For year, Romania was cut off from the international tourist circuit. Foreigners had limited access to its resorts during the decades of communist rule, and its services degraded during that time, making it a less-than-attractive option for visitors.
During the three decades that have passed since the Romanian Revolution, however, the government has made efforts to capitalize on the many wonders of the country. It launched campaigns to popularize its resorts, especially those on the shores of the Black Sea.
But the country’s biggest riches can be found in its natural wonders and rich cultural heritage. Luckily, some local politicians took matters in their own hands, restoring their cities to their former glory and turning them from run-down dwellings fit to serve as a backdrop for a crime TV series set in the 1980s into hidden gems with a lot of potential.
One of the best examples praised both locally and internationally, is the small city of Oradea in the northwestern part of the country.
Oradea – a short history
The city of Oradea – called Varadinum at the time – was first mentioned in a document from the year 1113, although evidence of inhabitants has been discovered in the area going back to the Neolithic.
Over the centuries, the city has become a melting pot of cultures, peoples, and religions. It spent time under Hungarian, Romanian, and Ottoman rule, and it was part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Oradea flourished in the 18th century, with many of its most beautiful landmarks built around this time. Later, it continued to develop, at one time earning the nickname of the “Paris on the shores of the Peța” (after the stream passing through it and flowing into its river, the Crișul Repede). While it always remained a small city, its architecture is impressive. It’s an eclectic mix of Art Nouveau, Secession, New-Romanian, and Baroque styles.
In the last decade or so, Oradea has developed at a fast pace, becoming not only one of the most livable cities in Romania, but also one of the most beautiful. The city has spent millions on restoring its architectural marvels to their former glory, and it shows. Locally, the city is often set as an example for the fast pace at which it developed over the years, not only for its burgeoning economy but its tourism and hospitality.
Access and lodging in Oradea
Oradea is very close to Romania’s western border, which makes it especially easy to reach by road. While the country has little to no highways, the ones in Hungary end very close to the border.
Oradea also has an international airport, and it’s also accessible by train. When it comes to lodging, it has a full range of options available for visitors, from holiday rentals and cheap hostels to major chain hotels like Continental, Doubletree by Hilton, and Ramada. And the options are equally varied when it comes to food: it has eateries where you can buy a complete meal for as low as $3 and luxury restaurants as well.
Landmarks and attractions
The best-known landmarks of Oradea are its Baroque complex (consisting of a Cathedral and a Palace that served as the local museum for decades) and its medieval fortress, recently restored to its former glory. The Fortress now serves as a tourist and cultural hub in the city. It has everything from museums and exhibitions to cafes and restaurants, and it’s often the site of various events and festivals, including the city’s own Medieval Festival, held each summer.
The old centre of the city is filled with architectural wonders, ranging from the Black Eagle Palace (a palace with a shopping gallery built in 1908), which is famous for its stained glass windows, currently serving as the city’s nightlife hub. You’ll also find several Baroque, Secession and Art Nouveau buildings, some of them home to various museums and galleries.
Oradea is also an ecumenical city. Within a few hundred meters, you’ll stumble upon reformed churches, orthodox cathedrals, a Greek catholic temple, and a synagogue. It is also home to the largest Baptist church in Eastern Europe, the Emmanuel Baptist Church, within a few minutes’ walks from all the others.
Oradea has everything you need for a city break, and it can also serve as a home base for exploring the area. One popular spot is the Băile Felix thermal spa. It’s also within an hour’s drive from the Apuseni National Park, as well as various hiking and tourist spots in the area.