10 Things You Should Know Before Travelling to Romania
Do you know anyone whose list of top ten countries to visit includes Romania? Probably not. This is because it is one of the most underrated countries in Europe. But there are many reasons why Romania should be at the top of your bucket list, one of which is its gritty yet super instagrammable capital, Bucharest. But I’m pretty sure that if you are reading this post, you have already decided to visit this intriguing country, so I’m going to focus on important things that you should know before travelling to Romania – things that will make you want to visit even more!
Romania has the most colourful towns
Romanians know how to make buildings look pretty. Pastels seem to be the shades of choice for the decoration of buildings here, which make towns so pretty and charming!
The most colourful of the towns has to be Sighisoara, one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Get lost in the cobblestoned alleys of this small and contained town and you will find all the pastel shades you can ever imagine.
Not far from Sighisoara is the historic town of Sibiu, built by German settlers in the 12thcentury. The town still maintains the grand feel of the olden days, but the beautifully coloured buildings make it feel more cosy than grand. But look out, for the buildings here have eyes… you never know who may be watching! To learn about the secret of the houses with eyes and many others, be sure to join a tour of the city.
Brasov, one of the most visited places in Romania, shows the splendour of gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture. Wander around the Old Town and discover some of the most beautiful streets in the country as well as plenty of pastel coloured buildings.
Romania is home to breathtaking landscapes
From alpine mountains to the most idyllic lakes and dramatic gorges, Romania offers breathtaking landscapes that will stay engraved in your memory. It is, after all, the most bio-geographically diverse country in Europe.
The Transylvanian Alps, part of the Carpathians, are not only spectacular but they’re ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, etc and you can even visit an ethical bear sanctuary where you can observe rescued bears that have had a bad deal in life, enjoy the closest thing to freedom in their natural habitat.
With all the mountains, there is no shortage of lakes, some of which are pretty unique like Lacul Roșu (Red Lake), a natural dam lake created almost 200 years ago after a major landslide, and located in Harghita County.
Not far from Red Lake, you will find Bicaz Gorge, and incredibly narrow road that snakes through 8 kilometres of ravines. It is one of the most spectacular drives in the country.
Going further north, you have the picturesque rolling hills of Bucovina, a vision of what a quintessential pastoral scene would look like in everyone’s mind. And if you visit in autumn, you will get a real show of reds, yellows and oranges from the unspoiled Romanian forests.
Romania is completely unspoilt
Go a little bit off the beaten path away from some of the most popular cities in Romania, and you will enter a different world. A lot of the communities in the Romanian countryside are not used to seeing visiting tourists, so you will feel like you are discovering something new. Everyone is extremely welcome. In fact, one of the highlights of visiting Romania is how incredibly kind and welcoming people are.
Some of the villages that we visited included Crit, near Sighisoara, one of the oldest villages in Transylvania. Its peacefulness and tranquility are part of its charm, and the rows of pastel coloured houses are just delightful.
Ciocănești is another example of a village you feel like you are stepping back in time. Located in Suceava County, in Bucovina, it is famous for its painted houses, decorated with traditional motifs. It all started with one of the residents wanting to decorate her house with traditional motifs embroidered on the folk costumes, and, after the interest it received from tourists, the mayor decided that all newly built houses should be decorated in a similar way. This tradition has now been passed down the generations, and it is said that the most spectacular your decorations are, the better a householder you are, so there can be stiff competition in the village.
Romania has a fantastic range of hotel choices
During my Experience Romania adventure, we stayed in excellent accommodation that ranged from rustic and traditional to boutique hotels. Here is a selection of my favourites:
‘Pensiune’ Casa Cu Tei, Buzau
Not far from the famous Muddy Volcanoes, and nestled in the hills of Sarata Monteoru, Casa Cu Tei offers a romantic atmosphere. This rustic ‘pensuine’ has views over valley, the garden and the salt-water pool. The restaurant serves excellent traditional food, and the couple who runs this hotel will welcome you with open arms and make you feel like home as soon as you arrive.
Republique Hotel, Sibiu
Only 10 minutes walk away from the main square in the Old Town, Republique Hotel is the perfect place to stay in Sibiu. The rooms are super spacious with a modern design. With only 10 rooms, you can guarantee that the service will be personalised. I happened to be unwell while I stayed here and the owners really made sure I was ok. If you are looking for something right in the heart of the Old Town, Casa Luxemburg is run by the same owners.
Hotel Privo, Targu Mures
Hotel Privo is a hotel in a different league to anything you will find in Romania. This swanky hotel has garnered a number of awards over the years (31 to be precise), one of which is the Best Hotel Restaurant in Europe at the Haute Grandeur Global Hotel & SPA Awards Gala in Bangkok in 2017. The minimalist design will make you feel like you’re in a futuristic building, but if you’re looking for something with a little bit more character, you can stay in a suite in the classic villa within the grounds of the hotel. This hotel really has it all – including a wonderful spa!
