Things to Do in Romania
Sitting high on top of a 200-foot (61-meter) cliff in the middle of Transylvania, Bran Castle is surrounded by an aura of mystery tied to both the myth of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and the infamous Vlad Tepes—also known as Vlad the Impaler—who is said to have made Bran Castle his home. One of the world’s most famous castles, Bran Castle today is a museum dedicated to Queen Marie of Romania.
Built between 1873 and 1883, the neo-Renaissance Peles Castle (Castelul Peleș) was a summer getaway for Romanian royals. With 170 lavishly decorated rooms, the castle was equipped with the most modern conveniences of the time—electricity, elevators, and central heating.
Brasov’s most famous landmark, the monumental Black Church (Biserica Neagra) towers over Council Square (Piata Sfatului) and Brasov Old Town. Dating from the late 14th century, the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul got its name from the 1689 Great Fire, which damaged the church and much of the town.
Set nearly 400 feet (120 meters) below ground, the Turda Salt Mine (Salina Turda) was excavated for centuries before opening to the public in 1992. The subterranean, salt-encrusted chambers now host a Ferris wheel, mini golf, table tennis, an amphitheater, and a boating lake.
If you’re in Bucharest, it’s impossible to miss the massive Palace of Parliament which dominates the city center and contains more than 1,000 rooms. Built under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, this opulent edifice is now one of Bucharest’s most popular tourist attractions and home to the National Museum of Contemporary Art and more.
Sitting on a mountain cliff overlooking the Arges River, the Poenari Castle (Cetatea Poenari) is best known for its connection to Vlad the Impaler, said to be the inspiration for the fictional Dracula. Now partially in ruins, the castle was first built in the 13th century and came under Vlad the Impaler’s control in the 15th century. Legend has it that Vlad’s first wife committed suicide rather than be taken hostage by the Ottoman Turks. She allegedly threw herself off one of the castle walls into the river below, turning the water red. The river is now referred to as the Lady’s River.
The castle was eventually abandoned and an earthquake in the 19th century destroyed the northern section. It sat in ruins until 1970, when the Romanian government decided to open it to tourists, building more than 1400 steps into the rock of the mountain to allow visitors to climb up to the castle. Walkways and handrails have also been installed to allow for easier movement throughout the ruins.
First built in 1878 as a wooden monument to mark Romania’s Independence, Bucharest’s Arcul de Triumf (Arch of Triumph) has long been one of the city’s most memorable landmarks. Although rebuilt again after WWI, the current Arch of Triumph is the work of architect Petru Antonesc, reconstructed in granite in 1936, and decorated with sculptures by Romanian artists like Constantin Medrea, Constantin Baraschi and Ion Jalea.
Towering 27-meters over the intersection of Kiseleff road, Mareșal Alexandru boulevard and Alexandru Constantinescu street, the monumental arch now marks the entrance to Bucharest’s Herăstrău Park. Still a poignant reminder of Romania’s independence, it’s the site of military parades and celebrations on Romania's National Day (Dec 1st), and an internal staircase also allows visitors to climb to the top, looking out over the busy boulevards below.
Founded in the early 16th century, the Curtea de Arges Monastery is one of the most important pilgrimage and prayer sites in Romania. A Romanian Orthodox cathedral sits on the grounds of the monastery that also dates to the 16th century. Built with pale gray limestone in a Byzantine style, it features Moorish arabesques and an interior covered with murals by French painters Nicolle and Renouard and Romanian painter Constantinescu. The monastery is also home to numerous relics and a gospel written in gold by Queen Elizabeth of Romania, as well as the graves of Kings Ferdinand and Carol I and Queens Elizabeth and Maria.
The monastery is tied to several local legends, including the legend of Master Manole, who is said to have sacrificed his wife and his own life to complete the building of the monastery. Another legend relates to the holy relics of Saint Filofteea, a 12-year-old girl who was killed by her father after giving food to beggars.
Also called the Brancovan Palace, the Mogosoaia Palace was built at the end of the 17th century by Constantin Brancoveanu. The building combines elements of both Venetian and Ottoman architecture, creating a style often referred to as “Brancovenesc.” Located just 10 kilometers from Bucharest in the village of Mogosoaia, it has been a museum since 1957 and is one of the most important tourist sites in the area. The palace is part of a vast complex that includes a guesthouse, watchtower, kitchen, vault, ice house, green house, church, and beautiful gardens.
Today, visitors can tour parts of the palace or visit a museum featuring Brancoveanu style art. Exhibitions of paintings or textiles are often staged in the palace as well.
