Europe, Romania

Brasov: An Introduction To Transylvania

Brasov is at the heart of Transylvania. A region that is shrouded in mystery and secrecy, and almost always associated with vampires. What so many people don’t tell you is that Transylvania is also bursting with the natural beauty of the scenery. I was based in Brasov for several days, to explore both the city and the surrounding area in Transylvania. This is one place in Romania you can’t miss!

What To Do in Brasov

Relax in Old Town Square

The hub of activity in Brasov’s Old Town is the main square, with its 15th-century town hall. There are several small museums around the square to visit if you like, but it’s also a nice place to hang out, eat some ice cream, have a drink, and enjoy the architecture.

Wander the streets of the Old Town

There are so many beautiful, picturesque buildings in Brasov. The Old Town is a delight with colorful buildings, narrow alleys begging to be explored, and a very laid back vibe. Most of what I did in Brasov was just exploring, not paying attention to the map, and wandering around the Old Town. The main street in Brasov’s Old Town with all the souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and stores is Strada Republicii.

See Strada Sforii

Strada Sforii, or Rope Street, is the narrowest street in Brasov, and is said to be one of the narrowest streets in Europe. It’s only four feet wide! It’s tucked away in the Old Town, but no trip to Brasov would be complete without seeing it.

Visit the Black Church

The Black Church (Biserica Neagră) is one of Brasov’s main landmarks. It’s actually a Lutheran church! During the Protestant Reformation, Catholic services were replaced with Lutheran ones, and there are still services in German held every week. It’s one of the most important Lutheran churches in all of Romania, as well as being one of the most significant and impressive Gothic churches in all of Transylvania (it dates back to the late 15th-century). It got the name the “Black Church” after a large fire in 1689, in which the smoke blackened the walls. There is a small admission fee for entry to the church (6 Romanian lei).

See the Modarom building

Located on the corner of Strada Republicii and Boulevard Eroilor is the Modarom building, the tall, yellow, strange shaped building. On one side are bullet holes, which have been deliberately preserved, from the 1989 revolution in Romania.

Hike up Mount Tampa

While you can take a cable car up, I definitely recommend hiking up to the top of Mount Tampa, the mountain that overlooks the city of Brasov, and seeing the Hollywood-esque sign up close. The views from the summit (955 meters), of Brasov and the surrounding mountains, are unbelievably beautiful. It took about an hour to hike up to the top from the very bottom, with lots of stops to take photos.

Walk up to the White Tower

On the opposite side of the city of Brasov as Mount Tampa, the White Tower also gives an amazing view of Brasov’s Old Town. The view of the Black Church is particularly good from here. Unlike the Black Tower, it’s completely free to take the stairs up to the tower and admire the views! It’s also a nice stroll along the old city walls and the stream to get there.

Visiting Transylvania’s Castles

Transylvania is famous for (among other things) having several excellent and historic castles. If you’re in Brasov, you absolutely should spend a day visiting the castles in the area! It’s really tricky to see all of them without a car, and even harder to do it in one day. I went on a tour through my hostel that included three of the most famous castles. It cost 90 lei (~£18 // $23.50), with admission prices for the castles not included.

Peles Castle

By far my favorite of the three main castles in Transylvania, Peles Castle is near the town of Sinaia. It was built between 1873 and 1914, and features absolutely exquisite woodworking and wood carvings. The inner courtyard is beautiful, the gardens are lovely, and my favorite room in the castle was probably the Grand Hall. Unfortunately, it’s a very popular tourist destination during the summer—it was completely crowded with tour groups when I visited. The castle cost 7.50 lei for students (£1.50 // $2.00). Peles Castle is about 40 miles south of Brasov.

Bran Castle

Commonly touted as “Dracula’s Castle,” Bran Castle doesn’t actually have any real connections with Dracula and Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula). There are also very few connections with Vlad the Impaler (the supposed inspiration for the character Dracula)—it seems to be grasping at straws a bit. Today, Bran Castle showcases art and furniture that belonged to Marie of Romania (the last Queen of Romania), and exhibitions on the history of the castle. While the castle is nice enough to explore, it was the most crowded place I visited in Romania, and having to fight through the crowds wasn’t the best experience. Given the choice between Bran and Peles, I would definitely choose Peles. Bran Castle is just a tourist trap and overrated, and now that I can say I’ve been I probably won’t go back. It cost 20 lei for students (~£4 // $5.20). Bran Castle is about 16 miles southwest of Brasov.

Rasnov Citadel

Rasnov Citadel is definitely the least exciting of the three castles. It’s much older, and with less to see. You get taken up to the citadel by a tractor, from where you can buy tickets to hike up even higher to the actual citadel. It was built between 1211 and 1225, and was only conquered once (in 1612). There are information boards dotted around about the history, but most of the citadel is just tourist stalls. The views over the mountains are amazing though, so I still recommend visiting. It costs 5 lei to get the tractor up and back down again, and 6 lei for admission to the citadel—11 lei altogether (~£2.15 // $2.85). Rasnov Citadel is about 9 miles southwest of Brasov.

There is so much more to see in Transylvania, and I only saw a small bit in Brasov and the surrounding castles. If you want to see more, I highly recommend renting a car and driving, as there’s so many small villages and attractions to see that aren’t accessible with public transportation. After Brasov, Sighisoara is probably the largest tourist city in the region. Both Sibiu and Cluj-Napoca are also meant to be great destinations.

The Basics

Brasov is one of the major tourist hubs in Transylvania, and (along with the capital, Bucharest) in Romania. The currency in Romania is Romanian lei (RON), and the language is Romanian. Romanian is actually a bit similar to French, and “merci” is often used as “thank you” in Romanian. Brasov has a population of almost 400,000, and Romania as a whole has a population of 19.7 million. Romania is a member of the European Union, but is not a member of the Schengen zone (yet—as an EU member, they’re required to join soon).

Getting Around

The Old Town in Brasov is easy to explore on foot and definitely walkable. Buses can get you from the Old Town to the city center/train station. For exploring more of Transylvania, it’s probably best to rent a car. But be prepared, driving is pretty crazy and the roads can be bad.

Where I Stayed

I stayed at Kismet Dao Hostel in Brasov for my 4 nights in Transylvania. I really liked this hostel, and stayed in both a 6-bed dorm and a private room. There are lots of common areas in the hostel, including a nice patio outside. There is a fully-equipped kitchen, and the hostel includes a basic free breakfast with assorted cereals and toast. They also give you a coupon for a free drink (beer or soft drinks) for every night of your stay! The location was excellent, as it’s less than 10 minutes to the Old Town. They also do the castle tour almost every day, which is definitely worth it if you don’t have your own car. I would definitely stay here again! You can read my full review here.

Brasov is a beautiful, historic city, and Transylvania is a truly amazing region to explore for both the castles and the scenery. I can’t wait to return someday and see more!

Have you ever been to Brasov or Transylvania? What were your thoughts?

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