On 1 December 2018, Romania will celebrate its centennial anniversary. To mark this moment on my travel blog, I am publishing a two-part article containing 100 reasons why you should visit Romania, my home country.
Though everyday life here can sometimes seem tedious to me, I recognize and appreciate the fact that I was in born in a country with so many natural beauties. And, despite recent-history events from the political sphere, I still believe that my home country is a place you (or anyone!) should come to. So here are the first 50 reasons why I believe you should visit Romania.
1. The Danube Delta
To the South-East of Romania, at the border with Ukraine and, for a very brief length, the Republic of Moldova, the Danube finishes its journey into the Black Sea. The river forms a delta when splitting into three arms: Chilia, Sulina and Saint George (Sfântu Gheorghe). On the little ground left in-between, humans live a simple life, depending on fishing and tourism to make a living. There is much to see in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, from beautiful carpets of waterlilies and luxurious vegetation, to colonies of migratory birds and various fish. The Danube Delta is not only the home of over 360 bird species and more than 45 fish species, but also that of the wild horses in the Letea Forest.
2. Măcin Mountains National Park
Not far from the Danube Delta, in the Dobrogea region of Romania, you can visit the Măcin Mountains National Park (Parcul Național Munții Măcinului). This is the home of over 1,770 plant species (out of which 72 are rare or vulnerable, and 27 can only be found here), 181 bird species (our of which 37 are endangered), and more than 900 butterfly species.
3. The Carpathian Mountains
Moving away from the vicinity of the Black Sea and towards the center of Romania, we reach the Carpathian Mountains, surrounding Transylvania. The arch they form across Romania, but also the neighboring countries, is 1,500 km long, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe.
4. The Virgin Forests of Romania
In Romania, you will find the second-largest surface of virgin forests in Europe. Over half of these forests are to be found in the Carpathian mountains. There are many NGOs fighting to protect our forests from illegal and/or mass tree cuttings, but there is a long way to go until this unique natural resource can be considered safe.
5. Retezat National Park
The Retezat National Park (Parcul Național Retezat), in the Carpathians, is the home of 1190 plant species, a third of the ones one can find in Romania. This includes rare and endangered plant species, but also 90 plant species which exist only here. The Retezat National Park is also the home of 185 bird species, and of large carnivores (bears, wolves, lynxes) and herbivores (chamois, deer, boars).
The Transfăgărășan is mentioned in travel articles as one of the most scenic routes in the world. The road, which climbs to 2,042 meters, is also on the bucket list of many car enthusiasts after watching Top Gear’s episode about Romania.
Under Ceaușescu, it only took the workers from 1970 to 1974 years to cut a pass through the mountains. It was a strategic move, to ensure quick military access across the mountains in the event of a Soviet invasion. However, the building of the Transfăgărășan came at the cost of the lives of many of its workers. Official sources mention only 40 dead soldiers, but the unofficial ones put the number into the hundreds.
The Transfăgărășan, despite its dark beginnings, is now a splendid route attracting lots of tourists. Many of them come with their bike, to enjoy the speedy and thrilling descent towards Sibiu.
7. Curtea de Argeș
Before passing the Carpathians through Transfăgărășan, one should also make a stop at Curtea de Argeș, the former capital of Wallachia, uniting the lands south of the Carpathians.
A beautiful place to visit here is the Orthodox Cathedral Curtea de Argeș (Mănăstirea Curtea de Argeș), built in a Byzantine architectural style in the beginning of the 16th century. There is also a legend about the raising of the monastery. Very briefly, the legend says that every time Manole, the builder, tried to raise the monastery ordered by Radu Vodă, the ruler, the construction would collapse. Radu Vodă threatens Manole and his men with their deaths if they fail to raise the monastery.
Short of ideas, Manole suggests the ancient custom of placing a living woman within the walls to make the building stand. They decide that the first wife bringing food would be the one to be sacrificed. Fate has it that this is Ana, Manole’s wife.
When you visit Curtea de Argeș, you can ask the guide to show you where it is said that Ana’s body rests within the walls.
8. The Stone Ravens Monastery
In the Argeș County, there is also the Stone Ravens Monastery (Mănăstirea Corbii de Piatră). The church and other parts of the monastery complex are built into the stone. It first appeared in historical documents in 1512, but it is believed that it had existed long before that.
