The town's name is derived from the Bulgarian černa voda, meaning "black water". This name is regarded by some scholars as a calque of the earlier Thracian name Axíopa, from IE *n.ksei "dark" and upā "water".
The town is a Danube fluvial port. It houses the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant, consisting of two CANDU reactors providing about 18% of Romania's electrical energy output. The second reactor was built through a joint venture between Canada's Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and Italy's ANSALDO and became fully functional in November 2007.
The Danube-Black Sea Canal, opened in 1984, runs from Cernavodă to Agigea and Năvodari.
The outskirts of Cernavodă host numerous vineyards, producers of Chardonnay wine. The largest winery in the area is Murfatlar.
Cernavodă was founded (under the name Axiopolis) by the ancient Greeks in the 4th century BC as a trading post for contacts with local Dacians.
The Constanța - Cernavodă railroad was opened in 1860 by the Ottoman administration.
The town gives its name to the late copper age Cernavodă archaeological culture, ca. 4000—3200 BC.
At the 2011 census, Cernavodă had 14969 Romanians (92.81%), 463 Turks (2.87%), 374 Roma (2.32%), 106 Lipovans (0.66%), 40 Tatars (0.25%), 15 Hungarians (0.09%) and 162 others.