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Home » Transylvania Travel Guide: Wine Capitals, Dracula’s Birthplace, and a Ferris Wheel in a Salt Cave

Transylvania Travel Guide: Wine Capitals, Dracula’s Birthplace, and a Ferris Wheel in a Salt Cave

Romania has yet to become Europe’s “tourist Mecca,” despite its incredible potential. There are corners of untouched forests home to bears, mountain serpentine roads, authentic culture, and diverse architecture – from small medieval towns to concrete apartment blocks on the outskirts of large cities.

One of the region’s main attractions originated in Sibiu – the historic “houses with eyes.” The dormer windows cut into the roofs of buildings give them whimsical faces, which look very unusual. In Sighisoara, there is a fortress listed by UNESCO and the house where Dracula was born. Alba Iulia is the wine capital of Romania. In Hunedoara, there is one of the oldest castles in Europe, and in the Turda salt mine, at a depth of 112 meters, there is a Ferris wheel. Surprisingly, one can easily travel around the region for a couple of weeks without getting bored, even though you might be hearing some of the town names for the first time.

Sibiu – A German Vibe and Houses with Eyes

Founded in 1191 by German settlers, Sibiu transformed into a significant trading center with 19 guilds two centuries later, becoming the main German city in Transylvania. After World War I and the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, Sibiu became part of Romania, with the German population predominating until 1941. From the early 1950s until the early 1990s, most of the Germans emigrated to Germany. In 2007, Sibiu was named the “European Capital of Culture,” becoming the first city in Southeastern Europe to receive this title. The city was ranked in the top 10 European cities by Forbes magazine as an ideal place to live – the only one from Eastern Europe on the list.

An interesting fact is that the current President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, was born in Sibiu, served as the city’s mayor, and is ethnically a Transylvanian Saxon.

The central part of Sibiu, due to its topography, is historically divided into the Upper and Lower Town. In the Middle Ages, the Upper Town was within the defensive fortress built on an elevation. The Lower Town was constructed outside the fortress walls and has fewer landmarks. However, it still boasts a great atmosphere with many guest houses, boutique hotels, and restaurants. The Stair Tower (Turnul Scărilor) is the only remaining of the three gates from the 13th century that lead into the first ring of fortifications of the Old Town, connecting the Upper and Lower Town.

The Stair Tower is the only remaining of the three 13th-century gates that lead into the first ring of fortifications of the Old Town, connecting the Upper Town and the Lower Town
The Stair Tower is the only remaining of the three 13th-century gates that lead into the first ring of fortifications of the Old Town, connecting the Upper Town and the Lower Town

In front of the entrance to the very center, at the walls of the fortress’s remnants, lies the Citadel Park (Parcul Cetății), from which there is a great view of three fortress towers. The Potters’ Tower (Turnul Olarilor), the Archers’ Tower (Turnul Archebuzierilor), and the Carpenters’ Tower (Turnul Dulgherilor) were built in the 14th-15th centuries by the guilds of Saxon potters, archers, and carpenters, respectively, and were part of the city’s third ring of fortifications. Next to the park are the historic buildings of the Museum of Natural History and the Philharmonic. The museum, opened at the end of the 19th century, features exhibitions of minerals, animals, and ecosystems, and paleontology. The entrance ticket costs 20 lei (4.02 euros).

Before entering the very heart of the city, the Citadel Park, situated by the walls of the fortress's remnants, offers an excellent view of three fortress towers. Photo: Cezar Suceveanu / Wikimedia.org
Before entering the very heart of the city, the Citadel Park, situated by the walls of the fortress’s remnants, offers an excellent view of three fortress towers. Photo: Cezar Suceveanu / Wikimedia.org

The city’s main pedestrian street, Strada Nicolae Balcescu, starts from Piata Unirii (Union Square) and goes all the way to Piața Mare (Great Square). The street is lined with restaurants, cafes, shops, and, of course, beautiful historic buildings with “eyes.” The Great Square lives up to its name and is the main square of the historic center, hosting various city events and fairs. The square is especially vibrant in the pre-Christmas period, adorned with numerous lights, Christmas goods, hot mulled wine, and local street food. Surrounding it are 15th-17th century houses and significant city landmarks, such as Romania’s oldest museum, the Brukenthal. Housed in a late 18th-century Baroque building, originally the residence of Samuel von Brukenthal, the baron had the largest collection of art in Transylvania, which became the foundation of the museum’s collection. The museum ticket costs 50 lei (10.05 euros). Besides the museum, the Great Square features the city hall building, home to the tourist information center, and the Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Besides the Brukenthal Museum, the Great Square (Piața Mare) is also distinguished by the city hall building, which houses the tourist information center and the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity
Besides the Brukenthal Museum, the Great Square (Piața Mare) is also distinguished by the city hall building, which houses the tourist information center and the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity

A dominant feature of the Great Square and one of the symbols of Sibiu is the Council Tower (Turnul Sfatului), built in the 12th century and located between two squares — the Great and the Lesser (Piața Mică, “Small” in Romanian) — connecting them through an arch. Originally, it served as the entry gate into the city’s second ring of fortifications. A spiral staircase allows visitors to climb to the top — 141 steps equivalent to seven floors. The clock mechanism is located on the penultimate floor, and the top of the tower features an observation deck with windows facing different directions, offering a magnificent panorama of Sibiu. The ticket costs two lei (0.40 euros).

