The 10 Most Unusual Things to Do in Romania
Sarmizegetusa Regia | © Cosmin Stefanescu/WikiCommons
For a European country, Romania is still a pretty exotic destination. With a unique combination of cultural and natural attractions, it is bound to surprise you at every step. With that in mind, we’ve listed 10 of the most unusual things to do on your trip to the country, from spending a night in a coffin at Dracula’s castle, to getting dirty and trying to make your own wine, to spotting Europe’s largest mammal.
Built on a plateau in the Orăştie Mountains, at an elevation of 1,200 meters (3937 ft), Sarmizegetusa Regia is the former political, military and religious center of the Dacians. This ancient people, the ancestors of today’s Romanian people, had an advanced society and enjoyed a high level of living. The complex, which comprised six citadels, was split in three areas, namely a 30,000 square meter fortress, a sacred area featuring temples whose columns are still visible today, and an area of civilian settlements set on elevated terraces.
As they lived in an area rich in gold, the Dacians left behind numerous treasures, including the world famous Dacian solid gold bracelets, which served not only as ornaments, but also as high rank insignia and votive offerings. Sarmizegetusa Regia is a UNESCO world heritage site and you can admire several of the gold bracelets found in the area, together with beautiful Dacian jewelry, at Bucharest’s National Museum of History (MNIR).
This spectacular natural phenomenon takes place in an area near Terca village, Buzău county. At an altitude of around 1,000 meters (3280 ft), natural gas emissions come out through the ground and, upon meeting the hot rays of the sun, catch fire. The tallest flames can go up to 1.5 meters (1.64ft), and although the landscape is always dramatic, the display is at its most stunning at night, and in winter.
See Europe’s largest mammal
Once on the brink of extinction, the European bison has been reintroduced in Romania in recent years. At up to 1.95 meters tall, 2.1 to 3.5 meters long and weighing up to one ton, it is the largest and heaviest wild land animal living on the continent. You can spot this still very rare animal – in 2015 there were only 3403 of them left – in five natural reservations in the country. The reservation of Bucșani, between Târgoviște and Ploiești, has 37 bison, including young specimens, while that in the village of Acriș has 34.
But Europe’s largest bison rewilding project is found in Țarcu Mountains, near the village of Armeniș, Caraș-Severin county. Here, in one of the wildest areas on the continent, 40 new bison were brought this year, and will be gradually released into the wild. Their impact on the environment is tremendous, as they graze on grass, but also on shrubs and trees, shaping the landscape in a unique way. Also, they help fertilize the wild meadows, boosting biodiversity in the area. When visiting the Măgura Zimbrilor reservation, consider spending the night in Armeniș, in the house of the locals, who are very welcoming!
Take a ride with Mocănița
When visiting Romania, you can take a trip on the last running steam train used for timber transport in the world! You will find Mocănita, as the railway is known, in Vişeu de Sus, in the Maramureș Mountains Natural Park, north of Romania.
Built in 1932, Mocănita has been functional since then, with brief stops. Today, from Monday to Saturday, the trains transport timber fron Vaserului Valley to the timber factories in Vişeu de Sus. While definitely not among the most environmentally friendly means of transport, it represents, undoubtedly, a piece of world history. As it is running through the largest of Romania’s natural parks, the views are spectacular, so do not hesitate and hop aboard for a unique experience!
Visit the mud volcanoes
A walk among the bubbling cones of the mud volcanoes in Berca, Buzău county, is a unique experience. Best enjoyed at sundown, the landscape, dotted with volcanic craters and active cones up to six meters (19.6 ft) high, is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The 60 hectare geological and botanical reservation that includes the volcanoes is divided in two parts, Pâclele Mari and Pâclele Mici. Due to the singularity of the landscape, only two species of plans live in this area, namely Nitraria Schöberi and Obione Verrucifera. During your visit, touching the cones is strictly forbidden. To compensate, head to the shore of the Black Sea, to one of the many resorts around the Techirghiol Lake, and you’ll find deposits of mud with amazing health benefits you can smear yourself in, from head to toe.
Ride the underground ferris wheel
Salina Turda, nearby Cluj-Napoca, is one of the most exciting attractions in the country. Hidden deep down in slat mines belly, at a depth of 120 meters (400 feet), lies an amusement park featuring a ferris wheel, and an underground salt lake you can row on. Sport lovers can make the best of their time spend underground by taking advantage of the mini golf course as well as the basketball and handball field. The salt mine also hosts an amphitheater, where shows regularly take place.
Spending time in the salt mine is known to ease allergy symptoms, help with recovery when suffering from lung illnesses and has overall health benefits.
Aleea Durgăului 7, Turda 401106, Romania
Spend your night in a coffin
Yes, that bloodthirsty Count Dracula may have never spent a night at Bran Castle, laughing his evil laugh while lifting a goblet full of young maiden blood, the shadow of his long robes projecting on the cold, empty walls, before retiring to his silk-lined coffin. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!
Last year, thanks to a partnership between Airbnb and the Bran Castle, two lucky guests got to spend the night of October 31 at the castle, the first time since 1948 that anyone has slept there overnight. The two had an unforgettable night, and got to eat a hearty Transylvanian dinner before being escorted to their velvet-lined coffins.
Strada General Traian Moșoiu 24, Bran 507025, Romania
If visiting Romania in late autumn, start spreading the word early among friends of friends, acquaintances or your travel agent and you may just get invited to a wine or țuica-making evening!
Both drinks are made after the grapes and plums respectively are picked and are at their ripest and freshest. While the wine making business involves the whole and sometimes extended family, the making of țuica is an activity reserved usually for adult males. Whatever you manage to arrange, you can be sure it will be a fun affair, filled with great food, doused in alcohol, and sprinkled with laughter. Language is usually not a problem!
If your networking skills don’t take you far, you can still visit one of the villages with centuries-old winemaking tradition, such as Tohani.
Now this is not for the faint hearted, and certainly not recommended for vegetarians. For everyone else, it is bound to be a very tasty affair. The pig slaughter tradition is still very common in Romania but is confined to the countryside. Anytime between December 20, a day known as Ignat, and Christmas, the whole family gathers for the pig slaughter.
While the young ones do not get to witness the whole process, once the pig is burnt to get rid of the hair, they are welcome to join in and will be fed with the best parts. A longstanding tradition, it teaches everyone to value and respect the life of the animals that support us, and ultimately about life itself.
It is not at all unusual to end up having a meal or even spending the night at a Romanian’s place, as a foreigner. Free of charge, of course. Hospitality has always been a value Romanians cherish deeply and will extend upon anyone who is willing to grace them with a visit, especially in the countryside.
Traditionally, each house had a room that was reserved for guests. The best room in the house, it was usually adorned with the most beautiful of linen and carpets and would always be ready to receive guests.