Things to Do in Transylvania
With its towering limestone cliffs looming 300 meters over the river valley below and the gorge itself dotted with caves, gurgling streams and rocky trails, the Turda Gorge (Cheile Turzii) offers a dramatic backdrop for an outdoor adventure. The protected conservation area is also renowned for its abundant wildlife, with over 60 bird species and 1,000 plant varieties found in the gorge.
Just a short drive from Cluj-Napoca, the Turda Gorge makes a popular escape from the city, with ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and climbing, including a Via Ferrata route and a two- to 2.5-hour hiking trail running the length of the gorge. Another highlight of the gorge is the nearby Salina Turda, a former salt mine transformed into a unique tourist attraction, complete with underground boat rides and a Ferris wheel.
Brasov’s most famous landmark, the monumental Black Church (Biserica Neagra) towers over Council Square (Piata Sfatului) and Brasov Old Town. Dating from the late 14th century, the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul got its name from the 1689 Great Fire, which damaged the church and much of the town.
Bâlea Lake (Lacul Bâlea)is a glacial lake in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains. Sitting at more than 2,000 meters high, it is one of the most popular lakes in Romania. Most visitors are drawn to the lake for the landscape and superb views on the drive there; the water is typically too cold for swimming. Two chalets are open near the lake all year round, but it is most easily accessed in the summer months. In the winter, visitors must ride the cable car from the chalet near the Balea waterfall to get there. In 2006, the first ice hotel in eastern Europe was built nearby using blocks of ice pulled from the frozen lake.
Sitting high on top of a 200-foot (61-meter) cliff in the middle of Transylvania, Bran Castle is surrounded by an aura of mystery tied to both the myth of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and the infamous Vlad Tepes—also known as Vlad the Impaler—who is said to have made Bran Castle his home. One of the world’s most famous castles, Bran Castle today is a museum dedicated to Queen Marie of Romania.
Once marking the entrance to the fortified city and home to the Town Council, Sighisoara’s grand Clock Tower dates back to the 14th century and remains one of the city’s most memorable landmarks. Looming 64 meters over Piața Muzeului, the tower’s most distinctive feature is its 17th-century clock, complete with mechanical figurines that symbolize Peace, Justice, Law, Day and Night.
Today, the Clock Tower is home to a fascinating local history museum, with exhibitions spread over the tower’s three floors and reached by the original narrow stairwell. Artifacts on display include Romanian furniture, medieval tools, medical equipment, old clocks and traditional handicrafts. Visitors can also take a peek at into the clock’s mechanism and climb to the top-floor observation platform for a view over the city.
Built, as its name suggests, on a hilltop overlooking Sighisoara, the Church on the Hill (Biserica din Deal) is one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating back to the mid-14th century. Acclaimed as one of Transylvania’s most important examples of ecclesiastical Gothic architecture, it’s a striking sight, perched on the 420-meter summit of School Hill.
It’s a steep climb up a 175-step covered wooden staircase, the ‘Scholar’s Stairs’, to the church, but it’s worth the effort to view the beautifully restored interiors. Highlights include a number of carefully restored 15th-century frescos, an elaborate 16th-century altar and an eerie crypt, home to around 30 tombs.
Catherine’s Gate (Poarta Ecaterinei) is technically Brașov’s last-remaining medieval structure, though the central tower is the only original feature. Built by Saxon settlers in 1559, then used as storage space during the 19th and 20th centuries, the gate provides insight into Romania’s complex history and today serves as an important symbol of the city.
Located in the heart of old Brasov, Council Square*(Piata Sfatului)* is lined with beautiful Gothic, baroque, and Renaissance buildings. Home to a number of key landmarks, Brasov’s main square has been a focal point of life in the city since medieval times. It’s a popular gathering place and a great spot to soak up the scenery.
Built between 1873 and 1883, the neo-Renaissance Peles Castle (Castelul Peleș) was a summer getaway for Romanian royals. With 170 lavishly decorated rooms, the castle was equipped with the most modern conveniences of the time—electricity, elevators, and central heating.
