I’ve checked out and lived in several cities in Romania in the three months I’ve been traveling there. They aren’t as well known or hold the glam as their Western counterparts such as Rome, Paris, Prague, and Amsterdam but they’re as equally impressive and even more full of interesting history and culture. It won’t be long before the rest of the world finds out about all these hidden gems in Europe. The various cultures and invading forces of antiquity have all left their marks on these fantastic cities.
Here are my impressions of Romanian cities I’ve visited and a mini guide to help you maximize your stay in Romania.
The beautiful city of Timisoara is full of charming town squares and architectural marvels. It’s the westernmost major city in Romania and one of the most underrated cities in Europe in my opinion.
Timisoara’s architecture can rival that of Vienna. It’s aptly called “Little Vienna.” Once travelers and tourist catch wind of Timisoara, it will explode into the limelight as Prague has over a decade ago. It’s one of the most beautiful and coolest cities I’ve ever visited in Europe.
Where I stayed: Central Hotel
It’s a decent hotel but not the cheapest option in the area. Centrally located as the name implies. It’s very close to all the major attractions in the city. If you’re traveling solo, you should check out the Downtown hostel nearby.
Piata Unirii – Timisoara is home to many beautiful town squares, but this is the most stunning one.
Hunedoara – Hunedoara is home to Corvin Castle, and it lies just about 100 miles east of Timisoara. It’s a fantastic fairytale-like castle that’s got some creepy history behind it. Worth checking out!
Retezat National Park
A hiker’s paradise. Retezat is set in the Transylvanian landscape. It’s roughly 130 miles east of Timisoara.
Where To Eat
Bistro Stradivarius – Great pizza and pasta offerings. Decent wine selection and prices are reasonable. The view of Piata Unirii is one of a kind. I highly recommend it.
Restaurant Timisoreana – Named after the beer. It’s a brewery/restaurant. They serve traditional Romanian food at reasonable prices.
This is one of my favorite cities in Romania. Brasov is a beautiful medieval city that is surrounded by mountains and fantastic scenery. The main town square is incredible to check out, and there’s a small mountain you can hike for soaring views of the city within 45 minutes.
It’s also right in the middle of the major attractions like Bran Castle, Peles Castle, Rasnov Citadel, Piatra Mare, and there’s even a Ski Resort nearby. It’s also a quiet enough place to get stuff done if you’re a digital nomad. I spent almost three weeks in Brasov because for this reason. There’s no nightlife to speak of, but there are enough restaurants and pubs to satisfy.
Where I stayed: Kismet Dao Hostel
One of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. The staff is friendly and attentive. The owner, Gabi, is one cool lady and her dog Zara can keep entertained for hours. It’s a roomy place with plenty of showers and a nice entertainment room that’s usually empty that you can use as a workspace. The outside patio is big with a place to have a barbecue.
They run a promo in early May where you get an extra night for every three nights to your stay there. There’s free beer for each paid night you book. Say hi to Zara for me!
Bran (Dracula) Castle – The Dracula Castle is the most visited tourist attraction in Romania and the most popular destination. Most tourists come to Brasov because of this. Underwhelming, in my opinion, but that’s just my opinion.
Poenari Citadel – This citadel is a runner-up to the Dracula castle myth. It might be the real Dracula castle based on historical use by Vlad the Impaler, from which Bram’s Stoker’s titular character was based from.
Poiana Brasov – Poiana Brasov is a ski resort in the heart of the Carpathians. You can stay overnight at the cabanas on the top for spectacular views of the countryside.
Where To Eat
Beraria Ciucas – It’s a brewery/restaurant. Ciucas beer is impressive and very cheap. The food isn’t shabby either, in fact, one of the best Traditional Romanian food I’ve had. Try their Metite for 3 RON each. It’s sort of like a meat kabob. Their Sarmarle, a stuffed cabbage roll with meat is delicious. There are also various traditional stews at very reasonable prices.
Restaurant Ambassador – Offers reasonable traditional Romanian dishes. Restaurant Ambassador is a low-key restaurant located on the main street of Brasov. There Sarmarle is wrapped with thick bacon and melts in your mouth. Recommended.
Pepperonis – I ate here for lunch almost every day when I was Brasov. It’s a pizza restaurant, but during lunch, it has catering style Romanian dishes for very cheap. 10 RON ($2.50) gets you a very decent meal. It’s right around the corner from Kismet Dao Hostel.
Azima – The best kebab and shawarma fast food place in Brasov. Cheap and the portions are big.
