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Sinaia, Romania: Home Of The Bizarre ‘Peles Castle’

Peles Castle, Sinaia
Living in Bucharest has been quite a positive experience so far. But I’m still a traveler and I can only sit still for so long. As a result, it should be no surprise that I try to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can to escape the city and visit other destinations in this remarkably diverse country.

So when Cezar, a fellow travel blogger from ImperatorTravel.com (who is from Romania), invited me to join him on an excursion yesterday, I had my day pack ready to go in a matter of minutes.

With not a single mountain, hill or even mound visible from anywhere in Bucharest itself, I was quite happy that our destination was Sinaia, a small town in the Prahova Valley that I had heard about endless times before but that I had yet to reach.

And had I known that a mountain escape such as the one I ended up having yesterday could be accomplished with just an easy one and a half hour train ride, I would have traveled to Sinaia a long time ago. For some reason I never realized how close this interesting town was to the capital.

Peles Castle: Very, Very Cool

Ever since I first arrived in Romania, locals that I have met have continuously told me that Peles Castle in the town of Sinaia (which was named after Sinai, Egypt by the way) is far more impressive than Bran Castle, the castle that most visitors, due to crafty marketing by the tourism board, believe to be the ex-home of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) but which, in reality, has only very loose connections to Mr. Impaler.

Regardless, it is so very true that immediately upon first glimpse of Peles Castle, I was able to confirm that my Romanian friends were indeed correct. Peles is instantly spectacular.

Located at the end of a beautiful forest path, and set atop a hill amid the mountains, this castle was founded by King Carol I, the guy who was in charge when Romania gained its independence in 1877.

He was also the guy that decided to approve a plan for this castle that involved creating a massive chalet-type structure that had one-hundred and sixty rooms inside, everything from bedrooms to theaters, concert halls, weapons rooms, libraries, offices, card rooms, shisha lounges, apartments, bathrooms, rooms to hang out in after you take a bath, painting rooms, tea rooms, children’s play rooms, meeting rooms, breakfast rooms and formal dining rooms.

And that’s the basic part. The unique part is that every single one of those rooms, as well as the hallways and foyers, were decorated in a completely different style or theme, drawing from influences such as Turkish, Venetian, Florentine, French, and Moorish, among others.

So whenever you walk through a doorway or turn a corner, you have absolutely no idea what you’ll encounter. It’s an architecture and design fantasy-land with ornate wooden spiral staircases, interior balconies, massive decorated mirrors, odd statues, doors hidden inside of cupboards, a room shaped like an upside down boat, changing colors everywhere, a stain-glass roof that can be opened up during the summer and more.

Without a doubt this was the most bizarre castle (apparently it’s actually a palace and not a castle) I’ve seen anywhere during my travels. And I found it to be well worth the 2-hours I spent inside.

Unfortunately, this is not a cheap castle to visit and after paying the 70 lei ($23 USD) entrance fee, I opted not to pay the extra $12 USD to take photos of the interior. But one look at the exterior and you can get the idea that this is not a normal castle.

Peles Castle, Sinaia

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania 2

Pelisor Castle: Much More Normal

Right down the path from Peles Castle happens to be another castle, the Art Nouveau-style Pelisor (Little Peles), which, even though it is significantly smaller in size and much less extravagant than Peles, still makes for an interesting stop.

Unlike it’s giant and strange neighbor, in Pelisor you can actually imagine the past inhabitants (which included a young King Ferdinand and a Queen Marie) living there, wandering the hallways and eating their meals in the simply decorated dining rooms. Cezar said it best when he turned to me yesterday and noted, “This place feels more like a home.”

Indeed it does and it makes for a unique contrast to Peles Castle.

This is Pelisor Castle…

Pelisor Castle, Sinaia, Romania

Sinaia Monastery

Next up was the monastery, a place where you can visit two Byzantine-style churches, one from 1846 and the other dating back to 1695, the older one still with many of its original paintings on the exterior. Apart from the churches, you can also take a rest and just enjoy the quiet atmosphere in the small courtyards located in the middle of the monastery itself.

