An incredibly beautiful and diverse country, taking a Romania road trip as a solo female traveler is a once in a lifetime kind of trip. Adventure awaits you as you twist through the Carpathian Mountains, make your way through haunted towns in Transylvania, and discover medieval castles hiding in plain sight. A country that has seemingly managed to stay under the radar, Romania is a country of both romanticism and hauntedness that manages to draw you in, intrigue you, and make you wonder, “Why is it that more people don’t visit Romania”?
As a solo female traveler, driving through Romania is a treat in itself. As you make your way in and out of the mountains, stopping in towns that date back to the 1400s, at times you’ll find yourself all alone on wide-open stretches of road. As you pull up to a castle or church, few other tourists flock around you. It’s a country that has managed to stay off of most people’s bucket lists, for reasons unbeknownst to me.
Romania Road Trip – Going Solo Through Romania
How to Rent a Car in Romania Step by Step
Renting a car in Romania, or any foreign country can seem daunting. The truth is if you follow these simple steps you’ll realize that isn’t so bad after all!
1. Obtain an international driving permit
If you’re visiting Romania from the US, you do need to have an international driving permit which can be obtained through AAA for $20. To qualify for the permit you need to have a passport photo and a valid US driver’s license.
2. Decide which city you will be renting a car from and which city you will be returning it to
If you’re planning to road trip in Romania, chances are you will be starting in Bucharest, the capital. With an international airport, Bucharest is easy to access coming in from another country. It’s also the biggest city in Romania located in the Wallachia region, near Transylvania.
You’ll also need to decide when you’re going to return the car and to what city. For this reason, I do recommend doing a little bit of research before renting your car. Do you want to mainly explore Transylvania? Picking up and dropping off the car in Bucharest may be your best bet. Do you want to head towards Hungary? Perhaps you pick up the car in Bucharest and drop it off in Timișoara before taking a bus to Budapest.
Read more: 4 Days in Budapest
3. Compare and Contrast Rental Companies
I usually search for cars on Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, or Avis. However, you can also type in “car rentals in Bucharest” to Google and let them do the heavy lifting for you. I’d make sure to look at more than one company to get the best deal out there.
At this point, you should also look into what your credit card company offers. Chase Sapphire Reserve covers auto insurance up to $75,000 if you use your credit card to reserve the car. If this is the case for you you can decline company car insurance saving you a little bit of money. Always call the credit card before declining insurance to make sure that you will be covered in case of an accident.
Once you’ve obtained your driving permit, decided which city you’ll start and stop in, and rented a car – you must confirm your car rental. I recommend calling the company right away for confirmation and confirm that you will be driving the car you requested. (I rented an automatic car and was given a manual because they assumed it would be okay). I then recommend calling a week or so before arrival to confirm once more than you will be driving the car that you reserved.
Road Trip Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking thing about going on a road trip alone is the thought of being unsafe. Especially in a foreign country, it’s important to have all of your ducks in a row in case anything were to happen. There are a few simple safety precautions to take before starting on your road trip that will help put your mind at ease about road tripping in an unfamiliar country.
1. Carry pepper spray
In Romania, pepper spray is banned at sporting events, cultural events, public transportation, and entertainment locations. It is also not permitted to carry pepper spray on an airplane unless it’s in your checked luggage. On a solo road trip, I prefer to keep pepper spray near me in the car and in my purse when walking alone, especially at night.
2. Send your itinerary to family/friends
While plans may change minute to minute, it’s important to update your family and friends as often as possible. I usually forward all of my hotel/Airbnb stays to family and friends whenever I book something. Every morning I will also text my mom what my plans are, where I’m going, and about when I will be arriving so I can contact her again. This way, if I don’t contact her for hours after I say I’m going to she can be on alert and contact someone if needed.
3. If you need to – lie
If you feel at all uncomfortable in any situation, it is 100% acceptable to lie. Lie about being alone, lie about where you’re going, lie about where you came from! You have a gut feeling for a reason, do not ignore it even if you think you come off as being rude.
4. Know “911” and any other emergency contact numbers
Before arriving in a country always research how to contact “911” in that particular country. In Romania, the number is 112. It’s also a good idea to have the car rental number readily available and I even ask for the cell phone number of the person I rent the car from just in case something happens during off-hours.
