When traveling to Romania, it is best to leave behind all prejudice and be prepared for literally everything. There are still some downsides to living in this country, but traveling here is relatively safe and for most, highly rewarding. You should consider including Romania while planning your trip around Europe mostly because of its places of unmatched natural beauty. Wild mountains and genuine local traditions will sometimes give you the feel of going back in time. And if you keep an eye-out, you are likely to find extraordinary people and stories that give you a whole new life perspective.
Here are eight of the most spectacular and must-experience places in Romania:
Peles Castle, Sinaia
If you start your trip in Bucharest, Romania’s capital (served by two international airports), you will find the picturesque Peles Castle in the city of Sinaia on the route to Brasov. Built between 1873 and 1914, this Neo-Renaissance landmark was commissioned by King Carol I and briefly served as the headquarters of the Romanian monarchy. When the Communist regime took over, the castle and its surrounding buildings were turned into a state protocol interest area.
Today, this national museum is visited by travelers all around the Globe and is considered one of the most elegant castles in Europe. Reigning over this part of the Carpathians, the Peles Castle consists of no less than 170 rooms and shelters, valuable painting collections, sculptures, expensive furniture elements, and an overall glamorous interior design. The entrance fee varies according to the type of tour requested by the traveler. It can be upwards of $25US for a two-hour guided tour. As a quick final tip, it is far more rewarding to visit the Peles Castle during a hike. Sinaia is the starting point for many remarkable mountain trails, and there is no better way of relaxing after a cultural tour than taking in the fresh surrounding environment. Bears have been seen in this area before, so make sure you talk to a ranger before setting off on a hike.
Tampa peak, Brasov
Easy to access by train via Bucharest, Brasov is probably the most captivating large city of Romania. Its medieval charm, narrow cobblestone streets, and relaxed mountain atmosphere make any trip here worth your while. But few people rarely get an overall perspective of the city because Brasov is best experienced from above. Tourists usually come here, visit the Black Church and the city center, and are satisfied. But any real traveler will tell you not to miss out on some fantastic panoramic views.
Just steps away from downtown Brasov there is a cable railway gondola that will take you on Tampa Peak (955 meters in height). It is best if you position yourself facing the city for the best views. Ascending and descending will cost you about $12US. Follow the signs towards the Belvedere spot, and you can have a clear view of the entire city, take in the fresh air, and simply enjoy. The place is also reachable by foot, but again, ask rangers beforehand about the bears. It takes no more than two hours for the unexperienced to get there by hiking.
Considered to be one of the best-conserved rustic citadel in Transylvania, Rasnov fortress is located 15 kilometers away from Brasov, near the main road that links it to the city of Campulung. Overlooking the small town bearing the same name, the citadel has a very interesting history. It was built by the locals in the thirteen century as a result of foreign invasions. Every time the town of Rasnov was attacked, its inhabitants would take cover in the citadel.
Today, its charming uneven stone walls and beautiful surrounding landscape make it an original place to explore. Its complex structure features various towers and two lovely courtyards. A feudal art museum inside the citadel will make you more accustomed to the type of life held in these parts of the world during the last centuries. A variety of objects are put on display, from day to day household objects to weapons and stamps. While inside the fortress, be sure to check out all its hidden small windows which offer great surrounding views. The observation point is the most spectacular part of the citadel, and it is here that you can look through a small telescope at the entire valley below. If you are planning on visiting Rasnov, keep an eye-out for the cultural events held here (mostly medieval-inspired) which are interesting to attend. During a normal, uneventful day, the entrance fee is less than $3US.
Read Exploring the Rucar-Bran Passage in Transylvania, Romania and read about this Transylvania Dracula Tour
The medieval center of Sighisoara
While in Romania, you should not miss out on visiting an overwhelming small town. Sighisoara is located in the Transylvania region and is accessible through direct train routes via Bucharest, Sibiu, Vienna, or Budapest. Built by German craftsmen and merchants during the 12th century on a former Roman settlement, the area preserved its historic features very well.
Even though a traveler is likely to be interested in walking through the entire town, Sighisoara’s medieval center is generally the most popular attraction. The Citadel is easy to reach by heading towards the churches on the hill which are visible from far away.
