Things to do in Romania

Forget vampires. You'll find Europe's greatest toothsome creatures in Romania's wild.

Bears, bats & birds

With around 5,500 bears, 4,000 wolves and 2,000 Eurasian lynx, Romania is a land of hunters. Stalk them in woods ablaze with spring and autumn colour - or use the winter book of snowy tracks. Brave Europe's largest bat colonies in vast caves like Huda lui Papara in the Trascau Mountains. Flying wonders fill the outdoors too: bee-eaters, black storks, eagles and Ural owls inland; pelicans, cormorants and geese in the gorgeous water-world of the Danube Delta.

Middle ages spread

Much of Romania's largely unspoilt countryside follows a timeless rustic lifestyle extinguished almost everywhere else in Europe. Horse and cart are primary transport, colourful garb looks like something from a Middle Ages history yarn, while hay scything is a top calorie-burner. Centuries-old folklore and traditions thrive in picturesque villages, especially around Maramures. Many folk still claim a belief in witchcraft, while quirky sights abound a tree hung with pots means a marriageable daughter awaits nearby...

Ancient crafts thrive as a vital way of life. Woodworkers may combine making sturdy ornate carvings with perfectly-honed tulnic (Romania's take on the alpenhorn). Carpets, shawls and table-cloths are hand-woven, while dining tables are covered with locally made produce, from cheeses to potent fruit schnapps usually made from plums, and freely offered to visitors! Tuica is its general name, with palinca the double-distilled more polished version.
Geology and ecology have blessed Romania

Karst your net

Tectonics made majestic mountains across Romania – the Apuceni and Bucegi alongside the Carpathians - while aeons of water carved limestone into Europe's finest karst landscape - pale crinkled rock riven by bat-filled caves.
Hike alpine meadow and dive into dense beech forest where bears are more common than people. Alternatively, set pulses racing in the dramatic Bicaz Gorges or enjoy the calm oak wood pastures of the Breite Plateau.
Travel Team
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Saxon enchantment

As medieval Saxony, Romania's heartland was guarded by seven citadel towns that are magnificent reminders of a past as colourful as their buildings. Brasov's old quarter jostles Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles. Beautifully-preserved 12th century city gems like Sighisoarra and Sibiu further Romania's love affair with architectural colour, blazed too across the gorgeous painted monasteries of Bucovina. If you're visiting the monasteries, be sure to see the fabulous Popa folk art museum in Tarpesti.
By contrast, the enigmatic UNESCO-listed wooden churches of Maramures are paeans to timeless rustic craftsmanship. Small scale wonder manifests too in Transylvanian villages whose houses are roofed with hay and fronted by ornately carved gates, or pretty hill shepherd communities like Sibiel in the Traseu mountains. And there are castles everywhere. Bran is a fairytale classic though ignore spurious links to Dracula model Vlad Tepes. The most exquisite is Renaissance-styled Peles, where Romania's King Carol I peered out on the stark beauty of the Carpathian mountains. In the Orastie mountains, visit the stunning stone sanctuaries at Sarmisegetuza, the 2500-year-old capital of the Dacians, Romania's first civilisation.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: andrea floris] [Karst your net: the paleobear] [Saxon enchantment: Raffaele fronzi]