Travel Tips for First Time Visitors in Romania
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Travel Tips for First Time Visitors in Romania

Don't know much about Romania except for Dracula stuff? Don't worry - you can start here.  Consider this a travel guide for first time visitors to Romania with practical tips to help plan your trip.

Our country offers a great mix of medieval castles (Bran Castle is only one of them!), natural parks with the wild Carpathian Mts. to hike, unique sights such as Turda Salt Mine, Danube Delta, Transfagarasan Highway or UNESCO wooden churches. Our countryside is dotted with living museums - small villages - where a peaceful, archaic way of life is well-preserved.

Romanian history is like Game of Thrones without the fantasy part. Our cultural heritage made HRH Prince Charles buy 2 houses in Transylvania. Our food is homegrown and delicious (do you know what a real tomato tastes like?) and Romanians are friendly, hospitable and proud people. You will LOVE it!

But first - you need to come here. Your Romanian Friend wants to help you plan your trip so we prepared a list of the top things a first time visitor should know before travelling to Romania:

  1. Visa
  2. Currency and Romanian money
  3. Budget & shopping
  4. Geography & public transport
  5. Weather and best time to visit
  6. Connectivity and Internet
  7. Emergency number, medical services and insurance
  8. Personal safety and social norms

… and two other tips from us locals!


Romania is the 9th EU country by area (slightly smaller than the UK) and 6th by population (19.8 mil). A NATO member since 2004 and EU member since 2007 (but not among the Schengen or Eurozone members). The capital, Bucharest is the largest city with approx. 2,5 mil people, followed by Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara with about 350,000. Romanian local time is Eastern European Time (EET) +02:00 (from London time).


1 Visa requirements & passports - mostly none!

Most European countries’ citizens do not require a visa when entering Romania and lots of other world citizens can get a visa on arrival at the airport (US, Canada, Australia, etc).  Unless you’re on this official list from the Foreign Affairs Ministry of 105 countries that need a pre-approved visa letter (mostly African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries) there are no visa requirements for you to enter Romania [updated April 2017].

A valid passport and a simple border control check is enough to enter the country. For more info on general conditions of travel check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs visa website section here. All foreign embassies are located in Bucharest and you can check out the full list here.

  • Romanian Friend tip: if you’re an EU citizen you don’t even need a passport, your national identity card is enough to enter the country


2 Romanian money, currency and exchange

The Romanian currency is 1 Leu (RON) or Lei in plural and is divided in notes of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 200 and 500, all plastic and almost indestructible! 1 Leu is subdivided into Bani which are coins of 50, 10 and smaller-don’t-matter coins. Most prices in Romania are also displayed or calculated in Euros, but using euros for cash payments is not accepted and if someone offers you an ‘in-house’ exchange rate, you should double-check exchange rates before accepting.

  • for €1 or $1 you get around 4 - 4,5 Lei (check Romanian national bank exchange rates) and you can buy: 2 x 0.5 bottle of water, a Snickers bar, a two-way bus/tram ride in most cities or 1-2 pieces of street pastry

Before travelling to Romania the foreign currency we recommend you bring is Euros, US dollars, UK pounds or Swiss francs which are the most easily interchangeable currencies around here. When you arrive don’t use exchange offices located in airports for more than €10 for taxi fare, as they usually offer a very bad tourist rate.  Better look for bank ATMs in the airport to get a 100 Lei note. Exchange bureaus are very popular in Romania so you'll find plenty of them in major cities, usually recognisable by their yellow or white street boards indicating rates offered.

There are also plenty of ATMs in Romania (Bancomat) to withdraw money. The most common banks are BCR (Erste), BRD (Societe General), Banca Transilvania (local), Raiffeisen or ING, but expect the usual banking fees to apply. Fewer or no ATMs in the countryside though, so better load up with cash.

  • Romanian Friend tip: rates at exchange bureaus are usually better than at banks; some exchanges charge a small fee per transaction (around 10%) for large amounts (above €1000) so better to ask first

Making card payments is very common and safe in Romania. Bank cards issued by VISA, MasterCard and Maestro are widely accepted everywhere, but for credit cards you should check with your issuing bank. American Express cards don't usually work in Romania, so better have an alternative.

