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Traveling from Budapest to Romania.

I'm planning a 3 week trip to Romania in October which will start with 4 days in Budapest. I'd love some info on the best way to travel from Budapest to Romania. Should we take a train from Budapest to the border? Can/should we rent a car to see some amazing sights? and what would the best of those be? I'd like 2 full weeks in Romania, so more insight about the not to be missed in Romania would be welcome, as well as the best way to get around. We plan to rent a car at least some of the time, but don't want to waste a day on an uneventful drive if we should train. Just getting started.
Thanks Pam

Posted by
21302 posts

Can't address your specific questions, but hope this will help:

I traveled the country by rail and bus in 2015. That transportation was reliable but not necessarily frequent, and it certainly was not fast. I estimated I covered about 30 mph. There didn't seem to be any express trains. At that time some of the intercity buses had an odd requirement that you telephone to make a reservation. This was not something you could do online (perhaps you can now) or by stopping by the bus station. Needless to say, I do not speak Romanian. I was fortunate to find a couple of people who were kind enough to make those calls for me. That's one of the great things about Romania: It isn't totally swamped with tourists, so folks are more likely to have time to do favors like that. A lot of the young people speak English. Middle age and above: not too likely.

I approached Romania from Croatia by way of Beograd, Serbia, but I bet there's decent transportation from Hungary to Timisoara. That's a very good place to start, because the revolution began there. There's a small, underfunded museum in a crumbling building (make a donation!) where you can learn about the revolution. The historic area of Timisoara is very pretty. Perhaps because of its location, rather a lot of buildings have been restored. The city feels a bit more western than some other places (well, it is), which can sort of ease you into the country. One other thing I enjoyed was a Communist-era apartment beneath a casual bar. The apartment is just chock full of Cold War era consumer goods. No labels or explanatory information, so you probably need to be a Cold War/Iron Curtain geek to appreciate it. I found it on TripAdvisor.

I spent 2 or 3 hours in Oradea to see the Art Deco architecture. That might be a bit too obscure for most tourists.

Cluj-Napoca is another western Romanian city that is very attractive. The Retro Hostel in that city runs tours around the country. You don't have to stay at the hostel to take its tours. A look at the website may give you some ideas. I took the 2-day tour of Maramures, the NW part of the country that is high on folklore: gorgeous wooden churches that look like sculptures, the Merry Cemetery, carved wooden gateways in front of houses, and even some costumes worn to church on Sunday. I hadn't heard about the Sighet Prison Memorial before the tour. Very worthwhile to learn about the Ceausescu regime. Ask for English-language explanatory material. Don't know whether there's anything else to do in Sighet Marmatiei. I highly recommend a tour of this area to get the best out of it. The Retro Hostel tour I took cost about $100 plus about $20 to the B&B-style place where we stayed and had three (!) meals. The room was comfortable, but the bath was down the hall; not my preferred set-up, but acceptable for a one-night stay.

Closer to the center of the country, Brasov and Sibiu have attractive historic districts to explore. Outside Sibiu (bus service) is one of those outdoor folklore museums with buildings brought in from around the country. It seemed pretty well done, but that's just not my thing. Either of those cities would make a good base for visiting the other, Sighisoara (intensely touristy but very evocative medieval district on a hill) and Sinaia castle.

I limited my time in Bucharest to one night because I'd heard that Ceausescu left not a lot of old buildings standing, and I prefer pretty surroundings. I'm sure there are worthwhile museums there. To see much attractive architecture, you need to move around the city, looking here and there. Much of what I saw was early 20th Century rather than the really old stuff but still interesting. I would like to go back when I have more time, but Bucharest isn't like a lot of capital cities--it doesn't have all the top tourist sights.

Out of space. Will continue in a second post.

Posted by
21302 posts

The northeastern region of Romania, near Ukraine and Moldova, is Bucovina. It's where you'll find the glorious painted monasteries. I took a one-day tour of that area starting from Suceava (not sure there's much to see in that city), and the guide was not outstanding. Or perhaps this area is just a bit more one-note than Maramures. The monasteries are really beautiful, but if I had time for only one of Maramures and Bucovina, I'd go to Maramures for sure.

