In this article you’ll find everything you should know before you travel to Romania. Want more information on what to visit in Romania? Check out my Romania section!
Romania used the be the country everyone avoided. If you’d dare to enter, thieves and muggers would be waiting for you. Or you’d simply be eaten by stray dogs. Luckily the country’s bad rep is turning into one of authentic experiences, folklore and history, temping more and more tourists to take the leap. And it should be, as Romania isn’t much scarier than your own backyard, unless you live in the boring Netherlands that is.
When I first searched for information on Romania, all I got were 10 year old newspaper articles and loads of information on the Romanian revolution. I got the general warning: watch out for bears, stray dogs, gypsies… Basically every travel forum said: ‘don’t go.’ I’m sure my friends raised an eyebrow when I told them I’d be there for a month to volunteer in a hostel. The worst part is, this was only 3 years ago.
By now I’ve spent almost 3 months in total in Romania and I’d return in the blink of an eye if you’d ask. What convinced me were travel diaries of many, many bloggers and the voice in the back of my head who kept repeating I should give it a go. I’m glad that I did and I think it’s time Romania got rid of that nasty reputation once and for all!
However there are things you should know before setting foot in this magnificent part of Europe. Certain cultural habits, pet peeves and even superstitions are no strangers to the Romanian people and I believe your journey will be even more amazing if you know some of them upfront. In these 3 months I’ve collected everything I think you should know before you travel to Romania.
What you should know before you travel to Romania
The first thing you need to know about Romania is that it’s absolutely safe to travel through, whether you like to travel solo or take your family. Make sure you are cautious, just like in any other country you’ve traveled through and you’ll be just fine. Underneath I’ve listed Romania’s biggest safety ‘issues’.
Romania holds the biggest population of bears and wolves in all of Europe and although that might sound scary, chances of meeting them in person are slim, especially when you stay within the large cities and have the knowledge on how to avoid them when you aren’t.
In Transylvania people are used to living close to nature and an occasional visitor isn’t a rare sight. Places like Sinaia and Busteni are infamous for having bears near the garbage at night and even bigger cities like Brasov have had bears wandering its Racadau neighborhood.
No bears in central Brasov.
Locals will probably tell you it’s not a big deal and tourist companies even deny of existence of bears close to Brasov’s Tampa mountain. I’ve spent enough time on Brasov’s local Facebook pages to know the slightly different truth. Here’s how you keep yourself out of the bear zone:
- When in Transylvania, make sure you don’t go near the garbage bins at night.
- Don’t wander off into the woods alone.
- Make a lot of noise when walking through the forest. Bears don’t seek you out so if they hear you coming, in most cases they will just go away. You can hang pots or cans on your backpack or cling something together repeatedly. You can also sing a bunch of nice marching tunes.
Want to see a bear? The Zarnesti Bear Santuary is a great (and fair) place to see wild bears in captivity.
Another kind of wildlife in Romania are stray dogs. 10 years ago it was believed there were half a million of them in Bucharest alone. A few incidents later most of them were picked up from the streets by the government and yes… they were killed. Bucharest still isn’t stray dog-free, but chances of meeting a pack in the touristic center are slim to none.
During my time in Romania I’ve seen a few strays, almost always alone and sleeping peacefully. The only time I had a problem with dogs, they actually belonged to someone. I’d say keep an eye on those nasty sheep dogs before you start freaking out about anything else. The general rule is: don’t come near a dog and you should be fine.
Busy and chaotic in Bucharest, drunken truck drivers in the countryside. That’s the best I can do for describing traffic in Romania. Be a responsible driver, don’t overestimate mountain roads and stay away from other cars as much as possible. Also, don’t be surprised when you see a horse and carriage on the road as it is a common way to get from A to B anywhere outside of the cities.
Driving in Romania isn’t as dangerous as in some countries, traffic rules still matter and there’s a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. It’s just that not everybody’s paying attention to that.
Romania used to be widely associated with crime, however, for tourists this shouldn’t be a problem whatsoever. The general ‘city trip rules’ apply in Bucharest and other major cities. Watch your pockets like you would do in London, Amsterdam or Berlin and don’t fall for petty theft like street games or performances.
Another thing Romania is famous for is the large population of Romani people living in Romania, often referred to as ‘gypsies’. This is a very complex issue involving racism, exclusion, crime and loads of hatred that is widely spread throughout the country. For tourists this generally means getting warned over and over by concerned taxi drivers (who you should watch out for, too) and avoiding busy places like train and bus stations as much as possible.
Taxi drivers are terrible everywhere and in Romania it’s not any different. Make sure you always have the meter running or agree on the price before you get into the car.
Poenari fortress, definitely not a tourist trap!
The most tourist traps I have encountered were based on the story of Dracula. When you go to Transylvania, many, many places will advertise that they have something to do with this man. I’ve written an article about Dracula tourism in Romania which I recommend to read if you’re interested in visiting Bran castle and other places linked to Dracula.
Tip: bring a student card to tourist attractions if you happen to have one. It will safe you loads of money.
The Romanians are friendly, hospitable people. They love their country and therefore they are generous in giving you information on everything there is to see. They also love their own traditions and many of them are religious. 81,4% of the country’s residents is identified as Eastern Orthodox (2011).
There is so much to learn about Romania so be sure to poke around for information. Many people in the big cities speak English or German. Conversations about (homo)sexuality are still not appreciated, although the younger generations usually don’t seem to have a problem with it anymore.
Locals love it if you try to speak some Romanian, they’ll even try to help you. Not only is it the decent thing to do when visiting another country, it’s advised when traveling to smaller – and lesser known – towns and villages. In I’ve connected deeply with my supermarket cashier who not only taught me how to count, she explained thoroughly to me what items to bring to a perfect Romanian barbecue.
Don’t worry about not being able to get your hands on those beautiful (and unbreakable) lei. Banks are everywhere! Make sure you spend your cash wisely though, as small change isn’t always available. Especially when shopping in the morning whipping out a hundred lei bill can come across like pulling a gun from your purse and placing it right on the cashiers forehead. Shop in the afternoon for spending the big bucks or grumpy cashiers will await you!
Random money fact: did you know the Romanian Leu is made of plastic? It’s can’t be teared up (I dare ya!)
A random collection of things you should- and shouldn’t do when in Romania.
- Always finish your plate when invited at someone’s house. In restaurants it’s less strict.
- Be aware that the portions you order are absolutely huge! No need for starters are they are usually the same size – and price – as a main course.
- Vegetarians beware, Romanians love their meat! In Bucharest it’s possible to eat vegetarian – and even vegan – food, smaller cities can be challenging. Pizza is always a great idea if there’s nothing else to eat.
- Romanians love to shout at each other in traffic. No need to wait for a bitch fight, it’s usually just a lot of swearing. About each other’s mothers…
- Traveling by train while superhot outside (and inside)? Tough luck! Romanians are – somehow – very afraid for draft. Opening a window – or God forbid two – can start a serious argument in your wagon. Bring loads of water and sit through it.
- Never put you bag on the floor. It should be on the seat or on your lap. Don’t know why but every Romanian will tell you this.
If you happen to read this before traveling to this wonderful country, please trust me and let your anxiety go. As always, if there’s anything you want to know don’t be afraid to ask on social media or via posting a comment below.
I would love to hear your experiences in Romania! Feel free to fill in everything I’ve forgotten to mention so that others can have a wonderful – and safe – journey too.