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It’s time for our annual top places to visit in Romania, and this year our focus is more than ever on fascinating landmarks, beautiful villages and the people who live there, must-see museums, plus two hiking destinations and a city perfect for a weekend break. We’ve gathered special places from all over the country, from small communities to main historical attractions for you to enjoy some great and memorable experiences in 2017.
Location: Saschiz, Mures County
If you’re driving from Brasov to Sighisoara, it’s impossible to miss Saschiz as the national road slides through this old Saxon village and its beautiful houses. Plus, the ruins of the 14th-century peasant fortress from the hilltops alert all curious travelers that they arrived in a place that made history.
Even if you have no idea what’s there to see in Saschiz, the shiny towers of the imposing fortified church will make you stop for sure. Part of the UNESCO Heritage Sites like six other fortified churches from Transylvania, the monument remains the best witness of a time when Saxon colonists combined faith and military skills to defend the borders of Transylvania. From the church, you can follow the trail that leaves the village behind, going uphill through gardens and crops to what remains from the once strong fortress where villagers hid in case of enemy attacks.
Photos by Casa de pe Deal
Even better, you can spend the night in Saschiz, and continue without any hurry your walk through the village. We warmly recommend Casa de pe Deal as a sure choice if you’re passionate about hand-made jams and pickles, home cooked food with organic ingredients and visits to local artisans. In fact, you can set your base in Saschiz, and make one-day trips by car or bike to Sighisoara, Biertan, Viscri and the many attractions of the area.
Location: Iasi, Iasi County
The largest city in Eastern Romania, Iasi is a perfect weekend break destination with several flights per day connecting it to the capital, Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara and Constanta. A bit overshadowed by more popular urban destinations like Sibiu and Brasov, Iasi is, nonetheless, a city with plenty impressive monuments, old churches and iconic parks, but also a top destination for foodies.
Many of the city’s top attractions are found along or within a short walk from the central boulevard Stefan cel Mare, including the state of the art Palace of Culture, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Church Three Hierarchs, Roznovanu Palace — the actual Town Hall — and the oldest national theater in the country. If you’re interested in more centuries-old religious monuments, don’t miss the monasteries Cetatuia, Galata and Golia or the oldest synagogue in the country. End the day with a walk in the splendid Botanical Garden.
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Location: Hunedoara County
The historical country of Hateg, today part of Hunedoara County, remains a space of mystery and rare attractions. With ruined aristocratic palaces and fortresses, rough but scenic landscapes, this area deserves an entire vacation. But we get what we take, and if you’re on a run, we recommend visiting at least the stone churches from the old country of Hateg.
Original to their very last block of rock, these monuments are a rare presence in Romania, and Densus stands out as the best-known of all of them. First mentioned in the 14th century, but considered to be originally an ancient Roman temple, Densus Church is the oldest church in Romania where religious service is still performed regularly.
Some 20 kilometers away, you can visit the tall 13th century stone church from Santamaria Orlea built in the Romanesque style of the time. If initially, the church was Catholic, it later became Orthodox and finally Reformed. Even better, the church is attended today by members of all the three cults.
The other nearby stone churches include the 14th-century monument from Sanpetru with its marble altar made from an ancient Roman temple and Strei with its precious medieval paintings.
Location: Suceava, Suceava County
One of the few medieval fortresses that still exists in Moldavia, this is one of the best places to visit in Romania if you’re traveling with curious kids or if you have a passion for history. First mentioned in 1388 when Suceava was the capital of the Moldavian Principality, the fortress was heavily fortified one century later, during the time of Prince Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare in Romanian). Famous for his cultural legacy that includes the tradition of the painted churches from Bucovina, the prince also invested considerably in strengthening key fortresses that were crucial during the many Ottoman invasions.
Photos by Muzeul Bucovinei
The fortress was eventually destroyed at the order of the Ottoman Empire and it remained in ruins for centuries. It was recently restored, and today it’s an ample and modern museum focused on the region’s medieval history, from historical artefacts to video projections of war scenes and typical life in the fortress centuries ago.
