Bucket List Worthy
I may be biased when talking about Romania. After all, this small country in Eastern Europe used to be my home for more than 30 years. But when I lived there, Romania was a very different place from the one you see today. You may still hear dreadful stories about the 42 years of totalitarianism that almost destroyed the country. You may still see vestiges of the old regime and witness the people’s struggle to adjust to the new era. But the country has changed for the better in the past 20 years. Although it’s still regarded as an off-the-beaten-path destination, Romania is an exciting place to visit that will leave long lasting impressions on the minds of those who visit it. Here are a few good reasons why you should add Romania to your bucket list:
1. The Food is really, really good
Traditional Romanian dishes consist of hearty stews, soups, roasts and delicious home-made deserts. Romanian cuisine is a fusion of flavors and cooking techniques borrowed from its neighboring countries and civilizations that passed by over the centuries. Turkish, Greek, Hungarian and German influences have all left their mark over the country’s rich gastronomy. However, for the inexperienced traveler some Romanian dishes may seem bizarre: tripe soup (made with the cow’s stomach), pork jelly (a delicious meat aspic made from pig trotters, rind, ears and tail), liver sausage, head cheese (a pig’s stomach stuffed with gelatinous pig parts). But they taste much better than they sound.
2. The Scenery is beautiful and diverse
Romania exhibits a very beautiful and diverse scenery: from high mountain peeks reaching almost 3,000 meters (the Carpathian Mountains), to hills and plains, the Danube Delta and the Black Sea shore.
The country is well-watered by many rivers, streams and lakes. There are two main highways crossing the Carpathian Mountains: Transalpina and Transfagarasan running at very high altitudes, with twists and turns and deep ravines, equally beautiful and dangerous.
3. Medieval towns and old authentic villages
Romania has some of the best-preserved Medieval towns in Europe, like Brasov, Sighisoare, Cluj, Sibiu or Alba Iulia. Most of them are concentrated in the central part of the country, in Transylvania.
In the northern part of the country, in Maramures, you can find villages that remained almost untouched by modern civilization, still looking like they did three centuries ago.
4. Beautiful castles and fortresses
Romania has a large collection of beautiful medieval castles and fortresses that survived the time. Most of them have been built between the 12th and 18th century as strategic points of defense against the invaders. In Romania you can visit three of Europe’s top 25 castles: the elegant Peles Castle, located in the Carpathian Mountains near the town of Sinaia;
Bran Castle, originally built by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 1212 and later closely tied to the legend of Dracula; and Hunedoara Castle, also known as Hunyadi Castle.
5. It’s very safe
Surprisingly for some people, Romania is a very safe country. The risk of being physically attacked is very, very small. Violent crimes are way lower here than in the USA and Western European countries. However, petty crime, like cheating and pick pocketing is relatively high.
6. It’s affordable
If for nothing else, Romania should be attractive just because of its price tag. Everything, from accommodation, transportation to food is very inexpensive. When it comes to the cost of living and income per capita, Romania is one of the poorest countries in the European Union. That explains why Romania is and will probably still remain one of the cheapest countries to visit in Europe.
7. It’s relatively easy to visit
It is pretty easy to get around in Romania. Most people speak some English, but the young generation and those working in the travel industry speak actually quite well. The country is fairly well connected by trains, buses and planes. Because they are not highly advertised, the tourist destinations in Romania feel relaxed and welcoming. The attractions can be visited with ease, without many restrictions and limitations, usually strictly enforced in other countries.
8. The Internet is fast and cheap
As surprising as it may sound, internet access in Romania is awesome. The country currently has the fastest download speed in Europe. And if that’s not convincing enough, how about 12 USD/month for internet access?
9. Bucharest architecture
In the past, the city’s elegant interbelic architecture earned Bucharest the nickname of “Little Paris”, but unfortunately today’s architecture is rather a blend of some old palaces dating back to the 19th century, art-deco buildings and new modern blocks of flats. Architecturally, Bucharest is a mixed bag with some clean and well-maintained areas next to neglected, dirty ones.
Many of the historic buildings have fallen into serious disrepair, but there are still some old well-preserved ones, especially in the downtown area. Miraculously, a good number of historic churches in Bucharest managed to survive Communism and have been restored to their original beauty. The European Union invested serious funds into rebuilding some of the old, historic areas of Bucharest.
10. The people are very friendly
Romans are friendly, optimistic, hardworking and hospitable people. They are very accepting and welcoming of foreigners and will do their best to accommodate them. If you ask for directions they will go out of their way to explain to you how to get there. They may even offer to accompany you to where you need to get if it’s not very far.