Beach chairs and natural fiber umbrellas at Vama Veche, Romania.

modern-day vama veche

(Last Updated On: June 21, 2021)

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.

Jade, Szilard, and Andre on the beach in Vama Veche, Romania

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 next to a trampoline in Vama Veche, Romania

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.

Sign in Vama Veche that denotes its liberal mentality - Birth place: Earth; Race - Human, Politics: Freedom, Religion: Love

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.

Tents line the shores in Vama Veche, Romania

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.

Building in Vama Veche with 'Peace' painted on the side

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.

Empty canopied beach beds with white curtains on the shore.

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.

Beach chairs in Vama Veche, Romania

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).

Colorful Romanian sign in Vama Veche.

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.

Many people crowded on a beach in Vama Veche, Romania

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.

Jewelry stand in Vama Veche, Romania

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.

Beaded curtains and buoys hanging outside in Vama Veche.

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!

Cute dog wrapped in towel on beach chair in Vama Veche.
Woman using dog as pillow on beach chair in Vama Veche.

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.

Man on beach chair in Vama Veche Romania, asleep and holding a closed beer upside down

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.

Woman on a swing on the beach in Vama Veche, Romania with the word 'YOLO' above her on the swing.

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

If you’re visiting on a budget, there is no shortage of hostels to choose from. The most popular hostels in the area are Elga’s Punk Rock Hostel, Bazart Hostel, and Hostel Sea Star.

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.

Man sitting on hammock at hostel in Vama Veche

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!

If your budget isn’t very tight, Vama Veche also has a number of upscale accommodations. Some of the highest rated include Casa in Culori Vama Veche, Vila Sophia, and Ema.

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.

Cherhana is without-a-doubt the gold standard of seafood in Vama Veche. La Canapele was good for a solid breakfast selection. Bibi Bistro has delicious ciolan and yummy mojitos!

Cherhana

Platter of mixed grilled meats and vegetables in Vama Veche.

Grilled meats, pita, veggie platter at La Canapele

where to drink in vama veche

Hand outstretched pouring white wine from a carafe on the beach.

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!

Some of my personal favorites and other popular places to go include: Stuf, Yuva Beach Bar, Acolo, Arca, Molotov, Expirat, and countless others.

Stuf Bar, Vama Veche

Stuf

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.

People laying on beach under straw umbrellas, Vama Veche

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.

Empty tables next to the black sea with big white canopies shading the tables from the sun

2 Mai

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!

Moonrise over empty beach in Vama Veche, Romania with empty cabanas

So? Have you been to Vama Veche? Have you witnessed its evolution? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “modern-day vama veche”

  1. Sarah Camp | In Search of Sarah

    This is awesome! To be completely honest, I never really pictured beaches when I thought of Romania! I can’t wait to go one day (at this rate I will need to take a year-long European trip!). The door to Vama Veche is absolutely STUNNING – what a unique idea to have on the beach. Camping on the beach looks a bit precarious – I’d hate to wake up soaked haha! Love the shots walk up window – is that Absinthe I see on that menu!?!?

    1. That walk-up window was maybe my favorite spot, haha! That is absinthe you see, though I didn’t have any here. I really enjoy Unicum (I hang out with a lot of Hungarians here, haha) and they were the only place who had it. I also had my fair share of Adio Mamas ???????? Cheers!

  2. I have wanted to visit Romania for a while, but hadn’t heard of this place. I didn’t really think about Romania having beaches. I love that you can walk to Bulgaria. How awesome is that?

  3. Hi Jade,

    I’ve got to your post by looking for a recent picture of Vama Veche 🙂
    I’m from Romania and I’ve been there between 2008 and 2014 (evend worked there a summer in 2012). 2020 was supposed to be the year I go back there again, but the pandemic made it impossible for me.

    What I can tell you about Vama is that people always say “Vama nu mai e ce-a fost” (Vama is not what it used to be).
    Well, they are right, Vama has been constantly changing since I’ve been there and looking at recent photos is probably changed a lot since my last visit. But for me, Vama has always changed for the better. Especially if you are comparing it with the other resorts and cities on the Romanian shore.

    My first visit happened because of an ex-girlfriend that was going there yearly and I immediately fell in love with the place. Back in 2008 the town had a lot fewer places to eat, sleep or drink and it was a lot smaller. To the South, Amphora beach bar was the last place to party and to the north Cherhana was the only place after Papa la Șoni.
    The best places to party were Stuff and Expirat, which was just a small bar with some speakers on the beach.
    Prices were decent back then, but the place was filled with beggars and was very very dirty. Alcohol was the only thing keeping you from getting an infection :))

    I’m really sad to hear about manele in Vama Veche and I really hope that was just a bad luck for you guys. I know Vama is now as expensive as Mamaia, but hygiene and accommodations have also improved over time. Vama and Navodari (Mamaia Nord as most locals call it) remain the only places with a different vibe on our shores.
    If you liked Vama, you should also got to Mamaia Nord. The Vama-like zone starts a few hundred meters north of Phoenicia Hotel.
    About 20 km north of this is also Corbu beach. A place where older vamaioti were calling the “new Vama” as the place is remote and undeveloped. And if you’re there and your vacation is long enough, you can visit the Danube Delta as well. I hear it’s one of the best places to visit (I haven’t gotten there yet).

    Hope you like Romania and all the best,
    Sebi

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