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The ultra-complete guide before you travel to Transylvania (26 tips)

One thing is sure. You know that Transylvania is beautiful. Magical. Mythical. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be standing arms crossed with a pile of clothes that need to find space in your luggage. Should I travel to Transylvania?

Hmmm … but what if Transylvania is not such a fabulous place after all, you know … There are many myths…

Well, that’s why I’m here…to put in the sincerity light the good and the bad about Transylvania and give you an objective and competent opinion.

Stop wasting precious time; your suitcase is waiting, so let’s just start!

This is the complete guide before you travel to Transylvania!

Brasov downtown
Brasov downtown after the rain; @ana.partene
winter in Transylvania
Nice winter shot from Paltinis, Sibiu area; @icristinaphotography

Show contents

The very basics!
Travel related issues
Transylvanian stuff

wildlife in Transylvania

1. Rule no 1!

Many people live with the impression that Transylvania is a country. Alas no, it is a region situated right in the heart of Romania, in central-eastern Europe. A rather large area, it’s true.

You will most likely find two definitions of Transylvania.

The first says that Transylvania is the area comprised within the Carpathian arc, (so a much smaller area), while the second incorporates a much larger area that includes the regions of Ardeal (also called Crisana), Maramures and Banat.

This can create ambiguity for any tourist who faces two opposing definitions. It also explains the fact that some travel blogs write about the above-mentioned areas as Transylvania.

map with the 3 major regions of Romania
The 3 major areas of Romania; photo credit: graiulsalajului.ro

A complete guide of travel to Transylvania comprises basic info, things about travelling, as well as things related to this land beyond the forest, as the primary meaning says.

The very basics!

2. Make sure you don’t need a visa

If you want to find out if you need a visa (for Romania) it is best to check a serious site: http://evisa.mae.ro/NeedVisa.

Shortly, if you are from a European country or from the US, you need no visa if you plan a stay no longer than 90 days.

3. Insurance is useful

It’s a mandatory thing before travelling. It is common sense to cover theft, loss and medical problems.

Travel to Transylvania and visit romantic Sighisoara
Sighisoara is very romantic; @veronicassights

4. Currency and exchange

The Romanian currency is leu (also called Ron sometimes).

1 euro is around 5 lei, and 1 USD is 4.92 lei (July 2022).

If you are the type to use plastic, this is the rule of thumb: in the city there’s no problem. There are lots of ATMs and you can pay by card in most places and restaurants, but in the country, you need cash. There are lots of exchange offices in the city and most of them do not charge commission.

Sirnea in Brasov
Sirnea village in Brasov area is famous for its beauty

5. Survival kit

Before you travel to Transylvania, you should know that Romania uses 230 V, so, depending on your country of origin, you may need a converter for your electronic devices. Bring a converter to plug in and charge your devices, but there’s no problem if you forget. You can buy one in any electronic store.

6. Time zone

Romania’s time zone is EET (Eastern European Time) and it is GMT +2.

You can usually find a tourist info office in every travel destination, placed next to a strategic point.

Romania uses the metric measurement system, like most European countries.

A travel to Transylvania equals perfect landscape

Travel related issues

7. Rent a car – very useful

This is a must for travelling in Transylvania.

On the one hand, trains are rather slow, and, on the other hand, there are remote places that can only be explored by car. There are buses of course, but I wouldn’t recommend them either unless you don’t have another option.

However, there are many rent a car companies for affordable prices. Usually, they ask for a deposit worth around 100 euros. You can find many rental companies in every bigger town.

8. Driving in Transylvania

Travel in Transylvania implies driving occasionally. I read in many parts that Romanian drivers are crazy and it’s too dangerous to drive there.

It is not true. Not like this.

What is true is that the country doesn’t have a good road infrastructure and not enough highways, which translates in few roads that can be crowded with cars, trucks, even horse carts sometimes.

Transfagarasan road
Not all roads look like Transfagarasan; photo: fb discover romania

I have driven in other countries as well and although there is a bit more discipline, I haven’t felt menaced by the Romanian drivers. If you obey the rules and do not exceed the speeding limit, nothing bad will happen.

Speed limits for cars are 130 km/h on freeways, 100 km/h on express, national and European roads and 90 km/h in other areas. In towns and built-up areas, the limit is 50 km/h.

