CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE BY TRAIN: How to plan your itinerary

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It’s very easy and convenient to travel around Central and Eastern Europe by train. The distances are generally not very big and the trains are good and run on time.

Itinerary planning:

We visited Munich, Prague, Brno, Vienna and Budapest. All of them were easy to reach and had good connections.

Another alternative would be to head towards Poland instead, or start out in Romania.

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Booking tickets:

As ever, Seat 61 had all the best tips for booking everything online. The booking process in the various sites was easy and tickets very cheap – the key thing for international trips from Germany is to buy the ticket from the website of the other country you’re visiting: for instance, tickets for the same train from Munich to Prague were much more expensive on Bahn.de than via the Czech website.

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Roadworks:

A few weeks before our trip, I got an email informing of changes to train times and taking a bus replacement for one of the legs of our trip. The email was in Czech, but other than that things went as planned and we didn’t have any issues.

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On the trains:

All the trains we took were punctual, well-equipped and generally very good. Express trains usually had a good cafe on board and served a good range of snacks and drinks.

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TRANSYLVANIA BY TRAIN: Our final stop in Cluj, and how you can do it yourself

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I can’t really say I’ve been to Cluj properly. Our train from Sighisoara arrived after 11pm, and we had another early train to catch the next day. Cluj is the capital of Transylvania, but it’s known more because of its bars than its history. When we got there, there were still many places open and full of people – it definitely looked like a good place for a night out.

In the morning we had just enough time to check out Piata Unirii and its impressive Basilica. Then it was time to say goodbye to Transylvania and on a train to Budapest!

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We took the train from Sighisoara to Cluj, which took over 4h (a little longer than expected). Tickets are quite cheap and can be bought in advance here. There are also direct flights from London to Cluj by Wizzair.
  • Stay: We stayed at Retro Hostel, which is located very close to Piata Unirii and included free breakfast. A double bedroom cost 143 lei (£24.80).

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TRANSYLVANIA BY TRAIN: How to do it

Crossing Transylvania by train has been on my list for a long time. I managed to find lot of information online, but it was not as simple as I expected. Here’s what I learned:

Where to go:

There are many nice places across Transylvania. We arrived in Bucharest, then visited Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara and Cluj, which is a lot of ground to cover. Other popular destinations include Sinaia and Timisoara. A shorter itinerary can be done by visiting Brasov and surrounding areas only.

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Where to stay:

We booked accommodation in advance through TripAdvisor and Hostelworld. But places were definitely not full, so you can probably just book on the day. Accommodation is really cheap, we paid around £20-£30 for two people per night.

When to go:

We went late in the summer. We got some lovely mild days and some really hot days, but overall it was a good time to go. The weather can be quite extreme both in the summer and in the winter.

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Tickets:

You can book many tickets through the official Romanian rail website. Some tickets can be found on the website timetable but cannot be booked online. You can buy tickets at self-service machines on most stations, and those are fairly simple to use.

International train tickets cannot be booked online (you can find their timetable here). You can book those at booths marked ‘International’ at larger train stations.

Tickets were always really cheap – even the 8h journey from Cluj to Budapest cost just 150 lei (£25), and many local trains cost around £5-7. Although we tried to booked everything in advance, you can probably allow some flexibility and book them when you get to Romania.

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On the trains:

Trains in Romania are what you’d expect in Eastern Europe: not particularly new, but overall fine. Stations in smaller places often don’t have clear signs, and trains can be quite different from each other: some have private compartments, whereas others just have open carriages.

Trains normally start their journeys on time, but sometimes there are delays along the way. Most trains were not very full when we travelled. Some trains have a restaurant carriage, but mostly we brought our own supplies of snacks with us. I read horrible stories about toilets on Romanian trains so I tried to avoid them, but apparently they’re actually okay to use.

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Crossing borders:

We crossed the border from Romania to Hungary. The train stopped twice (once in each side of the border) and officials came in to check our passports. It was a simple process.

Food:

Romanian food is not particularly veggie-friendly, but pretty much all restaurants serve a good selection of salads. There are also lots of options from different cuisines, with plenty of Italian and Turkish restaurants.

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Final thoughts:

What a little adventure this was! Unlike what I imagined, not many tourists cross Transylvania by train. But with some planning, it all went just as expected!

We travelled across beautiful countryside, forests and mountains, and stopped to visit some impressive villages along the way, learning more about the local history (and lots about Dracula!).

This was a unique trip, an unusual scape across a beautiful region.

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TRANSYLVANIA BY TRAIN: Exploring the narrow streets of Sighisoara

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We took the train from Sibiu to Sighisoara in the middle of the day. This was a smaller train with no booked seats, and although it was really hot it seemed like everyone wanted to keep their windows shut.

Again we travelled across Romanian countryside, stopping at little villages along the way.

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After dropping our bags at the hotel, we went exploring the old Citadel. Sighisoara is a Unesco Heritage Site, and as soon as you cross the Old Clock Tower Gate, you can see why.

The Citadel is really unique. There are lots of defence towers and other historical sights, and the buildings are all painted in different colours. It was unlike anything I’d seen before, even as compared to other places in Transylvania.

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This is also where Vlad, the Impaler, was born and lived until he was 4. You can still visit his birthplace, currently a hotel and restaurant.

We stopped for a late lunch at Casa Wagner, a nice al fresco place in a square up the hill. Lunch for two including drinks and tip cost 80 lei (£14). We also went for a quick drink at Perla, one of the many places around Hermann Oberth Square.

