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Oradea, mon amour! – Top things to do in this charming city

Need to know

Closest airport: Oradea International Airport, located on national road DN 79, 6 km from the city.
How to get there by car: A1, DN7 from Bucharest (around 71/2-8h drive)
Population: 206,000
County/Area: capital of Bihor county/north-western Romania

Considered one of Romania’s best cities and runner-up in the European Best Destination final, Oradea is a huge recommendation to visit (as a gate to Transylvania or simply on its own!!!). This blog post is about Oradea top things to do shared from a knowledgeable perspective and hopefully objective, as Oradea is my hometown… But the pictures and text (hopefully) are clear evidence I am speaking the truth.

Where should I begin?

Situated at the border with Hungary, it is a melange of cultures, traditions, and gastronomies.

Being situated closer to Vienna and Budapest than the country’s own capital, the town of Oradea has always been a welcoming gate for western and avantgarde influences.

Union Square with Black Eagle in the background

Travelling to Romania should also include a visit to Oradea! Most definitely you’ll be charmed by the pretty buildings and peaceful lifestyle!

Taste the relaxation and quiet! Enjoy the Art Nouveau buildings and hearty food Oradea has to offer! And do not neglect the surroundings with amazing landscapes!

Feel the true spirit of Oradea! It is a Romanian city with deep Hungarian roots and old Jewish touch! Look for  multiculturalism in the intricate details of the buildings!

For a few years now, Oradea, Romania, has dressed festively and has opened its arms to welcome visitors. Largely untouched by any type of distress, the city built its way to the capital of art nouveau from the country (being a member of the art nouveau network along with cities such as Barcelona, Brussels, or Budapest).

Art nouveau (also called Secession = the German version) is an ornamental style of art that appeared in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century that was born as a reaction against academic art. It gets inspiration from nature, such as the feminine curves of plants and flowers. Art nouveau also highlights the use of modern materials, like glass, iron, ceramics, or brickwork to create unified interiors and large open spaces.

Expect to find a romantic and peaceful city, a city of palaces that will catch your eyes and leave you speechless! It is Romania’s capital of Art Nouveau! It is a matter of time (short!) until Oradea gets the well-deserved attention.

Make sure you plan your visit ahead!

On the banks of Crisu Repede river

Show Contents:

Enjoying every bit of Oradea, Art Nouveau’s capital in Romania


A bit of history/ Good to know

The first attestation of Oradea goes back to 1113 (initially called Varadinum) and, despite some turbulences that caused hardships in its development, the city finds itself at the crossroads of peaceful moments.

Almost 800 years ago, the city and fortress were largely destroyed by the Tatar invasion, but Oradea managed to recover and develop into a flourishing settlement transformed by a new fortress and gothic cathedral, where the faithful ones could kneel at the relics of Saint Ladislau, the protector of the town.

Oradea underwent two important sieges – Ottoman (1660) and Habsburg (from 1692) – that marked the realities of the town. The coming peaceful period translated into an economic growth and prosperity as a result of an inflow of active population. This was the time when some of the most important buildings appeared on Oradea’s horizon, in the 18th century. Under Austro-Hungarian domination, good practices continued, and landmark architectural monuments peaked in the late 19th – early 20th centuries.

It is important to know that in the first half of the past century, a vast majority of the population was Hungarian. This is no longer the case, but Hungarian legacy stays strong, and many families today are mixed with children raised in the spirit of assimilating both cultures.

Before visiting, you should know that besides architecture, Oradea ranks high in the list of the safest cities from the country, and, is also one of the most liveable places.

Oradea, Romania has a mesmerizing architecture, and moreover, has the compactness to be visited in one day. In the following, I will present Oradea top things to do and see.

Union Square; photo credit: Larisa Birta

Oradea to things to do: downtown walking tour

The Union Square

The Union Square (Piata Unirii) is a good starting point with many representative palaces. It is worth mentioning that this square has recently been under reconstruction and turned into this large aired open space.

Oradea City Hall

Oradea City Hall and tower (Primaria si turnul Primariei) (1, Unirii Square) is a good point to start or end a tour in the city or piazza mainly because you can go up in the tower (entrance fee) and have a panoramic view that is particularly pretty. Another plus is that you can either explore later the buildings that impressed you or be happy when recognizing something you’ve already seen from above.

