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Characterised by dark forest, medieval villages, and gothic castles, Romania is a mesmerising destination in the heart of central Europe. Its seven UNESCO-listed monuments, magnificent landscapes, as well as a vibrant culture are just some of the ingredients that make Romania an unforgettable adventure.
The country has slowly emerged from the effects of repression under communism, and is rapidly regaining its identity as a popular tourist destination. Exploring Romania is certainly rewarding, with the names of attractions alone evoking a certain charm. Who could resist discovering more about mysterious Transylvania, the literary home of mythical monsters?
The country's diverse geography includes mountains, rolling hills and rural farmlands, as well as white sandy beaches and lavish resorts along the Black Sea Coast. Dotting the natural landscape are rustic villages where local people live much as they have done for the past 100 years. There is an abundance of religious architecture â€' including the exquisitely painted monasteries of Bucovina â€' and many of Romania's cities are bursting with history. The capital, Bucharest, is reinventing itself, its damaged architecture slowly being restored to its original glory. It has elegant restaurants, a revitalised nightlife and cultural attractions that are becoming integral to its new image.
Romania's mix of quaint medieval towns and castles, drab cities striving for Western modernism, and timeless rural landscapes make it a dream destination. Romantics and history buffs in particular will be pleased with what they encounter; the country has one foot firmly placed in the past, while the other is stretching forward in an effort to keep up with the progress of the modern world.
Romania has myriad sightseeing attractions on offer. Visitors can marvel at the many medieval villages and castles throughout the country, such as Brasov or Bran Castle, visit the museums or feast their eyes on the brilliant old architecture of the cities.
The National Museum of Romanian History is certainly a must when in the capital. Those who admire architecture and history should make sure to add a trip to the Stavropoleos Church and Monastery, and the Palace of Parliament to their itinerary. The Village Museum is highly recommended too, as it will transport tourists back in time with the multitude of open-air exhibits on display.
Romania also has a number of exciting festivals and events happening throughout the year, which offer visitors the opportunity to experience local culture at its best. Visitors can choose to step back into the Middle Ages at the Sighisoara Medieval Festival or watch some of the top local and international films at the Bucharest International Film Festival. For serious music-lovers, the Europafest, Bucharest's main cultural event, attracts artists, performers and festival goers from across the globe to the capital for a few nights of revelry and excellent music.
Finally, a trip to Romania would not be complete without a visit to the beautiful UNESCO Heritage site of the Painted Monasteries.
Built by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the colossal Palace of Parliament is the third-largest civilian administrative building in the world. Visitors often marvel at what is an immense structure that took 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build, and cost billions. It has 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 328 foot-long (100m) lobby, and four underground levels including an enormous nuclear bunker. Started in 1984, the dictator intended it to be the headquarters of his Communist Government, but it was still unfinished when he was executed in 1989. Today it houses the seat of Romania's Parliament (which occupies only 30 percent of the building) and is an international conference centre. Widely viewed as a personification of his obsession with the grandiose and excessive, the construction entailed the demolition of a quarter of Bucharest's historic centre, including 26 churches, and the relocation of 40,000 inhabitants from their 19th century homes to new developments on the outskirts.
Situated within the Herastrau Park alongside a picturesque lake, the Village Museum is one of Bucharest's finest sights and one of the best open-air museums in central Europe, attracting visitors from far and wide. The fascinating institution has a collection that spans more than 300 buildings and represents the history and design of Romania's rural architecture, including barns, peasant homes and wooden churches from all regions of the country. Traditionally dressed peasant workers wield everyday tools and accessories, and portray life during the 16th and 17th centuries, making the village setting seem even more real for visitors. Traditional crafts are also for sale around the site.
Well worth a visit is the tiny but remarkable Stavropoleos Church which was built in 1724, and is one of the oldest churches in Bucharest. Built using a combination of Romanian and Byzantine architecture, the beautiful façade and a delicately carved columned entrance give but a taste of the beauty that lies within. Surrounded by a peaceful garden, it is an architectural jewel, with intricate frescoes and religious icons. Attached to the church is Stravropoleos Monastery. The Monastery specialises in Byzantine music and has an impressive choir and Romania's largest collection of Byzantine music books. The monastery's library contains more than 8,000 books, including a significant number of old manuscripts and printed works.
Housed in the former 1900 Post Office building and another favourite among tourists is one of Bucharest's most important museums, the National History Museum. Spread throughout 41 rooms, the exhibits recount the country's development from prehistoric times to the 1920s. A philatelic museum shares the former Postal Services Palace with the National History Museum, and contains thousands of historic stamps. Interestingly, the museum had to be closed briefly for reconstruction in 2012 when a late-medieval archaeological site was discovered under the building. The highlight for visitors is the basement National Treasury, which is crammed with a dazzling display of gold, jewellery and valuable Neolithic curios. It is the biggest and best museum in the country and affords an excellent opportunity to get to grips with the exciting history of Romania.
