A Guide to Discovering Romania

Want to discover Romania? Here's our rough guide that gives you a short description of the country's regions, each with its own places and traditions...

Romania is a country with a tangled history, fraught with communism and hardship. However, its turbulent past means that it is now rich in experiences and offers so much more to discover than aesthetic masterpieces.

Romania is the country of hidden gems, which offers touristic views from mountains covered with woods to stretched plains, from the Danube River Gorges and channels to the chain of Black Sea beach resorts.

Romania’s countryside is dimmed with villages full of traditions that are preserved for centuries, medieval castles and fortified structures that stand tall even after the numerous invasions.

The country’s monasteries, subjects of legends and history books, are visited by Christian believers from all over the world to find out the true values of these holy places.

Romania on European Continent, credits: harvepino/Bigstock.com

Romania is a country situated in the north of the Balkan Peninsula, on the western shores of the Black Sea. It has an area of about 238 thousand square kilometers, that means Romania is slightly bigger than the island of Great Britain.

The country has a very rich landscape, varying from lowlands to highlands. In general, the terrain is distributed roughly equally between mountains, hills and plains. An important fact is that about 47% of the country’s surface is covered with natural and semi-natural ecosystems, this fact making Romania a great destination for nature-lovers.

The center of Romania is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains which curve in the middle and form a marvelous hilly landscape full of natural resources in the center, as well as vineyards and orchards.

After crossing 10 European countries, the Danube River flows into the Black Sea on the Romanian territory, forming the Danube Delta – the second largest and best-preserved delta in Europe, but also a World Heritage Site!

Romania has one of the largest areas of undisturbed forest in Europe, with plant species declared natural monuments, missing, endangered, vulnerable or rare species.

The rich fauna of Romania makes it a great destination for birdwatching, and not only. The country includes about 50% of Europe’s brown bears (excluding Russia) and 20% of its wolves, that’s why more and more tourists flock here for bear- and wolf- watching, too. Its temperate-continental climate makes Romania perfect to visit in any season of the year!

For a decade, the country is member state of the European Union, fact which determined a rapid economic growth. Romania’s currency is the Romanian leu (RON). Although the country is EU member state, is has not still replaced the current national currency with the euro, so even if some hotels, travel agencies display prices in euro, in most cases just payments in RON are accepted.

Romanian is the official language of Romania, being part of the Romance languages group. Some other languages that are part of the same language group are Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese. A foreigner trying to speak Romanian often receives positive reactions from native speakers.

Romania is divided into regions, we'll go through them here: Transylvania (with its distinct Maramures region), Wallachia (with Muntenia and Oltenia), Dobrogea, Moldova (with its distinct Bukovina region), Crisana and Banat.

Transylvania is the largest, but also probably the most famous region of Romania.

Corvin Castle, Transylvania, credits: cge2010/Bigstock.com

Transylvania offers you the possibility to dive deeply into a mix of nature, history and cultures, here cohabiting Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons and Roma. There are about 100 castles and fortresses on Transylvania’s territory, some of the most popular being Bran Castle, which is more commonly referred to “Dracula’s Castle”, Rasnov Fortress – the best preserved fortress in Romania, but also the great Corvinesti Castle and the Dacian Fortresses at Sarmizegetusa. Transylvania hosts about 70 fortified churches, like that from Biertan, Harman, Premej, Calnic, Darjiu, Valea Viilor, and others.  

The region comprises the biggest part of the Carpathians, so that means a lot of hiking and climbing possibilities. The mountains are mostly part of different national parks, one of the most beautiful ones being considered the Retezat National Park. Another important National Park is Piatra Craiului, a park that always awaits you to visit its virgin mountain forests, with one of the world’s deepest underground abysses – Coltii Grindului shaft of 1771 feet. Transylvania is also home to some of the most famous ski resorts, and namely Poiana Brasov. If you are visiting Turda, don’t miss the imposing Turda Canyon. If you like exploring caves, then you can explore the Scarisoara and Focu Viu glaciers, Chiscau Bears’ Cave and Vartop Cave, as well as other 400 caves in the Apuseni Mountains.