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We had a whole day to explore Sighisoara, so in the morning we went around all the little cobbled streets in the Citadel. We went up the Clock Tower, where you can get amazing views of the city centre.

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We had lunch at Restaurant Casa Vlad Dracul, the alleged birthplace of Vlad, the Impaler. This is a massive tourist hotspot, but I guess you can’t always say you’ve had a drink at Dracula’s house – so we gave it a go. You can also visit Vlad’s house in the same place – I gave it a miss but my boyfriend went in and said it was ridiculously cheesy.

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We spent the rest of our time exploring some more of the the little streets and bastions around the Citadel. We then headed to Jo’s Pub, a local pizzeria at Hermann Oberth Square, before heading off to the train station.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We took the train from Sibiu, which took about 3h. There aren’t many direct trains but you can change at Medias or Copta Mica. Our train was really hot but otherwise the trip went as planned.
  • Stay: We stayed at Pensiunea Joker, a very nice place a few minutes from the Citadel. Our accommodation on this trip was a bit hit and miss, so it was good to find a nice place to relax. A double bedroom cost a ridiculous 100 lei (£18) per night – what a bargain!

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TRANSYLVANIA BY TRAIN: Overnight stop at Sibiu

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Going on a train trip across Transylvania was on my list for a long time. But it was only when we were on the train from Brasov to Sibiu at 8pm with no lights on that I realised that maybe this wasn’t everyone’s idea of a nice holiday. Eventually the lights did come on, and after many stops in stations with no signs, we arrived in Sibiu perfectly on time.

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It was a perfect late summer evening, so after dropping our things at the hostel, we still had time for a stroll around the city centre and a drink in one of the bars in the main square before going to bed.

We only had the morning to explore Sibiu before we got on our next train, but this was enough time to get to know the city centre. Sibiu has three squares right next to each other, with pedestrianised roads linking them together.

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One of the squares hosts the Lutheran Basilica. You can walk up steep wooden steps (a bit scary) to get to the tower and get a nice view over the city. Tickets cost 8 lei.

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We also followed the path alongside the city walls before hopping on our next train!

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Sibiu is 3h30 by train from Brasov. Tickets can be bought in advance here and are really cheap at 46 lei for two people (about £8). The train cuts through the beautiful Romanian countryside, stopping at many little villages along the way.
  • Stay: We stayed at Old Hostel Sibiu, which was ideally located in the city centre, with rooms overlooking Mica Square. A private room for two people cost £30, which was okay but service was quite basic. Sibiu is very small so there aren’t many good and affordable options to choose from, but Hostelworld and TripAdvisor have a few options.

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TRANSYLVANIA BY TRAIN: Chasing vampires in Brasov

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We took the train from Bucharest to Brasov early in the morning. This is a lovely journey, the scenery quickly changes from sunflower fields to impressive mountains and forests.

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After dropping our things at the hotel, we went exploring the city centre. Brasov is the gateway to Transylvania, and it couldn’t be a better start for this trip. The old town centre is full of pedestrianised roads filled with shops and cafes. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the streets were full with locals and tourists enjoying the perfect weather.

We stopped for lunch at Pizza Vitto, one of the many Italian places around the city centre. Lunch for two including drinks and tip cost 63 lei (£10).

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At the hotel they suggested we took a free walking tour, so we did. The tour was organised by Walkabout tours, and our guide, Iliana, showed us the main sites around the city centre. This was a great way of learning more about Brasov. We tipped 20 lei, which seemed exceedingly cheap for such a great experience. This is a daily tour which starts at 6pm in the summer and 10am in the winter.

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After the tour we went for dinner at Bistro de L’arte, a nice place in one of the narrow streets in the city centre. Although it wasn’t particularly veggie-friendly, the food was delicious. Dinner for two including drinks and tip cost 85 lei (£15).

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Around the city centre in Brasov, you can also go up two towers to get good views over the city centre: the White and Black towers are a quick hike from the main square and both are great for getting good photos of the many red roofs in the centre and the Hollywood-style sign over the city.

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We also visited the Black Church, an impressive building just off the main square. The church was completely rebuilt after a fire, but the restauration efforts mean it’s very well preserved. There’s an impressive organ as well as Ottoman tapestry inside. Tickets cost 8 lei.

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We stopped for lunch at Pilvax. Drinks and lunch cost 93 lei (£15). Our final stop of the day was Tipografia, a nice cocktail bar around the city centre. A relaxing break before we headed to the station to get on our next train!

Bran Castle:

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You can’t visit Brasov without stopping at Bran Castle. Made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this castle is not actually where the real-life Dracula (Vlad, the Impaler) lived. But it’s still a nice castle in a pretty village – and on the lovely summer day we visited, it wasn’t really misty and foggy enough to spot any vampires around.

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To get there, you can take a bus from Autogara 2 (one of the bus stations) in Brasov. Buses go hourly or every half an hour from platform 2, but frequency changes throughout the day. The journey takes about 50 minutes and tickets cost 7 lei (a little bit over £1).

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: The train from Bucharest to Brasov takes 2h40. Tickets are really cheap and can be booked online here.
  • Stay: We stayed at Jugend Stube, a nice hotel ideally located a stone’s throw from all the main sites. The hostess was very helpful with suggesting places to go and advising on transportation. A double bedroom cost £25 for two people per night.
  • Transportation: Brasov’s bus and train terminals are located outside the city centre, but there are lots of local buses to take you around. Line 4 serves the train station, and line 12 goes to the bus station. Both stop at Levada Postei, the main stop just outside the city centre. Tickets cost 2 lei and must be purchased in advance and validated when you get on the bus.

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