5. Download your route while you have WiFi before leaving
Always download where you’re going on Google Maps while you still have WiFi. This way, even if you lose service your Google Maps will continue to take you to your destination. In a situation where you might accidentally cancel out of Google Maps or need to add a new destination, it’s also smart to download the app “maps.me”. This app doesn’t give as good of route recommendations as Google Maps but it works without having WiFi and will get you to the general vicinity of where you want to go.
6. Keep a cell phone charger with you
Always have a car charger handy and even an external battery pack. This way your phone will stay charged at all times, even if you get out of the car to hike or explore for the day.
Before Starting – What You Should Know About Romania
Often referred to as the “birthplace of Dracula”, if you plan a trip to Romania, there are a few things that you should know before arrival. For starters, Romania is in Eastern Europe and makes up one of the “Balkan” countries. There are 10 different regions in Romania all known for different things. The official language is Romanian, although most people also speak English. The currency is the Romanian Leu also known as RON; at the time of writing 1 USD = 4.11 RON. The weather in Romania follows the weather in the US – cold in the winters and hot in the summers. Having a mountain range, and being on the Black Sea there can oftentimes be different climates in different parts of the country. Always be prepared for rain and cool nights.
Romania Road Trip Itinerary
This Romanian road trip itinerary focuses heavily on the Transylvania region in central Romania. Transylvania is known for having colorful medieval towns, fortresses, castles, and churches. It’s contained by mountainous borders and driving through the region is incredibly beautiful. Cluj Napoca is the largest city and the capital of Transylvania; it’s also the fourth largest city in Romania.
Stop 1: Bucharest
Recommended Stay: 1 night
Start your Romanian adventure by flying into the capital city of Bucharest. The main airport, Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport, is only 11 miles from the old town (depending on where you’re staying). If you plan to only stay one night in Bucharest, I recommend picking up your car at the airport before leaving. Otherwise, if you plan to stay multiple nights in Bucharest you can come back to the airport later to pick up the car.
If you opt to get the car later, you can get to town via Uber, taxi, or bus. If you choose a taxi you’ll order a taxi from the yellow touchscreens at “arrival”. Each taxi is labeled with the price of a ride – $/km. Make sure to choose a taxi that is anywhere from 1.7-2 Lei/km. The taxi should not cost more than 55 Lei to get to the old town. Make sure that the taxi meter is on!
For an even cheaper alternative opt for a bus. The express bus 783 leaves the airport every 30 minutes. The price is cheap (only $1-2), but expect the ride to take nearly an hour. When the bus drops you off you’ll more than likely need to walk a short distance to your final destination.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of Bucharest, you can read about it here, there are many things to do in the city. Plus with excellent bars and restaurants around, you can definitely find ways to spend your time. While you’re in town don’t miss Carturesti Carusel, one of the top bookstores in the world. Or Stavropoleos Monastery Church, an Eastern Orthodox monastery for nuns. If you’re looking for authentic Romanian food head to Lacrimi si Sfinti where you can find live music on most nights. And for drinks, don’t miss The Urbanist for cocktails, Paine si Vin for wine, and Caru’ cu Bere for beer.
Stop 2: Sinaia
After leaving Bucharest, head north towards Transylvania. One hour and 45 minutes away from Bucharest (87 mi/140 km), you’ll find two of the most beautiful castles in Romania – Peleș and Pelișor – both tucked away in the Carpathian Mountains in a town called Sinaia. As you roll into town you’ll see why Sinaia is often referred to as the “Carpathian Pearl”; rolling hills and mountains surround you as you make your way deeper into Transylvania.
Parking is available, but limited, outside the castle complex and the closer you get, the more expensive it gets. Parking near the castle will set you back 20 Lei and you will still need to complete the walk up the hill. To enter Peleș it cost 30 Lei while if you want to take pictures, its more than that. It’s important to note that Peleș hours are from 0915-1700 and the complex is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Stop 3: Brașov
Recommended Stay: 2 nights
After leaving Sinaia head further north towards Brașov, Romania’s most “romantic town”. From Sinaia, it will take an hour (30 mi/49 km) to get to Brașov. Slow down in this small, charming town as you get a chance to see the city and take a day trip to nearby attractions. On your first day in town, head to the main square – Piața Sfatului – where you’ll come across bars, restaurants, bookstores, and souvenir stores galore! While you’re sightseeing, stop at the Black Church – black because it caught fire. Strada Sforii Street – the narrowest street in Eastern Europe and an access street for firefighters. The street has since been turned into a street art gallery. And make sure to stop by the St. Nicholas Church – a Romanian Orthodox church established in 1292.
