Tucked away in Eastern Europe, Romania is definitely a less-discovered travel destination. While for some this might seem like a challenge, travellers looking for an adventure and a sense of wondrous excitement will be surprised by what this country has in store for them. In recent years Romania has attracted more and more people looking for alternative destinations in Europe.
For those unsure what to expect, let me tell you a couple of things. Despite having a complicated history and being at the intersection of Western culture, Oriental expansion and Slavic influences, Romania has a fascinating culture and identity of its own. If you want to find out what that is, follow my suggestions below to get you started on planning your trip.
1. Romania’s medieval cities
One of the many things that attracts travellers to Romania is its unique and well-preserved medieval heritage. Just 200 km away from the capital Bucharest, Brasov is a great place to get you started on your history tour and it’s also your gateway into the famous region of Transylvania. This charming city will surprise you and don’t miss sights such as Rope Street or the Black Church dating from 14th century. To get a bird’s eye view of the city and the surrounding area, take the cable-car to travel to the top of Tampa Mountain.
Next, the city of Sighisoara beautifully demonstrates the multi-cultural heritage of Romania. The UNESCO Sighisoara Citadel in the heart of the city has been around since the mid 12th century and is one of the few remaining inhabited citadels in Europe. True to its name, the Sighisoara Medieval Festival takes place each year to celebrate the city’s heritage in a strict medieval fashion. Be sure to stop by the elaborate 64-meter-tall Clock Tower was built in the 14th century to defend the city’s main gate – but also notice its figurines!
Known as the cultural jewel of the country, Sibiu has a combination of progressive German influences and rural traditions. In the past, Sibiu served as a military fortress to defend the Olt Valley. Today, you will find the city bustling with life. Be sure to check and see if there is a festival going on when you plan to visit and stop by the food markets for an afternoon snack. And don’t miss the Bruckhental Museum, Bridge of Lies or Astra Rural Civilisation Museum.
2. Explore the great outdoors
Did you know that 27% of Romania is occupied by the Carpathian Mountains? In addition to the many wild and untouched areas found within these mountains, the country is home to 14 national parks, 18 natural parks and many natural wonders such as the UNESCO Danube Delta – a true miracle of nature. Get your hiking boots ready and prepare to enjoy some great nature in Romania!
Known as the last wilderness reserve of Europe, Romania is also home to the largest brown bear population in Europe and many other wildlife species and birds. Most of them can be safely observed in the wild if you hire a local guide to take you on ethical wildlife watching tours in the Brasov area, so be sure to pack your binoculars!
Other interesting natural wonders include the 7 Stairs Canyon and many caves perfect for exploration in Apuseni Natural Park. And Bigar Waterfall near the city of Timisoara was ranked first by The World Geography’s “8 Unique Waterfalls Around the World” thanks to its unique natural beauty.
3. Countryside culture – where time stopped
Regardless of which part of the country you choose to visit, the most important thing you need to do is experience life in the countryside. You will see centuries old customs, traditions and the hospitality and friendliness of locals eager to share with you their way of life.
Much of Romania’s countryside has not been transformed by industrialisation and modern civilisation and here is your perfect chance to relax, disconnect from the busy world and admire the simple beauty of nature. Besides Transylvania, head into the Northern regions of Maramures or Bucovina.
4. The food? Simple, delicious and hearty!
While in the countryside you will have the chance to try Romanian local food – prepare to be blown away! There is no such thing as ‘organic’ products – because everything here is natural, home-grown and homemade. You will see what a tomato really tastes like!
Local gastronomy has been influenced by neighbouring countries and invaders, much like the rest of Eastern Europe. When dining at a restaurant, your appetizers will likely consist of vegetable sour soups known as ciorba, with or without meat. Typical dishes are heavy on meat, sausages and peasant vegetables prepared into hearty stews. Make sure to save room for fruit-based deserts!
5. Castles and top attractions
Dracula is probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Romania, and Bran Castle (known by its touristy alias – Dracula Castle) is the country’s popular attraction. But there are other super castles to visit such as Peles in Sinaia or Corvin in Hunedoara.
A unique attraction is Turda Salt Mine near the city of Cluj-Napoca, in the heart of Transylvania. Placed at the top of Business Insider’s “Coolest Underground Places in the World” for good reason, this is actually a 2000-year old salt mine transformed into a delightful amusement park thanks to lights and playgrounds. Few people know that breathing salty air is good for your lounges so why not spend a couple of hours here and exercise your rowing skills on the underground lake?
Finally, there is the majestic Transfagarasan Highway, named by Top Gear as ‘the best driving road in the world’. The road is more than 150 kilometers in length and is open only from June to October. The road’s highest point reaches an astounding 2042 meters between the Fagaras Mountains, knows as Transylvania’s Alps. The road is easily accessible from Sibiu or Brasov, but also from Bucharest.
Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend a locally-run initiative connecting travellers to recommended tours and trips with handpicked local guides that promote the authentic beauty of Romania & local, responsible travel. Our website will help you plan your trip and follow us on Facebook to keep in touch!