Characterised by dark forest, medieval villages,and gothic castles, Romania is a mesmerising destination; withseven UNESCO-listed monuments, magnificent landscapes, as well as avivid culture, visiting Romania is truly an adventure.
The country has slowly emerged from the effects ofrepression under communism, and is rapidly regaining its identityas a popular tourist destination with plenty to offer theinternational traveller. Exploring Romania is certainly rewarding,with the names of attractions alone evoking a certain charm - whocould resist finding out more about mysterious Transylvania, theliterary home of mythical monsters.
The country's geography is diverse: frommountains, rolling hills, and rural farmlands to white sandybeaches and resorts along the Black Sea Coast. Dotting the naturallandscape are rustic villages where local people live much as theyhave done for the past 100 years. There is an abundance ofreligious architecture - including the exquisitely paintedmonasteries of Bucovina - with ancient churches and cities burstingwith history. The capital city, Bucharest, is re-inventing itself,its damaged architecture slowly being restored to its originalglory. It has elegant restaurants, a revitalised nightlife, andcultural attractions that are becoming integral to its newimage.
The mix of quaint medieval towns and castles, drabcities striving for Western modernism, and the diverse rurallandscape seemingly untouched by modern history, offers afascinating kaleidoscope. Romania appeals to visitors because it isso unique: it has one foot firmly placed in the past, while theother is stretching forward in an effort to keep up with theprogress of the modern world.
Romania has myriad sightseeing attractions on offer. Visitorscan marvel at the many medieval villages and castles throughout thecountry, such as Brasov or Bran Castle, visit the museums or feasttheir eyes on the brilliant old architecture of the cities.
Bucharest's National History Museum is certainly a must when inthe capital, and for those who admire architecture as well ashistory, a trip to the Stavropoleos Church and Monastery, as wellas the Palace of Parliament, will keep visitors enthralled forhours. Tourists should definitely include a visit to the VillageMuseum on their list of things to do in Romania. The museum offersvisitors a walk back in time with the multitude of open-airexhibits on display.
Romania also has a number of festivals and events happeningthroughout the year, which are always full of fun and festivity,and offer visitors the opportunity to experience local culture atits best. Visitors can also choose to step back into the MiddleAges at the Sighisoara Medieval Festival or watch some of the toplocal and international films at the Bucharest International FilmFestival. For serious music-lovers the Europafest, Bucharest's maincultural event, attracts artists, performers and festival goersfrom across the globe to the capital for a few nights of fun andgood music.
Finally a trip to Romania would not be complete without a visitto the beautiful UNESCO Heritage sight of the PaintedMonasteries.
Built by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, thecolossal Palace of Parliament is the largest civilianadministrative building in the world. It is an immense structurethat took 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build, and costbillions. It has 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 328 foot-long (100m)lobby, and four underground levels including an enormous nuclearbunker.
Started in 1984, the dictator intended it to be theheadquarters of his Communist Government, but it was stillunfinished when he was executed in 1989. Today it houses the seatof Romania's Parliament (which occupies only 30 percent of thebuilding) and is an international conference centre. Widely viewedas a personification of his obsession with the grandiose andexcessive, the construction entailed the demolition of a quarter ofBucharest's historic centre, including 26 churches, and therelocation of 40,000 inhabitants from their 19th century homes tonew developments on the outskirts.
Built and furnished exclusively from Romanianmaterials, the building reflects the work of the country's bestartisans. A guided tour takes visitors through a small section ofdazzling rooms, huge halls and quarters used by the Senate (whennot in session). The interior is a luxurious display of crystalchandeliers, mosaics, oak panelling, and marble, gold leaf andstained glass windows, and even the floors are covered in richcarpets. The largest room has a sliding roof wide enough for ahelicopter to enter. Tour guides delight in recounting tales of thevast amounts of money that went to waste in decorating andre-decorating its rooms.
One of Bucharest's finest sights is the VillageMuseum, situated within the Herastrau Park alongside a picturesquelake. It is a fascinating outdoor museum with a collection thatspans more than 300 buildings representing the history and designof Romania's rural architecture, including peasant homes, barns,wooden churches, and Transylvanian houses from all regions of thecountry to recreate a village setting.