9. Bâlea Lake
At the other end of the Transfăgărășan, in the heart of the Făgărași Mountains, there is a place where you can sometimes find some snow even in the middle of summer. That is on the shores of Bâlea Lake, a lake of glacier origins at 2,034 meters above sea level.
During the winter months, you can enjoy a special holiday, staying at the Bâlea Lake Ice Hotel. One has been built out of ice blocks every winter, starting with 2006.
Despite Transfăgărășan being the most famous mountain road of Romania for tourists, it is not the highest one we have. And some say there is another even more beautiful: the Transalpina, once known as the Devil’s Path.
Though built long before the Transfăgărășan, its precise beginnings are unclear, with some sources mentioning it as a Roman strategic corridor.
Transalpina reaches its maximum height of 2,145 meters in Urdele Pass, in the Parâng Mountains.
Since we spoke about the Romans, it is only fair to mention the Dacians, as well. Sarmizegetusa (or Sarmisegetusa) was the capital of Dacia, before their wars with the Roman Empire. The fortress had six citadels and it was the most important military, religious and political centre of Dacia.
About 40 kilometers away from Sarmizegetusa, there is also Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the capital built by Emperor Trajan. Both sites are only ruins nowadays.
12. Moldoveanu and Negoiu Peaks
Moldoveanu is the highest peak in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains. It is part of the Făgăraș Mountains and it has a height of 2,544 meters. In the same mountains, you can also climb to Negoiu Peak, which reaches the height of 2,535 meters.
13. The Cross on Caraiman Peak
Not far from the Făgăraș Mountains, there are the Bucegi Mountains. Though of a lower altitude, they also have a lot of wonderful sights to offer. One of them is the Heroes’ Cross on the Caraiman Peak, raised between 1926 and 1928, in the memory of the railway heroes who died during World War I. The monument is 36 meters tall and located at an altitude of 2,291 meters.
14. Natural Rock Formations in Bucegi
On your way to see the Cross on Caraiman Peak, you can climb or take a cable car to see the Sphinx and Babele. These rock formations appeared following the constant erosion of the rocks by the powerful winds.
The Babele (Old Ladies) rock formation is associated to the Romanian legend of Baba Dochia (The Old Dochia).
15. Poiana Stânii
Poiana Stânii or Stâna Regală (translated to the Royal Sheep-yard), is a place located at an altitude of 1,285 meters, offering a wonderful view over the houses of Bușteni, Poiana Țapului, and Sinaia. The climb through the forest is wonderful, and, once you reach the top, you can also visit the Franz Joseph Rocks, Bogdan’s Cave and the monastery and rocks of Saint Ana. All of these are in the close vicinity of the meadow.
16. Cantacuzino Castle
If you visit Bușteni, you should also climb to the Cantacuzino Castle. Built in 1911 in a Neo-Romanan style for Prince George rigore Cantacuzino, it is now a museum, housing interesting exhibitions.
It is also nice to visit simply to have a coffee on its terrace, while admiring a beautiful view over the Bucegi Mountains.
17. Peleș and Pelișor Castles
If you wish to learn more about royalty in Romania, you should visit Sinaia, known as the Pearl of the Carpathians. Here, you can discover two wonderful castels — Peleș and Pelișor, known together as the Peleș National Museum.
To discover Peleș Castle, built by Carol I, Romania’s first king, and other beautiful sights of the Bucegi Mountains, you can watch the video below:
The Peleș Castle was built between 1873 and 1914 by Carol I, Romania’s first king, to serve as his summer residence. The Pelișor Castle was also built by him between 1889 and 1902, as a gift to the princes heir to the throne. The latter’s interior was done according to the taste of Queen Mary.
18. Seven Ladders Canyon
Close to the Bucegi Mountains, in Piatra Mare (Big Rock), there is a spectacular canyon carved in Jurassic limestone by a small river. On your visit to the Seven Ladders Canyon (Canionul Șapte Scări), you will climb on metal ladders and platforms, next to the seven waterfalls inside the canyon.
