Oradea is one the few undiscovered gems of Romanian tourism. Despite the city being one of the largest and most important in Transylvania, with a high degree of administrative, economic and commercial importance, it is often overlooked by tourists in favour of other Transylvanian cities such as Brasov, Sighisoara or Cluj-Napoca. The city can also act as a pleasant stopover if you are coming to Romania from Hungary, or leaving the country.
The city combines a good location and climate with romantic Baroque architecture from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with a lovely jumble of Romanian and Hungarian cultures. The city was passed back many times between Hungary and Romania, and so evidently both these cultures are apparent in the city, which gives it a special charm, and pleasant mix of architecture. In short, you'll love Oradea!
Oradea, which is situated 12 km from the Hungarian border (and a whopping 650 km by train from the capital of Romania, Bucharest), can even serve as a starting point for your Romanian journey, as it is served by trains coming in from Budapest and other parts of Europe. Many tourists also make a stopover in Oradea before travelling further on to Cluj-Napoca, Brasov or Bucharest.
Oradea is located in Romania, in the county of Bihor (BH), in Transylvania. The city proper has a population of 206,527 (according to the 2002 census); this does not include areas outside the municipality which bring the total urban area population to approximately 220,000. Oradea is one of the most prosperous cities of Romania. The city is on the Crişul Repede river, and has a sizeable Hungarian minority population. It is also home to many renowned shoe factories.
Of the total population, the following ethnic breakdown occurs, from the 2002 census:
Get in/Get out
Getting into Oradea is moderately easy, especially from Romania. Most visitors arrive in by train, as Oradea is located at the western extremity of the Romanian train network. If you're travelling from Bucharest, there are two or three trains per day, one of which is a very comfortable yet fairly inexpensive night train, especially if you decide to travel in a refurbished first-class sleeper. The journey from Bucharest is a 10-hour, 650 km trip across Romania. Getting to Oradea from other parts of Transylvania is a lot easier and quicker - there are now fast InterCity (IC) connections with brand-new trains from Germany to Cluj-Napoca, Arad and Timisoara. Besides these, there are fast trains that link Oradea at least once daily with nearly every major city in Romania.
If Oradea is your entry point to Romania, and you are coming from Hungary or Western Europe, connections are scarcer. There are three trains per day from Budapest to Oradea (some of which continue onwards to Brasov and Cluj-Napoca). Two of these trains are early in the morning, and one leaves Budapest in the afternoon and arrives in Oradea in the late evening, after about six hours. Even though this method is fairly accessible, due to the fact that Budapest is a railway hub, the trains, provided by the Hungarian railways, are seldom comfortable. The wooden wallpaper decor of the train compartments is tasteless, and the red plush seats are soft, low and uncomfortable. This isn't aided by the lack of light and cleanliness of the train, even in first class.
If you do travel from Hungary to Oradea by train, make a booking or board a Romanian train or carriage, as these are nowadays of a much higher standard. Romanian carriages are coloured in blue or red and have the acronym CFR written on the side (CFR is the Romanian State Railways).
Getting around Oradea is fairly easy, even though, for a city of its size, the transport network is not particularly good, in two aspects - firstly, its coverage and routes are minimal, and secondly, its quality is usually poor and much worse than other Romanian transport networks. For the Oradeans, this is all very well, as most of them get around by car. In fact, don't be shocked to see tens of Mercedes and BMW cars lining the streets of Oradea - and no, these aren't owned by foreign businessmen. Because of Oradea's relative prosperity, the inhabitants, especially those living in city areas, do tend to take pride in driving the latest European car offerings, usually bought directly from Germany.
However, for the tourists, it can be a little harder to get around. Despite car ubiquity, it is not a wise idea to rent a car. Firstly, Oradea has a significant population in a fairly small surface area, which means two things for drivers: one, distances aren't big enough to drive a car, and two, parking spaces are extremely scarce. Due to the virtual lack of specialised parking complexes, and due to the narrow roads in the city centre, you'll be hard pressed to find a parking space anywhere.
So, tourists are generally left to using public transport. Public transport, run by Oradea Transport Local (OTL), is improving, but is not a particularly good way to travel. The network is made up of three tram lines, which tend to run together for much of their journey, so they don't span a lot of the city area. They do, however, run through the heart of the city and service Oradea's outlying quarters. Due to their nature, however, they are more suited to commuters rather than tourists, as they basically pass through the city at the main bus interchange and the railway station, and don't provide a good way of travelling through the city. Buses tend to be even worse, as they start off in the city and serve areas such as the hospital, the border railway station (Episcopia Bihor) and the cemetery. Use public transport only if you want to go to the railway station, which is served by trams and buses, or if you want to go to Băile Felix, the delightful health spas outside the city.
Therefore, your best bet in Oradea is walking. Firstly, by walking, you get to see all of the wonderful architecture this city has to offer. Secondly, walking is the best way to travel through the city centre, and, as most hotels are in the city centre anyway, you will only need to travel short distances, and these are best done by walking. If your hotel is more outlying, then, yes, of course use public transport, because it does travel quickly and frequently, but don't use it just for its sake. Also, if you are a tourist, you will rarely need to travel to the residential outlying areas.
