Tourism in Romania

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The official logo of Romania, used to promote the tourist attractions in the country

Tourism in Romania focuses on the country's natural landscapes and its rich history. The number of tourists is growing every year and tourism is becoming an increasingly important source for Romania's GDP with 7–9 million people now visiting yearly. Romania's economy is characterized by a huge potential for tourism. The number of tourists increased from 4.8 million in 2002 to 8.9 million in 2008. The revenues grew from $400 million in 2002 to $607 million in 2004.[1] Domestic and international tourism in Romania attracted €880 million overall investments in 2005.[2]

Tourism is a significant contributor to the Romanian economy. In the 1990s the government heavily promoted the development of winter sports in the Romanian Carpathians. Both domestic and international tourism generate about 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 0.8 million jobs, being the second largest component in the services sector after commerce. In 2006 Romania registered 20 million overnight stays of international tourists, 4% higher than in the previous year and an all-time record. Two-thirds of all major trade fairs in Central Europe are held in Romania, each year attracting 2 to 3 million business travelers, about 20% of whom are foreigners. The four most important international trade fairs take place in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Iaşi and Timişoara.

In the year 2006 a total of 14,122,798 tourists vacationed in Romania. The overall revenue (domestic and international) was $4.2 billion, with an average expenditure of $679 per tourist. Over the years, Romania has emerged as a popular tourist destination for many Europeans, often competing with Greece, Italy and Spain. Romanian destinations such as Constanța and Mamaia (the "Litoral", sometimes called the Romanian Riviera) have become very popular among European tourists.

Romania has a highly developed tourism infrastructure, making it a good market for tourist-related facilities and services.

Wallachia[edit]

Main points of interest[edit]

Clayey eruption at Berca Mud Volcanoes

Some of Romania's most tranquil monasteries can be found in this region, including Horezu, a masterpiece of the Brâncovan architectural style and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.[3] The Horezu Monastery represents an important centre for the diffusion of culture. The Horezu school of painting was pre-eminent throughout the region in the 18th century. Horezu is also a renowned pottery center, where travelers can marvel at the colorful pottery created in local workshops by talented artisans. Since December 2012, Horezu pottery figures in UNESCO's Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage.[4] Other worth visiting monasteries in Wallachia include: Frăsinei Monastery (only Orthodox monastery in which females are not allowed to enter), Polovragi Monastery, Lainici Monastery, Tismana Monastery (oldest monastic establishment in Wallachia).

Cozia National Park, located in the south-central part of the Southern Carpathians, is famous for its abrupt cliffs, preferred by mountaineers and paragliders, and ensemble of Orthodox monasteries that studs the park: Turnu, Cozia (houses the tomb of Mircea the Elder), Stănișoara, Berislăvești and more.

The mighty Danube River, named by the Greek historian Herodotus "the king of the European rivers", forms much of Romania's southern border. The Danube enters the territory of Romania at the famous Iron Gates (Romanian: Porțile de Fier) and ends its 670-mile journey through the country in the Black Sea. Among the many sights near or along the Romanian section of the Danube River, worth visiting are: the ruins of Trajan's Bridge at Drobeta, Topolnița Cave (the second largest in Romania), the massive Statue of Decebalus (the tallest rock sculpture in Europe), the cities of Drobeta-Turnu Severin, Orșova, Giurgiu, Oltenița, Brăila, Galați.

In Buzău County, tourists can admire the spectacular eruptions of mud volcanoes in Pâclele Mari, Pâclele Mici and Beciu. Unusual "selenic" relief charms at first contact with the landscape. In the nearby, the earth catches fire, literally. Natural phenomenon in Lopătari, known as Living Fire, offers a tremendous scenery: flames that burst from the earth uplifting in the beating wind.

Main cities[edit]

Bucharest[edit]

Main article: Tourism in Bucharest

Other cities[edit]

The suspended bridge in Nicolae Romanescu Park, Craiova
Craiova City Centre with iconic Prefecture building
St. George Princely Cathedral, Pitești

The university town of Craiova, founded on the site of the Dacian stronghold Pelendava, prides itself on the strong academic tradition and wealth of important historical figures who passed through here on their journey to fame: Michael the Brave – who served as the ban of Craiova and achieved the first unification of the three Romanian principalities in 1600, world-famous sculptor Constantin Brâncuși – who studied at the Craiova Art School between 1894–1898 and carved his first sculptures here, and Craiova-born Petrache Poenaru – inventor of the first cartridge fountain pen. The city hosts a great number of religious buildings, many of them dating back to medieval times. The Church of Coșuna Monastery for example is the oldest building preserved in Craiova, dating from the 15th century. Another religious site, Madona Dudu Church, is renowned for its mural paintings, completed by the famous Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu. For those who want to find out more about the history and the traditions of this region we recommend a visit to the Oltenia Museum, housed in Băniei House (1699), the oldest non-religious building that exists in Craiova and one of the oldest lay buildings in the country.[5] Art lovers should definitely not miss the Art Museum in Craiova, hosted in the Dinu Mihail Palace, built in the early 1900s in neo-classic style by a French architect. Another landmark building in Craiova is the Dolj County Prefecture "guarded" one side and another by chic shops and restaurants. For those interested in enjoying a relaxing afternoon outside the Nicolae Romanescu Park is a veritable green oasis. The park is one of the valuable monuments of landscape architecture in Romania.

Ploiești is one of the major cities of Romania, the Prahova County seat, being located 60 km north of Bucharest. The city was badly affected by 1944 bombardments and earthquakes of 1940 and 1977. However, the city impresses by its Central Halls, surrounded by St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Palace of Culture and a number of museums.

Pitești, the Argeș County seat, is often called the City of tulips, here being hosted every year an important festival called Tulip Symphony. In 2008, the city centre was dight with a splendid Musical Fountain, unique in Eastern Europe. It has 1,000 water holes, fixed and mobile, light organ, and water "dance" depending on the tones of music. Trivale Monastery, St. George Princely Cathedral and the Art Gallery enrich the tourist dowry of the city.

