While for some, Romania itself is an underrated European destination, living in the shadow of other European countries like France, Spain or Italy, those who get interested in the country usually look to visit the popular destinations like Bucharest, Brașov, Sibiu or the Danube Delta. Yet, Romania is hiding plenty of off-the-beaten-path gems that are waiting to be discovered, those less touristy destinations that will make you fall under Romania’s charm.
Situated in the west of Romania, Arad is a picturesque city boasting impressive Art Nouveau and eclectic architecture, left over from the Austrian-Hungarian occupation period. Not as popular as Timișoara and yet a big city in western Romania, Arad is certainly worth a visit. Not to mention the outstanding 250 year-old star-shaped Vauban citadel, surrounded by the Mures River, which still shelters a military garrison.
While Iași is the cultural capital of the Moldova region, Piatra Neamț is a much less touristy city, despite its attractiveness. Nevertheless, Piatra Neamț is a beautiful city, bound in the west by the Carpathian Mountains. Wherever you look, astounding scenery opens before your eyes. Still, there’s no better place to capture the surroundings than the Princely Court’s belfry, where you can catch breathtaking views of Iași and Bistrita Valley.
One of Romania’s underrated cities, Craiova is not among the first cities one would visit in Romania. Yet, the city centre boasts an array of superb buildings erected in Brâncovenesc style, the only national architectural style. Some fine examples are the Madona Dudu Church, the Mântuleasca Church and the building housing the Ethnography Museum of Oltenia.
Located in the Bușteni mountain resort, Cantacuzino Castle is a small gem, shaded by the nearby Peleș Castle. Erected by the former prime minister Gheorghe Cantacuzino in the 20th century, Cantacuzino Castle shelters the family’s heritage. Nowadays, the classy location hosts concerts, opera festivals, fashion shows and private events.
A charming Saxon village, Hoghilag is the land of tuberoses. Grown by the villagers for centuries, the tuberoses are not only enchanting with their scent and beauty, but they also lure visitors during the Tuberose Festival. Used for perfumes or for particular recipes, the tuberoses are nowadays a symbol of Hoghilag. As in every Saxon village, the houses are aligned along the main road, while the Gothic fortified church dominates the village’s centre.
An unspoiled village in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, Măgura village is situated at 1,000 meters (3,280 ft.) high, untouched by modern technologies. Filled with marvellous landscapes and a restful stillness, the village is perfect if you want to discover the traditional way of life, wander in nature or bike ride. And if you plan to stay longer, you can get a room in one of the villager’s guesthouses.
Boasting the largest Saxon population in Transylvania, Mălâncrav is a picturesque remote village with a long-lasting Saxon heritage. The village’s fortified church exhibits the largest Gothic fresco that survived the religious reform, showcasing 53 scenes from the Old and the New Testament. Next to it stands the old mansion that belonged to the noble Apafi family, today transformed into a vintage guesthouse.
A small traditional village, Săvârșin is surrounded by beautiful views of the Metaliferi Mountains. The picturesque village shelters a charming little castle belonging to Romania’s royal family, where they spend every Christmas holiday. Nowadays, it can be visited when the royal family is not present.
Much smaller in surface than other mountains of Romania, the Ciucaș Mountains exhibit amazing views and are one of Romania’s underrated gems. The wild landscapes and curious rock formations like the Babele la Sfat (Old Ladies’s Council), Mâna Dracului (Devil’s Hand), Turnul lui Goliat (Goliat’s Tower) create unique landscapes, sprinkled with pristine forests and a great diversity of protected fauna and flora.
While the locals love to hike in the Ceahlău Mountains, the more touristic Făgăraș, Retezat or Apuseni mountains remain the favourite spots of foreign travellers. But if you like going off the beaten path, Ceahlău Mountains are a great destination, mainly for hikers. Sprinkled with thick forests, rare plants like the bog rosemary or the Edelweiss, amazing landscapes and quaint attractions like the ‘Polița cu Crini’ Natural reserve, the Duruitoarea Waterfall or the Ocolașul Mare peak, standing at 1,907 meters (6,256 ft) high, the Ceahlău Mountains are the ideal destination for nature-lovers.
Romania’s oldest and lowest mountains, the Măcin Mountains display a rich fauna and flora. Looking more like some hills, peaking at 467 meters (1,532 ft), the Măcin Mountains are great for hiking, cycling or horseback riding. If you go hiking, don’t miss the Pricopan Heights; and don’t be surprised if you encounter a turtle along the way.