I’ve been soaking around in Brasov for a couple of weeks where it rained constantly. It became quite depressing stuck in a hostel with nothing else to do. I wanted to get out of dodge and explore other parts of Romania even just for a day. I’ve already been to the lavish Peles Palace, the despicable Bran Castle, and the uber cool Rasnov Citadel. The owner at Kismet Dao hostel, Gabi, told me about her favorite city, Sighisoara. Some other traveler recommended a Saxon fortress in the same vicinity, the Viscrii fortress.
Through luck, I found two other hostel mates, Vincent and Derek, who wanted to check out Sighisoara as well. Between three people renting a car for the day becomes more affordable. Car rentals in Romania aren’t particularly cheap, unlike Bulgaria where you can have one for as little as 20 Euros a day.
We had the hostel arrange the rental and renting one went smoothly. Some lady came in, asked for documents, and brought the car as well. I’ve driven through parts of Eastern Europe 3 years ago and frankly hesitated with the idea of driving in the area but I was the only one in the group who knows how to drive a stick shift.
Brasov or Bucharest Day Trips?
You can do this trip from Bucharest or Brasov. In fact, it might be easier to get a rental car in the Capital city. I picked Brasov as my headquarters for my Romanian excursions for various reasons, but if you’re staying in Bucharest it’s just as equally close to these locations.
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Getting out of Brasov seemed uneventful enough. The car wasn’t equipped with a GPS but Kevin and his smartphone with Google maps was a handy alternative. It’s not uncommon to see people driving horse-drawn carriage on the roads, something you won’t see in America. It’s probably a normal thing in Romania but it solicits quite a few jokes from people who are not used to seeing it, especially one concerning horsepower.
First stop? Rupea citadel.
Rupea is equally impressive as the Rasnov fortress that I’ve visited prior. Both aren’t marketed as much as the less impressive Bran castle so I had very low expectations. The legend surrounding Rupea converges around the last Dacian King who committed suicide to avoid Roman capture. It later went through more renovations to repel Turkish, Tartars and other invading forces. It was destroyed by fire at the end of the 17th century and its roofs destroyed by a storm near the beginning of the 18th century to the state it’s in now.
Nonetheless, Rupea fortress is imposing. It’s one of the oldest archaeological sites in Romania having traces of human settlements as far back as the Paleolithic period. It stands guard on top of a hill like a massive sentinel in the surrounding landscape and you can clearly see it on the motorway as you drive northward. We spent about an hour exploring its narrow walkways and ancient walls. There’s a horse pasture right outside its walls that’s also worth checking out for a better view of the fortress. You can easily spend hours here exploring the area but we had another stop to go to.
Next Stop? Viscri village.
The village of Viscri is famed only for its fortified church built by the Saxons. Other than that, there’s virtually nothing else of interest in the village. There was no tourist infrastructure to speak of. No restaurants or bars nearby. People come here to see the fortified church and chase chickens or maybe to milk goats. That’s it. We went to what seemed like the only store in the village and all they had was potato chips, beer, and day-old bread for sale. Vincent tried to take a quick video inside for Instagram and was promptly yelled at by the old lady at the counter.
I don’t know what’s in the water but old ladies in Romania likes to yell at foreigners. I got yelled at by an old lady as well for ordering diet coke in Hunedoara for no apparent reason and it was disconcerting, to say the least.
The drive to Viscri was the most exciting part of the journey. Potholes the size of nuclear craters line the road making driving a challenging but fun ordeal. The fortified church is a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s worth the short detour along the way. You can spend less than an hour in the village and you wouldn’t miss much. Perhaps you too will get yelled at some random old lady for the complete experience.
Final Stop? Sighisoara.
Sighisoara is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Romania. Its fairytale architecture is undoubtedly the draw to the town. It’s one of those places where I’ve regretted not having done much research on. I would like to come back someday and spend a few days exploring and taking more photos.
Sighisoara is also famous for another thing. It’s the birthplace of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, the character tied to the Dracula myth and Bran castle. We spent a couple of hours exploring the city. We discovered a cool cemetery with ornate headstones on the top of the hill and its road meanders back down to the town center.
Sighisoara is also a Unesco world heritage site. It was founded by the Saxons in the 12th Century. It’s one of the most beautiful well-preserved medieval towns in Europe and I wish I had dedicated more time photographing it. But with sunset looming and the thought of having to drive in the dark on Romanian roads quickly squashed any ideas of staying longer for more photos.
Overall, it was a great day seeing all the sights, albeit short, and exploring some off the beaten path locations like Viscri. If you’ve got a day to spare and based out of Brasov, this trip is a must do. If you’re based out of Bucharest then this trip is a no-brainer as well and I would even look into this 2-day itinerary for Bucharest if I were you.
Explore Sighisoara, Rupea, and Viscri in a day.
- Have your hostel arrange a car rental for you, if you can find other people interested the costs go down.
- Rupea should be your first stop (coming from Brasov) then to Viscri.
- Be alert while driving. The one-lane motorway and insanely impatient Romanian drivers is a disaster waiting to happen.
- The road to Viscri is a war zone that can damage your suspension system. Take caution.
- Spend your time wisely. Out of the three sites, I’d spend more time in Sighisoara or even spend a night there.