I took a day-trip to Iasi but was underwhelmed. Pleasant enough university city, but I missed the beautiful medieval architecture in Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu and Brasov. Iasi has a botanical garden, but I didn't manage to get there.

I've read good things about the Danube delta. Definitely do some research, especially if you're interested in wildlife. I don't know anything about the beach situation. I think the Bulgarian coastline was preferred in the old days, but that may have been because Ceausescu was such a nut job.

Another place I didn't see is the Bulgarian border city of Ruse (on the rail line between Bucharest and Plovdiv). It's supposed to be a worthwhile stop.

The Romanian countryside is really pretty--lots of green, lots of hills. I suspect there aren't a lot of multi-lane highways, but I don't remember noticing that roads were in bad condition. Having a car would eliminate the tyranny of bus/train schedules from consideration, a major plus, but you have enough time that you'll be OK without a car. A plus of public transportation is that it will bring you in contact with English-speaking young locals. As I mentioned in my first post, I highly recommend a tour in the Maramures area. I think you'll miss a lot on your own by not knowing where to go to see the best carved-wood gateposts and the like.

Food in moderately-priced Romanian restaurants was unspectacular but OK. It may have been Rick who said that the locals can't afford to eat out, and that appeared to be the case. If you want interesting food, you may need to look to tourist-oriented restaurants. I'd caution you to engage your brain (as I did not) when considering take-away treats. I had a slice of tiramisu from a pastry shop in Cluj-Napoca that tasted like it came out of a chemical factory. I doubt that it had any dairy products in it. I should have realized that 1 euro was too little to pay. The widely-available bread rings (sort of like bagels 6" in diameter), on the other hand, were universally good. They come with different fillings and coatings, some savory and some sweet. I think they're called "covrigi", but you can just point. They're such a thing that many bakeries have windows open to the sidewalk to sell them hot out of the oven in the morning.

Handcrafts are relatively inexpensive in both Romania and Bulgaria. It was my impression that Romania sticks more to traditional designs (painted eggs, ceramics, embroidery). I did see embroidery that (to my totally uneducated eye) appeared to be local rather than imported from China.

You may be surprised that you can figure out a lot of signs in Romania. Romanian is a romance language. Unfortunately for people who've studied French/Spanish/etc., it has picked up a lot of Slavic influences (including word endings) from the surrounding languages, so being able to speak it will be a different matter.

Check weather stats. Fall will probably move in before you arrive. For me, that would be a good reason to have a rental car some of the time, but if it's very rainy, those 2-lane roads could be rather hazardous.

Rick's 2016 videos include one on Romania.

Posted by
13716 posts

Im not going to try and follow that.. Wow!! I will offer, do Romania first, then kick back in Budapest and relax. It works for us. We do "someplace" followed by Budapest a few times a year.

Posted by
21302 posts

Yeah. I never mastered the art of brevity. Brevity takes work. And I'm supposed to be planning my own trip (Ukraine, Hungary, etc.)

But is there a particularly interesting spot in Hungary on the way to Romania, James?

Posted by
472 posts

Tarom Airlines and Wizzair both have schedules between Budapest and various cities in Romania. Use this site to plan the Romanian part of your trip:, then book your flight to match your arrival city.

There are quite a few sample itineraries there that might interest you. As for transportation around Romania, I've seen acraven mention several times on various posts that buses are slow and possibly awkward to book so we opted for a car for 4 or 5 days on our Sept 2018 trip from Bucharest north to Cluj Napoca.

For the second half of our time in Romania we have a 5 day guided tour of the Maramures and Bucovina regions and the guide is providing his own vehicle as those are very rural areas and difficult to access using public transport.

Posted by
13716 posts

Im a bit spoiled, i wouldn't do Romania again without a guide. Just so much easier with a guide that its worth my investment. With 3 weeks in Romania i suspect i would take the train to Debrecen and have the guide pick me up there after a night or two. From Debrecen its a relatively short drive across the border either towards the north of Romania or to head south.

But i would still start in Romania and then on to Budapest. Its going to be somewhat hectic in Romania. Two nights here, one night there, etc. When its over you get a nice apartment in Budapest for 5 or 6 nights and just kick back and take it easy. Then go home.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks to everyone for the quick and informative replies. I have lots of work to do & you've all made it much simpler.