At the beginning of the year I planned to see more of Romania and sure enough I managed to mark on my list this year quite a few destinations: Oradea, Timisoara and Corvin Castle to start with.
Oradea started to blip on my radar for about a year and a half ago. Now and then I read or heard something about this city. I started to look more into it and as soon as I start seeing pictures I began to fall in love. I really could not believe this was in Romania: beautiful colorful buildings, the most stunning Art Nouveau architecture, an administration that was taking care of its community and an amazing team promoting this city. Not a bad package to have and all in about 1.5h flight distance from Bucharest.
When I got the detailed program from Experience Romania and saw we were spending 3 days in Oradea I was ecstatic… and you are about to see why.
- 1 Quick facts about Oradea
- 2 Getting to Oradea
- 3 Places to visit in Oradea
- 4 Taste of Adventure – Bihor County
- 5 Where to stay and eat in Oradea
- 6 Discover more accommodation options for Oradea
Quick facts about Oradea
Oradea is the capital city of Bihor County and it’s located in the north-western part of Romania, close to the Hungarian border. The city known for its stunning art nouveau and baroque architecture is split in half by Crișul Repede river.
Oradea has been going to some serious restoration and transformation processes in the past couple of years and the results are spectacular. It’s a city brought back to life. Some areas might still be under construction, but overall it is looking better and better. The plan is to make more pedestrian areas in the city center, make it more bike friendly and overall more breathable.
Getting to Oradea
Probably the easiest and fastest way to reach Oradea is by plane. The city has its own airport and chances are, if you don’t find a direct flight, you find one in the near by cities: Timișoara, Cluj or Arad (all in about 2-2.5 h driving distance). There is even an option across the border at Debrecen, that is only about 1h away by car.
Of course trains and buses are also available, but in the end it’s a matter of finding the right combination of budget and time spent on the road. Coming from Bucharest, by car, it will probably take you up to 8h due to poor road infrastructure and lack of highways, but on the other hand there are plenty of beautiful stops that you can enjoy on the way like Sibiu, Alba Iulia and Cluj. So if you are more of a slow traveler and looking for a road trip I would definitely recommend renting a car and checking out a few places on the way.
Places to visit in Oradea
As I strolled around the city, I found quite a few places you need to mark on your map when you visit Oradea.
Black Eagle Palace & Union Square
Union Square (or Unirii Square) is the focal point of the city and it’s easy to understand why. Going through a serious refurbishment, the plaza is surrounded by beautiful architecture, like the Bishops Palace, the Black Eagle Palace, the Church of the Moon, the city hall and the Catholic church. It’s a perfect pedestrian large open space, with fountains and green areas, where you can enjoy a coffee or watch as the local kids test out their bikes, skates or scooters.
One of the most iconic buildings is the Black Eagle Palace. It is the most representative architectural structure in Romania built in the Secession Style. The floral and zoomorphic ornaments on the façade viewed from Unirii Square, combined with baroque and rococo elements make it an architectural masterpiece, an unique expression of artistic thinking, dating from the early 20th century.
The building was finished in 1908 with the intent to become a hotel with 75 rooms, a ballroom, a theater, a casino and office spaces. The Black Eagle Passage, was built in a style that resembles the famous Milano Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, and currently houses shops, restaurants and cafés. The light passing through the stained glass, the curved lines, the candelabras and the typical secession decorative motifs make this place worth its fame.
The Greek Catholic Episcopal Palace
One year ago, the Bishops Palace, one of the beautiful buildings from Unirii Square, in Oradea, was consumed by flames. As you can see in the background, the roof was almost finished back in July when we visited with @experienceromania. Following their status on the city hall website, mid October they were completely finished reconstructing the roof, and were starting a public bidding for the interior refurbishment. How did they manage to do it so fast? The city hall of Oradea has been very efficient in rebuilding and modernizing the city. EU funds used correctly, interest towards the community and the respect for heritage, all fully transparent on their website. Sounds easy, right? For Romania, at least, it’s more than an example to follow.
The ‘Zion’ Neolog Synagogue
The Synagogue was built in 1878, with an architecture inspired by the Moorish style. Back in 1940, Oradea had the second largest Jewish community in Romania, after Bucharest, however, after 1946, the community of 30.000 people was reduced to a mere 6.000. 1 in 3 people were deported, part of them lost their lives on the battle field or starved to death. The rehabilitation of this monument was that much more important. The Synagogue was on verge of being demolished, but with an investment of around 3m. euro this edifice was saved and given back to the community. However, with the investment, the purpose of the building has been changed. The synagogue is now serving the community in a different way, as a space for conferences, concerts and cultural events.