The Great Church, Sinaia Monastery, Romania

Sinaia Monastery, Romania

To The Top Of The Mountain

And from the monastery, you can descend back into the town center where you can grab a gogosi cu branza (cheese doughnut) or a strudel cu mere (apple strudel) from one of the local bakeries before heading over to the Telegondola. Built in the 1970s, these gondolas will take you straight up to an elevation of 2000 meters where you’ll disembark to views of the Prahova Valley below. As you glance at the forest-covered mountains and the small towns that dot the landscape, you’ll find that this is one view that is difficult to turn your eyes away from.

Luckily, there are two or three open-air cafes atop the mountain where you can have a seat, sip a drink and stare out over the region known as Transylvania.

Prahova Valley, Romania

From the top of the mountain you can either hike back down via a well-marked trail or take one of the two gondola options towards the bottom. We went for the newer gondola this time, one that landed us in the middle of the forest, still a decent distance above Sinaia.

From here it’s a peaceful hour-long walk into town along winding, empty roads, with only the occasional “Beware of Bears!” signs posted along the route to snap you out of your care-free, happy state. And as long as you don’t encounter any bears (if you do spot a bear, just play dead), your day shall conclude with those lungfuls of fresh mountain air spreading its therapeutic qualities throughout your body. Yes, it was that wonderful of a walk.

So there you go…

Two castles. One monastery. Two gondolas. One mountain top. One strudel. One cozy town. Several forest walks. One-thousands lungfuls of fresh mountain air. No bear encounters.

One mighty fine day in Sinaia, Romania.


Have you been to Sinaia? Or do you have a place you love to visit in order to get away from city life or life in the town you live in?

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49 Responses to Sinaia, Romania: Home Of The Bizarre ‘Peles Castle’

  1. Sofia says:

    My brother lives in Romania to study and I have the privilege of going up and visiting him every now and then and I have to agree with you, Peles Castle is just incredible, the surrounding mountains make the scenery so breath-taking! Romania is such an amazing country, the difference between Bucharest and Brasov and Sinaia is so big with the culture diversity, Amazing country, a real eye opener, especially for an English girl, Highly recommended!!

  2. Drew says:

    I am curious why you choose to describe it as weird. I found the place wonderful. It is well worth the visit. Yeah the costs are high but really this is one of the best palaces I have ever visited. The photo license seems to be common in eastern Europe, unfortunately. We have encountered it in Russia and Bulgaria as well.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Drew – I meant weird in a good way as in a style that you don’t normally see for a castle since it is a combination of different styles all wrapped into one! And I also labeled it as “very, very cool” while recommending that it is worth a visit!

  3. David Griffing says:

    The castle and its little sister are truly magnificent. Thanks so much for taking the time to post some pics for the rest of us. If you wanted to add some interior shots of these wonderful bits of architecture, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings :^)

  4. Matthew says:

    Wow Earl, you really take me back to when I lived in Romania — a total of a little over three years — in Bucharest and in the northeast corner near a town called Iasi. I saw a lot in that time, and yet how much i want to go back and see more.

    Romania will always hold a very special spot in my heart!

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  6. Marius says:

    Man, I live in New Jersey (4 years) and for 6 in total in the states, the first two I lived in NYC, and now I am just minutes away across the Hudson. But I never forgot how beautiful Peles and Sinaia are. I walked all the way to the 1400 mark, twice, and never have seen Sinaia during the summer. Yet it made quite an impression and I really wonder, since you have visited a lot, if you’ve ever been there, do the castles in Germany look the same? Either way, great to hear you enjoy Bucharest, I was born and raised there for 20 years. I miss it to tell you the truth. And the amounts of money you make over advertising and book selling is ridiculously high, what sorcery is this? :)

  7. Back in 2009 I ventured out, and borded a plane to Hungary…(FIRST FLIGHT EVER)….Spent a week there, and then went to Romania for two weeks. We visited Bran and Peles….NOTHING compared to Peles! WOW! What a castle! What beauty! I LOVED ROMANIA! Much more than Hungary, of course we were in the city of Budapest, and I am a country girl….In Romania, (Oradea) I FELT AT HOME! It was so weird. What are you doing in there that you get to “LIVE” there! I am jealous! LOL

  8. I loved this post and the pics too. I have long wanted to visit Peles Castle ever since I saw it in a movie and now thanks to you, I want to visit the nearby Pelisor Castle too! Both bring the pages of fairytales to life with their storybook architecture and ornate detail! Thanks for the wonderful article my friend.