Clock in Traian Square, Brăila

Brăila, the largest city in the homonymous county, is an important port on the Danube River, benefiting of numerous tourist attractions. Brăila's Old Town, severely damaged during the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29 and rebuilt in the 1830s, retains some of its 19th century grandeur when the city's investors made fortunes in the shipping business and built elegant villas, some of which have been fully restored. The Old Town, spread around Traian Square, features several points of interest: the Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, which served as mosque during the Ottoman rule, the Greek Church built between 1862 and 1872, displaying frescoes painted in 1890 by Romanian artist Gheorghe Tattarescu, the 1865 St. Nicholas Church, the 19th century Maria Filotti Theatre, the Brăila County Museum, and the historical Water Tower.

Heroes Avenue in Târgu Jiu Public Garden

A former Roman settlement, the city of Târgu Jiu lies at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, on the banks of the Jiu River. Constantin Brâncuși, one of the most influential modern sculptors of the 20th century, was born near Târgu Jiu, in Hobița. Although he lived and worked for most of his life in Paris, his legacy is also preserved in Romania, in the city of Târgu Jiu. The Jiu River valley was the scene of heavy fighting during World War I and World War II. Here, in a monumental ensemble, Brâncuși created three sculptures as a memorial to the 8,500 Romanian soldiers who died defending the Jiu Valley from the advancing German army. The three sculptures, the Silence Table (Romanian: Masa Tăcerii), the Gate of Kiss (Romanian: Poarta Sărutului) and the Endless Column (Romanian: Coloana Infinitului), are placed on mile-long east-west axis that runs through the heart of the city.

Târgoviște, Dâmbovița County seat, held for more than three centuries the status of the most important economic, politico-military and cultural-artistic centre of the Romanian Country (Romanian: Țara Românească). The Monumental-Museal Complex of Princely Court, built between 14th–17th centuries, represented the place where rulers who have resided here led Romanian Country, centre of conception of struggle for independence and hotbed of culture and civilization. Imposing Chindia Tower houses an exhibition of documents, weapons and objects which belonged to Vlad the Impaler, and inside the Princely Church was arranged a Brâncovan art collection.

Târgoviște Princely Court seen from Chindia Tower

One of the oldest towns in Wallachia, Curtea de Argeș was the capital of a small local state which was the start for the unification of the lands south of the Carpathians. The city is the site of couple medieval churches (among them the Curtea de Argeș Monastery) having been a bishopric since the close of the 18th century. The most important church is the Princely Church, built by Basarab I, completely renovated in 2003–2004. It resembles a stone fortress, connected through catacombs to a guard tower on a nearby hill. Ruins of the Prince's Palace Complex are still visible. One of the most enduring and famous Romanian legends, the legend of Meșterul Manole, is related to the monastery's construction.

Dobruja[edit]

Black Sea resorts[edit]

Constanţa Casino

Black Sea resorts

Bounded by Cape Midia and Vama Veche, the Romanian littoral of the Black Sea, nicknamed the Romanian Riviera, stretches over a length of 245 km.[6] Along the European route E87 are strung the 15 resorts that make disposal more than 250,000 accommodation places. This is the preferred holiday destination of Romanians. The Romanian littoral competes with the Mediterranean one, being famous for its fine sand, of a superior quality. The most important resort is Mamaia, situated north of Constanța on a strip of land that separates the Black Sea from Lake Siutghiol. Mamaia is a resort with a very dynamic development, every year tourists were accustomed to the fact that Mamaia resort welcomes them with something new: palm trees, AquaMagic water park, artesian fountains, cable car, sightseeing buses and more.[7] When the sun sets, Mamaia starts vibrating. The night parties, clubs and discos are just a few of the things which make the resort one of the most visited on the shore of the Black Sea. Other major resorts are: Eforie Nord, Eforie Sud, Costinești, Neptun, Venus, Saturn, Vama Veche. Costinești is the traditional resort of students, while Vama Veche is the place for fishermen, known for "hippie" atmosphere.[8]

The Black Sea coast has long been known for cures of arthritic, rheumatic, internal and nervous disorders. Eforie Nord and Mangalia spas specialize in mud baths (the mud is taken from the area's salty lake waters) as well as in world famous Gerovital and Aslavital original rejuvenation treatments.

Remnants of ancient Greek culture as far back as the 7th century BC, when seafarers established trading colonies along the coast, are still being discovered. The ruins of ancient ports Tomis and Callatis charm the tourist. Histria, the oldest attested town in the current territory of Romania, entered on the European Heritage List in 2007[9] and is included in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve since there are a wide variety of bird species.[10]

The main cities in the region are Constanța (the largest port on the Black Sea), Mangalia and Năvodari. Constanța, being one of the largest cities in Romania, is a cultural hotbed of national importance, worth exploring for its archaeological treasures and the atmosphere of the old town centre. In Constanța can be found examples of various architectural styles. The Casino, one of the best examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Romania, is considered as the symbol of the city. Carol I Mosque, built in 1910 in the Moorish style, witnesses the Ottoman influences on the settlement. The Genoese Lighthouse together with the Greek Church on the Mircea cel Bătrân Boulevard are the oldest buildings in the city. Open-air restaurants, nightclubs and cabarets offer a wide variety of entertainment. Mangalia is the host of largest summer festival in Romania – Callatis Festival. Năvodari is known for its sports facilities where up to 12,000 visitors can be accommodated.

Danube Delta[edit]

A fisherman on Danube Delta

The mighty Danube River flows 1,788 miles from its springs in Germany's Black Forest to the Black Sea. Just before reaching the sea it forms the second largest and best preserved of Europe's deltas: 2,200 square miles of rivers, canals, marshes, tree-fringed lakes and reed islands. The Danube Delta is a wildlife enthusiast's paradise. The Danube Delta was placed under UNESCO protectorate in 1991.[11]

Travelers can spend three or more days exploring its passages, teaming with the highest concentration of bird colonies in all of Europe. The maze of canals bordered by thatch, willows and oaks entangled in lianas, offers the perfect breeding ground for countless species of birds, some of them from as far away as China and Africa. Millions of Egyptian white pelicans arrive here every spring to raise their young, while equal numbers of Arctic geese come here to escape the harsh winters of Northern Europe.

