How to road trip Transylvania

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.

brasov historic center
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.

Highlights

Brasov

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!

Sfanta Ana

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 romania lakeSfanta Ana in autumn colors.

 

Lake Bicaz

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!

 

Borsec

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.

lake bicaz romaniaWaking up in Lostrita, at the shore of Lake Bicaz.

Cluj-Napoca

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.

 

Sighisoara

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!

 

Road trip transylvania
Borsec

 

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

 

Scenic routes

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.

road trip transylvania
Image by Albert Dobrin

DN67C  Transalpina

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.

 

DN7C Transfagarasan

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.

Driving the Transfagarasan

A guide to Dracula tourism in Romania

road trip transylvania

 

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

road trip transylvania

 

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.)

road trip transylvania

 

Road quality

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.

road trip transylvania
The quality of the roads can be quite bad, as seen above.

Safety

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.

road trip transylvania

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.

 

Money

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. 

road trip transylvania

 

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:

 

Important information:

  • 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.

 

Also read:

Are you planning a road trip through Romania or Transylvania? Feel free to ask your questions below!

 

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road trip transylvania

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Robert Conrow
    December 17, 2016 at 23:52

    Thank you for such a informative report on traveling in Romania. <My wife and I are planning a road trip somewhere in Europe in the fall of 2017. This sounds very interesting since we have traveled quite extensively in other parts of Europe. We wanted something different but especially enjoy food and clean accommodations. Doesn't have to be expensive. We expect to spend 7 to 10 days. Have you traveled other areas around Romania?
    I would appreciated any information you can provide.
    Thank you,
    Robert Conrow

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      December 20, 2016 at 09:17

      Thanks so much Robert, I hope you have enough information to enjoy your road trip to the fullest! I haven’t traveled outside of Romania by car, so I don’t know much about the areas directly around it. I do know that the area around the northern border of Romania (Maramures) is supposed to be very beautiful during this time of year. Especially the steam train ride at Viseu de Sus (http://www.cffviseu.com/content/en/) is very high on my bucket list.
      Which direction are you coming from?

  • Reply
    Minke
    January 8, 2017 at 07:20

    My boyfriend and I are planning a roadtrip from the Netherlands to Romania, so all your tips are more than welcome! I have to let go of the idea that I want to see “everything” in the ten days (not including the drive from Holland to Romania) we plan to visit. The idea is to visit the highlights like castles and the Trans…(forgot the name) highway, make our way from Bukarest to the Black Sea shore. I was so happy to find your blog, there isn’t that much info on roadtripping Romania on the internet. Do you have any tips and tricks for us? Thanks!

  • Reply
    10 super handige tips voor een roadtrip door Roemenië!
    January 20, 2017 at 08:01

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  • Reply
    Lottie
    February 5, 2017 at 02:42

    Thanks for this great post! My husband and I (from Australia) are planning a week long road trip in this area in late August this year. I was just wondering if you had any general thoughts on the safety (apart from road safety & strange villagers). Did you find that people were honest and not out to rip you off? What about wildlife, are bears something you need to worry about if you hike up places like Tampa Hill for instance?

    Many thanks in advance.

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 6, 2017 at 20:34

      Hi Lottie!

      Thanks so much! Great that you’re planning a road trip to this great country!
      There’s an article you might want to read which gives you more info on visiting Romania. Check it out here.

      Usually people do not want to rip you off, just avoid super touristy places and people who sell produce on the side of the road. Especially forrest berries are sold for way too much.

      I shouldn’t worry about bears on Tampa hill, locals I spoke to told me that the bears were moved to a different location?!? However, most forrested areas in Romania have bears and wolves. During the second half of summer they tend to move closer to the towns and cities to look for food. Locals sometimes feed bears at garbage dumps, although bears usually feed themselves by ripping open garbage containers. Cities and towns where this happens are Brasov (Racadau area), Busteni, Predeal, Sinaia and Tusnad, or so I’ve heard. During the time I was in Romania (a total of 3 months) I’ve never seen a bear nor have I heard of one visiting. Just make sure you don’t go near garbage dumps at night!

      Have fun and don’t forget to tag me in your photos!

  • Reply
    Lottie
    February 6, 2017 at 22:38

    Thanks heaps for your extensive reply! I’m so looking forward to this adventure. I may be in contact again if anything else pops up between now and then, if that’s ok. 🙂
    I checked out your insta feed too btw. I love, love, love all your photos. <3

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 6, 2017 at 23:28

      Thanks so much, Lottie! That’s really sweet! Let me know if anything pops up! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sam Booth
    June 24, 2017 at 18:36

    Hello and thanks for sharing your wonderful road trip. In your opinion is it feasible to take a camper van/motor home? Are there any caravan/camper sites on the route you’ve described. Many thanks again. Sounds fantastic. We’re thinking of going first two weeks of September this year.
    Sam

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      June 25, 2017 at 15:40

      Hi Sam! Thanks for stopping by! I wouldn’t recommend bringing a motor home or camper van on most of the roads we’ve driven but it is possible. We’ve seen many trucks driving up and down Transylvania, if they can do it, so can you! When I was there we didn’t look for camp grounds so I don’t know how many campings there are exactly. I’d suggest to drive a car and then stay at (very affordable) pensions instead. But… when you find some, be sure to come back here and tell us! 🙂

  • Reply
    Aura
    August 6, 2017 at 20:56

    Hi! Love you tips! I’m planning a trip to Romania this fall. I want to make sure I see all the great fall colors, did you go early October or end? Just trying to figure out when would be best! Thank you!

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      August 15, 2017 at 11:55

      Hey Aura, I went somewhere in mid-October. As you can see there were plenty of fall colors 🙂

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