Traditional weaving in Transylvania, credits: kristo74/Bigstock.com

People from Transylvania still practice for their living such time-honored occupations like shepherding, weaving, ironwork, and carpentry. Transylvania’s cuisine displays a variety of dishes and flavors. Make sure not to leave the region without trying “Varza a la Cluj” – a kind of Romanian lasagna prepared from finely shredded cabbage and minced pork or veal mixed with rice and bacon and baked in the oven.

 

Following the Transfagarasan road, head from Transylvania to Wallachia, which is traditionally divided into two historical sections: Muntenia and Oltenia.

Muntenia is particularly known because Bucharest is found here. Bucharest – the capital of Romania and the main city of the region, is going to surprise you with its 37 museums, 22 theaters, 18 art galleries, opera houses and concert halls. While strolling through Bucharest’s Old City, you will understand why Romania’s capital is also known as “Little Paris” – huge parks, great restaurants, and an amazing combination of old and new, modern buildings. Try to book tickets in advance for the Palace of the Parliament – the largest administrative building in the world.

Busteni upperview, Prahova Valley, credits: David Ionut/Bigstock.com

About 100 km north of the capital city, the Prahova Valley is situated. The area is famous for its breathtaking views over Prahova river, it separating the Eastern Carpathians chain from the Southern Carpathians. The region is a popular destination for mountaineers and for winter sports fans. Part of the Southern Carpathians group is the Bucegi Mountains, famous for their rocks turned into spectacular figures by wind and rain like the Sphinx and Babele (Old Ladies). During your trip through the Arges County, stop at the Lake Vidraru and admire the artificial reservoir lake and its dam. Some other tourist destinations to see in Muntenia are the Peles Castle, Pelisor Castle, Foisor Castle, Snagov Monastery, Dealu Monastery, and the monastery from Curtea de Arges.

 

Oltenia is a spectacular region overfilled with attractions that wait to be discovered. The Olt River Defile – the longest defile in the country (47 km) is an extremely beautiful part to go through, and it is also an area that hosts some of the well-known and the oldest monasteries. One of them - the Cozia Monastery, erected by Mircea the Elder in 1388, is one of the most valuable monuments of national medieval art and architecture in Romania. It also houses the tomb of its founder. Another impressive monasteries from the Olt Defile are Stanisoara Monastery and Turnu Monastery. Cozia National Park is a must-see for those who love nature. Here, the Lotrisor River, together with the Lotrisor Waterfall and the Lotrisor Gorges, form a fairy-tale place to rest in the middle of nature.

Statue of Decebalus, Danube Gorges, credits: Porojnicu Stelian/Bigstock.com

The Iron Gates is another, of great importance, defile in Oltenia. It is located at the border between Serbia and Romania, in the vicinity of the city of Drobeta-Turnu Severin. The overall area is also known as the Iron Gates National Park and is not only a place of rare beauty, but also an important point of hydro power supply, as there are two hydroelectric power stations. You can see attractions at every step in the Iron Gates: Great Kazan – the most famous and the narrowest gorge of the whole route, Trajan’s Bridge – the first arch bridge built over the lower Danube, Trajan’s Tabula – a Roman memorial plaque 4 meters wide and 1.75 meters high that commemorates the completion of Trajan’s military road, but also Small Kazan that comprises the rock sculpture of Decebalus – the tallest rock relief in Europe.

Horezu town has to be included in the route throughout Romania if you want to explore the Romanian culture in depth. It is known as a pottery center, where travelers can marvel at the colorful pottery created in local workshops by talented Romanian artisans. Also, one cannot miss the Horezu Monastery – an architectural masterpiece and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Art lovers will also have something to see in Oltenia, and namely the Sculptural Ensemble of Constantin Brancusi at Targu Jiu. The ensemble comprises the Table of Silence, the Gate of the Kiss and the Endless Column. Overall, it is considered to be one of the greatest work of the XXth-century outdoor sculpture.

