Located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, Romania is one of Europe’s most underrated destinations, providing an incredible wealth of unique places to visit. But best of all, Romania is still one of the cheapest countries to visit in Europe, where even high-end restaurants and fancy clubs have fairly low prices compared to Western Europe.
I may be a little biased about this country, because it’s my place of birth. However, Romania’s natural beauty cannot be denied. Its wild mountains, dense forests, and pristine landscapes create a perfect setting for the myths and legends that emanate from nearly every region.
Most Unique Places to Visit in Romania
There are many good reasons to visit Romania and the abundance of unique places in this country is one of them. Therefore, in this article I’ll give you an overview of the most interesting sites to visit there.
Whether it’s the medieval towns, painted monasteries, stunning scenery, or historic castles, one thing is for sure: Romania has plenty of amazing places to capture your heart and imagination.
1. Transfāgārāsan Highway
The Transfāgārāsan Highway is Romania’s most famous mountain road, traversing the Fāgāras Massif in the Carpathian Mountains. The road’s official name is Drumul National 7C (DN7C). The highway is regarded as one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world, running through incredibly beautiful places.
The Transfāgārāsan Highway closes during the winter and opens in summer for 5 or 6 months a year, depending on the weather conditions.
2. Danube Delta
Spreading over 1,500,000 acres, the Danube Delta is Europe’s largest and best preserved deltas. The Delta has three channels: Chilia, Sulina, and Sfantu Gheorghe.
The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is home to one of the greatest ecosystems in the world. The delta is home to hundreds of species of birds, particularly two species of pelicans, herons, storks, cormorants and terns.
3. Transalpina Road
The Transalpina is Romania’s highest road, crossing the Parâng Mountains and connecting the region of Transylvania) with Oltenia. The 87 mile long road begins at Sāliste (Sibiu county) and ends at Novaci (Gorj country), ranging in elevation from 1,476 feet at Novaci to almost 7,040 feet at Pasul Urdele.
In contrast with the Transfāgārāsan, the Transalpina enjoys a more rugged, unaltered beauty and it’s way less crowded. The Transalpina is open from late May through the end of October (weather permitting).
4. The Sphinx, in the Bucegi Mountains
One of the most interesting places to visit in Romania is the Sphinx – a natural rock formation in the Bucegi Mountains. To reach this place you’ll have to hike at an altitude of 2,216 meters (7,270 ft).
The rock’s shape, which resembles a human face, was the result of hundreds of years of wind and rain erosion. However, from a certain angle, its outline looks a lot like the Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt. Hence the name.
According to some theories, the Sphinx was built by the Dacian people as a tribute to Zalmoxis, a deity present in their culture.
5. Vidraru Dam
About 40 km from Curtea de Arges, between the slopes of Pleasa and Vidraru, you’ll find one of Romania’s most impressive sites: the Vidraru Dam. At the time when it was finished, in 1966, this was the 8th highest dam in Europe.
Lake Vidraru – which was created by the dam – is also very impressive, gathering water from several rivers around. When we lived in Romania, Vidraru Lake was one of our favorite places to visit in summer.
6. Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies
Tucked away in the mountains of Transylvania, about 40 km away from Sibiu, lies a fairytale castle: Castelul de Lut Valea Zânelor(Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies.)
This quirky castle (soon-to-be-hotel) was the idea of a couple from Bucharest. They sold their house and hired a team of craftsmen from Maramures to build this place for them.
The structure is entirely made of clay, straw, and sand. The charming towers and undulating roofs look more like a movie set from the “Hobbit,” than a castle in the conventional sense.
The beautiful location and close proximity to the Transfāgārāsan highway, make the Clay Castle a great place to stay when you visit Romania.
7. Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
The Painted Monasteries are the biggest attraction in Bucovina and for sure one of the most visited places in Romania. What makes these monasteries so famous are the colorful exterior frescos depicting various religious scenes.
If you have time, I would suggest taking a dedicated tour of all the painted churches in Bucovina. They are absolutely stunning! But at the minimum, you should visit the monasteries of Voronet, Moldovita and Sucevita, which are undoubtedly the most beautiful ones.
8. Lacul Rosu
Another unique site to visit in Romania is Lacul Rosu (the Red Lake), in the Bicaz-Hāsmas National Park. Its name comes from Pârâul Rosu (the Red Creek) which crosses through red layers of iron oxide and hydroxide, giving the lake somewhat of a reddish color.