In major cities you can pay by bank card almost everywhere (coffee shops, bars, restaurants, etc). When travelling to remote areas in the countryside however, unless you’re going to hotels or mainstream tourist spots, cash is king so always have Lei with you and plan ahead.

  • Our advice: if you're low on cash and plan on having a large meal, better to ask first before ordering; sometimes card terminals 'don't work' and waiters 'forget' to tell customers that


3 Budget, travel expenses and shopping in Romania

Two things you should know: Romania is a relatively cheap and affordable destination that offers excellent value for money for lots of things. It is still a developing economy where the average medium wage in the country is around 550€ / month, except for Bucharest where wages (and costs!) are considerably higher (towards 800-1k€). Second, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Sibiu are, in this order, the top 3 most expensive Romanian cities for tourism, accommodations and going out.

A reasonable expenses budget per day for visitors in Romania is 15€. With 20-25 Lei you’re having a decent meal and a drink; a train ticket from Bucharest to Brasov or from Bucharest to Constanta, at the Black Sea, is about 40 Lei. Entrance fees to major attractions range between 10-20 Lei. Hostels rooms in Romania start from 15€ while reasonable accommodations with hotels or AirBnB is around 30-35€ / night.

Tipping in Romania is very common as a social norm. Service fees or coperto is not included when going out (unless otherwise expressly mentioned) and a 10% tip on top of the bill is usually the norm; if you’re really happy with the service you can go up to 15-20%. Tips to other small, personal services (body care & cosmetics, hotel concierge etc.) are also welcomed. Tipping tour guides in Romania is usually a thing for shared tours, special tours inside certain attractions or free tours. If the tour guide doesn't say anything, just go with the flow and see what other people do.

  • Romanian Friend tip: tipping taxi drivers is also common, usually rounding up to .5 or .00; or adding 2-3 lei. Be extra careful with some taxi drivers in Bucharest: sometimes they claim not having enough change, looking for a larger 'tip';

If you’re wondering about going shopping in Romania than you’ll be happy to know that this country is (unfortunately!) a land of shopping malls. All major Romanian cities have at least one shopping mall and they're usually busy, especially in weekends. Most of the popular European and US retail brands are present but there are also plenty of local, quality brands or products to look for. In Bucharest go shopping at AFI Palace, Promenada Mall, Baneasa Shopping City or ParkLake, depending on which is closest to you. In other cities, look for Iulius Mall or just ask for the local shopping mall.

  • Local tip: looking for smaller shops with local designers or products is harder but not impossible; they're scattered everywhere and not concentrated on 1-2 streets; if you need suggestions - just ask us, we're happy to help and we have a network of local friends all over Romania :)

4 Romanian geography, public transport and getting around

Located in Eastern Europe (depends if your map includes Russia or just the EU) Romania has a very rich geography with numerous attractions: the Black Sea in the East, endless agrarian fields in the South, plenty of forests, soft rolling hills in Transylvania, low mountains (800-1400m) and the raw and wild Carpathian Mountains (or Transylvanian Alps as some call them) with 100 peaks over 2.300m.

  • the Carpathian Mts. divide the country in 3 main regions Transylvania (North - West), Wallachia or Tara Romaneasca (South) and Moldova (North - East). There are many natural parks (Retezat, Bucegi, Apuseni), animal reserves (bears and buffalos) and the Danube Delta natural biosphere, all of them perfect for day trips adventures and memorable experiences!

Travelling to Romania - our tip: the simplest, most convenient and reasonably cheap way of getting to Romania is a low cost flight: 6 low cost airlines fly on 7 airports in major Romanian cities from more than 70 locations in Europe. Tickets range from 40-100€ depending on how much planning ahead you do and flight time is usually between 1,5 – 3 hours. You can also travel to Romania by train from Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia or Thessaloniki or even from further away with changes. If you’re looking for an adventure, consider an Eastern European road trip or maybe something more relaxing like a boat cruise on the Danube River. Read more about travelling to Romania.

