Once upon a time there was a castle in Romania. Actually there were a bunch of castles, and tour buses filled with curious older folks flocked to these castles from all across the land as they toured the region on their Balkan holiday. Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania is one of the most famous castles in Europe and on of the most popular attractions in the country. And although many people visit on tours, you can easily see many of the best parts of the castle completely independently.
Peles Castle Romania
Peles Castle is eye-catching as it is constructed in a neo-Renaissance style. It is quite beautiful, with large, intricate façades and an expansive green lawn that makes for terrific pictures. It is found in the scenic town of Sinaia near the Piatra Arsa River and is towered over by the Bucegi Mountains.
Peles Castle History
The exceedingly photogenic Peles Castle is more than just a pretty face, it was originally commissioned by King Carol to be used by the Romanian royal family as a summer residence. It was built in the 19th century, took 10 years to build and was completed in 1883 with further additions added 1893 and 1914. It is estimated that it cost 120 million in today’s US dollars to build and took 300-400 workers to complete.
You can see where to money went when you see the detailed architecture. It feels much more modern than most European castles. King Carol’s successor, King Ferdinand, built a smaller version of this grand palace right next door to it and named it Pelișor. It was used by the royal family until 1948 when it was seized by the Communist regime.
From then until 1997 it had a short stint as a tourist attraction and used by various officials over the years. In 1997, a court case was started to return the castle to the royal family which finally happened in 2007. Since then the Peles National Museum was opened in the castle and the general public can now visit.
Highlights of the Peles Castle
Peles is one of the most picturesque castles in Europe. There are a variety of rooms that the public can see when touring it. The Peles Castle interior rooms are lavishly furnished and attention has been paid to every detail.
Many of the artistic decisions were made by Queen Marie herself. A few of the rooms stand out from the rest including the Music Room containing teak furniture that was a gift from the Maharajah of Kapurthala in India. Also of note are the frescoes in the Theatre Hall, designed by Austrians Gustav Klimt and Frantz Matsch.
Keep an eye out in the Royal Library for the famous secret door, hidden behind the bookcase. The Hall of Honour stretches over three floors and is filled with sculptures and retractable stained glass panels. The Imperial Suite is designed in the Austrian Baroque style and its highlight is the rare leather wall cover from Cordoba that is over five hundred years old.
The Grand and Small Armouries are filled with weaponry and armour. Scattered throughout the property are displays showing Oriental and European artifacts.
We also really enjoyed the manicured gardens, courtyard and statuary outside of the castle. Take the time to wander the grounds to see this amazing building from every angle.
Peleș Castle was first castle in the world fully powered by locally produced electricity.
The castle has between a quarter and almost a half million visitors each year.
There are collections of statues, paintings, furniture, arms and armour, gold, silver, stained glass, ivory, porcelain, tapestries and rugs. The arms and armour collection alone has more than 4,000 pieces.
At every single tourist attraction we visited in Romania there were people taking wedding photos and Peles was no exception.
You must take a guided tour to visit the museum. One tour option is only of the ground floor, another option adds the first floor, while the complete tour includes the second floor as well. If you want any Peles Castle pictures there is a photography fee of 35 lei. But it is free to visit the outside and take pictures there.
Peles Castle Opening Hours
The Peles Castle hours are from 9am – 5pm from Wednesday to Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and there are shorter hours, 11am to 5pm, on Tuesdays. It is also closed for the month of November.
Is Peles Castle Worth Visiting?
Yes, unless you have a serious aversion to crowds. It is the most popular site in Sinaia, Romania and it is unlikely you will have the place to yourself but even if you have to struggle through several tour groups and wait your turn at the best photo spots, the beauty and grandeur of this classic castle is still worth the time.
Of course, there are a few things you can do to get there when it isn’t completely overrun. Visiting on a weekday is the first step, since weekends add a whole extra group of Romanians to the already numerous tourists. The museum is closed on Mondays and only opens at 11 am on Tuesdays so Wednesday or Thursday is your best bet.
You can also avoid the biggest crowds by going first thing in the morning or right before it closes. Most tour groups arrive between 10 am and 3 pm. However, even though the museum opens at 9 am you can tour the outside of the castle at any time so if you arrive around 8 am, check out all the outside viewpoints, then be in line when the museum opens you should find it much quieter. Alternatively, if you roll up around 3:30-4 pm, most of the groups will already be finishing up.
Peles Castle Tickets
The Peles Castle price for tickets mostly depends on age. Children and people with reduced mobility are free while adults are 30 lei, pensioners are half price at 15 lei and students are only 7.5 lei.
How to Visit Peles Castle
The Peles Castle is located in Sinaia and can be walked to if you are staying overnight. Otherwise you have a variety of options of how to get there.
