Visit Romania – 21 extraordinary places in Transylvania (en)
Transylvania, the part of Romania associated with fictional vicious vampires and a real historical figure of Vlad the Impaler, is in fact a charming part of Romania with no traces of its bloody past. Visitors can enjoy lively medieval towns, stunning castles, well preserved fortified churches, medieval fortresses as well as natural attractions such as ice caves or volcanic lakes.
Below is a concise list of the most beautiful places in Transylvania. I have already visited some of them and I irreversibly fell in love with this region. My five day long road trip was too short to see all the places I wanted but I plan to return there to see the rest. If you plan to visit Romania, I hope that you will find this list useful.
Biertan, a peaceful town just 30km from Sighisoara, is located in the south-eastern part of Transylvania. It is one of the oldest Saxon settlements in Transylvania. The first document mentioning Biertan dates back to 1224.
So it seems that the first German inhabitants came here in 13th century and stayed in Biertan until 20th century when they either died in the WW2 or had to return back to Germany. However, even nowadays you can still find a lot of people in Biertan who speak German.
In the middle of Biertan, surrounded by old Saxon-like houses, perched on a hill, is the fortified church of Biertan. The church is surrounded with outer walls and several towers. It is well worth a visit. Do not miss the building of the matrimonial prison.
Couples who wanted to divorce were forced to spend time together there to make sure they wished to end their marriage. They had to share a single room with only one bed, one chair and one set of tableware. If they reconciled, they could leave earlier, otherwise they stayed locked up for two weeks.
Sighisoara, a beautiful medieval town, has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Its cobbled streets, steep stairways, secluded squares, colourful houses, and several towers create a magical atmosphere. There are a lot of sights not to be missed in Sighisoara. One can walk up the Covered Stairs to the Hill Church for a stunning panorama over the city.
The 14th century Clock Tower, a true symbol for this 700 years old town, also offers a great view of the old city centre. And those who are fascinated with vampires can visit the actual birthplace of Vlad Dracula, who inspired Bran Stoker's Count Dracula.
Sighisoara, Transylvania, Romania by Kaylin
Brasov, a city at the foot of Mount Tampa, is one of the most visited places in Romania. Those who like hiking can walk to the top of Tampa Mountain and enjoy a splendid view of the medieval town. It takes about an hour to get to the top.
However, the Tampa cable car can take the visitors to the peak in a few minutes. There is a Brasov sign at the top of the mountain inspired by the famous Hollywood one.
Tourist can stroll around the old Town Hall Square, they can visit the Black Church, the largest Gothic church in Romania or visit one of the narrowest streets in Europe – the Rope Street.
4. Rasnov Fortress
Rasnov Fortress is a medieval citadel built in the 13th century and located on a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains. It was built as protection against invading Tartars. Rasnov Fortress has been recently restored and tourists today can visit the impressive remains.
5. Bran Castle
Bran Castle, also known as Dracula's Castle, is situated only 30km from Brasov.
It is the most famous castle in Transylvania. Although tourists visit it mostly because it was supposedly the home of Vlad Tepes, the Count of Dracula, they will not find anything that would suggest that it was a home to one of the greatest villains living on the pages of Bram Stoker's book.
The castle itself is quite picturesque and charming.
Like Sighisoara and Brasov, Sibiu was built by German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons. The historic area is even today guarded by medieval city walls.
Sibiu is a city with two levels: the Upper town, home to most of Sibiu's historic sights, and the Lower town, lined with colorful houses on cobblestone streets. One of the most interesting sightseeing destinations in Sibiu is the Bridge of Lies.
It is an unassuming pedestrian metal bridge, built in 1859 to connect the Lower town and the Upper town. However, there is a curious legend connected with it. It says that when somebody says a lie while walking on the bridge, it starts moving or even falls down.
7. Salina Turda Salt Mine
Salina Turda Salt Mine is an enormous salt mine that is nowadays in part a museum of salt mining and in part an amusement park.
Visitors can find there an underground lake with row boats, a Ferris wheel, and even a bowling alley.
