Why You Should Travel to Western Romania by Train
If you’re traveling to central Europe, why not venture a little further east and explore western Romania by train? The beautiful cities of Timisoara, Oradea and Cluj-Napoca are easily accessible by rail using a Eurail pass from Belgrade, Budapest or Vienna. The sights, sounds and scenery waiting for you will definitely be worth it.
With no shortage of natural attractions and castles nearby, in recent years more and more travelers have chosen this part of the country over Bucharest and Brasov. Us locals know the reason for that: life, people and scenery. The Carpathian arc and the regions of Transylvania, Banat, Crisana, and Maramures hold the essence of Romanian culture, traditions and authentic local life.
So here’s what you should visit when traveling to western Romania by train:
Timișoara – 2021 European Capital of Culture
Start your train trip from Timișoara, the third largest city in Romania. Close to Serbia and Hungary, it is well connected by trains coming from Belgrade, Budapest or further away.
What to see in Timișoara
One of the most visited sights in Timișoara is the Orthodox Cathedral with its unmistakable 3 towers. Icon paintings by local artists decorate the lavish interior, specific to Orthodox churches. The nearby Piața Unirii is the city’s main square and boasts buildings dating from the 18th century. You can see the city’s multiculturalism and rich history by also visiting the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, the Catholic Cathedral or the Art Museum housed in a beautiful Baroque palace.
Piața Victoriei is dedicated to arts with its theatre, museums and cafes. Take a stroll in its immaculate gardens and admire the towering monument of King Ferdinand against the backdrop of Art Nouveau buildings. During summer evenings concerts are often held here, and with the illuminated fountains nearby it becomes a magical evening. Under the influence of 19th century Austrian culture, social life and architecture, the city earned the nickname ‘Little Vienna’.
Another interesting sight is Brück House, a four-level Art Nouveau building from 1910 beautifully restored in 2012. The original owner opened a pharmacy on the first floor and it’s still there along with original furniture and equipment.
If shopping is your forte, Iulius Mall is one of the largest in the country with a great selection of shops and restaurants. It also has a multi-screen cinema, swimming pool, ice rink and a very nice garden with a view. If you’re going out consider Scârț Bar, Grădina Bănățeană or La Căpițe – locals’ favourite hotspots!
Day trips from Timișoara
From Timișoara you can visit Corvin Castle, King Decebal’s Stone Statue on the Danube Gorge, the UNESCO Dacian Ruins of Sarmisegetusza and the famous Bigar Waterfall.
Oradea – Eastern Europe’s capital of Art Nouveau
Having undergone extensive restoration works in the past 5 years, the mid-sized town of Oradea is undoubtedly Romania’s newest hidden touristic gem and is only 2 hours away from Timisoara by train. All trains from Budapest and Vienna heading deeper into Romania also stop in Oradea.
What to see in Oradea
The city will immediately surprise you with so many buildings and villas superbly decorated and coloured in the Art Nouveau and Secession style. You can start your walk from the 1,000 year-old star-shaped medieval Oradea Fortress where various Eastern European kings, queens and princes took refuge when Tartars, Ottomans or Austrians attacked these parts.
From there, walk all the way to Unirii Square and feast your eyes on the marvellously decorated Black Eagle Palace. It’s famous for its stained glass depicting a black eagle. In the evening, Oradea’s nightlife will be buzzing here, but a drink with a panoramic view of the entire square is worth having any time. Also in the square is the Orthodox ‘Moon Church’ named after the unique-in-Europe mechanism on its bell tower depicting the Moon’s phases accurately even after 200 years.
After crossing the bridge over Crisul Repede river whose promenade invites you for a stroll, the goddesses of Comedy and Tragedy welcome you to the imposing building of Oradea’s Theatre in Ferdinand Square. This is a neoclassical building adorned with white pillars dating from the 1900s. Continue your walk on Calea Republicii, the city’s high street, and stop for a meal at Cyrano or a coffee at Ristretto.
Families with children will be delighted to hear that Oradea Zoo is an easy walk from the city centre and the animals there are well cared for with plenty of space to roam freely. Aquapark Nymphaea is also a good option with water slides and a large wave pool.
Day trips from Oradea
The best thing you can do on a day trip from Oradea is to venture into Apuseni Natural Park for some hiking or even leisurely countryside walks. Just take a train to Suncuius or Bratca, which is on the same route as Cluj-Napoca, and see local life at its best.
Cluj-Napoca: the festival city of Europe
All train passing through Oradea eventually lead to Cluj-Napoca (or simply Cluj), Romania’s second largest city and the unofficial capital of Transylvania. A student town bustling with activity, there’s always an event, concert or festival going on, particularly in the summer.
What to see in Cluj-Napoca
The city has a number of delightful palaces to admire, besides the Gothic St Michael’s Church which is the city’s symbol. When going for a walk on Eroilor Boulevard make sure to admire the old aristocratic houses on each side. After a day of sightseeing, the Botanical Garden in Cluj, the largest in the country, is a great place to relax and admire nature’s beauty. Featuring flowers and plants from all over the globe, it covers 34 acres!
Cluj is now famous for its booming food and cultural scene, boasting a very nice selection of eateries such as Livada, Chios, Zama or Samsara Food House, many of which host concerts in the evening. Sample specialty flavours of coffee from Roots, Meron or Narcoffee and you’ll be surprised to discover a vibrant coffee culture.
Day trips from Cluj-Napoca
Cluj-Napoca is a great base to explore Transylvania and the rest of Romania by train. The famous Turda Salt Mine is very close and needs to be on your ‘must see’ list. The medieval UNESCO-protected Citadel of Sighisoara and traditional villages such as Viscri can also be visited on day trips by train. But my local recommendation is for you to visit the traditional region of Maramureș in the North to see what authentic Romanian village life looks like – there’s really nothing like it!
Visiting the western part of Romania by rail is a great and comfortable way to go a little off the beaten track and see more of Europe on your vacation. Train service between these three cities is very good and even if it’s sometimes slow, the free sightseeing and great scenery on the way is worth it!
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