What’s Romania like during winter season?
What are the best things to do and tourist attractions to visit during this time of the year?
How do locals celebrate Christmas and what are some of our favorite things tourists would enjoy too?
I’m so glad you asked! You see, Romanians pride themselves on their hospitality and the best way to test this is to visit Romania during the cold winter months when everyone’s looking to warm up and get cozy!
Whether you hit the Christmas markets in major cities, check out the Romanian ski resorts, or go deeper in the regions of Transylvania, Maramures or Bucovina to see folk traditions - you will be delighted by the winter wonderlands Romania offers!
You’ll see all major cities transformed with lots of lights and decorations for the holiday season. Even the imposing castles in Romanian look different when against a snowy background!
So let’s see what our country is like during winter, why you should visit and what are some of the best things to do:
1. Why visit Romania in the winter season?
Like in most parts of Eastern Europe, Christmas is a major religious celebration people were deprived of for many years under the Romanian communist regime. The last years when dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu introduced drastic austerity measures and food rationing were particularly rough...
That’s part of the reason why we’re so crazy about it now! But there are several other important holidays happening in December which makes it a marathon month of celebrations in our country. Most of us are
exhausted from all the drinking, eating and visiting friends and family during this period…
So, the public holidays in Romania in December when tourist attractions are closed (but most restaurants, bars and shops are still open) are:
- Saint Andrew Day on November 30th
- Romanian National Day on December 1st (a great time to visit Bucharest or our ‘spiritual’ capital, Alba Iulia Citadel)
- Saint Nicholas Day on December 6 (business as usual)
- Christmas in Romania on December 25 and 26
- New Year’s Eve on January 1st and 2nd
- Epiphany and Saint John on January 6th and 7th
For the best Christmas Market in the country go visit Sibiu
So at the beginning of the month Christmas markets are set up in every city in Romania and Christmas trees pop up everywhere.
You can smell the mulled wine, ginger bread and the cold season traditional dishes from far away. You’ll find lots of handcrafted items, home made food products, plant-based cosmetics, small decorations and all the other Christmas treats you can imagine.
Start from: University Square
Romanians also take great pride in their Christmas and New Year's Eve traditions. If you plan your trip in December you may come across carols concerts in the main squares, beautifully decorated historic buildings, parades with traditional costumes in rural regions.
And on the first day of Christmas (25) and the new year, you'll see literally out for a walk heading towards the Christmas markets!
As for the main tourist attractions in Romania they will be different too in winter months:
- some tourist hotspots like Bran Castle or Peles Castle have so it's a good idea to check that in advance or let our guides take care of that
- Transfagarasan Road is
closedfor driving; the only way you can go up to Bâlea Lac to see the unique Balea Ice Hotel is by cable car reachable if you're coming from Sibiu or Brasov
- most of the Romanian Carpathians are covered in snow which make them perfect for snowshoe hiking and winter sports
- the historic city of Sighisoara is one of the most beautiful places to visit in winter time
- the villages in the region of Transylvania, Maramures or Bucovina are great places to experience authentic Romanian culture, cuisine and holiday folk traditions
Keep in mind that most hotels in major tourist cities (Brasov, Sibiu) and guesthouses in small towns close to mountainous regions or in rural areas (especially Maramures and Bucovina) get fully booked well in advance for the holiday season. Romanians like to celebrate too!
And in the popular winter resorts prices may increase considerably, especially in Poiana Brasov the best ski resort in Romania.
Another great reason to visit Romania in winter time, besides the impressive mountain scenery, cozy chalets, and welcoming hosts, is for the New Years Eve parties happening everywhere. Most restaurants and bars organise special dinners - it’s actually hard to find one that doesn’t!
The nightlife in Bucharest is already famous but on New Year’s Eve everyone dresses up and goes out in style.
So if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday - heads up! Hotels usually have big parties in their restaurants and even small B&Bs organise special meals on this night. Check in advance if there’s a party on site and know that if there is, it will last until dawn.
2. Weather in Romania during winter
15-20 years ago I remember winters in Romania had lots of snow and the common theme in the country was how authorities and de-snowing companies were taken by surprise!
In theory Romania has a continental climate with distinct seasons throughout the year. But in recent years the effects of global warming have become more visible in Southeast Europe and not just through hotter summer months...
Romania had milder winters in recent years especially in the Southern and Western parts of the country not close to the mountains, including in the capital city of Bucharest, Timisoara or Cluj-Napoca.