Taxis are a gem in Oradea - firstly, they are ubiquitous, secondly, they are tremendously cheap, and thirdly, they are very comfortable. Therefore, it is advisable to use them whenever public transport isn't conveniently available, and your destination isn't inside the city so you can walk there.
Which type should I choose?
From reading this, you're probably confused about how you should best get around Oradea. However, it is very easy. Cars should be used at all - they're not worth the trouble. Public transport should be used if you are within easy access of it, and if you want to travel to areas outside the city centre, because your hotel is located there. Walking should be used if your hotel is within the city centre area and you want to visit historical sights, restaurants and shops in the city centre. Taxis should be used when travelling to/from the railway station, or when travelling to areas that aren't accessible by walking or public transport.
Getting to specific destinations
Because Oradea has many different areas served by different transport options, individual best transport options for each attraction or destination are listed in each attraction's section (in the See section).
Oradea tends to be a bilingual city - in Romanian and Hungarian, that is. If you speak any of these two languages, you are bound to get along well. There is often a stereotype associated with the relations between ethnic Romanians and Hungarians, but usally the two ethnic groups get along very well - so, if you know Hungarian, most Romanians will not only understand you well but will show no hesitation or anger in speaking the language. Of course, the same applies to Hungarians speaking Romanian. The official language of the city is Romanian, and it is Romanian you will encounter most frequently. Bear in mind, however, that the Hungarian influences are still apparent, and there are still bilingual shop signs or speakers to be found. Also, Hungarian is often learnt by Romanians in childhood, by their Hungarian friends, and, of course, Hungarians are obliged to learn Romanian at school.
Oradeans also tend to be fairly good at foreign languages - English, French and German are taught in all high schools and have been for a fairly long time, so even older speakers will know how to speak one of these languages. This especially applies to German, which many people will speak with great enthusiasm. This is probably due to the fact that there are strong German high schools in Oradea, which teach most of their subjects in German, and are attented by many Romanians. Also, because of Oradea's proximity to Western Europe, many Oradeans choose to shop for high-quality goods and cars in Germany or Austria, and from this comes their knowledge of the language.
French is studied by many people and is seldom spoken, so it is now a particularly wise idea to start speaking French straight away without asking. However, Romanians are generally tolerant of foreign languages and love tourists, so, in the vast majority of cases you haven't got anything to lose by speaking French, German or English, or even Italian, in Oradea.
English is becoming increasingly popular, and it is spoken fairly fluently by the younger generation, and by many of the middle-aged people. In supermarkets or shops, you can confidently ask in English, especially if the staff members are fairly young. However, it is always good to know a few words in Romanian, because not only will the locals appreciate you for it, but you will understand much more. In markets, however, try to speak some intelligible Romanian or Hungarian.
Coming soon: list of attractions, as well as a description of the architecture of the city, with subsections
Oradea University - emerging University, one of the largest in Eastern Europe
Activities - Pestera Ursilor, Baile Felix health spas, etc.
Souvenir shopping, food shopping
Dining overview, include restuarant names
Hotels overview and listing
In terms of major problems and on a Romanian scale, Oradea is fairly safe. On a Western European scale, the city is even safer. In fact, you will rarely find problems with organised crime against tourists, or more serious offences. What you will find more abundantly, however, are petty scams or petty thefts. Even though you won't experience more theft in Oradea then you will in other parts of Europe, it is smart to watch out. Residential or quieter areas of the city are very safe in all aspects, even at night. City areas are also safe, even though there are a few bag snatches late at night. Also, watch out for beggars, which are usually of Roma (Gypsy) descent, who come to you in groups to beg for money and, while one distracts you, the other one may rob you. This occurs in markets, the civic centre or areas near the town hall. Also watch out for theft in public transport such as crowded trams or buses. If beggars approach you, it is either wise to be firm and tell them to go away, try to retreat or give them some money to make them go away. However, don't be intimidated by them, as they are a fairly frequent occurence and many Romanians have to cope with them as well. Also, don't fall for their tricks - a lot of them will wail in pain falsely, or apply flour to their skin to make them look sick. These are nothing but tricks.
Concerning tricks and scams, these tend to occur more regularly in Oradea. When exchanging money, don't do so on the black market, as these people generally rip you off. Try to stay away from people selling souvenirs or products at the railway station. These usually aren't of quality and aren't worth buying. Also, when taking a taxi, make sure the taxi is certified. Overwhelmingly, Oradea is one of the safest cities for taxis in Romania, because, due to its medium size, it is too small for tiny, private taxis who rip you off, and it is too large for the taxi tricksters to get away with their scams. Consequently, the majority of taxis have company signs on them which tell you they are certified. Also, most of them are metered. Prices per kilometre vary between the companies, with Hello Taxi being the cheapest. Fulger Taxi is the largest company, and it is the ones Oradeans used most, because, some years ago, it used to be the cheapest, and people still think this is true. Even though now it has a more medium-range price, Fulger Taxis are of a high standard, and can be found everywhere - just hail them, state your destination, and you're off.