Travelling in Romania. Useful advice from locals.

Thinking of travelling in Romania? Here is some very useful advice that will help you save precious time and money during your stay in this country.

As locals working in the travel industry, we’ve heard a few stories from our guests who had negative experiences during their holiday in Romania. That’s why we decided to share with you some useful advice about travelling in Romania, from the point of view of the locals.

Getting around Romania

Getting into Romania can be done either by train, car, bus or plane, depending on what you prefer. If you decide to travel by train, you need to know that generally speaking, there might be some delays caused by infrastructure. Don’t expect lightning speeds and be prepared for quite a few hours if you want to get from one part of the country to another. The situation changes, however, if you are travelling for a short distance. The train is affordable and can help you save a lot of precious time if, let’s say, you want to travel from Bucharest to Brasov, in Transylvania. Once you get to the highlands, the landscape changes and the majestic mountains arise high above the clouds. Seeing this scenery from the comfort of a train is surely satisfying.

And you know what’s even more satisfying? Passing by numerous cars stuck on DN1, the main road that connects Bucharest to Brasov, in Transylvania.

Travelling in Romania by car can be the perfect choice if you want to have privacy and the possibility of stopping the car whenever you see something worth photographing. Yes, the roads can be busy sometimes, especially during the weekends and yes, many Romanian drivers are reckless but it’s important to keep an eye on others as well and you’ll be safe. Have others in the car immortalize the landscape while you drive. If you’re travelling with your car, just go with the flow and don’t take any unnecessary risks. If you opt for a rental car, our suggestion is a model with a high clearance. And not because of the potholes and bad roads, because there are quite decent roads around here, but because of the occasional need to go off the paved roads, into secluded country roads or forestry tracks, perfect for a little escape. If you’re not pretentious, a Dacia Duster is a bang for your buck. If money is not a problem, any other suv will do. If your budget it tight, go with a Dacia Sandero or Logan. Low consumption and a high ground clearance will allow you to venture into more rugged terrain – but don’t forget – there’s no 4WD on these babies. So go with a 4WD Duster. It would be our choice for travelling to Romania.

Roads in Romania

If you’re travelling by bus or coach, sit back and relax. There’s not much you can do but enjoy the scenery and the occasional horse drawn carts going along the main roads. 

If you want to fly to Romania, the main entrance gate is Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest (OTP). Once you landed, take your checked-in luggage and head to the exit. Always avoid the rather dubious guys trying to offer you a ”cheap taxi ride” to Bucharest or whatever. If you want to get to Bucharest, just call an Uber – it’s much safer and you know exactly how much you’re gonna pay to get to your destination. Or use the public transport, which is also affordable. If there’s no other option, you can take a taxi but always look out for the “pirates” – usually unmarked cars or cabs that don’t show the prices. And always ask the drivers to turn on the charging device; at destination, ask for the receipt as well. And you can always compare the routes by using Google Maps. Sometimes, taxi drivers will take you on a longer route, just to get more money. So use Uber or public transport and not only at airports, but  anywhere in Romania.
However, if you want to get from the airport to Brasov, you can always find companies that will pick you up from the airport and drop you off at your accommodation in Brasov. Just google “transfer airport Bucharest Brasov” or combinations of these words and you’ll find yourself a few bargains. Usually, a one way 2-3 hour ride Bucharest – Brasov or Brasov – Bucharest will cost you around 80 LEI (17 Euro or 15 Pounds). Just make sure you book the rides in advance. Transfers are usually done with 8+1 vans but if you prefer to have intimacy, book a private transfer, which is a bit more expensive.

Of course, there are other airports in Romania. Cluj, Oradea, Timișoara, Iași, Constanța, Târgu Mureș and hopefully, Brașov, in a few years, are also worth considering if you want to avoid the busy Henri Coandă airport in Bucharest. If you want to save time, there are also the internal flights almost everywhere in Romania.

Using money while travelling in Romania

Romania uses the Leu (RON) or Lei (plural). Always check the National Bank’s exchange rates and avoid the exchange offices in airports and around train stations, unless necessary. They will offer you an awful exchange rate. Always avoid exchanging large amounts of money. Generally speaking, you can pay by card in all supermarkets and bigger shops in the urban areas and sometimes, even in the bigger villages. But it’s good to have some cash with you, just in case. Don’t consider travelling to Romania with too much cash and avoid flashing the stack of hundreds in public places. It’s good to have a few 10 Lei, 5 Lei and 1 Leu banknotes on you, for tips and small souvenirs. Did we mention we use plastic banknotes? So yeah, don’t worry if you forget a 100 lei note in your pocket, while your pants are in the washing machine.

Money in Romania

Forget about the small change; the coins are pretty much useless, unless you pay parking. While there might be some places where you can pay the parking by card or SMS, in Brasov, for instance, 50 Bani (Bani is a subdivision of the Lei) and 10 Bani coins are very important. And if you’re thinking of leaving the change to beggars, don’t even think about it. Firstly, it is illegal and secondly, by doing this, you encourage begging. Just don’t.

If you fancy buying from local markets, you need to have cash. Not too much. 100 Lei should be more than enough, unless you want to feed the entire hotel. Shopping in Romanian local markets can be quite fun and a better way of saving money, while helping small businesses or farmers. To find the best deals, find a trustworthy Romanian who will send you to the best stands in the market.

Interacting with locals

Romanians are some of the friendliest people in the world.  We like to socialize, meet others, we are proud of our country and we will do anything to make our guests feel like home.

Don’t worry if you feel lost or don’t understand something. You can always ask almost anyone on the street – under the age of 50, to be fair – about indications or simply just about anything, from beer to politics and the meaning of life. English language is pretty common in Romania, thanks to the educational system and technology, which uses English as a crucial language.

