This side of Romania no one shows you

When people think of Romania, they tend only think of gypsies and Dracula, but there is much more the country than that. I had no idea what to expect when I visited (hopefully a lot of vampire stuff) and found visiting Romania to be far more wonderful than I ever imagined.

There was the delicious and hearty food, the historic cities with their cobblestone streets and their medieval architecture, the warm people, and the beautiful, picturesque countryside. It exceeded all expectations.In recent years, the country’s tourism numbers have been increasing but it’s still kind of an undiscovered place. The secret isn’t that out yet!

Maramures - this medieval region of Romania is one of my favorites. Traditional culture is still thriving, and there is an interesting blend of local music, hand-made wooden structures, and colorful textiles to experience. You’ll find each village has a large wooden church and intricate wooden gates that are hand-carved (woodworking is a tradition here that goes back centuries). They have unique cemeteries as well, stemming from their belief that the afterlife is the beginning of things, not the end. (For example, instead of solemn words on stone tombstones you’ll find blue wooden crosses with funny verses about the deceased.) Visiting here is like stepping back in time.

Food – Romanian meals are quite hearty, containing potatoes, meats, cabbage, and spices. The country has pretty good coffee and pastries.

The best (and most popular) time to visit Romania is during the summer, from June to August. Temperatures will be hot and rain will be infrequent. Expect temperatures around 30 C (86 F) during this time. These will also be the busiest months of the year for tourism, though you’ll only notice in destinations like Brasov or Sibiu where tourism is the main draw. But even then, the crowds are much smaller than what you’ll find in western Europe.

Winter is Romania can be quite cold, with temperatures dropping just below zero (32 F). Snow is common though not abundant, which can affect conditions if you’re traveling by car. While cities like Sigorsora and Brasov can look quite charming in the winter, Bucharest has a much grimmer atmosphere due to the influence of Soviet architecture and their reliance of grey, bland concrete. In short, I wouldn’t recommend a winter visit unless you have a specific desire to enjoy the cold and crowdless cities.

While Romania is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, bad things can still happen so it’s always good to be prepared and plan ahead. Crime against foreigners in Romania is rare so you don’t need to worry too much about scams or theft. Of course, you’ll want to take the same precautions you do at home such as not flashing your valuables, being aware of your surroundings, and not traveling alone at night while intoxicated. Theft is most common when riding the crowded city buses and trams (mostly in Bucharest) so take extra precautions when riding. Never have your valuables within reach; always keep them secured in your bag (and always keep your bag within sight).

Additionally, you will want to take some extra precautions when renting a car. While the roads are safe, rental cars are targeted for theft more than local cars, so just make sure you take precautions and lock your vehicle when you’re not using it. When booking, make sure your insurance covers theft.

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