It’s time to discover the many hidden wonders of Romania
Romania is a unique country from many points of view. Culturally, it is the only Latin country in Eastern Europe. And if we talk about Latin influences, it is the only country whose name comes from Rome: Roma (nia). Moreover, it’s the only Latin country in Europe that became a prisoner of the communist regime. With a rich history and abundant natural resources, it’s time to discover the hidden wonders of Romania
Thankfully, nature endowed Romania with all forms of relief: starting with the sandy beaches of the Black Sea to the wild paradise of the Danube Delta, and reaching to the snow-covered ridges of the Carpathian mountain range. Last but not least, Romania is the country where Transylvania is located, the legendary realm that most people associate with Dracula. Choosing the most important tourist attractions in Romania can be a challenging task because there are so many wonderful places to chose from.
First on our list of best tourist attractions in Romania is a castle. It is located in Transylvania but it is not Dracula’s Castle.
Corvin Castle seems to be taken from Disney-like imaginations – only it’s the original. Built in the 15th century, in Transylvania, Corvin Castle was the residence of the governor of Transylvania, Ioan (John) Corvin, and of his son, the Hungarian king Matias Corvin; hence the name of the castle. Constructed in Gothic style on an area of 7,000 meters dug into the rock, Corvin Castle is the largest castle in Romania.
After passing the entrance gate, visitors are astonished by the soaring towers, the exterior Gothic decorations and the drawbridge laid over the river that has murmured for centuries in front of the castle. The castle is located in Hunedoara county, Transylvania. It can be easily reached from Sibiu or Timisoara, by car, after 1.5 hours of driving.
Second on the list is another castle, but completely different from the first. It is 5 centuries younger and is located in Sinaia, less than 2 hours away from Bucharest, surrounded by forests at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.
Peles Castle, the summer residence of the Romanian royal family. This castle was constructed by the first king of Romania between 1873-1914 to be the cradle of the new dynasty. Built in a refined eclectic style, the castle bears the imprint of the personality and aesthetic taste of its founder, King Carol I of Romania.
Visitors who step onto its doorstep will be impressed by the richness of details in the interior decorations and the diversity of styles used for the spaces on the ground floor: we start from the German neo-renaissance, continue through the Italian style, and reach the Moorish and Turkish style.
We switch from castles to natural attractions, the Danube Delta. The Danube is the second largest river in Europe, which arises from Germany and empties into the Black Sea in Romania. Before meeting the sea, the Danube divides into 3 branches that form a delta. The Danube’s Delta is an aquatic paradise, home to over 360 species of birds and over 45 species of fish, which find a perfect habitat in the calm water and lush vegetation of the Delta.
For those who want to get the maximum from the Danube Delta, we recommend spending some time on the wild beaches around Sfantul Gheorghe or Sulina, the place where the Danube meets the sea. Thus they will benefit both from the wild nature of the Danube and from the charm of the sea.
Another option to consider is the safari tours in the forests inside of the Delta, at Letea or Caroman, where tourists can enjoy seeing luxuriant vegetation, sand dunes or wild horses.
Regarding accommodation, we recommend the traditional guesthouses with reed roofs, painted in light blue. And of course, a trip to Danube’s Delta will not be complete without a traditional fish menu, skillfully prepared by the people of the Delta. The Delta can be reached in 3 hours from Bucharest, from where one can initiate cruises from a few hours long or a few days long. It is preferable for tourists to choose a package of at least 2 days, for a relaxing digital detox in the middle of nature. Best time to visit Delta is between May till October when nature is at its peak.
TRANSYLVANIAN CITIES: BRASOV, SIBIU, CLUJ-NAPOCA
We didn’t choose only one city in Transylvania, but 3, as it is quite difficult to say which would be best to visit. Transylvania as a region is enchanting, and it is worth spending a few good days to explore it. If time allows, we recommend visiting all 3, because it gives the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscapes this region offers, while travelling from one city to another
All 3 cities have many things in common: a rich history starting from the medieval period or even earlier, in the case of Cluj-Napoca, a multi-ethnic character, with Romanians coexisting with Saxons and Hungarians, elegant architecture, with elements belonging to Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau or other eclectic styles, vivid central squares, cobbled streets that hide cozy spots where tourists and locals alike can find a place to leisurely spend some time.
We start with Brasov because it is the closest to Bucharest and would be the first in an imaginary itinerary that includes the most important tourist attractions of Romania, starting from the capital of Romania. Brasov is a former Saxon town located at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, one hour away from Peles, half an hour from Bran and 2.5 hours from Bucharest.
