Located on the Balkan Peninsula, Romania is a country of contrasts. The former Soviet Bloc country has, over the years, belonged to the Romans who gave the country its name, the Hungarians and the Ottomans. It is filled with quaint old towns, mountain resorts that offer great skiing, and a burgeoning art community. Its most famous citizen, however, may be the vampire Dracula, a fictional character found in Transylvania.
Capital of Romania, this city combines the old with the new. Visitors might come across a centuries-old building, a modern high rise, and a Communist-style building all in the same block. This modernizing European capital boasts the largest Parliament building in the world with 3,100 rooms and 12 stories high. Tours of this impressive building, constructed in 1984, are given frequently throughout the day. Also not to be missed in Bucharest is the old town center with its narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings, including medieval churches.
Located in western Romania, Timisoara is one of the country’s largest cities, dating back to the early 13th century. Once part of the Ottoman Empire, it was the first European city to have electric street lamps. The city has bounced back after sustaining heavy bombing damage from both sides during World War II. Unlike many European cathedrals, the Timișoara Orthodox Cathedral was only built in the 20th century, but the central, notable for its 11 towers, houses many historic religious objects as well as vintage icon paintings.
The majority of the Danube Delta, Europe’s second largest river delta, lies in Romania. Originally part of the Black Sea, the Danube Delta is a good place to observe nature. It is home to many unique species of plants and animals in Europe, as well as contains 23 different ecosystems, including some of the world’s largest wetlands. Previous visitors rave about the spectacular sunsets and highly recommend taking a slow boat ride on the river.
Alba Carolina Citadel:
This is the crowning attraction of Alba Iulia. Within this star-shaped citadel are museums, churches and the Unification Hall that sealed the union of Transylvania with Romania in 1918. Originally constructed in the 13th century, the present fortification dates mostly to the 18th century. If you are short on time, focus on the dazzling Coronation Cathedral and National Union Museum. Ideally, spend a full day strolling museums, posing at grand gateways, and idling in cafes. The citadel is free, but the museums carry entry charges.
Encircled by a moat fringed with willow trees, Făgăraş Citadel is an impressively intact fortification from medieval Transylvania. The oldest part of this mighty fortress is the 14th-century Red Tower, with impenetrable 3m-thick walls. Built over a 12th-century wooden fortress razed to the ground by Tartars, the citadel began to take shape in 1310. It soon gained a reputation as Transylvania's strongest fortress; in parts of the complex, two walls run parallel creating a barrier 8m thick.
Palace of Culture:
Iaşi's premier attraction and symbol of the city is the grandiose Gothic-revival Palace of Culture that dominates the horizon at the southern end of B-dul Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfânt. Though it looks as if it stepped out of a medieval fairy tale, the building is only around 100 years old. The palace stands over Prince Alexandru cel Bun's ruined 15th-century princely court. Visitors can tour the palace, climb the tower and explore four major museums.
Rising above the town on a rocky promontory, Bran Castle holds visitors in thrall. An entire industry has sprouted around describing it as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, though connections to either the historical Vlad Ţepeş or Bram Stoker’s fictional vampire are thin. The liberties taken with Bran’s reputation are quickly forgotten on a visit: you will climb up its conical towers, admiring views over thick forest, and stroll through creaky-floored rooms furnished with bearskin rugs and 19th-century antiques.
Some castles perch on mountains, others skulk in mist-shrouded hills, but Hunedoara’s juts out from an industrial jungle. Despite being surrounded by steel mills, Corvin Castle is Transylvania's most spellbinding fortress. You will be thunderstruck the moment you walk over the drawbridge, with pointed turrets rising above, into the stone courtyard. Visitors are not shackled to guided tours, so you can stroll freely and let your imagination run wild.
Hotel Castel Dracula:
One of the high points of any vampire-themed trip to Transylvania is kitsch Hotel Castel Dracula. Its blood-curdling decorations, and location on a promontory roughly where Bram Stoker’s Count would have lived, draw as many day-trippers as overnight guests. Snap a selfie with the bust of Bram Stoker outside, peep inside to shiver at taxidermied hawks and wolves and – if you do not have a heart condition – visit ‘Dracula’s tomb’.
The exquisite Romanian Athenaeum is the majestic heart of Romania’s classical music tradition. Scenes from Romanian history are featured on the interior fresco inside the Big Hall on the 1st floor; the dome is 41m high. A huge appeal dubbed ‘Give a Penny for the Athenaeum’ saved it from disaster after funds dried up in the late-19th century. Today it is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and normally only open during concerts, but you can often take a peak inside. The peristyle is adorned with mosaics of five Romanian rulers, including Moldavian prince Vasile Lupu (r 1512–21), Wallachian Matei Basarab (r 1632–54) and King Carol I (r 1881–1914).