The blood alcohol limit is zero. Random breath tests can occur and penalties are severe.

Carta, the monastery of the Cistercian order
Good roads and driving can take you to beautiful places; here Carta monastery not far from Sibiu; photo credit: Sorin Onisor

9. Where to fly in

Although most of the people who visit Romania start rigorously from the capital, Transylvania offers some landing opportunities not to be overlooked. Cluj Napoca is the largest and most vibrant city in Transylvania, so consider it a good starting option. It operates regular flights of TAROM (the Romanian carrier), Lufthansa or low-cost companies such as Wizz Air, Ryan Air or Blue Air.

Sibiu is a smaller city, but very chic and is surrounded by amazing landscape.

Charming Sibiu
Charming Sibiu can be a good starting point; Photo: Bogdan Mustatea

10. How many days to plan

Well, well, this is a difficult thing to say. It depends of course on the number of days planned for your vacation.

To make things straight, I’d say it is an insult to travel to Transylvania and spend less than 3 days. Ideally, a trip to the region should last between 4-5 or over 5 days. There were people who came, loved it, bought a house in the countryside and settled down.

Come visit Transylvania!
Nature awaits…

11. Best season to visit

This is a simple one. Transylvania is versatile from this point of view. It’s got the real deal for all the 4 seasons. Most people come in summer, which is okay from all points of view. Yeah, it is more crowded, but Transylvania doesn’t yet get hordes of tourists, so with a bit of careful planning you won’t have to spend your time queueing.

Insider tip!: book tickets ahead for Bran Castle as it is Romania’s no 1 attraction!

Spring and autumn can be ideal seasons if you flirt with the idea of seeing more of Transylvania for yourself. Watch out though, even if the weather can be pleasant and warm throughout the day, early mornings and evenings are chilly!

Winter is perfect if you also consider skiing in one of the mountain resorts!

Beautiful winter nature
Beautiful winter; @maramuresoriginal

12. Prices and affordability

I’ve been reading articles about how affordable and cheap Romania is for tourists.

It is true, prices are much lower in Romania than in other countries, such as the US or many other European countries. Romanian prices are a little lower than in neighbouring countries and considerably lower compared to western Europe.

Romania is an affordable country for travellers and travel nomads who can easily accommodate and live here for a longer period of time.

The Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle is one of the most beautiful medieval strongholds

For accommodation, the average hotel price for a couple/night is around 50 euro. The average price for food/meals for one day/person is around 100-125 lei (20-25 euro), while transportation varies between 75-100 lei (15-20 euro) if you use means of transportations, trains or taxis. If you only travel within a city by bus or tram, these costs are much lower. Many tourist attractions are free, or they only charge a few euros per attraction.

You should expect higher rates for nightclubs and bars, as well as festive meals held at special events, such as Christmas, Easter or New Year’s Eve. Entertainment is also pricier, such as not so common sport attractions: paragliding, canoeing, rafting or buggy rides.

A travel to Transylvania is full of adrenalin: buggy rides
Ready for a buggy ride?

13. Tipping

This is common practice in Romania. People usually leave a tip that is around 10% for service in restaurants, bars or at the hairdresser.

14. Travel gear + what to pack

Travel to Transylvania speaks the same language as the universal clothing style. So, the ladies should bring skirts, trousers, T-shirts, while some jeans, trousers, shorts, T shirts or polo shirts will do for gents. It is highly advisable to bring comfy shoes and trainers. And yes, leggings, hiking pants plus a raincoat if you plan to attack the mountainous areas.

Other compulsory elements include: credit card, cell phone charger, convertor, a detailed driving map, driver’s licence to rent a car, passport, professional camera or phone to immortalize fabulous places, sunscreen lotion for summer and obviously, good mood. The rest is provided.

Travel gear

15. Safe travel – no need to worry

A visit to Transylvania is commonly considered safe. Romania is a safe country for travel and living, so you needn’t worry.

Walking around after darkness is also carefree, but of course you should avoid shady neighborhoods. However, you should pay attention to pickpockets and never leave your bag unattended. Pay attention to taxi drivers, as some of them scam foreign tourists by trying to get more money.

Oradea is stunning
Oradea is one of the most peaceful and beautiful cities in the whole country.

