Colourful bee hives in a field in Maramures Romania

11 Unique Things to Do in Maramures, Romania

Mark Stewart Destinations 12 Comments

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The vast majority of visitors to Romania tend to stay in the more well-known parts of the country – with Transylvania being the most popular. Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as it’s a spectacular region to visit, way up in the far north of the country, lies the magnificent county of Maramures – one of our favourite places to visit in Romania. Visiting the amazing Maramures area is like stepping back in time.

The entire landscape is made up of twisting valleys and rolling hills dotted with haystacks and herds of sheep. The highway is little more than a thin, two-lane road that passes through tiny little farming villages every dozen kilometres or so. Locals either spend their days working the field or sitting on benches along the roadside watching the horse-drawn carts pass by.

Due to the relative remoteness of the area and the spread out locations of the highlights, the best way to visit Maramures is by renting a car. While it’s certainly possible to explore many of these spots with buses and on guided tours, the freedom of your own vehicle can make a huge difference. And considering that renting a car in Romania is surprisingly affordable, we highly recommend it!

If you don’t want to rent a car, we highly recommend checking out some of these tours.

So without further ado, here are eleven wonderfully unique experiences to have in Maramures!

Cimitirul Vesel – The Merry Cemetery in Romania

Arguably the most popular sight in Maramures, and probably the biggest reason people visit, is the Merry Cemetery. In the town of Săpânța, just a stone’s throw from the Ukranian border, is one of the most unique cemeteries in possibly all of the world.

What is the Merry Cemetery? Rather than the typical cold, grey or marble tombstones and dull, metal crosses typically found throughout Europe, the people of Săpânța have taken a different approach.

Rising high above the concrete tombs, ornately carved, wooden monuments mark the graves of the dead. The markers are brightly painted in blue, with accents of yellow and red hues. Cartoonish images of the departed feature scenes from his or her life – sometimes even depicting the manner in which death occurred. Poetic epitaphs, filled with dark humour and hilarious sarcasm, are written with remembrance below.

One such inscription reads:
Underneath this heavy cross, Lies my mother-in-law poor
Had she lived three days more, I’d be here and she would read
You that are passing by, Try not to wake her up
For she comes back home, She’ll bite my head off
But I’ll act in the way, That she will not return
Stay here my dear, Mother-in-law.

It’s such a curious and lighthearted way of looking at the inevitability of death. They have decided to celebrate the lives of the departed with uplifting monuments, instead of a constant, cold reminder of the pain. Visiting here was not only terrific for the physical beauty, but also the inspiration. The outlook of these people at how they remember their loved ones resonated for some time after we left.

How to Get to the Merry Cemetery

Renting a car or going with an organized tour is the best way to get here. If you are already in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei, it is only a half hour bus ride.

It is 5 Lei per person to enter, which mainly goes towards the upkeep of the church and grounds.

Check out Autogari for the local bus schedule.

Blue crosses and gravestones with colourful art on them
The Bizzare and Beautiful Merry Cemetery in Maramures, Romania

Try Romanian Plum Brandy

Plum brandy can be found in many forms across Central and Eastern Europe but the region of Maramures is especially known for producing some very high-quality product.

Many locals produce this potent spirit themselves, hoarding barrels of the stuff in their cellars. The makers pride themselves on their product and are more than willing to show it off. You’ll likely not have to venture far before someone will offer you a sample of their “natural” beverage.

We assume the natural part is because it’s made from their own organic fruit, rather than manufactured — but we don’t know for sure. Regardless of the meaning, it’s certainly a mark of pride and a perceived selling point for the makers.

We’ve been offered samples in small markets at 10am while searching for fruit, and given several more – for free – while buying beer at a local pub. One time we were given an entire bottle upon checking into a guesthouse. The bottle was included with the booking!

You’ll want to be careful though, this stuff packs a powerful punch!

Go Hiking at the Blue Lake

Only a short drive from Baia Mare, you’ll find the “Blue Lake.” Lacul Albastru is a gorgeous little pool high in the hills above Baia Sprie.