A dominant feature of the Great Square and one of the symbols of Sibiu is the Council Tower, built in the 12th century and situated between two squares — the Great and the Lesser (Piața Mică) — connecting them through an arch
A dominant feature of the Great Square and one of the symbols of Sibiu is the Council Tower, built in the 12th century and situated between two squares — the Great and the Lesser (Piața Mică) — connecting them through an arch

The Lesser Square historically hosted merchant buildings, and to this day, it retains a medieval atmosphere, although there are fewer monuments here than in the Great Square. There are fewer tourists, allowing for a stroll surrounded by old architecture without the crowds. The Passage (Pasajul Piața Aurarilor) is one of the most colorful spots in the Lesser Square. In 1600, the first pharmacy in the city was opened in house number 26, which now houses the Pharmacy Museum. It features an original collection of pharmacy items from Austria, Germany, and Romania. The museum ticket costs 15 lei (3.01 euros).

The Passage is one of the most colorful places in the Lesser Square. In 1600, the first pharmacy in the city opened in house number 26, which now operates as the Pharmacy Museum. Photo: Stefan Galescu / Unsplash.com, Brukenthal National Museum
The Passage is one of the most colorful places in the Lesser Square. In 1600, the first pharmacy in the city opened in house number 26, which now operates as the Pharmacy Museum. Photo: Stefan Galescu / Unsplash.com, Brukenthal National Museum
Walking through the city center, it’s hard not to notice that the old houses seem to be watching you. The dormer windows in the roofs closely resemble eyes. This unusual architectural feature is characteristic of Transylvania but originated in Sibiu. The dormer windows are used for lighting and ventilating the attics.

The 14th-century Evangelical Cathedral of Saint Mary is one of the impressive Gothic buildings in Transylvania and the tallest in the city. The church’s height is 73 meters, with its observation deck at 55 meters. The walk-up takes about ten minutes, but the view is worth it. The best time to go up is in the morning, before the crowds of tourists arrive. Inside, it’s a classic cathedral: with an organ and high vaults. The ticket for the observation deck costs ten lei (2.01 euros). The 1904 Holy Trinity Cathedral in Byzantine style is the second-largest Orthodox church in Romania. The interior is painted and adorned with colorful mosaics and stained glass, the iconostasis is carved from wood and covered with gold leaf.

The Evangelical Cathedral of Saint Mary from the 14th century is one of the impressive Gothic buildings in Transylvania and the tallest in the city. The height of the church is 73 meters, and its observation deck is located at 55 meters
The Evangelical Cathedral of Saint Mary from the 14th century is one of the impressive Gothic buildings in Transylvania and the tallest in the city. The height of the church is 73 meters, and its observation deck is located at 55 meters

The Liars’ Bridge (Podul Minciunilor), built in the 19th century, is considered one of the most important symbols of the city, associated with numerous legends. The most popular legend says that if someone tells a lie while on the bridge, it will collapse. Therefore, couples often meet here to declare their love for each other.

The Liars' Bridge, built in the 19th century, is considered one of the most important symbols of the city, associated with numerous legends. The most popular legend claims that if someone tells a lie while on the bridge, it will collapse
The Liars’ Bridge, built in the 19th century, is considered one of the most important symbols of the city, associated with numerous legends. The most popular legend claims that if someone tells a lie while on the bridge, it will collapse

The Artisans’ House is currently under reconstruction and houses the museum of Saxon ethnographer Emil Sigerus. The Altenberg House was originally the residence of Count Altemberger, then for nearly 400 years the town hall’s residence, and today it is the Historical Museum. The museum’s exhibition shows the evolution of communities in southern Transylvania from ancient times to the modern period. The ticket costs 20 lei (4.02 euros). The Open-Air Steam Locomotive Museum displays dozens of steam locomotives, most of them unrestored and rusty, looking maximally authentic. Entrance is free.

Romania’s oldest zoo is located in Sibiu. The zoo was opened in 1929, and now it houses a variety of animals and reptiles. The ticket costs ten lei (2.01 euros).

ASTRA is an open-air ethnographic museum that features historical buildings from traditional pre-industrial Romania. On a large area with a lake, various structures are located: houses, churches, mills. Each contains an exhibition divided into several themes: crafts, art, domestic life. The ticket costs 35 lei (7.03 euros).

ASTRA is an open-air ethnographic museum that showcases historical buildings from traditional pre-industrial Romania. Photo: ASTRA Museum
ASTRA is an open-air ethnographic museum that showcases historical buildings from traditional pre-industrial Romania. Photo: ASTRA Museum

Sibiu has a vibrant cultural life, hosting several renowned international festivals.

The jazz music festival is the oldest music festival in Romania, held since 1970. Traditionally, it takes place at the end of September in the city center on the Lesser Square and lasts six days.

The theater festival is one of the most famous theater festivals in the world and the third largest by scale. Since 1993, it has been held annually at the end of June and lasts ten days. During this period, numerous exhibitions, performances, workshops, film screenings, and other cultural events related to theater and more take place.

During the theater festival, numerous exhibitions, performances, workshops, film screenings, and other cultural events related to theater and beyond take place. Photo: Mihail Nistor, Anca Nicolae / FITS
During the theater festival, numerous exhibitions, performances, workshops, film screenings, and other cultural events related to theater and beyond take place. Photo: Mihail Nistor, Anca Nicolae / FITS

Food

Throughout Romania, there are farmer’s markets that sell dairy and meat products from Sibiu, a definite mark of quality for the Romanian consumer. This has historically been due to the developed livestock farming.

La Cuptor is a modern Romanian cuisine restaurant with its own oven where all hot dishes and appetizers are prepared. It is famous for its large portions. It’s better to book a table in advance, especially if going in the evening. A few more delicious and interesting Romanian cuisine restaurants include the classic Crama Sibiul Vechi and the more modern Hochmeister Delikat’essen.

