Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Romania
If you’re in Bucharest, it’s impossible to miss the massive Palace of Parliament which dominates the city center and contains more than 1,000 rooms. Built under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, this opulent edifice is now one of Bucharest’s most popular tourist attractions and home to the National Museum of Contemporary Art and more.
Brasov’s most famous landmark, the monumental Black Church (Biserica Neagra) towers over Council Square (Piata Sfatului) and Brasov Old Town. Dating from the late 14th century, the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul got its name from the 1689 Great Fire, which damaged the church and much of the town.
Built between 1886 and 1888, the Romanian Athenaeum is one of Bucharest’s preeminent cultural venues. Classical concerts are held in its 800-seat auditorium, which is renowned for its excellent acoustics, though the concert hall is as much worth a visit for its elegant architecture and interiors as it is for its musical offerings.
Founded in 1864 by Prince Alexander John Cuza, who ruled over the Romanian United Principalities of Walachia and Moldova, the University of Bucharest is located on Piata Universitatii, a buzzing square snarled with traffic and popular with Bucharest locals as a meeting place. The Bucharest University Palace’s imposing Neo-classical façade stands on the northwestern corner of the square; it was designed by architect Alexandru Orascu and completed in 1859.
Today the university has five faculties and is one of the biggest and most prestigious in Romania. Past alumni include playwright Eugène Ionesco, biologist George E Palade and philosopher Emil Cioran.
Outside the University Palace stand four monumental statues of pivotal figures in Romanian history as well as numerous stalls selling secondhand books. Piata Universitatii itself is surrounded by a jumble of architecturally diverse buildings, including the National Theater of Bucharest, the School of Architecture, the modernist Hotel InterContinental and the ornate Neo-classical beauty of the Coltea Hospital, the oldest in the city. A memorial of ten stone crosses stands in the middle of the square in tribute to the rebels who died in the 1989 revolution, which saw the downfall of the despotic President Ceaușescu and brought about the end of Soviet domination in Romania.
Like its Parisian namesake, this triumphal arch sits at one of the city’s busiest intersections and is surrounded by a constant whirl of traffic. The 85-foot (27-meter monument, designed by influential Romanian architect Petre Antonescu, was inaugurated in 1936 to celebrate the unification of Romania and victory in World War I.
Sheer limestone cliffs featuring caves and rock towers rise up on either side of this 1.8-mile (3-kilometer canyon, which forms a split in what was once a single mountain. The dramatic karst formations, carved over millennia by a rushing river, are now part of a protected nature reserve popular with hikers and climbers.
Formally known as Palace Square, Revolution Square (Piața Revoluției earned its current title for its role in the Romanian Revolution of 1989 when then-leader Nicolae Ceaușescu made a final disastrous public appearance here to a booing and jeering crowd. At the center of the square sits a memorial commemorating victims of the revolution.
Catherine’s Gate (Poarta Ecaterinei) is technically Brașov’s last-remaining medieval structure, though the central tower is the only original feature. Built by Saxon settlers in 1559, then used as storage space during the 19th and 20th centuries, the gate provides insight into Romania’s complex history and today serves as an important symbol of the city.
Located in the heart of old Brasov, Council Square*(Piata Sfatului)* is lined with beautiful Gothic, baroque, and Renaissance buildings. Home to a number of key landmarks, Brasov’s main square has been a focal point of life in the city since medieval times. It’s a popular gathering place and a great spot to soak up the scenery.
Step back in time and discover life in rural Romania at the Village Museum (Muzeul Satalui. Located on the shores of Herastrau Lake, this fascinating open-air museum features a large collection of reconstructed buildings gathered from different parts of the country, as well as exhibits and demonstrations of traditional skills and crafts.
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This memorial serves as a poignant and sobering reminder of the many Romanian Jews and Roma people murdered during World War II. The memorial, which was inaugurated in 2009, was seen as a symbolic step by Romanian leaders, with previous post-war governments having denied the role Romania’s Nazi-allied government played in the genocide.
Extending from Piaţa Victoriei in the north of Bucharest down to the Dâmbovița River, the 1.8-mile (3-kilometer long Victoriei Street (Calea Victoriei is the city’s main artery. The wide road is lined with landmarks, from communist-era blocks to museums and historic houses, churches, and monuments.
Set within the 19th-century Royal Palace, the National Museum of Art of Romania holds an impressive array of artworks. The collection is divided into two parts: Romanian art, with a particular emphasis on medieval and modern pieces; and European art, which includes works attributed to celebrated artists such as El Greco and Rembrandt.
Bâlea Lake (Lacul Bâlea)is a glacial lake in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains. Sitting at more than 2,000 meters high, it is one of the most popular lakes in Romania. Most visitors are drawn to the lake for the landscape and superb views on the drive there; the water is typically too cold for swimming. Two chalets are open near the lake all year round, but it is most easily accessed in the summer months. In the winter, visitors must ride the cable car from the chalet near the Balea waterfall to get there. In 2006, the first ice hotel in eastern Europe was built nearby using blocks of ice pulled from the frozen lake.
Located in central Bucharest, Stavropoleos Church (Biserica Stavropoleos, also known as Stavropoleos Monastery, is one of the oldest churches in the city. Built in the 18th century, this small, ornately-decorated church is considered one of the most beautiful in the city, and offers an oasis of peace in the heart of Old Town Bucharest.