16. Travellers with disabilities

Transylvania can sometimes prove an unfriendly destination for travellers with disabilities. The Romanian system hasn’t provided wheelchair access in all buildings, so it is better to check on the website before arrival.

Then, almost every downtown destination from the cities has cobbled streets that make the wheelchair displacement more difficult. The smaller the town/village is, the fewer chances to find assistance.  

Transylvanian stuff

17. Transylvanian history made super short

Historically, Transylvania was conquered by the Hungarians by the 12th century and was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Then, Teutonic knights and Saxon inhabitants (from Germany) were brought to populate the land and defend the borders. Transylvania was later part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Despite the unification from 1918 that put together all Romanian provinces (Transylvania included), the beginning of World War II annexed northern Transylvania to Hungary and the situation remained so until 1944. Ever since, Transylvania has been Romanian land.

Today, the Hungarian and German ethnic minorities are decreasing, but the area preserves important cultural and architectural influences.

Harman fortified church
Harman fortified church is one of my favourites

18. What to expect

Transylvania is for good reason the most famous region in Romania. And not only in Romania. Its reputation crossed the borders due to the beauty and variety of landscape and activities. This is the country’s most developed region from an economic point of view and an important cultural hub.

This area awaits the visitor with castles (Bran, Corvin), the almost unique Saxon fortified churches (Viscri, Biertan, Harman, Prejmer, Crit, etc), natural parks (Apuseni, Retezat), hiking and sports opportunities (Tarnita Lake, Colibita Lake, Bucegi mountains, Canionul 7 Scari near Brasov, etc), wildlife (Libearty Bear Sanctuary), vibrant cities, (Cluj, Brasov) medieval and charming atmosphere (Sighisoara, Sibiu), hospitable people, cultural events and festivals (TIFF, UNTOLD), delicious dishes and authentic guesthouses.

This is the moment you just realized the number of days planned doesn’t overlap with the plans in your head.

Biertan fortified church is well worth being UNESCO heritage
Biertan fortified church is well worth being UNESCO heritage; @anamariamnc

19. No vampires or Dracula, but lots of garlic

Contrary to the classic belief that you will meet Dracula, you can only dream at night about Count Dracula digging his vampire teeth into your immaculate skin. So, a travel to Transylvania wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Dracula’s castle.

Although Dracula was a fictional character invented by Bram Stoker who never visited Transylvania, Eastern European folklore largely used garlic to ward off this creature. Moreover, garlic is seen as a remedy that protects people and homes from evil spirits, as well as curing colds and coughs.

Bran Castle
Bran Castle; @vladdmh

Romanians are big fans of strange superstitions and mythic creatures. The strigoi (meaning witch or evil spirit in Latin) are, besides the real Vlad the Impaler, another source of inspiration for the famous bloodthirsty creature. They are some sort of Romanian vampires with troubled spirits that have risen from the grave.

The strigoi are believed to suck the milk from mothers and cows, which is why Romanian peasants have long protected their livestock by covering their horns with garlic.

image of strigoi
Image of strigoi

20. Transylvanian people and jokes on Transylvanians

Like in other countries, Romanians have this inner segregation according to regions. People from Transylvania are considered smart, preoccupied with their families, and somehow superior to others.

Still, there’s a stereotype about ardeleni (another name for the inhabitants of Transylvania) that says that they are very slow and speak without hurrying because all good things require a lot of time.

So, let me translate two jokes for you to see my point:

You know why the ardeleni don’t go to the theatre on Saturday?

Not to laugh in church on Sunday.

And here comes the other:

Why do the ardeleni put bread in the soup?

Not to open their mouth twice.

Maybe these anecdotes are a key in understanding Transylvanians’ behaviour in being slow.

The fresh green grass and perfect blue sky invite to a calm and slow lifestyle
The fresh green grass and perfect blue sky invite to a calm and slow lifestyle

21. Good to know about drinking…

Romanians will never refuse a shot of palinca. And nor should you.

A strong spirit usually made of plums, the palinca is usually served as an appetizer. Reaching sometimes 5o degrees, it is the real deal. If you are invited for a shot of palinca/tuica (another name) as a hospitality sign, it is impolite to refuse. Moreover, you should drink it as a shot. If you think it is too strong, you can stop after the first one, even if the hosts don’t.