Arguably the most beautiful building in Bucharest, the Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Rôman) is the city’s foremost concert hall and a source of national pride, with an elegant Doric-colonnaded façade topped with a pediment and cupola. It was designed in Neo-classical style by French architect Albert Galleron and opened in 1888 to great acclaim; the great Romanian conductor George Enescu debuted his ‘Romanian Poem’ here in 1898. The lobby of the concert hall is an opulent, almost Art Nouveau triumph of ornamental gilding supported by arched, pink marble columns that lead off to a series of twisting marble staircases leading up to the concert hall. The circular auditorium seats 652 under a fabulous domed ceiling richly ornamented in scarlet and gold and fringed by frescoes by Costin Petrescu depicting important events in Romanian history; it is world-famous for the clarity of it acoustics and is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, who offer a full program of classical and chamber concerts as well as performing in the celebrated George Enescu Classical Festival, one of the biggest cultural events in eastern Europe.
More Things to Do in Romania
Bâlea Lake (Lacul Bâlea)is a glacial lake in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains. Sitting at more than 2,000 meters high, it is one of the most popular lakes in Romania. Most visitors are drawn to the lake for the landscape and superb views on the drive there; the water is typically too cold for swimming. Two chalets are open near the lake all year round, but it is most easily accessed in the summer months. In the winter, visitors must ride the cable car from the chalet near the Balea waterfall to get there. In 2006, the first ice hotel in eastern Europe was built nearby using blocks of ice pulled from the frozen lake.
Famous enough to feature on the UK motor showTop Gear but remote enough that traffic jams won’t be a problem, Transfagarasan Highway might just be “the best road in the world” as Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson claimed. Despite hairpin bends, and sheer drops off rocky cliffs, this route rewards tourists with spectacular scenery.
Located in the heart of old Brasov, Council Square*(Piata Sfatului)* is lined with beautiful Gothic, baroque, and Renaissance buildings. Home to a number of key landmarks, Brasov’s main square has been a focal point of life in the city since medieval times. It’s a popular gathering place and a great spot to soak up the scenery.
Built between 1211 and 1225, this medieval fortress was originally constructed from wood and erected to protect Transylvanian villages from outside invasions. The impressive structure was later transformed into a stone dwelling where locals sought refuge from outsiders.
Visitors can tour the grounds, which include two courts, several forts and a gallery, as well as a courtyard, school and chapel. The citadel is also home to the feudal art museum, where weapons, tools, stamps and local crafts are on display.
This vast national park is one of Romania’s most important protected land areas. Home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the Garofita Pietrei Craiului—a purple flower found only in Piatra Craiului—the open spaces, majestic mountains and towering trees here beckon travelers seeking refuge from city streets and urban centers.
A diverse network of well-kept trails means outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of places to wander. And landmarks like the Zarnesti Gorges, Dambovicioara Cave and the virgin forests offer spectacular access to some of the country’s most beautiful natural wonders. An easy educational trail details the park’s most unique features, while the brown bear observatory and rock faces perfect for climbing offer opportunities for travelers going it with an expert guide.
Those in the know say the park’s northern and eastern valleys tend to get crowded on weekends. Those looking for a quiet retreat should stick to the areas between Podul Dambovitei and Static, near Lake Pecineagu, were fewer people gather on Saturday and Sunday.
Taking centerstage in Bucharest’s Old Town, Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei) is located along the central boulevard of Victoriei Street and has long been at the forefront of the city’s historic events. Originally named Palace Square (Piața Palatului), Revolution Square earned its current moniker after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, and remains one of the city’s principal landmarks and navigational hubs.
For first-time visitors, the grand square is undeniably impressive, framed by ornate buildings and crowned by the towering Memorial of Rebirth – a 25-meter-high marble pillar erected in the center of the square, in memory of the victims of the Revolution. Other important monuments on the square include the neoclassical Royal Palace, now home to the National Museum of Art; the Romanian Atheneum, a domed concert hall dating back to the 19th century; and the former headquarters of the Romanian Communist Party, where Nicolae Ceausescu famously addressed the crowds for the final time, before fleeing by helicopter. Also around Revolution Square are the University library, the sprawling Palace of Parliament and statues of Iuliu Maniu and Carol I of Romania.
White Tower, built in the late 15th century by the Saxons as a part of defensive fortifications against invading Turks and Tartars is a 5-story, semicircular tower sitting atop a steep hill. The tower overlooks the city of Brasov. Climb 200 steep stone steps to the White Tower for panoramic views over the city.
Built in the late 1890s and opened at the turn of the 20th century on one of Bucharest’s main boulevards, the CEC Palace (Palatul CEC) was designed by French architect Paul Gottereau and the construction of this fine Beaux Arts masterpiece was overseen by Romanian architect Ion Socolescu. Designated to be the HQ of Romania’s oldest savings bank, Casa de Economii și Consemnațiuni (CEC) and located opposite the National History Museum of Romania, it is a monumental mansion topped with five cupolas; the central one stands over the grandiose, colonnaded entrance and is made of glass and steel. The palace is slated for transformation into an art museum and was sold to the city council for more than €17.75 million in 2006; while plans are drawn up the CEC Bank rents it back from the council but its sumptuous, marble-clad interior – much of which was covered over in Ceaușescu’s time – is no longer open to the public.
