Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 4: Budapest, Hungary

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Day 7

The majority of our day was spent en route to Budapest via train. The ride was roughy 10 hours long. However, with endless countryside views and a stockpile of snacks, we agreed that the ride flew by. When we arrived, we headed to our Airbnb and were greeted by our host’s lovely friend. She took the time sit down and review a map with us, which was extremely helpful. As taxis do not have the best reputation in Budapest, she recommended the Hop On, Hop Off pass and we were so happy that she did. For roughly $25, you are granted 48 hours of access to two bus lines, a boat tour, and a walking tour. As the name suggests, you can hop on and hop off at your leisure, and the buses pass by all of the major attractions that Budapest has to offer.

Although we were tired and it was getting late, we weren’t going to let our first night in Budapest go to waste. We decided to check out Szimpla Kert, which is Budapest’s most well-known ruin pub. After visiting, it was no wonder why. Szimpla Kert was even more amazing than we expected it to be. Picture a huge warehouse, divided into themed rooms and open air gardens. Ruin pubs are a huge part of Budapest’s identity. Mostly located in District VII (the old Jewish quarter), ruin pubs are established in abandoned buildings or lots and are artfully decorated with vintage items, making for a ridiculously cool vibe. Anyway, after a few rounds, we called it a night.

Day 8

We woke up bright and early for a walking tour with Free Budapest Tours. Of note, we had booked this tour prior to purchasing our Hop On, Hop Off pass, so unfortunately, I can’t speak for the walking tour offered by them. Anyway, the highlights of our tour included the following: Danube Promenade, Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Presidential Palace, Chain Bridge, Fishermen’s Bastion, Origin of the Magyars, Royal Palace, and St. Stephen’s Basilica. The tour was excellent! It started on the Pest side of the city and, by walking across beautiful Chain Bridge, ended on the Buda side of the city. I loved experiencing the bustling, city vibes of Pest and the hilly, historic feel of Buda within only a couple hours.

After our walking tour, we headed back to Pest for the Hop On, Hop Off boat tour along the Danube River. This may seem excessive after partaking in a walking tour, but being that it offered incredible views of many sights that the walking tour did not, I still recommend it.

Afterwards, we headed to Great Market Hall. As the name implies, Great Market Hall is a huge, two-story market which offers goods such as groceries and souvenirs. This a great place to grab some quick and delicious grub. Be sure to pick up some paprika – a spice largely associated with Hungarian cuisine – while you are there. It makes for an excellent souvenir!

We ended our action-packed day by indulging in the Essentials of Hungarian Wine Class at Tasting Table Budapest. Being that this class was one of my favorite things that we did on our trip, it comes highly recommended! It also provides an opportunity to pick up some impressive souvenirs. The sommelier that guided our tasting was lovely and shared an absundance of knowledge regarding Hungarian wine. Do yourself a favor and add the hidegtál (a platter of local, artisan cheese and charcuterie) to your tasting. It was divine!

Day 9

First, we headed to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Although we had seen the basilica from the outside the day prior, Lopko wanted to check it out from the inside. It was truly breathtaking.

After, we headed to the nearby Budapest Christmas Market in Vorosmarty Square. I’m not what you’d call The Grinch, but I’m not one to go nuts over Christmas markets either. So, believe me when I say that the Budapest Christmas Market is magical. If you are fortunate enough to be in Budapest while the market is in full swing, stopping by is a must! With countless vendors offering gorgeous, handcrafted items at unbeatable prices, it’s hard to resist going on a shopping spree. The market offers indulgent, yet delcious food. I highly recommend trying lángos, chimney cake, and mulled wine. (Yes, I pigged out, thank you for asking.)

Next, we headed to Széchenyi, which is one of many thermal baths in Budapest. Being that our time was limited, we opted to check out the most famous bath of them all. Think pools upon pools upon pools of hot-spring water that you can unwind in. I’m relaxed just thinking about it! Tip: spend the extra money to rent a cabin as opposed to a locker. The privacy is a plus and an extremely secure place to store your things allows for peace of mind.

Afterward, we hopped onto the Hop On, Hop Off bus for one of its night tours. For the stop at Gellért Hill alone, this tour is well worth it. It allows for stunning panoramic views of both Buda and Pest, and it is particularly mesmerizing at night. Although I am pleased with how my photos turned out, they don’t do the views justice.

We spent the final hours of our trip by – you guessed it – going out to dinner. Unfortunately, I completely forget the name of the restaurant where we ate. It’s unfortunate because the food was both authentic and delicious. Nevertheless, it was a great way to end an incredible journey. A huge shout out Lopko, Zekany, and Verost for making this trip of a lifetime so memorable. Cheers to many more adventures!

