The European vacation has a certain formula to it. I’ve heard it many a time hashed out over dinner at get-togethers with friends or on quick catch up calls with relatives. London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam — maybe Greece if they’ve seen the basics before. We wouldn’t want to bash these vacations because the popular cities are popular for a reason and they provide endless activities and sites to see. However, what if you’ve seen all the standard stops and some of the not-so-standard stops are starting to peak your interest? Well, just a little farther east you’ll find a wealth of excellent vacation options flying under the radar, still someone unknown to the average Europe vacationers.
One of our favorites happens to be Romania. The rolling green hills and pine forests of the countryside are stunningly beautiful and can be a hiker’s dream. The architecture and little hidden streets of Bucharest inspire adventure for those prone to city exploring. The forests of Transylvania and Bran’s Castle (often connected to the Dracula legend) are both beautiful and creepy for travelers with more creative imaginations. The history is fascinating, especially those curious to see a former Soviet Bloc country in its modern form. We see Romania as begging for discovery. Here are our top reasons why Romania needs to be on your 2018 travel list.
A trip to Transylvania feels like a trip back in time. Many of the rural villages haven’t changed much over the years and a trip to see them will be a firsthand look at the Romanian rural way of life. Not to mention the fact that the region is absolutely gorgeous. From snow-capped peaks to rolling green hills and valleys, any hike will require plenty of photos.
And if the scenery isn’t enough for you, there’s always the folklore. Home to the legendary Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s 19th-century novel, Transylvania is quite possibly the most famous place in the history of the horror genre. Although there is much debate as to the origins of the Count Dracula character and his home, many point to Bran Castle as the place to go for all those looking to play with their imagination. Whether it is or isn’t connected to the Dracula story, it’s not hard at all to imagine a shadowy figure looking out into the Transylvania night from one the castle’s towers.
There’s a certain creepy feeling that comes over you when you approach the castle and when you actually get inside. To think that you’re standing at the birthplace of one of the most famous horror stories of all time is certainly enough to send chills down your spine. At the same time, there’s also an overwhelming appreciation for the sheer beauty of both the castle and the surrounding area. That may very well be stronger than any sensation of creepiness you’ll feel while exploring the area.
Where Worlds Collide
Romania is full of medieval castles and old world architecture that will take you to another time. It’s also full of strong reminders of the Soviet era, many of which aren’t so aesthetically pleasing. Bucharest is full of massive Soviet-style apartment buildings that remind visitors that it wasn’t so long ago that Romania was part of the Soviet Union. You will also see parts of the country that are brand new. Renovation and new construction are constant. The combination and contrast of the three worlds can be fascinating.
Walking around Bucharest gives you the feeling of being at an intersection. The clash of old and new is often awkward, but also fascinating if you can excuse some of the less aesthetically-pleasing buildings. You grow to appreciate the clash and contrast.
The Romanian people themselves are part of the attraction. You’ll find that most are friendly and welcoming. As is the case in many former Soviet Bloc countries, the people have generally positives attitudes towards westerners and Americans in particular. We suggest that you go out of your way to hear stories from older Romanians about life in the Soviet Union, the transition and life as an independent nation. Of course, having a Romanian guide/friend will make this a lot easier.
We don’t always think of people as being attractions for history buffs, but some of the best learning experiences in Romania will come from people as opposed to museums or landmarks. Once again, the time machine feeling is hard to escape when a new friend is telling you about life under the influence of the Soviet Union.
Bucharest has plenty of small, hidden cobblestone streets that will lead you to excellent cafes. City explorers will love cafe hopping as they make their way across the capital. It’s a good way to recharge and reflect on what you’ve seen over the course of the day.
The cafe experience in Paris is, of course, the gold standard, but in the back of your head, you now that many a tourist has sat in the same place and seen the same sights. A cafe in Bucharest feels much more uncharted and if you’re like us, you take pleasure in the unknown factor.
Romanian Traditional Clothing and Culture
One of my favorites parts about Romania is the traditional garb that becomes more and more common as you distance yourself from urban centers. It’s colorful, unlike almost anything you would find in Western Europe, and clearly made with painstaking attention to detail. Attending a cultural or holiday festival and checking out the clothing and traditional dance performances is definitely one of the strongest “I’m a long way from home” moments. And we mean that in the best way possible.
Wildlife and Hiking
Romania is for travelers looking to get out in nature and explore. And trust us, Romania awards the adventurous. We’ve already described towering mountains and impossibly green foothills and valleys, but we need to emphasize that you grab a pack and pick a trail to get out there and spend some serious time in them. Oh, and don’t leave out the wildlife. Wolves, badgers, lynx, bison and bears can all be found.
Hearty, Homestyle Food
We would never call Romanian food fancy. Think more along the lines of homemade plates that fill you up the way five-star restaurants never do. It’s the perfect kind of food for travelers who show up starving after a full day walking the streets of a city or hiking through the woods.
Food has a way of creating an emotional with a country and that’s certainly the case in Romania. It’s homely and almost welcoming in a way.
Electronic Nightlife and Festivals
Partying in Romania can be a blast — especially for electronic music fans. Whether it’s going out clubbing or attending a music festival, the atmosphere rarely disappoints. Bucharest is, of course, the best spot if you’re looking for good clubs.
Romania will cost you a fraction of whatever your friends are spending on France or Italy. You might not get all the flash and fanfare, but you’ll certainly dodge the crowds and return home with some money to spare. But don’t think you’re getting less out of your trip! Romania offers a world of adventure for those adventurous enough to seek it out.
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