It’s a pretty Saxon citadel city. The surreal bubblegum colored houses line the way on fairy-tale cobblestones. It’s home to Dracula (Vlad the Impaler). It’s a very picturesque but small city. I think you can pretty much explore this place in a few hours, in fact, you can do all its nearby attractions as well in a day.
Where to Stay: Casa Georgious
You can do this place in less than a day. I did.
Rupea Citadel – Rupea Citadel is one of the earliest archeological sites in Romania. The existing citadel was established on the ruins of a previous Dacian defensive fort subdued by the Romans. The name of this citadel came from the Latin word rupes which means stone.
Viscri Stronghold – Built in the 13th century by the Saxons. It’s an exciting monument, but there’s nothing much in town, not even a restaurant. It’s worth the visit for it’s far gone era feel.
Where To Eat
Vlad Dracul – Named after the infamous Vampire. It’s kind of cheesy inside but hey, come for the experience.
Miercurea-Ciuc is a fascinating city. The majority of people living in the city are Szekler Hungarians, so the culture is a little different than the rest of Romania. I’ve only heard of it after being introduced by a receptionist in Brasov (my now friend) Corneliu. There’s a small old town with a couple of pubs and restaurants. I came here for the Sumuleu-Ciuc Pilgrimage and continued to the old Austro-Hungarian border the next day.
The city is surrounded by beautiful countryside and old villages. The city itself has a stark contrast between old Austro-Hungarian architecture and Soviet-era buildings. If you want a different experience and go off the beaten path, you got to check out Miercurea-Ciuc. Ciuc beer is brewed here.
Where I Stayed: At a friend’s Soviet-era Apartment.
It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a Soviet Era building! It’s more modern than I expected just like regular apartments. There are several Pensione’s and hotels operating in the city. You shouldn’t have a hard time finding accommodations.
Sumuleu Ciuc – This is a neighborhood within Miercurea Ciuc that’s famous for the yearly Catholic Pilgrimage of the Pentecost. There’s a natural spring nearby, and you can drink its mineral-rich water, it tastes different.
Ghimes-Faget – Historically, Ghimes is where the old Austro-Hungarian border resided. It’s a beautiful village with verdant hills and beautiful countryside from a bygone era.
Where To Eat
San Gennaro Pizzeria – It’s a very prominent pizzeria in Miercurea-Ciuc. Aside from the great pizzas they also serve some traditional Hungarian cuisine such as Goulash.
Morrison – Another pub and pizza place offering traditional Hungarian food. Excellent breakfast offerings.
Gambrinos – Offering traditional Hungarian cuisine at reasonable prices. Lots of outdoor seating for those warm summer days.
Sibiu is one of the most beautiful cities in Romania. The architecture here is old and just awesome to marvel at. You can climb up the clock tower or the cathedral tower to see some of the most amazing views of the city. The only downside, it’s not lively at night. This city sleeps early, and it’s minimal. There is no nightlife to speak of.
Where I Stayed: Smart Hostel
Smart Hostel is conveniently located on the Old Town border. It’s right below the stairs of the edge where the peasants used to live. The peasants weren’t allowed in the town square in the upper town where the nobles used to reside. It’s small but immaculate. They have eggs, ham, salami, and cereal for breakfast. Most travelers I’ve met in Brasov recommended this hostel, and I can understand why. It’s a little tricky to find if it’s your first time in the city.
Transfagarasan (Also close to Brasov) – It’s a photogenic road that cuts through the southern Carpathians. It looks like it could be an entertaining ride on a motorcycle. I wish I had my bike when I was there; it would have been a blast!
Council Tower – It’s right on the Town Square of Sibiu, you can’t miss it. The views of the city are spectacular, and you can see the Cathedral. 2 RON per entry.
Cathedral Tower – A better view of the city rooftops. It provides a 360-degree Panorama of Sibiu. 5 RON for the tower entry.
Where To Eat
Delis – One of the few restaurants that serve traditional Romanian cuisine in Sibiu (it’s mostly Germans). The ham and bean soup bread bowl are superb.
Cafe Wien – Located just at the back of the church, Cafe Wien offers traditional Hungarian cuisine with a great atmosphere.
When I came here, there was a festival, Alba Fest. The Romanian pop star, Inna, was throwing a concert on the day I arrived so I couldn’t even find accommodation. This place is like 17th-century French citadel throwback. Symmetrical brick walls line the city with various barricades strewn about for a measure. It’s architecturally different than the other towns in Romania I’ve been to. I guess it looks like Star when viewed from the sky. It has a beautiful Catholic cathedral in the town center.