Romania has an incredible amount of history
Wherever you go in Romania, you will find history in every corner. Despite the country as we know it being only 100 years old, Romania has gone through a lot of changes through the times and the different regions.
In Bucovina, in the North East, you will find the world famous painted monasteries from the Byzantine times. Built in the 15thand 16thcenturies, these elaborately decorated monasteries are covered in frescos with the most vibrant colours, inside and out. There is even a shade of blue named after one of the monasteries – Voronet blue. It’s made with lapis lazuli and can only be found in Voronet Monastery.
Transylvania was, until relatively recently, home to hundreds of Saxon (German) towns and villages. Saxons arrived in the region in the 12thcentury and thanks to their skills, they quickly established themselves and gained administrative authority. This unique Saxon heritage is obvious in cities and towns such as Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov.
More recently in time, evidence of communist history can be found everywhere across the country, but particularly in Bucharest. The imposing Palace of Parliament is the most obvious legacy of these times, but a lot of the city has gone through massive urban change to accommodate the ideals of the regime. You can take a tour that specialise in this particular historic era.
Spending time in Bucharest?
Here are some off-the-beaten-path tours and experiences you can do
Romanians are proud of their traditions
This may not be evident in the big cities such as Bucharest and Brasov, but dare to travel into the countryside and you will find traditional villages and customs that are still part of every day Romanian life, and that the locals are very keen to preserve. During my Experience Romania adventure, I was lucky to witness some of these traditions and to meet people from the diverse ethnic groups that are part of the fabric of this country.
In Bucovina we met a group of Hutul people, an ethnic group that came originally from Ukraine and have lived in this part of Romania for centuries. The Hutul way of life is traditionally based on logging, and cattle and sheep breeding, but they are more famous for having created a horse breed named Hutul pony, which is known for its endurance and hardiness.
Egg painting is also a custom that is kept very much alive. Traditionally, it would be Romanian women who, particularly in rural areas, would paint hollowed out eggs to celebrate Easter. This has now become an art in its own right, and you can visit the Muzeul Ouloi (Egg Museum) in Vama, Bucovina and admire over 7,000 intricately decorated eggs from all sorts of animals.
While on the road in the north east of the country, we also came across a group of locals who were on their way to celebrate the harvest festival. With their beautifully decorated horses and their traditional outfits, it was a real treat to come across.
Romania has a unique link with horror stories
We all think of Dracula when we think about Romania. And yes, in Sighisoara you will find the birthplace of Vlad The Impaler, who was the ruler of Walachia in the 15thcentury and the figure that inspired Bram Stoker’s character Dracula.
You also have Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle), which not only was it Vlad The Impaler’s home, but it matches the description of the Count’s castle in Bram Stoker’s book. This is despite Bram Stoker having never set foot in Transylvania and only using research and a good measure of imagination. The castle is located in the town of Bran, near Brasov, so you can imagine this is the ideal place to spend Halloween if you are a fan of horror.
But it’s not all about Dracula. Romania is a deeply religious and superstitious country, with a dark mythology that includes Strigoi (The Undead), the Pricolici (undead in the shape of a wolf) and the use of a lot of garlic to ward off the country folk from evil spirits.
Romania has more fairytale castles than you could ever imagine
With over 250 castles peppered around the country, you can’t go very far without the opportunity to visit one. Some pretty impressive ones include Bran Castle, mentioned above, and Peles Castle, possibly the most beautiful castle in Romania and not too far from either Brasov or Bucharest.
Another beautiful castle is Cantacuzino Castle, in the outskirts of the capital, and one of the most instagrammable places in Bucharest. And for something a little bit different, Neamt Citadel, a castle in Moldavia that it’s really a fortress and has beautiful views over picturesque farmed fields.
There really is something for everyone in Romania when it comes to castles.
Romania is a meat-eater’s (and polenta lover’s) paradise
Romanian food is absolutely delicious, but being mostly meat based, it can be a little bit heavy. Dishes such as grilled mixed meat, stews, goulash and all sorts of charcuterie-type meats are a staple on the Romanian diet. So if you are vegetarian or vegan, be prepared to eat a lot of vegetable soup, mushrooms and polenta!
And yes, polenta (or mămăligă, as it’s locally known) goes with absolutely everything, as it was traditionally the food of peasants and shepherds. This cornmeal-based side dish is so popular that you will find it in pretty much every restaurant, no matter how posh they are.
Finally, Romania is very affordable
We all know that travelling in Europe can cripple your wallet. However, compared to other countries, Romania is really affordable and you can get great value for your buck. I was always surprised how little everything costs. You can find pretty good accommodation for $25 a night and a meal with a glass of wine rarely reached $15 – the perfect country if you are travelling on a budget.
I hope you enjoyed this summary of things you must know before travelling to Romania, packed with ideas for places to visit.
If you have any Romania-related questions, feel free to ask in the comments!
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Disclosure: A big thank you to Experience Romania, who hosted me during my time in Romania. As always, all views are my own. This post also contains affiliate links, that earn me a small commission but come at no extra cost to you. Thanks as always for your support!