Rent a Car
If you want to tour more than just Peles a car rental might be a good idea. We rented a car from Brasov for some of our travel through Romania and it was cheap and easy.
Take a Train
The easiest option is the train to get from Bucharest to Sinaia. It can take from one and a half to 3 hours depending on the train. Try to get the express train if you are planning a day trip. A one-way ticket for one adult starts at 39.5 lei.
We came from Brasov and stayed for a couple nights to see the Peles Castle in Sinaia and hike the Bucegi Mountains. It was an easy train ride and cost about €3 per person (make sure it is an IC/InterCity train). Once you get off in Sinaia, exit the train station and walk across the street and climb up the stairs and uphill through the winding streets to the castle. If you stay in Sinaia like we did the benefit is that you will be able to visit the castle either early or late and avoid all the day trippers or tour groups.
Book a Tour
There are many tour options that will stop at Peles Castle as well as other historic castles and buildings in Transylvania, including Bran Castle, Rasnov Castle and the Prejmer Fortified Church on a one day tour. This is a good option for those who prefer someone else take care of the details and the groups can be smaller, in a van, or larger, in a full sized bus. Many will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel making this option very convenient.
Things to Do in Sinaia, Romania
The extremely hilly ski town of Sinaia, Romania which, like most ski towns is full of pizza places but lacks any really good bars has a variety of things to do once you have visited Peles Castle.
Visit Pelisor Castle
Although Peles is the most popular Sinaia castle you can also visit the Pelișor Castle which is part of the same complex as Peleș. Pelisor Castle was built between 1899 and 1902. It was originally a summer residence for King Ferdinand and Queen Marie and her influence can be seen in the Byzantine and Celtic aesthetics – Queen Marie was originally from Scotland.
Pelisor Castle is closed on Mondays and from May 15 through September 15 the opening hours on Tuesdays are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from Wednesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the winter months it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open on Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hike in the Bucegi Mountains
We took the cable car up to 2,000 metres in the Bucegi Mountains and hiked for a couple hours across the plateau. Good views at the beginning and end, and a really weird hotel in the middle that we mistook for a mining camp, with a lot of industrial equipment and its own Olympic-size running track.
Ride the Sinaia Gondola
Even if you don’t want to hike the gondola ride is worth doing by itself as it spans over 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) in length and ascends about 2050 meters (6725 feet). The gondola starts from the Furnica neighborhood on Aleea Telegondolei and is one of the best things to do in Sinaia Romania.
Meet the monks at the Sinaia Monastery
The Sinaia Monastery is a working monastery and is home to up to 20 monks. The monastery contains the first Bible translated into Romanian and other artifacts. Visitors can tour the mid-1800 monastery and two courtyards as well as the musem galleries and the tomb of Tache Ionescu which his quotes carved on the stone walls.
Where to Stay – Sinaia Hotels
Be aware that Sinaia is built on a hill so we recommend staying close to the centre as we repeatedly climbed up and down, to and from our hotel located a solid 15-minute trudge up the hill from the main area of town.
Pension Casa Wenge is a good budget option with a garden with a hot tub. Most rooms have a balcony with views to Bucegi Mountains. It is only 5 minutes from the train station.
The Excelsior Boutique Hotel Sinaia is a great midrange choice only 1 km from the Peles Castle. Many of the rooms have a balcony with a forest view. It has been recently renovated with a mix of modern and traditional features.
Day Trips from Sinaia
Visit Bran Castle
Then there was Bran Castle, which probably would have been even more popular than Peleş if it was more conveniently located. Nonetheless, Bran was also surrounded by thousands of tourists, partially because it is a very interesting castle located up on an imposing hill that makes it look fairly ominous and, of course, exceedingly villainous. But mostly people were there because Bran Castle is known as the Dracula Castle. You know, Count Dracula from the books and movies.
Fictional books and movies, that is. Which means it can’t really be Dracula’s castle because, well, Dracula is also fictional. Of course, the character is apparently based on a real life figure from Romanian history, Vlad Tepeş, also known as Vlad Dracula, and even more commonly, and definitely more fearsomely, as Vlad the Impaler (not Impeller, as we explained last time around).
He was a famously ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator, as you probably guessed from the name, who ran things in these parts during the 15th century and presumably had much in common with the infamous fictional Dracula except for, I have to assume, the whole vampire thing. Of course, as far as the castle goes there are several more problems with this comparison other than, of course, the difference between reality and imagination.
One being that not only did old Vlad never really live in Bran Castle but, in fact, only ever visited it once (or maybe twice, accounts vary), and for most of its recent existence it was occupied by members of the Hapsburg dynasty.
