Sinaia is a must see city of Romania for its unmatched history, the former summer residence of the Royal Family and the largest number of monuments per capita that consist of beautiful buildings signed by famous Romanian and European architects.
Why should you go to Sinaia
Sinaia was a town that grew like in a fairytale. When the first king of Romania, Carol 1st visited the country for the first time, he fell in love with the surroundings and decided to establish his summer residence in the area. At that time, there was just the Monastery of Sinaia and a very small number of inhabitants in the area.
Once he had decided to build the castle, Carol I of Romania appointed an architect to develop the plans and, almost at the same time, people of culture, high rank politicians and the high-class families started building their own residences in Sinaia.
They appointed the best Romanian architects at that time, like T. Socolescu or P. Smărăndescu while some decided to work with foreign architects to make sure their properties were elegant, in style and, most importantly, unique. Sinaia was at the beginning of the 20th century the place to be, an elegant, cultural and full of life city, a special retreat for powerful families from Romania and from abroad and a year-round tourist attraction.
Sinaia is a very beautiful city, full of history, beautiful architecture and great landscapes, but, as communism has left its marks over the city, sometimes its treasures are hidden behind newly built hotels or blocks of flats. I recommend you take an organized tour of Sinaia to make sure you see the real stuff.
How to get there
Along with the modernization of the railway, the highway to Ploiești has also been upgraded, meaning you can enjoy a nice 90-minute trip either by train or by car. The only rush hours are Friday afternoon to Sinaia and Sunday afternoon on the way back. Until autumn 2014 Sinaia’s central area is undergoing massive infrastructure upgrade works so you might experience detours.
Where to stay
For accommodation I would recommend Poem Boem Villa (www.poemboem.com) which is an exclusive retreat at a very good price. It is as good for families as it is for romantic escapes. You might want to experience a more familiar place, in which case you can choose Piatra Șoimului (www.piatrasoimului.ro). I personally would avoid the big hotels as they don’t match the spirit of the city. For larger groups however, you might have to consider them.
How long should you stay in Sinaia
My advice would be to stay a week or at least 2-3 days. You really have to spend some time to feel the city. Breath the fresh air and enjoy the beautiful landscape, visit the museums, go hiking, go to the park, go to the recently re-opened casino, go swimming in one of the two local pools, get a massage, take a nice dinner, take a walk and you will be highly rewarded for your curiosity. Then schedule day trips to Babele, Cramele Rhein,Brașov, Sighișoara or Bran.
What should you see & do in Sinaia?
Peleș Castle and Pelișor – please take time to visit them inside. Peleș is one of the best preserved castles in Europe and has a mix of eclectic styles from all over the world on show in special decorated “theme” rooms which are a great joy for any visitor. You will have to be totally informal and patient at the cafeteria across from the castle, which has a help-yourself system, but recently some nice restaurants have opened nearby.
Another must see is the park of Sinaia with its beautiful casino, which holds a permanent painting exhibition and has been recently reopened to the public. The park is well maintained and is a great experience for adults and kids as well as for couples looking for a romantic escape. From the park you can also see some beautiful buildings including Hotel Palace, which will be a “treasure” when current renovations of the building are finished.
Also, you can see some old hotel landmarks of Sinaia including Hotel Caraiman and the former Hotel Parc which is now under reconstruction. You can enjoy a good tea or coffee at Cafeneaua Parcului where they also have a nice collection of pictures of Sinaia’s old houses.
A must see is Casa George Enescu – located in Cumpătu neighborhood – which is on the opposite mountain to the city center – a beautiful, quiet and elegant residential area of Sinaia. Enescu’s former residence, which was built following the great musician’s own plans and instructions, was recently renovated and offers entry tickets and audio guides (in the main foreign languages as well) at a ridiculously small price. The visit is rich in information and is also very personal as you are surrounded by Enescu’s music all the way through. If you feel like having a break after the visit, indulge yourself with a nice coffee or a lunch at Kuib Restaurant located just around the corner.