City Hall

The City Hall is one of Oradea top things to do and one of the few buildings that remained faithful to its initial destination. Architect Kalman Rimanoczy Jr won the contest made by the city hall for a new headquarters that was finished in 1903. The eclectic construction was enriched with a 50 m tower that has observation decks and the announces the exact time every hour.

Insider tip!: Don’t hesitate to go up in the tower! If you have a fear of heights, no need to worry! The spiral inside the tower is rather large and the view at sunset comes as a reward!

The Black Eagle Palace

The Black Eagle Palace (Palatul Vulturul Negru)(1, Piata Independentei) is no doubt one of Oradea top things to do and a true gem. And yes, the most spectacular Art Nouveau masterpiece from all Transylvania.

Its inception goes back to the new vision of urban development of the city considering the reorganization of the square. Initially inn, later hotel, the city hall decided to launch a contest to make a facelift for the Eagle Hotel. The winning project turned into reality rapidly, so that at the end of 1908 the palace stood proud.

THe Black Eagle and some details

The building impresses by size as well, it is 4 storey-high on an elevated ground-floor and connects three different streets. Vittorio Emanuele Gallery from Milan served as source of inspiration, while the stained glass with the eagle was added one year later and was manufactured in Oradea.

The main style of the palace is the Berlin Secession with high emphasis on details, as well as ornaments placed carefully on ceilings, vaults, windows, doors, or railings. Today, the palace hosts several bars, pubs, restaurants, and offices, while over time the Black Eagle offered shelter for cafés, restaurants, theatre halls, movie theatres or hotel.

Eagle at dawn

Insider tip!: The Black Eagle always looks fabulous, but mid-October, when Oradea celebrates FestiFall (the days of the city), it dresses up festively in light and laser show.

Palace of Moskovits Adolf and Sons

In the same square, lift your gaze to notice the Palace of Moskovits Adolf and Sons (1, Alecsandri street) right on the corner. The construction of the building started in 1905, after the old building entered the possession of two wealthy Jews who owned a yeast, beer and milling business. The façade stands witness of the Viennese Secession. The balconies overlooking the streets are built in various sizes, while on the façade you can observe a series of slightly outlined reliefs representing work or idyllic scenes. The palace serves the same purpose now as 100 years ago: shopping destinations at the ground floor and luxurious apartments upstairs.

Details of Moskovits Adolf and Sons Palace

Glassware and Porcelain Store

Vasile Alecsandri street turned pedestrian a few years ago and here you can spend a quiet time at a terrace. Here, my favourite palace, one of Oradea top things to do, is the Glassware and Porcelain Store (4, Alecsandri street), built by a merchant originary from today’s Czech Republic. He built the presentation and sales store for glass and porcelain objects. Of course, the building had different purposes also, like children clothes shop during communism, but now it’s been brought back to its beauty. I particularly like the lace-like façade in white and blue, I find it very simple, yet elegant. It showcases Secession at its best, featuring Hungarian motifs all over.

Love the details on this building – the Glassware and Porcelain Store

Insider tip!: Enjoy your visit! Make the most of it by sitting down every now and then at a cafe! Alecsandri street is pedestrian, but filled with eateries of all sorts!

Moon Church

We are so close to the Moon Church (Biserica cu luna) (2, Unirii Square), to be found at the other end of the square. Its nick/name comes from the mechanism installed in 1793 that indicates the lunar phases; it is designed to make a full rotation around its axis in 28 days depending on the moon phases. This Orthodox Cathedral is late provincial Baroque style and contains some beautiful frescoes.

The Moon Church

The Palace of the Greek-Catholic Bishopric

The Bishopric (Palatul Episcopal Greco-Catolic) (Mihai Pavel street) is placed right behind the statue of King Ferdinand in the Union Square. Inaugurated in 1905, the building did not always belong to bishopric, it was also headquarters of the town library. Unfortunately, in 2018, a part of the building burnt down and is currently under restoration. Hopefully, after, it can be visited on the inside, as it is an architectural gem.

The Bishopric and King Ferdinand I are getting along well

Astoria Hotel

Astoria Hotel (former Sztarill Palace)(1-2, Teatrului street) initially accommodated rooms to rent and the ground floor café housed the favourite place for writers at the beginning of last century. Later, it turned into a hotel. It has a beautiful eclectic architecture emphasised especially at night due to lighting.