Often referred to as 'Dracula's Castle', the fortified medieval Bran Castle is a national monument and landmark of Romania. Looking exactly as a vampire count's lair should, the forbidding façade, towers and ramparts rise out of the forest, perched high on a steep cliff face against a dramatic mountain background. Despite its aesthetic, there is little evidence to suggest Vlad Tepes, the speculated inspiration for Dracula, ever lived there. Bran Castle was built between 1377 and 1388 to protect nearby Brasov from invaders. The rooms and towers surround an inner courtyard with a sculpted stone fountain. A warren of narrow, winding stairs, secret chambers and underground passageways lead between vaulted halls, a prison, a living area and watchtowers with sweeping views. The rooms are decorated with a collection of Baroque furniture, elaborately carved four-poster beds, weapons and armour dating from the 14th to 19th centuries. A fascinating site, visitors should have this near the top of their Romanian to-do list.
The quintessential fairytale castle, complete with turrets and surrounded by mystical forests, the neo-classical Peles Castle was the summer residence of Romania's kings, and makes for a highly popular tourist attraction. Built by King Carol I in 1883, the castle is a masterpiece of German new-Renaissance architecture, its exquisite form framed by fir forests and the towering peaks of the Carpathian range. The castle's 160 rooms are lavishly decorated in ebony, mother of pearl, walnut, and leather, with crystal chandeliers, fine collections of sculptures, paintings and tapestries, and stained-glass windows and furniture. It is set within a large park with a statue garden in front. Further up the hill from the main palace is the smaller Pelisor Palace, built for Carol I's nephew and heir, and decorated in the Art Nouveau style.
The 15th century painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, and represent some of the greatest artistic monuments in Europe â€' certainly a must for serious history buffs. Among the most picturesque treasures in Romania, most of the churches are fortified with strong defensive surrounding walls, which once provided protection against Turkish invaders. The exterior walls of the monasteries are richly decorated with vivid frescoes depicting dramatic Biblical scenes, intended to teach Christianity to the illiterate. The artwork has, amazingly, survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450 years and the intense colours have been well preserved. The five main painted monasteries near Suceava are Humor, Voronet, Moldovita, Sucevita and Arbore.
Sighisoara is a beautifully preserved medieval town, renowned as the birthplace of 'Dracula', or Vlad the Impaler. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven fortified towns founded by the Saxons in the hills of Transylvania. The hilltop citadel dominates the town, with the original medieval settlement enclosed within the fortress walls, surrounded by nine surviving towers. Visitors will love exploring the old town, with its narrow cobbled streets and steep alleyways, brightly-painted lopsided houses, ancient churches, stone archways and covered stairways, all of which are watched over by the striking Clock Tower. At the foot of the Clock Tower is the simple yellow building where Vlad was born and lived with his father, Vlad Dracul. Marked by a hanging wrought-iron dragon, it now houses a restaurant with medieval furnishings.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Tâmpa is the charming medieval town of Brasov which, being one of the seven fortified towns settled by the Saxons, has a distinct Germanic flavour to its history and culture. The Saxons built massive stone walls and seven bastions around the city that are still visible today, as well as ornate churches, elaborately trimmed buildings, and a fine central square that is said to be where the legendary Pied Piper led the children of Hamlin. Lining the square are the red-roofed merchant's houses, now occupied by cafes and shops surrounding the 15th-century Old Town Hall. The town's landmark is the impressive Gothic structure known as the Black Church, so named because a fire blackened its outer walls in 1689. Many tourists use Brasov as a base for visiting the nearby attractions such as Dracula's Castle at Bran, Râsnov Castle and the ski resorts of Sinaia and Poiana Brasov.
Known as the 'Pearl of the Carpathians' for its beautiful mountain scenery, Sinaia is nestled in the Prahova valley, surrounded by the snow-covered peaks of the Bucegi Mountains. It is also the setting for Peles Castle, a beautiful creation in the German new-Renaissance style, and considered to be one of the finest castles in Europe. With the construction of the castle as a summer residence for King Carol I, the little hamlet became an exclusive aristocratic resort and today is filled with holidaymakers who come to walk or ski in the mountains. The Sinaia Monastery behind the Orthodox Church has a small museum displaying some of the town's treasures, including a beautiful 1668 bible translated into Romanian using the Cyrillic alphabet. The resort also boasts a 17th-century monastery with original frescoes, and the small Pelisor Palace.