…Next stop, home sweet home!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 3: Sibiu, Romania

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Day 6

We arrived into Sibiu on a blustery, snowy morning. Everything was snow-capped and it looked absolutely stunning. Yet again, our Airbnb hosts were gracious enough to let us check in early. We ditched our bags and promptly headed to the main area of town. Before we knew it, we were on an impromptu bar tour of Sibiu. We got so lost in the moment that, quite honestly, I didn’t take note of the pubs and cafes that we visited.

Later in the afternoon, we met our guide, Florin (also known as Sibiu Tour Guide), for a private tour. He’s a sweet man who is extremely passionate about both his city and his country. Highlights of the tour included the following: Orthodox Cathedral, Lutheran Cathedral, Bridge of Lies, Little Square, Greater Square, National Archives Street, Thick Tower, and Council Tower. During our visit, Greater Square was being set up for its annual Christmas market. While we were bummed that we didn’t get to experience the market in full swing, the festive lights were magical given the snowfall earlier that morning.

After our tour, we invited Florin to dinner and went to Crama Sibiana per his recommendation. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere was even better! It is located in Little Square and is situated underground, providing the feel of a wine cellar. We ended our day in Sibiu by heading to a local grocery store to stock up on Romanian wine, as well as snacks for our long train ride to Budapest the following day.

…Next stop, Budapest!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 2: Sighisoara, Romania

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Sighisoara is easily one of the most picturesque places that I’ve ever been. Being that it is considered to be the most well-preserved inhabited citadels in Europe, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is no surprise why. As evidenced in the photos, roaming the streets of Sighisoara feels like taking a step back in time.

Day 5

We arrived into Sighisora by train bright and early. The innkeeper of the accommodations that we booked through Airbnb, Casa Mador, was kind enough to pick us up at the train station and allow us check in early. We quickly dropped off our belongings and headed to Citadel Square (Piata Cetati) to grab some coffee and sandwiches. We ended up at International Cafe, which is completely adorable.

Next, we met up with Emmanuel, also known as Your Guide in Transylvania, for a private tour. Emmanuel was born and raised in Sighisoara, so it was fun to learn about the citadel from a local perspective. Highlights of the tour included the Clock Tower, the Church on the Hill, and the house in which Vlad the Impaler was born. Personally, the Church on the Hill was my favorite part of the tour. For starters, it provided fantastic views of the citadel. Further, the church has one of the most beautiful graveyards that I’ve ever seen. Call me morbid, but there is something about old graveyards that I absolutely love.

After our tour, Emmanuel and his wife, Klara, hosted us for traditional Romanian food and drinks. Klara sources everything locally and ensures that just about everything is prepared from scratch. My favorite thing that she prepared was a delicious ham and tarragon soup. In fact, I now regret not asking her for the recipe, which was passed down to her from her grandmother. We also enjoyed stew, bread, a variety of pickles, and apple pastries. Throughout our meal, Emmanuel kept the drinks flowing. We got to sample Klara’s grandfather’s homemade palinka, as well as various syrups. I particularly loved the elderflower syrup, which was made using wild elderflowers from the land around them. It was diluted with club soda, making for a tasty, fizzy beverage.

We then said our goodbyes to Emmanuel and Klara, extremely grateful for a truly authentic experience, and headed back to the citadel. Verost and I decided to walk off some of the food that we had just eaten and took it as an opportunity to snap some more photos. During our walk, we found some great souvenirs in Hotel Sighisoara’s gift shop. Rather than being mass-produced tchotchkes, they were both handmade and beautiful. Afterward, we headed back to our accomodations. Our jet lag must have finally caught up to us because we were sound asleep by 5:30 pm, making us completely refreshed for the day ahead.

…Next stop, Sibiu!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 1: Brasov, Romania

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Day 3

Brasov was our first stop in Transylvania, and it set very high standards for the rest of our trip. As you can tell by the abundance of photos that I included in this post, there was no shortage of photo ops. We arrived into town bright and early, and the owners of our amazingl located Airbnb were gracious enough to allow us to drop our bags off prior to exploring.

We started our day by getting lost in Brasov’s charming and colorful streets, snapping photo after photo. After working up an appetite, Verost discovered an awesome underground bistro that we ended up staying at for serveral hours. It had us feeling like we had stepped onto the set of True Blood. If you’re interested, it’s called Bistro Albert and it comes highly recommended if you’re looking for some Transylvanian vibes.

Afterward, we headed to nearby Town Hall Square (Piata Sfatului) for Brasov’s Walkabout Free Tour. Our tour guide was both knowledgeable and hilarious. Highlights of the tour include the following: Black Church, Council Square, Rope Street, St. Nicholas Church, Schei Quarter, and Ecaterina’s Gate. We finished our action-packed day by having a delicious dinner at Restaurant Sergiana, which serves authentic Romanian cuisine.