When visiting the Seven Ladders Canyon, you can also go on the longest zip-line in the country. It has a length of 2.1 kilometers and 23 routes for adults and children. The longest route is 273 meters.
19. Saint Anne Lake
The Saint Anne Lake (Lacul Sfânta Ana), in the Mohoș Nature Reserve, was formed in the crater of the Ciomatu Mare volcano. It is the only volcanic lake in Romania.
Only 6.4 meters deep and with a surface of 220,000 square meters, it is supplied only by precipitations. In the past, people could swim in it, but this activity is forbidden to the public as of April 2018.
Saint Anne Lake is also a place often visited by brown bears, I have several friends with stories about bear sightings here.
20. Bear Sanctuary
If you really wish to see brown bears on your visit through the Carpathians, but would rather do it in safety, I suggest you stop for a visit at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești. Over 70 bears live in the sanctuary today.
21. Bisons in Romania
The European bison (Zimbru) is a rare sight in Romania, and can easily be seen in reservations or in zoos in our country. Under 100 bisons have been released into the wild, after the species was re-introduced into Romania.
We currently have bison reservations in four counties: Neamț, Buzău, Dâmbovița, and Hunedoara.
22. The Red Lake
Another unique lake for Romania is the Red Lake (Lacul Roșu), a natural damn lake formed in 1838, due to a landslide cause by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake.
Its name comes from the Red River, whose waters were red due to the layers of iron oxides and hydroxides it passed through. However, in German, the Red Lake is called the Killer Lake (Mördersee). There is a legend saying that the landslide covered an entire village and the waters of the lake turned red from all the blood of the people who lived there before.
23. The Bicaz Gorge
The Red Lake is within the Bicaz Gorge (Cheile Bicazului). Dug by the waters of the Bicaz River, this is now a passageway connecting the regions of Moldova and Transylvania. It is also popular destination for rock climbing.
24. Bezidu Nou
The Bezidu Nou Lake was formed after an artificial damn was built as a measure against the floods of the Cușmed River. This, however, meant sacrificing an entire village, Bezidu Nou. If you liked the sight of the Red Lake, you should probably also visit the sunken village of Bezidu Nou.
25. Tihuța Pass
Further up North from the Bicaz Gorge, there is Tihuța Pass (or Bârgău Pass). Located at 1201 metres, it also connects the regions of Moldova (Vatra Dornei) and Transylvania (Bistrița).
The pass was made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where it was mentioned as the Borgo Pass. The place, however, doesn’t look as it belongs in a book of horrors, but rather in a fairy tale.
26. Bran Castle
Since I mentioned Dracula, a place that is always advertised as Dracula’s Castle is Bran Castle. While Dracula was inspired by Vlad the Impaler, is appears that the ruler never actually lived or visited the place. For a time, however, it was thought that this is the place where he was imprisoned by the Hungarians in
Forgetting about Dracula for a bit, the 1388 castle is still worth a visit. Until you get to see the real thing, you can go on a virtual tour of Bran Castle.
27. Rucăr-Bran Pass
At a height of 1,254 meters, the Rucăr-Bran Pass connects two counties: Brașov and Argeș. The area is popular with tourists because of the splendid natural views. Moieciu and Fundata, both areas within the pass, are among the top choices of the visitors when looking for a mountain resort in the Southern Carpathians.
28. Poenari Castle
If you wish to see a castle which definitely had something to do with Vlad the Impaler, your should visit the Poenari Castle. It is actually more of a fortress or a citadel than a castle, and nowadays it’s mostly ruins. However, it is definitely worth climbing the 1,480 steps to reach it, not only to learn more about its history but also to enjoy the stunning views.
Still following Dracula’s trail, we end up in the place where it is supposed that Vlad the Impaler was born. And this is where we drop the Dracula legend.
The inhabited medieval citadel of Sighișoara, listed by UNESCO in 1999 as a World Heritage Site, is very well preserved. There are many houses worth seeing, and one should also go on a tour to discover the towers, each associated to a guild.
You can experience more during Sighișoara’s annual Medieval Festival.
30. Alba Iulia
Alba Iulia is a city located in the Alba County, in Transylvania. It is historically important not only to Romanians, but also to Hungarians and the Saxons living in the region. Alba Iulia used to be the capital of the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom, and it later became the Principality of Transylvania.
