Romania has gained a place in my heart and is one of my favorite countries to explore. During my time in Romania, I often heard locals recommend that I should visit Timisoara. Alas, I never got around to it as I had almost overstayed my visa.
I traveled around other parts of Europe and finally settled in Budapest, Hungary with my girlfriend for a month or so. One rainy day, I had the yearning to head back to Romania and I had four days left on the Romanian visa. Furthermore, Timisoara is just 5-hour train ride away from Budapest. It was a simple decision. My girlfriend and I planned a little adventure to check out Timisoara and hitchhike our way to Belgrade in Serbia.
Where to stay in Timisoara?
We first searched for accommodation online and found one on the outskirts of the city with decent price and reviews. We booked the place ahead of time and headed to the location as soon as our train arrived. Walking around in the residential area didn’t give an excellent first impression of the city. It’s like a scene from a 70s movie. There were a lot of communist-era buildings around. Not the neo-classical architecture I was expecting from postcards. Old but not ancient enough to be cool.
Luckily, unfortunate events lead us out of the suburbs and into the heart of the city. I know that sounds like an oxymoron but bear with me.
We arrived at the guest house I mentioned that we booked (Arthouse Lucrezia) online, but there was no one in sight. No doors, no entrance, and no office. There was a gate of sorts and a fence with a mailbox that had a little-written address that implied we were at the right place. We knocked, yelled, circled the compound a few times trying to find somebody to no avail. We spent almost an hour trying to find somebody or a way in and finally gave up.
A Beautiful City
We decided to take a taxi to the city to find another hotel in the center called the Central Hotel in downtown Timisoara. It turned out to be a great decision. The location was very centralized, and we had access to the coolest spots in the city. And boy what city. Beautiful, vibrant, and full of amazing picturesque architecture that rivals any top cities in Western Europe.
What is Timisoara famous for?
First, let’s get into historical context about Timisoara before we get into the meat of how it’s another remarkable Romanian destination.
Timisoara was built around an ancient Roman fortress, and throughout the decades, various other migrating or conquering cultures made its influence on the city. The Turks, Tatars, Austrians, Germans and even Serbs have left their mark on the Timisoara, and you can see throughout the city’s architecture.
There’s a distinct architectural style and personality that makes Timisoara charming. Timisoara was the first city to use electricity to light up the streets in Europe, and it’s second, after New York, to do so in the world. It’s also a vibrant cultural center in Romania that is often referred to as “Little Vienna.”
I don’t know if the “Little Vienna” moniker implies flattery. I’ve been to Vienna, and I’ll take Timisoara over Vienna any day.
A City Full Of Squares
Just a quick stroll over to Union Square (Piața Unirii) and you’ll find out why. There is various distinctive and picturesque architecture in all the four intersections with historical significance.
You’ll see simplified WWI designs contrasted with Byzantine influence marked with growing modernist style. Here you’ll observe Romano-Catholic and Serbian Orthodox churches on opposite sides showing the various historical marks the city has endured throughout history. Little hints of the communist regime do creep from time to time but that’s just appeal of this endearing city that has survived rigors of history.
Things to Do in Timisoara
Timisoara is easy to explore on foot, but it has fast and frequent public tram if you’re too lazy to walk. You’re bound to discover something remarkable and worth seeing so I don’t know why, if you’re able, you wouldn’t want to stroll down the city’s unusual and rustic alleyways.
There’s the majestic Romanian Orthodox Cathedral (Catedrala Mitropolitană) that dominates the landscape in Victory Square. This cathedral was built around 1936 with Moldavian style architecture. It’s worth exploring inside, the interior has some interesting elements and has a calm ambiance. This Cathedral is a little bit more detached from the rest of the city but definitely one worth visiting.
There’re also several crayon-hued buildings in the Piața Libertății (Freedom Square), another essential square in the city that has different styles of architecture (Secessionist). Here marks the struggle of the Romania people from communism – Timisoara is considered the spiritual capital of the country.
If you’re getting tired and hungry from walking around and checking out the awesome architecture. Just take a stroll up and down the Piata Victoriei and you’ll see bars and restaurants from side to side. Circle the Piata Unirii and take your pick of the many restaurants and cafes. I recommend Bistro Stradivarius in Piata Unirii (Union Square) for good food and excellent atmosphere.
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Why Visit Timisoara?
One day in the beautiful city of Timisoara is probably not enough to experience all that it offers. I recommend you start at Piata Victoriei which has the best angle to take pictures of the Metropolitan Cathedral. There are a historic statue and a fountain worth checking out.
Once done, you can go inside check out the interior of the Cathedral. The park next to the cathedral is also worth checking out if you’re not pressed for time. Next, you can walk straight to Strada Alba Iulia, all the way to Piata Libertatii. After that, you should spend a good chunk of your time in Piata Unirii and marvel at the amazing architecture.
You should be able to cover the three major squares in the city and see most of its acclaimed landmarks. Check out the map I’ve compiled below with the Downtown Hostel (if you’re solo) and Hotel Central (if you have company) as places to stay at for convenience.
When To Visit Timisoara?
The summer is the best time to visit but any season is good too. There’s plenty of festivals in the Summer, and there are nearby locations for outdoor activities. Timisoara is one of those cities that offer a lot and has a lot, but one you can definitely get the most out of in one day.
A DAY IN BREAKDOWN:
- Train from Budapest to Timisoara – $17 (per person)
- Hotel in the center of the city – $22 (per person, $40 a night)
- Breakfast at Hotel – Free (included)
- Lunch at Timisoara Restaurant & Brewery – $5 (per person)
- Dinner at Bistro Stradivarius Restaurant – $8 (per person, splurged on wine)
- TOTAL: $52 (per person)
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HAVE YOU BEEN TO TIMISOARA ROMANIA?