Visiting Romania for the First Time
Last Updated on July 10, 2021
Before you head to the land of endless rolling hills, dramatic mountain ranges, and medieval towns that is Romania, there are a few things that are important to know. You’ll want to think about exactly how expensive travelling around Romania is, how safe the country is, the top places to visit in Romania, and even more besides. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Romania for the first time.
How to get to Romania
There is a surprising number of options to choose from when it comes to how to get to Romania. The most obvious is to take a flight from wherever you are. There are several airports in Romania, with the biggest and busiest being Henri Coanda International Airport, which is located in Otopeni, just on the northern edge of Bucharest. If you fly into this Bucharest airport, you’ll then need to take a taxi, Uber, or bus into the city centre. Uber is very affordable in Romania, and definitely your most quick and convenient option.
If you don’t want to fly into Bucharest, the cities of Cluj-napoca and Timisoara also have their own international airports, and they are the second and third largest cities of Romania, respectively. They’re also pretty far from one another, giving you three separate options for getting into Romania at different starting points.
Read more: 10 of the Best Cities in Romania to Visit
If you’d rather not fly, you can also get into Romania easily by train or by bus, given that Romania is bordered by five countries: Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, and Ukraine. A great option is to fly into Bulgaria and spend a little time exploring the capital of Sofia before getting a night bus to Bucharest. From one capital to the other, the journey takes around seven hours straight through the night.
If you’re looking to do a road trip across Europe, driving through Hungary and into Romania is a good option, and you can get to both Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara pretty quickly from the Hungarian border, depending on the direction you come from. There are also trains which take you all the way from Budapest to Bucharest, but the journey is more than a day long.
Is Romania safe?
The short answer is: yes. Admittedly, there is a lot of outdated information about the state of Bucharest. A few years ago, the capital had a serious issue with pickpockets, and travel guides would often warn travellers about protecting their pockets and keeping their purses close, but pickpocketing is not an issue in Bucharest anymore. It’s a very mellow and friendly city. And the rest of the country is even more so.
The only danger in Romania – and it is a big one – is the driving. But even that is mostly relegated to Bucharest. You’ll find more info about driving in Romania below, but suffice to say that driving in Bucharest can be dangerous. Drivers in the capital are hot-headed, overzealous, and aggressive. Even being in the back of an Uber can be very intense at times. Outside the capital, however, driving isn’t just safe: it’s an absolute pleasure.
As for other safety concerns like natural disasters, you needn’t worry there either. Romania experiences a major earthquake once every few decades, and the snowfall can be very intense in the dead of winter, but there are no real concerns for your average traveller. There is no extreme violence, gun crime, knife crime, or terrorism to worry about in Romania. It is, overall, a very safe and kind place to travel.
Read More: Is Romania Safe to Visit?
The history of Romania
Romania is a country whose history many of us learn little about, but it is nonetheless a deeply fascinating one. Across centuries and dynasties, Romania has been at the centre of wars, invasions, and dynatic tugs of war for power. The Romans, Ottomans, Persians, and Hungarians have all passed through Romania and left their mark on the nation’s language, architecture, art, fashion, and cuisine.
The most famous person in Romania’s history is, undoubtedly, Vlad Tepes, the man who inspired the myth of Count Dracula. Vlad’s father was Vlad Dracul of the Order of the Dragon, and Dracula simply means ‘son of the dragon’. Tepes himself was the ruler of Wallachia for a portion of Romania’s medieval period, and the reason for his ties to the vampire myth is tied to his love for impaling people on spikes as a form of torture and execution. The people of Transylvania took his bloodlust and turned it into propaganda, claiming he drank the blood of his enemies. And so the vampire myth was born.
Romania’s modern history is defined by its decades under one of the worst communist dictatorships of the 20th century. Nicolae Ceaușescu held Romania in his grasp for the second half of the 20th century, and only in recent years has the nation been able to restore its democracy and its economy, with the help of it gaining membership into the EU.
Romanian food will undoubtedly become one of the highlights of your trip, provided you dive right into it. Romania is a nation that has been massively influenced by the cuisines to its west and east, from Greek and Hungarian meats to Persian spices. This results in a culinary explosion of innovative and delicious foods.
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Romanian food is also very reasonably priced and, given how good it all is, there is no reason to pick the more expensive foreign foods over the local cuisine. The best example of this is scovergi, a very cheap pastry that makes for an ideal lunch item. Scovergi are sold by hole-in-the-wall street vendors, and they’re a large wrap of fresh, soft, warm pastry bound around cheese, garlic, sour cream, and other little details like olives and dill. They cost around $1 and fill you up for hours.
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Three must-try Romanian food items are sarmale (the national dish), mici, and papanasi. Sarmale are lumps of cabbage bound around pork meat and cooked with mouth-watering spices. Mici are skinless sausages traditionally eaten with liberal amounts of mustard. Papanasi are extravagant desserts made of doughnut batter, sour cream, and blueberry jam. They are the most guilty of desserts, and perfect vacation food.
When to visit Romania
Romania has something to offer visitors all year round. The best time to visit, however, is certainly the summer. Romania never gets unbearably hot, and it’s in summer when the flowers are in bloom, the roads are open and clear, and the skies are blue. That said, if you can’t visit Romania in the summer, every season has something to offer, from the blossoming flowers of spring to the vibrant colours of autumn.