Visiting Sighisoara in the summer will give you the benefit of good weather and plenty of animation: miniature outdoor artist studios at every corner and plenty of people walking around wearing medieval costumes. If you want to witness something unique, visit the town during the Sighisoara Medieval Festival in July when it doubles its population (just be sure to make hotel reservations in advance). This is the time for letting go and projecting yourself into a fun medieval universe with outdoor theater plays, night concerts, dancing competitions, or art installations.
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Transfagarasan road and Balea Lake
Literally cut through the highest mountains in Romania, the Transfagarasan road consists of 90 kilometers of twists and turns. The road starts near the city of Pitesti (accessible via Bucharest) and links the historic Romanian regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. Built by the order of dictator Ceausescu, who wanted military access across the Fagaras mountains in case of Soviet invasions, the route implied the use of 6 million kilograms of dynamite and was built by soldiers (40 of which lost their lives), during 1970 and 1974.
Whether you choose to take the journey to the top by car, bicycle, or motorbike, the dramatic surrounding landscapes are sure to stick with you forever. When you get to the end (the road climbs up to 2034 meters in altitude), a soothing natural reward will be waiting for you. It is called Balea Lake, and it is the second largest glacier lake in Romania, surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks. There are two chalets in the area, so if you want to take a meal or have tea, you can choose one of them. Be sure to plan your visit in the summer: the road is closed from late October to June due to the weather conditions.
Wooden churches of Maramures
Often taken for granted nowadays, spirituality in Romania is founded on love, beauty, and simplicity. There is no better way to experience these three virtues than by visiting the legendary lands of Maramures. Nature feels at home here, in perfect communion with the traditions of the local inhabitants. Close to the Ukrainian border, this is a place you can access via the town of Baia Mare, served by an international airport and connected by national roads to major cities like Bucharest or Cluj-Napoca. Before traveling here, consider purchasing a discount card which can be used for various services.
It is said experiencing the history of Maramures can be done by visiting its wooden churches, eight of which are protected by UNESCO. Since the inhabitants of these places were not allowed to build strong, long-lasting stone settlements by their foreign rulers, they developed wooden ones instead. But their works lasted for more than four centuries, and travelers can still visit this cultural heritage today. Combine the fascination for these spiritual shelters with the beauty and peacefulness of Maramures, and you are in for a remarkable escape.
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Retezat National Park
The Retezat Mountains in Romania possesses two qualities that make them irresistible to hikers all around the world: they are friendly and they are spectacular. You can reach them by train and minibus via Timisoara (served by international airport Traian Vuia). During your jurney, feel free to ask for information if you are not certain you are heading in the right direction. There are many people traveling to Retezat from Timisoara in the summer, and almost all of them speak English. The entrance fee is the equivalent of $2US, payable at the Gentiana chalet on your way up or at the rescue cabin (Salvamont) near Bucura Lake.
Aside from accommodating hundreds of rare species of flora and fauna, Retezat National Park has more than 80 beautiful lakes and accessible hiking trails for anyone willing to discover their originality. The best way to experience these mountains is to allow yourself to spend at least four days here. Bring your tent, thick clothes, quality sleeping bags, and camp near Bucura Lake, the largest glacial lake in Romania. From this spot, there are various trips you can take during the day without having to carry a heavy load. Rest assured, no one will attempt to steal your tent.
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The sacred area of Sarmisegetuza Regia
The ancient inhabitants of Romania were called Dacians, an Indo-European people who inhabited the area in and around the Carpathian Mountains. Since there are few written historical records, many details regarding this brave and unusual civilization are covered in myths and legends.
People visiting Sarmisegetuza Regia, near the city of Orastie (in the village of Gradistea Muncelului), at an altitude of 1200 meters, often say they get a strange vibe while being in the sanctuaries of the former capital of Dacia. This is probably because Sarmizegetusa Regia was the largest fortification of its kind found on the Romanian territory, and its impressive Sacred Area is made up of strcutures that many still try to decrypt today. Some people visit the area with the help of their personal vehicle. When in the city of Orastie, you can ask around for a tour-guide that will take you to see the Dacian ruins and give you the information you require. The cost is negotiable. Try to capture the vibes of the place and ask many questions about the ancient inhabitants. This way, visiting Sarmizegetusa and the old Dacian citadels nearby will take you back in time to a world that relied on spirituality.
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