La Cuptor is a modern Romanian cuisine restaurant with its own oven, where all hot dishes and appetizers are prepared. It is famous for its large portions. Photo: La Cuptor
La Cuptor is a modern Romanian cuisine restaurant with its own oven, where all hot dishes and appetizers are prepared. It is famous for its large portions. Photo: La Cuptor

Jules Bistro is a modern bistro with interesting dish presentations. Ribs & Beer Sibiu is a restaurant with its own brewery, craft beer, and a specialty in ribs in various sauces and spices, with more than ten types available. Pardon Cafe & Bistro offers international cuisine and tasty mussels. Benjamin Steakhouse & Bar is for those who can’t live without steaks. Old Lisbon is an atypical Romanian restaurant offering Portuguese cuisine with a wide selection of fish dishes and seafood.

Sibiu has a local fast-food equivalent of Russian pies with sweet (cherry, raspberry, chocolate) and savory (cheese, ham and cheese) fillings. They are sold at takeaway kiosks, the most traditional being Spicul.

The city has many coffee shops that specialize in brunches. Charlie’s prepares coffee using several alternative methods. Oua si Unt is a family bistro with signature hash browns and coffee, AM PM offers various coffee drinks, granola, toasts. Local is simply a good place for breakfasts.

House of Ellixirz is an atmospheric bar in the historic part with an extensive cocktail menu. St. Andrew’s is a traditional Scottish pub.

Sibiu has a variety of coffee shops specializing in brunches. At Charlie’s, coffee is prepared in several alternative ways. Photo: Charlie’s Specialty Coffee And Brunch
Sibiu has a variety of coffee shops specializing in brunches. At Charlie’s, coffee is prepared in several alternative ways. Photo: Charlie’s Specialty Coffee And Brunch

Accommodation

There are only a few chain hotels in the city, with Ramada leading in terms of price/quality ratio. Casa Gallo is a boutique hotel with a classic modern design. Marabella Hotel and Lumiere House Sibiu offer three-star classics, while the aparthotel 1501 Wergass 18 is suitable for those who need a kitchen in their accommodation. There are not many hostels in the city, primarily due to a sufficient number of budget guest houses and mini-hotels, but there are still some — B13 and Pan Geea are the best.

Casa Gallo is a boutique hotel with a classic modern design. Photo: Casa Gallo
Casa Gallo is a boutique hotel with a classic modern design. Photo: Casa Gallo

Alba Iulia — The Capital of Romanian Winemaking

80 kilometers from Sibiu

Since ancient times, thanks to its mild climate and fertile soil, the territory of Alba Iulia has become a leading winemaking region. Here, full-bodied dry and sweet wines are produced from grapes of maximum ripeness varieties such as Fetească Albă, Fetească Regală, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. The region has several dozen wineries, most of which offer tours with wine tasting and the opportunity to purchase favorite varieties. Here are a few interesting wineries (in Romanian, Crama) — Crama Jidvei, Crama Telna, Savu Winery, Domeniul Ciumbrud. Alba Iulia reached its peak in the 16th-17th centuries, becoming the capital of the independent Principality of Transylvania and the residence of the Transylvanian princes. It was here on December 1, 1918, that the province of Transylvania declared its union with Romania.

Since ancient times, thanks to its mild climate and fertile soil, the territory of Alba Iulia has become a leading winemaking region. The photo shows the Jidvei winery
Since ancient times, thanks to its mild climate and fertile soil, the territory of Alba Iulia has become a leading winemaking region. The photo shows the Jidvei winery

The 18th-century Alba Carolina Fortress is the city’s main attraction and dominant feature. Built during the Austro-Hungarian era in the shape of a seven-pointed star and surrounded by a moat, the fortress served as a strategic fortification for the Habsburg Empire in the war against the Ottoman Empire. Inside the fortress, besides the fortifications and numerous monuments, several cathedrals have been preserved. The Orthodox Coronation Cathedral was built in 1922, following the unification of Transylvania and Romania. The cathedral stands out with its bell tower and frescoes depicting historical figures, such as Michael the Brave. There is also a Catholic cathedral – St. Michael’s (Catedrala Romano-Catolică Sfântul Mihail), built in the 13th century, with Romania’s tallest bell tower at 81 meters. The cathedral is in the early Gothic style, with many frescoes and a 19th-century organ inside. The cathedral looks majestic, and due to its bell tower in the Italian Renaissance style, it strongly resonates with Italian cathedrals.

The 18th-century Alba Carolina Fortress is the main attraction and a dominant feature of the city. It was built during the Austro-Hungarian period in the shape of a seven-pointed star and is surrounded by a moat. Photo: LilianaWW / Wikimedia.org
The 18th-century Alba Carolina Fortress is the main attraction and a dominant feature of the city. It was built during the Austro-Hungarian period in the shape of a seven-pointed star and is surrounded by a moat. Photo: LilianaWW / Wikimedia.org

Near the main entrance to the fortress is the Fortress Park (Parc Cetate) with a monument honoring the Great Union — the event that united all Romanian territories. The Union Museum — the city’s main museum of history and archaeology — occupies a building constructed at the end of the 19th century. The exhibition includes many household items, weapons, and archaeological findings. The ticket costs 12 lei (2.41 euros).

Sighișoara — a UNESCO-listed fortress and the birthplace of Dracula

90 kilometers from Sibiu

Sighișoara is a small historic town, also known by its German name Schäßburg and Hungarian name Segesvár. In the 13th century, German colonists from Saxony built a fortress on a hill, several churches, and the famous 64-meter high Clock Tower. By the 16th century, Sighișoara had become one of the leading trade and craft centers in Eastern Europe with 15 craft guilds. The old houses are painted in bright, varied colors and, together with the cobblestone streets, create a colorful and unusual landscape.