Getting around Romania might be a bit more challenging, but not necessarily difficult. We don’t have a lot of highways and travelling by car between major cities usually takes long hours due to high traffic on mostly one-lane roads (speed limit of 90-100 km/h). Almost all Romanian cities and even small villages have train stations but railway infrastructure is not the best and trains are sometimes unreliable, although they will get you to your destination reasonably cheap. For shorter distances (up to 200 km) consider a car or train, train or coach for medium (200-400 km) and internal flights for longer routes (Bucharest – Cluj or Timisoara). Visitors to Romania are well advised to have travel insurance before getting here. Have a look at our guide on getting around Romania.


5 Weather, climate and when to visit Romania

Romania has a temperate continental climate with all four seasons still present. Summers are hot with 33-38 C degrees, winters are cold -20-0 Celsius while spring and autumn are unpredictable as ever: cold in the mornings and evenings (8-16 C), warm and sunny during the day (18-26 C). Average rain, no spontaneous floods or draughts. Morning frost in spring, some thunderstorms in the summer, foggy in autumn and snowy and freezing in the winter. The best times to visit Romania is between May - September. For quick city breaks or day tours from Romanian cities it's ok to visit almost anytime of the year, but the charming Romanian countryside is at its best in when hills and forests turn gold, red and brown during autumn.

The seaside coast of Black Sea is usually perfect from late-June to early-September, with high season in mid-July and August. You should book accommodations well in advance as lots of Romanians like spending their summer by the seaside. If you’re a winter sports fan you should know that Romania’s sky slopes aren’t very long but the winter resorts of Sinaia, Predeal and Poiana Brasov are 2 hours away from Bucharest and offer the best choices. Other smaller sky slopes are in Paltinis, Arieseni, Borsa, Cavnic, Ranca.

If you’re thinking about hiking or camping in the Carpathian Mountains the season starts from mid-April to late-September, but you should us or one of our hiking local partners for specific details on location and period, to check weather conditions.


6 Electricity, Internet & cellular coverage

Romania uses the European standard socket and dual-round pronged pin with electricity at 210-230 Volts. UK, US or other types of plugs will need an adaptor.

If you're wondering about internet connectivity you should know that Romania has one of the world’s fastest and most reliable internet connection in the world (6th place globally, to be precise). That's another reason why digital nomads love Romania, besides its affordability. Good Wi-Fi is usually available in most public places and there are lots of cafes where you can retreat for a quiet work session and a good cup of coffee.

Mobile network coverage are on par: dominated by Vodafone and Orange and cellular coverage is excellent, with 3G/4G reception being standard in major cities. Both networks have prepaid SIM cards with data packages starting from 5€ (check their websites or store for more details).

Cellular receptions and coverage is very good all over the country and even in the countryside. Wi-fi might be harder to find outside major cities (except when going to resorts, hotels or more modern guesthouses) but you can easily use your phone or create a mobile hotspot if you need internet. Lastly, the country code to call a Romanian number is +40.


7 Emergency number, medical services and insurance

In Romania the single nation-wide emergency telephone number is 112. An operator will ask if you want to talk to the police, fire or medical services. There are no particular health concerns or issues you should be aware of before travelling to Romania. No special insects, health or food issues around here and we don’t have a pollution problem (except for Bucharest during summer heat). On the contrary - Romania has plenty of greenery and salt mines that are good for your health.

As regards medical services, all hospitals are public and state-owned and take care of walk-ins or emergencies. Your best chance of finding someone who speaks English is to look for young doctors. There are also several private hospitals in major cities, such as MedLife, Regina Maria or Polaris, but they're not available for emergencies and their fees are significant.

There are plenty of pharmacies in all urban areas and you can get the usual pills for colds, aches, indigestions or bruises without prescription. In case you need specific prescription pills, better to stock up before coming here as pharmacies don't give those without a doctor's prescription.

Finally, as with travelling to any other foreign country, we highly recommend you take a travel insurance just to be on the safe side. There’s also the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which offers EU citizens health coverage EU-wide – check your local rules for more.


8 Personal safety and social norms

Is Romania safe as a travel destination? Yes - there have been no terror attacks, attempts, plots or otherwise in Romania. Also, there are no internal ethnic or religious conflicts and we have a very strict firearm regulation - so no lunatics with guns. The only civil disturbances in Romania are protests against the political class for lots of reasons, but even those are peaceful, funny and inspiring and won't cause any trouble to you.