Astoria Hotel on a gloomy day

Insider tip!: Sit on the terrace of Astoria Hotel to enjoy an aperitivo and watch people go by!

The State Theatre

Queen Mary State Theatre (Teatrul de stat Regina Maria, 4-6, King Ferdinand street) is a benchmark for cultural Oradea Romania, both on the inside and outside. The exterior catches the eye by neoclassical elements and the Greek look with columns, while the inside has a royal aspect given by the combination of dark red with gold.

Queen Mary Theatre

Insider tip!: One of the typical things you should do during your visit is to stroll along the Corso (Republicii street), the downtown pedestrian street, to take the pulse of the city. Here, you can sip a good coffee or gulp something down while enjoying the pretty façades around you. They are part of Oradea top things to do. Here I only focus on some palaces.

Poynar House

The Poynar House (6, N. Grigorescu street) for example was built with the purpose of trading, and the owner had monopoly over tobacco in Oradea Romania. A similar palace is on the other corner (Kolozsvary House, 2, I Vulcan Street) and started from the owner’s passion for jewellery. Downstairs, there was the precious shop and upstairs the building displayed 7 luxury apartments.

Poynar House on one corner overlooking two streets

Rimanoczy Kalman Sr Palace

It is impossible not to observe the imposing orange palace built in Venetian style, called Rimanoczy Kalman Senior Palace (corner of Republicii str and 1, Trajan Park), after the name of the architect. It features eclectic style with gothic elements and is a simplified version of the Venetian palace, Cá d’Oro (House of Gold). It combines Byzantine and Moorish elements, has many towers, framed ogival windows and decorations.

Venetian style adapted

The Miksa Moskovits Palace

The Miksa Moskovits Palace (Republicii Blvd) has slowly, but surely become one of Oradea’s symbols, especially after its rehabilitation. This turquoise blue palace is an outstanding symbol of Secession where the architect, Rimanoczy Kalman Jr, let his imagination fly. Big admirer of Munich Secession “Lilienstil”, the architect richly decorated the palace with all sorts of vegetal motifs and symbols such as the tree of life or Mercury’s sceptre. The first and second floors have apartments that used to be very large, but over time they got redivided.

Miksa Moskovits Palace is today a symbol of the city
Detail of the blue house – The Miksa Moskovits Palace

Stern and Apollo palaces

You will definitely wanna stop for pictures here, also because your gaze will be caught by the neighbouring buildings: Stern Palace, another Art Nouveau symbol, a vivid building boasting the colours of the Hungarian flag and beautiful elements, and Apollo Palace, a sober pastel palace. It was the only tenement building erected at public initiative, all the others had been built from private initiative.

Stern Palace at night in Oradea, Art Nouveau

Darvas La Roche House is a must see, the first Art Nouveau Museum from Romania that displays luxury and good taste. The house was built by two rich men, an entrepreneur from Oradea and his associate, a lawyer and banker from Switzerland. It is a splendid reisdence built as a home, not as a renting space.

The Roman-Catholic Basilica

The cathedral (2, Sirul Canonicilor street) is a representative Baroque building in Romania. If we count the Baroque Palace and the Canonical Row in, we get the biggest Baroque ensemble from Romania. This religious site was erected in the middle of the 18th century and features typical late Baroque, meaning the replacement of the theatrical representation of mature Baroque with a cleaner and simpler version.

The cathedral was given the title of basilica minor by Pope John Paul II as a testimony to its long-standing history and importance. Well-preserved on the inside as well, the visitor will be overwhelmed by the peace and mystical state arising from the play of light. The central altar is made of Carrara marble in neo renaissance style, and the pipe organ donated by Empress Marie Therese is still functional.

The Basilica and Baroque Complex

The Baroque Complex and the Canonical Row complete the Baroque entity from Transylvania. Like many buildings during communism, the Complex was taken away and transformed into a museum. Many years later, this sumptuous building got back in the possession of the church (it is the Palace of Roman-Catholic Bishopric) to show its hundred rooms and 365 windows, one for each day of the year. The Canonical Row comprises 10 buildings in a row and 57 arcades watch over you in the 250 m long corridor.