But in general our country has frosty cold winters, dry and with freezing gusts of wind. There is
less snowfall in cities not close to the mountains and even if there is, it doesn't last much...
The best time to visit Romania in winter is December 1st - January 15th mostly due to the festive atmosphere. January is the coldest month and snowy while February is rainy and gloomy. Warm clothes are a must!
The average temperature ranges between -5 at night and 4 degrees Celsius by day (23 – 39 degrees Fahrenheit).
These averages are in the mountains and in cities like Brasov or Sibiu which usually have lots of snow and are colder, especially at night.
Local insight:the best places to experience a magical winter wonderland feeling in Romania are the medieval cities of Brasov and Sibiu; go on a day trip to combine sightseeing cultural highlights in the area and snowy landscapes
Keep in mind that Eastern regions of the country (Iasi - Bacau - Galati) is on the path of a major wind current coming from Russia that usually brings heavy snowfalls, blizzards and freezing temperatures that block public transportation in the region. Without the protection of the Carpathian Mountains, the winters in Eastern Romania are generally harsher than in the West or South. So
Here is the average temperature you can expect in major tourist cities:
- Bucharest: average lowest temperature of - 4.8°C /- 23.4°F in January and highest of 2.8°C / 37°F in December
- Brasov: lows of -8.3°C /17.1°F in January and highs of 1.5°C / 34.7°F in December
- Sibiu: lows of -3°C / 26.6°F in January and highs of 4°C /39°F in December
- Cluj-Napoca: lows of -2°C / 28.4°F in December and highs of 2°C / 35.6°F in January
Snow is much more common in rural areas and as you get closer to the Carpathian Mountains especially at altitudes over 800m where the foothills start. In medium mountains around 1,500m there will be snow starting in December (e.g. Piatra Craiului and Apuseni), and for high-altitude mountains (2,000m+) such as Fagaras, Bucegi or Retezat from early November and until May or June.
Obviously temperatures in mountainous regions are much lower with averages of -5 Celsius during the day and -15 at night.
The ski season starts with the first heavy snow, typically from late November. It stays on as long as temperatures remain low, like up to April at higher altitude resorts such as Sinaia, Poiana Brasov or Parang, or February or early March in lower altitude resorts.
Generally, the best time for winter sports in Romania is January and February after the holiday peak season and the extra cost it brings has passed.
The Ice Hotel at Balea Lake is one of the best places to visit in Romania in winter
3. What to do during winter season in Romania
No matter what kind of traveler you are and what you’re interested in doing during your holiday, Romania has something for everyone.
For the laid-back travelers looking to experience authentic Romania and immerse in local culture, the Christmas traditions, seasonal traditional food and the festive mood of locals during this time of the year will make your holiday worthwhile.
For adventurers and explorers looking for winter sports, a little nightlife and proper celebrations, there are ski resorts, thermal baths, and seasonal parties waiting for you.
Let’s break it down further.
- for the generalist holiday seeker
Planning a 3-5 day city break starting from Bucharest is the best way to start your holiday.
Some of the best things to do here on your winter holiday:
- visit the Bucharest Christmas market in front of the Palace of Parliament
- go for a walk on Calea Victoriei to admire the decorations
- do some Christmas shopping in the many shopping malls
- enjoy a delicious meal in the Old Town area or the elegant restaurants in the North.
If you are lucky enough to get tickets, you can maybe enjoy a wonderful traditional carol concert at the Romanian Atheneum, an experience well worth the trip.
Next, go visit Brasov. On your way there don't miss the elegant Peles Castle in Sinaia, built at the order of King Carol. The construction is mesmerizing, and you can get a real insight into the Romanian royal family and local history.
During your walking tour of Basov you will inevitably end up at the Christmas market in Council Square or Sfatului Square. Drop by the Black Church to see if they're hosting any Christmas carol concerts.
Day trip ideas include a visit to Bran Castle nearby aka Dracula's Castle, to Poiana Brasov which is Romania's #1 ski resort or to Sighisoara Citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its medieval atmosphere which becomes heavier during cold weather.
I already mentioned the city of Sibiu which transforms into a fairy tale city with its beautifully decorated historic buildings. The city also hosts the the best Christmas market in Romania in its city centre. This is the perfect place to see traditional products and artisans!
Cluj-Napoca, the second largest city in the country has an airport with lots of low cost flights from all over Europe. So it's a great place to land and explore the tourist attractions in Transylvania or go on a trip to Maramures or Bucovina regions.
