People of Romania in general, and those of Transylvania in particular, are notorious for their kindness and hospitality and they will help you if they can. Most of the younger ones have at least a working knowledge of English, even though, if you’re traveling by yourself or with a small group, it might be worth hiring a translator, or even a guide, for the duration of your visit, depending on what you’re planning to do.
At restaurants and hotels you can expect most employees to be somewhat fluent in English, so that shouldn’t be a concern. All in all, a visit in Transylvania, no matter where you choose to go and what you choose to do, is bound to be a fun, safe, and memorable experience.
If visa is required, your passport must be valid for at least another six months. Citizens of all EU countries, USA, Canada, Japan and more than 50 other countries may travel visa-free for 90 days in Romania. For more details check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
One of the best things about visiting Romania is that the country is considerably cheaper than other European Union countries. 3-stars hotel rooms in Alba region are available for an average of €35-per-night level, while in the rural areas you will usually spend €20-per-night for equivalent accommodation standards. A beer in a pub is around €1,5 or less, depending on location, street food is about €2 while a two-course meal is a decent restaurant will be around €7. Car rental will average at €40 per day while the bus and train is rather cheap: for a train ride, the average price per 100km/60mi is around 30 lei (6,5€ / 8,5$) while for the bus, the average price per 100km/60mi is 20 lei (4,5€ / 5,5$).
Romanian money is called the ‘leu’ (plural: lei). 24-hour ATMs are available everywhere. To change dollars, euros or pounds, use the exchange houses or the bank offices. To make sure you’re getting a good rate, you can check today’s currency exchange for the euro here and for the US dollar here.
While Romania has been a part of the European Union since 2007, it has yet to adopt the Euro, so the only currency accepted for day to day transactions is the RON, though some hotels and other accommodation facilities might accept payment in Euro too. The banking system is well developed and bank subsidiaries are almost at every corner in major cities, providing both ATM machines and foreign currency exchange services should you find yourself short of cash. Separate exchange offices also exist, and you can usually expect to find a more favorable exchange rate at such offices rather than banks.
Health & safety
For EU citizens, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover your basic needs (except for non-emergencies situations). For citizens from other countries, you should consider a policy that fits your expectations. Competent medical care is widely available in medium and large cities but you should consider that half of Romania is rural and medical services tend to be less available in these areas; nevertheless, most Romanian villages are located less than 1h drive from a medium or large city where you can get good quality medical assistance in case it will be needed. Because of the excellent price/quality ratio offered by private clinics in major cities, recently Romania emerged as a new destination for medical tourism, displaying the fastest growth in the fields of plastic surgery and dental services.
Personal safety is not a major issue when visiting Transylvania, but basic level caution is always advised. Even if you happen to wander the streets after nightfall, you’ll find that public illumination is more than satisfactory in most places. You might encounter street beggars and it’s best you stay away from them, especially when they appear in small groups, as you may end up with your wallet or phone stolen. That is not a serious hazard, however, as law-enforcement usually manages to keep such people in check.
Weather & geography
The territory of Romania features the Carpathian Mountains, with the richest wildlife anywhere in the European Union. Most of European Union’s population of wild animals, such as bears, lynx or wolves, lives in the Romanian Carpathians. Romania has over 20 national parks, among them the Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation, with the third largest biodiversity in the world. The Carpathian Mountains are divided into three major ranges: The Eastern (or commonly referred to as the Carpatii Orientali), the Southern Carpathians (Carpatii Meridionali) and the Western Carpathians (Carpatii Occidentali). They stretch over an area of 600 miles (1,000 kilometres) and cover an area of 71,000 square kilometres. As a geographic observation, it is interesting to notice that Transylvania is completely surrounded by the Carpathians. The highest peak in the Romanian Carpathians is Moldoveanu (2544 m). The name “Carpathians” derives from the ancient ‘Karpates oros’, meaning “Rocky Mountains” in an Old Greek dialect.
Romania is a year-round destination. The summers are hot but if you plan to visit destinations in the Carpathian mountains (which you probably will, given that mountains occupy 1/3 of the country), you should pack properly. Winters are just as chilly as in other European continental countries, so consider warm clothing. In Alba Iulia during summer you should expect the maximum temperatures to vary between 25°C and 35°C, lower in the mountains nearby and significantly lower overnight in all mountain areas. Summer and late spring might be the best place to visit, whether you plan to spend some time in the city or your want to explore the mountain regions nearby: the weather is great for biking, hiking or simply exploring European Union’s wildest mountain range, the Carpathians. While you will enjoy a cool beer on a terrace in Alba Iulia in a hot summer day, on the highest peaks in the Carpathians south of Alba Iulia you can still spot snow as late as June and as early as September, which adds to the wonderful geographic diversity of the region.
The winter season is popular with tourists who wish to experience the traditions and customs of Romanian holidays (e.g. ‘Masa de Ignat’, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, St Nicholas’ Night). Winter sports and games may be practiced in mountain resorts nearby, such as Arieseni ski resort or Sureanu ski resort, accessible within a 2h drive from Alba Iulia. You can rent a chalet/cabin for an entire weekend or you may simply check into a guesthouses and hotel.
A country with a long agricultural heritage, many Romanian cities and villages will open traditional fairs where a wide variety of wine, tuica and palinca (traditional strong spirit made of fruits) as well as beer are available. Various types of traditional jam, cheese, salo, ham, bacon, homemade sweets, sponge cake, buns, bagels are available. Most of these products are homemade, based on old recipes and therefore cannot be found in supermarkets. Autumn fairs are a good opportunity to find quality, traditional hand-made items for your family and friends back home.
If you plan to have an organized tour inside the citadel or anywhere in Alba County, feel free to approach the following local guides:
website | phone: +40.740.176.702
Guided Tours organized by the Union Museum’s Guides
website | phone: +40.258.813.300
For traveling within the city, you get to choose between public transportation – buses, trolleys, and trams – cabs, or renting a car. The public transportation option is the cheapest, certainly, but beware of over-crowded streetcars, as they are both an uncomfortable means to travel and an excellent opportunity for pickpockets to relieve you of some of your money. Cabs will pick you up from anywhere and take you anywhere, but you want to pay attention to the taxi meter to ensure you are paying the correct fare. Renting a car is, of course, the most convenient of the options, though, in the larger cities, you may have trouble with the traffic and going the right way, particularly if you’re not yet familiar with the streets. Of course, if the weather allows it, you can also bike your way through the city, as in most places you can rent bicycles for a fraction of what a cab would cost you, not to mention the fact that bikes allow you to cover relatively long distances at a pace that’s just slow enough to let you take in all the sights.
Read more about how to get to Alba Iulia