First written on December 2021, updated in November 2022
Are you considering travelling to Romania in winter and don’t know how to plan? Are you worried about low temperatures, road closures or limited availability of major tourist attractions? We have put together a few pieces of information that can be a useful tool to help you with the planning. We are travel experts in Romania and we have an inside look at voyaging in this beautiful country, even in winter. You can read this post or check out our winter tours here:
Table of contents
- Discover Romania’s Christmas markets
- Visit Romania’s famous castles in a winter setting
- Try some winter activities in the Carpathian Mountains
- Experience a husky sleigh ride
- Experience Romania’s winter holidays traditions
- Attend a Christmas Carols concert
- Visit the Ice Hotel on the Transfagarasan
- Spoil yourself at the spa
- Visit Romania’s most beautiful mountain villages
- Learn to bake traditional Romanian cakes
- See Romania’s brown bears
- Frequently asked questions
Discover Romania’s Christmas markets
Christmas Markets are popular across Europe and Romania is not making an exception. Tourists and locals alike are delighted by the show of festive colours, Christmas carols or mulled wine flavours coming from the charming wooden stalls.
Although last year (2020) the Christmas markets weren’t organised due to the pandemic, this year marked a return to the nearly normal festive atmosphere from the previous years. A green pass is required and the number of persons at the Christmas fair is limited at a certain percentage of the total capacity, but we are still in a pandemic. (update: 2022: no restrictions, business as usual)
So, if you come to Romania in winter, what would be the Christmas market not to miss?
First, we would say Bucharest, as is the capital of the country, and the major transport hub. So, while you’re in the city in December, head to University Square for a mug of mulled wine and a carols concert. The fair is open between November 26 and December 26, every day, from Monday to Friday, between 12:00 and 23:00 and on Saturday and Sunday between 10:00 and 23:00. The Christmas tree located in the University Square is 15 meters high, is reusable, durable and environmentally friendly, created from wood and adorned with carved ornaments. The program will be complemented by ambient music and special moments dedicated to the Christmas holiday. More info about the Bucharest Christmas Market can be found on the official page.
Second, I would nominate Sibiu Christmas Market. Inspired by Viennese similar fairs, the Sibiu Christmas Market couldn’t find a more suitable place than the main square of the historical town, adorned with Baroque and Art Nouveau palaces. There will be no concerts this year (2022), but attractions such as the panoramic wheel, the skating rink and the video projections on the buildings will be available.
The over 80 exhibitors will welcome visitors with a wide range of products such as Christmas decorations and porcelain jewellery, hand-painted mugs, wreaths, garlands, globes, Christmas-specific objects, hand-carved and brought from Bethlehem, as well as various gastronomic specialities: from local sausages to Hungarian delicacies and Angus beef burgers or even vegan ones.
Opened for the first time in 2007, the year when Sibiu was the European Capital of Culture, The Christmas Fair has become known throughout the country for its scale and tradition.
The Fair is open between November 26 and January 2nd, and more information can be found on the fair official page.
Other towns where Christmas fairs are organised and with visiting are Oradea, Brasov, Timisoara or Craiova.
Visit Romania’s famous castles in a winter setting
There is no better decoration for a Transylvanian castle than the snow. And as the most famous one, the Bran Castle is located just at the foothills of the mountains, the chances to see it in a hibernal scenery are quite consistent. In winter, the Corvin Castle fairytale look is increasing either due to the almost constant darker clouds behind or the whitish snow cover. Nonetheless, Peles Castle was chosen to be the setting for a Netflix Christmas movie, and that should be a good reason to visit it in winter. One thing to remember: in winter the visiting program of the castles is shorter, so please check their websites before planning any trip there. The official websites are http://www.bran-castle.com/, http://www.castelulcorvinilor.ro/ and https://peles.ro/.
Try some winter activities in the Carpathian Mountains
The length of the Carpathian mountains in Romania is around 1400 km, and they represent almost one-third of the total territory of the country. Although not as high as the Alps (the tallest peak – Moldoveanu is 2544 meters), the Carpathian mountains are offering favourable conditions for winter sports. The ski resorts are disseminated all across the country, from Maramures to Bucovina and Transylvania, and also on Wallachia. The most frequented ski resorts are the ones in Prahova Valley and Poiana Brasov, but during winter holidays or weekends, they are overcrowded and we suggest avoiding them, in order not to spend more time queuing than actually skiing.
Cross-country skiing is becoming more and more popular in Romania and there are a lot of areas where this sport can be practised in the Carpathian mountains.
Hiking in winter can be a fun activity, but in this case, we recommend hiring a local mountain guide who knows better the best and risk-free trails.