  9. ashley says:

    this is near brasov right? i’m going to have to add it to the list of places to see in romania :))) thanks!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ashley – Yes, it is on the way to Brasov. It’s only 1.5 hours by train from Bucharest and another couple of hours by train to Brasov.

  10. Valentin says:

    I invite you to visit Salina Turda, a salt mine in the city of Turda, Cluj county. It was upgraded 2 years ago and now it looks like from another planet. The producers of Batman visited the mine and they wanted to make it Batman’s cave in the movie ‘Batman Dark Knight Rising’.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Valentin – I have heard of Salina Turda and it is on my list of places I want to visit! Hopefully I’ll make it there in August during a Romanian road trip I’m taking with some friends.

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  12. Ying says:

    Hi Earl,

    Like you, I prefer colourful Peles over Bran castle anytime! Did you ever make it the salt mines in Slanic where people actually camp down there for health reasons? That’s a pretty cool place to discover as well. It’s probably a 30 minute drive from Bucharest, if I’m not mistaken. It’s been a while since I was in Romania! :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ying – I haven’t made it to the salt mines yet but I do plan to get there while I’m still in Romania. A few people have now told me about it so it’s high up on the list!

  13. The lack of bear encounters is a major motivating factor for me when considering going here in the future.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ryan – I could see how that would sweeten the deal, although, you won’t know whether or not you’ll encounter bears until you get there and wander around :)

  14. Norman says:

    I visited Sinaia on a day trip (by train) from Brasov last year. Unfortunately I could not go inside Peles Castle because it was a Monday :(
    Took lots of pics from the outside though, and it’s a good excuse for another visit one day :)

  15. Stefan says:

    There’s always the option of taking a short virtual tour – which focuses on the most important rooms.

    Here’s the link for the English version:
    http://visit.peles.ro/virtual-tour/

    It has both inside and outside 360° pictures.

    Wait for it to load, fullscreen, HD quality, enjoy! :D

  16. Ali says:

    I know so little about Romania but I’d really like to go there one of these days, and you’re making me more interested! Definitely looks like an interesting castle. Any regrets deciding not to pay the fee to take pictures inside?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ali – Actually, since there were two of us there, and my friend paid for the camera ticket, we were able to share the photos. So that’s the best way to do it…always go with a friend, split the cost and share the photos one of you takes!

  17. Musa Malik says:

    I’ve always imagined living in a house where each room is decorated by a completely culture.. Peles castle sounds like a place i’d like to visit.

    And to answer your question I’d like to visit a rural area in china to get away from every day life, last time I went to hong kong an elderly man stared at my dread locks for 5 straight minutes on the subway o_0

    Also I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about cruise ship employment..
    1) after a contract can you choose to be flown somewhere else that your home, especially if the ticket is cheaper? (for example instead of me being flown back to Miami, I’d rather Bangkok to go backpacking during my vacation)
    2) Can taxes be automatically taken out of your paycheck?
    3) What would I have to do to get my vacation lengthened? I heard about a guy who did a contract every other year.. I’d want to do 5 months on – 7 months off.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Musa – Then maybe you should try and move into Peles :)

      As for your questions…

      1. It depends on the cruise line and how well you get along with the crew office. Technically, you have to be flown home, but I was almost never flown home and usually had them fly me somewhere else so that I could travel for a while. If it’s cheaper than flying home, you have a much better chance of it happening.

      2. Taxes are only taken out of your paycheck if you are from the US and working for a cruise line with headquarters in the US (this is almost every cruise line except for maybe 4 or 5). Other than that, you have to figure out your own taxes.

