Most people think of Romania as a place where Dracula and vampires live… and that’s it! But this lesser-known travel destination in Eastern Europe actually has a lot more to offer. And with few tourist numbers and great value for money, it’s a great place to enjoy a holiday off-the-beaten path!
Like many others, you probably don’t know where to start planning your trip to Romania, so here’s a list with suggestions of places to visit and things to do.
Famous Attractions in Romania
Few haven’t heard of Count Dracula and what is said to be his residence, Dracula Castle. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Romania. It guards the crossing between Wallachia and Transylvania from a rocky bluff. Bran Castle (the real name!) served as a defense fortress starting from the 13th century.
The castle is just 40 min away by car from Brasov, a city with a charming medieval architecture you should also visit. Go on a Bran Castle tour to find out if there’s any truth behind all the stories about vampires living in Romania that inspired Bram Stoker to write his famous novel!
Not far away in the superb mountain resort of Sinaia there is a castle surrounded by lush gardens, representative statues and imposing mountains. Peles Castle is where the royal family spent their summers in the early 1900s. The rooms inside have an exquisite design that will take you to another era.
Another interesting place to visit in Romania is Turda Salt Mine. It’s a former salt mine turned museum in the heart of Transylvania. You can explore grottos and tunnels where salt was extracted since the Middle Ages and learn how that was done. Inside the mine there is an amusement park where you can also relax playing minigolf, bowling or a spin in the Ferris Wheel. And did you know that breathing salty air is good for your lungs?
Get the ride of a lifetime on the Transfagarasan Highway! This spectacular winding road was built during the communist era. It’s aslso a top attraction in Romania for travelers all around the world. If you worry about getting dizzy, just relax and focus on the wonderful scenery!
Cultural Heritage and Rural Lifestyle
There are some parts of Romania where locals still wear the traditional costume. Old churches hold centuries of prayers within their walls. It seems that time stopped and everything seems out of a fairy-tale.
If you go to the Northern region of Bucovina you will discover a place with rich religious traditions best known for its vividly painted churches. These have passed the test of time and are now a UNESCO heritage site.
The region is considered the spiritual heart of Romania. Here, you can admire stunning colorful exterior frescoes more than 300 years old. The most popular monasteries are Voronet, Arbore, Humor, Moldovita and Sucevita but take your time and explore the surroundings too!
Going a bit West we have the region of Maramures, a place where authentic rural life awaits to be unraveled. Besides the modest yet impressive UNESCO wooden churches, the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta is surely something you haven’t seen before. What makes it different is that every colorful tombstone has a poem painted on it. They describe the main events in the life of the deceased in a very funny and original way.
Mesmerizing Romanian Nature
The Carpathian Mountains occupy a third of Romania’s land area and are a real natural treasure. They hold a wide variety of national parks and attractions, caves and secular forests. They are also home to 400 species of mammals including the largest number of brown bears in Europe.
The breathtaking areas of Fagaras Mountains, Piatra Craiului, Retezat or Apuseni Natural Park are great places to go hiking. Must-see attractions you should not miss include: Bicaz Gorges, Scarisoara Glacier, 7 Stairs Canyon or Bigar Waterfall!=
Europe’s largest wetland is in Romania. The UNESCO-protected Danube Delta biosphere is home to a beautiful variety of wildlife, especially birds such as pelicans and red-breasted geese. Though there aren’t many people living in the area, traditional fisherman villages such as Letea are worth visiting, if only to taste the unique fish-based cuisine of the area.
From mountains, caves and the Danube, we move on to the Black Sea Coast. It has no less than 45 miles of fine sand beaches. Resorts such as Mamaia, Costinesti and Vama Veche have the best nightlife, while Neptun or Eforie are quieter places, mainly suited for families.
Delicious and Organic Food
Romanians do know their way around a kitchen! One of the most popular traditional Romanian dishes you will find is sarmale: cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice with a delightful flavor. In every region of Romania you will visit you will find a slight variation of this recipe.
Romanians like to start their meal with a soup called ciorba: a sour vegetable broth with meat. The typical ones are chicken, beef, or tripe. But a favorite choice is ciorba de Radauti which has a special sweetness to it thanks to a combination of sour cream and garlic. You will find a wide variety of these soups so you can try as many as you can!
For those of you with a sweet tooth you should try cozonac: a sweetbread made with a walnuts, cocoa or poppy seeds paste you just can’t get enough of. Another popular desert is papanasi: fried cheese with dough balls served with sour cream and jam. Hungry much?
Friendly, Welcoming People
Romania has been included on the list of the most welcoming countries in the world – and rightfully so! The country’s spirit can be found somewhere in between vibrant cities such as Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca or Timisoara and in untouched rural areas where time moves slow and life is peaceful.
The few tourists that visit Romania discover that Romanians are very hospitable and warm people. They have a fine sense of humor and an appetite for long meals and many drinks. Even if they don’t know English, Romanians will still do their best to make any guests feel welcomed into their homes and at their table.
When going through rural areas of Romania don’t miss the chance to buy homegrown fruits, vegetables, dairy or meat products straight from locals. More often than not there are people selling these, as well as various traditional handmade objects, right in front of their homes. For just a quick stop you will get a good price for delicious food and awesome souvenirs!
About the Author: Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend – a local initiative promoting handpicked tours with the best local guides so travellers can discover the authentic beauty of Romania while supporting responsible tourism. Plan your trip with help from a Romanian Friend and follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see what you can visit!