From the cool early months of spring through the summer and into the autumn, the colour of the water changes quite dramatically. Some locals call it magic. It begins as a bright, turquoise-blue, and transitions almost magically to a deep, emerald green.

The pool itself was formed after the flooding of a former stone quarry. The resulting minerals in the water cause the stunning colour shift as the temperature changes throughout the seasons.

Nearby, there are also several hiking trails leading further into the hills, some of which lead to some absolutely superb views over the towns below. Another point of interest nearby is the old mining ruins close by, but watch your step, it’s a steep drop!

How to Get to the Blue Lake in Romania

Drive to Baia Sprie and either park at the big white church (Biserica Adormirea Maicii Domnului) and hike from there, or take the skinny steep roads up to as far as you can drive on Strada Dealul Minei.

There’s also a bus from Baia Mare that takes about 30 minutes. Get off at the church mentioned above and start your hike uphill.

Download for a decent map of the hiking trails.

Two people sit beside a pond
The “Blue Lake” was more of a deep green during our Autumn Visit

Ride an Old Romanian Steam Train

This famous steam train in Maramures is a wildly popular attraction for locals and foreigners alike.

Originally built nearly 100 years ago, for the purpose of hauling lumber into the town of Viseu de Sus from the mountains, the train has been in constant use the entire time. As it’s initial purpose was to access some of the remote wilderness in the region, it’s a much smaller than a typical passenger train.

The old Romanian steam train is used primarily to take visitors on a round-trip tour of the area. Winding along the Vaser River, the train chugs along through mountain tunnels and over bridges into the remote wilderness high into the Carpathian mountains.

Ticket prices vary across seasons but range from 45 lei for children to 65 lei for adults (2022 prices).

Order tickets ahead of time on the official website.

Steam train coming towards you
Train tracks through a natural tree tunnel

Stay at a Classic Romanian Guesthouse

Accommodation in these parts is typically in the form of smaller, privately owned guesthouses. We based ourselves in the tiny village of Valeni, in a place called Casa Relax.

Full disclosure: we are not being paid to say this, nor were we given any discount or offer on the room. We’re simply suggesting this spot because it really was one of the best guesthouses we stayed at in Romania.

It’s an older building, right in the town, that has been completely upgraded inside. Big, beautiful rooms; a large, well put together communal kitchen; and a very comfortable common area/living room. The modern vibe on the inside of the house is a radical contrast to the sleepy village life outside.

There’s also a fantastic patio area beneath a large pear tree, which is a perfect spot to sit and watch the sunset while the chickens and cows wander around the yard across the wire fence.

Check for prices at Casa Relax.

Don’t forget to ask about their homecooked meals! They will bring the ingredients to your kitchen and make you a delicious meal for a small price! We had these amazing Sarmale!

Taste Some Organic Romanian Honey

While driving along the roads that wind through the valleys, you’ll undoubtedly cross a proud farmer selling another local specialty. Brilliantly painted bee hives can be seen dotting the fields across Maramures, keeping the crops and orchards well-pollinated. The luxurious byproduct of this necessary cycle is, of course, the sweet nectar of bees.

Honey stalls are set up at random throughout the area, much like the fruit carts you’ll see elsewhere in the country. Often they’re no more than a simple wooden table on the side of the road, as a quiet local calmly waits for your business.

One in particular that stands out was a larger operation on the side of the road northeast of Valeni. The same wooden table displaying the sweet, golden honey, stood near the road, but the entire bee farm was housed on a large trailer which doubled as the farmers’ office. It’s one of those sights that, to me at least, really defines Maramures.

Prices tend to range from about 15 – 40 RON depending on the size of the jar.

Several colourfully painted bee hives sit in a field in Maramures
Bee Hives sit near a Honey Seller on the Side of the Road

Visit Cascada Cailor – The Horses Waterfall

With no lack of beautiful scenery in Maramures, stumbling across the tallest waterfall in Romania should come as no surprise. The 90-metre high “Horses Waterfall” is one of the most beautiful in the entire Carpathian range and flows down a series of cliffs from a glacial lake at the top of the mountain.

