Write down a list of the top five places in Europe you want to travel to. Go ahead, seriously…. I’m betting Romania didn’t make the cut. If I’m being honest, it never would have made mine either. If I’d written down a list like this years ago before I had more experience, it probably would have looked fairly traditional: Italy, France, Croatia, Ireland, and Spain perhaps. That might even still be my list. But the beauty of Europe is that you can tour a lot of wholly different countries in a fairly short amount of time and in a fairly compact space. This is how you can discover some destinations that are a lot more interesting than you might expect – like, for instance, Romania.
Known for being the home of the actual Transylvania, as well as for having had a fairly turbulent history, Romania is a very pretty Balkan nation that just seems to be overlooked more often than not. It’s located between Serbia and Hungary to the West and Moldova and the Black Sea to the East, and it’s most easily accessed via train or through the international airport in Bucharest. Here’s a little bit about what you can see and do if you go.
Hiking The Carpathian Mountains
Have you ever heard of the Carpathian Mountains? If you haven’t, don’t feel bad about it. I hadn’t really either until I started looking into Romania. Plus, the name “Carpathian” sounds like something out of a storybook, like these are mountains the Fellowship passed through in The Lord Of The Rings, or they’re some distant reach you barely remember from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Or, you know, something like that. But I digress. These are very real mountains – 1,500 kilometers’ worth of them in fact, stretching from the Czech Republic to Romania.
They also make for a beautiful hike. In particular a walk up the Bucegi Mountains, within the Carpathian range, is a stunning experience. This has been mentioned as one of the best hiking trails in Romania, and it may actually just be one of the best in Europe. For you outdoor adventurers, it’s highly recommended.
Nights Out In Bucharest
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that we’re talking about a European capital, but Bucharest has a pretty kick-ass nightlife scene. It’s been written about as something of an up-and-coming city in this regard, and has a lot of awesome clubs to check out. Control Club in particular looks like the kind of place they might shoot movie scenes in. If clubs aren’t your speed there are some pretty great conventional bars also. Fabrica De Bere Buna is a delightful local beer hall, and Pura Vida gives you a chance to sip cocktails on a rooftop with beautiful surroundings.
Let me be frank: my understanding of Dracula lore pre-Romania was based on the heights of absurd monster fiction. I never read Bram Stoker’s original novel. I saw Dracula Untold in 2014 (and mostly hated it). I’ve played an online game that’s effectively a slot machine with a cartoon Dracula at its center. It describes the character as “handsomely chiseled yet dangerous,” so that gives you an idea that it’s not exactly a classic gothic interpretation. The closest I ever came to really understanding the legend was actually an episode of the completely absurd show Deadliest Warrior, which concerned Vlad the Impaler.
This fearsome character from history – Vlad Tepes, aka “The Impaler” – is commonly accepted as having been the inspiration for Dracula, however, and you can learn all about him in Romania. Even cooler, you can see his old lair, a cliffside fortress called Poenari Castle in Wallachia. It’s just an awesome stop if you like your history, and it’s only about a two and-a-half hour drive from Bucharest.
This is just a quick note. If you’re a history nerd (I am), a place like Poenari Castle can be particularly cool to see. It’s ancient, it belonged to a major (if deeply violent) figure, etc. But Romania is known for other castles as well, and a tour can be a great way to experience the country. Bran Castle is the main draw (and in fact the one commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle, even though it didn’t belong to Vlad).
The Coolest Waterfalls You’ll Ever See
Here’s the thing about the world’s famous waterfalls: most of them are more or less the same, or at least fall into a couple of categories. Seriously, here’s a link to the most beautiful waterfalls, as determined by a fairly trusted publication. Most are either thick, churning cascades with pretty surroundings or long, thin streaks of water falling from atop high cliffs. These can be extraordinary to see, but also somewhat repetitive. Bigar Waterfall in the southwestern part of the country in the Izvorgul Bigar nature preserve, is different, and stunning.
The falls are hard to describe actually, but picture a sort of cliff or mound of moss hanging out over a small body of water. Then picture water streaming over the moss and separating such that it drips down in thin streaks here and there, rather than all overflowing in the same spot. It’s just a unique natural attraction, and one of Romania’s true treasures.
Black Sea Beaches
The Black Sea isn’t exactly a tropical paradise and it can be cold for much of the year. But I’m betting it’s also a better beach destination than most people realize, at least when the weather is nice. Corbu is probably the most famous Romanian retreat on the sea, but there are actually several Romanian beaches well worth visiting if you have the opportunity. One of them just might become your new favorite idea of a midsummer European getaway.