Romania seems to be in the midst of a tourism resurgence, with visitor numbers growing the last few years after a sharp decline a decade ago. This is nothing but good news, as this Eastern European nation is able to captivate travellers with its old-world charm and natural beauty. I think those that decide to venture to this intriguing country will come away smitten, just as I have. While there’s plenty to say about this diverse and wonderful country, here are 9 things I think you should know before visiting Romania to make your time here easier and more enjoyable.
Simply put, Romania is a pretty big country. In fact, it’s the 12th largest in Europe. This means that unlike some European countries, you can’t just quickly cross from one side of the country to the other. Also worth noting is that while many of the big tourist destinations of Transylvania are generally only an hour or two apart, the capital of Bucharest is not close by at all. In fact, Bucharest isn’t that close to a lot of the country’s main tourist attractions, so plan accordingly.
2. Entry and Visas
While Romania is part of the European Union, it is not yet part of the Schengen Area that allows free movement between countries, something many EU countries currently benefit from. This means that when entering Romania you will go through passport control and visa requirements vary. For visa information, here is one place to start, but at the time of writing travellers from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and most of Europe did not require visas.
Crossing the border from Hungary to Romania, our train was stopped and border police came aboard. They collected passports, took them away and then returned them. This may seem alarming for some people, that people would take off with your passport without saying anything, but it is fairly common practice in Eastern Europe. Interestingly I didn’t receive a stamp, but it didn’t cause any issues when taking the bus out of Romania to Bulgaria.
3. Getting Around
For those looking to explore Romania using public transport, you’re in luck. Romania has a fairly extensive network of trains, buses and minibuses that can take you most (but not all) places. To help you navigate the public transport network, the Autogari website will show you all the options available to you and I swear by it. I found it to be one of the most comprehensive transport sites I’ve seen and it never let me down once.
Starting with rail, the train network stretches across the entire country and connects through Hungary to most of Western Europe. Most of the time, trains have allocated seating but this seems to be very loosely followed. Unfortunately, due to significant construction works on many stretches of the train network, expect delays and fairly serious ones at that.
The network of buses and minibuses that run throughout the country is generally faster and still great value for money. You may have to switch buses for longer routes, but again trust in Autogari, it will tell you all that. Tickets for intercity buses/minibuses are bought at the station office and for local buses, you buy them from the driver.
It’s worth noting, that in nearly every major city and town, the bus and train stations are usually several kilometres from the city centre. This brings me to my next point.
When travelling, I usually try to avoid taxis and use public transport to get around destinations where possible to save money. Surprisingly, taxis in Romania are incredibly cheap and are even almost competitive with public transport. Naturally, you should make sure that they are official, showing their prices on the door and ensuring that they use the meter.
The two times I was ripped off by taxis in Romania were when I was wearily heading from train stations after a long journey. As such, I probably wasn’t very smart in my choice of taxi and ended up paying twice what I should have. Still, being overcharged only 4€ lessens the sting somewhat. Overall, I would advise against taking taxis from the train stations of the big cities, namely Bucharest and Brașov.
Speaking of Euros, they’re not much use in Romania. That’s because the national currency of Romania is the Leu, or New Leu (RON). Yes, there was an Old Leu (ROL), but the country did away with it due to rampant inflation. The only time you should come across the ROL is on currency exchange apps or websites, so don’t worry too much about it. As of August 2016, the exchange rate is very roughly 5 RON to 1€.
Because the cost of living and wages in Romania are relatively low, you may encounter problems getting change for larger notes. In my experience, you may have trouble getting change for a 50 RON note (roughly 11€) or higher. The best places I found to break large bills was in restaurants, supermarkets and mini markets.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the national language of Romania is … Romanian. Romanian is a romance language similar to French, Italian and Spanish, with several other minor influences including Slavic and Turkish. The similarities with the other major latin-based languages mean that if people do speak a second language, there’s a good chance it is either Italian, French or Spanish. As for English, you are more likely to find people associated with tourism or hospitality and who are younger, that speak it.
A few basic phrases to help you get by include Buna which means ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’; Mersi for ‘Thank you’ similar to French; Bine for ‘Okay’; and Da and Nu for ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
While not overly critical, I couldn’t help but include on this list my favourite Romanian snack, Covrigi. These baked goods are essentially a local form of pretzel. They can be found in small kiosks in every major town and city. They generally come either plain, with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, but you can also find sweet ones with chocolate and jam inside. You will frequently see small queues on the street for these popular and tasty snacks, partly because they are so cheap, at 1 RON for savoury ones and 2 RON for sweet ones. Cheap, simple and delicious!
8. Vlad the Impaler
It would be fair to say that Vlad the Impaler may be the most well-known Romanian internationally. A historical figure who was used as inspiration for an icon of pop culture in Dracula, Vlad Tepes comes up a fair bit when travelling around the country (see here and here). The thing is, the people of Romania seem fairly ambivalent about this medieval Prince outside of the draw he has on tourists.
In fairness, it makes sense. As a historical figure, Vlad Tepes was not an incredibly successful or long-lasting ruler. He is best remembered for his particularly vicious approach to impaling his enemies – the Ottomans – and less so for his actual time as ruler. Vlad was actually only Voivode (roughly a Duke) for 6 short years that ended in defeat at the hands of the Ottomans and his imprisonment. He was later released and managed to reclaim his throne, only to be killed a year later under unclear circumstances.
So while this 15th century ruler may be quite interesting to historians and history lovers (eg. me), he’s not all that relevant or important to modern Romanians.
It seems to be the case that often when people visit Romania, they only make time for Bucharest before venturing onward. While Bucharest is a fascinating city with plenty to see, it’s certainly not representative of the whole country. In Bucharest you will see the lasting impact of communism through its buildings and layout, but that’s not the case in other places. In the city of Sibiu and the town of Sighișoara, instead you’ll find charming medieval old towns that show what the towns looked like hundreds of years ago. Different again is the Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture of Oradea, a city on the western border of Hungary.
And it’s not just the cities and towns that are different. The landscape changes wildly depending on where in the country you visit. You have the huge and dramatic Carpathian Mountains near Brașov in the centre of the country; there’s the tranquil rolling hillsides of the northern Maramures region; the vast plateaus and plains like the one Bucharest is found in; and the coastline by Constanţa on the Black Sea. Basically, if you have the option to spend a little more time in Romania, take it so you can see more of what the country has to offer.
What other things would you like to know before visiting Romania? Have you visited Romania and have other insights to share? Please share them in the comments below.
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