With a width of over 140 meters, Sibiu’s Piata Mare (Great Square) is aptly named and for visitors, the enormous pedestrianized square makes a strategic starting point for a tour of the city. Piata Mare, along with neighboring Piata Mica and Piata Huet, makes up the main hub of Sibiu’s Old Town and is home to some of the district’s most impressive architecture.
Almost everywhere you turn on the square, you’ll be confronted by historical landmarks. At the north end of the square stands the Turnul Statului (Council Tower), the Holy Trinity Church and the early-20th-century City Hall, next to which is the tourist information office. To the west is the Brukenthal Museum and the Romanian Art Gallery, while the south and east sides are home to notable buildings like the 15th-century Casa Generalilor and Casa Hecht; the Romanesque Casa Haller, now home to the Haller Café; and the 16th-century Casa Weidner, now a hotel.
Dating back to before the 15th-century, Piata Mare has long been the focal point of local life, hosting everything from town meetings and markets, to executions. Today, it’s a buzzing with life day and night, with a smattering of cafés and restaurants circling the square and seasonal events like a Christmas market and summer fair held there throughout the year.
More Things to Do in Transylvania
With its striking pointed roofs, gothic façade and 73-meter turreted steeple looming over Piața Huet, Sibiu Lutheran Cathedral (St. Mary's Evangelical Church) is not only one of Sibiu’s most distinctive buildings, but the highest cathedral in Romania. Built in the 14th century on the site of an earlier church, the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary once served as a burial site for Sibiu’s mayors, earls and aristocracy. The original tombstones now form an eerie gallery, built into the interior church walls. Most famous is that of Mihnea the Bad, son of the infamous Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula), who was allegedly killed on the church steps.
Additional highlights of the Lutheran Cathedral include its grand 6,000-pipe organ, a series of exquisite 15th-century frescos and its elaborate fan-vaulted ceiling. As well as being a tourist attraction in its own right, the Lutheran Cathedral remains a working church, with regular services and choir recitals taking place each week.
Built between 1211 and 1225, this medieval fortress was originally constructed from wood and erected to protect Transylvanian villages from outside invasions. The impressive structure was later transformed into a stone dwelling where locals sought refuge from outsiders.
Visitors can tour the grounds, which include two courts, several forts and a gallery, as well as a courtyard, school and chapel. The citadel is also home to the feudal art museum, where weapons, tools, stamps and local crafts are on display.
Reputedly the narrowest street in Europe and certainly the narrowest in Romania, Rope Street (Strada Sforii) connects Cerbului with Poarta Schei in Braşov’s Old Town. It is 262.5 feet (80 meters) long and just 3.5 to 4.5 feet (1.10–1.35 meters) wide, making it almost impossible for two people to pass each other. It has its origins somewhere around the beginnings of the 17th century and may have been built for access by firefighters into the Old Town. Renovated in 2003, Strada Sforii is signposted from both ends and bears a plaque declaring its dimensions; it’s a favorite photo spot for travelers to the city.
Framed by old-fashioned lampposts and lined with colourful flowers, the iron footbridge running between Piata Mica and Piata Huet makes for a romantic spot, looking down over Ocnei street below. But if you believe local legend, Sibiu’s landmark 'Bridge of Lies (Podul Minciunilor)' is much more than a pretty photo opportunity. First built as a wooden footbridge some 200 years ago, the bridge earned its ominous moniker thanks to local myth, which dictates that the bridge has ‘ears’ and magical powers. The bridge was said to expose liars and cheats, creaking and shuddering when lies were told in the town, and would allegedly collapse if a liar attempted to cross.
The iron bridge that stands today was built to replace its predecessor in 1859, but the legend remains and it’s often cited as an example to local kids about the importance of telling the truth. The Bridge of Lies has now become an important symbol of Sibiu and makes a popular destination for tourists, but if you plan on walking across the bridge, it’s probably best to watch what you say… just in case!
White Tower, built in the late 15th century by the Saxons as a part of defensive fortifications against invading Turks and Tartars is a 5-story, semicircular tower sitting atop a steep hill. The tower overlooks the city of Brasov. Climb 200 steep stone steps to the White Tower for panoramic views over the city.
Famous enough to feature on the UK motor showTop Gear but remote enough that traffic jams won’t be a problem, Transfagarasan Highway might just be “the best road in the world” as Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson claimed. Despite hairpin bends, and sheer drops off rocky cliffs, this route rewards tourists with spectacular scenery.