8. Prejmer Fortified Church
Prejmer fortified church is the largest fortified church in Southeastern Europe and a true gem of Transylvania. If the village was under attack, the villagers could hide inside the walls protecting the church. There are over 250 rooms built for this purpose. The church itself is modelled after churches in Jerusalem.
9. Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains
The Dacian fortresses in Orastie Mountains date from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. Although conquered by the Romans at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., the remains of the fortresses still stand.
10. Scarisoara Ice Cave
Scarisoara Ice Cave, a national monument, houses the second biggest underground glacier in south-eastern Europe. It is one of the most important caves in Romania.
According to the research the glacier is 3000 – 4000 years old.
11. Chiscau Bear's Cave
The Bear's cave was visited by Ursus spelaeus (cave bears) more than 15.000 years ago. One day a rock slide closed the entrance while more than 140 bears were still in the cave. Becoming hungry, the bears killed each other.
This story is told by their remains. The bear bones with the marks of bear teeth remained on the floor of the cave until 1983 when the cave was rediscovered.
12. Focul Viu Glacier
Focul Viu (Living Fire) Glacier is a cave sheltering the third largest block of ice in the country. It is a small cave, consisting of only two rooms. The largest room's ceiling is broken by a large window. Around noon, sun rays penetrate through the window creating an enchanting setting.
13. Corvin Castle at Hunedoara
The Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyad Castle, is one of the most impressive medieval buildings in Romania.
Built in 14th century, it became famous as a property of Iancu of Hunedoara, the great ruller and fighter against the Ottoman Empire at that time. The castle is a large building, with tall and diversely coloured roofs, towers, windows and balconies adorned with carvings in stone. Moreover, it has a famous well shrouded in legend.
14. Transfagarasan highway
As the second highest road in Romania, the Transfagarasan offers route to the alpine area of the Carpathian Mountains. The road is 100km long with the highest point 2032m. This road can be a scary drive in places. There are large sections of road with sheer drops of over 300 m and no barrier. This place is not for the faint-hearted.
15. Balea Lake
Balea Lake is a glacier lake situated at 2,034 m of altitude in the Făgăraș Mountains known also as the Transylvanian Alps. The lake is accessible by car via the above mentioned Transfagarasan highway. However, there are a lot of hiking tracks with spectacular views of the mountains. So even if you get to the lake by car, take some time to walk around to enjoy the scenery. In winter those who like ice climbing can find an ice waterfall near the lake.
16. Alba Iulia citadel
Alba Iulia is a great Vauban fortification. It was the capital of Transylvania between 1541 and 1690. In the first part of the 18th century Alba Iulia became one of the best defended citadels of the region.
17. Cluj Napoca
Cluj Napoca is the largest and the most developed city in Transylvania as well as one of the oldest settlements in the country. The town has been inhabited since pre-Roman time but it became a city only in 1213.
18. Fagaras fortress
The beautifully preserved fortress surrounded by water is currently a museum displaying Roman artifacts, a collection of medieval weapons and traditional folk crafts.
Fagaras fortress was considered to be one of the strongest fortifications in Transylvania at one time and it even functioned as a political prison during the communist era.
19. Retezat National Park
Retezat National Park protects more than 300 species of flora and 50 species of mammal including brown bear, wolves, lynx, foxes and deer. It is a great destination both for those who like hiking as well as those who just want to relax. There are a lot of hiking trails and a few climbing routes.
20. St Anna Lake
St Anna Lake (also called Sfanta Ana) is the only intact volcanic lake in Europe. The water purity is close to that of distilled water. It is recommended to visit also the nearby caves known as "smelling" caves because of sulphur emanation.
21. Monastery of Cozia
Cozia Monastery is one of the most valuable monuments of national medieval architecture in Romania. Cozia was painted between 1390 and 1391 and some of the original frescoes are still well preserved.
This was the list of places in Transylvania that are in my opinion well worth visiting. I hope you enjoyed it and use it once you decide to visit Romania. As I already mentioned I have not seen them all but I plan to explore them sometime in the future. If you have been to any of those places please leave your comment or recommendation.