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Enigmatic and enchanting, Romania is where nothing is as it initially seems. You will experience cobbled towns from a fairytale, surreal Transylvanian castles, an inimitable capital city, and serene Carpathian landscapes. In this part of Europe, you must journey to the heart of the puzzle and discover for yourself. For a while the suggestive photos pull you in, it is the atmosphere and authenticity you will most remember.
Castles that appear like a storybook in Romania.
Mysterious stories emanate from Romania. There are spectacular castles perched on Carpathian mountain ridges, towns of cobblestone and intrigue, fortified churches forming compass points in Saxon villages. Romania has an old and surreal beauty, found on misty mountain landscapes and a revitalized history. The more time you spend in the country, the more you celebrate the mysteries that make it unique.
It is Transylvania that grabs the attention. Bran Castle is just one that excites the imagination, one in a series of fortresses with a location as puzzling as its architecture. Tradition is preserved here as in most of the region’s towns, the almost fairytale loop through Brasov, Sibiu, and Sighisoara being Romania’s most typical visitor itinerary. There are charm, and colorful postcards beyond Transylvania as well, especially in villages found higher in the Carpathian Mountains.
This is all a vast contrast to Bucharest, the busy capital city that has its own take on the mystery. Grandeur peeks out from urban hiding places while palaces and manor houses create a local take on boutique accommodation. As the country’s transport crossroads it is unlikely you will miss Bucharest; it is an intriguing city in the hands of a good guide. Travel beyond these destinations and Romania really opens its heart. It is wild and romantic in the mountains, some of the villages almost impossibly traditional with their horse carts and wooden churches. It is in these villages where folk culture is both remembered and celebrated, presenting a chance to live out the past.
Blissful landscapes tie everything together and they are also mysterious, especially the arc of mountains that covers the north and west of the country. You will find converted manor houses, and farmhouses up here as well. Travel to the south and you enter a land of waterways, the Black Sea and the Danube Delta your destinations for boat cruises that could be one hour or one week.
The passion of the people comes out on private tours and the more people you meet, the more you start to decipher the Romanian mystery. Dracula may be the famous name, but in this land of castles and colors, you will find the storybook stretches on to form one of Europe’s unique travel experiences.
Aerial view of the old town, Brasov, Transylvania.
Time stands still in Transylvania. Cobblestone streets and pastel-colored houses create towns from a medieval era. Gothic fairytale castles have inspired more than just Dracula, while fortified churches and villages wait peacefully beneath mountain backdrops. This is one of Europe’s most mysterious regions and Romania’s most famous destination, a land of deep cultural magic folded into the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. Journeys are sublime here, twisting between Saxon and Gothic architecture, towards fortresses built by the Teutonic Knights.
You could get lost for weeks in Transylvania, with so much to see beyond Bran Castle (the immortalized Dracula’s Castle from the 14th century). Brasov is Transylvania’s gateway town, ideally situated for the famous castles, centered upon one of Europe’s most scenic squares. Its baroque and Gothic architecture contrasts Sighisoara, where Saxon houses stand on cobbled streets and the atmosphere encourages you to stay for days, not just 24 hours.
Sibiu was the European City of Culture in 2007 yet feels like it comes from a much earlier time. Similar to Transylvania’s other two famous medieval towns, it is a place for walking languidly across squares and streets, then getting out to castles and churches framed by Carpathian crags. These three destinations create a classic loop through Transylvania; just remember that this mystical land is just as much about the journey as the individual destinations. Stop in quiet traditional villages, explore vast national parks, get to know the rural culture, and discover why Transylvania continues to be an enigma.
Central University Library, Bucharest, Romania.
Bucharest is rough around the edges, not always that endearing at first glance. Busyness and bustle seem to be everywhere in the Romanian capital, but look beyond the initial façade, and you find a city of rare beauty. Monuments are remarkable, not least the second largest building in the world, dictator Ceausescu’s Palace of Parliament. Impressive edifices are crafted from wood and marble, while palaces, art galleries, and concert halls are dotted all around.