Some 300 species of birds make Danube Delta their home, including cormorants, white tailed eagles and glossy ibises. The bird watching season lasts from early spring to late summer. Birds are not the only inhabitants of the Delta. There is also a rich community of fish and animals, from wildcats, foxes and wolves, to even an occasional boar or deer. Altogether, 3,450 animal species can be seen here, as well as 1,700 plant species.

The beaches of the delta are considered to be the most beautiful in Romania. Tourist is charmed by white sand, chopped clams, vegetation specific to a wild beach, cleanliness and peaceful atmosphere of beaches in Vadu, Corbu and Portița.

Sulina, the easternmost town in Romania, is the largest settlement in the Danube Delta. It is a small and coquettish town, with hospitable and hardworking people. Link to the nearby villages is by boat. Sulina beach is perfect for those who want to forget the agglomeration and spend a relaxing vacation away from everyday fatigue.

Periprava, populated mostly by Lipovans, is home to Genoese port and fortress Licostomo. South of Periprava, the tourist can explore the impressive Letea Forest with trees more than 500 years old. The northernmost subtropical forest in Europe, Letea Forest is famous for its large studs of wild horses.[12] The surrounding sand dunes are home to tortoises and lizards.

Other points of interest[edit]

Murfatlar, piece of a funerary monument from 3rd century

Castles and fortresses[edit]

Romania's collection of castles and fortresses perhaps best illustrates the rich medieval heritage of the country. While castles built from the 14th to the 18th centuries are strong and austere fortresses built mainly for defense against invaders, those erected beginning in the late 1800s are imposing and luxurious. The most popular include:

  • Bran Castle, often advertised as "Dracula's Castle", owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to the myth created around Bram Stoker's Dracula.
  • Bethlen-Haller Castle, built in the French Renaissance style of the 17th century, reproduces the central body of Château de Chambord.
  • Corvin Castle, the greatest Gothic-style castle in Romania, Corvin was built by the Anjou family on the site of a former Roman camp. The castle served as a fortress until the mid-14th century when it became the residence of Transylvania's ruler, Iancu de Hunedoara. Iancu upgraded the fortress transforming it into the most stunning castle in Transylvania. Every year, here are organized medieval festivals, being reconstructed battles in the early history of Romania.[14]
  • Făgăraș Fortress houses the Făgăraș County Museum, displaying Roman artifacts, a collection of medieval weapons and traditional folk crafts. The museum also hosts a beautiful collection of icons painted on glass.
  • Peleș Castle is considered by many one of the most stunning castles in Europe. Nestled at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains in the picturesque town of Sinaia, Peleș Castle is a masterpiece of German new-Renaissance architecture.
  • Râșnov Fortress is located on a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains, 650 feet above the town of Râșnov.
  • Neamț Fortress was part of the fortification system built in Moldavia in the late 14th century, in the time of the Ottoman threat. The fortress is a witness of troubled history of Moldavia, being burned several times by invaders.
  • Pelișor Castle is the summer residence of Crown Princes of Romania.
  • Săvârșin Castle is a mansion owned by the Romanian royal family. The castle is surrounded by an impressive arboretum with lake and wharf.
  • Csernovics Castle is an architectural monument of national heritage value, dating from the 19th century.
  • Iulia Hasdeu Castle was built to commemorate Iulia Hasdeu, daughter of Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, first Romanian who graduated from the Paris Sorbonne.

Maramureș[edit]

The northwestern Romanian region of Maramureș is home to many villages where century-old traditions are still part of daily life. The inhabitants of this area have preserved, to an amazing extent, the rural culture and crafts of their Dacian ancestors. Maramureș villages are distinguished by their unique wooden churches with tall spires and shingled roofs.[15] Elaborate woodcarvings decorate the eaves, entryways and windows of houses. The local handwork is also seen in the hand-woven carpets and intricate embroidery that adorns folk dresses still worn by the locals.

Wooden churches[edit]

Iconic blue crosses of Merry Cemetery
The wooden church of Bârsana Monastery

As it has for hundreds of years, social life in Maramureș continues to revolve around the village church. The wooden churches of Maramureș – in Șurdești, Plopiș, Rogoz, Ieud Deal, Poienile Izei, Bârsana, Budești Josani and Desești – have been recognized by UNESCO as some of the most important sites of world heritage. Unique in shape and ornamentation, they have characteristic high roofs and tall, narrow, pointed steeples, often collectively describer as "the Gothic style of Maramureș".[16]

The spiritual philosophy of the people of Maramureș is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Săpânța. The town folks' ancestors considered death as a beginning, not the end, and this faith is reflected in the carvings in the village's unique Merry Cemetery. Blue wooden crosses feature a carved scene and humorous verses that endeavor to capture essential elements – both the good and the imperfections – of the deceased's life. Even without benefit of translation, visitors can appreciate the handiwork of sculptor Stan Ioan Pătraș, who began carving these epitaphs in 1935, and his successors. Pătraș' house in the village is now a fascinating museum. Săpânța is also home to several wooden gates and world's tallest wooden church.[17]

Natural landscapes[edit]

Haystack on Pietrosul Peak, Rodna Mountains

Maramureș is dominated by a landscape of mountains and rolling valleys. The Gutâi, Lăpuș, Țibleș, Maramureș and Rodna Mountains are cut by passes named Huta, Gutâi, Prislop, Șetref and Botiza. Three large valleys cross the region: Vișeu, Iza and Mara. The Rodna National Park, a natural reserve filled with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, has been awarded biosphere status by UNESCO. Here, chamois leap between rocks, the cry of eagles' rings out overhead and as the snows recede in the spring, crocus and other flowers create swathes of dazzling colors. Horse Falls (Romanian: Cascada Cailor), the highest waterfall in Romania, is a very popular destination, every year thousands of tourists from all over the country and abroad come to see one of the most majestic waterfalls in the Carpathians.[18]

Largest cities[edit]

One of the most important mining centers of Romania, Baia Mare has a history of more than 2,000 years of gold, silver and other non-ferrous metals extraction. First mentioned in 1329, Baia Mare has preserved some its medieval past around the main town square, Liberty Square (Romanian: Piața Libertății). The oldest house here, dating from the 1440s, stands on the east side of the square, a lone remnant of a long-gone castle built by Transylvanian prince Iancu de Hunedoara for his wife Elisabeta. The house, appropriately named Casa Elisabeta, is used these days to house temporary art exhibits. Towering above the square is the Gothic-style 120-foot-tall watchtower, Stephen's Tower (Romanian: Turnul lui Ștefan), spanning six centuries of history. Another square, Springs Square (Romanian: Piața Izvoarelor), houses Baia Mare's main open-air food market. Next to it stands the only remaining part of the town's 15th century medieval fortifications, the Butchers' Tower (Romanian: Turnul Măcelarilor).

