Despite being overlooked and even reviled by Westerners for many decades, Romania is fast becoming one of Eastern Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Romania enchants visitors with its epic mountain landscapes, stunning painted monasteries and the ancient Saxon towns of Transylvania. However, ask anyone what first comes to mind when they think of Romania, they’ll probably say ‘Dracula’. Go ahead and visit Bran Castle, the setting that may have inspired Bram Stoker’s vampire lore, but there’s much more to Romania than just Vlad the Impaler. Here are 11 things to check out in this underrated country.
1. Ski in Poiana Brasov
Poiana Brasov, located near the town of Brasov, is Romania’s premier ski resort. Ideal for beginners in particular, the skiing season typically runs from December until March, and lessons are very affordable compared to most skiing venues elsewhere in Europe. The village is located about 3,300 feet above sea level, and it is easy to get a bus there from Brasov, which is about 8 miles away.
2. Explore the Bucovina Monasteries
In the Moldavia region of northeastern Romania, near the border of Ukraine, are the spectacular painted monasteries of Bucovina. With some of the country’s most picturesque historical treasures, the region includes eight well-preserved monasteries exemplifying the very best of Byzantine architecture from the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of the monasteries are skill functioning today.
3. Visit Sibiu
Sibiu is one of Romania’s best-preserved and important cultural and historic centers. In 2007, it won the prestigious European Capital of Culture award and, as such, the historic heart of the city has been extensively renovated. Much of the original fortifications surrounding the city remain intact, and other sites include the Grand Square, the Orthodox Cathedral and the Evangelical Church.
4. Hike in the Carpathians
Stretching through Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary and Poland, the beautiful Carpathian Mountains are a paradise for hikers and skiers alike. The mountains are also home to the largest populations of wolves, bears and even lynxes as well as almost a third of all plant species found on the continent. The Romanian Carpathians are also home to the second-highest peak in the range, reaching over 8,300 feet.
5. Camp in the Danube Delta
One of the largest river deltas in Europe, the Danube Delta is a mecca for bird watchers, campers, hikers and any other nature lover. Most of the region is located within Romania, though a small part of it extends into the Odessa region of Ukraine. The territory is a World Heritage site, and it is one of the most visited places in Romania. However, you might want to avoid the summer months due to the large number of mosquitoes.
6. Enjoy the Black Sea Resorts
Romania’s Black Sea coast has long been a popular holiday area. The largest city in the region is Constanta, which also serves as the country’s main port city. Romania’s coast stretches from the Danube Delta to the Bulgarian border, and the most popular resort is Mamaia. Another popular destination, and one which is particularly famous for its nightlife scene, is the town of Vama Veche.
7. Go Back in Time in Alba Iulia
A small historic city located in the western reaches of Transylvania, Alba Iulia and the surrounding area is famous for its stunning fortifications. The most impressive site is the 18th century baroque fortification, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The site is also home to a catholic cathedral and a large museum. Other important sites near the city include the ancient towns of Aiud and Calnic, both of which feature historic and photogenic fortresses.
8. Party in Bucharest
Historically, Bucharest earned the nickname ‘Little Paris’, owing to its elegant architecture and world-class cultural scene. However, former communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to bulldoze much of the historic center to make way for the vast edifice that has become the Palace of Parliament. As a result, the city has earned a reputation for its ugliness, but it is undoubtedly one of the best places for nightlife in southeastern Europe.
9. Take a Road Trip Down the Transfăgărășan
Featured in the British TV series Top Gear, the Transfăgărășan is a 56-mile mountain road affording some of the most spectacular views in the country. It starts in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu and extends to Pitești in the Wallachia region. However, parts of the road are often closed during the winter due to the enormous amount of snow. There are many sites on the way, including the Poienari Castle, the historic residence of legendary Vlad the Impaler.
10. Walk around Peleș Castle
Although only completed a bit over a century ago, Peleș Castle is one of the most beautiful fairytale chateaux in Europe. The Neo-Renaissance castle is located in the majestic surroundings of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, and it features extensive landscaped gardens, impressive murals and a magnificent courtyard and terrace. Various other buildings, including the Foisor Hunting Lodge and the Royal Stables, also belong to the complex.
11. Sure, Check Out Dracula’s Castle Too
Perched atop a 200 foot rock, this famed fortress features turrets, towers and underground passages that give it an intimidating aura. Don’t think that Vlad Tepes, the bloodthirsty ruler of Walachia, ever lived here, though. In fact, Bram Stoker, the Irish author of Dracula never visited here either. However, it does sort of fit the description of the mythical home, so some believe descriptions of it may have helped inspire the writer. Who knows, and who cares, really. It’s still a spooky-fun place to explore when in Romania.