There is a lot to see and a lot to experience, although spending more than two days in Bucharest can be overwhelming. Old Town Bucharest is the most charming part of town, the Lipscani area a mishmash of old architectural styles along narrow cobblestone streets. It is now a maze of galleries, cafes, and restaurants, away from the busy traffic lanes in the rest of the capital. As it is home to Romania’s main international airport, most visitors spend some time in Bucharest. There is always a captivating place to be when you are in the hands of a good guide.
Bucovina and Moldova
Voronet painted monastery, Bucovina, Romania.
Tucked up in the mountains along the border with Moldova and Ukraine, these two small regions remain far off the beaten track. Painted monasteries and medieval fortresses dot the hills, along with wooden churches and further odes to a bygone era. Travel here is slow. You will like it that way, ambling between colorful art and Europe’s unknown vineyards. While the region is mostly the preserve of special interest tours, usually for religious art followers, there is a charm to going into this land of rolling hills and smiling locals.
Crisana, Banat and Maramures
The most commonly visited region is Maramures.
A land of beauty high in the mountains, these northwestern regions are often overlooked as neighboring Transylvania takes preference. What they lack in fame they make up for in local experiences and charm. Village museums paint elaborate tales of the Middle Ages, isolated hamlets where horse carts and hay racks still reign, grand wooden churches still ringing the bells after hundreds of years. In these northeastern regions, you can learn to make bread with locals, get your hands dirty in a tannery, and learn how weaving became art.
Maramures is the most commonly visited region decorated by surreal landscapes. Oradea is the highlight of Crisana, rococo, and Renaissance architecture making for lazy days admiring cobblestone streets. Banat looks and feels more forward thinking, but it is still a haven for the past, with baroque cities and villages that have their roots in old Germanic culture. As with Transylvania, getting around is part of the experience as you traverse wild forests and winding mountain roads.
The Black Sea and Danube Delta
Black Sea beach in Romania.
Seaside resorts dot the Black Sea coast, growing raucous in the summer months as they become vacation hot spots for Eastern European citizens. Look beyond these towns, and there is much more in this region of rare biospheres. The Danube Delta and Black Sea Coast are havens for birdwatchers, and those seeking serenity away from Bucharest. Protected as World Heritage Sites, they can be visited on a day trip from the capital as well as being the start or end point for Danube and Dnipro River cruises. An interesting route travels north through the Danube Delta to the land of the Cossacks and Kyiv in Ukraine.
Romania is so picturesque it looks like part of a fairytale.
Romania’s castles come from fairytale and legend. Location sets the scene, some perched on mountain ridges, others rising up from thick forests. Just walking up to the fortresses gives the impression of a time of invaders. Imposing locations give way to contrasting interiors. The older castles are brutal in style, seemingly impregnable. Those from the 19th century onwards are almost opulent, filled with timeless art. Bran Castle, the legendary setting of Count Dracula, dates to the 14th century and was the source of many legends before Bram Stoker wrote his book. It is the most famous on the list of sights, complemented by the sumptuous Peles Castle and the lesser-celebrated Corvin Castle.
Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
Voronet Painted Monastery, Bucovina, Romania.
Monks beat on beams, creating a call to prayer in the Bucovina monasteries. It is a practice that has replaced the ringing of bells and harked back to Byzantine times. Following the drumbeat, you enter monasteries painted in improbable scenes, the rhythmic nature of life and religion flowing across the walls. Preserved as World Heritage Sites, these monasteries are masterpieces from Byzantine times, the frescoes distinct from anywhere else in the world. Saints meet prophets between heaven and hell, as demons and angels look on; then you continue to another monastery to see the tale of another Orthodox saint. Seven painted monasteries make a loop through the Bucovina region, with Probota and Moldovita the most famous.
Oradea National Theater, Romania.
