Transylvania triangle train tour
- This article is an itinerary.
Twelve days gives you enough time to see all of the main cities and destinations, while being short enough for those who don't have the time for more in-depth travel. You get to see the highlights of every town, which is enough for many of the destinations.
The tour starts from Brasov and continues to the following cities in order:
- Sinaia day trip
- Huedin and surrounding villages - if you wish to stop over here
- Alba Iulia
Being a circular, or rather a triangular tour, nearly all of Transylvania's main sights are covered. Some people wish to start the tour in Bucharest, Romania's capital, which is not in Transylvania but is the main Romanian entry point. If you start from Bucharest, travel from there to Brasov and back is very easy, made possible by fast train connections hourly. The tour is triangular in that its "corners" are in Brasov, Oradea and Timisoara, and the journey between these cities occurs in mostly straight lines.
Transylvania is the region known around the world for Dracula, misty castles and medieval villages. The latter is true, although Dracula has for a long time been a (fairly) untrue stereotype. The Transylvanian Triangle Train Tour, due to its variety, enables you to see Romania's most developed region in all its forms - from wonderful rural areas, to medium-sized baroque towns to cosmopolitan cities, to medieval villages. The trip is also worth making due to the fact that you will meet local people and local culture, eat some of the best food you've ever eaten (trust us here, Transylvanian food is quite delicious) and partake in a journey that is quite significantly different from other parts of Europe yet still has that common sheen.
The political situation in Translyvania is quite stable even though it's been, along with Bucharest, Romania's most problematic technically. The Romanian Revolution of 1989 started here, in Timisoara, and since then there have been mild problems with the sizeable Hungarian minority, which is a majority in some (generally rural) areas. There is also a moderately large (i.e. less than 5%) Roma (Gypsy) minority. However, in years the Hungarians and the Romanians have gotten along with each other like they never have before, and there is very little chance of you encountering any real political or ethnic problems. That doesn't mean the Romanians don't joke about the Hungarians or vice versa, but these things are, in essence, the good humour that all Transylvanians share.
Your journey will take you through fairly distinct "mini-regions" in terms of culture and history. Brasov and its surrounding region have a quite significant (but declining) ethnic German minority, and it is also home to mountain resorts such as Sinaia and medieval towns like Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş (the inspiration for Dracula). After you can visit the coffee culture, street theatre and cosmopolitan society of Sibiu (European Capital Of Culture-2007), the heartland of the German minority-which has the best museum in Romania (the Bruckenthal) and a very romantic medieval feel to it. Further on you reach the heart of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca. It is situated near the Apuseni Mountains and is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Transylvania. Here you will encounter a significant Hungarian minority and the opportunity to sample a taste (you can take that literally as well - Hungarian restaurants are plentiful) of Hungarian culture. Further on, the Apuseni Mountains is a beautiful rural area west of Cluj-Napoca, where you will see stunning scenery. This is the only rural region where you will stop over on your journey, and it's really worth seeing even though it won't appeal to everyone. Next on, you reach the Baroque towns of Oradea and Arad, with their great cultural and historical spirit. Here you will see how architecture and culture were back in the Austro-Hungarian times. Onwards, you reach Timisoara, the heartland of the Banat province. Timisoara is one of the fastest-growing cities in Romania, and it is becoming an increasingly modern city, with many services everywhere. Even though it still offers history, Timisoara is definitely unique from all the other areas. After Timisoara, it is useful to return back north to Brasov, but on a different route, to complete the "Triangle". You will see the citadel city of Alba Iulia, with its wonderful history and monasteries.
The tour is done by train because train captures the Transylvanian spirit best and makes for the best experience possible. Other possibilities include bus travel, which is getting increasingly popular in Transylvania but simply provides a way of getting from A to B with none of that charming experience associated with Romanian train travel. Car travel is also possible, but due to the not-so-good state of Romanian roads, this is best left alone. Therefore, train travel is both cheap and easy to use (you don't need to know any road directions or numbers, or any bus company contacts), and, for many people, it is a 'destination' within itself.
