Things to Do in Transylvania
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.
Sheer limestone cliffs featuring caves and rock towers rise up on either side of this 1.8-mile (3-kilometer canyon, which forms a split in what was once a single mountain. The dramatic karst formations, carved over millennia by a rushing river, are now part of a protected nature reserve popular with hikers and climbers.
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.
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.
Sighișoara’s Clock Tower—the former town council meeting place—was among several towers built between the 13th and 16th centuries to defend the medieval citadel. Shimmering scale-like tiles cover the roof and painted wooden figurines emerge from a niche beside the clock. Inside, there is a small museum and a 360-degree viewing platform.
One of three main squares around which Sibiu’s old town is built, Big Square (Piața Mare has been at the heart of city life for centuries, hosting markets, festivals, and even executions. Historic landmarks surround the square, from the 13th-century Tower of the Council (Turnul Sfatului to the baroque-style Brukenthal Palace.
Located in the historic town of Brasov, Rope Street (Strada Sforii is one of the most interesting streets in the city. With a width that varies between 44 and 53 inches (111 and 135 centimeters, the 260-foot (80-meter long street is the narrowest street in Brasov and in Romania, and one of the narrowest streets in Europe.
Built between the 14th and 16th centuries, this austere Gothic church—as its name indicates—enjoys a lofty position atop the 1,378-foot (420-meter summit of School Hill. Accessible via a covered stairway, the church features remnants of 15th-century frescoes and a crypt, and promises panoramas of Sighişoara’s pretty medieval citadel.
An iconic Sibiu attraction, the Bridge of Lies (Podul Minciunilor dates back several hundred years, though today’s structure was built in 1859 as one of Romania’s first cast-iron bridges. Since then, legends have passed down over generations regarding its mysterious name, while its picture-perfect location makes a city must-see.
More Things to Do in Transylvania
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.
Finished in the 14th century, Sibiu’s Lutheran Cathedral (St. Mary's Evangelical Church is one of the city’s most must-see landmarks. Its soaring steeple, pointed turrets, and Gothic facade dominate the city vista, while ancient tombs, sweeping arches, and southeastern Europe’s largest organ furnish the interior.
Opened in 1817 as Romania’s first museum, the award-winning Brukenthal National Museum (Brukenthal Palace is a Sibiu landmark, celebrating the cultural heritage of both Romania and wider Europe. Home to the European Art Gallery and Brukenthal Library, the ornate palace displays works by masters such as Titian, Rubens, and Grigorescu.
Influenced by Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya, this Byzantine-style basilica—built between 1902 and 1906—is among Romania’s largest Orthodox churches. The striped red and yellow-brick exterior hides a lavish interior where decoration, be it colorful frescoes, mosaics, or gold, covers almost every inch of wall and ceiling space.
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.
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.
Set in Brasov’s historic Schei district, St. Nicholas Church is an architectural masterpiece featuring a mixture of Gothic, baroque, and Byzantine styles. First built in the late 14th century, St. Nicholas is the oldest Romanian Orthodox Church in the country and remains a bastion of the Romanian Orthodox community today.
With its montane meadows and subterranean caverns, Apuseni Natural Park (Parcul Natural Apuseni is a hiker’s and caver’s paradise. Highlights such as the Scarisoara Glacier (Pestera Scarisoara, Bears’ Cave (Pestera Ursilor, and Ponor Fortress (Cetățile Ponorului make this limestone landscape a must-see for any first-timer in Romania.
Sat atop a rocky hill, this medieval-era citadel was built to stave off invaders and keep encroaching armies at bay. During times of attack, locals took refuge amid the maze-like passages of the fortified village. Visitors now come to explore the historic site and soak up views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
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.
The art nouveau-style Pelisor Castle was built at the turn of the 20th century to serve as a summer residence for King Carol I’s nephew and heir, Ferdinand I. Though more modest than Peles Castle, Pelisor does feature touches of opulence such as the gilded thistle-leaf walls of the Golden Room, a nod to Queen Marie’s Scottish heritage.
Peaceful and uncrowded, this small active monastery is the antithesis of neighboring Peles Castle, which is usually thronged with visitors. Monks have been living here since the 17th century and the site features two churches—one dating back to 1695 and the other to 1846—with frescos and floral carvings, as well as a small museum.
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.
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.
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