Sighetu Marmației is an important tourist and cultural center in the region. The outdoor village museum in Sighetu Marmației boasts dozens of homes and farm buildings assembled from around Maramureș County. Other attractions include the 16th century Reformed Church, the Elie Wiesel Memorial House, and the Museum of Arrested Thought, located in a former communist prison in the center of town.

Borșa and Cavnic are popular ski resorts, also preferred by hikers and nature lovers.

Transylvania[edit]

The name of Transylvania comes from the Latin ultra silvam (beyond the forest). This is one of the most surprising regions of Romania. Cultural traditions of Germans, Hungarians and Romanians play a very important role in the cultural and ethnic diversity. Generous relief in this region gives a great potential of recreational area: is suitable both for people who want to relax and enjoy the scenery and being away from the noise of big cities and for travelers seeking adventure and sports activities.

In the West and beyond, Transylvania is often associated with vampires (mainly due to Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula") and with horror genre in general, although this region is known for the picturesque scenery of the Carpathian Mountains and its rich history. Many foreign films were made here, including "Cold Mountain" (starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman), "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (starring Anthony Hopkins and Keanu Reeves), "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (starring Nicolas Cage) and "The Whistleblower" (starring Rachel Weisz and Monica Bellucci).[19]

Fortified churches[edit]

The Transylvanian villages with fortified churches provide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape of southern Transylvania. They are characterized by the specific land-use system, settlement pattern, and organization of the family farmstead units preserved since the late Middle Ages, dominated by their fortified churches, which illustrate building periods from the 13th to 16th centuries.[20] The fortified churches in Transylvania are specific to Székely and Saxon villages. Erstwhile counting about 300, the fortified churches have played a both religious and military role for more than five centuries. At the beginning of 21st century, only half of them survived the tumultuous history of Transylvania. However, Transylvanian fortified churches form one of the densest system of well preserved medieval fortifications in Europe.[21] Seven of the fortified Saxon churches (in Biertan, Câlnic, Dârjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor and Viscri) were designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites.[22] Aforementioned villages charm the tourist at a first visit, due to the particular architecture of the houses, enchanting landscapes and villagers' lifestyle unchanged for hundreds of years. Is also the case of Charles of Wales, the Crown Prince of Great Britain, that holds in these villages at least ten homes.[23]

Main cities[edit]

St. Michael's Church, Cluj-Napoca

With one of the most vibrant economies in the country and a population of around 330,000, Cluj-Napoca is today a vibrant cultural and educational city. The main square, resplendent with 18th and 19th century buildings and home to many shops and restaurants, is dominated by the 14th century St. Michael's Church, one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in Romania. The square also claims the 18th century baroque Bánffy Palace, housing the weaponry and Romanian art collections of the Art Museum. Visitors who want to learn more about the region should pay a visit to the open-air section of the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania, a true display of folk architecture. The city has a number of renowned facilities and institutions involving performing arts. The most prominent is the Neo-baroque theatre at the Avram Iancu Square. This buildings hosts the Lucian Blaga National Theatre and the Romanian National Opera and is inscribed in UNESCO's list of specially protected monuments.[24]

Council Square, Brașov
Great Square, Sibiu
Sighișoara clock tower

Fringed by the peaks of the Southern Carpathians and resplendent with gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a wealth of historical attractions, Brașov is one of the most visited places in Romania. The Saxons built massive stone walls and seven bastions around the city that are still visible today, as well as ornate churches, elaborately trimmed buildings and one of the finest central squares in the country, said to be the spot to which the legendary Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin. Located at the heart of old medieval Brașov and lined with beautiful red-roofed merchant houses, the Council Square, known to the Saxon population as the Marktplatz, is a nice place to rest and soak in the beautiful scenery. In the centre of the square stands the Old Town Hall (1420), now home to Brașov's History Museum, while the southeast corner is dominated by the town's most famous landmark, the Black Church.

Sibiu (Hermannstadt in German) was the largest and wealthiest of the seven walled citadels built in the 12th century by German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons. Sibiu's Old Town retains the grandeur of its earlier days when rich and powerful guilds dominated regional trade. Sections of the medieval wall still guard the historic area, where narrow streets pass steep-roofed 17th century buildings with gable overhangs before opening into vast, church-dominated squares such as Great Square and Little Square. Sibiu is a pedestrian-friendly city with two easily accessible levels: the Upper town, home to most of Sibiu's historic sights, and the Lower town, lined with colorful houses on cobblestone streets and bounded by imposing city walls and defense towers overlooking the Cibin River. Traditionally, the Upper town was the wealthier part and commercial outlet, while the Lower town served as the manufacturing area. The historical centre includes the Great Square, Huet Square, the beautiful Passage of Steps connecting the Upper town to the Lower town, the well-known Bridge of Lies, Goldsmiths' Square and the Small Square. Along with the city of Luxembourg, it was designated a European Capital of Culture for 2007. The old city of Sibiu was ranked by Forbes as "Europe's 8th most idyllic place to live".[25]

Named literally for a "market" on the Mureș River and known as the "city of roses", Târgu Mureș (Marosvásárhely in Hungarian and Neumarkt am Mieresch in German) enjoys the best of both Romanian and Hungarian cultures. Târgu Mureș was the cultural center of the Szeklerland. Refinement of those times vibrates till now. Its centrally located Roses Square (Romanian: Piața Trandafirilor) is lined with modern streetside cafes and restaurants, churches and monuments. Târgu Mureș' top attraction is located at the south end of the square: the Palace of Culture, a flamboyant early 20th-century city hall with an outstanding stained-glass hall, housing some of main local museums. Another point of interest is the Târgu Mureș Fortress with its distinctive Reformed Church.

