Widely known as "the land of Dracula", Romania charms its visitors and its inhabitants alike with pristine nature, idyllic countryside and the well-preserved historical towns of Transylvania. Beyond the ancient customs and vampire-related imagery, however, lies a complex mixture of vivid, contrasting realities. Formerly part of the communist bloc, this tranquil Eastern European country has been changing at a rapid pace during the past two decades. Romanian society and economy are constantly evolving, and the transformation has grown momentum since the country entered the European Union in 2007. Nevertheless, a weak economy and widespread corruption cast a shadow over the country's still uncertain prospects.
Romanian culture is rich and varied. Romanians take pride in their Latin origins, and throughout its history the country has given birth to a number of notable literary and artistic personalities. World-famous Romanians also include gymnast Nadia Comăneci, sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, philosopher Emil Cioran, but also Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. In 2009, writer Herta Muller, an ethnic German born in Romania, received the Nobel Prize for literature for her work depicting life in her native country during the communist era.
Bucharest, the capital city, is the main economic and financial hub and the sixth most populous city in the European Union. Once known as "Little Paris", it nowadays bears little resemblance to the French metropolis, having developed, in exchange, a character of its own. Elegant late XIX century mansions, sombre art deco buildings and megalithic constructions dating from the socialist period create a unique, albeit not always beautiful, cityscape, while social life revolves around the myriad of cosy tea houses, state-owned and independent theatres and trendy nightclubs.
The country lies in south-eastern Europe, bordering Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova. It is located between latitudes 43º and 49º N and longitudes 20º and 30º E. With an area of 238,391 sq kilometres (92,043 sq miles), Romania is the 83rd largest country in the world and the 12th largest in Europe.
The population of Romania is 19,942,000 approximately and comprises mostly ethnic Romanians (88.9% of the population). Currently, the most significant ethnic minorities are Hungarians (6.5% of the population), and Roma (3.3%), although historically Transylvanian Saxons and Swabians also represented an important part of the minority population. The official language is Romanian, a Romance language sharing many similarities to Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Although Romania does not have an official religion, around 86.7% of its inhabitants are Orthodox Christians.
Historically, the country has been divided into four provinces: Transylvania, the central and western region, is separated by the Carpathian Mountains from the neighbouring Moldavia, to the East, and Wallachia, to the South. Dobrogea, the fourth and smallest province, lies between the Danube River and the Black Sea.
Topographically, the country comprises mountainous, plateaus and flat terrain, as well as the Danube Delta. The Danube, the second largest river in Europe, flows along 1,075 kilometres and marks most of the country's natural border with Bulgaria.
Administratively, Romania is split into 41 counties (județe), in addition to its capital.
Romania has a temperate-continental climate, with four clearly marked seasons. Summers are hot with frequent showers, and temperatures averaging 22-24ºC (71.6 -75.2ºF), although maxima often rise over 35ºC (95ºF), especially in the southern areas of the country. Winters are cold and cloudy, with snowfalls from mid-November to mid-March, and temperatures averaging -3ºC (26.6ºF), although minima can drop below -15ºC (5ºF).The hottest months are July and August, while the coldest ones are January and February. Precipitation occurs all year round, although in moderate quantities.
Romania is in the Eastern European Time Zone (GMT/UTC+02:00).
Romania uses Daylight Saving Time. For current time and the next change in time, refer here.
Bucharest, Romania's biggest and most economically developed city, is located in the Wallachia historical province, in the Southern part of the country, along the banks of the Dâmbovița River.
The city is spread over a mostly plain area, with a few hills, among which Dealul Mitropoliei, Dealul Cotroceni and Dealul Spirei, protruding from a generally flat cityscape. To the north, it is bordered by a series of lakes formed by the Colentina River, of which Lake Floreasca, Lake Tei, Lake Colentina and Lake Herăstrău are the most important ones found within the city limits.
Bucharest spans over a roughly round surface totalling 226 sq kilometres (87 sq miles) and its elevation varies mildly, from 55.8 metres (183.1 ft) to 91.5 metres (300.2 ft). The population is of roughly 1.9 million within the city limits and 2.15 million within the greater metropolitan area. Nevertheless, unofficial estimates place the population at around 3 million inhabitants.
Bucharest has a continental climate, albeit slightly warmer than that of the rest of the country. Summer in Bucharest is generally hot, with average temperatures around 22ºC (71.6ºF) and maxima up to 35-40ºC (95-104ºF), while winter average falls to -2.4ºC (27.68ºF) with minima often below -10ºC (14ºF).
With a yearly average of 59.5 cm, precipitation tends to be modest and spread throughout the year, with a peak around the spring months (April to June). Bucharest witnesses 5 to 7 days of rainfall each month.
For up-to-date weather information, consult Bucharest Weather.
Spreading evenly around the city's designated centre named Kilometre Zero and located near the University Square, Bucharest was, in fact, configured around two axes.
On the north-south axis, a series of boulevards connect the city's main squares, starting from the Press Square, continuing with the Aviators Square, the Victory Square, the Roman Square, the University Square and ending with the Unity square. Lined along the avenues are historical heritage buildings erected in the late XIX and early XX century currently in mixed states of preservation.
The oldest core of the city is located near the Unity Square (Piața Unirii). After having undergone significant renovation during the past few years, it is now a trendy area filled with popular restaurants, bars and cafes and boasting a vibrant nightlife.
The city's Civic Centre is disposed along the East-West axis that crosses the Unity Square. A wide boulevard bordered by massive constructions reminiscent of the communist times clears the way and leads to the massive Palace of the Parliament, also known as the People's House. The undisputable icon of the country's capital, this monumental building is the second largest in the world after the Pentagon in the United States and is currently home to Romania's Parliament as well as to the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
For administrative purposes, Bucharest has been split into six sectors, aligned radially, and numbered clockwise. Each of these is unofficially divided into a variable number of quarters. Some of the most important quarters are:
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