      3. Well, you don’t get to decide how long your contract is. Every position is different and sometimes they need to extend your contract if they can’t get anyone to fill your position right away. But usually, after you have completed one or two contracts, you can ask for extended vacations. But again, they will tell you how long you can extend your vacation for. Usually they will say something like “You can extend for a total of 5 months and we can fit you back into the schedule then.”

      Hope that helps!

  18. Simon P says:

    The Peles Castle sounds – and looks – amazing. It’s fortunate you weren’t there at night, though. A place like that would give me the creeps!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Simon – I’m not sure what it would look/feel like there at night…but supposedly it looks quite eerie from the outside during winter when the surrounding fields and forest are covered with snow.

  19. Osvaldo says:

    $12 to take photos? That’s a bummer for a tourist :(

    • Earl says:

      Hey Osvaldo – It is a shame and there are such camera fees at most sights in Romania unfortunately. You just need to make sure you go with someone else, split the cost and share the photos!

  20. Will says:

    Pretty cool to be able to walk around old castles like that. Shows you how life might have been like back then.

  21. Cindy says:

    Since you asked, to get away from notoriously boring Hamilton in New Zealand, I drive 40 minutes to surfing legendary Raglan :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Cindy – Do you go surfing or just go there for a visit? Seems like an ideal place to spend some time either way!

      • Cindy says:

        Just to spend time, and it’s awesome knowing the less touristy spots too. Haha the time I tried surfing, I fell off the board… still lying on it!

  22. Joseph says:

    Even though I live approximately 3 hours from Sinaia (almost in the heart of Transylvania), I’ve only visited Peles twice, and was equally impressed both times. The guided tour is really great, the details astounding (my favorite rooms are the one with the paintings of the seasons, and the library). The views of Prahova Valley are indeed unique, and can’t help but feel a bit proud of living in this part of the country. There is another spectacular view – if you drive through the valley, coming from Brasov, when you reach the small city of Azuga, you round the corner and wham! the wall of the mountains is smack in front of you – simply breath taking – need to set a day trip in the area and take photos :D

    • Earl says:

      Hey Joseph – You should feel proud to be from this region…it’s simply as beautiful as it gets! And thanks for the tip about the drive to Azuga…looks like another day trip in the future for me!

  23. Jodi says:

    Woah, they really put the price up at Peles!! I went there six years ago and it was 1/5 of that price…

    I live in Budapest. My favourite place to get away from the city is Lake Velence – it’s only about one hour from here by train. So nice to escape the summer heat and go swimming.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jodi – I missed Lake Velence when I traveled through Hungary…maybe I should have gone! And yes, the prices for tourist sights in Romania have increased drastically in the last year apparently.

  24. Hey dude, thanks for the heads up on Sinaia. I’ll be in Bucharest in July for my birthday and am planning a day trip to Sinaia. I enjoy keeping up with all of your adventures. Cheers!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Christoper – Do you know what dates you’ll be here in Bucharest? I’m based out of this city for now so if I’m around, hopefully we can meet up again!

  25. Sound like a great day trip.

    But shocking that they charge so much for photos. Is the cost of living there that high, or is it just ridiculously high tourist prices?

    • Joseph says:

      the cost of living is not that high, it’s just a ridiculous tourist price – something you encounter (unfortunately) in the entire valley (be it accommodation, entrance fees)…it is a sad fact because if they would drop the prices, the influx of tourists might increase

      • Earl says:

        Hey Joseph – Someone told me that they used to have a 2-tier price system where locals paid less than foreigners. But now they got rid of that and instead, they charge everyone the higher foreigner prices. Not a good system at all and lowering the prices would make a big difference I’d imagine.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Stephanie – The cost of living here is actually quite low but for some reason about a year ago they apparently increased the entrance fees to most sights around the country. And it’s the same price for locals as well, which is absolutely crazy.

  26. Spinster says:

    LOVE stuff like this. Gotta get to Romania sometime soon. Thanks for sharing & sparking interest.

    • Earl says:

      @Spinster – It’s a very interesting country! Let me know if you decide to visit and I’ll answer any questions you may have.

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