We spent one month traveling through Romania, a country brimming with medieval charm and a delightful mishmash of architecture. It’s a country of preserved traditions, Europe’s last virgin forests, and 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, with numerous cultural treasures hidden en route. Still unspoiled by mass tourism, it offers a more affordable taste of Europe. We are thrilled to share our travel guide to Romania, with many amazing things to experience beyond vampire myths.
Best Time to Visit Romania
Romania can be enjoyed in different ways throughout the seasons. In September, the autumn colors put on a stunning show, and the days are still warm and long. This is an ideal time to go hiking in the Carpathian Mountains. January and February are the best for winter sports and wild animal tracking. When everything starts to bloom in April, you can also learn about local Easter traditions. Summer months are the hottest of the year with temperatures sitting at around 84°F (29°C), but forests and cities are lusciously green, and the days are extra long.
How to Get Around in Romania
We started our Romanian adventure in Timisoara, followed by Cluj-Napoca and Brasov, and finished in Bucharest. This itinerary worked out well as we were arriving from Belgrade, Serbia, and moving on to Bulgaria. We got to see Romania’s major cities and use them as our base to venture out on day trips to towns and villages nearby. You could explore the same way we did or flip the itinerary as there is an international airport in Timisoara too.
There are a few options for moving between cities depending on the pace you enjoy traveling at and your duration of stay. The country is well connected by trains and buses, which are affordable, and pass through scenic routes, especially in Transylvania.
The train system hasn’t seen major improvements since the 60s, but that adds charm to your journey. That also means they are slow, and you may be looking at a train ride upwards of 6 hours. If you are spoiled for time, tuck into a good book and maybe even opt for a first-class ticket, which is a bargain! Keep in mind that there are two types of trains – InterRegio stops only in major cities, and Regio stops nearly at every station.
Flying will be a better option if you want to save travel time between cities for adventures and sightseeing. For example, you can get from Cluj to Bucharest in only 45 minutes instead of 10 hours by train, and flights are also very inexpensive.
Romania is the dream destination for road trip aficionados. So, if you’ve been longing for unspoiled wilderness and remote villages, exploring by car will let you get to places otherwise inaccessible to public transport. Spoiler alert! The world’s best driving road is located in Romania.
How to Get Around Romanian Cities
As you explore the larger cities, like Bucharest and Cluj, you can get around by taxis, lovely trams or rent bicycles. But otherwise, Romanian cities are completely walkable, especially if you find accommodation close to the main squares.
Top Cities to Visit in Romania
Revolutionary Spirit of Timisoara
Timisoara is often overlooked by tourists, tucked away in the western part of Romania, off the standard tourist itinerary. The vibrant town gets its nickname “Little Vienna” from the secessionist architecture style that originated in Vienna. The best places to explore Timisoara’s architectural variety are the three main squares – Victory, Liberty, and Union. Union Square is surrounded by hilarious buildings with eyelid-like windows on the roofs that make you feel like you are being watched.
Timisoara makes for an ideal start to your trip because it’s a cultural hub and the birthplace of the 1989 Revolution that spread through the country in only six days and liberated Romania from communism. On a day trip, you can go to Romania’s very own Mount Rushmore with only one face. The Sculpture of Decebalus, carved into the rock above the blue Danube river, depicts the face of the last king of Dacia, who defended Romania against the Romans.
Cluj is the fastest developing city in Romania, nicknamed Silicon Valley for its leading IT industry. The history, innovative projects, and energetic atmosphere make Cluj stand out. Aside from numerous quirky and hip dining options, the city is green with parks to explore, hills to climb, fortifications to conquer, and a creepy paranormal forest to hike called Hoia.
The real reason you should come to Cluj is to visit the bewitching Corvin Castle and the World’s Happiest Cemetery. Both sights are about two and a half hours away from Cluj, so we rented a car for two days. We drove past rolling hills that reminded us of Pennsylvania, except they were dotted with haystacks. Nevertheless, there was never a dull moment with farmers riding in horse-drawn carriages, flocks of sheep with shepherds, and women in ornate traditional head scarfs. Observing Romanian slow-living made the time fly by.
On the way to the Merry Cemetery, we stopped along the winding roads between Surdesti and Bred for crisp alpine blueberries.
A grandson’s promise…
Since we’ve come so close to Ukraine, we decided to cross the border in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei. Although quick, it was profoundly moving and exciting for John, knowing he was living out his grandfather’s dream to return to his homeland. When his grandfather left in 1914 just before the Russian Revolution, he promised his family that he would return. He never did. We hope to return one day and find relatives.
One of our viewers sent us the picture on the right showing the bridge when the war broke out in Ukraine. The Romanians in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei lined the bridge with toys and balloons so the children fleeing the war could choose a toy to take along with them to their new home. After having learned about the Romanian Revolution in 1989 as we traveled, we thought how fresh their own war struggles must have been to be so kind to their neighbors!
Brasov is one of the most visited cities in Romania. It’s central and easily accessible and the place most people visit for Dracula’s Castle, also known as Bran Castle, which is linked with the Dracula novel. But Brasov’s preserved medieval constructions, equal parts mesmerizing and eerie, are also worth exploring as well as its own Hollywood sign on the Tampa mountain over the city.
While staying in Brasov, ensure to drive up the Transfagarasan Road, an impressive road with hairpin turns and stunning views. Top Gear dubbed this “The Best Driving Road in the World.” But it also acts as a monument for the people who died working on this project, commissioned by Romania’s communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Remember that the road is usually only accessible during the summer, so double-check before going!
Bucharest has a turbulent past from which it is still trying to recover, transform and rebuild, which gives the city a resilient character. Walking around the squares and Old Town, you can capture the striking array of architectural styles. Especially Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which earned Bucharest the nickname “Little Paris.”
Catapult in time into rural Romanian villages in the heart of Bucharest at the Village Museum. And then take in the grandeur of the Parliament Palace. The second largest building in the world and another resource drain commissioned by Nicolae Ceausescu. If you are curious to see how this self-proclaimed Carpathian Genius used to live, pay a visit to his opulent Mansion, which is open to visitors.
Romanian Foods you Must Try
Romanian cuisine has traces of Turkish and Greek influences but has a character of its own. The dishes are very hearty and will fuel you for all your activities! Here are a few local dishes you must try during your stay:
Covrigi is a standard Romanian breakfast on the go that looks like a pretzel but may come in other shapes and with fillings. Take-away coffee in one hand and covrigi in the other is a typical morning sight, especially in Bucharest.
Sarmales are sour cabbage rolls stuffed with meat that make a filling main course when accompanied by micis, grilled ground meat fingers that resemble kebabs.
For dessert, try papanasi, cheese-filled doughnuts topped with cream and jam. And pair your meal with local Romanian wine or beer, or try palinka, local plum brandy.
We started our journey with little expectations but with curious minds, which is all you need for Romania to unravel its rich history for you. It is a safe, warm, and welcoming destination with genuine people who care about preserving their traditions. So, we recommend experiencing it before the word spreads and the crowds grow. Read our in-depth guides on each city to help with your planning, and feel free to ask us questions in the comments below!