Hiking in Romania – A well-kept secret (until now!)
Okay, admittedly, hiking in Romania doesn’t exactly sound like the ultimate vacation for everyone. Many people associate the activity with hours of trekking, barren landscapes, and tired muscles the next day.
A hiking vacation is a terrific way to relax, escape from everyday stress, and discover something new at your own pace. A holiday in nature, whether alone or in a group, pays off if you simply bring a little motivation and a dash of curiosity!
But where should the excursion into nature go? There are numerous hiking vacation destinations, but we’d like to recommend Romania, a well-kept secret. You may be thinking, “Romania? Why there, of all places?”
We admit that the country in southeastern Europe isn’t frequently featured on the European scene. For most vacationers from Central Europe, it’s a little too remote. However, the long trip can be well worth it! In this article, we’d like to provide you with a quick rundown of some of the most beautiful sights here. Whether it’s nature, culture, or history, a trip here will give you the chance to discover a European gem that you probably haven’t seen before!
Romania – The Basics
It’s quite clear that if you’re unfamiliar with a country, it’s unlikely to be your next travel destination. So, we’ll start with the basics, the most important stuff – Romania in a nutshell, if you will.
The Republic of Romania, with a population of around 20 million people, is located on the border of Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, right on the Black Sea. It can be divided into three historical and cultural regions: Moldova in the northwest (fun fact #1: yes, the neighboring state was named after it!), Wallachia in the south, and Transylvania in the northwest. Bucharest, the country’s capital and home to the country’s largest airport, is located in the south.
Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Moldova, and Ukraine are Romania’s five neighbors. The Danube serves as a natural border with Serbia and Bulgaria, while the Carpathian Mountain range forms a crescent across the country (Fun fact #2: The Carpathians are Europe’s second-longest mountain range, stretching 1,500 kilometers!). The almost circular Apuseni Mountains are a little further away.
The country has a lot to offer for high-altitude aficionados, with ten peaks in the Carpathians above 2500 meters. At 2,544 meters, Moldoveanu is the highest point and is located in the Făgăraş Mountains.
Romania has a total of 14 national parks and 16 nature parks, each with its own set of attractions. Mountains, hills, and plains cover a third of the country, providing something for everyone.
Furthermore, Romania’s climate is perfect for walking. Don’t want to go along endless hiking paths in the shade at 30° Celsius? Well, we have good news – this is a temperate climate zone, which means it usually doesn’t get too hot, even in the summer. The weather is ideal for hiking, but keep in mind that the higher you go, the more treacherous the weather can become. If you want to go high, check the local weather forecast every day and carry a jacket!
In order to gain an insight into the country’s attractions, we’ll now take a closer look at the three historical parts of the area.
Transylvania – A Cultural Highlight
Hiking in Transylvania, Romania
Transylvania lies within the Carpathian Mountains’ crescent and has a lot to offer, especially culturally. If the word Transylvania sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because of its close ties to Count Dracula, one of the most renowned vampires in literary history. The Gothic Bran Castle is claimed to have been his home (at least according to the castle’s tourist guides). The castle, whether it’s a vampire castle or not, is still open to the public. It is located on the so-called Dietrichstein rock in the south of the region, close to the city of Brasnov.
If you’ve already been to Brasnov, you’ll know that it’s a fantastic starting point for long hikes. You can relax and unwind at an altitude of 700 to 1000 meters above sea level in the Poiana Ruscă Mountains. They connect the Apuseni Mountains with the Carpathian Mountains. The Piatra Craiului Nature Park is well worth a visit. Undiscovered valleys, stunning panoramas over hills and mountain villages, and incredible biodiversity will brighten up your day. Such breathtaking views will make you forget about the difficulty of hiking real quick.
A climb via the 7-stairs gorge (Canionul Sapte Scări in Romanian) is worthwhile if you prefer to arrive at a fixed location. You’ll climb a total of seven stairs in a tight gorge over several meters of altitude, as the name implies. Many locals visit the renowned excursion destination to marvel at the gorge’s grandeur and listen to the splashing of the waterfalls. Signposts make it easy to find your way from Brasnov, and you’ll only have to pay a small admission fee. This is an excellent place to start a hike to the Piatra Mare Cabana, a cabin at the summit of the Piatra Mare Mountains.
