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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Transylvania
Brukenthal National Museum (Brukenthal Palace)
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.
Sibiu Orthodox Cathedral (Holy Trinity Cathedral)
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.
White Tower (Turnul Alb)
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.
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.
Sibiu Lutheran Cathedral (St. Mary's Evangelical Church)
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.
First Romanian School (Prima Scoala Romaneasca)
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.
St. Nicholas Church (Biserica Sf. Nicolae)
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.
Brasov Citadel (Cetatea Brasovului)
Also known as the Citadel of the Guard (Cetățuia de pe Strajă), Brașov’s small hilltop citadel dates back to the 16th century. Used by the Saxons to defend the settlement against invasion, the citadel has since served as a prison, quarantine, and barracks, though today the site is mostly used as a viewpoint for city panoramas.
Pelisor Castle (Castelul Pelișor)
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.
Turda Salt Mine (Salina Turda)
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.
Peles Castle (Castelul Peles)
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.
Bran Castle (Dracula's Castle)
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.
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.
Prejmer Fortified Church (Cetatea Prejmer)
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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