Even though Transylvania is a civilized destination with ample facilities, the nature of this itinerary is such that you will need to have at least some amount of self-sufficiency. Travel on trains is comfortable but not all that luxurious, so it's useful to pack snacks, etc. It's good to have water and food with you always; not so much in the larger cities (Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, Brasov and Timisoara) but in the rural areas. However, it is valuable to eat in restaurants from time to time, because they're not all that expensive and serve great food.
In terms of official requirements, you need to either have a Romanian passport or a Romanian visa. However, citizens of the European Union, Canada, and the USA can travel to Romania visa-free for 30 days, so you won't have troubles - just present your passport when entering the country, and you're off.
The starting point for the itinerary is Brasov, at the eastern extremity of Transylvania. The reason for this is that Brasov is very easily accessible. If you are already in Romania (in areas such as Bucharest, the Black Sea Coast, the Painted Monasteries), travel to Brasov is best done by train. If this will be the only tour you will be doing of Transylvania, there is a daily night-train from Budapest to Brasov (this train is named Corona). However, for visitors from other countries, it is best if you fly into Bucharest and then catch an InterCity fast train to Brasov. The same applies at the end of your journey - if you want to see more of Romania, catch a train to Bucharest or another part of the country, or continue onwards to other countries either from Brasov directly (Brasov is an important railway center in Romania) or from Bucharest.
If you want to find out more about each destination, click on its link, which will take you to one of our specialized articles about the destination. Note that train route numbers, times and costs have been given for the journey. Even though these aren't likely to change significantly, it is best to check online at www.mersultrenurilorcfr.ro, the online timetable of the Romanian railways, for up-to-date service details. Trains in Romania come in four flavours - InterCity (IC), Rapid (R), Accelerat (A) and Personal (P - the slowest and cheapest). There are also international, nightly trains known as EuroNight (EN). When using A or P trains, it's best to book 1st class, but with the others, second class is more than comfortable, especially on the InterCity (IC).
- Day 1: Brasov - visit the city for the whole day, not forgetting the magnificent Poiana Braşov outside the city, accessible by bus
- Day 2: Sinaia day trip - leave in the morning with train R 826, departing at 09:04 and arriving in Sinaia at 10:14. Cost: 18.50 Lei (approx. $7.5) in 2nd class. Visit Sinaia's wonderful scenery - if you want, you can travel by taxi to destinations slightly outside the town. Taxis are very cheap and can be used for travel to any place in the Sinaia distict. Also, visiting the majestic Peleş Castle is a must - this is what Sinaia is renowned for. Return to Brasov in the evening with train R 370, departing Sinaia at 20:26 and arriving in Brasov at 21:27. Cost: 18.50 Lei (approx. $7.5). This train is of very high quality - it also contains sleeping compartments to Budapest - don't book one of these on the journey between Sinaia and Brasov! After arriving back in Brasov, sleep here overnight.
- Day 3: Brasov to Sighisoara - leave in the morning with train R 374, departing at 09:37 and arriving in Sighisoara at 10:25. Cost: 33.90 Lei (approx. $13.80) in 2nd class. After arriving in Sighisoara, the city is yours to visit. The medieval town is wonderful, and it is best to walk to all sights, as the town is fairly small. Stay overnight at Sighisoara and, if you want, splurge on a Romanian dinner at a restaurant.
- Day 4: Sighisoara to Cluj-Napoca - leave in the morning with train A 1748, departing at 12:36 and arriving in Cluj at 15:54. Cost: 59.30 Lei (approx. $24.15) in 1st class (A or Accelerat aren't very comfortable in 2nd class). On arrival in Cluj-Napoca, book a hotel and then visit the city's many sights. Use this afternoon as your 'initiation' into Cluj-Napoca, and don't rush to visit all the many tourist destinations - the next day is for that. For the time being, it's best just to take a leisurely stroll among the lovely green parks and the historical areas of the town.
- Day 5: Cluj-Napoca - today you have the whole day to visit Cluj-Napoca. See the Cluj-Napoca article for important sights to visit. Sleep overnight at a hotel in Cluj-Napoca.
