Romania is almost perfectly round in shape, with a crescent of Carpathians carved through its centre, and the Danube traversing its southern edge. If you were to sculpt it, it would be a work of art. Hike it, and you’ll find a world apart. Our Romania walking holidays open up this world for you, with self-guided tours where you stay in small, locally owned guest houses in the likes of the Piatra Craiului or Făgăraș Mountains, both in the heart of the Southern Carpathians.
Also known as the Transylvanian Alps, there’s nothing spooky about hiking in Romania, although the bat caves in the dramatic limestone gorges or knowing there are bears in the woods might give some people goosebumps. For most people on our Romania tours, however, it’s a sign that true wilderness is being carefully protected here. On all counts.
Where to go
Piatra Craiului National Park
This national park protects all of the Piatra Craiului Mountain range, in the Southern Carpathians. It’s a striking 25km jagged limestone ridge, and one of the country’s most iconic landscapes. The ridge walks here are stupendous, with panoramic views of the forests and valleys below, ancient villages such as Fundata, Romania’s highest at 1,304m and the ridge’s peak, Piscul Baciului at 2,238m. One of the highlights of our Romania walking tours in the park is the hike through Zărnești Gorges, the largest of which is called Valley of the Chasms, at 1.7km.
A 12th century, walled Saxon town which not only has fairytale-like cobbled streets, red turrets and enveloping forest slopes, it also features in Grimms’ Pied Piper. It’s the starting point for many of our Romania walking holidays, located just 50km from Piatra Craiului National Park and 25km from the Postăvarul massif, where you can trek through Poiana Brașov ski resort. A must visit in Brașov itself is the vast Gothic Biserica Neagră, or Black Church, and ancient Piața Sfatului or Council Square. Hike up Tampa Mountain, overlooking the town at 960m with its iconic Hollywood style sign of the town’s name.
Sibiu is sublime, across the board. One of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities, the old town is enclosed by 12th-century medieval walls. Just wander in wonder in the Upper and Lower Old Town, through Piata Mare, home to the Brukenthal Palace and National Museum, along Strada Cetatii and into the world of cafes in Piata Mica. Head down the Passage of Stairs into Lower Sibiu, which is like an ancient arcade of artisans. Many of our Romania tours take you to the nearby ASTRA National Museum, în Dumbrava Sibiului Natural Park. Just 4km from the town, this is a unique collection of over 300 traditional, rural buildings with a mission to protect Transylvania’s unique cultural heritage.
Just 60km south of Sibiu, depending which part of this massif you are heading for, the Făgăraș Mountains are home to Romania’s highest mountain, Moldoveanu Peak (2,544m) and many others over 2,500m. The Făgăraș Mountains are the highest mountains in the Southern Carpathian Range and, on our Transylvanian Alps holiday, you hike to one of their big beauties, Vânătarea lui Buteanu (2,507m), starting out from one of its other glacially gorgeous spots at Balea Lake and Waterfall. The Făgăraș are also known as the Transylvanian Mountains, as they are in the beating heart of this historic central Romanian region.
Things to do
- Walk to the painted monasteries of Bucovina, or painted churches of Moldavia as they are classified by UNESCO, who rightly protect these eight Byzantine beauties, painted externally with the most magnificent and colourful array of religious icons and religious themes. They really are masterpieces of the mountainous north and, as they are scattered across the Moldovia and Bucovina regions of northern Romania, you can trek between them. This nine day Romania tour includes a few days in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, as well.
- Given the Saxon heritage of Romania, as well as later medieval influences, they aren’t short of castles here, and you can take a hiking tour around some of the best ones. Such as in Criș village where the ancestral seat of Counts Bethlem dates back to 1305. From here you can hike to Sighişoara, birthplace of Vlad Dracul, the 15th-century ruler of Wallachia said to be inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. Hiking in Romania on this tour also takes you to Bran Castle which, as well as being a magnificent national monument and landmark in Transylvania, is the alleged setting for Stoker’s novel, but there is no vampirical evidence for this.
- Seek out some good Romanian wine and yes, it does have vineyards. It produces more wine than New Zealand in fact. For years it was poor quality, but recent years have seen new investment in viticulture. As well as Cabernets and Pinots, Romanian grape varieties to look out for are Fetească and Tămȃioasă Romȃnească (Romanian Muscat) – both white, and Fetească Neagra, a full bodied red and the oldest Romanian grape variety. As you will find out on this Romania walking holiday, where you visit a traditional cheesemaker, cheese is everywhere. Seek out Telemea, Cașcaval or Năsal, produced in a cave in Cluj no less.
Responsible travel tips
- Learn about the Roma people, Romania’s largest ethnic minority and, if your hiking holiday in Romania times with 8 April, it’s worth noting that this is International Roma Day. Also of significance, in 2021 Romania passed legislation criminalising hate speech and hate crimes against the Roma, the first of its kind in Europe. So, read up, and respect the Roma.
- It’s also worth reading up on the flora and fauna of Romania’s wild landscapes which are now recognised by international conservation organisations as hugely important habitats. It is home to over 6,000 brown bears, 4,000 wolves and 2,000 Eurasian lynx, as well as a bevy of birdlife including golden eagles and Ural owls which you can see soaring above the limestone ridges and gorges while hiking in Romania. You are unlikely to see the mountains’ mammals, however, wolves and lynx being very elusive. One very important local conservation organisation is Carpathia.org, which has been striving to protect and restore forests, habitats, and species in the Carpathian Mountains since 2009. They will always welcome donations to their work.
- Being bear aware is an important part of being a responsible hiker, however, and although their default status is to stay well clear of humans, they must never be provoked. When walking through dense forest, make some noise so that bears know you are about, talking loudly, singing or clapping your hands from time to time. And avoid having a teddy bear’s picnic in remote, densely forested locations. In addition, check out Romania’s mountain safety organisation, Salvamont, also worthy of donations, and have their rescue number, 112, on your phone.
- Bring a reusable water bottle to avoid plastic, as tap water is generally safe in Romania. Be wary of mountain water, however, and use a filtered water bottle such as Water to Go to ensure it is free of any toxins.