Explore Romania situated on the western shores of the Black Sea. It enjoys great natural beauty and diversity and a rich cultural heritage. Romania enchants visitors with its scenic mountain landscapes and unspoiled countryside areas, and also with its historic cities and its busy capital. Over the last decade Romania had undergone a significant development and it is one of the recent members of the European Union. Tourists from western countries might still, even today, enjoy some surprising experiences in Romania. This is a large country which can sometimes be shocking with contrasts: some cities are truly Western Europe; some villages can seem to have been brought back from the past. Things for which Romania is famous include: the Carpathian mountains, sculptor Constantin Brancusi, wine, salt mines, George Enescu, medieval fortresses, Eugene Ionesco, “Dacia” cars, Dracula, stuffed cabbage leaves, Nadia Comaneci, primeval dense forests, the Black Sea, Gheorghe Hagi, sunflower fields, wolves and bears, painted monasteries, the Danube Delta, etc. etc.
With a Black Sea coast to the south-east, it is bordered by Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, Hungary to the northwest, Moldova to the northeast and Ukraine in both the north and the east. While its southern regions are usually seen as part of South-east European Balkans, Transylvania, its central and largest region, has a more western-central European look.
In ancient times the territory of present day Romania was inhabited mainly by Dacian tribes, who had a remarkable, although not very well known, culture. The Dacian Empire reached its peak in the 1st century BC, when their Great King Burebista ruled from his power base in the Carpathian Mountains over a vast territory stretching from Central Europe (southern Germany) to the Southern Balkans (Aegean Sea). The intriguing network of fortifications and shrines built around the historical Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa, in today’s south-western Transylvania, has been relatively well preserved through the ages and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting to Romania is easy from nearly all parts of the world, due to its position, as well as the fact that it is served by an array of transport types and companies.
Romania is a member of the Schengen Agreement but has not yet fully implemented it. For EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) citizens, together with those of Switzerland, an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. In no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Others will generally need a passport for entry.
Travel to/from any other country (Schengen or not) from/to Romania will result in the normal immigration checks, but travelling to/from another EU country you will not have to pass customs. However, if Romania normally requires a visa for your nationality, this may be waived if you already have a valid Schengen visa.
Inquire at the local consulate or embassy of Romania.
The visa list is already consistent with those of the Schengen countries fully implementing the agreement.
Romania has 17 civilian airports, out of which currently 12 are served by scheduled international flights. The main international airports are:
Getting around Romania is relatively hard and inefficient for the great distances that have to be covered in this country. The transport infrastructure has been improving quite significantly recently, even though roads remain a weak point. There are several highways under construction, but none are fully operational. Train travel, however, has improved dramatically. Several upgrade projects are under way for several railway tracks and that makes rail traffic on those lines a bit slow for the time being.
Romania has a very dense rail network that reaches practically every town and a sizable number of villages. Although some modernization is taking place this network isn’t in a very good condition, with low speeds and limited train frequency on many routes. Nonetheless trains remain the best option for long distance travel.
Traveling by car or coach is the easiest way and a vast majority, over 60 percent of foreign tourists use this way of transportation. The steering wheel is on the left and European driver’s licenses are recognized by police. For Americans, a passport and valid US driver’s license are sufficient for car rental.
If you drive your own car, a highway vignette (called “Rovinieta”) is mandatory not only at motorways but at all national roads too. You can purchase it either online or at the border or the nearest gas station. You don’t have to stick anything; the vignette is checked automatically through a camera system. It costs €3 for 7 days. Driving without one will incur a severe fine.
Rentals are relatively cheap compared to western Europe; the major international rental companies are now mostly as cheap as the locals, depending on what insurance extras you choose (or are pressured to buy), but avoid the “friendly” locals who are willing to rent you their own car.
The Romanian police have a zero tolerance policy on drunk driving – controls are very frequent – and basically any amount of alcohol in your blood counts as drunk driving.
In most of the cases, after an accident it is mandatory to take a blood test to establish if the drivers had consumed alcohol. Refusal to undergo this test is almost certainly to land you in jail – the punishment is usually harsher than the one for drunk driving.
Bus can be the least expensive method to travel between towns. In the Romanian towns and cities, you can usually find one or several bus terminals (autogara). From there, buses and minibuses depart for the the towns and villages in the nearby area as well as to other cities in the country.
Taxis are relatively inexpensive in Romania. It costs about €40-Cent (1.4 – 2 leu/RON) per km or slightly more, with the same price for starting. The very low prices make taxis a popular way to travel with both locals and travelers (it can be cheaper than driving your own car) – so during rush hours it may be hard to find a cab (despite Bucharest having almost 10000 cabs).
