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Vlad the Impaler stated his claim to Bucharest in 1459. His citadel on the Dambovita was the first of a host of palaces, many of which still stand. Four metro lines and a modern bus network transport visitors and commuters. Nicknamed "Little Paris", Bucharest's elegant early 20th-century architecture shows French influences. Don't miss the Village Museum, Romanian Athenaeum and the Peasant Museum. You can't miss the Palace of Parliament, the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon.
In northern Romania near the Ukrainian border and once the capital of Moldova, today Suceava is a city of just over 100,000. Though fairly industrial, the city does have some great historical attractions, like the 14th-century Princely Court fortress and several medieval churches. The Bucovina History Museum is also popular. Best of all, Suceava is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the famous painted monasteries of Bucovina, set amid the gorgeous countryside just outside of the city.
The large city of Iasi has been a cultural and political hub since the 15th century. Everything orbits the Golden Plateau, bookended by the Palace of Culture and Union Square, and packed to the brim with churches and palaces galore. Iasi has significant Jewish history. The first Yiddish-language newspaper was published here, and the 17th-century Great Synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue in Romania.
The Baroque Palace of Oradea is simply epic. Now a museum, the 18th-century building is home to an outdoor bronze and marble statue park, Transylvanian folk art and a collection of animal remains that includes dinosaur fossils. You could spend days here, but try to make some time for other Oradea attractions, such as the beautiful Art Nouveau buildings of Str. Republicii, the astronomical clock of the Biserica cu Lună, and the Băile Felix thermal spa.
Smack in the center of Romania is Brasov, a harmonious mash-up of traditional charm and modern city life. Ride a double-decker bus around the city to get your bearings and see the sites whiz by, then hop off to squeeze down Strada Sforii, the narrowest street in Europe. Take a day trip to see the fortified church of Prejmer, the Libearty brown bear sanctuary, and the deliciously ominous Bran Castle, otherwise known as Dracula’s Castle.
Cluj-Napoca is the unofficial capital of Transylvania, and though you (probably) won’t find vampires here, you can explore castles, fortresses, botanical gardens, museums and parks. Cluj-Napoca has a vibrant arts scene that embraces both the traditional and the progressive. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy classical concerts, theatrical performances, puppet shows and music of every genre, from jazz to modern pop to electronica.
Charming Timisoara is often referred to as “Little Vienna,” and indeed, Austrian influences are evident in the architecture, food and culture. This is a walking city, divided into squares that showcase stunning architectural gems. Downtown is reserved for pedestrians only, and the best time to visit is at twilight, when you can sip a hot wine as you stroll amid sparkling lights.
The historic center of Sibiu is still partially enclosed by its original 12th-century medieval walls. Begin your visit in the Piata Mare, home to the Brukenthal Palace, containing the main halls of the Brukenthal National Museum. Descend the Passage of the Stairs down into lower Sibiu, and make sure to be on your best behavior as you cross the Bridge of Lies. A trek in the nearby Făgăraș Mountains will lead you past breathtaking ridges and serene glacial lakes.
The clock tower of Sighisoarais the grand dame of the city, reigning tall and proud from atop a central hill. Founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century, Sighisoara is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features well-preserved medieval stone streets and structures. Visit fortified churches, climb the famed Scara Şcolarilor covered staircase, and get goosebumps at the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s terrifying creature, Count Dracula.
Mamaia is a popular beach resort on the coast of the Romanian Black Sea. The fine white sand beaches are unusual for this part of the world, so tourists flock here during the summer months for a tropical experience that’s close to home. Crush Beach is great for people-watching and water spots. At night, the area throbs with club goers and beautiful party people.