Although you can find palinca in the restaurant or even store, true palinca is homemade. Romanians pride themselves with their own distillation.

Palinca - the Romanian drink
Wanna taste a shot of palinca?; @celarspirits

22. …and eating

Eating in Transylvania is mainly about hearty dishes with meat. But also about eating organic in the country. And affordable.

Transylvanian cuisine is not for diet, but it sure is finger-licking good (as some famous slogan says!!). It was born from the combination of various cultures and influences that add some extra flavour to the Romanian dishes.

In order to feel what this land tastes like, you should try a piece of slab of pork fatback, called slănină with onion, freshly baked bread and a glass of pălincă. Or cabbage made in Cluj style, or bulz, or soup, or kurtos kalacs, or rhubarb pie….and the list can go on!

Romanian food
Some appetizers at Haferland Transylvanian week; photo: worldtravelbug.com

Insider tip!: If you want to experience traditional dishes and feel Transylvania on a plate, opt for accommodation in a traditional guesthouse. In many cases, they have their own providers from the village, which totally changes the taste.

Extra tip: You needn’t worry if you are a vegetarian. Yes, you have less options, but there are some good ones. However, every city offers you at least one tasty vegetarian restaurant. Try Samsara in Cluj, Simone in Brasov or Kombinat Gastro-Brewery (vegetarian friendly) in Sibiu!

Grilled vegetables - vegetarian food
Halloumi salad with grilled vegetables is one of the many choices for the vegetarians; fb samsara

23. Can you get along with English?

The younger generation is a big fan of English, whose words they frequently use in combination with Romanian. So, a visit to Transylvania will go smooth if you use English. You won’t have difficulty finding (especially young) people who can speak English in the city.

There is a different story in the countryside, but even if they cannot communicate with you, people will do anything to reach out to you through body language.

A simple translation app on the phone can do the job, though.

24. Other languages you may hear

Of course, this is Romania, so people speak Romanian. However, witness to a long and troubled history and an intense cultural heritage, Transylvania is still home to Hungarians and Germans (even if to an ever smaller amount). So, sometimes you can hear other languages than Romanian spoken on the streets of Transylvania. Especially among older people.

25. Feel the nightlife

This is a must if you travel to Transylvania.

Everybody already knows that Bucharest is the new Berlin for its huge partying appetite. This is also applicable for all major cities in Transylvania. Romanians are huge fans of clubbing (suffer a lot because of the pandemic) that the young generation uses as the most common form of recreation and socializing.

If you want to experience nightlife, you should do as the Romanians do. They gather around someone’s place and drink a few drinks for a start, and it is only around midnight that they hit a club where they sometimes enjoy themselves till the break of dawn.

nightlife in Cluj
After eight in Cluj is a student pub and club; fb after eight

26. Hotels vs guesthouses vs hostels

It is your call considering the amount to spend. You can find a large variety here.

Hotels are the most classic type of accommodation. Hostels are mainly budget and offer accommodation up to 8 or 10 people in the same room, often with a shared bathroom.

Personally, I suggest trying a guesthouse whenever possible. They are (in many cases) family businesses that offer very decent conditions, cleanliness, lots of nature (if you aren’t in the city) and delicious dishes prepared by the locals for reasonable prices. Here are some guesthouses that I highly recommend: Harmonia Mundi near Cluj,  Krauss House in Crit, Casa Chira in Viseu de Sus, or Transylvania Guesthouse in Cincsor. If you want to feel like a princess or valiant knight, opt for a castle, such as Zabola estate, or Haller Castle in Ogra.

Cincsor guethouse
The living room, but not only, is a real gem in Transylvania Guesthouse, Cincsor

In conclusion, Romania is a beautiful country with majestic landscape and affordable prices. We boast on great food and hospitable people. We have some of the last pristine forests in Europe scattered with wildlife. Transylvania is home to some stories and legends that go beyond its borders and bring its fame. Our traditions and remote villages where time stood still are unique for the traveller ready to experience authentic taste and feel the true sense of this land’s inhabitants.

In order to truly understand the Transylvanian spirit, the curious traveller should immerse in a journey that includes nature, remote villages, a few cities and genuine homemade food.

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