 

Dobrogea is popular namely for the Danube Delta, which is listed as a World Heritage Site, but also for its seaside beach resorts: Mamaia, Vama Veche, Costinesti, and other.

The pearl of Dobrogea – the Danube Delta – is a real heaven for naturalists, unique in Romania, but also in Europe! It spreads over an area of 5.165 sq. km comprising several main towns like Tulcea, Sulina, Sfantul Gheorghe, etc. Moreover, this natural complex includes touristic destinations like Musura Lagoon – the perfect place for birdwatching, Letea Forest – known for its multitude of climbing plants that offer to the forest a subtropical aspect, the Uzlina and Isac lakes. It is impossible not to taste at least one fish dish that is offered in the Danube Delta, as the food here is based mainly on fish. We recommend you to try the famous fish soup prepared out of 16 sorts of fish, but also polenta with garlic sauce and fried fish.

However, there is much more to see in Dobrogea than the Delta and the sea. For example, you can visit the Dobrogea Gorges – an impressive limestone canyon that was created by Mother Nature in the Jurassic period. Also, you can go walking in the “Black Forest” – Caraorman Forest – a real natural monument which spreads over sand dunes and comprises secular oaks, poplars and ashes.

 

Another region that expresses in detail the profound soul of the Romanian state is Moldova, found in the north-eastern part of the country and sharing a border with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

While being in Moldova, one should visit the Iasi County together with its capital – Iasi, as it is one of the leading centers of Romanian social, cultural, academic and artistic life. 

Pallace of Culture, Iasi, credits: David Ionut/Bigstock.com

As well, it is referred to as “the Moldovan capital”. Starting with The Pallace of Culture, The Golia Monastery, The Church of the Three Hierarchs, The National Theater Vasile Alecsandri, The Alexandru Ioan Cuza University should be on the list of destinations when visiting Iasi. The Sturdza Castle from Miclauseni village, Iasi County, is a real neo-gothic piece of art. In fact, the Castle is just a part of the Miclauseni Monastery complex, which also includes 2 churches and a park.

The Neamt County is an important historical spot, especially due to the Neamt Citadel – a fortress with almost perfectly vertical walls that proved to be indestructible, but also the Neamt Monastery which benefits of an imposing architecture and is remarked for its original elements. Neamt County is also famous for the beauty of Ceahlau Massif – one of the most notorious mountains of Romania with notable sights like Duruitoarea waterfall, Panaghia rock, Piatra Lata din Ghedeon rock formation, Polita cu crini protected area, etc. All of them form the Ceahlau National Park, which comes to offer facilities for hiking, skiing, and camping in a few designated places. The Bicaz Gorge is another well-known natural attraction in Moldova, stretching between Neamt (Moldova) and Harghita (Transylvania) counties. The gorge was excised by the waters of Bicaz River and is a noted location to see the wallcreeper, an uncommon cliff-dwelling bird.

 

Bukovina is a special part of Moldova which will probably create the most profound memories to a tourist.

This region is particularly visited for its holy places: Voronet and Patrauti monasteries, Arbore Church – parts of UNESCO heritage, but also the Putna Monastery – a monastery of great historical importance because here Stefan cel Mare’s grave is found. Daniil Sihastrul’s monastic rock-cut cell is spectacular, while the environment will impel you to spiritual peace and total relaxation. Vatra Dornei is a destination for those who are longing for silence and nature. This area is especially visited due to its thermal waters, breathtaking panorama, but also ski facilities.

Easter egg painting in Bukovina, credits: NONAME/Bigstock.com

Bukovina is the land of traditions. Besides the simple painting of Easter eggs, in Bukovina people practice painting eggs with wax using a brush. The technique of egg painting, over time, has reached the level of being considered an art, being practiced by whole families. Traditions hardly survive the changes, so this craft is patiently taught by new generations. As well, the winter holidays provide an experience that cannot be missed by a tourist while being in Bukovina in this period of the year.