Another must see is the Tour of Sinaia organized by Asociația Redescoperă Sinaia. The organizers have done extensive research, together with a great team from Muzeul Țăranului Român (MTR). The tours will help you discover great places, architecture and monuments, but are also full of short stories which will help you absorb more of the local history and enjoy some of the well kept and untold stories of the old inhabitants. For the tour contact: [email protected] or [email protected] to see when they organize the next tour. Hiking is great in the area. You can start from Sinaia, visit Busteni and return, or vise versa. For more details you can contact Asociația Redescoperă Sinaia at [email protected] for guide recommendation.
When all is done, indulge yourself with a swim or a massage. And of course, come for ski or snowboard or for paragliding in the winter.
What can you do if you are with kids?
You can have a good time at the Playground Park in Cumpătu – near Kuib Restaurant. Then there’s the Model Railway Exhibition in Sinaia’s beautiful, but sadly rather poorly maintained, railway station. Kids will enjoy the small trains and the diorama, while the entire family can enjoy a hot chocolate.
Sinaia Park offers playgrounds for different ages and a “Tyrolean” experience when the weather allows. On rainy days, you can take the kids to the Carmen Sylva Cultural Center, where they can read and paint. Check up on the schedule as sometimes they organize guitar lessons on Saturdays.
The cable car up the mountain makes two stops: one at 1,400 m, and the next at 2,000 m. On top the view is great. Between May and September, you can enjoy a long or a short hike and from December to April or even sometimes as late as May, you can go skiing. New ski lifts need to be built at the top to manage the high weekend demand, but during the week it’s much less hectic.
Also up in the mountains, but by car (pretty bad road – almost 1 hour drive) is Stâna Regală. It is a hard drive, but once there, it’s great for kids. This summer they even had ponies and other animals. At the top, don’t miss the view from Frantz Iosif Stone – if the sky is clear you should see the entire Prahova Valley, a breathtaking view.
Finally, you can take the family to swim at Hotel New Montana or Hotel Mara, or go bowling at Hotel International Sinaia. Be aware that when the weather is bad it can be full on Friday and Saturday afternoons, so you might need to book it in advance.
Where to eat?
My favourite place by far is Kuib – www.kuib.ro located in Cumpătu area. You can have a pretty heavy traditional Romanian food at Cabana Skiori or might like to try the experience of the Italian food at Cucina Sofia.
Sometimes it is just nice to get a pizza on the go. There is a small pizzeria near Cafeneaua Parcului that is pretty good.
Good to know
In Sinaia it rains pretty often, so it’s always good to have some raincoats and proper shoes with you. Generally the showers are short and you might see the sun again very soon so don’t give up the plan for the entire day if it rains in the morning, you might have a brilliant sunny day after an hour of rain.
Take some warm clothes with you at all times, even if in Bucharest it is 38 degrees celsius, it might get very cold in Sinaia especially if it rains.
Shopping in Sinaia is very poor, I only manage to buy some bio cereals and tea from some small shops in the center so this should leave time for sight seeing tours and other experiences. I hope the shops’ offerings will improve soon as along with the heavy modernization in the central area there is a “wind of change” for better.
At 30 minutes up-north drive from Sinaia you can visit Rhein Wine Cellar in Azuga, where you can see how they produce Rein Champagne, which has been produced in Romania ever since 1889. They also have a small wine shop there from where you can buy really great award winning Romanian wines.
If you stay for a long time or want to help yourself to some food, you can find good fresh vegetables and fruits at Sinaia market, which is located on a narrow street opposite to Hotel Montana. Also, check the Angst supermarket for all the fresh and locally produced ham, cremwursts and various meat specialties for the grill. Fresh fish is hard to find in Sinaia but you can buy fresh trout from Azuga.
If you have recommendation or want to find out more, please write to [email protected] as the association focuses on the sustainable development of the city.
Go to the Sinaia listings directory for more information on the recommendations.
By Ioana Enache
Ioana Enache is board member of the Asociația Redescoperă Sinaia, which aims to revitalize the town of Sinaia and reestablish it as an elegant, charming and green city with a good quality of life and rich cultural offerings.