At the beginning of June, our family of four (kids aged 4.5 and 1.5) started a five-month road trip through Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Our exploration took us as far east as Ukraine, as far south as Greece and back up to Italy through the Balkans. While we found this region to be incredibly friendly to children, visiting Romania with kids is one of the countries we loved the most.
Romania was the biggest surprise of the road trip. Before we got there, we didn’t know much about the country, and we were blown away during our two weeks exploring the country. There are so many things to do in Romania with a baby and kids. It turns out that Romania is an awesome place to visit with children. People are warm and friendly, the countryside is beautiful and diverse, kid-friendly food is easy to find, and the legends will captivate kids of pretty much any age.
Based on our experience, the best places to visit in Romania are the following:
- Cluj Napoca – the vibrant second-biggest city in the country, located towards the north;
- a small town, Curciu, in the heart of Transylvania exploring the area around it; and
- Brasov before heading off to Bulgaria.
We opted to skip Bucharest, because of what we read and heard about it. Also, once in Romania, people told us we had made the right decision to visit other areas rather than the capital city.
Romania is still pretty off-the-beaten-track and, as much as we’d like to keep it a secret, we also want other families to experience this country before the tour buses and crowds swarm it.
So, we’ve put together a list of twelve reasons why we think you should consider Romania for your next family trip:
1. Kids are welcome with open arms everywhere!
Romanians are said to be a Latin island surrounded by a sea of Slavic people. They are extremely friendly people. Like Italians and Greeks, they are very warm and friendly to children, and they love small talk. People love children, and they will show it with cheek squeezes, hair ruffling, and smiles all around. Even though not all people we interacted with spoke English, we can’t think of a time when we couldn’t communicate. When people are so eager to help you, it is easy to transcend language barriers!
2. Magic and legends
Romania is pure magic! Just the word “Transylvania” conjures many images: the land of Dracula, spooky full moons, werewolves, vampires, and more. Kids will love hearing the legends surrounding this area and then visiting some of the sites where these legends take place. Our kids loved staying in the Transylvanian countryside during the full moon, waiting to hear a howl in the distance. It truly is a great place for little minds to let their imagination run wild!
3. The castles and fortified churches
Romania has some of the most beautiful and unique castles in Europe, which attests to the country’s rich medieval history. Popular ones are Bran Castle (home to Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula—although the “real” Dracula did not live there) built in the mid-1300s, and the spectacular Neo-Renaissance Peles Castle finished in 1883.
In addition, in the early 1400s, the Ottoman Empire conquered Bulgaria and started to move up towards Romania. To defend themselves, the Transylvanian villagers fortified their churches and the bigger towns built towers and walls that survive to this day. Even the youngest kids will have a great time exploring the secret passages of centuries’ old castles, reaching the tallest tower to imagine what it must have been like to live in the times of kings and knights, and exploring the manicured castle gardens. Cities like Sighisoara and Sibiu are full of walls and towers. And fortified churches, like the UNESCO World Heritage one in Biertan, are similar to castles and also very fun to explore!
4. The frequent encounters with farm animals
Our kids loved seeing sheep walking downtown streets on their way to the fields in the hills, or shepherds directing a group of cows down the road, or even a man stepping out of his house pulling a leash that turned out to have a cow on the other end. During our stay in the town of Curciu, we would see animals every morning as they were being taken to the pastures for the day. The kids loved it and it kept them very interested in seeing more of the area.
5. It’s still off-the-beaten-track!
Even though we were in Romania in August, we never had to deal with crowds like you would find elsewhere in Europe during the summertime. The cities are as gorgeous as the more popular cities in Western Europe, but there are not many crowds or tour groups (except for Bran Castle, so plan on getting there early!), which meant that our kids could run around, walk in front of us, or play without being trampled by tourists.
6. The beautiful nature and scenery
Its rural landscape remains pretty untouched and offers a great place to explore with children. You can simply park your car on the side of the road and have a picnic by a river, or you can climb up one of the many verdant rolling hills to take in the views around you. With older kids, you could also do all kinds of hiking in the Carpathian Mountains or other national parks. During our time there, we kept saying “Who knew Romania was this gorgeous?”
7. The city life
Not all in Romania are farm animals and rolling hills. They have some of the most fun cities we visited on this trip! Cluj Napoca has a booming cafe scene and incredible architecture, which includes giant statues that kids can climb on in the main square! Brasov is the heart of Transylvania and it’s a beautiful city that has its own Hollywood-style sign on the hills — you can even ride a gondola up to see the sign up close, something our kids absolutely loved! Sibiu is a city taken out of a fairy tale, and it offers a big pedestrian-only center that is perfect for kids to explore. Our kids enjoyed visiting the Bridge of Lies and learning the story behind it. Sighisoara, where Vlad the Impaler was born, sits on a hilltop town with many gothic towers and it’s a beautiful place to wander around.
8. The horse-drawn carriages
They are pretty much everywhere. What kid would not love to see those? Or even ride on one as we did? We saw horse-drawn carriages on country roads as well as alongside highways, and they always made our kids’ heads turn in amazement. We arranged a ride through our guesthouse in Curciu and it was a big hit! The carriage owner brought his four-year-old daughter with him as well as his two small dogs, who ran next to the carriage for the entire duration of our ride. We rode through the farm fields, past sheep, and up and down hills on dirt roads for about two hours including a break to drink water from a fresh spring! This was definitely a highlight for the kids (and for the parents too).
9. The food
Food in Romania is very accessible to young eaters. Pizza can be found pretty much on any menu, and restaurants will be happy to accommodate requests for simpler food or smaller portions of adult dishes for children. In general, typical Romanian food is quite simple with the main dishes consisting of grilled meats, cabbage and starches like potatoes or polenta. Not super exciting, but totally accessible for kids.
10. Dino Parc (plus the Rasnov Fortress)
This amazing park offers an awesome experience for kids: you walk in the forest and find life-sized dinosaurs; you can experience the earth trembling as a model active volcano is about to erupt, and you can dig for dinosaur fossils in the sandbox. All of that, plus an amazing playground and a 5D theater for the kids! For the history lovers, you can combine your visit to Dino Parc with a visit to the historic Rasnov Fortress, which is only a 10-minute walk up the hill from the park.
11. It is very affordable
As budget travelers, we were able to find accommodations for our needs for an average of US$52 a night (we use Airbnb for all of our accommodations during our travels). In Cluj-Napoca and Brasov we stayed in 2-bedroom apartments that were fully equipped and very comfortable, and in Curciu we stayed in a guesthouse that had shared facilities but, because we were there when no one else was, we had the entire place to ourselves. Other than lodging, we averaged US$80 a day for food, sightseeing, souvenirs and everything else. Not bad for a family of four!
12. It’s a safe place to visit
Romania has a bad reputation and we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of safety. But we found it to be completely safe. Everywhere we visited, we saw kids walking around by themselves on their way to or from the store, school, etc. We never worried about our safety or about our belongings. Unlike some other places in Europe, we didn’t have to constantly be worrying about pickpockets, or about someone taking our backpack, camera or purse. Walking around later in the evenings felt totally safe in the small town we stayed, as well as in Cluj Napoca and Brasov. (We’ve heard that Bucharest is a bit different, but we can’t speak for that.)
So, is Romania now on your bucket list? We certainly hope so!
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