In the 13th century, German colonists from Saxony built a fortress on a hill, several churches, and the famous 64-meter high Clock Tower. Photo: Alisa Anton / Unsplash.com
In the 13th century, German colonists from Saxony built a fortress on a hill, several churches, and the famous 64-meter high Clock Tower. Photo: Alisa Anton / Unsplash.com

The Sighișoara Citadel (Cetatea Sighișoara) is a well-fortified fortress and historical part of the city center. Since the 13th century, it has been preserved almost unchanged — the citadel is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The fortress is surrounded by a 9.3-meter high wall and served as protection against attacks. Originally, there were 14 towers, nine of which have survived to the present day. The towers served as headquarters for various craft guilds.

The most iconic among them is the 64-meter high Clock Tower, whose lower part was built in the 14th century, with the upper levels added later. The tower was severely damaged by fire in 1676. After reconstruction, the roof was replaced and the clock, which had existed since 1648, was modernized. The tower offers a cool view of the entire city with its tiled roofs and the characteristic Transylvanian dormer windows that resemble eyes. The entrance fee to the tower is 20 lei (4.02 euros).

The old houses are painted in bright, varied colors and, together with the cobblestone streets, create a colorful and unusual historical landscape.
The old houses are painted in bright, varied colors and, together with the cobblestone streets, create a colorful and unusual historical landscape

The eight other surviving towers are:

  • Tailors’ Tower (Turnul Croitorilor),
  • Blacksmiths’ Tower (Turnul Fierarilor),
  • Tinsmiths’ Tower (Turnul Cositorarilor),
  • Tanners’ Tower (The Tanners’ Tower),
  • Rope Makers’ Tower (Turnul Frânghierilor),
  • Furriers’ Tower (Turnul Cojocarilor),
  • Butchers’ Tower (Turnul Măcelarilor),
  • Shoemakers’ Tower (Turnul Cizmarilor).

Each of them has a different shape, height, and appearance, many of them have undergone partial destruction and were restored. The names of the towers came from the various guilds of the city, which built and maintained each of the towers respectively.

In Sighișoara, there are nine surviving towers. The most iconic among them is the 64-meter high Clock Tower, whose lower part was built in the 14th century, with the upper levels added later. Photo: Jonny Gios, Bianca Fazacas / Unsplash.com
In Sighișoara, there are nine surviving towers. The most iconic among them is the 64-meter high Clock Tower, whose lower part was built in the 14th century, with the upper levels added later. Photo: Jonny Gios, Bianca Fazacas / Unsplash.com

Inside the citadel and beyond, there are many cathedrals and churches of different denominations, allowing one to explore the city’s history through the lens of religion. The Lutheran Monastery Church from the 13th century was part of a large monastery demolished at the end of the 19th century. There is also the 19th-century Roman Catholic Church of Saint Joseph (Biserica Romano-Catolică Sf. Iosif), and the Orthodox white Church of the Holy Trinity (Biserica Sfânta Treime). The Evangelical Church on the Hill (Biserica din Deal) built during the 14th-16th centuries is the fourth largest Gothic church in Transylvania. It is accessed not by a typical staircase but by a covered wooden one. Originally built in 1642, the current version was made in 1849. The main purpose of the covered 176-step staircase is to protect students from the sun, wind, rain, and other natural phenomena.

The Evangelical Church on the Hill was built during the 14th-16th centuries — it is the fourth largest Gothic church in Transylvania, and the Orthodox white Church of the Holy Trinity. Photo: Cezar Suceveanu / Wikimedia.org, Sarolta Balog-Major / Unsplash.com
The Evangelical Church on the Hill was built during the 14th-16th centuries — it is the fourth largest Gothic church in Transylvania, and the Orthodox white Church of the Holy Trinity. Photo: Cezar Suceveanu / Wikimedia.org, Sarolta Balog-Major / Unsplash.com

One of the buildings not from the Middle Ages but notable for its architecture is the administration building. Next to it is an excellent viewing platform over Sighișoara.

One of the main mythical heroes of Transylvania, Count Vlad Țepeș (Dracula), was born in Sighișoara, where he spent his early childhood before moving with his family to Wallachia. The city preserves the house where he was born, which now hosts a museum. The exhibition is small, quite typical, and even stereotypical, recommended more for avid fans of the Count. The ticket price is ten lei (2.01 euros).

For a complete immersion in the local flavor, you can stay in a hotel with elements of traditional design. The city has many small stylish boutique hotels and guesthouses, for example, Savri House or Taschler Haus. There is also a worthy chain hotel in the city — DoubleTree by Hilton.

For a complete immersion in the local flavor, you can stay in a hotel with elements of traditional design, such as Savri House
For a complete immersion in the local flavor, you can stay in a hotel with elements of traditional design, such as Savri House

In Sighișoara, the cultural mix is also reflected in the local cuisine: here it is a mix of Romanian and Hungarian classics. For goulash, soup in bread, papanasi, and mici, head to Gasthaus Altepost, which has an excellent terrace. Ferdinand Bistro Gourmet offers, besides local cuisine, a wide selection of breakfasts and international dishes. For specialty coffee and desserts, check out UP or Atelier.

Târgu Mureș — a medieval fort, Viennese Secession, and an ancient library

110 kilometers from Sibiu

The city’s name literally translates to “market on the Mureș river”. Numerous ruins and excavations testify to the presence of cultures from ancient epochs on this territory. Târgu Mureș is first mentioned in written sources in 1322. In 1620, guild members participated in the construction of the city fortress, with the shoemakers and tanners being the two most important guilds. Today, it is one of the centers of tourism in Transylvania.

The restored medieval fort of Târgu Mureș is the city's main attraction. Photo: Visit Mures
The restored medieval fort of Târgu Mureș is the city’s main attraction. Photo: Visit Mures

The restored medieval fort of Târgu Mureș is the city’s main attraction. The medieval citadel was built between 1602 and 1652 on the site of a fortification destroyed in 1601 during the reign of Michael the Brave. Five of the seven fortress towers were built by workers’ guilds. Inside the fort, there is a fortress church (Biserica Reformată din Cetate), and access to the fort’s territory and the fortress wall connecting the towers is free.