Set nearly 400 feet (120 meters) below ground, the Turda Salt Mine (Salina Turda) was excavated for centuries before opening to the public in 1992. The subterranean, salt-encrusted chambers now host a Ferris wheel, mini golf, table tennis, an amphitheater, and a boating lake.
This vast national park is one of Romania’s most important protected land areas. Home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the Garofita Pietrei Craiului—a purple flower found only in Piatra Craiului—the open spaces, majestic mountains and towering trees here beckon travelers seeking refuge from city streets and urban centers.
A diverse network of well-kept trails means outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of places to wander. And landmarks like the Zarnesti Gorges, Dambovicioara Cave and the virgin forests offer spectacular access to some of the country’s most beautiful natural wonders. An easy educational trail details the park’s most unique features, while the brown bear observatory and rock faces perfect for climbing offer opportunities for travelers going it with an expert guide.
Those in the know say the park’s northern and eastern valleys tend to get crowded on weekends. Those looking for a quiet retreat should stick to the areas between Podul Dambovitei and Static, near Lake Pecineagu, were fewer people gather on Saturday and Sunday.
Romania’s oldest national museum, the Brukenthal National Museum is actually made up of six distinctive museums, but it’s the Brukenthal Art Gallery that takes center-stage, in prize place on the Big Square (Piața Mare). Housed in the 18th-century Baroque-style Brukenthal Palace, the permanent art collection includes over 1,200 works dating between the 15th and 18th centuries. As well as European masters like Rubens and Van Dyck, the galleries include an Anatolian rugs collection; a library of rare books and manuscripts; and a comprehensive collection of Romanian art, including an impressive selection of Transylvanian medieval art.
Also part of the Brukenthal National Museum are the Museum of History, housed in the 16th-century Altemberger House; the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Natural History. Additional collections include the fascinating Museum of Pharmacy, housed in a medieval apothecary, and the August von Spiess Museum of Hunting.
Sibiu’s huge Orthodox Cathedral, or Holy Trinity Cathedral, demands attention with its neo-Byzantine edifice, unusual striped brickwork and central dome, inspired by Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia. Ranking as one of Romania’s largest and oldest Orthodox churches, it’s still an important place of worship today, as well as a popular attraction for tourists thanks to its dazzling architecture.
Built between 1902 and 1906 by Hungarian architects, Virgil Nagy and Joseph Kamner, the cathedral is best known for its magnificent interiors, almost completely covered with bold frescos and colorful mosaics. Highlights include the gigantic gilded alter, fronted by a glittering chandelier, paintings by Ioan Köber and Anastase Demian, and the spectacular dome, painted by Octavian Smigelschi.
The Sinaia Monastery was built in the mid-1800s and is home to only about 20 monks. Still, the ancient church, ornate gates and dimly glowing candles are all worth a look, and the quiet but well-kept museum located on the grounds houses some impressive artifacts—including the first Bible translated into Romanian. Travelers can wander the grounds, loop through museum galleries and explore the tomb of Tache Lonescu, where quotes from his famous speeches are carved into stonewalls. Travelers say the walk to Sinaia Monastery is beautiful and the grounds are full of history. It’s the perfect addition to a visit to Peles Castle, which is located just up the road.
Located on the grounds of St. Nicholas Church in the Schei district of Brasov, the First Romanian School (Prima Scoala Romaneasca) was the first school in the country to teach in Romanian. Today it is a museum that houses a treasure trove of old books, historic documents, and exhibits showcasing the history and culture of the region.
Located in the Romanian Carpathians, Transylvania’s premier ski resort boasts pistes that descend from altitudes of more than 5,577 feet (1,700 meters). Officially a suburb of Brașov, the resort town is home to a range of luxury hotels and restaurants, and serves as a convenient launchpad for exploring the Carpathian mountain range.
Prejmer Church (Cetatea Prejmer) is the largest fortified church in southeastern Europe and among the oldest recorded in Transylvania. Begun by Teutonic Knights in 1211, the settlement withstood 500 years of attack, and, thanks to its strong defences, secret passages, and progressive weaponry, it only fell once in all that time.
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