For more adventurous mountain lovers, ice climbing can be a fun option, and there are a few tour operators which are organising this type of activity in winter. Ice skating is also widely available in almost every big city in Romania.
Experience a husky sleigh ride
Although much more common to areas closer to the artic, a husky sleigh ride can be experienced in Romania as well, in Harghita county, in the east of Transylvania. The excursions with the sledge pulled by husky dogs are covering distances between 3-4 km (for beginners), 15-20 km (for advanced) and 30-40 km (extreme). It is important to note that these dogs are not “tormented” or exploited, their breed being very agile and fast, playful, extremely intelligent and elegant. The Siberian husky is considered a dog of endurance and work, accustomed to physical effort.
Experience Romania’s winter holidays traditions
The winter holidays in Romania are starting on November 30, when we celebrate Saint Andrew’s day, the patron saint of Romania and are ending on January 7th, when we celebrate Saint John’s day, a saint whose name is borrowed by around 2 million Romanians.
St. Andrew’s Night is in a way the Romanian equivalent of Halloween night and is accompanied by many Romanian traditions and superstitions. It is said that on the eve the “strigoi” wander. The strigoi are punished souls who, because of an inappropriate life or a death by violence are haunting their former families or close ones.
The garlic is used as a defence against the strigoi (sounds familiar ?).
Another superstition is saying that girls who want to get married hide a thread of basil under their pillow to dream of their future husbands.
Saint Andrew is followed by Romania’s National Day (December 1) and both days are non-working days, which is a great opportunity for many Romanians to go on mini-holidays. So, if you want to travel to Romania during this period, get ready for busy roads and book hotels in advance.
Although it may seem brutal, for people without butchering experience, the traditional pig slaughtering on Saint Ignatius day is an authentic gastronomical experience happening traditionally on December 20. An old and firmly rooted tradition in the Romanian culture, pig slaughtering is widely spread in the Romanian countryside and some of the rural guesthouses can also organise it for tourists. We recommend to tourists to watch the last part of the pork preparation when sausages, bacon, lard, caltaboși (a sort of blood pudding made from meat, lungs, liver, rice and spices), jumări (scraps, crisp pieces of rendered animal fat) or tobă (a large sausage made of gelatinous pig parts, including feet, years, skin, as well as meat from the head). Most of the action is happening outside, so Romanians are heating their bodies with endless quantities of mulled wine and boiled spiced plum brandy. The butcher activities are ending with a well-deserved lunch, where the main dish is called the pig’s alms (fried pork meat with polenta).
Christmas Carols. Romanians are big fans of carols. But in addition to those that can be heard everywhere on the radio, (one of the most famous carol singers is Ștefan Hrușca) there are also some more traditional carolling events, which take place mainly in rural areas. First of all, the Christmas Eve carolling is an event that involves the whole community, as a large team of carolers, dressed in traditional costumes, visit every house in the village, receiving in exchange cakes, pretzels, apples, nuts and sometimes money.
On Christmas day, a small team of children is carolling with the star. ”The star” is a homemade star made of cardboard, usually decorated with tinsels. This carol refers to the star that leads the wise men to baby Jesus.
Another carol specific to Romania is the Viflaim or the Irozii. This carol is more like a theatre, enacting the scene where king Herod has asked them about baby Jesus being born.
Another strange carolling event is called Capra (goat). A man, wearing a multicoloured suit, dresses like a goat, and being accompanied by a group of singers on Christmas Eve and sometimes on New Year’s Eve. The goat will jump and dance, trying to scare the host. The body of the suit is made of thick fabric. It can be made of wool, carpet or goat fur. Its main function is to hide the wearer.
The bear’s dance. The bear custom is a pre-Christian tradition, mostly found in the Moldova area. It has its origins in a pagan ritual, as ancient people considered the bear a sacred animal. The crowd is made up of young people disguised as bears, bear leaders and drummers. Each of them is playing a role in the ritual. The ritual presents the bear’s death and rebirth, which symbolizes the new year that is about to come.
Attending a Christmas Carols concert
For a proper Christmas experience, attending carols concerts is a must. The Philharmonic in each city has a Christmas program in December, and those interested just need to check their winter program. Also, the main churches in the cities organize carol concerts and their program can usually be seen on the city’s app. For example, in Sibiu, the website of the City Philharmonic can be found here, and all the events are listed on the Sibiu city application. Or, you can ask the locals about the dates of each carol concert.
