One opens the map and suddenly sees Romania, a medium-sized country located in Eastern Europe. The Balkans, to be exact. So the next question seems very logical: what is there to see in Romania?
A treatise could be written about what to see in Romania: a host of interesting cities to visit, hundreds of hidden villages, thousands of itineraries to be driven or walked, and many mountain trails or channels in the Danube Delta are there to be explored. But for the moment, let’s mention the most important – or at least, the best known of them.
First time in Bucharest
Most foreign tourists in Romania arrive for their first time in Bucharest, the country's main entry point. Once in Bucharest, known in the period between the World Wars as “Little Paris,” one can spend several days here. A walking tour should start with the Old Town, transformed in recent years into a Mecca of bars, restaurants, and terraces. Then, continue outside of the Old Town and walk along the Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue). This was once the most important avenue in Bucharest. Admire the French-style architecture of many buildings along the boulevard, such as the History Museum, the National Savings Bank, the National Art Museum, and the Romanian Athenaeum. Also, don’t miss Revolution Square, where Nicolae Ceausescu, the former Romanian Communist dictator, gave his last speech.
Now continue along another famous boulevard of Bucharest. Pavel Kiseleff Boulevard is a green area flanked by many beautiful old houses and important museums such as the Romanian Peasant Museum and the Natural History Museum, one of the most impressive in Europe. Next, you’ll pass by the Arch of Triumph and stop at the Village Museum, certainly the best outdoor museum in the country.
On the way back to the center of the city, one should take a drive along Aviators Boulevard, a road flanked by green parks and impressive old mansions, making it one of the most beautiful and expensive neighborhoods in the city. And no tour of Bucharest would be complete without the Romanian Parliament – second only to the Pentagon as the largest administrative building in the world.
The most interesting surroundings of Bucharest are the famous Snagov Monastery, where Dracula is allegedly buried, and the Mogosoaia Palace. One-day tours can also be done to Peles and Bran castles or into Bulgaria to visit the picturesque town of Veliko Tarnovo.
First time in Transylvania
If you are for the first time in Romania, you definitely want to visit Transylvania, the exotic and historic province flanked by the Carpathian Mountains and known for its vampires. Well, you might be surprised, but Transylvania is much more than that. It’s famous for its rolling hills, medieval cities, and villages, many of them looking like places frozen in time, fortified castle churches, and excellent cuisine. The most important tourist cities of Transylvania are Sibiu, a former Saxon medieval citadel and European Cultural Capital in 2007; Brasov, a lovely old German town surrounded by medieval walls and green mountains; Sighisoara, one of the best-preserved fortified towns of Europe and a stunning UNESCO site; and Cluj Napoca, the largest city in this area. But maybe even more attractive are the quaint old villages which seem to be postcards from the past. They are so beautiful that even Britain’s Prince Charles bought several old houses in these villages. One or more nights there can certainly be a real highlight for any avid traveler. You might also want to see the former Saxon villages located in the southern part of Transylvania, such as Prejmer, Crit, Viscri, Biertan, Copsa Mare – or the Szekely villages in the eastern part of Transylvania such as Miclosoara and Valea Zalanului. And of course, we can’t finish this short introduction to Transylvania without mentioning the famous Bran and Corvin castles, the first known as the Dracula Castle and the second as the spookiest castle in Europe.
First time in Maramures
Romania suffered for 45 years under one of the most brutal Communist regimes in Europe. That’s the main reason why the rural aspect of Romania was preserved as it was centuries ago. The horse-drawn carts are ubiquitous throughout the countryside, while from a distance, the haystacks look like small sheep. There is plenty of open green space in Romania, some areas quite poor, others more developed. But there is no doubt that Maramures is the word that stands for “rural” in Romania. Not many people who come for the first time in Romania manage to make it all the way to Maramures, as it is located in the northern part of the country – but those who do are well rewarded. The capital of Maramures is Baia Mare, but here the villages along the Iza and Mara rivers are much more important. It is here, in these valleys, that one can find and learn so much about the harmony between people and nature, about the old crafts and wooden churches, several of which are stunning UNESCO sites. You should definitely visit the wooden churches in Ieud, the oldest; Surdesti, located in a magnificent village; and Densus, which boasts the best frescoes. A tour of Maramures should always include the Merry Cemetery, truly one of a kind in the world. To this short presentation of Maramures, we should add the town of Sighetu Marmatiei, known for its Memorial to the Victims of Communism and for being the birthplace of Elie Wiesel. Another major attraction of this historic province is the steam train from the Vaserului Valley. Finally, we suggest that you stay in a local guesthouse as in this region the people are known for their hospitality. And of course, you should never miss the local plum brandy known as tsuica.
First time in Bucovina
If one would say that Bucovina is as beautiful as Switzerland, you might believe that person is partial to Romania – but there is no doubt that Bucovina is half as expensive as Switzerland. Located in the northeastern part of Romania, Bucovina is known for its painted churches before anything else. It is here that the sheer cliffs of the Carpathian Mountains are tamed into gentle green slopes. To this combination of religion and nature, add the local cuisine, which is marvelous. Don’t miss the local soup known as Ciorba Radauteana or the fresh grilled trout.
If Suceava is the largest city in the area, Gura Humorului and Vatra Dornei are the most important tourist destinations of Bucovina. The first is a good base for day tours of the painted monasteries, while the second is great for skiers and nature lovers. The most important painted churches, including UNESCO sites, are Voronet, Sucevita, Moldovita, Humor, and Arbore. And in the town of Vatra Moldovitei, train lovers can enjoy a nostalgic ride in a steam locomotive.