 

Maramures is one of Europe’s best kept secrets, a place where traditions, wooden art and human kindness are well preserved. This beautiful area hosts over 100 wooden churches.

Barsana wooden church, Maramures, credits: cge2010/Bigstock.com

Those from Barsana, Budesti, Desesti, Poienile Izei, Ieud etc. are under the UNESCO protection. Vaser Valley is the only place in the whole Europe where a steam powered train still runs. As well, Maramures is famous for its Merry Cemetery from Sapanta – its unique, colorful tombstones reflect paintings that describe the persons that are buried there, as well as display scenes from their lives. In Sapanta, a tourist can also find the tallest wooden church in the world.

Maramures houses one of the most important natural areas from Romania - Rodna National Park. Ridges, mountain peaks, cirques, caves, springs, valleys, forests and pastures – you can see all of them in this natural reserve. Another natural area that is not less important is the Maramures Mountains Natural Park – the wildest in Romania, perfect for watching bears, wolves, lynxes living in their natural habitat. Also, visit the extraordinary Blue Lake (Lacul Albastru), not far from Baia Sprie, that, due to its chemical composition, is used to change its color depending on light and rainfall. Get lost in the Gorge of Lapus – a picturesque defile with a multitude of waterfalls and caves of rare beauty.

 

In the west of Romania, the Crisana region awaits its guests with lots of natural, but also cultural and historical attractions.

Bears' Cave in Apuseni Mountains, credits: pellinni/Bigstock.com

If you are eager to discover the natural secrets of this land, then you can pay a visit to the Hoanca Coului cave complex, which is popular for Bears’ Cave (Pestera Ursilor), in the vicinity of Chiscau locality, or the Unguru Mare Cave situated on the northern slope of Padurea Craiului Mountains and the left bank of Crisul Repede River. Take a ride to Stana de Vale locality which is well-known for its always cool and fresh spring water. Not far from Stana de Vale, two waterfalls can be admired: Valul Miresei Waterfall and Iadolina Waterfall.

Among the historical and cultural points of interest are worth to mention the Oradea Fortress which is considered the origin of the city of Oradea, the Soimos Fortress ruins – standing tall since medieval times on the Cioaca Tautului hill, on the right bank of Mures River, but also the Black Eagle Palace – equipped with a glass covered passage which makes the connection between three streets and with the glass painting of the black eagle, the ensemble’s emblem.

 

A dream place loaded with natural, as well as historical monuments that form altogether fabulous scenes – that’s what characterizes Banat, the western part of Romania.

If you want to go back in time, but at the same time admire the lush greenery of Romanian mountains, take a ride on the railway Oravita – Anina – the oldest mountain railway from the country. For a dose of adrenaline head to the Cheile Nerei-Beusnita National Park – a protected area situated in Caras-Severin County.

Devil's Lake, Nerei Gorges, Banat, credits: Xilius/Bigstock.com

Devil’s Lake, Ochiul Beiului Lake and Beusnita Waterfalls are just several natural sites that should be admired in the Nera Gorges. The Bigar Waterfall, which is considered to be located exactly on the 45th parallel north, is one of the most unusual waterfalls in the world and one of the most beautiful in Romania.

Semenic Mountains and Caras Gorges hide valuable natural beauty. The natural reservation Caras Gorges comprises spectacular karst phenomena, here being concentrated a number of 300 approximately caves. Another gem of Banat is the water falls from Rudaria – a unique reservation which includes 22 mills and spreads over 3 km on Rudariei Valley.

 

As there is something for everyone in Romania, from rustic castles to soaring landscapes, we challenge you to visit each Romanian region and find the thing you’ll love about it!

 

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A Guide to Discovering Romania

A Guide to Discovering Romania