Inside the fort, there is a fortress church, and access to the fort's territory and the fortress wall connecting the towers is free. Photo: Tibor Pinter / Unsplash.com
Inside the fort, there is a fortress church, and access to the fort’s territory and the fortress wall connecting the towers is free. Photo: Tibor Pinter / Unsplash.com

All the main attractions are concentrated in the center. One of them is the textured historical building of the ethnographic museum with an exhibition on the history and daily life of the city’s inhabitants. The ticket price is 16.5 lei (3.32 euros). The city’s main cathedral, the Ascension Cathedral, built in the early 20th century, is majestic both outside and inside, with high painted vaults and a gilded altar.

One of the last cultural heritages of Austro-Hungary in the city is the 1913 Palace of Culture, built in the Viennese Secession style. It houses a grand concert hall, galleries of modern Romanian and Hungarian art, and hosts temporary exhibitions. Besides the bright exterior architecture, the palace’s interior is distinguished by a painted ceiling and stained glass windows featuring episodes from Hungarian legends.

One of the last cultural heritages of Austro-Hungary in the city is the 1913 Palace of Culture, built in the Viennese Secession style. Photo: Radueduard / Wikimedia.org
One of the last cultural heritages of Austro-Hungary in the city is the 1913 Palace of Culture, built in the Viennese Secession style. Photo: Radueduard / Wikimedia.org

The Teleki-Bolyai Library is one of the oldest public libraries in Transylvania, founded in 1802 by a Hungarian count. It holds a collection of more than 200,000 books, with the oldest among them from the 15th century.

Despite the small size of the city (130,000 residents), Târgu Mureș has a large zoo. The ticket price is 30 lei (6.03 euros).

Deva — a 13th-century fortress

130 kilometers from Sibiu

Deva is a small historical town in Transylvania, inextricably linked with the eponymous 13th-century fortress (Cetatea Deva). It towers over the city at a height of 300 meters, offering a stunning view of the surroundings. Since the 19th century, the fortress with a castle inside it has been partially destroyed, but it is now actively being restored, so some buildings may be closed to visitors. You can reach the fortress by cable car or by walking up a special staircase. The cable car ticket costs 20 lei (4.02 euros), and entrance to the fortress territory is free.

Deva is a small historical town in Transylvania, inextricably linked with the eponymous 13th-century fortress. It towers over the city at a height of 300 meters. Photo: Civertan / Wikimedia.org
Deva is a small historical town in Transylvania, inextricably linked with the eponymous 13th-century fortress. It towers over the city at a height of 300 meters. Photo: Civertan / Wikimedia.org

Hunedoara — Corvin Castle, a medieval fortress

150 kilometers from Sibiu

In Hunedoara lies one of the largest castles in Europe — the medieval Gothic Corvin Castle (Castelul Corvinilor), built in the 15th century. Along with Bran Castle, it is the most visited and recognizable attraction in Transylvania. The name Corvin translates from Latin as “raven,” hence this bird is depicted on the castle’s coat of arms. Thanks to the landscape, the castle has a maximally impressive exterior.

It is well-preserved, featuring a luxurious Knights’ Hall, Council Hall, chapel, drawbridge, internal courtyards, and more than 50 rooms decorated with medieval art and furniture. The castle has appeared in 25 TV series and films. An interesting fact — an exact replica of the castle was built in Budapest at the end of the 19th century. The ticket price is 40 lei (8.04 euros).

In Hunedoara lies one of the largest castles in Europe — the medieval Gothic Corvin Castle (Castelul Corvinilor), built in the 15th century. Photo: Paszczur01 / Wikimedia.org
In Hunedoara lies one of the largest castles in Europe — the medieval Gothic Corvin Castle (Castelul Corvinilor), built in the 15th century. Photo: Paszczur01 / Wikimedia.org

Turda — a city with a salt mine

150 kilometers from Sibiu

The Turda Salt Mine is one of the oldest salt extraction sites in the world, now turned into an underground museum. The first mention of it dates back to 1075, with salt extraction continuing until 1932. Until 1992, the mine was conserved, and afterwards, it became a tourist attraction. Today, it houses treatment rooms, an amphitheater, sports activities, a Ferris wheel, and an underground lake where visitors can boat. The imagination is captivated by the height of the cave’s vaults and its vastness, while the lighting of the walls creates volume and highlights the structure of the salt rock. Since the cave maintains a constant temperature of about plus 12-14 degrees Celsius, it’s an excellent way to escape the heat in summer. Entry tickets cost from 50 lei (10.05 euros).

Until 1992, the salt mine was conserved, and afterwards, it became a tourist attraction. Now it houses treatment rooms, an amphitheater, sports activities, a Ferris wheel, and an underground lake where visitors can boat. Photo: Ungureanu Adrian Danut, Gabriel Tocu / Wikimedia.org
Until 1992, the salt mine was conserved, and afterwards, it became a tourist attraction. Now it houses treatment rooms, an amphitheater, sports activities, a Ferris wheel, and an underground lake where visitors can boat. Photo: Ungureanu Adrian Danut, Gabriel Tocu / Wikimedia.org

Cluj-Napoca — a steampunk museum and electronic music festivals

180 kilometers from Sibiu

Cluj-Napoca is the unofficial capital of Transylvania and the second-largest city in Romania (318,000 residents), known as the country’s “student” and IT capital. The city’s history began in 1213 as part of the Kingdom of Hungary, although settlements in this area date back to the Roman Empire times. Historically, the city has been heavily influenced by Hungarian culture, with over 60% Hungarians living here until the mid-last century. During the Austro-Hungarian period, the city was known as Klausenburg, and it received its modern name in 1974 during the reign of Ceaușescu.

