The Best of Bucharest and Transylvania

13 Days in Europe's Last Secret

The unblemished scenic beauty of Transylvania, as beguiling as that of Tuscany or Provence, is one of Europe’s last secrets. The preindustrial landscape of this vast province in the heart of Romania makes for an ideal road trip. There, shadowy forests give way to neatly tilled fields, meadows dotted with grazing cows, orchards bright with red apples and wildflower pastures that remind one of the intricate prettiness of medieval embroidery. Perched on hilltops are villages of pastel-painted houses and fortified white-walled churches. 

It’s possible to do this itinerary with a rental car, but it will be more relaxing to hire a driver (Romanian roads can be narrow and poorly marked, and motorists aggressive). The route circles to and from Bucharest, Romania’s up-and-coming capital, encompassing much of the best of Transylvania. 

Some sites included here now draw crowds, notably Bran Castle and the town of Sighișoara. But most of the places included in this journey remain unspoiled by mass tourism. Few regions in Europe feel as untouched by modernity as Transylvania; this itinerary is a step back in time to a Europe that has disappeared almost everywhere else on the continent.

Our itineraries are for your inspiration. If you do not see specific departure dates listed, please contact Andrew Harper Travel to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.
    • Discover Romanian cooking
    • Explore the National Museum of Art of Romania 
    • Visit the National Romanian Peasant Museum and the National Village Museum to understand the country’s rural life
    • Take a Jewish history tour in Bucharest
    • Stop in the mountain town of Sinaia to see Peleș Castle
    • Tour Bran Castle
    • Explore Brașov’s well-preserved medieval center
    • Learn about the Saxon culture in Sibiu

Day 1 : Depart the U.S.

It’s relatively easy to reach Bucharest from the United States, with a plane change at a major European gateway city, such as London or Frankfurt.

Day 2 : Arrive in Bucharest

Arrive in Bucharest in the late morning or early afternoon. Check into the Hotel Epoque, the best available hideaway option in the city. If you don’t have a guide to help you explore Bucharest, use a ride share rather than taxis, which will avoid any language problems.

In the afternoon, take a guided tour of Bucharest to get oriented to the city.

The hotel has a vaunted restaurant, but there are far better options nearby. My favorite is The Artist, a charming place run by Dutch chef Paul Oppenkamp within a turn-of-the-century house. Beca’s Kitchen is a great address for a light lunch during a sightseeing day in the city, as it’s both welcoming and well-located. If Casa Doina is the concierge’s address for anyone who wants to discover a refined version of Romanian cooking, Locanta Jaristea has even better food and is a lot more fun, as it is housed in an old villa and features live entertainment that might include a violinist and a chanteuse or two. 

Overnight at the Hotel Epoque.

Day 3 - 4 : Bucharest

A marble staircase in the National Art Museum in Bucharest, Romania - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Bucharest has a variety of fascinating museums. The National Museum of Art of Romania has some beautiful icons from Moldavian churches and monasteries and fine canvases by little-known Romanian artists. 

The perfect preparation for a trip to Transylvania or other rural parts of Romania, however, are visits to the National Romanian Peasant Museum and the National Village Museum. The former exhibits handicrafts, tools, textiles and other objects from all over Romania, while the latter is an open-air architectural museum of farmhouses, windmills and other agrarian buildings that were moved to the capital. Together, they provide deep insight into Romanian rural life.

I also recommend taking one of the themed tours offered by the Hotel Epoque, such as the Jewish history tour, street art tour or “Bohemian Bucharest: Markets & Mahallas” tour, which includes food and drink tastings.

Day 5 : Budapest – Brașov

Depart in the morning in your car or with a driver (my recommendation) and head out of the city to Transylvania. En route, stop in the mountain town of Sinaia to see Peleș Castle, a neo-Renaissance fantasy that was the summer home of the Romanian royal family until 1947. 

After lunch nearby at Taverna Sarbului, continue on to Romania’s most famous castle, Bran, the former summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. This 14th-century fortress styles itself as Dracula’s Castle but in fact has only tenuous connections with Vlad the Impaler. Perched on a rocky crag, however, it certainly looks the part. 

Arrive in Brașov in the early evening and check into the Vila Katharina. This atmospheric little three-room property is not a luxury hotel, but it’s a pleasant guesthouse in which to stay while in Brașov. 

Overnight at Vila Katharina.

