A lot of tourists come to Romania lured in by the fascinating legend of Vlad the Impaler, more famously known as Dracula, and end up learning there’s much more to this European country than vampire myths and Hollywood tales.
There are plenty of interesting things to see and do in Romania that most tourists don’t know about. Starting from natural attractions in the Carpathian Mountains to lesser known but interesting castles and hidden spots in major cities.
If off the beaten path tourism is more up your alley and you want to discover Romania beyond Dracula, this article is going to surprise you!
Cantacuzino Castle might not be as popular as Bran Castle but it’s definitely worth a visit for its architectural and historic significance. This edifice is situated in Busteni, about 150 km from the capital Bucharest.
The construction of Cantacuzino Castle was ordered by Prince Gheorghe Cantacuzino, one of the wealthiest men in the country of the early XIXth century, and former Prime Minister of Romania between 1899-1900, and 1904-1907. The Castle is a masterpiece of neo-Romanian style with Brancovenesc, Byzantine and Celtic influences.
The imposing structure is spread over a surface of nearly 3,200 sqm and is made of stone and brick. It is surrounded by a forest traversed by numerous alleys and boasts several artesian wells, waterfalls and an artificial cave in its courtyard. And there’s also a spectacular view of Bucegi Mountains.
Lavish decorations made of rare materials such as sculpted oak doors, Murano glass windows brought from Venice, and fireplaces decorated with mosaic and gold foils dominate the Castle’s interior. The majestic Ball Room serves as the Castle’s main attraction, hosting natural-size portraits of the Cantacuzino family members, a unique heraldic collection, the coat of arms of 27 noble families and two fresco galleries.
The Cantacuzino Castle was the set for the recent popular Netflix series Wednesday directed by Tim Burton. Minimal special effects were used to transform the Castle into the dark and gothic Nevermore Academy, but the unique features and the beauty of this century-old palace still shines through.
The Romanian Sphinx
Perched on the Bucegi Mountains plateau, part of Bucegi Natural Park, at an altitude of over 2,200 meters the Sphinx is a natural rock formation with a very peculiar shape that has captivated the imagination of geologists and visitors alike for many years.
This strangely shaped natural attraction measures 8 meters in height and 12 meters in width and is part of a larger complex of rock formations that includes Babele (Old Women) situated nearby.
As you may guess, the landmark’s name was inspired by its uncanny resemblance with the Sphinx of Giza. However, unlike the man-made structure in Egypt, the Sphinx in Bucegi has never been touched by human hands. The forces of wind that eroded the rock mass over a long period of time were responsible for the creation of this unusual block of stone. At least that’s the scientific explanation for its formation.
However, there are other less-scientific theories and legends surrounding the origins of the Romanian Sphinx, sparked by its intriguing appearance. Some believe that the Dacians, the people who inhabited the region of today’s Romania in antiquity, were the creators of the Sphinx. According to this legend, the Sphinx had a sacred meaning, serving as a meeting place for those who worshiped Zalmoxis, the most important god in Dacian mythology.
Others think that the Bucegi Sphinx inspired the construction of the Egyptian Sphinx and that the two might be connected by a tunnel or an energy corridor. There are also a few who are convinced that the structure was built by aliens who set up a base centuries ago on the Bucegi plateau.
Another theory that has become quite popular in recent years claims that the Sphinx has healing powers. It is said that the sun’s rays create an energy pyramid around the Sphinx which has a therapeutic effect.
The only way to prove if any of these theories have any grain of truth in them is to go and check for yourself. After you’re done touring Cantacuzino Castle in Busteni, take the cable car up to the Bucegi plateau to go see it. Or go on a proper hiking trip in the Romanian Carpathians if you prefer the old fashioned way!
Hoia Baciu Forest
Located in the heart of Transylvania on the outskirts of Cluj Napoca, Hoia Baciu forest appears to be a forest like all others at first glance. However, after you hear what the locals have to say about it, this patch of woodland that stretches over approximately 250 hectares might not look as inconspicuous anymore.
The densely forested area is known as the Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania and the world’s most haunted forest because of the unexplained phenomena that seem to take place here. It all started back in 1968 when sightings of a UFO above the forest were reported. The area over which the unidentified object was photographed is known as Poiana Rotunda (the Round Clearing) where no vegetation grows in a perfectly shaped round area, except for grass.
Many other strange events followed after that incident. Several people have claimed to see mysterious lights around the forest at night. Others said they’ve experienced ghostly apparitions and believe the forest is haunted by the spirits of the people who died there. Many visitors recall feeling dizzy, anxious, nauseous and disoriented when roaming around the forest.
