Timişoara, Romania, will be European Capital of Culture 2021, but it’s got plenty to offer visitors now. Here’s why you should visit Timişoara before the crowds do.
Reason 1: Architecture in Timişoara is fabulous
Its buildings may be less well recognised than those of its Romanian counterparts Sibiu, Sighişoara and Brasov; but Timişoara’s architecture is fabulous. Baroque and Austro-Hungarian influences are everywhere.
After three days in the city, my own architectural highlights were: The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral on the southern edge of Victoriei Square; and the colourful Porto-esque buildings of Unirii Square.
And not forgetting the shabby chic edifices at various street corners around town. There’s a whole load of renovation going on – no doubt one of two of these will have been transformed into boutique hotels by the time of Timişoara 2021!
With Timişoara’s architecture comes an associated arts and cultural scene – opera at the opera house, open air theatre in the park, and some rather funky sculptures dotted about town.
Reason 2 to visit Timişoara: the city has a place in history
By December 1989 the Iron Curtain was well and truly buckling. Communism was already on its way out and legislative change on its way in, in countries including Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Romania was next.
The Revolution in Romania started in Timişoara, and you can learn all about it in the worthwhile Museum of the Revolution.
Although clearly underfunded, the museum is well presented, and some English-speaking staff can give you an overview of the different exhibits. Particularly powerful is a 20-minute video (subtitled) showing actual footage from the start of the Romanian Revolution on 16 December 1989 and the days that followed. In some cases it’s pretty brutal – protestors being shot by their own Army as the regime desperately tried to suppress the uprising.
The video, whilst harrowing, made me think about how different my life would’ve been if I’d been a teenager in Timişoara in 1989, instead of in Yorkshire, England.
Around town you can see many of the buildings brought to prominence during the revolution, and there’s also a memorial statue in Victoriei Square.
Reason 3: Timişoara has a lively outdoor café and bar culture
Like much of the rest of the Balkans, stopping for a coffee at a pavement café is one of the best things to do in Timişoara, and indeed in Romania as a whole.
Café’s are plentiful, particularly on Victoriei Square, Unirii Square and the surrounding streets.
For a bit of a change, though, head down to the Bega Canal for some cool bars with extensive beer and cocktail menus. Honestly, it would be rude not to!
In September 2017, coffees and beers cost around 4-10 lei (£0.80-£2), cocktails around 15 lei (£3).
[box type=”info”]We stayed in the homely Pension Dinu Residence B&B in Timişoara, which we reserved through booking.com. We also used the Lonely Planet Guide to Romania & Bulgaria for our trip. Help the site by buying through these links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]
Reason 4 to visit Timişoara: it hasn’t been overtaken by tourist hoards
Timişoara has some domestic tourism and isn’t exactly off the beaten track, but there were very few foreign voices to be heard – a smattering of German speakers, a couple (literally one couple) from either the US or Canada, and that was about it! We were there for three days and heard not a single other English voice. It was bliss.
[box type=”info”]Many Romanians working in cafes, bars, restaurants and museums speak some English – anything from a few words to fully fluent. If you do get stuck with the lingo, knowledge of other Latin languages will help – we found French, Spanish and Italian useful when English wasn’t spoken. Romanian has similarities to Italian in particular, which helps when you see it written down. This Lonely Planet Eastern Europe Phrasebook was also handy. Help the site by buying through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]
Stop to take a picture in Timişoara and people will wait patiently for you to finish, so as not to not be in the way of your photo. That’s how unused the city is to mass tourism.
As 2021 approaches, word will get out and the world and his dog may well want to visit Timişoara! As the city’s own slogan for 2021 says, “Shine your light – light up your city” … I expect there’ll be many lights shining! My recommendation: visit Timişoara before the crowds do.
Is Timişoara on your wish-list, or have you already visited? Share your experiences in the comments below.