First time in Dobrogea
Dobrogea (or Dobruja) is one of the few regions of present-day Romania which was under complete control of the Ottoman Empire. That is why it’s one of the few areas where you can observe minarets and mosques in several villages and towns. But besides these reminders of the past, Dobrogea is known for its fine-sand beaches and the Danube Delta's amazing wetlands.
Constanta, on the Black Sea, is the main port of Romania. In the northern part, you can find the most famous Romanian beach resort. Lively Mamaia is the place where you want to be if you are in search of sandy beaches, drinks, crazy parties, and beautiful young women. Not your style? Don’t worry, travel south of Constanta and discover the more quiet resorts of Eforie Nord or Mangalia. But even here, party lovers will find that Vama Veche, the most southern beach resort and a former village of fishermen, is where students come for some wild adventures.
If thousands of visitors flood the Romanian sea coast, then the Danube Delta is flooded by thousands of birds, from pelicans to green bee-eaters, from egrets to wagtails. The city of Tulcea is the main entrance into this UNESCO natural reservation. Three river branches enclose lakes, natural or artificial channels, reeds, forests, and forgotten villages. Anyone visiting the Danube Delta should visit Sarichioi, Murighiol, Uzlina, Mila 23, Crisan, Sfantu Gheorghe, or Sulina.
And last but not least, Dobrogea boasts some great vineyards sheltered by the gentle slopes of the local hills. It would be best if you tried the fine wines from Murfatlar or Curtea Regala.
First time in Banat
When they come for the first time in Romania, most foreign tourists don’t reach the historical province of Banat. And it’s a pity. When a Romanian says Banat, the first things which come to mind are Timisoara, the Iron Gates, the Buila-Vanturarita National Park, and the bridge by Apollodorus of Damascus.
Timisoara, known as Little Vienna due to its Baroque architecture, is the city where the anti-communist revolution started in 1989, announcing in this way the end of a brutal regime. Day tours to Belgrade can also be easily arranged from Timisoara. While in this area, try to visit the Recas vineyard, famous for its rosé wines.
Not far from Timisoara lies the Danube River. As soon as it enters Romania, the Danube starts to carve the mountains into impressive gorges, known as the Iron Gates. Hire a boat and enjoy a short cruise along the river. On the way, stop and admire the statue of Decebal, the highest statue in Europe.
When the Romans conquered the province of Dacia, they had the famous architect Apollodorus of Damascus build a bridge over the Danube. This bridge created the links between the Dacians and Romans, which later formed the Romanian nation. Its ruins are visible even today, almost 2000 years later.
Don’t leave Banat without visiting Buila-Vanturarita National Park. It might be the smallest national park in Romania, but it is one of the most beautiful. Take a hike in the Nera Gorge or admire the Bigar waterfall, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
First time in Wallachia
Wallachia is located in the southern part of Romania. If the southern part is flat and pretty much devoted to agricultural activities, the northern part is much more interesting for travelers. It is here where you can discover old villages, beautiful churches such as the Hurezi, or the city of Targu Jiu, where the famous Romanian sculpture Constantin Brancusi lived. Some of his works, such as the Gate of Kiss and the Endless Column, are displayed here in a park dedicated to him.
The most touristic destination in the country, visited many times by foreign tourists who come here for the first time, is found along the Prahova Valley, about 120km north of Bucharest. Sinaia is one of the most famous mountain resorts in Romania. It became well-known when the first Romanian king decided to build his summer residence here, Peles Castle, which is today one of the most beautiful European castles and a major tourist attraction of Romania. Not far away lies the town of Busteni, an excellent base of hiking lovers and the location of the Cantacuzino Palace. While in Busteni, all travelers should enjoy a cable car ride. Once on top of the mountain, take a short hike all the way to the Heroes’ Cross and admire the most beautiful panoramic view in all of Romania.
First time in Moldova
You are for the first time in Romania, and suddenly you find yourself in Moldova. Which Moldova is this? To avoid confusion, one must know that after WWII, the Romanian province of Moldova was split in half. One half is the province of Moldova and part of Romania, and the other is the Republic of Moldova, an independent country. Other territories, also once part of the same province, are now in Ukraine.
The most important city of Moldova is Iasi. After Bucharest, it is the second most important university center and a real hub of culture. Other interesting cities for foreign tourists are Piatra Neamt and Targu Neamt, both former important medieval citadels. In addition, major monastic centers can be found all over Moldova, such as Agapia, beautifully painted by Nicolae Grigorescu, one of the most important Romanian painters.
First time in the Carpathian Mountains
If you enjoy a tour of Romania, you must definitely get to these beautiful and exotic mountains. Stretching from Poland all the way to the borders of Romania and Serbia, the Carpathian Mountains represent a major tourist attraction. All of the Romanian regions are developed around these mountains, except for Dobrogea, which boasts its own little mountains.
Probably the best-known chain of the Romanian Carpathians is the one between Wallachia in the south and Transylvania in the north. Also known as the Transylvanian Alps, these mountains can easily entice any hiker and nature lover. The most attractive areas are the Retezat Mountains, known for their many glacier lakes and well-preserved virgin forests; the King’s Stone Mountain, known for its splendid thin ridge; the Fagaras Mountains, which are the highest in Romania, and for the Bucegi Mountains, known for their splendid views and wildlife which still includes bears and wolves.
If the Eastern Carpathians are known for the Rarau or Ceahlau Mountains, the Western Carpathians are known for their more gentle peaks and multistratal rock formations. It is here that you can explore remote mountain villages and some of the best-preserved caves in the world, such as the Bears’ Cave.
When you come for the first time to Romania, you will have a general idea about its major tourist attractions. Our private or shared tours will get you to at least one of these places, and really, you owe it to yourself to see more.