 The small Cetatuia Park is the best place to view the city from above and watch the sunset. Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Wikimedia.org
The small Cetatuia Park is the best place to view the city from above and watch the sunset. Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Wikimedia.org

Piața Unirii (Unirii Square) is the main square of the city. It is the focal point of major attractions and intersects with many pedestrian routes. On weekdays during the academic period, the square is filled with students whose universities are within walking distance. The Gothic St. Michael’s Cathedral is the most noticeable building on the square. It stands at 80 meters tall, making it the second tallest cathedral in Romania. The cathedral was founded at the end of the 15th century, but it acquired its current appearance in 1860. The cathedral preserves some of the 15th–16th-century frescoes, a wind organ, and an altar from the mid-18th century.

The Gothic St. Michael's Cathedral is the most noticeable building on Unirii Square. It stands at 80 meters tall, making it the second tallest cathedral in Romania. Photo: Nuță Lucian / Wikimedia.org
The Gothic St. Michael’s Cathedral is the most noticeable building on Unirii Square. It stands at 80 meters tall, making it the second tallest cathedral in Romania. Photo: Nuță Lucian / Wikimedia.org

In addition to the cathedral, the square is dominated by the grand monument to Matthias I — the Hungarian king who reigned in the 15th century, during which the medieval Kingdom of Hungary reached the peak of its power. King Matthias is remembered as the restorer of Hungarian statehood and the first Renaissance ruler of Eastern Europe, a patron of artists and architects. Among the people, he had the reputation of being a just and noble ruler. After his death, he was titled “the last knight of Europe,” and it was commonly said, “Matthias has died, and with him, justice has died.” Next to the monument is a bronze miniature map of the city center, marking all the attractions of the Old Town.

Adjacent to the square is one of the city’s main museums, the Banffy Palace, which holds a collection of over 12,000 works of painting, sculpture, graphic arts, and decorative art. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the palace was in possession of the Banffy family, descendants of the 18th-century governor of Transylvania. The museum ticket costs 16 lei (3.22 euros).

Steampunk Transylvania is perhaps the most atypical museum not only in Cluj-Napoca but in all of Transylvania. It features various steampunk installations — a magical fantasy forest, an alchemist’s laboratory, a torture chamber, and a time machine. The most astonishing aspect is the amount of intricate details that create the atmosphere of the place. Being there, you immerse yourself in a fantastical and utopian world. Most exhibits are displayed for three to four months and are rented from creators of unusual items. Some art pieces are available for purchase. The ticket price is 45 lei (9.04 euros).

The most astonishing aspect of Steampunk Transylvania is the amount of intricate details that create the atmosphere of the place. Photo: Steampunk Transylvania
The most astonishing aspect of Steampunk Transylvania is the amount of intricate details that create the atmosphere of the place. Photo: Steampunk Transylvania

Piața Muzeului (Museum Square) is a small in size but significant historical landmark, surrounded by the Franciscan Cathedral, 17th–18th-century houses, and the Museum of Transylvanian History, housed in a 19th-century Neoclassical building. The museum’s collection boasts over 400,000 items. The ticket costs ten lei (2.01 euros).

Piața Muzeului is a small-sized square but an important historical landmark, surrounded by the Franciscan Cathedral and houses from the 17th–18th centuries. Photo: Mihai Raducanu / Wikimedia.org
Piața Muzeului is a small-sized square but an important historical landmark, surrounded by the Franciscan Cathedral and houses from the 17th–18th centuries. Photo: Mihai Raducanu / Wikimedia.org

One of the city’s important historical spots is Avram Iancu Square, named after the leader of the 19th-century Romanian revolution in Transylvania. It hosts the statue of Avram Iancu (Statuia lui Avram Iancu), the city’s largest Orthodox Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, an opera theater, and the construction of a grand Greek-Catholic cathedral. The Cathedral of the Assumption, built in the classic Romanian Brâncovenesc style, was completed in 1933. This style, developed in the principality of Wallachia, in the territory of modern-day Southern Romania, represents a synthesis of Byzantine and Ottoman styles with the late Renaissance style. Near the square, remnants of the medieval fortress are preserved — the restored 15th-century tower (Turnul Croitorilor), inside which there is an art space and an exhibition on the history of the guild.

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. Photo: Lucut Razvan / Unsplash.com
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. Photo: Lucut Razvan / Unsplash.com

In the historic part of the city is located the house of Matthias Corvinus (Casa lui Matia Corvin) — one of the oldest buildings in Cluj-Napoca, built in the 15th century in Gothic style as a small guest house. Throughout its history, the house has served as a prison, hospital, and museum, and now it houses the Institute of Fine Arts. A particularly distinctive element of the house is the entrance door, massive, made of wood, and of an unusual oval shape.

 In the historic part of the city is located the house of Matthias Corvinus — one of the oldest buildings in Cluj-Napoca, it was built in the 15th century in Gothic style as a small guest house. Photo: Chainwit / Wikimedia.org
In the historic part of the city is located the house of Matthias Corvinus — one of the oldest buildings in Cluj-Napoca, it was built in the 15th century in Gothic style as a small guest house. Photo: Chainwit / Wikimedia.org

The Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania (Muzeul Etnografic al Transilvaniei) is located in the Reduta Palace. It houses a collection of more than 40,000 traditional peasant items, documents, and photographs from the 17th–20th centuries. The museum is considered the largest of its kind in Romania. The ticket price is six lei (1.21 euros).