Third Gate of the Alba Iulia Fortress

One of the oldest settlements in Romania, known in ancient time as Apulum, Alba Iulia served as the largest military and economic center during the Roman occupation. Temples, mosaics, thermae and statues, amphitheaters, the governor's palace ("Daciarum Trium") – all rendered the original Dacian Apulum as the miniature copy of the mother Rome. In the old town visitors can stroll along the wide, tree-lined streets of the Habsburg citadel, one of the most impressive in Europe, to discover the historical, cultural and architectural places of interest of Alba Iulia: the Roman Catholic Cathedral – the oldest and most valuable monument of architecture in Transylvania, the Batthyaneum Library, the Orthodox Coronation Cathedral, the Babilon Building – housing the National Museum of the Union, the Union Hall, the Apor Palace, the Princely Palace and the University of Alba Iulia.

Founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century, Sighișoara (German: Schassburg) still stands as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO,[26] this perfectly intact 16th century gem with nine towers, cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches rivals the historic streets of Old Prague or Vienna for atmospheric magic. It is also the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia from 1456 to 1462.

Banat and Crișana[edit]

The Dome and Holy Trinity Monument in Union Square, Timișoara
Oradea City Hall

The unique mix of architectural and cultural heritages in the history-rich provinces of Crișana and Banat stems from the fact that for centuries Romanians have lived here alongside Germans (Schwabs), Serbians and Hungarians (Magyars). A trio of western Romania cities – Timișoara, Oradea and Arad – provides travelers with an insight into this region's long past and colorful traditions.

Habsburg rule until 1918 introduced Art Nouveau architecture in Banat and established Timișoara as "the garden city". Frequently referred to as "Little Vienna",[27] Timișoara has always been a progressive, cosmopolitan city. An important trade and university town, Timișoara features open squares, parks and gardens, elegant boutiques, cafes, restaurants and a great display of Secessionist architecture. Cultural attractions include the Banat Museum (art, natural history and ethnography), the Village Museum, the Botanical Garden, the Timișoara Philharmonic and the Opera House. Places of historical note include the ruins of Timișoara Fortress, Huniade Castle, Dicasterial Palace, Old City Hall and the Palace of Justice.

Just north of Timișoara on the Mureș River banks lies the city of Arad, tracing its history back to the 12th century. Churches and cathedrals span four centuries, several denominations and architectural styles ranging from baroque to neoclassic. The exciting architecture of the buildings in the city's square reflects the influence of the one-time Austrian-Hungarian occupation; most notable are the City Hall and Cenad Palace. An original Turkish fortress (built in 1550 and rebuilt twice in the 17th and 18th centuries), the Palace of Culture and the State Philharmonic House are some of the other sights to enjoy here.

Oradea, eight miles east of the Romanian-Hungarian border, is one of the most picturesque towns of western Romania, as well as an important cultural center. At the turn of the last century, most of the town's old houses were rebuilt and customized to the then trendy architectural style from Vienna called "Secession", with its richly decorated facades of pale pink, green, blue and white. To get a feel for the city's past, stroll around the Old Downtown and visit the Museum of the Criș Rivers, housed in a splendid 1770 baroque palace with 365 windows modeled after the Belvedere Palace in Vienna.

Western Romania is a heaven for active travelers and adventure seekers, with abundant opportunities for trekking, mountain climbing, hunting, fishing, horseback riding and more. Crișana and Banat have exquisite natural scenery with a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean region.

Other tourist attractions[edit]

Densuș Church steeple with Făgăraș Mountains in the background
  • Praid salt mine, located in Harghita County, is the largest in Romania and has the only underground adventure park in Europe.[28] In 2014, here was opened the largest saltwater swimming pool in Romania, having an area of approximately 5,200 m².[29]
  • Roșia Montană cultural landscape with its Alburnus Maior Citadel and old houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, veritable monuments of folk architecture.
  • St. Nicholas' Church in Densuș, one of the oldest Byzantine churches in Romania, built in the 13th century.
  • Although not as well known as Maramureș, the Sălaj County has the largest ensemble of wooden churches in Romania – not less than 92 architectural monuments. For this region, wooden churches constitute one of the most distinctive elements of identity, Sălaj assuming today the name of "county of wooden churches".[30]
  • Porolissum, an ancient Roman city in Dacia, is one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in modern-day Romania.
  • Vălișoara Gorge, a protected area of national interest in Alba County. The reserve is an important tourist attraction, here can be visited the ruins of Trascău medieval citadel, Măgina Monastery, the village of Rimetea and its ethnographic museum, Vânătările Ponorului (maybe the only form of relief of this kind in Romania)[31] and Huda lui Papară Cave (cave with the largest colony of bats in Europe).[32]
  • Mărginimea Sibiului is an area which comprises 18 localities in the southwestern part of the Sibiu County, all of them having an unique ethnological, cultural, architectural and historical heritage.
  • Hoia Forest, located west of Cluj-Napoca, is very appreciated by bikers and practitioners of paintball, airsoft and archery. It is commonly believed that paranormal phenomena take place in the forest, and this reputation attracts practitioners of yoga, wicca and paranormal enthusiasts.

