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Bulgaria and Romania!

This was a fantastic trip. We flew Atlanta to Sofia (via CDG) on April 24 and returned from Bucharest (via AMS) on May 24.

For trip planning we used Brandt Guides - one titled Bulgaria and another titled Romania: Transylvania. We also used the Trip Advisor Forum and the suggestions of several here - thank you all!

Itinerary:

Sofia - 4 nights

Plovdiv - 4 nights

Veliko Tarnovo - 3 nights

Bucharest - 1 night

Sibiu - 4 nights

Cluj-Napoca - 3 nights

Sighișoara - 3 nights

Brasov - 4 nights

Bucharest - 3 nights

Transportation:

In Bulgaria, we traveled by bus/minivan between cities. In Romania, we took a train from Ruse to Bucharest and spent one night in Bucharest. We picked up a rental car at the Bucharest Airport.

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Sofia (4 nights):

Hotel: Eurostars Hotel City Hotel - This was a comfortable hotel with a good breakfast in a great location.

Sofia is a confusing city but on our first morning in the city, we got good advice from Rado at Elephant Bookstore, an English language book shop. Rado suggested that we join the Free English-language Tour of Sofia. The tour was excellent and it gave us a good overview of the city highlights and interesting historical facts.

Sofia Highlights:

-Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on the highest point in Sofia.

-Dinner at the Crazy Diamond Restaurant

-Icon Paintings at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

-The National Art Gallery (o.k. but not a “must see”)

-The Red Flat - a unique museum called The Red Flat.The museum is designed to allow visitors to go back in time to Communist Bulgaria of the 1980’s. By visiting the apartment home of an average family we learned what everyday life was like for ordinary Bulgarians during the Cold War.

-Performance of Madame Butterfly at the Sofia Opera House

-Athena-esque Sofia Monument

Sofia has a great outdoor café scene but it was early spring here so it was too chilly for us to enjoy it. We had some difficulty with the language and noticed that there were many smokers. In fact, we learned that Bulgaria has the highest smoking rate among European countries.

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Plovdiv: (4 nights).

Transportation: Two hour mini-bus ride between Sofia and the next stop, Plodiv.

Hotel: Villa Flavia - a lovely hotel in a great location. We highly recommend it.

Plovdiv Highlights:

We started our time here with the Plovdiv Free City Tour. A great introduction to the city with interesting historical facts.

Roman Ruins including the Ancient Roman Theater

Parks (lots of greenspace)

Kapana neighborhood (Old City)

Djumaya Mosque

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Veliko Tarnovo (3 nights):

Hotel: Gurko Hotel - We liked the location and the service was efficient and friendly. A nice breakfast was included and the hotel restaurant was very good.

Highlights:

-Samovodska Charshia - craft street in Veliko Tarnovo (though not busy when we were there).

-Walk to the Tsarevets Fortress and Ascension of Christ Patriarchal Church.

-Monument to the Assen Dynasty (we had an excellent view from our hotel room.)

-Archeological Museum (a small collection of local artifacts).

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From Bulgaria to Romania:

This was the most complicated part of our trip to navigate. We left the coziness of the Hotel Gurko in Veliko Tarnovo feeling a bit anxious about making transportation connections for our journey between Bulgaria and Romania. The first step was to catch a bus to Ruse, Bulgaria. A taxi from the hotel took us to the Veliko Tarnovo bus station for a minivan/bus ride to Ruse, Bulgaria. We arrived in Ruse and realized that we needed to and walk from the bus station (a short distance) to the Rail Station next door. With some assistance, we found the train to Bucharest. The Ruse Train Station is “rustic” with very little signage and few food options. The train was slow and we had to give up our passports twice – once as we left Bulgaria and again when we crossed the border into Romania. We arrived in Bucharest after about three hours. Because the trip took most of the day, we spent one night in Bucharest before picking up a rental car the next morning.

Note: Some travelers spend a night in Ruse before making the trip on to Bucharest but for us it was easier to make the journey in one day.

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Arrival in Bucharest (1 night stay):

In Bucharest we relied on BOLT, a ride share service like Uber, and used it to go from the train station to the hotel in the Old Town. We stayed at Rembrandt Hotel but it was VERY noisy on a Saturday night so we’d not recommend it if you want a good night's sleep.

The next morning, we took a BOLT rideshare to the car rental agency near the Bucharest Airport. The car rental company was WLC (We Love Cars) @ https://wlcrent.com. It worked well for us.

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Sibiu: (4 nights):

It was a 5-hour drive from the Bucharest Airport to Sibiu. Parking spaces are hard to find but we arrived on a Sunday evening and found a space not far from our hotel. We left the car there for the entire 4 days we spent in Sibiu. There’s a sophisticated parking app that we used to pay the fee for parking from our phone each morning. The cost for a day of parking is about $2.20.

Hotel: Casa Luxemberg - a nice hotel in a great location but there is no elevator.

Highlights:
-The Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church

-Small market along the river

-The Bridge of Lies

-History of Pharmacy Museum

-Traditional Restaurant Crama Sibiul Vechi

-An early-morning (6:15 a.m.) alarm that alerted us that a BEAR had been spotted in the city.

Note: Four nights was probably too many for Sibiu - 2 or 3 would have been o.k.

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Sibiel (stopover between Sibiu and Cluj-Napoca):

We wanted to stop in the village of Sibiel to see **Father Zosim Oancea Museum of Icons on Glass and the Church of the Holy Trinity Sibiel, Romania. Both are unique and very interesting..

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Cluj-Napoca: (3 nights)

It’s a bustling college town with lots of traffic so we left the car parked at the hotel and walked everywhere. There is a nice square (Piata Unirii) where people gather and some good restaurants.

Hotel: Capitolina City Chic. It’s in a good location though uphill from the city center. Parking is free which is always a plus. It’s on a busy city street and our room was street-side so it was a little noisy. If I were staying in Cluj again, I might try Capitolina’s sister hotel called Hotel Lol et Lola. It’s in a quieter spot right behind Capitolina.

Highlights:

15th Century St. Michael’s Church

Mathias Rex Statue

Art Museum in 18th Century Baroque Banffy Palace

Restaurant: Roata

Restaurant: Olivo Caffe and Bistro

Wacky but fun performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Hungarian State Theater and Opera House

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Sighisoara: (3 nights)

It’s a cute 12th-Century Saxon citadel town with lots of cheesy Dracula souvenir shops. In spite of that, it’s a great place for a couple of nights.

Hotel: When choosing a hotel, we couldn’t decide whether to stay in the upper town or the lower town. We chose Hotel Central Park with free parking, a comfortable and an o.k. breakfast. Staying in the lower town seems more convenient for restaurants and parking.

Highlights:

-Small, local market

-Sighisoara Cathedral

-Climbing covered wooden stops up to the Gothic church on the hill

-Walks around the walled citadel district

-Day Trip to small villages nearby. The village of Cris has the Renaissance-style Bethen Castle. Worth a visit! Also, the rustic village of Malancrav was interesting as was the village of Biertan.

The Romanian countryside is lovely!

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Brasov-(4 nights):

On the drive between Sighisoara and Brasov, we stopped at the hilltop fortress near Rupea. It was fun to explore and a convenient stop for a picnic lunch along the way.

Hotel: Hotel Bella Muzica in Brasov’s city center was a good choice for us. Free parking is available but a little hard to find but hotel staff gave us good directions.

Highlights:

-Black Church

-Ethnographic Museum

-Cable Car to the vista point above the city.

-Walking trails along the city walls.

-Day Trip to Peles Castle with a wonderful view of the southern Carpathian Mountains in the background.

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Bucharest (3 nights): ( wish we'd had more days here).

Hotel: Grand Hotel Continental - a splurge hotel in a great location.

Highlights:

-Walks around the city and in the city parks.

-Dinner at Caru cu’ Bere (means Cart with Beer)

-Visit to House of Nicolas and Elena Ceausescu

-Bucharest has a surprising number of flower shops and bookstores - we only scratched the surface here and hope to return to explore more! The city seems vibrant and buzzy in a good way.

Summary:

We had a great time in both Bulgaria and Romania. We found Bulgaria to be somewhat less developed for tourism than Romania, but the cities we visited are making great improvements and construction projects are underway.

Both countries have many delightful public parks, and most were well-maintained. The countryside in Romania is stunning, especially in the Transylvania region. Hotels we stayed in ranged from comfortable to very nice, and hotel staff members spoke English, were very professional and welcoming. Good restaurants were available everywhere we went.

