Historic castles, evil counts, wooden churches, and magical fortresses — forget Disney, THIS is where fairy tales come alive! Welcome, to Romania — one of the most affordable countries in Europe for families looking for adventure, culture, history, and relaxation.
Here’s what this southeastern European nation has to offer for visitors of all ages:
Bucharest is an Architectural Treasure Hunt
The capital and largest city is mostly considered a transit point for international travelers to Romania, but its Roman, Parisian, Turkish, and Russian architectural influences make it an interesting place to wander around. Just walking through the cobblestone streets of Old Town and you’ll find beautiful churches, ruins, monasteries, and an underground caravansarai (old roadside inns for travelers and traders).
Vânătoarea arhitectural organizes architectural treasure hunts for kids 8-12 years of age, where they are given a marked map and a set of clues. The kids discover the hidden gems of Cotroceni, a small neighborhood full of Neoromanian and Art Deco villas in Bucharest, or simply get to understand the chaotic way in which the city developed.
See the Original Castles and Fortresses
In Romania, you can visit medieval castles that were home to kings and counts until the 1900s. In Sinaia, visit the newest royal alpine retreat, Peles Castle, with all its original art and furnishing intact. Take the cable car up to Rasnov Fortress, which was a fortified city perched up on a cliff. Explore the dark dungeons and torture museum of Corvin castle, where the movie Dragonheart was filmed.
The most famous destination in Transylvania is Bran Castle because of its link to the novel Dracula, and horror enthusiasts in the family, as well as kids, will enjoy walking around and enjoying the great views.
To see the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (who was the inspiration for the character of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), visit his birthplace in Sighisoara – known as Casa Vlad Dracul, which is also a restaurant. Climb up the 14th-century clock tower where figurines of ancient gods appear when the clock strikes. Wander the squares to see traditional performances, buy Count Dracula souvenirs or take a break at one of the cafés in the tourist town.
Walk Among Wild Bears
The Liberty Bear Sanctuary rescues brown bears caged by hotels, restaurants, and gas stations from around Romania and rehabilitates them on 69 hectares of oak forests. Take an educational guided tour of the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world and watch bears play, swim, and climb trees. You can also adopt a bear for as little as 5 Euros a month.
If you are truly adventurous, go for a bear-watching trek in Piatra Craiului National Park in Romania. With the help of an expert wildlife researcher, trace fresh droppings and mud tracks to spot bears in the wild. You may also see wolves, deer, lynx, chamois, falcons, and thousands of other birds and butterflies.
Experience Village Life
Throughout the country, you will find small villages with wooden homes, horse-drawn carriages, and shepherds tending to flocks. Stay at a private B&B (ranging $20-50 a night) to understand the daily life of rural Romania. In Maramures, lend a helping hand to families turning hay and stacking them for the winter season. The people are very friendly and would invite you in to see their local crafts such as hats, wood carvings, and woolen rugs. In Sighetu Marmatiei, visit the first Monday animal market, where people from different villages in places as far as Ukraine come to trade pigs, sheep, horses, cattle, and more.
Rent a Car or a Bike
One of the best ways to explore Romania is by taking a road trip through Transylvania. The driving rules as are the same as in the US and there’s not much traffic outside the cities, although you may encounter some rough terrain up in the mountainous regions. You can also hire a driver and an English-speaking guide, rent a steam engine train, and get on a biking or hiking tour, through MyRomania, a privately-run tour company that specializes in creating authentic family-friendly experiences.
Stop to see pastel-colored Saxon villages with clay tile roofs, watch gypsy kids play in their yards, visit fortified churches in UNESCO towns (some of them age ham in their towers!), and meadows full of flowers.
The entire family is sure to have a thrilling ride driving through the Transfagarasan road, well known for its hairpin bends and stunning scenery of the Fagaras Mountains of Transylvania.
Swim and Play Underground
Salina Turda is a unique spot where kids can play sports, bowl, mini golf, ride on a big wheel, and row a boat – all underground in a salt mine! The locals believe that the microclimate of salt mines is optimal for prevention of diseases and for rehabilitation therapies, so you can find families spending weekends at salt mines throughout the country.
Romania has some of the best thermal spas in Eastern Europe, with natural mineral springs, swimming pools, water treatments, and massages that help with muscular pain, rheumatism, and other disorders. Baile Felixnear Oradea is the largest health resort, while there are also many others on the Black Sea overlooking miles of sandy beaches.
Lots of Food Choices
Traditional Romanian restaurants serve easily palatable dishes such as grilled meat rolls (mici), meatballs (pârjoale), all kinds of sausages, fish cakes, stuffed vegetables, homemade cheeses, fresh breads, soups, and salads. The second most popular cuisine in Romania is Italian, and you can find pizza and homemade pasta practically anywhere.
Don’t forget to take the family to Cremeria Emilia, which has some of the best gelatos that are hugely popular with locals, and pop by Chocola, which offers a variety of scrumptious desserts, macrons, and sundaes till late at night.
Have you been on a family holiday to Romania? Share your experience with us in the comments.