Travelling in Romania - Interacting with locals

However, in many villages, with a few exceptions, expect few people to know Shakespeare’s language. Using hand gestures and basic communication skills, you’ll be ok. If you are hungry, just point to your mouth and rub your tummy 🙂

No need to offer money for indications or advice; most Romanians can feel offended. If you find yourself in a small village and someone offers you something to eat, taste or drink – this is highly possible – do not refuse. You can refuse politely once and in 99.99% of cases, the locals will insist that you taste whatever they’re offering. Just accept and don’t offer money, unless it is a huge meal. In most cases, they will refuse to take the money. You can ask again and if they take it, let it be. If not, don’t insist. If a Romanian gives you something, it is from the heart, not for money. Remember this wherever you’re travelling in Romania.

How is Romanian food?

This is every Romanian’s favorite thing to talk about and reason to be proud of. Romania is a heaven for meat eaters, especially those who like pork. But lamb and beef lovers will surely find some tasty dishes to savor, while drinking a nice glass of Romanian wine.

Our most popular dish is called Sarmale. These are basically cabbage leaves (which are stored in brine) stuffed with a mixture of pork meat, rice and spices. There are some vegetarian options for this which replace meat with mushrooms. Sarmale go well with polenta, sausages and picked cabbage or hot peppers. And beer, wine or țuică / pălincă / horincă – depending on the region you’re visiting; țuică is soft, pălincă is medium, horincă is very strong. You can find sarmale in just about every Romanian style restaurant. Make sure you ask the waiter to bring some ”smântână” or sour cream, which you will spread nicely over the hot cabbage rolls.

Another Romanian thing to eat is ”slănină” or bacon. But not your average morning thin slices of bacon, but pork fat, in big chunks, sliced or diced, together with red onions or cheese. We don’t cook the red onion, we eat it raw. Yes, we needed to clarify this because we had a lot of tourists looking baffled when they saw locals biting the red onion like an apple.

Mici, or “smalls” is another famous Romanian food, accompanied usually by mustard and beer. It is a mixture of ground meat (usually pork) with garlic, spices and baking soda, shaped as rolls, similar to the ćevapi or ćevapčići, which are specific to the Balkans. We don’t know where to find the best mici in Romania but one thing is sure: Romanian love eating these, whenever and wherever. 

Food at Curmatura hut

Ciorbă is a very popular main course in Romania (we like to say that the soup / ciorba is the first course and a stew or whatever is not liquid is the second course). While cream soups or noodle / dumplings soups are called ”supă”, a ”ciorbă” can be sour or not and has a lot of ingredients, mostly vegetables and meat. The tripe soup is by far the most famous of all. Just make sure you choose a restaurant which serves a good one. Otherwise, you’ll never try that again.

Last but not least, ”șorici” or ”șoric” is … uhm… pig skin. We know it doesn’t sound tasty but trust us, you have to try it once. It is best just after the pig is slaughtered, usually in the more traditional villages, where slaughtering the pig is considered to be a ritual. The entire animal is roasted with burning hay or a gas lamp and finally, when it’s cut into pieces, some parts of the skin are saved and served with salt and the traditional palinca.

Travelling in Romania - tasting palinca

You can find out the secrets behind palinca making in a distillery tour near Brasov.

We cannot end the foods chapter without a dessert, right? Papanași is one of the reasons why tourists love Romanian food. After tasting these, we are sure you will book your next flights back to Romania as soon as you get home. Papanași are some doughnut-shaped balls, containing cottage cheese and semolina, fried and covered with sour cream and jam. Don’t even dare to think about losing weight, as this is a true caloric bomb and should be enjoyed as it is.

As you may have noticed, if you’re thinking of losing weight while travelling in Romania, just forget about it. The huge variety of tasty food makes this impossible.

How is weather in Romania?

When you’re travelling in Romania, be prepared for any kind of weather. Forget about the old guidebooks telling you how nice it is in June and how hot August can be.

Storm approaching Curmatura hut

During recent years, weather had changed so much that nobody can predict 100% the next day’s forecast. Obviously, don’t come with a winter jacket and a ski suit during summer and forget about those colorful shorts and flip flops during winter months. But for the rest, come prepared with an extra layer for the cold mornings and evenings, with sun cream for the scorching sun and most important, with a pair of waterproof shoes and a rain jacket, unless you enjoy being soaked in June’s almost every day rain.

Is travelling alone in Romania safe?

Yes. Romania is much safer that other countries and people will generally help you if you ever get into trouble. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can trust anyone, but the chances of stumbling upon a rather dubious individual are quite low. Just follow your instincts. If someone doesn’t seem trustworthy, just avoid that person.

If you’re a solo guy or girl travelling in Romania, just avoid the scammers and anything that sounds too good to be true. Stay away of pushy people and watch your pockets. Pickpockets are known to recognize tourists from a mile away, especially if you have a camera and a backpack.

As we already mentioned, avoid having too much cash on you and you will stay out of trouble. Should you need urgent assistance which require firefighters, police or medical care, calling 112 is the best solution.

If you feel you’re being followed by someone, go into a crowded place and tell people who’s causing you trouble. They will know what to do.

Hiking to Curmatura hut

If you like hiking in the mountains, you need to know that in most of cases, there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, we have the biggest population of brown bears in Europe and they are just about everywhere in the mountains but as long as you make noise while passing through the dense forests, these bears will hear you and keep a safe distance. If you have a small bell, you can attach it to your backpack and this will keep the fuzzy bears away. If you want to see them, a bear watching tour is more than recommended. Together with a guide, you will be taken to a safe bear hide and observe these animals in their natural habitat, in the wild. Much safer than seeing them face to face, in a dark forest!