Day 6 : Brașov

Take a full day to explore Brașov’s well-preserved medieval center, including the Piața Sfatului, or Council Square, which has been the heart of the city for more than 500 years, and the huge 14th-century Biserica Neagră (Black Church). For dinner, I recommend La Ceaun. Both addresses of this popular restaurant serve superb homestyle Romanian dishes, including an excellent sour mushroom soup, Hungarian beef stew and stuffed cabbage.

Overnight at Vila Katharina.

Day 7 : Brașov – Sibiu – Copșa Mare

A clock tower in Sibiu, Romania - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

After breakfast, drive two and a half hours to Sibiu, known as Hermannstadt when it was populated by Saxons. Most of them left long ago for Germany, Austria and the United States, but the Germanic imprint on this charming and well-groomed city is obvious. 

Aside from its churches, squares and medieval half-timbered houses, the highlight of my visit was the Brukenthal National Museum, housed in the baroque palace of an aristocratic family. In addition, the Emil Sigerus Museum of Ethnography and Saxon Folk Art offers some fascinating insights into Saxon culture, while a few miles outside Sibiu, the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization is also worthwhile.

Continue on to Copșa Mare and check into the homey and very friendly Copsamare Guesthouses. Have dinner at the hotel (there is nowhere else to eat in the village, so meals need to be booked when you make your reservation).

Overnight at Copsamare Guesthouses.

Day 8 : Biertan and Mălâncrav

It’s a short drive from Copșa Mare to Biertan, which has become the most visited Saxon village after its 16th-century fortified church was enrolled as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. The church is reached via a covered stairway, and its interior is notable for a magnificent folding altar with a carved crucifixion scene surrounded by painted panels.

It’s another 40 minutes or so via meandering backcountry roads to Mălâncrav, which has the largest remaining population of Saxons in Transylvania. Despite being isolated, this quiet and tidy commune of well-maintained pastel-painted houses has a prosperous air. This is mostly due to the restoration efforts of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, which has renovated many houses, replanted the local apple orchards and opened a fruit-processing plant, which produces high-quality organic apple juice. Of particular note in Mălâncrav are the 14th-century Gothic mural paintings in the church, which are considered the finest in Romania. 

Overnight at Copsamare Guesthouses.

Day 9 : Hiking and Sighișoara

Spend the morning relaxing in Copșa Mare and perhaps doing a hike in the countryside. 

After lunch, visit picturesque Sighișoara. Built on a hilltop, this is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Recently, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Transylvania, so the ideal time to arrive is late afternoon just as the crowds are leaving. 

Overnight at Copsamare Guesthouses.

After lunch, visit picturesque Sighișoara. Built on a hilltop, this is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Recently, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Transylvania, so the ideal time to arrive is late afternoon just as the crowds are leaving. 

Overnight at Copsamare Guesthouses.

Day 10 : Copșa Mare – Micloșoara

Drive about three hours to Micloșoara today, stopping en route to visit some of the region’s loveliest villages. In particular, take some time to pause in Saschiz, Criț, Meșendorf and Viscri. 

Viscri became better known after Prince Charles bought a house there in 1996, and the village was subsequently awarded UNESCO status as a World Heritage site. A pretty hamlet of pastel-painted houses with fish-scale terra-cotta tile roofs, Viscri was originally inhabited by Saxons, but most of them chose to move back to Germany in 1990. The village’s fortified 12th-century church is now open to the public and affords wonderful views over the village and surrounding countryside from its tower.

Continue on to Micloșoara and Count Kálnoky’s Transylvanian Guesthouses, with 10 accommodations distributed among whitewashed houses and farm buildings. Dinner at the charming inn is rather like a house party. Overnight at Count Kálnoky’s Transylvanian Guesthouses.

Day 11 - 12 : Micloșoara

The rate at Count Kálnoky’s Transylvanian Guesthouses includes a daily excursion. We found the two most worthwhile options to be “The Land of the Szeklers” tour and the “Horse and Cart Ride.” The Szeklers tour includes visits to a working water-driven flour mill built in 1835, as well as to traditional craft workshops, including those of a woodcarver, a weaver and a blacksmith. 

In contrast, the horse-and-cart excursion delivers a slow-motion experience of the Transylvanian countryside, led by an English-speaking naturalist, who explains the flora and fauna (including brown bears and wolves) of the region.

Overnight at Count Kálnoky’s Transylvanian Guesthouses.

Day 13 : Micloșoara – Bucharest

It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Bucharest, where there’s time for an additional afternoon tour or some shopping. 

Overnight at the Hotel Epoque.

Day 14 : Depart

Transfer to the Bucharest airport and connect to your flight home.

The Best of Bucharest and Transylvania

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