Moldavia and Bukovina[edit]

Moldavia rivals Transylvania when it comes to rich folklore, natural beauty and astonishing history. Over the past 500 years, history, culture and religious life have molded Iași, the cultural capital of Moldavia. Iași boasts an impressive number of Orthodox churches, almost 100,[33] most of them located in the Golden Plateau, representing the nucleus of the city, around which the city developed over the centuries. The most important and also the most beautiful are the Metropolitan Cathedral, largest Orthodox church in Romania,[34] the Galata Monastery, the Golia Monastery and, not least, the Three Holy Hierarchs Monastery. Another major landmark in Iași is the neo-gothic Palace of Culture, built between 1906–1925, currently housing the Moldova National Museum Complex and the Gheorghe Asachi County Library.[35] Iași, third university center after Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest, with about 70,000 students annually, hosts the oldest university of the country, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, founded in 1860.[36]

Statue of Stephen the Great in front of the Iași Palace of Culture

Nestled in the rolling hills of northern Moldavia is the region of Bukovina, Țara Fagilor (Beech Land),[37] home to one of the world's greatest art treasures: the UNESCO World heritage sites of the Painted Monasteries of Bukovina. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries and featuring colorful exterior frescoes depicting dramatic religious scenes, these richly decorated houses of worships are unique in the world.[38]

The most famous of these, often called "the Sistine Chapel of the East",[39] is Voroneț Monastery. Erected in 1438 by Stephen the Great, Voroneț's most stunning feature is a Last Judgment fresco painted – as at all the churches – on the exterior facade. The blue paint that has miraculously never faded is known throughout the world as "Voroneț blue". The artists here worked in isolation, guarding their trade secrets and to this day, the composition of the paint remains a mystery. Legends speak of 44 monasteries founded by Stephen the Great, one after every battle won.[40] Nowadays, the monastic complex of northern Moldavia, one of the best preserved in the world, include 21 monasteries.[41]

Other painted churches not to be missed include Sucevița, with its distinctive greens, and Humor, where the frescoes are predominantly red. Also nearby are, Arbore, Dragomirna, Moldovița and Putna monasteries.[42]

The town of Suceava may be the best starting point for a trip to the monasteries. Once the capital of Moldavia (from 1375 until 1565), it has some noteworthy attractions of its own, such as the remains of the Fortress of Suceava built by Petru I Mușat in 1388.[43] Today, visitors can tour the remains of the impressive fortifications and take in a great view of the city. Other sights in Suceava include the Saint John the New Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage site), the Mirăuți Church, the Zamca Monastery and a number of museums dedicated to woodcraft, ethnography, history and folk art. The Bukovina History Museum displays medieval armor, coins, tools and ancient documents. Its Hall of Throne is a re-creation of Stephen the Great's court with furniture, weapons and costumes.

Bacău, second largest city in Moldavia, offers a large number of cathedrals and churches, the most important being Ascension of Jesus Cathedral and Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, largest Catholic cathedral in Eastern Europe. Victor Anestin Astronomical Observatory, one of the few in Romania, is another point of interest in the city.

Stephen's Tower, emblem of Piatra Neamț

Piatra Neamț, an important city in Romanian Moldavia, is one of the most picturesque settlements in the country. Tourists can board the cable car to admire the natural beauty of the area. Another point of interest is the Royal Court dominated by imposing Stephen's Tower. Due to its architectural beauty and surrounding landscapes, Piatra Neamț has been called the Pearl of Moldavia.[44]

Natural landscapes[edit]

Dochia Rock in Ceahlău Massif is supposedly to be the place of refuge of mythical Baba Dochia.

The Ceahlău Massif, sometimes referred as Romania's Olympus – the sacred mountain of the Dacians, is the most famous and impressive massif in the central part of the Eastern Carpathians.[45] Ceahlău hosts a diverse and rich fauna. Here can be found the brown bear, the lynx, the pine marten, the goldcrest (the smallest bird in Romania) and the chamois, a jewel of Romanian fauna. The Vânători-Neamț Natural Park in the immediate vicinity of the massif is one of the few places where the European bison can be seen.

The Ceahlău Massif shelters many architectural masterpieces, including remote hermitages, the Agapia Monastery, whose interior frescoes were executed by famous painter Nicolae Grigorescu during 1858–1861 and, not least, the Neamț Citadel that was part of the fortification system built in Moldavia in the late fourteenth century, in the time of the Ottoman expansion.

A location favored by hikers and rock climbers is the Bicaz Canyon. The road along the eight kilometres of ravines, often in serpentines with rock on one side and a sheer drop on the other, is one of the most spectacular drives in the country.

Folk art[edit]

Easter eggs with elaborate decorations

Bukovina is the main source of traditions and customs, sacredly preserved from ancestors by locals and perfectly intertwined with the habits of the ten minorities living in this part of the country. Egg painting, malanca (a spectacular form of popular theater), pottery, carpentry and joinery are very appreciated by foreign visitors. In Bukovina, every house is a thesaurus of ethnography. The houses are built of paiantă (adobe bricks) or wood, and their walls are decorated with various fabrics with popular motifs. Hospitality and innate sense of humor, but also diverse and unique cuisine in this part of Europe, are magnets for tourists.

Medical spas[edit]

Băile Felix, a popular thermal spa resort near Oradea

Started by Romans and unique in Europe. Today Romania's 70 natural spas provide relief for many medical disorders and illnesses including rheumatism, endocrine, kidney, liver, respiratory, heart, stomach and nervous diseases as well as nutrition, metabolism and gynecological disorders. Romania is home to more than one third of Europe's mineral and thermal springs. Natural factors are complemented – under attentive medical care – by physiotherapy, acupuncture, electrotherapy and medicines produced from plants. Romania's main spas include: Mangalia, Neptun, Eforie Nord, Covasna, Slănic Moldova, Vatra Dornei, Borsec, Băile Herculane, Buziaș, Sovata, Bazna, Ocna Sibiului, Băile Felix, Tușnad, Călimănești and Băile Govora.[46]

Carpathian Mountains[edit]

The Romanian Carpathians belong to the Alpine-Himalayan mountain system which includes intercontinental Eurasian area. The Carpathians begins north of Bratislava and reaches Timok River in Serbia, constituting an extension of the Alps. The Carpathian range is longer than the Alps and is divided into four major groups: Western Carpathians, Wooded Carpathians, Eastern Carpathians and Southern Carpathians, extending in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania. The Romanian Carpathians surround the Transylvanian basin from north, east, south and west, as a shielding wall, being called the "vertebral column" of the mioritic space. Making their way through the heart of Romania, the Carpathians remained one of the last unspoiled places in all of Europe. Along the Danube and the Black Sea, they constitute the fundamental geographical element in the territorial definition of the Romanian state.

