Sitting at the crossroads between Western culture, Balkan spirit and Oriental influences, Romania is a melting pot of cultures, customs and influences from neighboring countries. Going for a walk in Romanian cities can take you from modern skyscrapers to medieval or Belle Époque times, while young crowds gather in trendy coffee-shops and bars. Outside of major cities you’ll see unspoilt landscapes with rolling hills dotted with traditional villages where locals live as they did 50 years ago. Going deeper into the country you’ll be met by the dramatic Carpathian Mountains, home to a rich wildlife and the largest brown bear population in Europe. Did I mention the plot-twisting history we had? The large number of castles and citadels will speak for that!
Really, for those of you who’ve never been to Romania – there’s a big surprise in store for you! For those returning – you already have a taste of Romania and therefore should know there’s so much more to discover! To help you plan your next trip, here are 5 of Romania’s best sights you should consider visiting.
If it weren’t for the Dracula myth boosting Bran Castle’s popularity, Corvin (Hunyadi) Castle would surely be the #1 medieval attraction in Romania! This gorgeous Gothic-Renaissance jewel is no less than 600 years old and is one of the best-preserved castles in Europe. Huffington Post named it as one of the "10 Castles Around The World That Are Straight Out of Fairy Tales".
This medieval fortress was used as a residence by feudal lords and belonged to the famous Corvin dynasty that ruled Hungary and parts of Transylvania. There are many legends surrounding the castle’s symbol – a raven with a golden ring in his beak – which you can find out more about if you visit the castle. Located in Central Romania in Hunedoara, Corvin Castle can be visited all year-round on day trips from Timisoara, Sibiu or Cluj-Napoca.
One of Romania’s top natural attractions, the Danube Delta is Europe’s newest patch of land, a natural biosphere formed by the Danube River before it flows into the Black Sea. This area is three times bigger than Greater London with over 3,500 animal species and 1,700 plant species that live through its canals, river beds and patches of lands. Think of it as a huge outdoor living natural museum that you can visit from a boat!
Besides the rich wildlife, tourists (especially photographers) will be impressed by the natural landscapes infused with sunrise light (the Delta faces the East) and the fish-based cuisine of the locals who, by the way, preserve their authentic charm and fishermen way of life. The Danube Delta is a unique natural attraction in Europe – and the world – but travellers should be mindful of its importance as a natural habitat and visit responsibly.
If you want to visit the Danube Delta then you should aim for April – October, spend at least 2-3 days and consider hiring a locally-licensed guide because navigating its canals and knowing the best spots for wildlife watching require lots of on-the-ground knowledge.
Ah, Sibiu – where should I begin? 2007 European Capital of Culture, ranked 8th by Forbes as Europe’s most idyllic cities and 6th most charming by Huffington Post, the city of Sibiu is truly one of Romania’s best getaway destinations for locals or foreign tourists alike!
Also known by its German name Hermanstadt, the city is representative for Transylvania’s multiculturalism and displays many signs of its Saxon heritage. It has a rich and varied cultural agenda with international renowned events for theater, jazz and other arts, and a booming food scene drawing on modern reinterpretations of Transylvania’s rural gastronomy. Much like Brasov, Romania’s other ‘darling’ city, Sibiu’s medieval air can be felt everywhere – whether in large open squares where people enjoy a drink or meal with friends (Upper Town) or in the narrow cobbled-stone streets where sturdy houses have small details to offer (Lower Town). Did I mention how friendly and welcoming the locals are? They’re very proud of their city and heritage – just ask them about it!
As we are entering the festive winter season, you should know that Sibiu’s Christmas Market is, undoubtedly, Romania’s best! The Main Square is taken over by small huts where you can find everything from cured ham or cheese, handmade decorations or gift, local pies and sweets and, of course, plenty of mulled wine and… mulled țuica, the traditional Romanian spirit! One glass of this and you’re good to go for 1h in any type of freezing weather, trust me!
You may have heard of this one – named by Top Gear as the world’s best driving road, Transfagarasan Road crosses the majestic Fagaras Mountain range of the Carpathians and is one of Romania’s best known attractions. At its highest point of 2,042m it offers views that are nothing short of breathtaking – just take another look at that picture! Between the ridges of Fagaras Mountains and with Transylvania’s plain in the distance, you will definitely stop for a long while to take in the views and the fresh mountain air!
Located in the centre of the country it can be accessed from the North from Sibiu or Brasov or from the South from Bucharest or Craiova. Transfagarasan Road is open for driving only during June – October as it’s covered in snow during the rest of the year – which means it’s also a great place for skiing, especially back-country and off-piste riding!
With a history of over 2,000 years and opened for tourists since the early 1990s, Turda Salt Mine near Cluj-Napoca is a very popular tourist attraction in Romania for two reasons:
First, its underground galleries and large, high-ceiling caverns hosts an amusement park complete with a theater, ferris wheel, ping-pong tables or mini-golf courses. There’s even an underground lake where you can practice your rowing skills (or impress your partner!) if you rent a boat! The best part is the artificial lighting installations – everything was designed to highlight the salt mine’s natural beauty and man-made galleries and give visitors a magical experience.
The second reason – well known among Romanians but less so by foreign tourists – is that inhaling salty air is good for your lounges and treating respiratory diseases – something even the Romans knew! Romanian doctors regularly prescribe salty air therapies and Turda Salt Mine, along with other salt mines such as Praid or Ocnele Mari, is a preferred destination for this. What do you have to do to get these health benefits? Nothing – just spend 2-4 hours in the mine: do a tour to learn about its salt exploitation history and the interesting tools used, play some games or bring a book with you. Beware though – no food or drinks (other than still water) are allowed inside the mine as they will interfere with the air!
The author Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend, a locally-run initiative promoting authentic Romanian tourism in lesser-known sights and supporting responsible tourism in the country by partnering for tours with local guides, small businesses and non-profits. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.
Have you been to Romania, did you visit any of these top 5 attractions and what were your thoughts? Are there any other must-see attractions you feel should be added to this list? Please tell us what you think in the comments section below - we want to know!
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