The official language of Romania is Romanian, limba română, which is a Romance language. It was formalized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a significant input from French.
A well-educated Romanian who graduated from an average university can usually speak English fairly well, and have basic knowledge of another European language, such as French, German, Italian, Spanish (about 8%) or Russian. If you leave the common touristic routes, Romanian is the only way to ask for information. That won’t be such a problem; learn some basic words and ask them to write the answers.
What to do in Romania
Go to church
Romania is one of the most religious countries in Europe, and the Orthodox church is omnipresent. You will certainly want to visit some churches and monasteries for their beauty and history, but why not take the chance to experience an Orthodox mass? The congregation is usually standing and it is perfectly normal to show up only briefly during the mass so you can come and go at your leisure without disturbing anyone. Show up at any church on Sunday morning, stand quietly in the back and observe. Be suitably dressed, see the section “Respect”. Please note that while mass is open to all and visitors are most certainly welcomed, communion (the Eucharist) is normally reserved to those baptized Orthodox (regardless of the denomination). Most often the priest will ask those that are visiting if he or she has been baptized Orthodox before administering the Eucharist.
You will experience bible readings, prayers and other rituals accompanied by a short sermon explaining the text. You are not likely to understand much, but you can notice the varying levels of involvement among church-goers, visible in how long and where people stay at the mass, and how often they sign themselves with the cross, or even genuflect. Organized congregation singing is not common but is conducted by a choir with each church-goer joining when he feels like. The choir singing can be captivating, the quality usually reflects the importance of the church.
The altar has sections with doors that open and close depending on the church season. You will also see candles sold, they are lit in or by the church in separate trays for the souls of either dead or living people. Try to find out about special holidays and rituals, perhaps the distribution of holy water by the truckload at the baptism of Christ (Boboteaza) or midnight masses at Christmas or Easter (the Orthodox Easter may be off by one week compared to the Western). Weddings are often held on Saturdays, the ritual is very colorful and interesting.
The national currency of Romania is the leu (plural lei), which, literally translated, also means lion in Romanian. The leu is divided into 100 bani (singular ban).
Romania is relatively cheap by Western standards. However, be advised that although you can expect food and transport to be inexpensive in Romania, buying import products such as a French perfume, an American brand of trainers or a Japanese computer is as expensive as in other parts of the EU. Clothing, wool suits produced in Romania, shirts, cotton socks, white and red wine bottles, chocolates, salami, a wide range of local cheese, inexpensive leather jackets or expensive and fancy fur coats are possible good buys for foreigners.
When exchanging money, it is extremely advisable to use exchange bureaus or to use cash machines.
Romanian transactions generally take place in cash. Although some places will accept Euro or USD you will generally be charged an additional 20% paying by this method and it is not advisable, although this is changing. The best method is to pay using local currency – lei (RON). Most Romanians have either a charge card or a credit card.
Most small towns have at least one or two ATMs and a bank office, with large cities having hundreds of ATMs and bank offices. (It is not uncommon to see three bank agencies one next to another in residential neighborhoods of Bucharest). ATMs are also available in many villages (at the post-office or the local bank-office). Romanian for ATM is bancomat. Credit cards are accepted in large cities, in most hotels, restaurants, hypermarkets, malls.
Don’t expect Romania to be a cheap travel destination! Inflation has struck Romania in many places, and some prices are as high or higher than those in Western Europe, but this is often reserved to luxuries, accommodation, technology, and, to an extent, restaurants. However, food and transport remain relatively cheap (but more expensive than in other countries in the region), as does general shopping, especially in markets and outside the capital. Bucharest, as with the majority of capital cities in the world, is more expensive than anywhere else in the country, particularly in the city centre. In the past 2-3 years, Bucharest has become increasingly expensive, and it is expected to do so for many years to come. However, travellers from Nordic countries will find all the prices in Romania to be amazingly low, especially transport (short and long distance), dining out at restaurants, and drinks.
What to eat and drink in Romania
While violence against foreign tourists is rare, this does not mean you should leave your common sense at home, if you decide to vacation in Romania. Generally crime is limited to petty thefts and common scams, but not much else that would concern the tourist. Avoid dimly lit city neighborhoods and you should not encounter any problems. Wherever you may be in the country ask trusted locals about the surroundings, they will gladly give you a few pointers.