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2644 posts

Great posts! I was just in Romania and Bulgaria a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it as well!
Bucharest is a gem!!!!!!!
Note about the smoking in Bulgaria: totally agree!

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707 posts

Lovely report. I’ve not thought much about Bulgaria and Romania as destinations and you’ve piqued my interest considerably. Thank you.

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4290 posts

Thanks for the report! I plan to independently follow much the same route fall of 2024. Questions:

  1. Why did you choose minivans in Bulgaria and drive in Romania? Road conditions? (I have only seen a main road in Bulgaria and none in Romania yet.)
  2. Did you use tours in or from the cities or just your own day trips?
  3. Did you make stops along the way between cities? There are places I have noted to see but didn’t see them in the report.

I appreciate your input on how much time you felt you needed. Thank you!

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29 posts

Thank you for such a great trip report. I was in Romania last year and found it to be a country I would gladly return to. Maybe I’ll have to add Bulgaria to my list.

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915 posts

The Grand Hotel Continental and the Bella Muzica Hotels are both very good hotels. We stayed at both on our trip to Romania etc. in April 2022. Excellent trip report.

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1817 posts

First off, what a great report of what sounds like a fascinating trip.

Second, I love the way you formatted your trip report, in bullet points and no long paragraphs. On screens it's just kind of hard to read long paragraphs. We should all do them the way you did this. Great job!

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@ TexasTravelmom

Why did you choose minivans in Bulgaria and drive in Romania? Road conditions? (I have only seen a main road in Bulgaria and none in Romania yet.)

We wanted to wanted to limit the number of car rental days and tried to keep it at about 2 weeks. It's difficult to rent a car and take it to another country and there were more places in Romania on our itinerary than in Bulgaria. Also, the distances between the places we wanted to travel to in Bulgaria were shorter bus trips. It really didn't have anything to do with road conditions in either country.

Did you use tours in or from the cities or just your own day trips?
We only did the Free City tours in Sofia and Plovdiv and used a guidebook and some serendipity to find interesting places to visit.

Did you make stops along the way between cities? There are places I have noted to see but didn’t see them in the report.
We had to make some choices to keep our itinerary fairly simple. We like to settle into a place for a few days rather than making lots of shorter stops. We know we missed quite a lot - In Bulgaria, we didn't go to Rila Monastery, as an example and we decided not to go to the Coast on this trip. We debated about going to Timisoara and Oradea in Romania but just didn't want to feel rushed to do it. We could combine those places with a trip to southern Hungary at some point maybe.

Hope that helps with your planning!

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@ jennya - I agree! I'd be happy to make a return trip to Romania and adding Bulgaria makes for a great trip.

@ Ed - Yes! Bella Muzica in Brasov was great but the Grand Hotel Continental was really special and not as expensive as you might expect. Also there were great coffee shops and restaurants nearby.

@ Lane - thanks so much! I may have some questions for you about Mexico!

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4290 posts

Thanks for the replies! It helps me as I start to look at how long I want to allow and to do it best. I had originally thought about a month but I may actually need more time. I really like your pacing and this helps me see I may need even more time.

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2 posts

Thank you for this trip report; it's very helpful.

We're planning a similar trip in 2024:

  • Sofia 4 nights
  • Plovdiv 2 nights
  • Veliko Tarnovo 2 nights
  • Bucharest 3 nights

Would you increase or decrease any time based on your experience?

I appreciate any suggestions.

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3258 posts

mjpiette,

Sofia - 4 nights

Plovdiv 2 - nights

Veliko Tarnovo - 2 nights

Bucharest - 3 nights

I think that your plan is a pretty good one. If Sofia is your first stop, it's nice to have 4 nights to recover a bit from jetlag. I highly recommend the free city tour for an overview of the city.

Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo are small so 2 nights each is probably o.k. - another night in Plovdiv if you have one available might be good.

We like cities and I felt that we could have added an extra night to Bucharest as it's a large city and spread out. I might consider taking a night from Sofia and adding it to Bucharest but it's not a "must do". We didn't take any daytrips from Sofia but if you plan to do so, 4 nights would be great.

Enjoy your travels in Bulgaria!