Winter is perhaps the worst time to be visiting Romania, mostly due to the fact that the skies are permanently grey, the snow leads to a lot of road closures and cancelled road trips, and the nights are long. That said, visiting Bran Castle in the snow, or enjoying the Christmas markets and New Year celebrations in Brasov, is its own kind of special beauty. Romania is also known for its fantastic ski resorts, which are of course only populated during the winter.
So, there are reasons to visit Romania during every season. However, the countryside and the landscape are at their most beautiful and awe-inspiring during the summer months. This is also the time when the roads are dry and clear, and so a road trip can easily be taken wherever you wish to go. Summer in Romania offers the best opportunities for exploration and enjoying the great outdoors. But, if you do visit Romania in the winter, especially around Christmas and New Year, you’ll still find cool things to see and do.
Read More: Romania in the winter: is it worth it?
Prices in Romania
As mentioned when talking about food and taxis, prices in Romania are delightfully low. Even though it is an EU nation, Romania is still one of the cheapest countries in Europe to visit and travel in. In fact, houses in the quiet villages in Romania can be bought for as little as $10,000.
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Romania is certainly an affordable vacation. Uber and taxi prices are half of what you’d typically pay in the US or UK. Hotels and hostels are very reasonably priced, and whatever kind of hotel you would typically be able to afford in your home country could be upgraded in Romania. If you usually get hostels in the US, for example, you could have a private room for the same price in Romania.
Food, as previously mentioned, is very affordable in Romania, provided you mostly eat local food in local restaurants. Things like Starbucks and pizza are still UK and US prices, but the local fare is fantastic and affordable.
Driving in Romania
As already mentioned, driving in Romania can be divided neatly into two areas: inside Bucharest and outside Bucharest. The capital is renowned for being the most congested city in Europe. As such, driving in Bucharest is not fun. Traffic is a nightmare, especially in the early mornings during rush hour.
The result of this congestion is something even worse: aggression. Drivers in Bucharest are intensely aggressive, impatient, and intimidating. It is not a fun, nor even a safe, city to drive in. Getting an Uber or a taxi is the safer option because the drivers are experienced in Bucharest, but even then you may experience some moments of terror as it feels like your driver is taking your life into his hands.
There are some scary statistics when it comes to the sheer number of road traffic-related deaths in Romania, but the only really dangerous place to drive is Bucharest itself. When you’re in Romania’s capital, rely on your own two legs, the public metro, and the occasional Uber to get you from A to B.
Outside the capital, it is a whole other world. Driving in Transylvania is an absolute pleasure. While Bucharest is congested and aggressive, the open and quiet country roads of Transylvania are a dream to drive around. The people are calm and polite drivers, the roads are wide open, and the scenery is blissful. Driving outside of Bucharest isn’t only safe, it’s an absolute joy. Fuel is reasonably priced, renting a car is cheap and easy, and the country is big enough for you to just drive and drive for days. There’s nothing quite like a Romania road trip.
Read More: Planning Your Epic Romania Road Trip
Top places to visit in Romania
When you visit Romania, there are a few places that you absolutely must visit. While the country has so much to see and do, so many hidden gems, and so much beauty to discover on a long road trip, these are the top five places to visit in Romania.
Bucharest Old Town
Bucharest is Romania’s capital and largest city, so chances are high that you’ll be visiting and even basing yourself there. But it’s the old town in Bucharest’s centre that you absolutely must explore. This district is where you’ll find the crazy blend of architecture that makes Romania so unique. On one street you’ll find a Parisian style building; turn the corner and you’ll find a traditional Russian cathedral.
The other exciting aspect to Bucharest’s old town district is its selection of restaurants and culinary experiences. As already mentioned, Romania’s food is simply divine, and it’s in Bucharest old town that you’ll find the best variety of local dishes to try, as well as the best restaurants in the city, and therefore the country.
Read More: What to Do in Bucharest, Romania
Brasov is a historic town in the very heart of Romania, surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains. It is the culinary heart of Transylvania, and from this fantastic little city you can easily get to both Bran Castle and Rasnov Fortress in under an hour. This city is full of kind, helpful people, some lovely shopping opportunities, history buildings, and some really great food.
Read More: What to Do in Brasov, Romania
This is the castle that Bram Stoker describes in Dracula (even though it has little connection to Vlad Tepes himself). It is situated on a rock and overlooks the border between Wallachia and Transylvania. Inside and out, this is a gothic masterpiece full of gorgeous antiques and surrounded by rocky landscape and a sweet little village.
Read More: How to get from Brasov to Bran Castle
Birthplace of Vlad Tepes, Sighisoara is the most beautiful little town in Romania. It’s a hilltop fortress town of cobbled streets, an old belltower, some excellent cafes and restaurants, and the house where Dracula himself was born. As picturesque towns go, this is the very best one in all of Romania.
A dramatic hilltop fortress that dates all the way back to the 14th century. Rasnov Fortress is only a short drive from Brasov, and has been left almost entirely untouched since it was built. Views from the fortress span the entire valley where it sits, as well as the endless miles of mountain ranges and dense forest on either side.
Read More: A Handy Guide to Rasnov Fortress, Romania
Other Romanian articles you will love:
- 11 Incredible Things to Do in Timisoara, Romania
- 26 Unique Things to do in Romania
- Sibiu travel guide: Things to do in Sibiu, Romania
- 7 Castles in Transylvania That Will Blow your Mind
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