Incredible alpine views, but also the tremendous beauty of a land whose time seemed to stop – shepherds hand their flocks, horses harnessed to carts run slowly, and the medieval settlements retain their traditions and customs – make from the Romanian Carpathians a spectacular open museum, also occupying a special position in the tourist circuit of the country by particularly impressive landscapes, glacial valleys, calcareous regions, unique and irregular shapes of rocks.

Eastern Carpathians[edit]

The group of Eastern Carpathians is one of the major parts of the Carpathians, it stretching mainly in Romania but having portions on the territories of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia. The eastern branch of the Carpathians is distinguished by the multitude of natural passes like Brotocea, Prislop, Bicaz, Gutâi, Oituz that make the traffic to take place in normal conditions on both sides of the Carpathian chain.

Petrified trunks of fir trees pricking the surface of Red Lake

Red Lake and Bicaz Gorges are phenomena of an unique beauty in the area. The Bicaz Gorges are famous for their 1,000 ft limestone rocks towering over narrow roads and passes. The road that slices through the Bicaz Gorges (Romanian: Cheile Bicazului) is among Romania's most stunning and spectacular. For kayakers and fly-fishing enthusiasts the park's main attraction is the Red Lake (Romanian: Lacul Roșu), created in the summer of 1837 after a major natural landslide.[47] Short and long walks provide access to the lake's spectacular scenery and many fishing spots. The Bicaz Gorges offer a unique view of the Ceahlău Massif.

Tourists can practice horse riding in the Călimani National Park, renown for its volcanic bizarre shapes, traces of old craters and the largest volcanic caldera in Carpathians. The natural erosion process in the volcanic plateau has led to the formation of the unusual shaped 12 Apostles (Romanian: Cei 12 Apostoli), Red Stones (Romanian: Pietrele Roșii) and Nefertiti geological reserves.

Harghita Mountains, the largest andesite mass and the largest volcanic body in the whole of Europe,[48] remarks by Ciomatu Massif, whose volcanic cone is home for Romania's only volcanic lake, famous Lake Sfânta Ana.

Western Carpathians[edit]

A characteristic countryside of the Apuseni Mountains
Petreștii de Mijloc seen from the Turda Gorge

Another branch of the Carpathians located at the boundary between Iron Gates and Someș Valley, the Western Carpathians is characterized by the diversity of karst phenomena, where caves like Bears', Scărișoara and Wind's represent real monuments of nature.

The most popular tourist attraction in the Western Carpathians is the Apuseni Natural Park – known as the cavers' paradise, protects one of the most interesting cave fauna in the country. Traces of the prehistoric man, as well as fossils of animals that lived in the Ice Age were found in several of the caves, along with rare bat populations. The Cave with Bones, a system of 12 karstic galleries and chambers, is home to earliest reliably dated European modern human fossils. Discovered in 2002, the fossil's age is estimated at 37,800 to 42,000 years old. Located in the same county – Caraș-Severin – and worth to be visited is the Bigăr Waterfall. It looks like something straight out of a fairytale, reason for that was placed by Business Insider in the top of most beautiful waterfalls in the world.[49]

Candles' Hall inside the Bears' Cave
Elevator inside the Turda salt mine

The 3,500-year-old Scărișoara glacier, located in the Bihor Mountains has a volume of 112,000 cubic metres, making it the second largest European underground glacier, after the Dobšinská Ice Cave in Slovakia.[50] The temperature inside the cave is close to the value of frost, even if during the summer temperature on the surface is rising up to 30 °C. Another incredible cave that must be mentioned is the Bears' Cave. The interior is distinguished by the diversity of existing formations of stalactites and stalagmites and by the sheer amount of traces and fossils of cave bear that disappeared 15,000 years ago.

The complex karst landforms of Apuseni Natural Park are an attraction on their own, especially hikers with a fascination for geology. Deep valley and gorges, karrens and karst depression – where underground rivers and streams flow – give the landscape an exceptional character. Cetățile Ponorului is the best example of uniqueness in the Apuseni. It is one of the largest karst complexes of Romania and is often called the "Everest of Romanian speleology".[51] Turda Gorge (Romanian: Cheile Turzii), located to the north, provides a karst landscape of rare wildness: high and steep cliffs, sharp ridges, stone towers, rocky dales, scree, arcades, etc. Nearby can be visited the Turda salt mine. According to Business Insider, Turda salt mine is the most beautiful underground place in the world.[52]

As opposed to other national and nature parks in Romania, the Apuseni Mountains are populated up to high altitudes, with permanent and quasi-permanent dwellings. The hamlets on the Ocoale–Scărișoara Plateau, at 3840 ft, are among the highest settlements in the country.

The Arieș Valley and its villages are a pure example of Romanian traditions. Here, skilled artisans, the moți people, carve musical instruments, hope chests and houses from the local wood, the spruce. The Apuseni moți villages are some of the best places in which the tourist can find tranquility and timeless wisdom of the traditional village way of life. In Pătrăhăițești, a little mountain village, the tourist may hear the famous bucium (alphorn), used for generations by shepherds in the Apuseni Mountains.[53]

Southern Carpathians[edit]

Southern Carpathians are the most massive, typical and spectacular mountainous region of the country. Dubbed the Romanian Alps,[54] they reach the highest altitude in the Făgăraș Mountains (Moldoveanu Peak, 2,544 m) that offers beautiful views and hiking in a wonderful landscape.

