Before embarking on the 10+ hour drive from Cluj-Napoca to Vama Veche, I’d read and heard many conflicting stories of peoples’ experiences. While some recommended it whole-heartedly as the land of freedom and artistic expression, others told me to stay away. They said that it was dirty and overpriced, with too much noise and too many parties.
One way or another, everyone seemed to have a very strong opinion about this little coastal village in the middle of nowhere.
The door to Vama Veche at sunrise
Vama Veche is situated on the southern edge of the Romanian Black Sea coast, adjacent to the Bulgarian border. Its name, Vama Veche translates to ‘Old Customs,’ an homage to its location near the border.
Street dogs of Vama Veche
What was once a small fishing village, it gained something of a reputation in the 1970’s. During this time, professors from University Babeș-Bolyai in Cluj-Napoca would congregate there during the summer months.
Vama Veche became a haven for bohemians, hippies, intellectuals, punks, rockers, and anyone else belonging to a more alternative crowd. People rented rooms from fishermen or camped on the beach. It was the land of freedom of thought and artistic creativity, anti-consumerism, free spirits.
While camping isn’t as prevalent as it once was, it is clearly still a viable option.
During the Communist Era, particularly in the 1980’s when extreme rationing and censorship were at their peak, Vama Veche remained a ‘safe space’ for free thought and a non-mainstream hangout. Its reputation as a reprieve from state-sponsored repression attracted more and more people.
However, in 1988, while en route to Bulgaria, Elena Ceaușescu, wife of notorious dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, passed through the village. She decided it was not aesthetically pleasing, subsequently making the decision to have it demolished. Some buildings fell to Elena’s decision, including houses, a school, and a church. Thankfully, the Revolution of 1989 was soon to follow, and the rest of Vama Veche was spared.
During the shift from planned economy to capitalism, significant development took place along the Black Sea coast. Many people saw opportunity in a relatively untouched area to capitalize upon.
The cost to rent these chairs ran from 50lei (about $11 USD) on weekends to 30lei on weekdays. They bring you cushions to lay on.
Concern for the border control sightlines in Bulgaria left Vama Veche (mostly) unharmed from the major developments that were occurring in other seaside resort towns along the coast (at least, for the time being).
But word soon traveled about the ‘untouched’ nature of Vama Veche, and soon there was a boom of touristic development. More and more restaurants and terraces were established and soon, Vama was the place to go if you wanted to party – especially for Southerners and city-dwellers looking to escape Bucharest for a weekend.
Today, 31 years after the fall of communism in Romania, Vama Veche has become increasingly more commercial, more developed. Gentrification is an issue (just check out the number of Airbnb’s located in Vama, many owned and run by non-Romanians). Hostels line the main streets, vendors are set up selling one thing or another on every corner. Cheap gift shops abound. The spirit of anti-consumerism is all but nonexistent.
Stufstock ‘Save Vama Veche’ was a campaign that was inaugurated in 2003. Established as an appeal against mass-tourism, gentrification, and mainstream concepts and morals, it attracted more and more people each year. The Stufstock Rock Festival usually closes out the season sometime in August or September.
Still, because this year was my first time visiting Vama Veche, I have nothing to compare it to but the stories of others. Many Romanians say that Vama Veche has completely lost its authenticity and charm. The prices are exorbitant in comparison to the rest of the country (and this I can attest to!). A beer in the supermarket in Vama costs the same as a beer in a restaurant in Cluj – with tip!
While there are signs that say ‘no dogs,’ as long as your dog isn’t an asshole, it’s not a problem. Andre proved to be a very good pillow.
So, what was my final opinion of Vama Veche? Bohemian hangout or inundated tourist trap? To be honest, I thought it was a little bit of both. Never having been there before, I had no memories that were lost, I had no nostalgia to preserve. Despite the crowds, I definitely believe this is one of the most underrated beach destinations in Europe. It has a very particular niche, though, and is certainly not for everyone.
Not an unusual scene on the beaches of Vama Veche (however, this is our friend Ovi and he was very much awake and mostly coherent).
I spent a week there and saw it all. From the nudist beach (an integral part of Vama Veche culture), old dudes picking wedgies with their ass cracks hanging out, even some guy in an incoherent drugged-up state, who subsequently came to our table and ate a breakfast sausage off my plate (he tried to pet my – very friendly – dog immediately after, who promptly bit him). There was a lot of trash, a lot of masks thrown on the ground carelessly.
Even a dude puking in a trash can. Only kidding! That’s my boyfriend, posing for a photo.
But the spirit of community, freedom, and carefree living are still very much alive. Though, maybe in different ways than some Vama Veche veterans remember.
There is actually a word in Romanian that proves just how special Vama Veche is to so many. Vamaioți – a term to describe people who are so in love with Vama Veche, that they will always come back.
where to stay in vama veche
We stayed at Pensiunea Hesta, which is also dog friendly. For one week in August, the total cost was 1550 lei (about $375 USD). It was convenient to the beachfront, but the biggest issue here was all of the people playing Manele at full blast until 7am every day. This may or may not be an issue depending on who else is staying at the property.
The backyard at Hesta has many hammocks and common areas to make friends and drink once you get tired of spending money at the bars!
There are also a number of AirBnb options. New to Airbnb? Get $40 off your first rental.
where to eat in vama veche
The seafront is lined with restaurants as far as the eye can see. During my stay there, we tended to rotate going to only a couple of different restaurants.
Grilled meats, pita, veggie platter at La Canapele
where to drink in vama veche
Local wine at Cherhana
As with restaurants, bars and clubs are abundant in the village. I visited during the 2020 global pandemic and the hours were restricted, however, during normal times, many of these bars and clubs are open 24 hours.
Why, yes, this is a window you can walk up to and order shots!
how to get to vama veche
Besides driving, which is the most convenient, there are other ways to reach Vama. Fly to Henry Coanda International Airport (OTP) in Bucharest or to Kogalniceanu Airport (CND) near Constanta, and take a train or bus to Mangalia, and then take a Minibus (“MaxiTaxi”) south to Vama.
other things to do in vama veche
Believe it or not, there are other things to do in Vama besides party.
Take a taxi over to 2 Mai, Vama’s neighbor, just 5km north. This village is a little more family friendly, so it may be a better option if traveling with children.
Walk to Bulgaria! The border is less than 1km away from Vama. Border control is present, so have your passport if you plan on crossing.
Explore an underwater shipwreck. Can you dive? Head to Marine Explorers Dive Center and see about exploring the shipwreck just 150m offshore.
If you have a few days to spare, drive a few hours north to the Ukraine border and check out the Danube Delta, one of the most wild and remote areas in all of Europe!
So? Have you been to Vama Veche? Have you witnessed its evolution? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!