Although racial prejudice exists in Romania, especially toward those who look like Roma (“gypsies” or tigani), hate crimes are rare.
Prostitution is illegal as is soliciting, despite the street walkers that you might encounter on the outskirts of town or in and around Bucharest and other big cities. Please be aware of this and do not accept any offers from them or other intermediaries such as pimps or taxi drivers that “know a place”. If you are caught and the prostitute is underage or has been trafficked or coerced (and like Western Europe, many of them are) you will be charged with a crime related to human trafficking and sexual assault. Chances that you might get caught increase if you are foreign since rival pimps will inform on their competition and a foreigner is an ideal “patsy.” The same rules apply to the many erotic massage parlors that have opened up in recent years and currently reside in a legal grey-zone.
Take note that since Romania has one of the lowest rates of immigration in Europe, Romanians, especially outside major cities, are unaccustomed to seeing people of different races. Your experience may differ, for better or worse, but you can at least expect some odd stares.
Emergency phone numbers
Romania uses the pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls since December 2004. Therefore, this is the only number you will need to remember for police, ambulance and the fire department.
Romania is quite safe, with little violent crime. Pick-pocketing and scams (such as taxi scams or confidence tricks) are present on a wider scale, so exercise care, especially in crowded places such as railway stations, markets, and on urban public transport. Keep your money or valuables in inner pockets of your backpack and always watch your handbag in said crowded areas.
Romanians are quite hospitable. In the countryside and small towns, they welcome foreign tourists and, occasionally, they might even invite you for a lunch. As is common with Romania’s Balkan neighbors, Romanians will insist when offering something, as “no” sometimes does not mean “no,” and they just consider it polite for you to refuse and polite for them to insist.
You should take some normal precautions to study your host first. It is common for friends and family to kiss both cheeks upon greeting or parting. Respect towards elderly is highly appreciated and is a good representation of your character. The phrases used to greet friends and strangers alike is “Bună ziua” (Boo-nah Zee-wah) which means “Good afternoon” or “Good day.”
At beaches, men wear either speedos or shorts, with the former more common among the over 40s, and the latter more popular with the younger crowd. Women tend to wear thong bikinis, topless sunbathing is becoming more and more popular but not all beaches welcome the practice so it’s best to look around first for other women doing it.
Conservative dress must be worn at religious sites. Shorts are forbidden and women must often cover their heads inside the monasteries and churches.
Refrain from observations, whether by ignorance or indifference, that Romanian is a Slavic language or even related to Hungarian, Turkish or Albanian. It is a Romance language (rooted in Latin) and is related to Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese. If your native tongue is one of the aforementioned languages you will find it very easy to pick up a few words along the way. Romanians also appreciate foreigners who do not assume that Romania was part of either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union (false although it was a member of the Eastern Bloc).
Romanians dislike Romania to be labelled as a Balkan country because of the negative image of the region.
It is not entirely geographically correct either as most of Romania (if restricted to Dobrogea, Moldavia, Muntenia and Oltenia, or the vast majority of Romania) lies outside the Balkans.
Mobile phones are ubiquitous in Romania. There are four 2G GSM/3G WCDMA/4G networks (Orange, Vodafone, Telekom and Digi.Mobil). Orange, Vodafone and Telekom have full national coverage (98-99% of the population of the country), while Digi.Mobil is expanding quickly.
You can get a pre-paid SIM with a Romanian phone number for less than 10 Euros at almost any shop or supermarket. Unlike most other countries no ID is necessary for a pre-paid card and pre-paid plans are usually cheap (e.g. 50GB dataplan for 5 euros/30days). Note that prepaid credit on your phone will always be expressed in Euro even though payment will always be made in local currency.
Internet access is fast, widely available in urban environments and growing in rural environments.
Internet cafes are now almost nowhere to be found except for larger cities where one or two might have survived. Computers are usually not available in libraries or in public places such as train stations.
Wireless access is growing, especially in Bucharest, Brasov, Sibiu, Bistriţa, Timişoara and Cluj with Wi-Fi widely available in University areas, airports, public squares, parks, cafes, hotels and restaurants. Payed-for and even free Wi-Fi is also available in many venues. If uncertain, look for squares near the Town Hall, large parks or other important buildings. Most (if not all) restaurants in Romania have wi-fi access and so do most 3-star (and higher) hotels. Note also that a lot of smaller towns also have free WIFI of varying quality throughout the entire town limits;
Mobile internet is available cheaply by all the mobile phone companies.
Official tourism websites of Romania
For more information please visit the official government website: