One of my best friends recently got married in Moldova, so I decided to go on an adventure and road trip back through Romania. I was really pleasantly surprised by the country and my first venture into Eastern Europe, so below I will share some tips on places to see and things to do when in Romania.
But first off, here is some advice if you are renting a car… which is probably the best piece of advice I can give. You may think it’s stating the obvious, but trust me I wish someone had asked me before I left. Don’t forget to check if you can cross the border with your car. Living in the EU and within the Schengen zone, I totally take going from one country to another and crossing borders for granted. Bottom line is, crossing borders is still a big deal, especially if you have a rental car. So do your homework.
Where to rent a car and other car tips.
- There are plenty of car rental services at the airport including the main names like Hertz, Europcar, Avis etc. Pick up is easy (except they do not open late night hours) and the car was super modern. If you are driving in the summer AC is a must, and I also highly recommend getting a GPS. I don’t usually use them but it takes the stress off driving in a foreign country, and mine took me the right way every single time.
- I would also recommend buying a regular map just in case the GPS lets you down or they don’t have one to give you. Road signs in general are pretty good meaning you can find you way easily.
- Petrol stations are relatively frequent along the road, especially the main roads connecting big cities (bear in mind there are no motorways except around Bucharest) which makes it relatively easy to fill up as you go along and stop to buy snacks. If in doubt, do fill up before you embark on a long stint of driving.
- Roads are generally good. Even though there are no motorways they have decent main roads that are easy to drive on. The method is generally “slow” cars drive between the hard shoulder and the road so that the faster ones can overtake them. This happens on both sides of the road so don’t be alarmed to see cars coming towards you. Also be aware that there are still people driving horse & cart who also need to be overtaken as well.
- I’m not going to lie, Romanian driving can get pretty hairy so you need to be prepared for some dangerous situations. Mostly, just be aware of other drivers around you and the mad ways they will overtake. Be prepared and make sure you leave decent amounts of space between you and other drivers…
Places to visit and other tips
1. Iasi is a town very close to the border with Moldova, which makes it an easy stop off. It’s a pretty city with main points of interest being the University, the first higher education institution in Romania, the Palace of Culture (which unfortunately was closed) and the Copou park.
Where to stay? The guidebook I had didn’t provide a lot of hostel options but a quick search on the internet revealed Stup Hostel. I found the fact that it was situated slightly out of town kind of nice, it’s within walking distance and there are plenty of trams that can take you back up hill. It’s small and discreet, and I would say an affordable place to stay.
Overall I was unfortunately not too excited by Iasi, perhaps because I was tired from driving or simply unbearably hot… I wouldn’t say don’t go, but I also would not necessarily make it a must on your trip.
2. Transylvanian mountains One of my goals on the trip was to see a bear (Romania has the largest population of brown bears in Europe) so I stopped off in an estate in the mountains . Various hotels will organize bear watching as a package deal, which means you don’t have to worry about coming face to face with one on your own.
My Romanian friend discovered this amazing estate in the heart of Transylvania, which I could not recommend more highly, the Zabola estate. The estate is huge and perfectly situated in the middle of the woods. If you’re looking for a place to just relax and forget, this is most definitely the place to be. Surrounded by a large and shady garden, the house is a beautiful old building which has been fully restored. Everything down to the detail of the furniture and decoration picked for the house is perfect, giving you the impression of being at home. The rooms are large, spacious and comfortable, and you will get the best night’s sleep ever.
Around the estate you can either walk into the woods by yourself, or go on one of the many activities they offer such as a horse carriage tour, picnic in the park or sauna in the woods. Alternatively, you can just enjoy the beautiful garden and relax with a book in the beautiful surroundings. The food, all prepared by the staff on site is absolutely delicious and I would highly recommend having dinner there at least once.
Interestingly, the estate is situated in a Hungarian enclave in Romania and is owned by Hungarian Count Mikes. The staff all speak Hungarian (Romanian and English also) and it’s interesting to see this small population of Hungarian descent in Transylvania.
Note: The estate and experience is very romantic, in fact it is one of the top 5 romantic destinations in Romania. It’s still possible to visit alone (I was a solo traveller) but if you feel this might make you uncomfortable, I would recommend waiting to go with your significant other.
More to come in Road Tripping Romania part 2! Watch this space…