And as for the castle being the inspiration for book, well, the author, Bram Stoker, apparently never once actually travelled to Eastern Europe and obviously had never even seen it (presumably Instagram didn’t enjoy the same popularity in those days).
Nonetheless, despite all the question marks surrounding the entire concept, from the moment we parked our car we were inundated with tacky Dracula paraphernalia and vampire-themed clothing, souvenirs and, occasionally, burgers. Most annoyingly, though, from a practical standpoint, was that all the historic information and explanatory boards in the castle were provided only in Romanian except, of course, those pertaining to Dracula.
Those, apparently, were well worth translating even though, you know, none of it was real. The first rule of show biz, “know your audience”. Or maybe the second rule, I’m pretty sure the first rule is actually “never pass herpes on to your co-stars, only the set crews and maybe the gaffer”. Either way, the point is we enjoyed looking around in it but didn’t really learn much, other than that the Hapsburgs must have been a pretty stumpy group to fit in beds that short.
Tour the Rasnov Citadel
A third stop was at Raşnov Citadel, located, conveniently enough, in the town of Raşnov. This one looked pretty imposing from the outskirts of town, set high up on a hill where it can loom over the town like the uncle who’s had too much to drink and hovers over his nephew demanding to hear what he learned in school today.
He must have learned something! Much like all historic ruins, however, as well as female rappers, the closer you got the less impressed you became. In the end it was a nice place for a short stroll, and was fairly imperial from certain angles, but not the kind of place that etches a special place in your memory. Plus, there wasn’t even a single set of novelty vampire teeth for sale, so that was disappointing.
Hike in the Piatra Craiului National Park
Our final Romanian destination near Sinaia, Romania was a remote hotel spectacularly located up on a thin ridge near Piatra Crailui National Park. The only way we could manage to hit Raşnov, Bran and make it to this well-hidden location was by renting a car in Braşov.
Unfortunately, although we booked an ever so slightly larger vehicle that promised to be ever so slightly more able to handle the rigors of the rough roads we would face, the rental company did what rental companies always do, which is generally not pay any attention to what you want, and instead just give you whatever vehicle they happen to have sitting around.
Which is how we found ourselves painstakingly creeping up a narrow, winding, rugged dirt road alternately doing our best to carefully squeeze around heavy machinery and hugging the inside corner as far from the sharp, imposing drop-offs as possible in a tiny bubble of a compact car. “The Opel Astra, Nobody’s Idea of an SUV.”
Or at least that what’s their slogan should be. Either that, or maybe “The Only Car Round Enough to Roll Down a Hill Without Using Wheels.” But eventually we discovered our destination, a small collection of studio apartments that share a small but festive pavilion highlighted by one of the more stunning views one could hope to enjoy while drinking an ill-advised amount of beer and home-made plum firewater the night before tackling a difficult hike.
Views or not, drink we did, some of us to the relatively reasonable hour prior to midnight, others continuing diligently on into the less conventional, and certainly more destructive, wee hours to drink even more and bond over heavy metal in the “big house”.
The following morning, all hangovers aside, our biggest issue soon turned to be actually finding the trailhead, something we were struggling mightily with until we finally came to a steep, gravelled hairpin turn which our childish ride proved embarrassingly incapable of conquering.
The second time we found ourselves rolling backwards down the hill working hard to avoid careening off the edge, we decided to turn around and head back from whence we came, were lucky enough to procure directions from a helpful German hiker (who was clearly heading the opposite way to which he sent us) and before you know it found ourselves in the “big” parking lot described to us in extremely vague terms by Vlad the Hotelier the previous night.
From there we hiked up through impressive Zarneşti Gorge, where it was all we could do to keep Chris from obsessively climbing into every dark corner even remotely resembling a cave, much like a cat that simply can’t resist a paper bag left lying on the carpet.
We then followed a side trail straight up the side of the hill for about half an hour before the trail levelled out just shy of Cabana Curmatura, then threw one last really steep stretch at us once we could already see the building, taste the cold beer waiting inside, and all too easily picture ourselves reclined on an old wooden picnic bench with our sweaty, disgusting feet airing out for all to grimace at. Well, my feet, anyway.
Altogether it took about 4 hours, provided some nice views and was of great help when it came to the excretion of a certain toxin or two, which we knew was necessary to make room for all the new toxins we still had waiting in our fridge that certainly weren’t coming with us out of Romania the next day.
A long, hectic day involving car washes, sweltering buses, a short flight and some train station chicken that surprisingly enough didn’t lead to any gastroenteric emergencies, but a day that nonetheless all ran as smoothly as one could hope. Which brings us to Greece. But that, my friends, will have to wait for next time…
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