It is also the place where, on 1 December 1918, the union of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania was proclaimed.
Another walled-in city is Brașov. Here, too, you can walk to visit the well-preserved towers of the guilds, like in Sighișoara. You can also visit the imposing Black Church and St. Nicholas’s Church.
Personally, what I like best in Brașov is simply wandering the streets, checking out the beautiful buildings, and discovering all the lively cafes and restaurants which have appeared over the past decade.
A cute sight is the Rope Street (Strada Sforii), one of the narrowest in Europe.
32. Șinca Veche Temple Cave
About 50 kilometers away from Brașov, you can visit the New Șinca Church and the Old Șinca Church. The first may be beautiful, but it of no comparison to the old one, built inside a cave. The Old Șinca Church (Șinca Veche) is also known as the Temple of Wishes (Templul Ursitelor). The exact moment when the monastery was carved inside the rock remains unknown, but historians believe it is around 70,000 years old.
People believe that Șinca Veche is a place where you can come to be cured of various illnesses, and that once you find yourself beneath the surface, you instantly feel invigorated. They also believe that the entire area has magical properties, from the nearby spring whose water has healing properties to the grass the cows eat to give more milk.
33. Transylvania’s Fortified Churches
In the center of Romania, in the region of Transylvania, you will find many villages built around fortified churches. These were places to comfort the spirit of the villagers living in the area, but also a safe haven in case of invasion.
I think my favorite is the fortified church of Cisnădioara. Other well-known fortified churches in Transylvania are in Cisnădie, Biertan, Prejmer, Cristian, and Viscri. The latter are among those most mentioned in the guidebooks, because they are located in scenic places.
34. The Village Life
There is a great difference between Romania’s cities (especially the touristic ones) and its villages. You can see how poor our country really is when you go to the rural areas. People still have outhouses, there are homes without running water, and places where children walk for kilometers to go to school, to say the least.
Though living a simple life, villagers are welcoming, friendly, and hard-working people. Some of them are still working in the family business, which has been passed down through generations. However, though today you can still watch people involved in the old traits, it is unclear how these will survive in the future, with so many young people moving to the cities to have a better life.
For foreigners, what we still have is invaluable. One of them is Peter Hurley, an Irish guy who moved to Romania when he was 26 years old and fell in love with our country. You can discover some of our traditional crafts in Peter Hurley’s documentary, meant to promote the simple and sustainable ways of life in some of our villages.
35. The Village Museums
An easier way to discover rural Romania without leaving the big cities is to visit the Village Museums built all over the country.
My personal favorite is the one from Sibiu, where the buildings are grouped by craft. The ASTRA Traditional Folk Civilization Museum takes about a day to visit properly, and is also the place where you can find the house from the 10 RON banknote.
Another two Village Museums accessible to many people visiting Romania are the one in Bucharest and the one in Cluj Napoca.
36. The Maramureș Heritage Trail
If you have the time, you can go by foot, bike, horse or cart on the Maramureș Heritage Trail to discover the village life first-hand. The Maramureș Heritage Trail is an 88-kilometer greenway, the first of its kind established in the northern side of Romania. It connects seven villages (Ocna Șugatag, Budești, Breb, Hoteni, Hărnicești, Desești, and Mara), representative to the culture and way of life in Maramureș.
37. The Wooden Churches of Maramureș
In Maramureș, you can find almost 100 Orthodox churches and a few Greek-Catholic ones, all built in wood by skilled carpenters. The churches in this area of Romania have tall bell-towers above the entrances. Eight of these churches are now listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two of them (from Budești and Desești) are also on the Maramureș Heritage Trail mentioned above.
Below is a video about the Wooden Churches of Maramureș, by UNESCOȘ
38. The Merry Cemetery
Another example of craftsmanship is the Merry Cemetery, located in Săpânța, Maramureș. It is unlike any other cemetery: all its wooden crosses are painted in lively colors and they have funny descriptions of the lives of those who passed away.