Traditionally dressed peasant workers portray lifeduring the 16th and 17th centuries along with everyday tools andaccessories. Traditional crafts are also for sale around thesite.
The tiny but remarkable Stavropoleos Church was builtin 1724, designed by a Wallachian prince renowned for his religiousarchitectural accomplishments, and is one of the oldest churches inBucharest. Built using a combination of Romanian and Byzantinearchitecture, the beautiful façade and a delicately carved columnedentrance, give but a taste of the beauty that lies within.Surrounded by a peaceful garden, it is an architectural jewel, withintricate frescoes and religious icons.
Attached to the church is Stravropoleos Monastery.The Monastery specialises in Byzantine music and has an impressivechoir and Romania's largest collection of Byzantine music books.The monastery's library contains more than 8,000 books, including asignificant number of old manuscripts and printed works.
Housed in the former 1900 Post Office building is oneof Bucharest's most important museums, the National History Museum.Spread throughout 41 rooms, the exhibits recount the country'sdevelopment from prehistoric times to the 1920s.
Located inside the former Postal Services Palace, themuseum is housed next to a philatelic museum, housing hundreds ofthousands of historic stamps. Interestingly, the museum had to beclosed briefly for reconstruction in 2012 when a late-medievalarchaeological site was discovered under the building.
The highlight is the basement National Treasury,which is crammed with a dazzling display of gold, jewellery, andvaluable Neolithic curios. It is the biggest and best museum in thecountry and affords an excellent opportunity to get to grips withthe exciting history of Romania.
Often referred to as Dracula's Castle, the fortifiedmedieval Bran Castle is a national monument and landmark ofRomania. Looking exactly as a vampire count's abode should, theforbidding façade, towers, and ramparts rise out of the forest,perched high on a steep cliff face against a dramatic mountainbackground. Despite its aesthetic, there is little evidence tosuggest Vlad Tepes, the speculated inspiration for Dracula, everstayed there.
Bran Castle was built in 1377 to protect nearbyBrasov from invaders, later becoming the favourite summer residenceof Queen Marie, offered to her by the people of Brasov. The roomsand towers surround an inner courtyard with a sculpted stonefountain. A warren of narrow, winding stairs, secret chambers, andunderground passageways lead between vaulted halls, a prison, aliving area, and watchtowers with sweeping views.
The rooms are decorated with a collection of Baroquefurniture, elaborately carved four-poster beds, weapons and armourdating from the 14th to 19th centuries. On the grounds below is anopen-air ethnographic Village Museum consisting of old local-stylearchitecture with household objects, costumes, and furniture ondisplay. At the entrance to the castle grounds is a largehandicraft market to entice tourists with souvenirs from thefantastical castle.
The quintessential fairy tale castle, complete withturrets and surrounded by forests, the neo-classical Peles Castlewas the summer residence for Romania's kings. Built by King Carol Iin 1883, the castle is a masterpiece of German-Renaissancearchitecture with an exquisite exterior, and emerges from firforests and the towering peaks of the Carpathian range.
The castle's 160 rooms are magnificent; lavishlydecorated in ebony, mother of pearl, walnut, and leather withcrystal chandeliers, fine collections of sculptures, paintings andtapestries, and stained glass windows and furniture. It is setwithin a large park with a statue garden in front. Further up thehill from the main palace is the smaller Pelisor Palace, built forCarol I's son and decorated in the Art Nouveau style.
The 15th century painted monasteries of SouthernBucovina have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, theyrepresent some of the greatest artistic monuments in Europe and areamong the most picturesque treasures in Romania. Most of thechurches are fortified with strong defensive surrounding walls asprotection against Turkish invaders that sheltered large armies ofsoldiers awaiting battle.
The exterior walls of the monasteries are richlydecorated with vivid frescoes depicting dramatic Biblical scenes,intended to teach Christianity to the illiterate. The artwork hasamazingly survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450years and the intense colours have been well preserved. The fivemain painted monasteries near Suceava are Humor, Voronet,Moldovita, Sucevita, and Arbore. The predominant colour of theartwork at Voronet is a vivid blue that serves as a background tothe designs.