Visiting hours and more details on muzeulbucovinei.ro
It’s enough to Google images of Trascaului Mountains, and you’ll immediately want to go there. Part of the western group of the Carpathians, with a maximum altitude below 1,400 meters, Trascaului Mountains are for sure among the most panoramic places to visit in Romania at any given time.
Some of the most spectacular gorges in the country – Turzii, Turenilor, Rimetului, Intregalde, Valisoarei – are here, but also unique natural landmarks like Piatra Secuiului, traditional villages and many easy hiking trails. If you’re going in May, don’t miss the daffodils from Negrileasa in full bloom.
You can find here a list of all the marked trails.
Location: Marin, Salaj County
First mentioned in the 15th century, but inhabited at least from the Neolithic, Marin is one of those few villages that in the 21st century are bringing back to life traditions, wonderful folk costumes and ancestral stories and skills that would otherwise completely disappear. The recovery of its cultural heritage is led by one of the youngest members of the community, Patricia-Marina Toma, whose local events have brought to light old traditions, from reenacting her great grandmother’s wedding from 1941 to the celebration of Dragobete.
Photos by Patricia-Marina Toma
More cultural events will follow in Marin, and attending one of them is a treat if you’re fascinated as much as we are by authentic folk costumes, mouth-watering gastronomic specialties and small villages that keep their identity strong in the postmodern world.
Location: Curvature Carpathians
One of the best-hiking destinations if you’re based in Bucharest or Brasov, Ciucas Mountains are a great choice no matter the season. You have plenty of trails to choose from, some easy and short, other more strenuous. Either way, you’ll find here some of the most breathtaking landscapes under the altitude of 2,000 meters in the Carpathians and accessible hiking paths even in winter time, plus an abundance of rhododendron in spring.
Location: Mada, Hunedoara County
This village is one of those places that are truly in the middle of nowhere without being far way, so hidden that you rarely hear of it, but where you want to go back whenever you need complete peace. Relatively close to Geoagiu Bai, but light years away from this resort we wouldn’t recommend to anyone, Mada has only a few locals left to take care of it.
Set in the gorgeous landscape of Metaliferi Mountains and surrounded by forests, this village is almost surreal. Just old houses with decrepit fences, farm animals walking carefree and the occasional travelers trying to find their way to Mazii Gorges, the village’s main attraction, some of the wildest and most beautiful in Romania.
Location: Primaverii 55, Bucharest
The former residence of Nicolae Ceausescu and his family until the end of his life, Primaverii Palace opened for visitors in 2016. Located just minutes away from Herastrau Park in the exclusivist Primaverii neighborhood where only the Communist Party elite lived, the residence is one of the must-see museums in Bucharest.
A detailed guided tour will take you across the official rooms and the more intimate spaces like the bedroom, the wardrobe, the bathrooms and even the spa facilities installed in the residence. A space marked forever by the life of its owners, this museum is one of the rare places where the focus is switched to the personal life of the most powerful couple from the communist time.
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Visiting hours and more details on palatulprimaverii.ro
We remain for a while longer in the capital as Bucharest is so much more than the Old Town everyone knows. If you’re looking to go beyond the main attractions, we suggest visiting also what’s left of its former Jewish neighborhood. Before the start of the Second World War, the Jewish community represented 10% of the entire population of the capital, and synagogues, temples, prayer houses and Jewish shops were a constant presence.
Devastated in 1941 by the local fascist groups and demolished almost completely in the 80’s by the former communist regime, the old Jewish neighborhood extended mainly in the area Vacaresti-Dudesti-Mosilor.
Sadly, only a few of the synagogues – the Choral Temple, the Great Synagogue, the Holly Union Temple, Yeshua Tova Synagogue – and even fewer civil landmarks of the Jewish community, including two cemeteries, exist today. But we can promise that finding and visiting them is a great way to discover a completely new side of Bucharest.
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The order of the best places to visit in Romania from our list is purely random. We hope you enjoyed our top, and we wish you many happy and exciting travels in 2017.