A mystical land with a background full of legends, the famous story of Dracula, vampires, were-wolves and enchanted forests, all have been tied to this specific region of Romania. Coming to Transylvania was something we have always wanted to experience. First of all, Transylvania means ¨the land beyond the forest¨and as its name, it is much more than just tales and creepy stories. It´s a vast land full of incredible natural beauty, impressive landscapes covered in deep forests, tall mountains and home to some of Europe´s best preserved medieval towns. A land that because of its rich history, it has always been in dispute between countries and threatened from outside invaders.
Here we will share the reasons why, the must do´s and the best places that are a must see while in Transylvania, or even to consider if you are in the middle of planning your visit in the future.
GUIDE TO THE BEST OF TRANSYLVANIA
Also known as the Southern Carpathians, is the mountainous region of south-central Romania. These impressive mountains are really close together which means they are easily accessed and are famous for their numerous hiking sites, skiing resort towns, winding roads with breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains and glacier lakes.
Voted as the European Capital of culture in 2007, this post card of a city dates back to the 12th century and is part of the famous Saxon medieval towns of Romania. Also, according to Forbes, the city was ranked as the 8th best place to live in Europe. Turns out this city is famous for the windows of its wooden houses that seem to have “eyes”. We were really dazzled by them and found out that because of this peculiarity, Sibiu is also known as the “city of eyes”.
Visit the Evangelical Church and climb up the tower for the best views of the city. Btw, the climb is pretty intense, but at the same time lots of fun because it’s kind of spooky and dark. But, then again you are in Transylvanian and this comes natural.
Cross the famous Bridge of Lies but be careful, the local legend says that if a person lies while crossing it, the bridge will collapse. Another interesting historic fact is that this was the first iron bridge in Romania and second in Europe.
Walk the Big Square, named a UNESCO site. During the 18th century, a cage was placed in the middle in which the persons who disturbed public silence during the night were exposed here during the day. Best place for an awesome and authentic Romanian cuisine is Kulinarium Resturant. Out of all the restaurants and meals we had in Romania, this was our favorite. This restaurant truly is a must if you want to experience amazing authentic Romanian dishes at affordable prices.
Founded in the 12th century by Saxons, “German Settlers”. UNESCO world heritage site considered as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe which are still fully inhabited. Personally we loved its narrow streets filled with colorful houses. But perhaps, it is mostly famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) or Vlad Dracul, which served as Bram Stoker´s inspiration for his fictional character, Count Dracula.
Visit the house where Vlad was born. Currently this place is a restaurant called Casa Vlad Dracul and for 5 LEI (about 1€) you can enter the actual chambers where he was born. A selfie in front of the house is a cool shot.
The main things to see include the Clock Tower which was the main guard tower of the citadel, the Church on the Hill and the Holy Trinity Church which is outside the citadel. To eat authentic Romanian cuisine we recommend the restaurant at Hotel Sighisoara.
Brasov could well serve as a great home base to explore the Transylvania region. Surrounded by the South Carpathian Mountains makes it a great skiing resort with many facilities for this type of sports.
Also, this town has a perfect mix of medieval architecture and modern city life with lots to offer. Its proximity to many important places like Peles Castle & Bran Castle, plus its skiing facilities makes this city one of the most visited in Romania.
The best way to enter the old town/citadel is by using the Catherine Gate which was built in 1559 and is the only original gate to have survived from medieval times.
Just a few steps ahead is the Black Church. The church is not actually black but the name was given to it after the church stones were colored black from the smoke of a fire in 1689 set by the invading Habsburg.
Piata Sfatului is considered as the city center and main square. If you look it from up top, it seems like it has a heart shape.
Lots of stores, coffee shops and restaurants can be found in this square. Walk a couple of minutes to find one of Europe´s narrowest street called Strada Sfarii, which at its narrowest point is just 44 inches wide.
Go up to Mount Tampa for the best views of the city. There are two options to go up, the cable car which was 20 LEI (5€) or you can take the 1hr hike to the top. Personally, the cable car offers a really cool perspective of the city. Once in the top, there is a great viewpoint right by the famous “Hollywood” style Brasov sign which has the best city views.
Bran´s castle association with Dracula´s castle has made it the most visited place in Romania. We are sure that when people think about Romania, the first thought they get is Dracula´s Castle. Out of the many reasons we had to visit Romania, this was our main one. Bran´s Castle sits potently on a hill top overlooking the town of Bran.
This medieval castle was built in 1377 and it actually has no correlation with Vlad the Impaler, but the castle was made famous since it serve´s the description or it´s even said that Bram Stoker used it as his inspiration for the Dracula castle.
We didn´t mind, we loved it and we were really excited to visit it as our imagination really kept the Dracula inspiration within us. For a great traditional Romanian lunch/dinner and the best views of Bran Castle and the town head to Club Villa Bran and ask for the lunch or dinner special (35 LEI for three course meal/about 7-9€).
This elegant example of German style Neo-Renaissance architecture has made it to be considered as one of the most beautiful castles of Europe.
This impressive façade seats over a hilltop with incredible views of the Carpathian Mountains, but it’s the exquisite details of its interior that’s really fascinating. Finished in 1883, it served as the Romanian royal summer residence until 1947.
To top all of that elegance and luxury, this was the first castle in Europe to have self-sufficient electricity, central heating, plumbing and a cinema. It also featured an elevator, an electric retractable roof and hosted the first film in Romania on 1906.
All of this features are still fully functional. We surely were impressed with this castle, and unexpectedly it became the highlight of our Transylvanian trip.
Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor
A real fairytale place that seems to be taken out from the movie set of The Lord of the Rings. The name means Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies and the moment we stepped in, we felt as if we were walking into the Hobbit town or a ginger bread house from the movie Hansel & Gretel.
It’s actually a hotel under construction set to open during the back half of 2018. The owners sold everything they had in Bucharest and decided to move here and build this hotel. They also have a small coffee & souvenir shop with outdoor seating.
This place is really cool, and it’s just a quick detour from the main road to Sibiu. Entrance fee is 5 LEI (1 €) but it’s really worth it.
The following are honorable mentions since we couldn´t visit them due to time constraints and weather conditions.
The Transfagarasan national road 7C is an old military road built in the historic region of Transylvania and it’s considered as one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It is 90 km (56 miles) rising to a height of 2134 meters and challenges drivers with its sharp and winding turns and steep descends. Internationally made famous by Top Gear now the Grand Tour show host Jeremy Clarkson who called it “the world´s best driving road” and described it as “the combination of the best turns from the best racing circuits in the world combined into one long highway.” Anyone that wants to visit/drive through it should know that the road is often closed from October till June due to snow blocking the road. It´s always good to check ahead the local weather condition before driving up to it.
photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoacRW6qe5s
Visci Fortified Church
Transylvania has one of the highest numbers of existing fortified churches created to protect small villages in the Middle Ages. One of the most interesting one is located in the village of Viscri. This church fortress was built in 1100 and is one of seven villages with fortified churches in Transylvania. They are all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
photo credit: https://www.enjoyromania.net/Viscri/
We must mention that our recommendations are based on four factors: the places that we visited, our research during the planning stage, the time we had, (4 days) and the weather/season which was winter. All of this factors determine the amount of places that can be seen and the different things that can be done while in Transylvania.
We are sure there are more reasons to visit, but here you can find reliable recommendations that are based on a real perspective gathered from our recent visit. If you have already been to Transylvania, share your story and recommendations on the comments below, we would love to hear them.
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