This natural dam came into existance when one of the massifs near the Bicaz Gorges collapsed due to a big earthquake, and locked the river valley. Before being invaded by water, this area used to be a forest. Therefore, the lake looks like a sunken forest – with broken tree trunks emerging from the water.
9. Ruins of Cârta Monastery
One of the oldest and most beautiful Gothic monuments from Romania is the Cistercian Abbey of Cârța. The monastery only 100 km away from Brasov, so it’s easy to visit on a day trip.
The Mongol invasion of 1241 almost leveled the abbey to the ground. However, it was King Matthias Corvinus who closed it down in 1474, expropriating all its properties. The Abbey of Cârța managed to survive the centuries even if only partially. The largest part that still stands today is the choir, which the Evangelical church uses as their sanctuary. The former space of the nave was transformed into a war cemetery.
10. Wooden Churches of Maramures
The region of Maramures is home to a group of almost one hundred wooden churches. These high timber constructions have characteristic tall, slim bell towers at their western end. Eight of these wooden churches are registered and under UNESCO care and represent remarkable examples of diverse architectural designs.
The tallest of the wooden churches in Maramures is the Sapînta-Peri Monastery. Its tower measures 78 meters in height plus a 7 meter-high cross on the top.
11. Merry Cemetery in Sāpanta
For most people, graveyards are sad and uncomfortable places to visit. However, that’s not the case of the Merry Cemetery in the village of Sapînta. Here the grave markers have a sense of cheerfulness, rather than sadness.
In the Merry Cemetery each tombstone tells the story of the deceased person, the work they did, and how they died. The epitaphs are written under the form of a short poem, using hilarious phrases that are at times irreverent and almost profane! Romanians surely have a good sense of humor!
12. Mocānita Steam Train
Romania is one of the very few places Europe where you can still experience the bygone era of the steam engine locomotives. So if you ever find yourself in the region of Maramures, don’t miss riding the Mocanita, the nostalgic steam train of yesteryear.
The nostalgic steam locomotive from Viseul de Sus will take you on an incredibly journey along the lush Vaser Valley, one of Romania’s most picturesque areas.
13. Culture Palace in Târgu Mureș
With its shimmering tiled roof, stained glass windows and painted walls, the Palace of Culture in Târgu Mures will surely impress you. The palace was built between 1911 and 1913, in Secessionist style.
One of the rooms that will leave you in awe is the enchanting Hall of Mirrors, named for the Venetian mirrors at each end of it. The hall was once used for balls and fancy receptions.
14. Bran Castle
From its rock foundation near the riverbed, the imposing silhouette of Bran Castle rises majestically above the valley below. This somber yet graceful structure is arguably one of the most popular places to visit in Romania.
For most people, Bran Castle in Romania will evoke one name only: Dracula, the bloodthirsty character from Transylvania. But whether you believe or not that Dracula resided here, visiting this mysterious place in the heart of Romania is definitely worth it. The castle is only 28 km away from Brasov, so you can easily visit it on a day trip.
15. Peles Castle
Peleș is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Located in Sinaia, very close to Bucharest, the Peles was the royal hunting retreat of Carol I of Hohenzollern, King of Romania.
The construction lasted for over 40 years (1873-1941) and it costed 16,000,000 Romanian lei in gold. In today’s money, that approximately 120 million US dollars. Peles Castle remained in the royal family possession until 1947, when the communists seized it, forcing King Michael of Romania to abdicate.
16. Biertan Fortified Church
The spiritual and defensive center of each village in Transylvania was a fortified church. This was the place where villagers would retreat with their belongings in case of an attack. There are seven villages with fortified churches in Romania on the UNESCO World Heritage site. But perhaps the most imposing one of them is the fortified church of Biertan.
Biertan is located 10 km away from the main road that connects Mediaş to Sighişoara. One interesting building not to miss here is the Marriage Prison, where couples seeking separation were locked and forced to stay together for six weeks before being granted the divorce.
17. Sibiu Historic Center
Sibiu is one of the most authentic and perfectly preserved medieval towns in Europe. You should plan on spending at least a couple of days here in order to properly explore it. But even if you only decide to visit the city for a few hours, you can still see some of the many attractions in Sibiu‘s historic center.
There are three major churches, two beautiful squares and many picturesque corners that you shouldn’t miss in the historic center.