With its towering limestone cliffs looming 300 meters over the river valley below and the gorge itself dotted with caves, gurgling streams and rocky trails, the Turda Gorge (Cheile Turzii) offers a dramatic backdrop for an outdoor adventure. The protected conservation area is also renowned for its abundant wildlife, with over 60 bird species and 1,000 plant varieties found in the gorge.
Just a short drive from Cluj-Napoca, the Turda Gorge makes a popular escape from the city, with ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and climbing, including a Via Ferrata route and a two- to 2.5-hour hiking trail running the length of the gorge. Another highlight of the gorge is the nearby Salina Turda, a former salt mine transformed into a unique tourist attraction, complete with underground boat rides and a Ferris wheel.
Founded in the late 14th century, Snagov Monastery (Manastirea Snagov) sits on an islet in Lake Snagov, just a couple kilometers north of the village by the same name. The monastery is best known as the burial place of Vlad the Impaler, who provided the inspiration for the fictional Dracula. However, the island also once housed the coin minting facility of the medieval principality Wallachia and was considered one of the most important printing houses in southeastern Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Whether or not he ultimately came to rest at the monastery, Vlad the Impaler was strongly connected to it, building fortifications around the monastery in the 15th century, as well as a bell tower, new church, a bridge to the mainland and a prison and torture chamber. The remains of the prison can still be seen behind the present day church and frescoes from that era are visible inside the church. Vlad’s alleged grave can be found inside the church toward the back.
The Sinaia Monastery was built in the mid-1800s and is home to only about 20 monks. Still, the ancient church, ornate gates and dimly glowing candles are all worth a look, and the quiet but well-kept museum located on the grounds houses some impressive artifacts—including the first Bible translated into Romanian. Travelers can wander the grounds, loop through museum galleries and explore the tomb of Tache Lonescu, where quotes from his famous speeches are carved into stonewalls. Travelers say the walk to Sinaia Monastery is beautiful and the grounds are full of history. It’s the perfect addition to a visit to Peles Castle, which is located just up the road.
Eastern Europe’s foremost open-air museum was opened in 1936 and presents a collection of more than 60 historic rural buildings from across Romania and of different eras, all carefully reassembled in 15 hectares of parkland on the shores of Lake Herăstrău in Bucharest. Featuring farms, churches, windmills, wooden cottages, cow sheds, and farm machinery from remote districts such as Moldavia, Hunedoara and Transylvania, each building at the National Village Museum (Muzeul Satului) is painstakingly labeled with its exact geographical and cultural provenance and accompanied by a multi-lingual commentary on its original use, building up an accurate picture of rustic village life in a Romania before the advent of Communism. Highlights include earth houses from Straja and cheerily painted, shuttered houses from Tulcea, as well as the 35-meter (115-foot) belfry of the wooden church from Maramureş, embellished with faded icons on its interior. Making a wonderfully family-friendly day out, the museum has a souvenir store, a range of eating options from stalls selling candy to a restaurant in a 19th-century inn, and regular displays of traditional crafts such as weaving and winemaking.
Iasi is the largest city in eastern Romania, located near the border with Moldova. It has long been known as a leader of cultural, academic and artistic life in Romania and even served as the capital of the country from 1916 to 1918. Settlements in the area date back to the prehistoric age and the name of the town was first seen in records in the early 15th century, although many buildings still stand in the city that pre-date that. Iasi is home to the oldest Romanian university, the oldest and largest botanical garden in the country and the Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre, the oldest theater in Romania.
Iasi also has a strong religious heritage, with nearly a dozen monasteries and 100 historical churches in the city and the surrounding area. Iasi was once home to more than 127 synagogues and its Great Synagogue dates back to the 17th century, making it one of the oldest in Europe. Iasi’s Armenian Church was built in 1395 and its Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest orthodox cathedral in Romania.
Also of interest to visitors are the Natural History Museum and four museums housed within the Palace of Culture: Moldavia’s History Museum, the Ethnographic Museum of Moldavia, the Science and Technology Museum and an art museum. The Moldova State Philharmonic and the Opera House are sure to be draws for music-lovers.
Once marking the entrance to the fortified city and home to the Town Council, Sighisoara’s grand Clock Tower dates back to the 14th century and remains one of the city’s most memorable landmarks. Looming 64 meters over Piața Muzeului, the tower’s most distinctive feature is its 17th-century clock, complete with mechanical figurines that symbolize Peace, Justice, Law, Day and Night.
Today, the Clock Tower is home to a fascinating local history museum, with exhibitions spread over the tower’s three floors and reached by the original narrow stairwell. Artifacts on display include Romanian furniture, medieval tools, medical equipment, old clocks and traditional handicrafts. Visitors can also take a peek at into the clock’s mechanism and climb to the top-floor observation platform for a view over the city.
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- Things to do in Sighisoara
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- Things to do in Western Romania
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- Things to do in Iasi
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- Things to do in Black Sea Coast