One of the highlights of Romania is a visit to Peleş Castle, located in Sinaia, about 110 km north of Bucharest or 50 km south of Braşov. We visited this fairytale palace on a day trip from Braşov. Although this castle is not old (it was started in 1875 and finished in 1914), it is a testament to what a King can build when money is apparently no object. It was the first European castle to have electricity, central heating—and even central vacuuming—very advanced for its time. It cost about $80 million at the time, and would be almost impossible to replicate today. The craftsmanship is really beyond compare. The main rooms are exquisitely decorated with materials from all over Europe and each has a unique feel – owing to the origin of the decorations as well as the building materials—Italian, German, Turkish, etc. Of special note is the incredible woodwork, and decorated leatherwork on the walls. There are excellent collections of medieval arms too. A map of sites visited in Romania can be found here.
We owe this marvel to King Carol I and his wife, Elisbeta. It was intended to be their summer residence, and given its location at the threshold to the Transylvanian mountains, I can imagine how the setting and altitude made it a nice escape from the heat of Bucharest on the plains of Wallachia.
Some practicalities: The castle is to the west of the main road (E60) from Ploiesti to Brasov, and I didn’t see any signs to the castle until after we took the northernmost exit off the highway into Sinaia. Parking cost 10 lei (the current exchange rate is about 3.3 lei to 1 USD). Tickets to the castle can be bought in the courtyard of the castle. It is possible to just view the exterior and wander the grounds by paying the parking fee only, but this would be a serious mistake. Note that it is a steep walk up hill from the parking areas to the castle itself.
There are 3 prices for tickets (30, 50 and 70 Romanian lei each), and a separate pass is required to take photographs (32 lei). The most expensive ticket includes getting to see the private apartments, a theater where performances are still held, and other areas off limits to the other tours. It also includes nearby Pelişor Palace, which, since we were on the last tour of the day, closed before we could get to it. Allow at least 2-3 hours for your visit. Since Romania is quite cheap by western European standards, the entry fees felt expensive, but in reality are well worth it. Guided tour is the only way to visit the castle interior and tours are offered in English as well as other languages.
An interesting side note—this castle was used as a prop in the 2009 movie “The Brothers Bloom” starring Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con artist brothers. In the movie, it was the home of a young eccentric rich woman (played by Rachel Weisz) in New Jersey of all places, and at one point in the movie the castle is blown up! I was happy to see that through the magic of Hollywood, the castle is still there. This movie was a critical hit, but not at the box office. If you enjoy offbeat humor, watch this movie.