18. Bigār Waterfall
Located in the county of Caras-Severin, the Bigār Waterfall is part of the Cheile Nerei-Beusnita National Park. This is one of the most unusual and spectacular waterfalls in the world. The water comes from under a rock that is over 50 meters high and flows over stone covered with moss.
The Bigār Waterfall is gorgeous year-round. However, in winter the water freezes forming long icicles that transform the waterfall into a real palace of ice. The waterfalls is right at the entrance of the national park and is very easy to visit. The access is just a few meters away from the road.
19. Sighisoara Citadel
Somewhere in the middle of Romania, you’ll find a city unlike any other. Built by the Saxons in the 12th century, the citadel of Sighisoara acted as protection against Tatars and other invaders. The fortress was a strong defensive construction, with towers, bastions and guns which you can still see today.
Once you step through the gates of this charming old town, you’ll be carried back in time. Its old strategic towers, cobbled streets, colorful buildings and ornate churches look like from the pages of story book. Today, Sighisoara is the only inhabited medieval fortress in South-East Europe.
20. Corvin Castle
One of the places you should definitely visit in Romania is the impressive Corvin Castle, in the heart of Transylvania. The castle was built in the 14th century by John Hunyadi on the site of an old fortress.
The Castle is a medieval architectural gem with pointed turrets, an imposing entrance bridge, scary gargoyles, and beautiful fountains. Despite the ugly industrial area that surrounds it, the Corvin Castle retains its charm and character. In 2003 the castle underwent lots of renovations and is today in a very good shape.
21. Decebal Monument
Did you know there is a Romanian Version of ‘Mount Rushmore’ on the Danube River in Romania? Carved in the rocky bank of the Danube, near the city of Orsova, is the tallest rock sculpture in Europe, the statue of Dacian King Decebal (135 feet tall).
The monument is a homage to the last king of Dacia (today’s Romania) and took 10 years to built. The cost was over one million US dollars!
22. Vama Veche
Romania’s Black Sea coast is one of the country’s most visited places, populated with numerous coastal towns and seaside resorts. But the most unique of them all is Vama Veche, the southernmost town in Romania.
Once a small fishing village on the border with Bulgaria, Vama Veche was not deemed suitable for mass tourism. For this reason, during the communist period the village drew the ‘wild spirits’ who would flock here in search of pristine nature and an authentic village vibe.
Today the village is no longer as pristine as it used to be when we lived there. Vama Veche has grown now into one of Romania’s most popular beach-party towns, with lots of clubs located right on the beach. Tourists are dancing barefoot on the sand until the sunrise. Both loved and controversial, Vama Veche is undoubtedly Romania’s most colorful place.
23. Palace of Parliament in Bucharest
The gigantic structure of the Palace of Parliament was the brainchild of Romania’s former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who had the ambition to build the largest administrative building in the world. And he succeeded.
For the Romanian people the gigantic structure is just a sad memento to a dictatorial era. Nonetheless, Romania’s Palace of Parliament is an interesting place to visit. According to the Guinness World Records, this is the largest and heaviest building in the world.
24. Bâlea Lake
One of Romania’s amazing natural wonders is Bâlea Lake, a spectacular must-see place on the Tranfāgārāsan Highway. The glacial lake was formed into the rugged stones of the Făgăraș Mountains, at an altitude of 2,034 metres (6,673 feet).
Bâlea Lake is not only a place to do some sightseeing around. It’s also a great spot for hiking, cycling or even skiing. In fact, two of the Romania’s most difficult hiking trails start at Bâlea Lake. One leads to the Moldoveanu peak at 2,544 meters (8,346 feet) – a nine-hour hike. The second, leads to the peak of Negoiu, at 2,535 meters (8,316 feet) – a five-hour hike.
25. Bears’ Cave
One of the largest a most impressive sites to visit in Romania is the Bears’ Cave, in the Apuseni Mountains. The cave was discovered by accident in 1975, during some mining exploitations. A local miner was the first one to enter the cave. He managed to go through the gallery until the Great Hall of the cavern.
In the following years, the speleologists continued exploring the cave and discovered a large number of bear fossils, which is why they named it Bears’ Cave. But besides bear remains, the cave holds various impressive natural formations, as stalactites and stalagmites. Some of these formations have very interesting shapes, so they received names like: the Enchanted Castle, the Dwarfs House, the Water Lilly Lake, the Old Men’s Council and so on.