Main attractions[edit]

A waterfall on the Stânișoara River in the Retezat Mountains

Containing more than 60 peaks over 2,300 metres and over 100 crystal clear deep glacier lakes, the Retezat Mountains are some of the most beautiful in the Carpathians. In 1935, the Government of Romania set aside an area of the Retezat Mountains creating the country's first national park. The area shelters one of Europe's last remaining intact old-growth forest and the continent's largest single area of pristine mixed forest. The park also includes about 80 glacier lakes, among them the Bucura Lake, the largest glacier lake in Romania. The fauna is extremely diverse. Here, tourists can hear the brown bear mumbling in raspberry bushes, can admire the noisy playing of marmots, can watch the bold jumps of chamois and the mating rituals of capercaillie. In 1979, the Man and the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO included the park in the international network of biosphere reserve. Local communities and cultural sights from around the park area add a special value to that of the landscape and the biodiversity inside the park. The people in the villages of Sălașu de Sus, Râu de Mori and Câmpu lui Neag preserve to this day the traditional lifestyle of the area.

Large circular sanctuary, Sarmizegetusa Regia

Piatra Craiului Natural Park features the longest and highest limestone ridge in the country (over 15 miles long and 6560 ft high). Bordered by glacial lakes, the ridge is regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in the Carpathians. The two-day north-south ridge trail is both challenging and rewarding. The traditional villages of Măgura, Peștera, Ciocanu and Sirnea make for interesting starting points for the routes on the eastern slope and for getting in touch with the traditional Romanian way of life. Dâmbovicioara Gorge and Cave are the most important karst phenomena in Piatra Craiului. At the foothills of Piatra Craiului Mountains can be visited the LiBEARty Bear Reservation in Zărnești.

Făgăraș Mountains are the highest mountains of the Southern Carpathians. The Făgăraș Mountains are a very popular hiking, trekking and skiing destination in Romania. They are crossed by Transfăgărășan and Transalpina, the highest and most dramatic roads in Romania. The most important tourist attractions in the area are Vidraru Lake and Dam, one of the largest in Europe, then Poenari Citadel (the "real" Dracula Castle, famous for spirits that haunt the castle ruins and the surrounding valleys)[55] and Bâlea glacial lake and waterfall.

Bucegi Mountains stretch along the upper part of the Prahova Valley, in the eastern extremity of the Southern Carpathians and look majestically to cities scattered like pearls on this valley: Predeal, Azuga, Bușteni, Poiana Țapului, Sinaia. Being of a great structural and morphological complexity, massif appears as a natural fortress with enclosure suspended at 1,600–2,500 m, supported by strong slopes. The geological formations are highly appreciated by tourists from all over the world. Among them we mention the Sphinx, Babele, Ialomița Cave with its vast galleries of mural art, rupestral paintings of rare beauty and ancient frescoes hidden in the heart of Bucegi, Omu Rocks and Dacian sanctuary from Omu Peak. From the historical and even mystical point of view, the Sphinx is the representation of a supreme divinity of the Pelasgian times. Many historians suggest that the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt, is a copy of one from the Bucegi Platform.[56] In the nearby Piatra Mare Massif, tourists can admire the Seven Ladders Canyon with its seven waterfalls.

Orăștie Mountains are thought to have been the political, economic, military and spiritual centre of Dacia. They are often associated with the identity of the sacred mountain of the Dacians – Kogaionon. Decebalus' defensive system of Orășie Mountains is built in Murus Dacicus style and comprises six fortresses (Sarmizegetusa Regia, Piatra Roșie, Costești-Blidaru, Costești-Cetățuie, Căpâlna and Bănița), part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage.[57] Their extensive and well-preserved remains stand in spectacular natural surroundings and give a dramatic picture of a vigorous and innovative civilization.

Ski resorts[edit]

Hotels in Poiana Brașov
  • Sinaia is a popular ski and spa resort located in the foothills of Bucegi Mountains. Among the tourist landmarks, the most important are Peleș Castle, Pelișor Castle, Sinaia Monastery, Sinaia Casino, Sinaia train station and the Franz Joseph and Saint Anne Cliffs.
  • Bușteni is known for its winter sports facilities. Natural monuments around the city are a magnet for Romanian and foreign tourists. Urlătoarea Waterfall, Babele and the Sphinx charm at first glance. Also in the area is the Bucegi Natural Park, with direct access by Bușteni-Babele cable car. For tourists who are not necessarily looking for hiking, there are landmarks in the resort: Cantacuzino Castle, Princely Church (with its remarkable inner icons painted by famous Gheorghe Tattarescu), Caraiman Monastery and more.
  • Predeal is the city located at the highest altitude in Romania. Predeal is known mostly for its winter sports, providing the opportunity to ski on five slopes, because chairlifts available.
  • Poiana Brașov is the most popular Romanian ski resort and an important tourist centre preferred by many tourists not only from Romania, but also from Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and other European states. Poiana Brașov disposes of 12 ski slopes with different degrees of difficulty, sports grounds, a lake, discos, bars and restaurants.
  • Azuga is a resort that can boast the first ski slope in Romania approved by the International Ski Federation. For this reason, and due to massive investments in tourism infrastructure, Azuga has become one of the largest ski resorts in the country.
  • Rânca is a fast developing tourist resort in Gorj County. Rânca is an excellent freeride area, snowboarding and extreme skiing fans have a huge domain of off-piste, the central point being represented by Păpușa Peak.

Festivals[edit]

Statistics[edit]

Foreign visitor arrivals in 2010[edit]

Note: figures refer to arrivals at frontiers of visitors from abroad and include same day visitors (excursionists).[58]

  • Overall Total: 7,498,000
  • Total Europe: 7,098,000

European Union[edit]

Other European countries[edit]

Other continents and countries[edit]

  • Total Africa : 21,000
  • Total Asia : 195,000

Income[edit]

In 2006 it was reported that this industry added gross value of $8,074 million to the Romanian economy in 2005.

Romania for disabled travellers[edit]

Facilities for disabled travellers in Romania range from patchy to nonexistent. Anyone with mobility problems should go prepared and ideally have local contacts. However it is possible to get around the country if you know what you are doing.

In 2006, in the run-up to joining the EU, Romania passed some excellent legislation supporting the rights of disabled people. However although it has made some slow strides towards disabled access since then, and new buildings need to be wheelchair-accessible, implementation has been very poor. In practice Romania remains by and large off-limits to disabled travellers.[59]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Turismul,[dead link] Gandul.info
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External links[edit]