The Romulus Vuia Ethnographic Park is an open-air museum with original rural homesteads from the 18th–19th centuries. Most of them were brought from different parts of Transylvania, and a smaller part reconstructed. Inside the houses, interiors and household life are recreated, and in the old rural church, there are original 18th-century icons. The ticket price is 11 lei (2.21 euros).

The Botanical Garden covers an area of 14 hectares, collecting ten thousand plants with different thematic designs, such as a Japanese garden. There is a water tower in the garden, which can be climbed via a metal staircase to see the entire territory and part of the city. Depending on the season, different plants bloom in the garden, information about which is posted on the website. The ticket price is 15 lei (3.01 euros).

The Botanical Garden covers an area of 14 hectares, collecting ten thousand plants with various thematic designs, such as a Japanese garden. Photo: Cluj-Napoca Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden covers an area of 14 hectares, collecting ten thousand plants with various thematic designs, such as a Japanese garden. Photo: Cluj-Napoca Botanical Garden

Along the Someșul Mic River, there are many parks, the main one being the Simion Bărnuțiu Central Park (Parcul Simion Bărnuțiu). Along the park’s main alley, sculptures of famous Romanian politicians, poets, and artists are installed. Near a beautiful lake with fountains, in a historical building, the cultural center “Casino” is open. Originally, the eclectic palace built in 1897 in the Viennese style housed a casino. In the interwar period, it was occupied by the ethnographic museum, an art school, and a restaurant. Adjacent to the park is the modern Cluj Arena football stadium with a futuristic design. Besides football matches, festivals and concerts are held here.

Adjacent to the park is the modern Cluj Arena football stadium with a futuristic design. Besides football matches, festivals and concerts are held here. Photo: Nuță Lucian / Wikimedia.org
Adjacent to the park is the modern Cluj Arena football stadium with a futuristic design. Besides football matches, festivals and concerts are held here. Photo: Nuță Lucian / Wikimedia.org

Cetățuia Park, a small park, is the best place to view the city from above and watch the sunset. The park is located on a hill near the center at an altitude of 405 meters.

Cluj-Napoca has many universities and students, which may be one of the reasons for the city’s popularity of electronic music festivals. Since 2013, an annual five-day music festival (electronic, rock, techno, hip-hop), technology, and alternative art Electric Castle is held in the suburbs near Banffy Castle. The facade of the castle becomes a backdrop, and a huge camping area is organized around and inside for visitors. In 2023, the festival attracted more than 280,000 people, with Pendulum, Iggy Pop, Macklemore, The Chemical Brothers being the main performers. Tickets for the festival start from 96 euros.

Near Banffy Castle, the annual five-day Electric Castle festival of music, technology, and alternative art takes place. During the festival, the facade of the castle becomes a huge decoration. Photo: Electric Castle
Near Banffy Castle, the annual five-day Electric Castle festival of music, technology, and alternative art takes place. During the festival, the facade of the castle becomes a huge decoration. Photo: Electric Castle

Since 2015, the center of Cluj-Napoca has hosted the annual Untold electronic music festival with an impressive lineup — David Guetta, Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix. For four days, the city and the main stadium become the music center of Europe. During the festival, accommodation prices increase several times. In 2023, Untold was attended by more than 420,000 people. A four-day ticket costs from 1450 lei (291.38 euros).

Since 2015, the center of Cluj-Napoca has hosted the annual Untold electronic music festival with an impressive lineup — David Guetta, Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix. Photo: Untold
Since 2015, the center of Cluj-Napoca has hosted the annual Untold electronic music festival with an impressive lineup — David Guetta, Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix. Photo: Untold

Although Cluj-Napoca is not the gastronomic center of Transylvania, it has several good local cuisine restaurants. Roata Restaurant offers a wide selection of grilled meat dishes, appetizers, polenta with feta cheese (mamaliga cu branza), goulash, soup in bread, the dessert papanasi, and strong palinca. The dishes and the restaurant’s interior fully convey the atmosphere of Romania. A modern interpretation of Hungarian and Romanian cuisines with international classics can be found at Bistro 1568. Here they serve the dessert kürtőskalács with apples, cream, and berries, which is rare in restaurants.

The classic, colorful Romanian cuisine restaurant Roata Restaurant offers a wide selection of grilled meat dishes, appetizers, goulash, and soup in bread. Photo: Roata Restaurant
The classic, colorful Romanian cuisine restaurant Roata Restaurant offers a wide selection of grilled meat dishes, appetizers, goulash, and soup in bread. Photo: Roata Restaurant

Bârlog is a beer pub at a local brewery where you can try five different types of beer and numerous snacks. You can join a brewery tour, but a group of at least three people is needed, costing 70 lei (14.07 euros). per person. If you’re in the mood for Italian pasta, the widest selection is at the pasta bar Tortelli, where you can change the shape of the pasta, and parmesan is added when served, grated on a large grater with elements of a show.

The city offers a wide choice of chain and local hotels, with more prestigious ones being DoubleTree by Hilton and Radisson Blu, classic quality four-stars like Hampton by Hilton, and more affordably priced ones like Camino Home and The Square. Retro Hostel and Zen Hostel are among the best hostels.

For shopping, the city has two large shopping centers with various international brands — Iulius and Vivo.

Other interesting places in Transylvania

Timișoara — the Cathedral of the Three Hierarchs in Moldavian style with a collection of religious art, the Catholic Cathedral of Saint George, squares with historical buildings Piața Unirii and Piața Victoriei, Hunyadi Castle, Maria Theresa Bastion.

The Cathedral of the Three Hierarchs in Moldavian style in Timișoara. Photo: Marius Catalin Boldeanu / Wikimedia.org
The Cathedral of the Three Hierarchs in Moldavian style in Timișoara. Photo: Marius Catalin Boldeanu / Wikimedia.org

Oradea — the Moskovits-Miksa Palace, the Black Eagle Palace, Oradea Castle, the Darvas-La Roche House, Nymphaea Aquapark.

