Romania and Transylvania travel guide, including map of Romania, top Romania travel experiences, tips for travel in Romania, including wildlife watching
Few countries divide the beens from the haven’t-beens quite so sharply as Romania.
For distant observers, the country conjures up a grim trio of images: vampires, communism and orphanages. Those who have visited, though, know the truth: that this is one of Europe’s most beautiful, unspoilt and culturally fascinating lands – a time-capsule only now opening up to the outside world.
The great central region of Transylvania is Romania’s green heart, ringed by the Carpathian mountains and home to bears, wolves, wooden villages and traditional shepherd camps. Dracula’s mythic homeland is in fact an Eden for walkers, wildlife lovers and history buffs, and holds many clues to lifestyles long-lost elsewhere in Europe.
To the north lies the even more isolated, forested region of Maramures – little changed for centuries until the fall of communism. To the east is the buzzy university city of Timisoara, where the revolutionary spark was lit in 1989; while to the south are the shimmering plains of Wallachia and the sinuous wetlands of the Danube Delta – perhaps Europe’s top birdwatching destination.
Now part of the EU, Romania is undoubtedly modernising fast – Bucharest recently acquired a Ferrari dealership – but throughout the country, a precious cultural heritage endures. Communism may have spread its usual concrete fungus across towns and cities, but rural life remains slow-paced and seasonal. Whether you’re interested in Gypsy music, Saxon festivals, Ukrainian churches or nomadic shepherding, in Romania you can still see it in action.
The fight to preserve these traditions is one reason why those who visit Romania tend to become passionate advocates, returning again and again. Go and see what you’re missing.
- Go bird-watching in the Danube Delta - Europe’s greatest wetland is the Unesco-listed home to migrating pelicans, white-tailed eagles and ibises (among some 300 species)
- Spend Halloween in Transylvania – Sighisoara medieval citadel is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaller, aka Dracula – what better place to spend Halloween than at one of the parties organized in the citadel?
- Hike the Carpathian mountains – Romania’s chunk of the Alps is a raw walkers’ paradise, with knife-edged ridges, wildflowered meadows and shepherds camping in the high pastures
- Visit the painted monasteries of Bucovina, featuring vivid late medieval frescoes
- Go bear-spotting in Transylvania – Romania has around 40% of Europe’s brown bears: spot them scavenging on the city fringes or from hides deep in the forest
- Explore Transylvania’s Saxon villages – between Brasov, Sibiu and Sighisoara lie a scatter of German-speaking villages, some (such as Unesco-listed Viscri and Biertan) with unique medieval fortified churches
Take bears seriously – they can run up to 35mph and kill a cow (let alone you) with one cuff. Watch from a hide with an expert guide: naturalist and tour leader Danut Marin is a former winner of the Wanderlust World Guide Awards.
Travel in Romania: vital statistics
- Capital of Romania: Bucharest
- Population of Romania: 22.2 million
- Languages in Romania: Romanian, Hungarian, and Romany
- Time in Romania: GMT+2
- International dialling code in Romania: +40
- Voltage in Romania: 230V 50hz
- Visas for Romania: Romania visas
- Money in Romania: Romanian Leu (RON). ATMs are widely accessible and accept all major credit/debit cards.
- Romania travel advice: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Romania tourist board: Romania Tourism
When to go to Romania
May and June are best for wildflowers, migratory birds and walking. High summer (July and August) can be stiflingly hot. In winter the Carpathians are prime territory for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – and wolves are easier to track.
Bucharest Henri Coanda International Airport (OTP, 16km north of the capital); Sibiu in southern Transylvania (SBZ, 3km west of the city); Traian Vuia International Airport near Timosoara, in the far west (TSR,) Cluj-Napoca International Airport (CLJ) in northern Transylvania.
Getting around in Romania
Car hire is a good option: rural roads are often spectacular, though also potholed and shared with horses and carts. The main firms have desks at Bucharest airport. Romania’s rail network is extensive and cheap. Shared maxitaxis are also widely used: ask locally for departure points.
Hotels run the usual gamut, with the plushest options in Bucharest and on the Black Sea coast. Village homestays offer a cheaper and more distinctive experience – look out for signs reading ‘cazare la particular’ or ‘camere de inchiriat’. You can also stay in Saxon villages in Transylvania and wooden homes in Maramures – a unique sleep for you, and a lifeline for these historic but evaporating communities. Book through the Mihai Eminescu Trust
Romania food & drink
Expect hearty portions of meat-and-carbs, pancakes or stews, followed by belt-snapping cakes. Try mamaliga – a polenta-like mash – and unpasteurised sheep’s cheese. The best Romanian wines (especially the southern Merlots) are excellent and deserve more recognition. At 50% proof, the national firewater tuica (plum brandy) is unlikely to be forgotten.
Health & safety in Romania
No jabs are required. Rabies is a minor risk from stray dogs – seek immediate help if bitten. Take sunscreen in summer and a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for emergency care.