If there is but one certainty right now, it’s that it is difficult to predict anything, except that I will return to Romania again and again! I’ve thought of an almost-perfect itinerary that would enable me to visit my favourite places again and to discover places that were closed this time because of Covid or the touristic low season. Here is this itinerary for you now and hopefully it will be helpful for some future holidays.
Little note from the author: these are dots to be connected together as you wish! In general, the road network is very well connected and all roads are open between May and October.
As far as cities are concerned, I really liked Cluj for its buzzing atmosphere; Alba Iulia for its Roman remains; Sighisoara and Sibiu for their charming old cities perched in citadels; and Bucharest of course for the historical communist side! I can’t wait to discover Timisoara next time, and to finally be able to visit the Parliament Palace in Bucharest 🙂
Because of its rather unique side, I would immediately mention the Delta of the Danube. Although we’re rather adepts of improvising during this trip, the delta is not an easy place where to improvise! It’s better to find out in advance about the times and even the days when the boats run, what accommodation is available, etc…
Romania is extremely mountainous so there are many national parks to hike in (especially on sections of the Transcarpathian path) and beautiful valleys to discover such as the Bistrita or the Bicaz Gorges. We were in Romania at the time when everything was covered in snow so we can’t really testify about the state of the trails but I’m not sure that they are always very well marked (unlike the mountain bike routes which are very well indicated)! Romania also has a lot of biodiversity: bears, wolves, lynx, bisons, etc.
Next time I’m in Romania, I’ll go and see the mud volcanoes of Berca! And the Danube Iron Portal on the Romanian side (cf. article about Serbia).
Apart from the thousands of monasteries (the word is used for both convents and monasteries in the Orthodox religion) and churches, there are many other sites of interest. I would highlight here the Sighetu museum dedicated to the victims of communism, which is still the only one of its kind at the moment. The salt mine of Turda or the joyful cemetery of Săpânța are original places to spend an hour or two, and next time we will take the steam train of Viseu de Sus and visit the archaeological site of the ancient Dact capital city of Sarmizegetusa. Finally, visiting one (but no more!) anthropology museum (in Cluj, for example) may be interesting to visit to get a glimpse of the diversity of Romanian local costumes and traditions.
The most beautiful roads
Just to point out here that the two emblematic roads of the Carpathians, the Transalpina (the highest and oldest road in the Carpathians because it is 2.145m high and was built in the 2nd century by the Romans) and the Transfăgărășan, are closed from October to April/May because of snow. It is a must for our next visit ! (Photo stolen from romania-insider as we couldn’t go there ourselves)
GO ON a roadtrip or radiate around a point?
Romania lends itself quite well to roadtrip as the road network is well developed and there is plenty of accommodation available in the main and secondary towns. However, there are some areas which we found to be more suitable for a “thematic circuit” to provide a deeper cultural immersion rather than landscape exploration – such as the Maramures region or the Transylvanian castles area. I will gladly return to spend a few nights in Maramures, sleeping in a village like Breb and radiating around it to see typical villages, taste the local cuisine, visit the local attractions as well as dozens of monasteries, and so on. As for Transylvania, to choose from, I would take an accommodation in Sighisoara, in the old town, to be able to radiate from the Corvin Castle to the Bran Castle.
On the other hand, cyclo-tourism is developing a lot in Romania and we have seen some long distance travellers on road bikes as well as several signs indicating mountain bike routes.
Among the culinary specialities to be tested are the “sarmales” or stuffed cabbage rolls, the “mămăliga” or polenta that we have already mentioned before, soups of beans or any other vegetable (ciorba from ţărănească) or even tripe soup for the adventurous (ciorba from burtă), the “mititei” or small grilled beef sausages, the “plăcinta” are herb or cheese puff pastry, and finally a small variety of cheeses! And on the dessert side, we liked the “papanasi” – a kind of doughnut with fresh cream and blueberry jam. And of course you should not forget to taste the local alcohols (afinata and pálinka), always with moderation of course!
And finally, some eclectic “anti-advice”:
- The plains between Targu Neamt and Iasi are very flat and a typical cliché of agricultural collectivization with nothing else but fields in view and huge silos, but there is not much else to see there.
- The city of Targu Jiu also doesn’t offer much unless you are a fan of the sculptor Brancusi.
- In Cluj, don’t confuse the anthropology museum with the history museum! The History museum is not very well translated and has been under renovation for a few years now, apparently not much has been made of it.
- The Black Sea coast south of the Danube delta has been intensely urbanised and can be disappointing for those looking for white sand beaches for instance.
- Bucharest can easily be visited in 3 days / 2 nights. We visited the history museum which houses (oddly enough) the toy museum, a reconstruction of the Trajan column and the national treasure. It was free and surprising but not necessarily a priority if the Parliament Palace is open for example 🙂
- I would prefer accommodation in the homes of locals, in agri-tourism for example, to fully appreciate the hospitality of Romanians, or accommodation in the hyper historical centres to avoid the bars of concrete buildings and residential areas where dozens of dogs bark all night long. A night for 2 on Airbnb or Booking.com costs on average 25e in accommodation with private kitchen and bathroom.
- Train or car? Trains offer the advantage of rarely following the roads and therefore give access to natural and not very accessible landscapes without the hassle of a car in city centres. However, it is true that the rail network is less developed than the road network and that the car remains very practical. If you rent a car on the spot, however, you should pick the integral insurance package as the secondary roads are poorly maintained. And if you come with your own car, you must buy the vignette online before entering the territory.
- The last one is a real piece of advice – forget all the preconceived ideas you may have about Romanians! Romania is historically a very Francophile country and the Romanians with whom we spoke are often worried about the unfavourable image that their country may have with us, and in particular about the Roma/Romanian amalgams.
I really strongly advise to go to this country one day, for all these landscapes and above all for the welcome that Romanians show, which is simply fantastic! And of course, keep me informed if you go to Romania and you have new recommendations ! 🙂
– This article was updated on April 17th with new recommandations –