The quality of the frescoes, the magnificent LastJudgement and the brilliant colour has earned it the moniker of'Sistine Chapel of the East'. Humor is characterised by itspredominant red colour; and the largest and finest of themonasteries, Sucevita, has its thousands of painted images on abackground of emerald green. Moldovita, situated in the middle of aquaint farming village, consists of a strong fortified enclosurewith towers and heavy gates, with the beautiful painted church inthe centre. Also nearby are Dragomirna and Putna monasteries, thelatter home to an active community of monks and a small museumcontaining medieval manuscripts and rare textiles.
Sighisoara is a beautifully preserved medieval town,renowned as the birthplace of 'Dracula', or Vlad the Impaler. It isalso a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven fortifiedtowns founded by the Saxons in the hills of Transylvania. Thehilltop citadel dominates the town with the original medievalsettlement enclosed within the fortress walls, surrounded by ninesurviving towers.
Within the old town, the narrow cobbled streets andsteep alleyways, brightly-painted, lopsided houses, ancientchurches, stone archways, and covered stairways are watched over bythe striking Clock Tower, the control tower of the main gate withmagnificent views over the whole town and countryside. At the footof the Clock Tower is the simple yellow building where Vlad wasborn and lived with his father, Vlad Dracul, and is marked by ahanging wrought-iron dragon. It now houses a restaurant withmedieval furnishings.
The ancient cobblestone street that passes beneaththe Clock Tower leads to the lower town, and although shabbier thanthe citadel, it has some interesting little shops where 'VampireWine' and locally made products can be bought. There are alsolively markets here and pretty stone squares where townsfolk gatherto chat animatedly about daily affairs. Every year in July the townis host to the Sighisoara Medieval Festival, one of Romania'sbiggest and most popular festivals.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Tâmpa, is the charmingmedieval town of Brasov, one of the seven fortified towns settledby the Saxons, with a distinct Germanic flavour to its history andculture. The Saxons built massive stone walls and seven bastionsaround the city that are still visible today, as well as ornatechurches, elaborately trimmed buildings, and a fine central squarethat is said to be where the legendary Pied Piper led the childrenof Hamlin.
Lining the square are the red-roofed merchant'shouses, now occupied by cafes and shops surrounding the15th-century Old Town Hall, home to the History Museum. The town'slandmark is the impressive Gothic structure known as the BlackChurch, so named because a fire blackened its outer walls in 1689.The interior represents the quintessential East European church,with balconies, stained glass windows, an enormous organ, stonecolumns, and walls adorned with fabulous Turkish carpets. Manypeople use Brasov as a base for visiting the nearby attractions ofDracula's Castle at Bran, as well as Râsnov Castle and the skiresorts of Sinaia and Poiana Brasov.
Romania has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons.Spring and autumn are cool and pleasant, making May and June, andSeptember and October the best months to visit. Summers are hotfrom July to August and winters are harsh and very cold betweenDecember and March, with snow falling throughout most of thecountry. Spring and summer are the wettest seasons, but rain can beexpected throughout the year. Temperatures in winter are an avergaeof 23 °F (−5 °C) and are an average of 73.4 °F (23 °C) insummer.
The Leu (RON) is the official currency, which is divided into100 bani. Money can be exchanged at banks, international airports,hotels, or authorised exchange offices (casa de schimb or birou deschimb valutar). ATMs are available at large banks, airports, andshopping centres in cities. American Express, MasterCard, and Visaare accepted in the main cities. It is recommended to travel withsome cash in case of difficulty using credit cards.
Romanian is the official language, but English will beunderstood in Bucharest and other tourist areas.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Two-pinEuropean-style plugs are standard.
United States nationals require a passport valid for threemonths beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals with passports endorsed 'British Citizen' requirepassports valid for period of intended stay, but no visa. Britishpassports with other endorsements require either validity forperiod of intended stay, or three months validity beyond period oftravel; all British passport holders are entitled to visits of atleast 90 days visa-free within a 180 day period. UK nationals whoare not British citizens are advised to check the specificrequirements applicable to their status.
Canadian nationals require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond period of intended stay, but no visa for stays of up to 90days within a 180 day period.
Australian nationals require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond period of intended stay, but no visa for stays of up to 90days within a 180 day period.