Romania has a temperate-continental climate with four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn are cool and pleasant, making May and June, and September and October the best months to visit. Summers are hot from July to August and winters are harsh and very cold between December and March, with snow falling throughout most of the country. Spring and summer are the wettest seasons, but rain can be expected throughout the year. Temperatures in winter are an avergae of 23 °F (−5 °C) and are an average of 73.4 °F (23 °C) in summer.
The Leu (RON) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 bani. Money can be exchanged at banks, international airports, hotels, or authorised exchange offices (casa de schimb or birou de schimb valutar). ATMs are everywhere and give 24-hour withdrawals; international credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops in cities and large towns.
Romanian is the official language, but English will be understood in Bucharest and other tourist areas.
The electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Two-pin European-style plugs are standard.
US nationals: United States nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: UK nationals with passports endorsed 'British Citizen' require passports valid for period of intended stay, but no visa. British passports with other endorsements require either validity for period of intended stay, or three months validity beyond period of travel; all British passport holders are entitled to visits of at least 90 days visa-free within a 180 day period. UK nationals who are not British citizens are advised to check the specific requirements applicable to their status.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South Africans require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay and a visa to enter Romania. Holders of a valid Schengen visa, or holders of a short stay visa issued by Bulgaria, Croatia, or Cyprus do not require a visa to enter Romania for a stay of up 90 days within a 180 day period. South African temporary passports are not accepted by the Romanian government.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for period of intended stay, but no visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Visitors must hold all documents required for further travel, onward or return tickets. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months validity' remaining after their intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Medical facilities in Bucharest are good, but poor in the smaller towns and basic medical supplies are often in short supply. There is a reciprocal health agreement with most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but travel health insurance is strongly advised. After Brexit, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK citizens. The GHIC allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance. There have been a number of Hepatitis A cases in Romania and visitors are advised to seek medical advice about inoculations before travelling. Tap water is safe to drink, although bottled water is widely available. Stray dogs might carry rabies in remote regions and should be avoided.
Tipping is becoming increasingly common in Romania, and is now expected in all restaurants and bars. A service charge is often included in restaurant bills but a further 5 to 10 percent tip is expected. Though it is not always necessary to tip them, taxi drivers can be rewarded for good service.
Visitors should take normal safety precautions in Romania, such as keeping valuables safe and being aware of pickpockets and scam artists in major cities. Corruption is less rife these days, but visitors should be cautious of policemen demanding fines for spurious offences, or asking to see documents as a way of stealing cash. If approached in this way, visitors should offer to go with them to the nearest police station before handing over any money or documents. Travellers should not leave valuables, including passports, in hotel rooms, or near the window of a hotel room when they are not there.
It is illegal to change money on the streets. Homosexuality, although legal, is frowned upon. A small and still largely closeted gay scene exists in the Romania's largest cities, particularly in Bucharest, which has a few gay clubs. Photography at airports is prohibited.
Business can be quite bureaucratic and old-fashioned. The country adheres to an imbedded hierarchical structure and often it is the eldest who receive the most respect in business and social meetings. It is important to address each person according to their title followed by their surname; 'Domnule' for Mr. and 'Doamna' for Mrs. Romanians prefer a face-to-face approach and like to strengthen personal relationships. Appointments should be made in advance and confirmed. Although the visitor is expected to be punctual the host may be late to arrive. Meetings are often quite formal and a general 'Western' set of old-world manners applies. Business suits are appropriate for meetings. Romanians dislike an overt display of achievement or exaggerated conversation. Business hours are generally 9pm to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.
The direct dialling country code for Romania is +40, and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). Free wifi is available at cafes, hotels and restaurants. A local SIM card can be purchased as a cheaper alternative to using international roaming for calls.
Travellers visiting Romania from outside the EU do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. Two litres of spirits, 16 litres of beer, 4 litres wine, and gifts to the value of US$430 are also duty free. Those arriving from inside the EU do not have to pay duty on 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars or 1 kg of tobacco, 10 litres of spirits, 110 litres of beer, and 90 litres of wine.
Romanian Tourist Office, Bucharest: www.romaniatourism.com
Embassy of Romania, Washington DC: +1 202 332 4846.
Embassy of Romania, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7937 9666.
Embassy of Romania, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3709.
Embassy of Romania, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6286 2343.
Embassy of Romania, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 460 6941.
Embassy of Romania, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 668 1150.
Romanian Honorary Consulate, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 21 359 266.
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.
Australian Embassy, Belgrade, Serbia (also responsible for Romania): +381 (11) 330 3400.
South African Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 313 3725.
Irish Embassy, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 310 2131.
New Zealand Embassy, Brussels, Belgium (also responsible for Romania): +32 2 512 1040.
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