Day 4

Most of the third day of our trip was spent on a day trip outside of Brasov. Referred to as The Land of Dracula Tour, it included stops at Bran Castle, Rasnov Fortress, and Peles Castle. Our guide, Vale, was fantastic! Much of our time in the car was spent on roads that cross through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains. They were made even more picturesque by the intense fog that had appeared that day. Admittedly, we were disappointed to learn that Bran Castle, which is often referred to as Dracula’s Castle, housed Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) for a mere one night! Despite that, every stop on the tour is incredibly worthwhile.

When we got back into town, we hit up an awesome wine bar called Terroirs Boutique du Vin. This was per the recommendation of our guide, and both the food and drink did not disappoint. Let’s just say that our love for Romanian wine spiraled a little out of control that night. ;)

…Next stop, Sighisoara!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest: The Intro

Hey, y’all! Long time, no blog post. Now that life has calmed down a bit (that’s worthy of a blog series of its own), I’m making up for my lack of posts by recapping an incredible adventure that I took with some girlfriends in mid-November. Our crew was comprised of two Laurens and two Rachels, so I’ll refer to everyone by their last names to spare any confusion.

Let’s start off by getting the most common question that I’ve gotten out of the way: Why Romania? Well, it all started when Lopko asked me if I’d be interested in going. At first, I was skeptical. However, having the “I’ll go anywhere once” mentality and knowing how well-traveled she is, I did my research. I quickly discovered how breathtaking Transylvania is, as well as how affordable it is to travel there. Upon realizing that Budapest, a city that I’ve always wanted to travel to, is a half-day train ride away from Transylvania, I was sold. As such, I told Lopko to count me in as long as Budapest was our final destination, and the rest is history. Verost and Zekany were down to join us for the adventure and we ended up with an awesome crew.

Being that Romania isn’t a travel destination frequented by Americans, I created this itinerary entirely from scratch. Hours upon hours of research went into it, so if even one person uses it as a guide I will be more than ecstatic. While there are countless places to visit in Romania, Transylvania is among one of the safest regions for tourists. It didn’t hurt that it offers a relatively direct route via train, making it very attractive to backpackers.

When I say that traveling in Romania is affordable, I mean affordable. Including flights, train rides, tours, and 10 days of accommodations and incredible meals, we spend roughly $1500 per person. To put the affordability into perspective, a three-course dinner involving several bottles of wine and multiple rounds of pálinka (more on that later) ran us about $30 per person including tip.

Now, without further adieu, let’s get this party started. We started our journey by flying from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP). While we were abroad, we used pre-purchased Eurail passes to travel from destination to destination. Ultimately, we ended our journey by flying from Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Here’s everything in a nutshell:

EWR to OTP
(Day 1)

Bucharest, Romania
(Day 2)
Duration: 1 day, 1 night
Shelter: Airbnb

3 hour train ride

Brasov, Romania
(Days 3 & 4)
Duration: 2 days, 2 nights
Shelter: Airbnb

3 hour train ride

Sighisoara, Romania
(Day 5)
Duration: 1 day, 1 night
Shelter: Airbnb

3 hour train ride

Sibiu, Romania
(Day 6)
Duration: 1 day, 1 night
Shelter: Airbnb

9 hour train ride

Budapest, Hungary
(Days 7, 8, & 9)
Duration: 3 days, 3 nights
Shelter: Airbnb

BUD to EWR
(Day 10)

I’ve opted to include Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, in this post for two reasons. One, we spent less than a day there so I don’t feel like I would do it justice in terms of articulating everything that it has to offer. Two, our stay in Bucharest was a means to an end. In other words, it was the only major city to fly into, therefore making it a necessary stop on our journey. I doubt that I would have included Bucharest as a stop on our itinerary otherwise. Also, because it is not within Transylvanian region of Romania, it has a much different feel than the other stops that we made within the country.

With that being said, Bucharest has many worthwhile sites to scope out. I highly recommend the Walkabout Free Tour that meets in Union Square (Piata Unirii) twice daily. Highlights of the tour include the following: Stavropoleos Monastery, Ruins of Vlad’s Citadel, Manuc’s Inn, Palace of Parliament, and Victory Boulevard. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and gave excellent insight into Romania’s fairly recent transition from a communist country to a democratic country. As a heads up, the tour views Palace of Parliament from afar, so if seeing it up close and personal is a must for you, set aside some time to check it out on a tour of its own. Of note, it is touted as the second largest administrative building in the world, with the Pentagon in the United States being the first.

Anyway, be sure to take a leisurely walk around Old Town after your tour. It’s comprised of mostly pedestrian streets filled with charming restaurants, pubs, and shops. A stop at Cărturesti Carusel − the most magnificent bookstore that I’ve ever been to − is a must! We liked the looks of Manuc’s Inn so much that we went back for dinner. The food was excellent, and as the first dining experience on our trip, it was one to remember.

P.s. Please excuse my lack of photos on this post. Between the jet lag and the boatloads of rain, I was slacking big time.

…Next stop, Brasov!