Constanta, Romania, is a seaside city. But there’s more to it, than its beaches and nightclubs. I spent 1 day in Constanta, Romania in October and I was surprised by what I’ve discovered in this beautiful city.
As a Romanian, I never paid much attention to the city itself, but was always seen as the bigger city from the seaside, where you have all the conveniences I would have back in Bucharest, but nothing more. And I have to say I was ignorant.
Constanta is one of the oldest Romanian cities and is a renown port of the Black Sea. Turkish, Bulgarians, Greeks, Armenians, and others, have a name for it. That’s how famous the city is. The old name of the city is Tomis, given by an old Greek colony. Constantiana is the name given by the Romans, when they conquered it.
At its beginnings, Constanta was a simple Greek fishermen village and Tatars shepherds. After Romania was born and to this day, Constanta became Romania’s main port. Constanta is the largest port from the Black Sea and the 4th one in Europe.
How to get to Constanta, Romania?
If you are coming from Bucharest, then you have 3 options: by car, train or bus.
If you want the cheapest option, then you should check out the bus schedule on busradar.com. It costs around 12-17 Eur. Also, you might want to check BlablaCar, because a lot of locals go back and forth Bucharest and Constanta and most have spare seats in their car.
If you want to travel by train, check the schedule here. A 2nd class ticket, which is what everyone is buying, is 60 lei (~13 Eur). As you can see, it’s not a matter of price, but of convenience. It is a known fact that trains can have delays in Romania. I really can’t remember when was the last time I travel by train in Romania, but it was probably because it was winter and the road condition was poor.
Where to stay in Constanta, Romania?
Constanta is considered a touristic city because it has a lovely beach which stretches for 6 km and also because of its proximity to Mamaia, one of the most popular Romanian touristic resort.
That’s why the offer of accommodations in Constanta is plentiful.
I slept at Casa Tomis, a 100-year old house, situated at a walking distance from the historical centre of the city. At the beginning it felt a bit weird, to see such an old house surrounded by modern buildings, but once you step inside, you feel like you travelled in time. And I say this in a good way. And the owner is friendly and very helpful.
How to spend 1 day in Constanta, Romania
So what to do in Constanta, besides laying on a sunbed. I wanted to see what I can do in Constanta, in the extra season, or when you are tired of doing nothing.
What you will find quite pleasant, is the weather. During the summer, the temperatures in Romania tend to get around 35 Celcius degrees in July and August, but the sea breeze in Constanta keeps the city more breathable. The traffic gets really bad, but that’s another story. Or it could be another reason to visit Constanta in the extra season when prices get back to normal and all the tourists are gone.
So, how to spend 1 day in Constanta, Romania? Start with a nice walk around the old city, and discover the many beautiful buildings and cute restaurants. You will notice a strong Turkish influence. Which means a lot of great restaurants.
You can take this as a self-guided walking tour suggestion, with churches and museums stop. Of course, you can adjust it to the weather. The starting point is Ovidiu Square, which is the big square in the old centre of Constanta.
Where to eat in Constanta?
Constanta has many Turkish and Lebanese influences and that is reflected in the restaurant options. As a vegan, or a person always fasting in the Orthodox religion, that’s actually great news, as Lebanese cuisine has many options for vegetarians and vegans.
I recommend Byblos for lunch or dinner anytime you want to eat Lebanese. I admit that Lebanese food is my favourite, so I may have a soft spot for it. But this one is really good.
Another vegan option is Cămara cu Merinde, which is more like a lunch place, with snacks, sandwiches and ready to-go items. They also have some yummy vegan desserts.
Visit the Museum of National History and Archeology
Located in Ovidiu Square, a massive building will catch your eye. That is the Museum of National History and Archaeology, the second largest museum in Romania, regarding its exhibits.
Inside the Romanian architectural style building, the museum hosts impressive heritage items. The museum brags to have over 430,000 objects dating from the Paleolithic to modern times. The focus of the exhibition is on the history of Dobrogea (the entire region) but has also a national thematic area.
If you are interested in Greek, Romanian, Byzantine and medieval objects, ceramics, antique architectural elements, ancient sculptures, glass vases, bronze statues, jewelry, coins, icons, documents, maps, models, photographs, telegrams, magazines, objects of some personalities of the early twentieth century, furniture and other objects of great historical significance, then you will enjoy this wonderful museum.
The recommended visit is of 2h and the entry ticket costs 11 lei for an adult. Remember that the museum is closed Monday and Tuesday.
The Mosque of Constanta – Minaret
From Ovidiu square, you will notice the 24-meter high minaret of the Constanta Mosque, which holds proof of the multiculturalism of Constanta.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Turks were controlling the entire Dobrogea region. The area which is considered today the old town of Constanta was bounded by a defensive wall. When the wall was destroyed, they used the stone to build the Hunchiar mosque ( Hunchiar is Turkish for government).
