The Carpathian Mountains draw a wide arc through the centre of the country, leaving a swath of exposed rocky peaks surrounded by groves of pine and deciduous trees, and stretches of bright green meadow below. Hiking trails skirt the peaks, and a network of mountain huts provides somewhere to rest your head at night. Europe's second-longest river, the Danube, marks Romania's southern border before turning suddenly northward and emptying into the Black Sea. The Danube Delta is a vast and unique protected wetland, perfect for hiking, fishing, boating and birdwatching.
Castles and Medieval Villages
The land that gave us Dracula has no shortage of jaw-dropping castles pitched precariously on rocky hilltops. There's spooky Bran Castle of course, with its spurious connection to Bram Stoker’s fictional count, but don’t overlook beauties such as Hunedoara’s 14th-century Corvin Castle or King Carol I’s sumptuous 19th-century pile, Peleş Castle. North of Curtea de Argeş, you’ll find the ruins of a fortress that really was the stomping ground of old Vlad Ţepeş. In Maramureş you'll discover towns and villages that seemingly stepped out of the Middle Ages, complete with hay racks, horse carts and stately wooden churches.
Romanian history is filled with tales of heroic princes battling fierce Ottoman warriors. That's all true, but it partly obscures the reality that much of Romania, for centuries, was a productive peasant culture. The hilly geography and lack of passable roads necessitated the emergence of literally hundreds of self-sufficient villages, where old-school crafts such as bread making, pottery, tanning and weaving were honed to an art. These days much of the country has moved on to more modern methods, but a fondness for that 'simpler' way of life persists. Folk museums, particularly open-air skansens, are a must. In smaller villages, many old folkways are still practised.
A country is only as good as its people, and you'll find Romanians in every region to be open, friendly, proud of their history and eager to share it with visitors. While tourism is growing, Romania is still considered something of an off-the-beaten-track destination for foreigners, and you'll get kudos from the locals just for showing up. While Romanians themselves decry what they see as the brashness, even rudeness, of their countrymen in Bucharest, even there you'll discover plenty of friendly faces and impromptu drinking buddies if you make the effort.
Folkore and Superstition
Jonathan Harker noted in Dracula: '...every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horse-shoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool.'
Few peoples cherish their old-world folk tales as do Romanians, with a colourful panoply of witches, giants, ghosts, heroes, fairies and Nosferatu to keep them awake at night. Given that much of Romania is rural and remote it's not surprising that some of these superstitions and tales survive to this day. As much as 20% of people in Maramureş still believe in witchcraft.
Some traditions are innocuous, like a tree strung with pots and pans in the front garden, advertising that there's a daughter in the household who's free to marry. However, in certain remote areas there are more disturbing beliefs. Garlic and crosses are still wielded, and bodies are exhumed and a stake driven through their hearts to stop them haunting, as in the case of the village of Marotinul-de-Sus (west of Bucharest) back in 2004. During the total eclipse of '99, while urbanites were partying others in Romania were lighting bonfires and ringing churchbells across the countryside to ward off vampires, werewolves and evil spirits (all of which are associated with the lunar phenomenon).
Best places to stay in Romania
Romania & Bulgaria travel guide
Though distinct countries with different cultures, Romania and Bulgaria share a magnificent landscape of mountains and monasteries, riveting history of domination and rebirth, and a long stretch of Black Sea beach.
Ten things you need to know before visiting Transylvania
Transylvania is best known as the mysterious land of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves. Some may think it’s fictional, but the central Romanian region is a real place. And it’s pretty special, too. Bordered to the east by the Carpathian Mountains, ‘the land beyond the forest’ still feels undiscovered.
Eastern Europe travel guide
Head to Eastern Europe for guaranteed adventure: from hidden gems in Russia, Ukraine and Montenegro to the classic charms of the Czech Republic, Croatia and Hungary, you’ll find a region that’s surreal, exciting and endlessly surprising.
Locals sometimes shake their heads over the ‘Dracula connection’, but there’s no denying a sense of spookiness about this broad, mountainous, culturally rich region, which fills the bulk of Romania’s centre.
Top 10 winter destinations in Europe
Winter comes in many guises in Europe, in the polar north there’s serious snow and sunless weeks, while you’ll find lingering sunshine in the mild Mediterranean, and cosy cafe culture and Christmas spirit in the centre.
Romania & Bulgaria - Plan your trip Romania (Chapter)
This chapter contains the 17 Top Experiences, Welcome to Romania, Need to Know, If You Like, Month by Month, Itineraries and Regions at a Glance chapters from Lonely Planet’s Romania & Bulgaria guidebook. Your journey to Romania starts here. You’ll find the tools to plan your adventure: where to go and when, how much to budget, plus a useful summary of Romania’s regions.
Explore Eastern Europe
Travel across romantic Eastern Europe from Hungary to Turkey and experience the diverse range of cultures and landscapes in between.
Budapest to Istanbul
From pastoral countryside to forbidding forests and magnificent mountain ranges, experience the romance of the east on your way from Budapest to Istanbul. In two well-paced weeks, explore the weathered architecture of Budapest, grand Ottoman palaces and mosques in Istanbul for an introduction to the artistic and cultural heights of two very different empires.
Fangtastic! The world’s best vampire-spotting locations.
Vampires and their stories seem to be enjoying an eternal renaissance in contemporary fiction and film. Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire kicked off the modern raft of tales, and the popularity of more recent book and movie offerings like Twilight and True Blood shows that folks are, well, batty for vampire tales.
Eastern Europe - Romania (Chapter)
Beautiful and beguiling, Romania’s rural landscape remains relatively untouched by the country’s urban evolution. It’s a land of aesthetically stirring hand-ploughed fields, sheep-instigated traffic jams, and lots and lots of homemade plum brandy. And, for the record, the big cities are a blast too.
Sights in Romania
Activities in Romania
Tours in Romania
Restaurants in Romania
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
Much of Romania slags it and Europe in general doesn’t always speak favourably of Romania’s capital.