Built in the late 1890s and opened at the turn of the 20th century on one of Bucharest’s main boulevards, the CEC Palace (Palatul CEC) was designed by French architect Paul Gottereau and the construction of this fine Beaux Arts masterpiece was overseen by Romanian architect Ion Socolescu. Designated to be the HQ of Romania’s oldest savings bank, Casa de Economii și Consemnațiuni (CEC) and located opposite the National History Museum of Romania, it is a monumental mansion topped with five cupolas; the central one stands over the grandiose, colonnaded entrance and is made of glass and steel. The palace is slated for transformation into an art museum and was sold to the city council for more than €17.75 million in 2006; while plans are drawn up the CEC Bank rents it back from the council but its sumptuous, marble-clad interior – much of which was covered over in Ceaușescu’s time – is no longer open to the public.
Sighișoara’s Clock Tower—the former town council meeting place—was among several towers built between the 13th and 16th centuries to defend the medieval citadel. Shimmering scale-like tiles cover the roof and painted wooden figurines emerge from a niche beside the clock. Inside, there is a small museum and a 360-degree viewing platform.
One of three main squares around which Sibiu’s old town is built, Big Square (Piața Mare has been at the heart of city life for centuries, hosting markets, festivals, and even executions. Historic landmarks surround the square, from the 13th-century Tower of the Council (Turnul Sfatului to the baroque-style Brukenthal Palace.
Founded in the late 14th century, Snagov Monastery (Manastirea Snagov) sits on an islet in Lake Snagov, just a couple kilometers north of the village by the same name. The monastery is best known as the burial place of Vlad the Impaler, who provided the inspiration for the fictional Dracula. However, the island also once housed the coin minting facility of the medieval principality Wallachia and was considered one of the most important printing houses in southeastern Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Whether or not he ultimately came to rest at the monastery, Vlad the Impaler was strongly connected to it, building fortifications around the monastery in the 15th century, as well as a bell tower, new church, a bridge to the mainland and a prison and torture chamber. The remains of the prison can still be seen behind the present day church and frescoes from that era are visible inside the church. Vlad’s alleged grave can be found inside the church toward the back.
Located in the historic town of Brasov, Rope Street (Strada Sforii is one of the most interesting streets in the city. With a width that varies between 44 and 53 inches (111 and 135 centimeters, the 260-foot (80-meter long street is the narrowest street in Brasov and in Romania, and one of the narrowest streets in Europe.
Sitting on a mountain cliff overlooking the Arges River, the Poenari Castle (Cetatea Poenari) is best known for its connection to Vlad the Impaler, said to be the inspiration for the fictional Dracula. Now partially in ruins, the castle was first built in the 13th century and came under Vlad the Impaler’s control in the 15th century. Legend has it that Vlad’s first wife committed suicide rather than be taken hostage by the Ottoman Turks. She allegedly threw herself off one of the castle walls into the river below, turning the water red. The river is now referred to as the Lady’s River.
The castle was eventually abandoned and an earthquake in the 19th century destroyed the northern section. It sat in ruins until 1970, when the Romanian government decided to open it to tourists, building more than 1400 steps into the rock of the mountain to allow visitors to climb up to the castle. Walkways and handrails have also been installed to allow for easier movement throughout the ruins.
The Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse (Macca-Villacrosse Passage) is a fork-shaped arcaded street in central Bucharest. Covered with yellow glass to allow natural light to shine through, the passage was built at the end of the 19th century to connect the Calea Victoriei and the National Bank. Today, the Macca side of the passage opens on to Calea Victoriei, one of Bucharest’s main avenues, while the Villacrosse side opens to the National Bank and Strada Eugeniu Carada. The passage has a French look to it and is similar to other covered passages built in Milan and Paris during the same period. During Communist times, it was known as the Jewelry Passage due to the presence of the city’s largest jewelry shops, but the original name was restored in 1990.
Today, the passage is still home to a few jewelry shops, but also features several restaurants, cafes, boutiques and hookah bars.
Also called the Brancovan Palace, the Mogosoaia Palace was built at the end of the 17th century by Constantin Brancoveanu. The building combines elements of both Venetian and Ottoman architecture, creating a style often referred to as “Brancovenesc.” Located just 10 kilometers from Bucharest in the village of Mogosoaia, it has been a museum since 1957 and is one of the most important tourist sites in the area. The palace is part of a vast complex that includes a guesthouse, watchtower, kitchen, vault, ice house, green house, church, and beautiful gardens.
Today, visitors can tour parts of the palace or visit a museum featuring Brancoveanu style art. Exhibitions of paintings or textiles are often staged in the palace as well.
Founded in the early 16th century, the Curtea de Arges Monastery is one of the most important pilgrimage and prayer sites in Romania. A Romanian Orthodox cathedral sits on the grounds of the monastery that also dates to the 16th century. Built with pale gray limestone in a Byzantine style, it features Moorish arabesques and an interior covered with murals by French painters Nicolle and Renouard and Romanian painter Constantinescu. The monastery is also home to numerous relics and a gospel written in gold by Queen Elizabeth of Romania, as well as the graves of Kings Ferdinand and Carol I and Queens Elizabeth and Maria.
The monastery is tied to several local legends, including the legend of Master Manole, who is said to have sacrificed his wife and his own life to complete the building of the monastery. Another legend relates to the holy relics of Saint Filofteea, a 12-year-old girl who was killed by her father after giving food to beggars.
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