Elsewhere: The Architectural Charms of Oradea, Romania

For an emerging travel destination, there are still quite a few places in Romania that have yet to fully pop up on tourist’s radars. Most certainly one of these is the understated city of Oradea by the country’s border with Hungary. Tourists are literally bypassing Oradea on their way to the heart of Transylvania and missing out on the varied architecture that livens up this unassuming city.

In truth, the city makes for a natural first stop when entering Romania from Western and Central Europe, breaking up what can be a long journey. From Budapest in Hungary, the train trip lasts roughly 4.5 hours with several more for those heading to the larger city of Cluj Napoca in Transylvania proper. Coming from Vienna which is itself several hours from Budapest, Oradea seemed like the perfect place to begin exploring Romania.



Oradea Tram

Oradea seems like a city that could see a transformation into a bigger tourist draw and is the kind of place you’d be curious to see how it has changed in a few years. While it currently has pretty light tourism infrastructure, the vast number of civil works going on could transform it into the standard starting point for tourists travelling to Romania from Western and Central Europe.

Aside from being a convenient place to stop when venturing into Romania from the west, the city’s main draw has to be its intriguing array of architecture found throughout the city. At one time part of the expansive Austro-Hungarian Empire, Oradea has kept that history alive with scores of buildings built in the Baroque and Art Nouveau styles.

Primaria Oradea

A sensible starting point for exploring Oradea and its architecture is from the main square of Piata Unirii. Surrounding the square are numerous exquisite buildings, all skilfully renovated. You can easily spend a little time making your way around the square, going from building to building and admiring the varied aesthetics on display. Highlights in the square include the Palace of the Greek Catholic Bishopric, with its pastel colours and baroque facade; and the Art Nouveau Vulturul Negru Passage from the turn of the 20th century, seen below.

Black Vulture Passage

Also found on the square are a number of very different and beautiful churches. One particularly to take note of is the Biserica cu luna, or Church of the Moon, an 18th century Orthodox church that has a mechanical orb on its tower rotating to show the phase of the moon. While it may look quite plain from the outside, the inside of the Church of the Moon is anything but. Entering the church, you will be struck by the bold blue walls and gilded frescos, despite its dim lighting. I personally can’t recall another church I’ve found to be so visually vibrant, which is impressive considering the relatively small space it occupies.

Church of the Moon

The other main area of Oradea where you can soak up the historic architecture is the pedestrian Calea Republicii, on the far side of the river. This long pedestrian street would seem to be a pretty standard mall with its commercial shops and cafes, were it not for all the eye-catching architecture you come across. Not all of it is in a pristine state and some of it is covered in netting, but a walk down Calea Republicii will have you regularly looking up at a facade, a balcony or a corner tower.

Oradea Corner

Perhaps my favourite building on the street is the spooky abandoned hospital at the northern end of the street. Strewn with shredded nets and broken windows, it looks like a perfect setting for a horror movie, and yet underneath is some seriously grand architecture. Seeing the state of some of the buildings in Oradea, you’re torn between the atmosphere and photo opportunities they provide and the sad truth that these buildings are falling into disrepair and could soon be lost for good.

Oradea Abandoned Hospital

Moving away from the city’s architecture, Oradea does have facets to enjoy. As it sits on the Crisul Repede river, Oradea has quite a bit of riverfront to explore. With the exception of the area by Union Square, most of the city’s riverfront is along quite streets or parkland. If you are looking for a peaceful stroll, walking along the gentle river will easily meet your need. As they are currently working on the main bridge that joins either side of the river, you may have to walk along the river out of necessity if you want to explore the other half of town.

Oradea River

Another sight worth visiting in Oradea is the city’s large fortress. Dating from the 12th century, this star-shaped fortress has been through numerous rebuilds and renovations. It is in fact, currently going through some restoration work which meant that the museums and inner courtyard were off limits during my visit. Still, you are able to walk through the courtyards of the fortress and wander through the pretty gardens that sit outside its walls. Standing below the crumbling brick walls gives you an appreciation for how impressive it is that they have survived the test of time.