South Africans require a passport valid for three months beyondperiod of intended stay and a visa to enter Romania. Holders of avalid Schengen visa, or holders of a short stay visa issued byBulgaria, Croatia, or Cyprus do not require a visa to enter Romaniafor a stay of up 90 days within a 180 day period. South Africantemporary passports are not accepted by the Romaniangovernment.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for period of intendedstay, but no visa is required.
United States nationals require a passport valid for threemonths beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond period of intended stay, but no visa for stays of up to 90days within a 180 day period.
Visitors must hold all documents required for further travel,onward or return tickets, sufficient funds for the period of stay,and proof of reserved accommodation. It is highly recommended thatpassports have at least six months validity remaining after yourintended date of departure from your travel destination.Immigration officials often apply different rules to those statedby travel agents and official sources.
Medical facilities in Bucharest are good, but poor in thesmaller towns and basic medical supplies are often in short supply.There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EUcountries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-costemergency medical treatment on presentation of a European HealthInsurance Card (EHIC), but travel health insurance is stronglyadvised. There have been a number of Hepatitis A cases in Romaniaand visitors are advised to seek medical advice about inoculationsbefore travelling. Tap water is safe to drink, although bottledwater is widely available. Stray dogs carry rabies and should beavoided.
Tipping is becoming increasingly common in Romania, and is nowexpected in all restaurants and bars. A service charge is oftenincluded in restaurant bills but a further 5 to 10 percent tip isexpected. Though it is not always necessary to tip them, taxidrivers can be rewarded for good service.
Visitors should take normal safety precautions in Romania; keepvaluables safe and be aware of pickpockets and scam artists inmajor cities. Corruption is rife and visitors should be cautious ofpolicemen demanding fines for spurious offences, or asking to seedocuments as a way of stealing cash; if approached in this wayvisitors should offer to go with them to the nearest police stationbefore handing over any money or documents. Valuables, includingpassports, should not be left in hotel rooms, or near the window ofa hotel room when you are there.
It is illegal to change money on the streets. Homosexuality,although legal, is frowned upon. A small and still largely closetedgay scene exists in the Romania's largest cities, particularly inBucharest, which has a few gay clubs. Photography at airports isforbidden.
Business can be quite bureaucratic and old-fashioned. Thecountry adheres to an imbedded hierarchical structure and often itis the eldest who receive the most respect in business and socialmeetings. It is important to address each person according to theirtitle followed by their surname; 'Domnul' for Mr. and 'Doamna' forMrs. Romanians prefer a face-to-face approach and like tostrengthen personal relationships. Appointments should be made inadvance and confirmed. Although the visitor is expected to bepunctual the host may be late to arrive. Meetings are often quiteformal and a general 'Western' set of old-world manners applies.Business suits are appropriate for meetings. Romanians dislike anovert display of achievement or exaggerated conversation. Businesshours are generally 9pm to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour takenat lunch.
The direct dialling country code for Romania is +40, and theoutgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g.0044 for the UK). There are numerous area codes applying to cities,towns and villages, for example (0)21 for Bucharest. Free wifi isavailable at cafes, hotels and restaurants. Public phone cards canbe bought from kiosks, post offices and some tourist offices. Alocal SIM card can be purchased as a cheaper alternative to usinginternational roaming for calls.
Travellers to Romania do not have to pay duty on either 40cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. 2 litres of spirits, 16litres of beer, 4 litres wine, and gifts to the value of US$450 arealso duty free. Valuable goods, such as jewellery, art, electricalitems, and foreign currency should be declared on entry.
Romanian Tourist Office, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 314 9957 orwww.romaniatourism.com
Embassy of Romania, Washington DC: +1 202 332 4829
Embassy of Romania, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 76029833
Embassy of Romania, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3709.
Embassy of Romania, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 4606941.
Embassy of Romania, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6286 2343.
Embassy of Romania, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 668 1150
Consulate of Romania, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 4766883.
United States Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 200 3300.
British Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 201 7200.
Canadian Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 307 5000.
South African Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 313 3725.
Australian Embassy, Belgrade, Serbia (also responsible forRomania): +381 (11) 330 3400.
Irish Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 310 2131.
New Zealand Embassy, Brussels, Belgium (also responsible forRomania): +32 (0)2 550 1221.