With its mix of Ottoman and Habsburg architecture, Oradea is one of Romania’s picturesque towns. Just across the border from Hungary, the riverside town has a treasure trove of art and style, with stately lanes decorated all manner of blues, greens, and pinks. Time moves slowly here, so relax your pace and walk languidly down the cafe-lined lanes. Evenings are quiet and enchanting, especially during the summer, when you can spend the hours on a town square as the art nouveau buildings change color with the setting sun. Stay two nights, and you can spend a day exploring the sights, particularly the palaces and churches, then another in the spa resort of Baile Felix just a few miles away.
Romania’s National Parks
Fagaras Mountains, Romania.
Bears roam in the Carpathian Mountains, while birdlife thrives in the Danube Delta, Europe’s largest wetland. Hiking trails extend to glacier lakes and fields of wildflowers, just as boat cruises connect grasslands and islands further south. Nature is raw here, and there is a huge amount of wilderness, with something for every interest. Trek the Sky Highway in the Fagaras Mountains, explore the mud volcanoes near Buzau, go in search of wolves in Vanatori-Neamt, horse ride through Calimani National Park, then discover Scarisoara ice cave. Everything is preserved through an excellent national park network, and it is easy to incorporate some form of adventure into a cultural and historical tour.
Immersed in Village Life
Sibiu Porumbacu Village, Romania.
In rural Romania you do not need to go in search of the culture. It is part of the everyday. Wagons bring locally harvested fruit to market, men kiss women’s hands in the classic greetings, and costumes continue to be worn everyday. You probably will not stay in a village as not many have upmarket accommodation, but it only takes an hour to get a sense of the local style, especially on a market day. Villages in the Apuseni Mountains are fully lost in time, those in Buconiva can be connected by horseback, while the Maramures region is where you can hardly go ten minutes without finding another wooden church or congregation of local costumes.
A Quiet Drink on a Medieval Town Squares
A Romania tour famously includes castles, vineyards, and meeting locals. When you journey into the mountains and hop between towns, the days will be action-packed. Medieval town squares are where you rest the legs and continue the cultural immersion, with drinks and food on al fresco cafe terraces. Whether a Maramures village or a Transylvania town, the squares are both postcard sights and dreamy places to relax.
Fall is a great time to visit Bran Castle.
Romania can dazzle all year around, although spring and fall are widely considered to be the best times to visit. Summers are hot, especially in Bucharest and along the Black Sea coastline, although you will find relief from the heat up in Transylvania and the Carpathians. Autumn colors combine with cultural festivities to make fall a good time to visit with a pleasant cool climate.
Spring is a time of flowers, with valleys carpeted in vibrant hues. It is the wettest time of year, but that is counteracted by the lack of other tourists, especially in Transylvania’s famous medieval towns. Travel in winter, and there is snow on the mountains, enough to create antelope tracks in the forests and ski slopes in the Carpathians. This is the quiet time for tourism, and you are likely to have the whole of Romania for yourself, including Bran Castle.
Romania's offers unique accommodations throughout the country.
Romania’s accommodation is always memorable. You might stay in a 19th-century manor house surrounded by parkland, a neoclassical hotel designed by Gustave Eiffel, or boutique guesthouse that peers into Transylvania’s heritage. There is old-world grandeur, especially in Bucharest, where five-star hotels come with elegance and no shortage of old architectural styles. Some are now owned and operated by major international chains, bringing contemporary professionalism to sublime buildings.
Travel beyond the capital and most destinations have something unique to offer. Like an ice hotel built each year on Balea Lake, Saxon farmhouses restored to late 18th-century styles and manor houses that form fine examples of traditional Romanian architecture. Summer palaces have been converted to high-end hotels while small boutique hotels are perched above the cobbles and squares of Transylvania’s towns.
The grand old styles are not always ideal for families – Saxon farmhouses are romantic rather than child-friendly – but a general uplift in hotel quality means you now have a good choice over where to stay with the family. The location should be an important consideration, as you may not want to require a taxi to go out for dinner. That is more applicable in Bucharest than it is in the smaller towns, where boutique hotels can be found within the pedestrianized area.