The Sion Neolog Synagogue

The Synagogue (22, Independentei street, entrance fee 10 lei/2 euro/adult; 5 lei/1 euro/children and pupils) is the third largest in Europe and a simplified version of the one in Nuremberg. Situated on the bank of Crisul Repede river, the Synagogue charmed me with a very pleasant vibe and a deep blue hue. However, the walls filled with the names of Jews who died as a result of deportation will not leave you indifferent. Today the Synagogue is part of Oradea’s tourist circuit, and houses concerts, exhibitions, or book launches.

The spectacular blue ceiling of Neolog Synagogue
Synagogue on the banks of Crisul Repede in Oradea, Romania

The Synagogue is oriented towards Jerusalem. The interior decoration is inspired by the Moorish style and contains lots of geometrical motifs like the star of David and the eight petal rosettes. There is an organ above the niche of the Torah ark. The place exhales an atmosphere of serenity and harmony due to the balanced chromatic with the current exhibition and Jewish music it plays.

Insider tip!: Right across this street, there is December 1 Park, another spot where you can rent a bike and ride along Cris, the water that crosses Oradea.

Oradea fortress

The fortress (41, E Gojdu street, entrance fee: 5 lei/1 euro/adult; 3 lei/ 1.7 euro/children and pupils) is a tourist attraction that incorporates almost a thousand years of history and is relevant for the entire area. The works of the fortress began in the 11th century, and, in time, it has become one of Oradea’s symbols. Its pentagonal shape is unique in Europe. The fortress hosted a library, an astronomical observatory, a printing press, and a school. If you want to experience history, the fortress is the best place to do it.

Star shaped fortress;
photo credit: https://www.dronestagram
photo credit: https://urlaub-in-rumanien

It is a charming place likely to keep many secrets and know evergreen stories. In its thousand year-long existence, the citadel was laid siege to many times. The palace within the fortress was erected in the 17th century with parallel walls to the ones of the citadel and a tower in each of the five corners. This Princely Palace, unique in Transylvania was completed in late Renaissance style. The ditch circling the fortress reminds us of the defensive role it was assigned, being difficult to conquer for centuries.

After a thorough process of restoration, the fortress opened the gates to visitors in 2015 to let them feel the pulse of history and cultural events alike.

In summer, it is the hot spot of many events the city hosts: concerts, exhibitions, or festivals, but is also the seat of some museums: the City Museum, the Museum of the Bread or the Bakery. The craftsman’s workshops and medieval remakes have the power to take you back in time. This is the place where you can enjoy an operetta night in the amphitheatre or watch a movie sitting on the grass.

Ciuperca Hill

It (23, Graurilor street) is Oradea’s viewpoint. There are two ways for getting upstairs. One is the pleasant sightseeing stroll that starts from IC Bratianu Park (close to Hilton and Continental Hotels) that is unfortunately closed because of a landslide, and the other, that takes you through Graurilor street (mainly for cars).

Spectacular sunset from Ciuperca Hill; photo credit: Adam Freundlich

Once upstairs, you can marvel at Oradea’s horizon shaped by smaller and higher buildings, enjoy the view (even better if you are in time for sunset), observe the people relax in the grass or brides during their photo shoot! The entire city is laying at your feet. You can complete this atmosphere with a dinner served at the terrace of Ciuperca restaurant.

Baile Felix resort

Baile Felix is a spa and relaxation spot, just 8 km away from Oradea, ideal both in summer and winter due to its thermal waters. Despite not being very large, the resort contains lots of hotels with pools, relaxation areas, and even an aquapark.

Where to eat in Oradea

Enjoying lunch or dinner in the Cris city is not difficult. The picky eater can spot something from these restaurants: Via 29, the stunning Piata 9, Graf Restaurant, To Chefs or Steak Hub if you are a meat lover. Cozy places suitable for a good chat and food are Dock Bistro&Bar, Spoon, or Rivo, all of them on the banks of Crisu Repede river. You can also find quick eats at Baraw (Indian inspiration), Ristretto or the Dripper. Enjoy!

Dock is a good choice

Something sweet at Ristretto

Recommended by TTF:

  • A superb and peaceful city where life rolls on at a normal pace and people aren’t always in a hurry;
  • There are plenty of beautiful buildings to admire;
  • Enjoy one of the restaurants and terraces that offer a nice view over Crisu Repede river;
  • Visit Oradea fortress, and rejoice over an artistic manifestation;
  • If time allows, you can spend a day at Nymphaea Aquapark and spend your time at the spa or tobogganing;

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