Baia Mare — Stephen’s Tower, the Cathedral.

Stephen's Tower in Baia Mare. Photo: Nenea Hartia / Wikimedia.org
Stephen’s Tower in Baia Mare. Photo: Nenea Hartia / Wikimedia.org

What to bring back from the trip

  • Homemade cașcaval cheese from sheep or cow’s milk, including a smoked version — cașcaval afumat. Sheep cheese brânză de burduf is also popular.
  • Homemade salami or smoked meat (muschi file).
  • Unique craft jam, for example, made from lilacs.
  • A bottle of Romanian wine, strong alcoholic țuică or palinca — fruit brandy.
  • Jewelry from local artisans made of semi-precious stones such as sodalite or rhodochrosite.
  • Decorative items from the unique local Horezu ceramics (Horezu). One of its features is the bright shades of brown, red, green, blue, and the so-called “Horezu ivory.”
From your trip, you can bring back decorative items made of the unique local Horezu ceramics. Photo: Roberto Sorin / Unsplash.com
From your trip, you can bring back decorative items made of the unique local Horezu ceramics. Photo: Roberto Sorin / Unsplash.com

Transport in the region

The region has a well-developed bus network, as well as trains, making it convenient for those without a car to get around. From Sibiu to Alba Iulia, it’s a two-hour train ride or one and a half hours by bus, to Deva — two and a half hours by train or two hours by bus. From Cluj-Napoca to Sibiu — four hours by train and bus, to Târgu Mureș — one and a half hours by bus, to Sighișoara — three and a half hours by train and two and a half hours by bus.

Schedules and ticket purchase: train and bus.

The region has a well-developed bus network, and there are also electric trains, making it convenient for those without a car to get around. Photo: Jorge Láscar / Wikimedia.org
The region has a well-developed bus network, and there are also electric trains, making it convenient for those without a car to get around. Photo: Jorge Láscar / Wikimedia.org

However, if you plan to travel extensively throughout the region, the most convenient option is, of course, a car. Rental costs start from 20 euros per day depending on the car, rental period, and season. The roads in the region are good, the driving culture is not aggressive, so you can confidently take the wheel. Gasoline costs from seven lei (1.41 euros) per liter.

Advice

Visa

As of 2024, Romania, while a member of the European Union, is not part of the Schengen Area. However, European citizens benefit from the freedom of movement granted by the EU, allowing them to visit Romania without the need for a visa. European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) citizens can enter and stay in Romania for up to 90 days within any 180-day period for tourist, business, or family visits without a visa, simply by presenting a valid national identity card or passport at the border.

For stays longer than 90 days, EU/EEA citizens may be required to register with the local authorities and obtain a registration certificate, which serves to formalize their residence in Romania. This process is relatively straightforward and is designed to facilitate the right of free movement and residence for EU citizens and their family members.

Money

The local currency is the Romanian leu. It’s best to use euros for exchange. Cards are widely accepted for payment in the region. The average cost of lunch or dinner at a restaurant is about 80–120 lei (16.08 – 24.11 euros) per person, a night at a hotel starts from 200 lei (40.19 euros), apartments from 170 lei (34.16 euros), and hostels from 60 lei (12.06 euros) per person.

Local currency — Romanian leu. It's best to use euros for exchange. Photo: Rishab Bohra 235 / Wikimedia.org
Local currency — Romanian leu. It’s best to use euros for exchange. Photo: Rishab Bohra 235 / Wikimedia.org

Language

The primary language in the region is Romanian. In some cities and villages, there is a high percentage of ethnic Hungarians, so Hungarian is used for communication. The level of English proficiency in the region is higher than the average in Eastern Europe, and it is widely used in the tourism sector.

Connectivity

The region and the country have developed 5G, and the quality of connectivity is good. Tourists are advised to buy a Vodafone SIM card; other operators do not issue SIM cards to foreigners. The cost of a SIM card with a package of minutes and internet starts from 25 lei (5.02 euros).

How to get there

Airplane. Transylvania has several international airports — Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca, and Târgu Mureș. They are mainly connected by flights with European cities. Flights are available from Italy (Milan, Venice, Naples, Rome), Budapest, London, France (Paris, Lyon, Nice), Germany (Berlin, Dortmund, Nuremberg), and more than 15 other countries. Prices start from 15 euros with low-cost carriers for a one-way ticket per person.

Bus. A bus from Bucharest to Sibiu and Cluj-Napoca takes five and nine hours respectively, with schedules and ticket purchases available on the autogari.ro website.

From Budapest, there is a direct route to Cluj-Napoca, six hours on the road, from 50 euros and to Târgu Mureș, 7.5 hours on the road, from 55 euros, tickets and schedules on the website, as well as to Sibiu — 11 hours on the road, from 25 euros. Tickets and schedules are available on the website.

There is a direct bus from Chișinău to Cluj-Napoca, taking 11 hours, priced from 16 euros, schedule and tickets available via the link.

Train. Trains on the Bucharest — Sibiu, Târgu Mureș, and Cluj-Napoca route are IR (InterRegio) class — taking five, nine, and eight and a half hours respectively. Tickets cost from 130 lei (26.12 euros). Tickets and schedules are available on the Romanian Railways website. A direct train from Budapest to Sibiu operates once a day, taking ten hours, with tickets starting from 125 lei (25.12 euros), schedule and prices are available via the link.

When to Go

For a comfortable journey, the warm but not too hot period from mid-spring to mid-June and from September to October is suitable. The summer has hotter weather, while in winter there is a high probability of heavy precipitation and temperatures around zero.

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