The town of Zărnești, in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, also known as the King’s Mountains, is located southwest of Brasnov. There is a suitable itinerary for everyone, whether you want to climb to the Lespezi mountain summit, explore the many caves, or simply admire the beautiful scenery and watch the goats climb. Here is where you can capture the perfect vacation shot!
A day excursion to Cluj-Napoca, the country’s second-largest city, is equally worthwhile. A visit to the surrounding Apuseni Nature Park is also possible. Here, you can see important monuments from the times of Hungarian and Saxon rule. In addition to mountains and forests, the 76-hectare nature reserve offers unique views, stunning waterfalls, and remarkable stone formations.
Transylvania’s magnificent splendor will undoubtedly impress you. This, however, is far from everything that Romania has to offer!
Wallachia or Țara Românească
Hiking in Țara Românească, Romania
In his young adult novel “Why We Took the Car,” Wolfgang Herrndorf writes, “If you say someone lives in Wallachia, it means they live in the middle of nowhere.” However, this is nowhere near the truth, as it’s far from being a wasteland.
Wallachia stretches across the entire southern half of the country, along the Danube to the Black Sea. Bucharest, the capital, is located in the country’s southern region (Fun fact #3: The Palace of Parliament, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is the world’s heaviest building!).
The capital isn’t the only place you can marvel at in Romania’s heartland. Aside from the Bucegi Mountains’ winter sports opportunities and a plethora of romantic wine villages in the mountains, the region has a rich cultural legacy to offer.
Romania is especially famous for its castles. Many princes had magnificent buildings in the countryside at the time, which can still be visited today. One example is the majestic Peleş Castle, which has since been converted into a museum. You can visit the royal castle from the 19th century near Sinaia and afterwards visit the Bucegi Nature Park.
The famous Transfăgărăşan Highway also passes through Wallachia’s Carpathian Mountains. It runs 117 kilometers, connecting Wallachia’s Argeş Valley and Transylvania’s Olt Valley. It’s worth driving just a few kilometers along the road, which spans 28 viaducts and 833 bridges. The views from the high road will wow you whether you travel by car or, even better, by bike. Be careful, though – donkeys and cows sometimes wander onto the road. The rule is to drive with caution!
Moldova – Seascapes and Biodiversity
Hiking in Moldova, Romania
Last but not least, we’d like to introduce you to Moldova, which is situated in the north-east, between the Eastern Carpathians and the Prut River. It shares a border with the country of the same name. The region has a lot more to offer than just beautiful forests and a diverse ecosystem. The Danube Delta, which is located at the Danube’s mouth into the Black Sea, is particularly stunning.
This is Europe’s second-largest delta, covering 5,800 square meters, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. Due to its unique diversity of flora and fauna, the region was designated as a biosphere reserve a few years later.
If you are tired of hiking, you can take a short boat ride through the Danube Delta. With permission, many canals may be crossed by rowing boats, making it the ideal area to relax and watch the many native birds. In the hills, you can discover some castle ruins.
Many of the monasteries in the Moldovan region are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are accessible on foot. The Arbore Monastery’s church, located near Solca, is one of them. Tăierea Capului Sfântului Ioan Botezătorul (Funfact #4: this roughly translates to “the beheading of St. John the Baptist”) is a unique sight, especially for cultural buffs.
The lake landscapes of Moldova are perfect for long hikes without steep climbs and provide plenty of attractions for both animal lovers and biologists!
Simply put, there are no “buts”! Romania, a country thus far untouched by mass tourism, is a must-see for all hiking enthusiasts. You will enjoy your trip, whether you climb the Carpathians, visit Danube monasteries, or let stunning castles take your breath away! We recommend visiting between May and October, when it’s not too cold to go hiking in the mountains. So, what do you have to lose? Let’s go to Romania!