While it doesn’t serve as a worship place anymore, the renovations respected all the original designs of the synagogue, including the original locker where the Tora was held, with its original tapestry and gold star decorations.
Another interesting fact is that during the renovations, on a dig underneath the floor, the workers discovered a glass cylinder that contained a message from 1896. The document, found in perfect condition, is a letter written by the workers that first rehabilitated the synagogue, and it is addressed to Franz Joseph I, the king of Austro-Hungarian Empire. They mention the contribution, the pride and honor they had working on this worship place.
Take a stroll on Calea Republicii
Calea Republicii is the main pedestrian shopping street in Oradea. Left and right you will marvel at some amazing Art Nouveau palaces. The street has been almost completely refurbished and you’ll probably have to walk up and down a few times to make sure you soak up all this beauty. Some of the buildings that will steal your gaze are Rimanoczy Kalman Sr. Palace, Stern Palace and my favorite Moskovits Miksa Palace.
Roman Catholic Basilica of Oradea
The basilica was built between 1752-1780 based on the Jesuit plans of “Il Gesu” Church in Rome, and it is the largest baroque monument in Romania. As simple as the exterior looks, as rich and beautiful the interior is. This is specific to the Jesuit Order, and you will see it all over Europe. It it more of metaphor for what we should be as human beings: humble on the exterior and a rich soul on the inside.
The edifice took almost 30 years to built and it was finished thanks to Empress Maria Teresa, that actually donated the organ that is still functional today, after more than 230 years.
One of the oldest pharmacies in Oradea was recently refurbished by the Roman Catholic Episcopacy and transformed in a museum. This place was open for more than 250 years, and the original furniture, the uncovered murals and more than 1500 artifacts can now be admired by the public. Shocking fact… you will see old vials of heroine and cocaine, that back in the 1880’s were marketed as medicine, ideal for curing sore throats, coughs, toothaches and colds.
Lavender Farm Oradea
You don’t really need to go to Provence for some beautiful lavender field pictures. A local entrepreneur created near Oradea a lavender farm specially for events and photo-shoots. The place is perfect for all your Instagram needs and Romania is for sure much more accessible than France. Keep in mind lavender blooms around end of June – mid July, so you need to book your photo-shoot, but for more details, you can check out their Facebook page at Lavender Farm Oradea.
Taste of Adventure – Bihor County
Bihor county has an untapped adventure potential and as a local, wasn’t really aware of it. I got a first glance back in February, at the Romanian Tourism Fair and it got me really excited to visit the area. You have the chance to do some kayaking and rafting on Crișul Repede River and enjoy some beautiful green scenery. Don’t worry if you are a beginner, the team at Master Adventure has all the equipment available in all sizes. The only thing they can’t prepare you for is the cold water. I know… I took a couple of dips, but all in good fun (you can see one of the falls in the video below). The part of the river where you get to do the experience is not extremely fast, it only has a couple of areas that are a bit more tricky, but nothing to worry about.
Video credit: Todd Hata
On the way to the meeting point we got to do a little pit stop at this beautiful waterfall called Vadul Crișului, where the water is even colder than the river – around 10 degrees or so. Of course being a mountainous area, the weather can play a huge role in your nature fun time. If we kayaked on sunny blue skies, we missed out on the opportunity to do some trekking and rock climbing on Via Ferrata due to the sudden rain that started in the afternoon. Then again, now I have a good reason to come back to the area next summer.
Where to stay and eat in Oradea
Being part of a press trip, the accommodation was provided by Hilton DoubleTree Oradea. However, I would not recommend a place if the room was not perfect or the services wouldn’t have been impeccable. First of all you have a beautiful view on the banks of Crișul Repede river, right next to Aqua-park Nymphaea. So not only you get a great location, but you also have a great place to splash around or catch some sun (if it’s nice and warm outside). Second, you can get to the city center with just a 10 minutes stroll alongside the river, which is perfect to enjoy a bit more of the city. The rooms are spacious, comfortable, clean and you can request to have the view over the river.
Another great accommodation option is Ramada Oradea. You will be happy to discover that this 4-star hotel lives up to its standards and it will surprise you with a rooftop wine SPA and a delicious restaurant – Steak Hub – where you will find a great selection of meats and wines, and the best chocolate-lavender cake you will ever eat in your life!
As always there is always the AirBnB option, and I can give you a little bonus for signing up with a new account. Get your AirBnB bonus here.
Discover more accommodation options for Oradea
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you.
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