Why is it called “Horses waterfalls”? Well, according to legend, a herd of horses became lost at the top of the mountain under a blanket of a heavy storm when they came across a large hungry bear. Because of the thick rain and fog, the horses panicked and took a collective dive over the falls, plunging to their death.

Seeing as this was in the days prior to camera phones, the accuracy of the event remains questionable to this day. But it makes a decent story at least.

Cascada Cailor can be visited throughout the year, though it’s said to be at its most brilliant flow in mid-summer. For those well-experienced, canyoning over the falls is an option as well, though this should only be done with a guide.

To access the falls, head to Borsa Resort, near the town of the same name. Ride the ski lift to the top of the hill and follow the old forestry access road which leads to the bottom of the waterfall.

Eat Locally Prepared Romanian Food

Eating a home-cooked meal in the house of one of the locals is an unbeatable experience while visiting northern Romania. It’s also often the closest thing to a restaurant you’ll find in these smaller towns.

During our stay at Casa Relax, the meal was actually brought to us! A local woman and her young friend stopped by early one evening with a sampling of the traditional cuisine and joined us at the table to share this fantastic meal.

Romanian Tripe Soup

First, we enjoyed tripe soup, quite possibly the most famous dish in the country. It was a light, slightly sour, yet very rich broth full of beans and garlic. We each devoured a massive bowl along with some fresh bread and butter.


Next, it was the main course: Sarmale (essentially Romanian cabbage rolls), served with sour cream and sausage. This meal, quite simply, changed my life. I’ve always enjoyed cabbage rolls, though I’ve never loved them – they’ve always been, more or less, a decent side dish. Sarmale, on the other hand, they’re a meal. Sour cabbage leaves are stuffed with a pork and rice mixture flavoured with love and the alluring essence of the gods. That or some spice blend I haven’t quite cracked yet…

Romanian Sausages

The sausages were almost falling apart. Not to be confused with mititei, the ground meat snack popular across the country, these were much more like a Ukranian kielbasa; though unlike any I’ve ever tasted before.

Sour Cream – More than just a condiment

Then there was the sour cream, made fresh from a nearby farm. I can’t begin to describe how ridiculous this stuff was. It was tangy, almost like yogurt; very thick, more like a soft cream cheese or labneh, and almost had the mouthfeel of butter. It was unmistakably sour cream, yet so different from the mass-produced supermarket variety.

How many other traditional Romanain dishes have you tried?

Cabbage rolls and sausages on a white plate
Delicious Romanian Sarmale and Sausages

The Famous Wooden Churches of Romania

Found throughout Maramures, something that cannot be missed on a visit here, are the famous, UNESCO-listed, wooden churches. These astonishing buildings are more than mere places of worship, they’re works of art.

The incredible craftsmanship that goes into the construction of these churches is simply remarkable. While they resemble the familiar shape from afar, the intricate woodworking can only be appreciated up-close. It wasn’t until later that we learned Maramures is renowned for its woodworking as a whole. Nearly every wooden church you’ll find across Romania was likely constructed by a Maramures native.

Although they’re found in some form or another in almost any town in the region, there are a few that are worth tracking down specifically. The churches in the towns of Denesti and Rozavlea are wonderful to visit, as is the one in Breb. The convent of Manastirea Huta, high on a hillside north of Huta Certeze, is another impressive work, with some truly breathtaking views.

However, if you’re really wanting to see the best of the best while in Maramures, check out Barsana Monastery below!

Check Out the Epic Barsana Monastery

We passed by this fantasy-esque monastery almost by accident while heading to Viseu de Sus to catch the steam train one afternoon. As we rounded a corner on a winding stretch of highway, the spires of these stunning wooden cathedrals towering over the trees caught our eyes.