- Day 6: Cluj-Napoca to Huedin to Oradea - leave in the morning with train P 3073 (a rural train that stops at every little village), departing at 07:50 and arriving in Huedin at 09:09. Cost: 8.9 Lei (approx. $3.6) in 1st class. This train is fairly limited service and doesn't run about eight days per month. Once you arrive in Huedin, a small regional (though not rural) town, rent a taxi for the whole day. Huedin isn't particularly interesting, and "renting" a taxi is possible for around $5-$10 for the whole day (negotiate the price with the driver). Tell the driver to take you around the Apuseni Mountains region, to villages such as Calata, Nearsova, Domosu de Cris, Horlacea, Piatra Craiului, etc. Drivers are usually very friendly, though not all speak English. The Apuseni Mountains region is a great natural tourism experience. In the afternoon, return the Huedin and depart onwards to Oradea with train A 1833, leaving at 15:55 and arriving in Oradea at 17:37. Cost: 32.20 Lei (approx. $13.1). Upon arrival in Oradea, book a hotel in the city centre and then explore the town. Eat at one of Oradea's excellent restuarants or pubs if you want. Or, even better, buy yourself a ticket to the Oradea Theatre (the shows are very good, the theatre is extravagantly good and the tickets are very cheap) If you don't want to visit Huedin and the Apuseni Mountains, then simply catch a train direct from Cluj-Napoca to Oradea and continue the itinerary.
- Day 7: Oradea - visit Oradea's main attractions and the city itself. Pay a visit to the wonderful Ţării Crişurilor Museum and the State Theatre.
- Day 8: Oradea to Arad - Pick up your bags and go to Arad! In the morning, leave with train IC 231, departing at 08:43 and arriving at 10:24. Cost: 33.40 Lei (approx. $13.50) in 2nd class. This train is brand new and very, very comfortable and modern. Once you arrive in Arad, go to your hotel (it's better to book in advance). Visit Arad for the remainder of the day, and sleep here at night.
- Day 9: Arad to Timişoara - Leave Arad in the morning with train IC 231 (the same one as the day before), departing at 10:27 and arriving in Timisoara Nord at 10:13. Cost: 22.30 (about $9) in 2nd class. Stroll through Timisoara for the remainer of the day, and sleep here overnight.
- Day 10: Timişoara to Alba Iulia - Leave Timisoara Nord station at midday with train A 1767, departing at 15:10 and arriving in Alba Iulia at 19:11. Cost: 64.20 Lei (approx. $26.15) in 1st class. Upon arrival, find a hotel in Alba Iulia. If you want, you can visit the parts of the city in the evening, or, if you're tired after your train trip, go to sleep.
- Day 11: Alba Iulia to Sibiu - Visit Alba Iulia for the better part of the day, and then take train R 838, departing at 18:05 and arriving in Sibiu at 19:52. Cost: 27.40 Lei (approx. $11.16) in 2nd class. In Sibiu, book a hotel and visit the city by night, the medieval buildings being a great experience. The next day, don't forget to visit Bruckenthal Palace in Sibiu, containing the finest art museum in Transylvania.
- Day 12: Sibiu to Brasov - visit Sibiu further in the morning and then, in the afternoon, take train A 1622 to Brasov, departing Sibiu at 14:31 and arriving in Brasov at 17:03. Cost: 39.90 Lei (approx. $16.25). This train also continues to Bucharest, if you want to go there, arriving there at 20:25. Once you reach Brasov, the tour is over. If you want, you can spend the night in Brasov and visit another part of Romania, or another neigbouring country, or leave with train A 1622 directly to Bucharest, the Romanian capital.
Transylvania and the places in this itinerary are usually safe. However, it is wise to watch out for petty crime, especially in places such as Brasov, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea and Timisoara. Other than that, however, there shouldn't be any problem, other than the occasional beggar who sees that you're a tourist and pesters you.
See also our articles on the destinations you'll be visiting:
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