A tourist who does his homework carefully before visiting Brasov would definitely put on the list of places to visit the following attractions:
- The Black Church, the largest Gothic church east of Vienna, which houses an impressive collection of oriental rugs;
- Rope Street, proudly promoted by the locals as the narrowest street in the world;
- Ecaterina’s Gate, component of the medieval defence walls that displays an interesting coat of arms of the city and the 4 turrets that used to certify the right to free trial of the city
- a walk down the alley below Tampa Mountain, for a great view of the old town,
- another walk on Republicii Street and Council Square to feel the atmosphere of the city and for a well-deserved coffee break
From Brasov, we continue our tour to Sibiu, located at 2 hours distance. Like Brasov, Sibiu was founded in the 12th century by the Saxon Settlers and 800 years later the city was elected the European Capital of Culture (2007). Sibiu is a charming city where the Saxon influence is still strong, even though, currently, the Saxons are representing only a small part of the population. Whoever visits Sibiu will have to put on the visiting list the following tourist objectives:
- Piata Mare (the Large Square), one of the largest central squares in Transylvania, a promenade space for tourists and locals, surrounded by old buildings, with roofs from where the eyes of the city (eye-shaped skylights) watch for centuries;
- Piata Mica, another lively square of Sibiu, with cosy cafes and restaurants, dominated for centuries by the Council Tower, a former defence tower of the city, now offering great views over the old city and surrounding area;
- Bridge of Lies, surrounded by funny stories about its name and a favourite place for amateur and professional photographers alike;
- Medieval red brick walls that have protected the city from invaders since the 15th centuries
- The Orthodox Cathedral, a small copy of Hagia Sophia, which impresses visitors with the rich colours of the interior painting
- The Brukenthal Museum, the first museum opened in Romania in 1817, housing precious art collections that are making it one of the finest art museums in this corner of Europe. After crossing the doors of the museum, one can admire artworks from Rubens, Jan van Eyck, Peter Bruegel or Albrecht Durer.
The last on our list, Cluj-Napoca is the largest city in Transylvania and also the most cosmopolitan. Large university centre, Cluj-Napoca is located 2 hours from Sibiu, in northern Transylvania and a starting point for most trips to the neighbouring region, Maramures. Cluj-Napoca attracts visitors with its elegant architecture, vibrant atmosphere, the best music festivals and countless ways to spend some time off.
The list of places to visit in Cluj-Napoca must include at least:
- the Union Square, dominated by the Gothic Church of Saint Michael
- the Baroque Palace, located in one corner of the square, an important example of the Transylvanian Baroque, the current host of the city’s Art Museum
- Museum Square, lively pedestrian area in the oldest part of the city, dotted with pubs, coffees or restaurants
- The Botanical Garden, a place for relaxation and nature therapy, right in the heart of the city.
Maramures is the region located in the north of the country, in a mountainous area, delimited in the south by Transylvania and in the north by the border with Ukraine. The best expression to describe Maramures is a “living museum” being the area in Romania where folk traditions and customs are best preserved. The art of woodworking is best developed in Maramures, whether we are talking about churches with bell towers raised to the sky, traditional houses or monumental gates artistically decorated with hidden symbols.
Maramures is the place where we can find a unique cemetery in the world, the Merry Cemetery, where the crosses are decorated in bright colours, and the story of the deceased is written on them in a rather comic than tragic manner.
There is no other place in Romania where the spirit of Vienna can feel so prevelant. No wonder, because the old part of the city was rebuilt by the Austrian administration in the 18th century after the city was freed after centuries of Turkish occupation. Due to be the host of the European Capital of Culture in 2021, Timișoara is located in western Romania, close to the border with Hungary and Serbia, which makes Timisoara a good starting point for visits to Budapest or Belgrade, located just a few hours away.
Most of the objectives to visit in Timisoara are in the area of the former fortress, and a visitor should include at least:
- Union Square, where one can admire beautiful buildings built in a refined Baroque or Art Nouveau style inspired by the Viennese palaces or churches;
- Victoriei Square, the place where the spark of the anti-communist revolution of 1989 ignited;
- The Orthodox Cathedral, which dominates the heights of the city starting the 40s, built in a neo-Byzantine style inspired by Moldovan churches;
- Bega channel, where one can explore the city from the only boats used for public transport in Romania;
- The synagogue from the citadel, built in the 19th century in a refined eclectic style with Moorish elements;
BUCOVINA AND THE PAINTED CHURCHES
Wikimedia Commons by: Alex Moise
Bucovina is one of the most picturesque regions of Romania, located in the northern part of Moldovita, separated from Maramures by the Carpathian Mountains. It can be also reached from Transylvania, crossing the Borgo Pass, which was made famous by the Irish writer Bram Stoker, who had placed the Castle of Dracula in that area.
The painted churches in Bucovina are a fine example of religious art and one-of-a-kind architectural sites in Europe. Most of them, erected in the 15th-16th centuries, amaze the whole world with the exterior paintings that withstood the harsh weather in northern Moldova for over 500 years.
7 of these churches have been included in the UNESCO list starting 1993. Voronet is probably one of the most famous churches from Bucovina and is recognized in the world due to the excellent description of the scene of the Last Judgment. The scene, painted on one of the exterior walls, made the church to be known as the “Sistine Chapel of the East”. In addition, the dominant colour is an intense blue, called “Voronet Blue”. The composition of the blue pigment continues to remain a secret even now, more than 500 years after the church was built.
Bran Castle benefits from free publicity due to its frequent association with Dracula’s Castle. The truth is different. The castle, built in the 14th century, at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, helped for centuries to defend the southern border of Transylvania. Starting with the 20th century, it became the summer residence of Queen Maria of Romania, after a complex process of modernization.
The association with Dracula starts from the resemblance with the vampire castle in the homonym book written by the Irish author Bram Stoker. The author, although never visited Transylvania, may have seen sketches of the castle when he was documenting the book. True or not, Bran Castle is visited annually by hundreds of thousands of tourists, searching to walk on the infamous Count steps, or wishing to find the true story of the castle
About The Author: Florin Ionescu is a tour guide and travel writer for Romania Guided Tours, a tour operator organising guided tours in Romania. The tours, always private, are crafted for small groups and cover every corner of the country, from Transylvania to Maramures, Bucovina and Danube’s Delta.
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