The grounds are comprised of several astonishing wooden churches, along with several other smaller structures, a museum, and housing for the residents. The entire site appears almost like some scene from a fantasy story. It simply cannot be put into words how fascinating this place truly is.

If you’re familiar with the Elder Scrolls video games, such as Oblivion or Skyrim, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to some village in the mountains of Tamriel. Ok, so I’m geeking out a little here, forgive me. However, the resemblance to locations in the games is uncanny. And while I couldn’t find any connection between the two, it certainly would appear that some inspiration was found here.

Several strange shaped wooden buildings in a field
The Stunning Wooden Structures of Barsana Monastery

Experience Village Life

Honestly, one of the best parts of our time spent in Maramures was simply slowing down. The atmosphere of this part of the country feels as though you’ve been transported to another time.

As we were leaving the Merry Cemetery, wandering the streets of Săpânța, we wandered past an old lady, probably in her 80’s, sitting back on a bench in the sun. She was there smoking one of the fattest cigars I’ve ever seen, not smiling, not frowning, just totally in the moment under a thick cloud of tobacco smoke.

While staying in Valeni, we would go for an evening walk and soak up the vibe. We’d sit down on the side of the road and watch as villagers rolled in on horse-drawn wagons under the setting sun. Their faces weathered by years toiling in the fields, yet they would always smile and wave. They appeared happy – content with their lifestyle.

Moments like these are so hard to come across these days. If you find yourself in Maramures, do yourself a favour and just stop. Leave your electronics in the room, and go for a walk through the quiet streets of one of these peaceful little towns. You’ll be surprised what an impact it will have on you.

A couple with some logs in the back of a horse-drawn cart in Romania
A Common Sight in Maramures, Romania

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About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is a multi-passionate creative with a fascination for getting the most out of the human experience. While he isn't chasing adventures around the globe as a travel journalist and photographer, he works as a freelance writer, private chef and web developer.

Comments 12

  1. Wow! It is wonderful. I’ve visited Romania a few years ago as a part of youth exchange and saw few popular places between Bucharest and Brasov. I fell in love with the country and now dream about doing a roadtrip there someday. This part of Romania will definitely be on my list as it is absolutely stunning. It really feels like a step back in time.

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      Unfortunately, due to the remoteness of the area, it can be a little tricky to get around without a car, but it is definitely possible.

      Many of these locations are accessible by bus from Baia Mare (the biggest city in the area). Some of the destinations will require connections along the way, such as stopping in Sighetu Marmatiei to take another bus to Sapanta. As well, many of the smaller villages, like Breb and Barsana don’t have bus stops, but buses pass nearby. Ask around at the Baia Mare bus station for the bus that goes nearest to the destination you want and the bus driver will let you off. From these spots, it’s easy to hitch a ride, take a local taxi or walk the last little bit.

      I hope this helps!

      1. Thank you! I guess I’ll be renting a car and giving people rides! Is it customary to chip in for gas when hitchhiking?

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          From my understanding, drivers would like a bit of payment for hitching, though only a little. And if you don’t have money, tell them ahead of time and they’ll likely drive you anyway.

  2. Hi ! We are planning on renting a car and traveling throughout Transylvania. But after reading about Maramures area, I think we might need to add it ! We plan to go in early September for about three weeks. Do we need to make room reservations or can we just not be on a tight schedule and find accommodation as we arrive in a town/ village?

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      Hey! Great to hear that you’ve decided to add Marmaures! It’s such a beautiful area to explore!

      As far as places being available or not, nothing seemed too busy when we visited (we also visited in September). However, many accommodation options in the smaller villages aren’t really well-marked, and not every village will have something, so just showing up and hoping to find something could be a little tricky.

      I’d look online and try to book ahead, just to save you the time driving around trying to find a spot.

      Safe travels!

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          Thank you for reading! We didn’t make it to the painted monasteries unfortunately, we ran out of time! We’re planning a return some time in the near future, so we’ll definitely plan on seeing them!

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