The paranormal activity reported over the years has also attracted the interest of scientists who have studied the magnetic fields in the area and have recorded some unusual results. Even the forest’s name has an uncanny origin, having been named after a shepherd who went missing in the forest along with his flock of 200 sheep.
The weird tree formations with twisted trunks and unusual shapes that populate the forest certainly make for an eerie sight. But for less impressionable visitors, the woodland is just a great place to enjoy a hike and take in the beautiful and peculiar natural scenery. Whether you believe in paranormal activities or not, a trip to the Hoia Baciu Forest is a worthwhile experience.
Obor Farmers’ Market
Anyone looking to discover Romania’s flavors and learn more about the local food and culture can start their explorations right in the heart of Bucharest, at Obor Farmers’ Market. The large market complex is located 4km northeast of the Old Town and can be easily accessed from all areas of the capital by public transport.
Obor Market has been a constant presence in the local landscape for over 300 years and remains to this day one of the biggest markets in the country and a popular attraction for visitors. This is where peasants from all around the city gather to sell their produce and residents of the capital come to buy fresh food and provisions.
Initially, the market was situated outside the urban area and also served as a place for public hangings until 1823. After being relocated closer to the city center, the market spread rapidly, covering over 9.000 m² occupied by stalls and 2.000 m² of improvised shops. The old establishment was demolished in 2007 and a new building was erected in its place, but the market managed to preserve part of its charm and character.
The bustling and chaotic atmosphere of Obor Farmers’ Market provides the perfect opportunity to get a taste of Romanian living, meet the locals and immerse yourself in the culture of the place. The market’s aisles are lined with booths and tables stocked full of colorful fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and a variety of delicious home-made produce.
There are also numerous food stalls where you can try popular Romanian dishes, street food and drinks, including the famous mici (grilled sausages), covrigi (soft pretzels) and langos (deep-fried dough).
All in all, Obor Farmers’ Market is a place full of flavors and a traditional Romanian market experience. But don’t forget to bring cash with you if you want to do some shopping as most salespeople don’t take card payments!
Iulia Hasdeu Castle
Built between 1893 and 1896 in the town of Campina, the Iulia Hasdeu Castle is a picturesque folly house designed to resemble a castle which hides a tragic story behind its walls. The building was commissioned by historian and politician Bogdan Petriceicu Hașdeu after the passing of his beloved daughter, Iulia Hasdeu, at only 19.
Iulia Hasdeu was said to have been an exceptionally gifted child who already spoke two foreign languages at the age of two, wrote poetry by the age of five and graduated from the “Sfantu Sava” National College at only 11. She went on to graduate from the Sorbonne in Paris but her life was cut short by tuberculosis.
B.P. Hasdeu worshipped his daughter and built the castle in her memory. Unable to cope with the tragic loss, he immersed himself in mysticism and spiritism so he could be closer to Iulia. He also claimed that it was Iulia’s spirit who guided him in the construction of the castle. Hasdeu even built a room specifically for communicating with his late daughter.
This explains the bizarre design of the building, adorned with religious and occult symbols. The castle’s doors and windows with mirrors on both sides add to the eerie atmosphere of the place. Today, Iulia Hasdeu Castle functions as a museum which houses the personal belongings of the Hasdeu family, including furniture pieces, manuscripts, and original documents.
Over the years, there have been reports of strange experiences from visitors and staff members. Some say they’ve heard the piano playing late at night while others claim they’ve seen Iulia’s ghost wandering around the castle.
Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyadi Castle, is without a doubt one of the most impressive castles in Romania and the largest Gothic castle in Eastern Europe. It’s located near the small town of Hunedoara, in South-West Transylvania.
The construction of the castle began in 1440, on top of a 14th-century stone fortress, at the command of Voivode of Transylvania, John Hunyadi (Iancu or Ioan de Hunedoara). The castle was built in a Renaissance-Gothic style, and there were many elements added to it over the centuries.
The main features of the castle are the double wall that reinforces the fortification, seven rectangular and circular towers, and an inner courtyard. It also boasts a stairway and two large rectangular halls, all decorated with marble. The Diet Hall served as a venue for ceremonies and formal receptions while the Knight’s Hall was used for feasts.
The building served a double purpose as a defense fortress and a prison. War prisoners and commonplace criminals were held captive in The Capistrano Tower, the Deserted Tower, and the Drummers’ Tower. When they were no longer of use, they were thrown into the castle’s Bear Pit to be killed by wild animals.
So, you see, there’s much more to Romania than Dracula’s Castle. Unfortunately, the country is an undiscovered gem in Eastern Europe and most people have no clue why they should visit in the first place. Hopefully this article helped with that.