Use your second day in Brașov to explore the surrounding sites – Bran Castle and Râșnov Fortress. Bran Castle is less than an hour’s drive southwest from Brașov and is known as “Dracula’s Castle”. It’s open seven days/week 0900-1600 and at 1200-1600 on Mondays. I’d recommend getting an early start to beat the rush. There is limited parking around the castle for a mere four Lei/hr. Once you park you will pass by many shops on the way to the gates of the castle. To enter the castle grounds you do NOT need a ticket. There will be a line queuing for tickets so if you don’t intend to enter the castle you can skip this line altogether and just walk along the grounds where there are shops, restaurants, and coffee stands. However, if you do want to enter the castle you’ll buy tickets outside the gates before trekking up the steep hill that the castle sits on. It costs 40 Lei to enter the castle.
Once you’re done browsing the castle grounds stop at the Râșnov Fortress before heading back to Brașov. This fortress was built to keep the small villages in Transylvania protected from unwanted visitors. It’s considered to have been built been 1211 and 1225. To enter the fortress you will need to purchase a ticket from outside the fortress walls (once you walk up the hill).
Stop 4: Viscri
After spending 2+ days in Romania’s most romantic town, head deeper into Transylvania stopping at the town of Viscri before heading on. Viscri is a one-hour drive (48 mi/78 km) northwest from Brașov. While only 430 people inhabit the town, Viscri is most famous for its fortified church, one of the most unique sites to see in Romania. Entrance into the church is five Lei and street parking is free and available outside the church. Note that the church is closed from 1300-1400 every afternoon.
Stop 5: Sighișoara
Recommended Stay: 1 night
Continue on 45 more minutes (26 mi/42 km) to the idyllic town of Sighișoara. While Sighișoara can be explored in half of a day, if you’re craving to be out of the car and slow down, it’s a great town to stay for one night before heading on. If you’re looking to pack in more activities and eager for more things to visit in Romania, stop to see this town but don’t spend the night.
If you do stop in Sighișoara make sure to climb up the Sighișoara Citadel for sweeping views over the town. Get in your steps by walking the many steps up the Scholars Stairway to St. Nicholas Church. Or if you’re interested in learning more about Vlad Tepeș (the real Dracula) perhaps you’d find visiting his house, Casa Vlad Dracul, worthwhile. Note that it is now a restaurant but I believe you can still ask to see Vlad’s room! If you’re looking for a spot to have local wine and locals spirits stop in the 500-year-old Teo’s Cellar. A spooky cellar that may have you wishing you’d opted out instead.
Stop 6: Sibiu
Recommended Stay: 2 nights
To finish out your road trip through Romania, head and hour and a half (58 mi/94 km) southwest to Sibiu. Sibiu was the European capital of culture in 2007 and is well known for its food scene. Begin your journey exploring Sibiu’s old town by crossing The Bridge of Lies. Built-in 1859, legend has it that if you tell lies on this bridge it will come crashing down. After leaving The Bridge of Lies head towards the Council Tower of Sibiu, which separates the two main squares in town. If you want to spend the money, you can climb to the top of the tower for a look at Sibiu from above. If you’re interested in wandering through a museum check out the Pharmaceutical History Museum (this museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so if you’re in Sibiu on one of these days it won’t be open), which houses an 18th-century pharmacy and medieval chemist’s collection. Lastly, make sure to spend time in each of Sibiu’s three main squares – Piața Mare (big market square), Piața Mică (small square), and Piața Huet (Hayes square).
On your second day in Sibiu, take a day trip to Corvin Castle or Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor. While I did not have the time to see either of these sites, both are just a short drive from Sibiu.
Once you’ve completed this portion of the Romania road trip, decide which city you want to return the car to. I found it most easy to drive back to Bucharest, return the car to the airport, and fly out. However, you could continue on to visit Cluj Napola, Transylvania’s capital city. Or head west to the Banat region where you’ll come across the quaint town of Timișoara near the Serbian and Hungarian border. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. The diversity and vast beauty of Romania will show through at every turn and in each city you visit.
If you plan on visiting Romania and want a more visual look at the country, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel by searching #ppinromania or under the highlights, “Sibiu”, “Bucharest”, “Brasov”, “Sighisoara”, or “Sinaia”.