec is an excellent place to hike and enjoy nature. Close to the town center you’ll find a stunning park with its very own bear cave.
Waking up in Lostrita, at the shore of Lake Bicaz.
After a few days in nowhere, spending time in a real city can feel like a relief. Especially when this city is Cluj-Napoca! Cluj is a wonderful student city filled with little bars, restaurants and historic buildings. Eating 1 meter of mici (Romanian minced meat sausages) at Vikings is one of my favorite things to do, as well as watching a football match with locals.
The Turda salt mine
It’s not often you can say you’ve spent time in a new world wonder. The Turda salt mine is part of this prestigious list, which makes it a destination you can’t miss. Spend some time down below to get your lungs fully functioning again, or play around with sounds in the echo room.
One of the best things about visiting Romania in autumn is the lack of tourists. Historic places like Sighisoara tend to overflow with tourists during the high season, and now’s the time for you to take a relaxed stroll within the old town walls by yourself. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Dracula’s birth house!
Small stops and photo opps
- Drink a glass of wine on the wine route – a great place to stop is Jidvei;
- Taste spring water in Valcele;
- Admire the view in Baile Tusnad;
- Visit Corvin Castle in Hunedoara;
- The small town of Medias is great for a quick stroll and lunch;
- Fagaras has a wonderful medieval fortress that can’t be missed
- Spend the afternoon in medieval Deva
Transylvania is known for excellent views and most of them can be viewed from the car. These are some of my favorites:
DN15 Potoci to Borsec
Take the scenic route along lake Bicaz to Borsec. Imagine gorgeous lake views, pine forests and mountains.
E578 to Baile Tusnad
Curvy roads through a forested area with amazing views on the rolling hills Transylvania is famous for. Also watch the many Hungarian villages – with crossed out Romanian street names – on the way.
DJ113 to Sfanta Ana
This super curvy and heavily forested road will take you to Sfanta Ana in about 17 km. I loved driving the road in fall as we were surrounded by yellow and orange trees the entire time.
Image by Albert Dobrin
A road that has been closed, reopened and closed again and also one that’s still very high on my bucket list. This mountain road will give you the adventure you’re looking at, as you drive through valleys and over high mountain plateaus. This road is known to be very dangerous.
Named ‘best road in the world’ by British television show Top Gear and one of my favorite places in the whole wide world. Enjoy the curves of the Transfagarasan while surrounded by an amazing view. Afterwards you can pay a visit to the Poenari fortress, seemingly the place where Dracula really used to hang out.
Plan your road trip through Transylvania
For finding my stops’ locations and distances between them, I simply used Google Maps. I always find the route planner and street view functions very useful, although I must add that the estimated driving time isn’t always accurate due to road quality. Let’s get to that later.
These are the estimated driving distances between several stops:
- Brasov – Sfantu Gheorghe 34 km
- Brasov – Sighisoara 116 km
- Brasov – Sibiu 144 km
- Sfantu Gheorghe – Bicaz 188 km
- Bicaz – Borsec 89 km (DN15 – the scenic route)
- Sibiu – Sighisoara 94 km
- Sibiu – Cluj-Napoca 167 km
- Sibiu – Deva 114 km
- Deva – Alba Iulia 72 km
- Alba Iulia – Cluj-Napoca 98 km
How much time do I actually need?
You can imagine that it’s nearly impossible to tell you how much time you’ll need to road trip Transylvania. It depends on what you want to see, how much stops you’ll make and how much time you’re willing to spend behind the wheel.
Transylvania is an exquisite place and more than once you will feel the need to get out of the car and fill your camera with amazing shots. We planned to make 1 or 2 big stops a day, the remaning time we spent on driving and short (photo) breaks.
For example visiting Borsec takes 3-4 hours out of your day. When we were there we thought it would be a good idea to drive there from Lake Bicaz, spend the afternoon and drive all the way to Cluj Napoca. If I could do it again, I would make sure I had more time to explore what’s in between these great places rather than arriving in Cluj exhausted and in the dark.