Great White Pelicans, Danube Delta, Romania.
Citizens of the U.S. and Canada do not need an entry visa to visit Romania. Since ascension to the European Union in 2007, Romania has also been part of the Schengen travel zone, allowing borderless travel to its neighbors. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond your date of departure, and you should carry a passport copy with you at all times. Some Romanian attractions like the Palace of Parliament require you to present your passport for entry.
Domestic airports are making travel easy here so do not feel restricted to entering and departing through Bucharest, with Cluj in Transylvania one of the potential options. Domestic flights reduce travel time, although you miss out on the villages and landscapes that make travel so endearing here. Cruising is another option, from the Danube Delta north into Ukraine, where Odessa and Kyiv await. You may also want to travel south, combining the highlights of Romania with Bulgaria.
Romania is a relatively safe destination as long as common sense is practiced.
Health and safety in Romania can be compared to most of Europe. As long as you retain your common sense, it is unlikely you will run into any difficulties. Petty crime is not common even if Bucharest has its fair share of scams and annoyances. Your guide can advise on neighborhoods to avoided after dark, although it is highly unlikely you will be staying near such an area anyway. Scams tend to target drunken foreigners, and they usually revolve around swindling a few dollars; violent crime is rare.
Bears are a potential nuisance, albeit an interesting one, especially those that come down from the forests to Transylvania’s towns. Romania has Europe’s largest bear population, and their tracks can be spotted in the Carpathians, always a delight when you visit one of the region’s national parks. Hospitals and clinics range from modern establishments to communist relics, but for the most part, their quality is excellent. It is rare that you will be too far from a hospital and your guide can help translate, as doctors may not speak English.
The people are often the most memorable part of a stay in Romania.
Fun and full of enthusiasm, the Romanian people are often a highlight of travel in the country. Like Bucharest the capital, you may find them a little ragged around the edges, but that is just part of the facade. These people are pure of heart and very proud of their country, especially the challenges overcome in the late 20th century. You should find them friendly and gregarious, and eager to converse with foreign visitors.
Language can be a barrier as Romanian is not something you will pick up easily. However, the proportion of English speakers is rising dramatically, particularly in towns visited by tourists. Restaurant menus are being translated, and you can get by without knowledge of Romanian. As with all of Eastern Europe, having a guide dramatically increases your interaction with local people, who have exciting stories to tell and rarely regard a topic as off bounds.
Old wooden church in Romania.
For the most part, they are staunchly religious people, following the Orthodox Church like the many generations before them. Church plays an integral role in modern culture and joining a service is an interesting experience, such a Sunday mass in one of Transylvania’s medieval structures. As always, show the appropriate respect with how you dress when visiting a church, regardless of whether a service is on. Shorts are forbidden, and women are expected to cover their heads when at a Christian site.
Perhaps the most difficult cultural challenge is saying no. When receiving an invitation or being offered something, saying no is just part of saying yes. Well, that is what the locals think anyway. Within Romanian culture, saying no is a polite way to proceed saying yes. It is considered polite to refuse at first, then polite to insist on the invitation of a gift. A little humor often helps in such situations, and you should find invitations a rare opportunity to see local life, particularly in countryside villages.
International banking facilities have improved rapidly in recent years, and you will now find Visa and MasterCard accepting ATMs in villages as well as towns and cities. You can use these to withdraw the local leu currency. U.S. dollars and euros can be exchanged, especially in Bucharest, but such services are slowly becoming obsolete as electronic card use increases. You should be able to pay with your card in all upmarket hotels and restaurants, but it is worth carrying cash for cafes and smaller shops.
When traveling with Zicasso, travel specialists will make the vacation of your dreams a reality.
The Romanians are proud, passionate people, full of energy and eager to please. They make great guides, narrating the history and culture of land that is always quick to surprise. By connecting you with the best local specialists, Zicasso ensures you delve into the mysteries and fully connect with the country. Specialist tour operators will tailor a journey to your interests, customizing all aspects of the experience.