Where I Stayed: Cetate Hotel
It’s not a bad hotel if you’re caught with full booking at hostels. But considering there’s only one hostel in this city, this might be your best bet. Two-star accommodation is all you’re getting from this place. But who cares?
Corvin Castle – Corvin Castle (also called the Hunedoara Castle) lies just 1 hour south of Alba Iulia by train. Buses are probably faster if you can find one. If you have minimal time in Romania and you had to pick in between Bran and Corvin Castle, pick Corvin. It’s that cool!
Where To Eat
Cetatea Bastionara – Great ambiance and good food. They offer traditional Hungarian food as well as Romanian cuisine.
I found myself staying longer than anticipated in Cluj-Napoca. This happens to a lot of travelers who visit this city. They either extend their stay or eventually come back. Heck, I’m coming back. It’s not the most scenic city in Romania and not the most beautiful. Its allure comes from its people and its nightlife. I found it to be one of the most progressive cities in Europe that is full of vibrant characters with liberal thinking.
It’s a college town so you can expect the nightlife to be vibrant and that’s the case. It’s prettier than Bucharest but not as crazy. You’ll meet a lot of relaxed and easy-going people here. There’s a cool subterranean theme park worth visiting and there’s a 10-day long film festival at the end of May that is also worth checking out. Read more about why Cluj-Napoca is my favorite city.
Where I Stayed: Transylvania Hostel
This is the only hostel I would ever recommend in Cluj. I’ve made more friends here than anywhere else in Romania. The people are chill, and they always have social gathering daily. At 6:30 you can join one or two of their staff for dinner at one of the local restaurants and go out for drinks after. There’s a bunch of expats that came and stayed in this hostel that is now permanent residents. I don’t blame them, it’s the most relaxed hostel I’ve ever been to, and you might just run into me when you’re there.
Salina Turda – An ancient salt mine converted to a theme park, Salina Turda can be explored in a day. It’s only 40 minutes away from Cluj by bus. It’s one of the weirdest tourist attraction I’ve ever visited, and I think it’s worth your time.
Where To Eat
Off The Wall – Two Canadian chefs went to visit Cluj and stated at the Transylvania Hostel. They never left and started a restaurant nearby. It’s a progressive restaurant with a regular menu. A mixture of some traditional Romania with a New World twist. They deliver amazing burgers and have a great selection of beers. If you attend one of the nightly outings at the Transylvania Hostel, you’ll probably end up here one of the nights.
Roata – Traditional Romanian Food in significant portions. Try their smoked pork shoulder and bean soup; you’ll love it. The starts with a shot of Palinka as dictated by tradition.
Abbey Road – Another spot for delicious traditional Romanian food, but their Goulash (Hungarian), isn’t too shabby either. Their pork and bean soup are fantastic.
Most of the travelers I’ve met have the same opinion about Bucharest; they didn’t like it. I stayed for a week and a half and maybe it’s the dull weather that swayed my opinion a little their way. Communist-era buildings give the city a different feel, and it’s not pretty in the traditional sense. It’s a lively city especially if you’re in the old town. There are plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants to check out in the old city, where all the action is at.
Where I Stayed: Little Bucharest Hostel
This hostel sits in the middle of Old Town Bucharest, so there’s always something to do. Old Town Bucharest doesn’t sleep. There are bars still serving alcohol at 5 am in the morning even on Mondays. What’s cool about this place is the HUB, which is if you’re a digital nomad you can work supposedly without being distracted; though this rarely was the case when I was there (too many distractions).
Peles Castle (Also close to Brasov) – Peles Castle is a neo-Renaissance palace in the Carpathian mountains near Sinaia, Romania. I highly recommend a stopover when you’re on your way to Brasov from Bucharest or vice versa. It’s about 1.5 hours either way.
Buscegi Mountains (Also close to Brasov) – This mountain is known for its rock formation that resembles a Sphinx and another mushroom shaped one called Babele. The cable car in the town of Busteni gives you easy access to the formations. If you’re on the way to Brasov from Bucharest, I recommend you make a stop over here and maybe stay at night at the cabin up the top, Babele cabin.
Where To Eat
La Pescaria Dorobantilor – Very reasonable seafood restaurant. The service is outstanding and the quality of food excellent. Try the fish soup!
Caru’ cu Bere – Great spot for beer. The interior decorations are superb. They offer traditional Romania food as well.
There you have it. The list of the best cities that Romania has to offer.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CITY IN ROMANIA?