Oradea Fortress

At this stage, Oradea doesn’t have a huge range of hotels to support mass tourism, but it does have a few guesthouses and pensions that would meet many traveller’s needs. For my visit, I stayed at the Avalon Rooms, with spacious rooms and friendly service, despite some street noise. I also experienced the hospitality of Casa Mignon, as they ran one of the few well-regarded restaurants close by and south of the river. There, I tried their intriguing “Gypsy Pork” which may have been pork neck, with a tasty tomato sauce and potatoes. Would definitely recommend Casa Mignon, if you’re looking for a simple and affordable meal on the side of Oradea.

Oradea seems like a destination on the rise, partly from its favourable position on the route between Budapest and Transylvania and partly due to its wealth in charming architecture. Adding the city to your Romanian itinerary could be a great first step into this increasingly popular region.


Have you visited Oradea before? Where do you think people should visit in Romania that they don’t? Please share in the comments below.

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20 Comment

  1. In truth, I had never considered Oradea as a destination before I read your blog but you are right, it’s location and stunning architecture make this a worthwhile stop for visitors to Romania!

    1. David says: Reply

      Thanks Angie! Oradea hasn’t really got any name recognition, maybe one day it will.

  2. What fabulous buildings! That hospital is a little spooky, but I can just imagine it cleaned up and redeveloped. A shame that it sits abandoned and decaying. You’ve really hit on one of my favorite things about Europe – all of the Baroque and Renaissance architecture. Just beautiful!

  3. I love visiting quirky different places off the main tourist trail, Oradea looks so beautiful. Totally adding it to my list!

  4. The Church of the Moon is so beautiful. I’ve never seen one like it! Pinned to share with my wandering friends. 🙂

    1. David says: Reply

      It really is Stephanie! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Anisa says: Reply

    The architecture of the city really is impressive. The area by the river also looks really nice. I also really like the inside of the Church of the Moon. Definitely looks like a city I would love to explore for myself. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. David says: Reply

      Yeh the church is something else Anisa. It’s definitely a great place to explore, thanks for stopping by.

  6. Another interesting town! That abandoned hospital definitely looks spooky! Could definitely be an interesting stop if it’s along our route. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. David says: Reply

      Oradea breaks things up nicely if you’re heading from Budapest into Transylvania. Thanks for reading Lorelei!

  7. We are heading to Romania soon and I am so glad I saw this article! I am going to put Oradea on our list of need to see! Thank you for sharing and your photos are gorgeous !

  8. Romania is such a fascinating country. We visited a couple of times pre-kids and had some unforgettable experiences, notably the Danube delta and the painted monasteries near the Ukranian border. But Oradea? Sadly, I think we whizzed past on our way in and out of the country, and it looks as though we missed out… Great post! #theweeklypostcard

  9. galanda23 says: Reply

    I see you travel quite extensively in my country of origin, David. Romania is very beautiful indeed. Oradea is my husband’s birthplace, but I never visited the city. It looks quite beautiful. Maybe next time I go to Romania I’ll get to see it. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. David says: Reply

      I really enjoyed my visit to Romania Anda and would love to go back and explore more of it. If you get a chance, I’d recommend trying to see Oradea as I think it has a lot of potential as a tourist spot. Thanks for reading.

  10. Oradea looks like a beautiful destination. We’re thinking of doing a road trip to and around ROmania this summer. I keep using your posts to add to my list.

  11. Wow, Oradea looks so beautiful – especially the Church of the Moon. I would really like to see it in person!

  12. Vlad says: Reply

    I haven’t been to Oradea in ages, all I remember is its Citadel and a beautiful building in the center. You did well capturing its beautiful parts. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. David says: Reply

      The citadel is impressive but they were doing renovation works when I visited so I didn’t see much there. The centre is indeed great Vlad, thanks for stopping by!

  13. Kana says: Reply

    My wanderlust is real right now! It looks so beautiful and charming, I can appreciate all the greenery too! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you again this week!

  14. Romania seems to be picking up in popularity cuz I’m starting to see it more and more on Instagram!! It looks so gorgeous! Definitely makes me want to go and see it next time I’m over in Europe! Thanks for sharing on FlyAwayFriday!

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