Have you ever planned to visit Romania? As the country is not a well-known destination, prior documentation is more than necessary, especially since the country is quite different from the news circulated in the media. To make your task easier, we have written a list of things to know before visiting Romania.
- Location: Romania is located in Eastern Europe, being bordered by Bulgaria in the south, the Black Sea and the Republic of Moldova in the east, Ukraine in the north and Hungary and Serbia in the west. It is one of the largest countries in the region, comparable in size to the United Kingdom. It has a varied relief, Romania having access both to the Black Sea and to the Danube (the Danube flows into the Sea on the Romanian territory). The country is crossed by the Carpathian Mountains, which occupy almost a third of Romania.
- Romania has been part of the European Union since 2007. It has not yet joined the EURO, therefore foreign tourists visiting the country must use the local currency, leu (RON). Also, Romania is not a Schengen country, therefore there is still border control to the EU neighbors. However, foreign tourists who have a Schengen visa can enter Romania without problems.
Credit cards can be used in many cases (hotels, restaurants, gas stations, shops), but in rural areas or farmers markets only cash is accepted. Exchanging currency is easy, at the banks, or at exchange offices. Do not change money at the airport, the rate is not that good.
- Romania is a Latin country, therefore tourists who know a Romance language can understand some of the common words. The closest Latin languages to Romanian are Italian and Spanish. Romania is the only Latin country in Eastern Europe, being isolated from the other Latin countries in Western Europe (Italy, France, Spain and Portugal). For this reason, it is the only predominantly Orthodox Latin country and the only Latin country in Europe that was under communist rule.
Most of the people in the cities are speaking English, at a basic level, so if one asks for directions, he will find someone to help. In the countryside, on the other hand, English is spoken only in hotels or guesthouses.
Orthodox procession during Palm Sunday
- The climate is temperate continental, with four seasons, with hot summers and cold winters. Summers (June – August) are generally very hot to warm, with an average temperature of around 25-30 degrees Celsius during the day. In July and August, temperatures often exceed 35 °C, especially in the lowlands, outside the Carpathian Mountains. Winters are quite cold, with an average temperature around 0 ° C during the day. The coldest nights can go below -15 ° C, but it doesn’t happen very often.
Winter in Sibiu
The best time to visit Romania is between April and October, when temperatures are moderate and suitable for outdoor walks. For people who love snow, Romania is a destination to consider, the Carpathian peaks being covered with it from October to March. In the rest of the country, it may snow from December to March, but it depends on the daily temperatures for the snow to stay on the ground without melting.
Natural landscape at the beginning of August in Romanian mountains
- Transport. Easiest way to travel around the country is by car. The main roads are in good condition, although some of them can be very crowded. The network of motorways (speed roads) is limited, so the average speed to consider is about 60 km / h. In the Capital, the traffic is crazy and very, very busy. In other cities, traffic is acceptable, but it’s always good to avoid rush hours and use a traffic app like Waze or Google Maps.
The most famous mountain road – Transfagarasan
Public transport may be an alternative, but trains are quite slow. Buses and coaches are much easier to find and are covering a better area than trains. There are flights from the capital, Bucharest to the main cities located in the extremities of the country (Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi).
Having said that, what makes Romania an interesting touristic attraction?
- Nature. Romania is an excellent destination for wildlife lovers: from the lush nature of the Danube Delta, home to hundreds of species of aquatic birds to the dense forests of the Carpathians, the territory of the brown bear. Is good to know that more than half of the European brown bear population lives in Romania, tourists being able to see it from the special wildlife observatories in the forest, or often on the side of the mountain roads.
Bear sitting on the side of the road on Transfagarasan
Rural country Romania can be a floral paradise. Due to a more traditional, less intensive agriculture, wildflower meadows can be easily observed throughout the country. Transylvania is especially rich in wild pastures, with its rolling hills and alpine grasslands, where from May to July an explosion of colours and scents delights the senses of nature lovers.
Wildflower meadows in Transylvania in mid July
- Countryside. Beyond its natural beauty, certain parts of the countryside are like a living museum. In those areas, agriculture is done in the old way, using horses for transport, manually moving the hay with the scythe or the shepherds leading their flock of sheep on the mountain pastures, as they did hundreds of years ago. Probably the countryside region where rural culture is best preserved is Maramures, located in the north of the country, in a mountainous area, near the border with Ukraine.
Sheep flocks grazing on mountain pastures
- Multiculturalism. Although they have been on this territory for thousands of years, the Romanians have lived in the same country only since 1918, when all the Romanian regions were united. This led to the creation of a multiethnic state, in which, in addition to Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Ukrainians, Lipovans, Turks, Tatars and Slovaks live. The largest minority is the Hungarian, located in Transylvania, given that this region until 1918 belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So, as a result of these communities living together, we see cultural interference at any level: language, traditions, architecture, food, music or dance. For example, in Transylvania, the former Saxon cities have a strong German aspect, the Romanian folklore has influences from Hungarian folklore and vice versa, in the Dobrogea region we can see small mosques near Christian churches. Or, in a small former mining town in the Carpathians Mountains, Rosia Montana, one can see 7 churches from 5 different Christian religions.
Romanian students performing German dances in Sibiu
- Cuisine. The most obvious example of cultural interference is food. Romanian cuisine is an original mixture of Ottoman influences with Central European cuisine, to which is added the taste and flavour of local ingredients and spices. For example, the most popular Romanian dish, sarmale (cabbage rolls stuffed with mincemeat and rice), originates from Levantine cuisine, being also found everywhere in the Balkans or Central and Eastern Europe. The “Mici” – grilled minced meat rolls, also originate in Turkish cuisine, but to the original version, which contained only minced lamb, the Romanians added pork and beef, and lots of garlic.
In Transylvania there are a lot of German or Austro-Hungarian influences, a good example being the plum dumplings, which can be found all over the former Austrian-Hungarian empire, or the pork knuckle with pickled cabbage, a dish with a clear German origin.
Minced grilled meat – “Mititei or mici”
- Architecture. Romania is not the host of architectural wonders, but it is the place with a great diversity of style, another example of blending oriental influences with western European masterpieces. Transylvania is the place where Gothic buildings can be seen along with exponents of the Baroque and Art-Nouveau, among whom we have insertions of churches built in Byzantine-influenced styles. Oradea is called the city of Art-Nouveau, while Timisoara, the city in the extreme west of Romania is called “Little Vienna”. Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara are cities with a clear German influence, while the most famous castles in Transylvania are built in the Gothic style: Bran Castle (or Dracula’s Castle) and Corvin Castle.
Transylvania countryside is the region with a unique architectural phenomenon: the fortified churches, more than a hundred gothic churches with an original defense system, made of solid walls, towers, bastions, ramparts, moats, barbicans or battlements. Due to their originality, 7 of those churches are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Biertan fortified church
Another example are the painted monasteries in Bucovina, where we can see gothic elements mixed with byzantine elements to give birth to a new style: the Moldavian style. For this reason, 8 of those churches are can be found on UNESCO World Heritage list.
Bucharest is also a good exponent of diversified architecture: the buildings inspired by “la Belle Epoque” are laid around small Byzantine-inspired Orthodox churches, and just a few hundred meters distance, one can see the largest civil building in the world, built during the communist regime: The Parliament Palace.
The Parliament Palace in Bucharest
The easiest way to travel around a country is with the help of a local travel agency. Romania Guided Tours is a local tour operator based in Transylvania, which is organizing custom tours for private groups all over the country. The thematic of their tours is nature, rural life, culture and gastronomy and they can design a tailored itinerary for everyone planning to visit Romania.