Do you have an idea of what you want to see? Good. (If not, check out the highlights of Transylvania and smaller road trip stops above.)
Romania doesn’t have many highways (they are working on it) and in Transylvania you’re likely to encounter curvaceous, bumpy roads and sometimes no road at all. That’s why you should always add time to the estimated driving times showed above.
The road quality in Transylvania usually differs from gravel to asphalt and driving is for the experienced only. Also, the quality of the road can quickly change. One moment you’re enjoying a smooth ride, the next one you’re sweating like crazy, trying not to damage your rentals’ windows, as you suddenly stumble upon a dusty gravel road.
The quality of the roads can be quite bad, as seen above.
For the first time in my – adult – life, I felt lucky for not having a drivers’ license. Let me explain: while Transylvania is famous for many positive things – such as ancient traditions, folklore and breathtaking views – it’s also a bit on the rural side for a Western European city girl like me. If I tell you how many drunk truck drivers I have encountered or how many accidents I’ve seen (happen), you would simply give up and stay home.
Transylvanian roads are known to be bumpy and drivers to be impatient. On a brighter note, things are changing and most Romanians now follow the zero tolerance rule when it comes to drinking and driving. However, the further you get into nowhere, the crazier some people tend to get.
A good example is the village we accidentally drove through in search of our next stop, Medias. Before we knew it, our car got chased by farm dogs and villagers, looking for a good time on a normal week day. I still break out in sweat when I think about the fact we had to turn around and drive through it again to get back in the right direction.
9 out of 10 times villagers are friendly, hospitable people, but you don’t want to make a mistake on this one. I suggest you don’t stop and get out of the car unless you’re absolute certain you’re not solely there for other peoples’ entertainment. When you use your gut instinct, things will be just fine.
Car vs public transport
Organized tours and public transportation will only get you so far. I don’t want to bum you out, but if there’s one thing you need to see the real Romania, it’s a car. Although plenty interesting cities are connected by railways, the rural side of the country is only accessible to those who dare to drive. And let’s face it, the reason we want to do a road trip in Transylvania is because of the variety of stunning, yet less accessible nature. Still, if you leave out some of the listed destinations above, you could do this trip partly by using public transportation, local peoples’ hospitality or your legs.
If you don’t want to drive, you can always create your own schedule on CFR Calatori.
Apart from renting a car and paying for gas, this trip can be as non-expensive as you want. Lunch can be easily picked up by pulling over at small food shops or buying it from old ladies, selling produce from the side of the road. Mici (Romanian grilled sausages) or fresh berries from the forrest were my favorite roadside treats.
Tip: Make sure you have enough change with you, Pulling out a 100 or 200 Lei bill is like waving around a gun, locals just don’t have change for it.
Where to sleep
Accommodation, which usually makes a big dent in your travel budget, can be sought out cheap and on the go, as fall is a non-touristic and affordable season to travel in. We didn’t pre-book anything on our trip and yet, every night, we found a great place to sleep with no fuss at all.
However, when you happen to travel during the summer, or when you just want to enjoy your surroundings without having to worry about your accommodation for the night, there are a few spots I recommend:
- Wake up with the best view in the world at Pensiuna Lostrita, on the shore of Lake Bicaz.
- Spend the night in a romantic room in Sighisoara.
- Or meet the cutest old lady renting out Pensiuna Mimi in Medias.
- In Romania they drive on the right side of the road.
- Drinking and driving is not allowed. Penalties are severe
- If you happen to get into an accident, do not leave the scene and make sure you get a copy of the police rapport.
- The emergency number is 112
- Travelers entering Romania by car (own car or rental) need to obtain a Rovinieta, a road toll sticker. (available online as well as at most border-crossing points, postal offices and gas stations.)
- People sitting in the front seats of the car must always wear a seatbelt.
- What You Should Know Before You Travel To Romania
- These Photos Show You Why You Should Visit Romania In Autumn Right Now