Visit the Ice Hotel on the Transfagarasan
Another attraction, more specific to the Arctic area, is the ice hotel that is built every winter in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains. Located at an altitude of 2000 meters, near Lake Balea (whose ice is the main source of construction material), the Balea Ice Hotel is another must during a winter visit to Romania. The Ice Hotel in Balea will open its doors to visitors again in the 2022–2023 season, following a 2-year hiatus brought on by the pandemic. The access is quite easy, one hour by car from Sibiu and 15 minutes by cable car. The most adventurous tourist can spend a night in the ice hotel, where everything, including the bed, is made of ice (the bed is insulated with furs and has normal lining sheets, but the general temperature inside is around 0 degrees Celsius). For those who prefer the comfort of an ordinary hotel room, it is possible to visit the hotel every day and enjoy a drink there. There are also several winter activities around the hotel.
Spoil yourself at the spa
What could be better than a hot thermal bath when the outside temperatures are freezing? Fortunately, Romania has a wide list of spas spread across its territory. The best are Baile Felix, Tusnad, Calimanesti-Caciulata or Sovata. In addition, some of the hotels in the main ski resorts offer spa services. When in Bucharest, don’t miss Therme, the largest spa and wellness centre in Europe, located in the northern part of the capital. In addition to the many amazing facilities, including indoor heated pools, themed saunas, mineral pools, water slides, steam baths and infrared treatments, it also has heated outdoor pools, available all year round.
Do you want a basic hot tub? Check out the guesthouses that offer “ciubăr“. It is a small wooden basin, whose design was inspired by traditional wooden barrels used in rural areas for fruit storage. The water is heated over a wood fire in a stove attached to the tub. It is located outside and what could be more pleasant on a snowy day than a hot bath?
Visit Romania’s most beautiful mountain villages
In addition to carols and winter traditions, mountain villages also offer the opportunity to relax in an authentic setting, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There is much to do: enjoy the fresh, crisp air, take a walk on the snow, explore the surroundings in a horse-drawn sleigh, read a book in front of the chimney. But be careful. Traditional Romanian winter dishes are plentiful and you may end up with some extra weight. The best regions to explore the authentic ambience of the Romanian mountain villages are Maramures, Bucovina, Brasov county, Apuseni mountains or Marginimea Sibiului, near Sibiu.
Learn to bake traditional Romanian cakes
Are you a foodie? Learn the secrets of the perfect Christmas cake from Romanian housewives. The cake is called cozonac, and basically is a sweet bread stuffed with walnuts, cocoa, raisins or Turkish delight. Similar variations can be found all over Europe, and although is prepared for Christmas, it can be found on festive tables all year round. Each family has its own secret recipe, inherited from generation to generation and it’s a matter of pride to be able to bake the best cozonac. While staying in a rural guesthouse, ask your host to let you assist in the preparation. As we said, it’s made before Christmas in almost every family in Romania.
See Romania’s brown bears
Romania is home to more than half of Europe’s brown bear population. Although they are not very active in winter, spending most of their time in the den, there are some places where bears can be spotted even in the cold season. The first one we recommend is the Zărnești Bear Sanctuary, which houses over 100 bears, which, for some reason, could not survive alone in the wild, and received a welcoming home in the forests near Bran. Other possibilities would be private forest observatories, where wild bears come to find food every day, allowing visitors to see them from a hidden wooden hut, specially designed for wildlife watching.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why visit Romania in winter?
There are a few good reasons to visit Romania in winter. Depending on the period, the fares can be better than in summer time and the main touristic attractions are not crowded. Moreover, the visitors can experience the Romanian winter traditions, snow and Christmas markets.
How cold it is in Romania in winter?
In the coldest months of winter (December and January) temperatures average between 3˚C and -15˚C. The temperature drops as the altitude increases. On average, for every 1000 meters, there is a decrease of 6 degrees Celsius. Really cold days (below 10 degrees) are quite rare, but it is always worth checking the weather forecast for the next few days before travelling to Romania. When checking the forecast, be sure to do it for each location, as temperatures vary from region to region (especially if there is a difference in altitude).
Does it snow in Romania?
The answer is yes. The amount and the frequency varies a lot on the region and altitude. The first snow can be expected in the high mountains (in Romania that would be above 2000 meters) starting September, but it doesn’t last very long. Starting November we can expect in the mountains to have snow which lasts until April-May. In the big cities (which are at average at an altitude below 500 meters) the snow is not that frequent and it can be expected any time starting December. It usually doesn’t last long, due to the temperature which is usually above zero during the day. The ski season starts usually in mid-December and people can ski until March (it depends again on the altitude of each ski slope).
It is dangerous to drive in Romania in winter?
The main roads are well maintained and cleared of snow. Pay attentions on mountain roads or secondary roads which are not cleared of snow right away. As a general rule, don’t venture on secondary roads before asking about the road situation.
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