It is believed that the local Dacian culture had an influence on the creation of the Merry Cemetery. The Dacians believed the soul was immortal and that death was a joyful moment, not a sad one. Discover more about the Merry Cemetery through the video below:
39. Bucovina’s Painted Monasteries
Located in the North of Moldova, Bucovina has several Byzantine-style monasteries, with skillfully painted outside walls. The best preserved ones are the monasteries of Humor, Moldovița, Pătrăuți, Probota, Suceava, Sucevița, and Voroneț. All of them, except Sucevița, have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Trail in 1993.
Voroneț is quite a sight. The color found on its exterior walls is known as Voroneț Blue – a unique shade of blue.
40. The Church Built From A Single Oak Tree
Mănăstirea Dintr-un Lemn can be translated as the monastery built from a single piece of wood. It is a small church, in Oltenia, built from a secular oak tree. The building is 13 meters long and 5 meters wide. It has no bell-tower, reaching a height of only 4 meters.
41. Târgu Jiu
Târgu Jiu is a city in the Oltenia region in Romania, on the banks of the Jiu River. It is known for some of Constantin Brâncuși’s most famous works of art. The renowned sculptor was born in Hobița, close to Târgu Jiu.
In Târgu Jiu, tourists get to see The Table of Silence (Masa Tăcerii), The Gate of the Kiss (Poarta Sărutului), and the Endless Column (Coloana Infinitului).
42. Jiu Gorge National Park
Known in Romanian as Defileul Jiului, the area is split between two counties: Gorj and Hunedoara. It is an area inhabited by carnivores considered vulnerable in our country, such as brown bears, wolves, lynxes, otters, badgers, and wild cats. Defileul Jiului is also home to 701 plant species and 68 butterfly species.
43. Densuș Church
Densuș Church, from the Hunedoara county, is one of the oldest churches in Romania, still standing to this day. It is believed it used to be a pagan temple in the beginning, because its altar isn’t placed in the Eastern side of the building.
44. Corvin Castle
The Corvin Castle is also known as Hunedoara Castle or Hunyadi Castle (Castelul Huniazilor). Built in a Gothic-Renaissance style, it is one of the largest in Europe.
You can learn more about the castle by going on a virtual guided tour with the help of the video below:
45. Romania’s Tunnel of Love
At this moment, it is uncertain if the Tunnel of Love is going to survive, as it collapsed this year. If it is fixed, it will once again be a favorite photo location for couples and wedding parties alike.
Born from the vegetation growing on the abandoned railway between Caransebeș and Băuțar, it was often compared to the famous Tunnel of Love in Klevan, Ukraine.
46. Nera-Beușnița National Park
Established in the ’90s, the Nera-Beușnița Park is located in Southwestern Romania, in the Caraș-Severin County. It has a surface of 36,758 hectares, and includes the 22-kilometer Nera Gorge, two beautiful lakes (Bei, and the Devil’s Lake), and two impressive waterfalls (Bigăr and Beușnița).
The Nera-Beușnița National Park is filled with magic and legends. And, at night, if you’re not too scared of the brown bears, you can find fireflies.
47. Bigăr Waterfall
Bigăr is an unusual-looking waterfall and it is often mentioned in articles as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Romania or the world. Part of the Nera-Beușnița National Park, it s easily accessible from the main road.
48. The Devil’s Lake
In the beginning, the Devil’s Lake was subterranean, hidden inside a cave. However, it emerged when a part of the cave’s ceiling collapsed. With a surface of 20,000 square meters, the Devil’s lake is the largest karst lake in Romania. It is also the only one of its kind that we have, actually.
It is also a place surrounded by legend and people believe that those who jump in for a swim never return to its shores.
49. The Cave with Bones
The Cave with Bones (Peștera cu Oase) is located in the Caraș-Severin county, in Southwestern Romania. Composed of a system of 12 karstic galleries and chambers, it is the place where some of the oldest early modern European human remains were found. They are estimated to be between 37,000 and 42,00 years old.
50. The Iron Gates Natural Park
At the border between Romania and Serbia, lies the Danube Gorge (Cazanele Dunării). It is 14.5 kilometers long and 230 meters wide. Close to its end, near Orșova, you can see on its Romanian bank the tallest rock sculpture in Europe, representing the head of Decebal, the last ruler of Dacia. The impressive sculpture, however, is not from that age — it was built between 1994 and 2004.
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