The mosque was severely damaged during the WW2 and was renovated only after 1990. Today it is opened for public, and the minaret offers a wonderful view over the old centre of Constanta and the touristic port.
The Lion House
I had no idea this is a famous landmark, but the beautiful architecture will draw you closer to it. Its pre-Romantic and Genoese architectural styles made me notice it from the minaret (the mosque’s tower) and then to go closer to take a look.
It is called the Lion house because of the 4 lion statues on top of the columns. Apparently, it became famous during the 1930s, when it hosted the Constanta Masonic Lodge. As you will walk on the streets of Constanta, especially in this part of the city, you will notice some beautiful houses and architectural styles.
Ion Jalea Sculpture Museum
Located in the historic centre, close to the Casino, is the Sculpture Museum. The beautiful building of the museum is a Brancoveanu style building from the early 20th century.
Inside the museum, you will find over 200 sculptures donated by Ion Jalea and by his family. Ion Jalea is a Romanian sculptor born in Tulcea, Romania, but educated in Constanta. As he grew, his talent was recognized and got to study in Bucharest and Paris. After WW1, he returned for the war injured and he lost his left arm.
Despite this hardship, Ion Jalea continued creating and that why today we can admire allegorical scenes, mythological sketches, legends, folklore, peasant figures, nudes, portraits in this museum.
The sculptor was not limited to any chapter material, he managed his works in bronze, plaster, marble and other natural stone. One important work is a statue with a height of ~3 meters depicting Queen Elizabeth.
The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday.
Saints Paul and Peter Cathedral
Also known as the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Tomis, the cathedral dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul is the largest from Dobrogea and it was the first Orthodox church built after the liberation from the Ottoman occupation.
The original cathedral was built after the plans of Ion Mincu, a renown Romanian architect. The inside furniture and decorations are made of oak and were executed in Paris, after Ion Mincu’s drawings. Some of the furniture pieces are plated with gold and have semiprecious stones.
Because the painter assigned to paint the interior had a more realistic view of the religious scenes and decided to use personalities from Constanta as faces of the saints, the Orthodox Church was shocked. The scandal led to a refusal to consecrate the church. After a decade, they decided to open it with the existing painting.
But that didn’t last long. After WW2, the church was destroyed and in 1095 it was rebuilt, and the paintings were done in Byzantine style with Romanian decorations.
Inside the cathedral, you will find ancient icons, a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, religious objects made of precious materials, and the relics of three saints.
In December 2001, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul church was declared archbishop monastic character. Since then, the services are celebrated twice a day, morning and evening, by the monks who live in the Archbishop’s Palace located near the cathedral.
Tomis touristic harbour
The harbour is one of the most popular places for locals and tourists to hang out. During summer, it[‘s always full of people walking around, the restaurants are always full and it just spreads our joy and good vibes.
The harbour has plenty of luxury yachts and sailing boats to admire and take pictures of, and the waterfront terraces and chic restaurants have a wide variety of fish-based dishes.
From what I’ve read, local authorities plan to transform the harbour in an important destination for coastal sailing ships along the Romanian coast.
Present on postcards and among the first images that appear after you Google “Constanta”, the casino is the city’s emblem.
The casino we see today is actually the 3rd version of the original casino that was stood on that shore. The first was destroyed by a storm, and the second one was upgraded to look more like the ones from the French Riviera.
That’s why a French-born Romanian architect got the task to design the new casino in an Art Nouveau style. The building received both admiration and criticism, mainly due to its features which were so different from the Romanian neoclassicism.
On August 15, 1910, the casino was inaugurated by Prince Ferdinand. To keep up with the high maintenance costs, the authorities legalized gambling. The casino was equipped with 2 pool tables and 7 tables for card games.
The Constanta Casino became one of the most popular in Europe, and people from all over the world were drawn to it by its luxurious interior, beautifully decorated walls, sophisticated chandeliers, expensive carpets and hardwood furniture. Some would come incognito, others would leave the gambling tables ruined and some would end their lives around it.
The casino was used a hospital during the WW1, but its function as a casino was restored after. The last restoration was in 1986.
Unfortunately, the state of the casino is decaying and it is now closed to prevent theft or accidents.
Right in front of the casino is another building, the Constanta Aquarium. It was originally opened in 1958, it was for a long time the only aquarium in Romania. The building used to be a part of the casino and used as a restaurant.
Today, visitors can admire the aquatic fauna and flora from different parts of the world. I am a bit sad for the fish, but I do believe the people working there are well intended and seem to do their best to take care of them.
The Aquarium made me better understand what kind of fish live in the Black Sea and what fish can be found in other parts of the globe. I don’t think there is a better place in Romania to see such amazing fish. Prepare to see sturgeons, species of big cat, big dragon, piranhas, knife fish, angelfish, spadefish, catfish and many other types of fish.
The entrance is 8 lei for adults.
I hope I have convinced you that Constanta is worth a 1-day visit, and it has so much more to offer than a lazy afternoon on the beach.
So, what will you start with?