- for the cultural and folk traditions traveler
If you visit the main cities, you keep things elegant and experience Christmas time like in any Western European city.
But if you want to have an authentic Romanian winter experience you should visit the traditional regions of Maramures or Bucovina in the North.
The North is the keeper of winter traditions like the Bear, where people walk around town wearing bear skins and perform a ritual dance. A 'tamer' walks alongside trying to conquer the cruel and unpredictable animal. The significance of this is how one conquers hardships hoping this gesture will support him for the rest of entire year.
You can also come across the Goat or Masked Men, and you will step into New Year's accompanied by beating drums to chase away evil spirits.
And did we mention the food? You will find the best of traditional Romanian food prepared during winter months especially in rural parts of the country.
Romanian traditional dishes in winter include sarmale, piftie (slow boiled turned into a jelly meat with vegetables), freshly-made pork sausages and byproducts, cozonac (sweat bread with fillings) and more.
And let's not forget mulled wine to keep you warm, as well as the hot version of tuica which is the traditional Romanian spirit (simiar to schnaps or rakjia).
- for the adventurous traveler
For those with an adventurous spirit, Romania is once again a great destination to consider for your winter holiday.
Bucharest is, once again, a good place to start. I mentioned the many clubs and pubs which organise special winter events and concerts. The Old Town area is basically a huge party zone on New Years Eve!
The oldest park in the city, Cismigiu, has a natural ice rink when the water in the lake freezes over. The park is beautifully lit, as is the rest of the city and every significant historical building, making it a fun couple of hours to spend sightseeing.
When you're ready for some action the ski slopes in Sinaia, Busteni and Predeal in Prahova Valley just 1,5h away will be waiting. Poiana Brașov is the largest ski resort in the country and it's easily accessible by bus from Brasov.
These are some of the best places to be during the winter holidays and because of the high demand prices are higher too. For example, get passes for a whole day of skiing instead of individual trips on the ski lifts to avoid extra costs.
Romania is a great place for back country (off piste) sky
For your outdoor adventures know that Ciucas and Fagaras Mountains are the best for off-piste / backcountry skiing. At the same time, the ski resorts in Prahova Valley, Poiana Brasov, and Paltinis near Sibiu are great for other winter sports like snowboarding, sleighing, snow tubbing, husky-drawn sleighs rides and more.
The best places for hiking or snowshoeing are Piatra Craiului Mountains close to Brasov and Apuseni Mountains close to Cluj-Napoca.
It's essential to come well equipped with hiking cleats, a pole, good hiking boots and overall winter hiking equipment. For the trip further up the mountain, if the snow is very deep, you will find it hard to continue.
Sunny days will reveal bright and glazed landscapes in the Carpathian mountains so good sunglasses are necessary to avoid snow blindness.
4. Best places to relax in Romania during winter
All this running around the country, discovering big cities, experiencing local traditions, tasting new foods, and enjoying winter sports will be exhausting…
It's good that Romania is home to a vast network of thermal springs and mountain resorts with SPAs you can access in almost every corner of the country.
Let's take Theme in Bucharest, for example, the biggest SPA in this part of Europe with heated indoor pools in a luxurious setting, pool bars, saunas, and many relaxation facilities. If you wish to avoid the crowd, the best time would be on a day during the week (not a bank holiday) and go in early in the morning.
And if spending time in a bathing suit is not among your favorite things to do in winter, maybe a day in a salt mine to take in the benefits of salty air will appeal to you more.
Depending on where you are in the country, you can visit Slanic Prahova if you are in Bucharest or Brasov or Turda Salt Mine if you are in Sibiu or Cluj.
And just in case you're wondering - while the Black Sea coast and the Danube Delta are some of the best places to visit in Romania , there's not much to see here from 1 October - 1 May. So I recommend you leave these for hot summers!
Let me sum up by saying that Romania in the winter time offers a special fusion of tradition, adventure, and relaxation that is sure to make a lasting impression on you.
There is something for every kind of traveler, from the captivating mountain resorts of the Carpathians to the lively Christmas markets in historic cities like Bucharest, Sibiu, and Brasov. Romania has it all, whether you're looking for exciting winter sports unique cultural experiences or simply a good holiday with a bit of everything.
So, as you plan your winter getaway, remember the warm hospitality of the Romanian people, the breathtaking landscapes, and the cultural highlights and traditions waiting to be discovered.
We look forward to having you as our guest in Romania during this magical season and don't hesitate to contact us if you need help with planning your trip.
Your Romanian Friend