Romania, revealed: where to go and what to do
Dramatic, exciting and full of mystery – Romania is a destination shrouded in lore and legend. But there’s much more to this country than Gothic stories.
There’s glorious countryside, Stalinist architecture, medieval walled towns and fairytale castles teetering on hilltops. And that’s before we’ve mentioned food and drink – typical Romanian dishes to try include sarmale (herby rice and mince wrapped in cabbage leaves), spicy mici sausages, and warming pork and polenta stews, while the country produces some delicious white, red and sparkling wines.
To give you an idea of things to do in Romania, we’ve put together a short travel guide to this captivating country. You’ll find info on where to go and what to see, plus a handy Q&A section answering some of the most-asked questions about travel to Romania.
1. Bran Castle
Known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, actual links to Bram Stoker or Vlad the Impaler (thought to have been the inspiration for the Count) are a little tenuous. Nonetheless, Bran Castle is a real must-see on any tour of Romania.
Its imposing towers rise from a rocky precipice, surrounded by thick forest. Inside, creaky-floored corridors and secret passageways lead to antique-filled rooms accessorised with beams and bearskin rugs. On our tour of Romania, we head to Bran Castle for an atmospheric after-hours tour, where a guide will let us in on the real history of this magnificent 14th-century building.
If you’re looking for Romania’s prettiest town, you might find it in Sighisoara. This UNESCO-listed Saxon beauty is chock-full of photogenic scenes: wonky houses daubed in sherbet shades of lemon, mint and raspberry; cobbled squares bursting with blooms; an ornate 14th-century clocktower; a Gothic hilltop church looking out over Transylvania.
But behind its Instagram-perfect looks, Sighisoara has an intriguing history. Vlad Tepes – ‘the Impaler’ – was born here (the first floor of his house has been converted into a museum showcasing an array of medieval weapons), while the nine citadel towers, each built by a different craft guild, were once packed full of ammunition to protect the town against Turkish raids.
No Romania travel guide would be complete without a mention of the country’s capital: Bucharest. Once known as the ‘Paris of the East’ for its art nouveau architecture, nowadays the belle époque villas are mixed in with stark Modernist and Stalinist buildings.
You (literally) can’t miss the Palace of Parliament – commissioned by former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, it’s the second-largest administrative building in the world. (Fun fact: it also holds the Guinness World Record for the heaviest building, weighing in at 4.1 million tonnes.)
Bucharest has also got a bit of a young, hip vibe – one of the Titan team described it as ‘edgy and cool… like Berlin, but on a smaller scale.’ If the sun’s shining, head for one of the many ‘garden bars’; if it’s not, browse the paperbacks then cosy up with a coffee at Carturesti Carusel, one of the most beautiful bookshops you’ll ever see.
Imagine a huddle of pastel-coloured baroque buildings encircling a sun-bathed pedestrianised square. Shoppers bustle from store to store browsing fabrics and local handicrafts, the sound of chatter and clinking glasses rings in the air from alfresco eateries. The forested Mount Tampa in the distance is stamped with ‘Brasov’ in huge white letters (Transylvania’s answer to the ‘Hollywood’ sign).
With its splendid mountain backdrop and straight-out-of-a-film-set streets, Brasov is up there as one of the best places to visit in Romania. Must-visits include the Black Church, an imposing Gothic building which towers over the Old Town and houses a collection of wall-hanging Anatolian carpets; the Council Square, where the Pied Piper was said to have led the children of Hamelin; and teensy Rope Street – at just four feet wide, it’s one of the narrowest in Europe.
5. Carpathian Mountains
The Carpathian Mountains curve around the southern edge of Transylvania, their thick forests home to bears, wolves and lynx. Dotted among the peaks and valleys are fairytale castles and sleepy Saxon villages rooted in tradition.
Peles Castle, once the summer residence of the Romanian royal family, is definitely one to add to your sightseeing list. Built in neo-Renaissance style, its spires, towers and turrets are overlooked by dramatic, forest-cloaked peaks. Inside, the décor is all about global luxury: handmade silks from Vienna, crystal chandeliers from Italy, Persian rugs, Turkish copperware, Cordoba leather. The gardens are worth exploring too, with their tinkling fountains and Carrara marble statues.
One sight you might not expect to see here is vineyards, but the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains are ripe for growing grapes. Azuga Rhein Wine Cellar – once the official supplier to the royals – offers up award-winning tipples and spectacular mountain views. We stop by on our escorted tour of Romania for lunch and a tasting of their sparkling wine.
6. Rural Transylvania
Rolling hills, flower-filled meadows and wildlife-filled woods characterise rural Transylvania. The region’s pastoral charm makes it a perfect pairing with the hustle and bustle of Bucharest. The pocket-sized village of Viscri is worth a look – its fortified church and traditional Saxon houses even charmed Prince Charles, who loved it so much that he bought a farmhouse here.
If you’re an animal lover, add the Libearty Sanctuary to your to-visit list. The biggest brown bear sanctuary in the world, it rescues and rehabilitates bears from abuse and captivity. They roam freely around leafy oak forests, with no forced interactions with visitors – worlds away from their former environments.
Q&A: a quick travel guide to Romania
Where is Romania?
Romania is down in the south-east of Europe, nestled between Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Ukraine. Its south-eastern edge borders the Black Sea. Flight time from London to Bucharest is just over three hours.
What language do they speak?
Romanian, though English is widely understood. A few Romanian phrases to remember include salut (hello), da (yes), nu (no) and multumesc (thank you).
What’s the currency in Romania?
The Romanian leu (plural lei) is the currency here. 100 bani make up 1 leu.
What should I pack?
Sturdy, comfortable shoes are a must – many of Romania’s loveliest towns are hundreds of years old, with the cobblestone streets to prove it. Layers and a jacket are advisable, particularly for the evenings or for when you’re in the mountains. A small umbrella is also a must-pack, just in case, as is insect repellent.
When is best to visit Romania?
We’ve chosen spring, early summer and autumn for our tours, avoiding the heat of high summer and the bone-chilling temperatures in winter. All three seasons are equally lovely, so it depends what your preference is. If you like warmer weather, opt for an early summer departure. Spring is ideal for seeing Transylvania’s wildflower meadows, while September and October see the countryside and Carpathian Mountains displaying beautiful autumn colours.
Our ‘Grandeur of Bucharest and Tales of Transylvania’ tour covers all the sights mentioned above, plus much more. To book your place, take a look at the tour itinerary online or speak to one of our travel advisors.
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.
Laura | About the author
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