From a personal safety perspective Romania is a relatively safe country for tourists. Just do what you normally do when visiting a foreign country: don’t look for trouble, beware of pickpockets or drunkards, ignore people pushing their services to tourists (like taxi 'drivers' in Bucharest Airport or North Train Station) and stay away from shabby places.

Solo female travellers in Romania shouldn’t be too concerned either, though extra care is advisable around groups of men who sometimes might make you feel uncomfortable by staring, calling you names or making inappropriate comments. Being careful and keeping away from suspicious individuals should be enough to stay on the safe side.

You may have heard about the Romanian rroma ethnic minority (also improperly called gypsy or țigani in Romanian) being involved in various petty thefts or small crimes. While their reputation might be bad, not all are like that and their numbers are small anyway. Most of the time you will see them as beggars, even sending their children for money - but don't get fooled.

Romanian people and society is generally conservative and adhering to traditional family values and life. This is especially true of people who grew up during the communist regime. 85% of the population is Orthodox with more than a third regularly practising (especially in smaller, countryside communities), so churches and priests enjoy great influence, especially in smaller communities. Be respectful around spiritual sights and during major holidays. Public displays of affections are ok, but same-sex relationships are currently a very divisive topic so better to keep that in private.

  • Romanian Friend tip: Romanians like to complain about politics, the economy, car traffic and love talking about sports, family, weather and food – so pick any of these topics to start a conversation :)


9 Romania is much MUCH more than Dracula

Romania is very popular thanks to vampire stories surrounding Bran Castle also known by its tourist name Dracula's Castle. But there's so much more to our country than doing a castle tour or the massive Palace of Parliament. Romanian cities have a vibe of their own which is worth experiencing but if you want to see the major tourist attractions in Romania you need to travel deeper in the country to the regions of Transylvania, Bukovina or Maramures. Romania's major attractions, unspoilt natural beauty and true local life is best experienced outside of major cities - just have a look at the map of Romania to see for yourself.

As you can imagine, medieval castles were built in geographical vantage points not easily reachable and local communities that have preserved their ancient way of life have done so by keeping a low profile, away from civilisation and mass tourism. Finally, the famous Transylvanian countryside which made Prince Charles of the UK fall in love with Romania hides numerous spots where you can enjoy nature and disconnect – but those also secluded and lesser known. Romania is a great destination for slow tourism and visiting it's largest city, Bucharest, is actually seeing only very little.

The fact that Romania still has an underdeveloped transport infrastructure, with not enough tourist information centres or accessibility for independent travellers makes it a bit more challenging for independent travellers to discover the real beauty of our country.


That's why your Romanian Friend recommends using a local travel guide. 2 reasons for this:

  • first, they can take you to places and communities only locals know about and in a way that makes planning your trip in Romania easy and hassle-free
  • second, we handpick only tour guides who appreciate authentic Romanian culture, values and beauty so all the tours you see on this website will offer you a great travel experience

Most importantly - by choosing a tour or trip with one of our partners you will be supporting responsible travel that will help you truly discover the community you will visit but also help the locals by staying in a traditional guesthouses or eating meals with locally sourced products. Romanian Friend wants to support tourism that is beneficial for both travellers and communities visited - read more about our mission.


10 Open your heart to Romanian people

Our final tip: if you decide to visit Romania you should spend some time and get to know the locals. Romanians are a very hospitable, friendly, thoughtful and warm people. They will take you into their homes, feed you till you drop (literally!), bring out their best wine or pălinca and generally go out of their way to make sure you have a great time with them. So much hospitality and willingness to accommodate guests might seem strange or make you feel uncomfortable at times, but this is part of our culture: family, friends, guests and inter-personal relationships generally matter the most for Romanians.

Enjoy your visit and let the locals show you what a beautiful country we have. Abandon any pre-conceptions you might have about Romanians and open your heart and mind while you're here. Go on day trips, tours, road trips, train trips - whatever, to explore the country and interact with people. You will be surprised! :)

***

So that's it - we hope this will make planning your trip to Romania easier! If you need more help, just contact us.

Your Romanian Friend

Marius

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