We spent four weeks traveling through mysterious Romania. A country mainly known for Dracula and witchcraft also has breathtaking fairytale castles and a rich heritage. Every region is so inherently unique that you could identify it by its landscape and the designs of embroidery on textiles! And if you are a road trip aficionado, then Romania should be at the top of your list.
On our journey through Romania, we visited Bucharest, Brasov, Cluj-Napoca, and Timisoara. Even though Timisoara is one of the largest cities in Romania, it is often overlooked. That’s because it’s located in the western part of the country, closer to Hungary and Serbia, and off the well-trodden tourist trail. But since we were arriving from Belgrade, Serbia (link), it fit our itinerary perfectly and was the ideal place to ease into our Romanian adventure. Read on to find out why Timisoara might be your favorite city to visit in Romania.
Vibrancy of Timisoara
Timisoara’s tucked-away location means that this city is spared from mass tourism, but we expect not for long. Locals consider it a university city that produces many architects, and rightfully so! It boasts a specific style of art, nouveau and baroque, called secessionist architecture that originated in Vienna, hence Timisoara’s nickname, “Little Vienna.” Every building delights the eye and begs to be photographed. The café culture also does the nickname justice, by the way!
Timisoara has all the culture of Bucharest (future link) minus the commotion capital cities bring. So much so that the city was designated to be the next European Capital of Culture in 2023, there will be a series of ongoing cultural events for an entire calendar year.
What to Do in Timisoara
The best time to visit Timisoara is between spring and summer when the flowers bloom in its many parks and flowerbeds. They line the pathways and visually embody the bold spirit of the city that carries a second nickname, “the city of flowers.”
Roses Park, near the Bega river, is the best place to head to for a fairy-like experience. As you stroll through flower arrangements and hundreds of different types of roses, you eventually arrive at the open-air theater in the center of the park. We were lucky to catch a Folk Festival with traditional dances, music, and costumes during our stay. Make sure to check the event schedule ahead of time!
Explore the Three Squares
The downtown area of Timisoara is easily identifiable as it is shaped like a circle in the heart of the city. That’s because, in the Middle ages, it used to be a fortress surrounded by defensive stone walls. Luckily, a portion of the wall is still preserved and can be visited at the Maria Theresia Bastion.
The city center, predominantly a pedestrian zone, consists of three main squares, and while it is ideal for exploring the city on foot, there is a charming old tram system too. The squares are in close proximity to each other, connected by lanes peppered with cafes and art galleries.
To get to the boulevard-like Victory Square (Victoriei) from Liberty Square (Piata Libertatii), just follow the colorful umbrella street. You won’t miss it! Union Square engages your senses with vivid colors and the grandeur of the Orthodox Cathedral at one end and the Romanian Opera House at the other. Unfortunately, the Opera House was under restoration during our visit, but we would’ve loved to enjoy a performance in the concert hall where the murals are inspired by Romanian history and fairytales.
Union Square (Piata Unirii) is the epitome of Timisoara’s architecture, full of colorful buildings that are perfect for photos. This square is also home to Brück House, a 1910 building in art nouveau style, subsnamed after its architect. As you take in your surroundings, don’t forget to look up! You’ll notice eyelid windows on the rooftops, which were originally meant for ventilation purposes.
Street art is a predominant part of Timisoara culture, which includes impressive murals and paintings rather than the chaotic tagging often observed in larger cities. Stroll through Strada Marasesti near Liberty Square, the streets around Union Square, and from the Orthodox Cathedral towards the Bega river to enjoy the local art scene. We loved seeing all the sculptures sprinkled around the city and in the parks.
Expect to do a lot of walking and leisurely people-watching. We recommend a free tour when you first arrive to understand the history and culture better as you make your way through the city.
Visit the Orthodox Cathedral
Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is the focal point of Victory Square. It immediately draws attention with its unusual colors and mosaic. Its eleven towers are just as impressive inside as outside, with the central tower reaching 90.5 meters in height.
Spend the Afternoon at the Museums
Timisoara was the first city in Romania to become free from communism. The revolution sparked there and reached Bucharest in only six days leading to the overthrow and execution of the communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu! In honor of these brave people and their revolutionary spirit, the Museum of the 1989 Revolution was erected. It is a must-visit to learn about the history of this boisterous city.
We also recommend visiting the Communist Consumer Museum, which looks like an apartment filled with artifacts and takes its visitors back to the communist era. It portrays how ordinary people used to live during that difficult time. Be sure you check out our video below for a humorous clip of this museum!
Take a Trip to the Sculpture of Decebalus
Romania is the ideal size for taking road trips with gorgeous sights sprinkled all over the country. One of these impressive spots is located near the town of Orsova, about three hours away from Timisoara. If you have the time, we promise it’s worth the effort!
Near this town, on the border with Serbia, the Danube river boasts its deepest shades of blue. A boat tour along the river will take you to the monumental rock sculpture of Decebalus. The face of the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Romans for Romania’s independence, is carved into the cliff-like formation. It’s a historical location and an impressive sight you won’t forget!
Around the area, you will find river-facing boutique loges if you fancy spending the night and waking up to a spectacular view.
Where to Eat in Timisoara
Turkish and Greek cuisines influenced Romanian food. Some traditional must-tries include Covrigi, a pretzel-like standard Romanian breakfast on the go. Sarmale, sour cabbage rolls stuffed with meat, resembling a dish straight out of a grandmother’s kitchen like at Casa Bunicii. And a Romanian BBQ staple, mici, grilled ground meat, can be sampled in generous portions at Nora Restaurant.
Surprisingly, Romania is one of the world’s largest wine producers, and the best wine can be found at Recas Winery. You can visit the winery for a tasting held in the cellars dating back over 50 years.
Romanians take pride in their beers, especially the beer brewed at the local Timisoreana Beer Factory. It is a reputable brewery among the locals and is considered a city symbol. We enjoyed an afternoon beer and snack here.
Where to Stay in Timisoara
We stayed in one of the best places in Timisoara, city center called Cetate. Staying on Union or Victory Square will be a safe bet, with proximity to Timisoara’s best cafes and sights. However, if you are looking for a quieter spot, then Circumvalatiunii might be a better choice. It is a residential area outside the city center but close to the gardens.
Timisoara took us by surprise! It is pretty progressive for such an underrated city, probably due to its revolutionary history and bold character. We started our travels in this city to truly appreciate the spirit of the revolution from communism and the brave efforts of the local people.
This city will daze you with vivid colors, have you reaching for your camera at all times to capture its photogenic facades, and transport you to your childhood Disney fantasies. And with the upcoming cultural events in Timisoara, there is no better time to pay a visit to this hidden gem of Romania.