Transylvania has the most stunning scenery with an endless number of castles, forests, fortresses, and quaint villages. Its staggering beauty will take your breath away and make you fall in love with it instantly. Keep reading to find out the best places to visit in Transylvania!
It is an exciting region to discover and one of the most popular places to visit in Romania. The first thing that likely comes to mind when you think of visiting Transylvania, is the home of Dracula and plenty of garlic.
But oh how there is so much more to Transylvania than that with a wealth of places straight out of the pages of a fairytale story.
If you believe in romance, fairytales, myths, and spooky tales, you will enjoy your time even more!
Where Is Transylvania?
Until this visit, I always thought Transylvania was an actual city. But it is a region (100,000 square km’s) in Romania that consists of several cities and villages amongst the Carpathian and Bucegi Mountains.
Located in the center of Romania and northwest from Romania’s capital of Bucharest.
There are several places to visit in Transylvania with most people only visiting Brasov and the nearby Bran Castle.
But as you will quickly see, Transylvania is one of the most beautiful places and worth a longer look than just a few days.
To give yourself an opportunity to see the highlights of what Transylvania has to offer, spend 5-7 days exploring this land of mystery… Get ready for your trip and explore places to stay in Transylvania!
Although Hollywood and Dracula have made Transylvania famous, there is a rich history going back as far as the Dacian Kingdom (1st & 2nd century BC).
Transylvania was part of the Hungarian Empire during the 11th to 16th century and the Ottoman Empire during the 16th to 17th century.
At the end of the 17th century, Transylvania returned to be part of Hungary again until the 20th century when it became current-day Romania.
Named by the Hungarians, Transylvania means “land beyond the forest” in medieval Latin.
After the defeat of Hungary in the WWI in 1918, Romanians united Transylvania back into Romania.
Although Hungary did regain command of some areas of Transylvania during WWII, Romania took back complete control in 1947 to what it is now. From 1947, all of Romania became under communist rule until 1989.
The population of Transylvania is primarily a mix of Romanians, Germans, and Hungarians. The majority of Romanians are of Eastern Orthodox faith along with Romanian Greek-Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
Origins of Dracula
Is Dracula real and is he from Transylvania? Well, Dracula is a mythical character that has a mix of fear and romance that has been depicted in countless movies and books for years.
But the origin of how Dracula came to be IS real. It all begun here in the region of Transylvania with a real-life man called Vlad Tepes or “Vlad the Impaler”.
In 1431, Vlad Tepes was born in the town of Sighisoara to Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon) who was a member of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula means son of the Dragon.
In some references, Dracul also means the devil. You can see the dark and sinister plot is beginning… You should realize at this point he isn’t going to be a saint!
Vlad the Impaler was kept hostage by the Hungarians during a visit with his father and was tortured by the most brutal methods. Let’s just say Vlad left his imprisonment a changed man who was hell-bent on retaliation and payback.
From that point on, Vlad invaded and destroyed much of what lied in his path killing people (men, women & children) by the methods that had been used on him.
His torturous methods involved impaling his victims. Yep, you read that right. He would plunge a sharp stake or pole into their bottom “hole”, up through the body and out the mouth.
By completely ripping through the body, it would obviously leave a bloody mess. Hence he became known as Vlad the Impaler and had a strong association with evil and blood…
Fast forward to 1897, when Bram Stoker wrote the book, “Dracula”. In writing the book, Bram did use Vlad the Impaler as his inspiration for the fictional Dracula.
From what he had read about Vlad, Bram knew he had been inhuman in his treatment of others and filled with bloodlust. This evolved into the bloodsucking vampire that we all know today.
I have to admit that for a moment when I was at Bran Castle there was a part of me that wished he was real… But don’t let this dark history deter you from discovering the most beautiful places to visit in Romania.
Where To Stay In Transylvania
If you are anything like me, I would rather stay in one spot as much as possible instead of moving from city to city each night.
As you can see, there are so many magical places to visit in Transylvania to keep you busy for days.
The two cities that I recommend staying at as a base in Transylvania are Brasov and Sibiu.
If you are traveling in Transylvania for a week, for example, I would split your stay between Brasov and Sibiu. That way all the major towns and sights you want to visit will be within a short drive.
The following places to stay are recommended during your visit.
Best Places To Visit In Transylvania
Brasov is the most popular and central town in Transylvania to visit with its infinite charm. It isn’t hard to see why Brasov attracts travelers with its medieval town of churches, cobblestoned streets, fortress, and allure.
To find out more details about exploring Brasov, read my post, 12 Ultimate Things To Do In Brasov, Romania.
I do recommend using Brasov as your base for traveling to other towns in Transylvania or at least as one of them.
There is a lot to see and do in Brasov that makes it an ideal place to stay while you tour the region.
Although I go more in detail of what to see in Brasov in my other post, some highlights to see in Brasov are the following.
The main town square is Piata Stafului that is the heart of Brasov and the best place to start your sightseeing. It is also a wonderful spot to people watch!
Other things not to miss are the Black Church, White & Black Towers, Mount Tampa, BRASOV sign, and Strada Sforii.
2. Bran Castle
Many times, people lump Bran Castle as part of Brasov because it is close but it is in its own city of Bran. Bran Castle is about a 45-minute drive or 32 km (20 miles) from Brasov.
The easiest way to get to Bran Castle is by car but if you are not able to rent one, you can take a bus.
Bran Castle is quite famous for one thing and that is Dracula! It is said to be the home of Dracula and often referred to as “Dracula’s Castle” made famous by the author Bram Stoker.
The castle was built by Saxons between 1377 – 1382 as a strategic defense to protect what was the “trade” highway during that time. So why is Bran Castle considered to be “Dracula’s Castle”?
First off, if you have ever believed in fairytales or rather darker tales involving vampires, one glance at Bran Castle and it is easy to picture Dracula living there.
If there ever was a real Dracula’s Castle this would totally be it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I visited at the beginning of December.
The cold, moody skies and blanket of snow add to the perfect vampire residence vibe…
Vlad the Impaler who I mentioned above was the inspiration for what we know today as Dracula.
Vlad did not live at Bran Castle but did attempt to take control of it when attacking the area in 1460 and somehow the association stuck.
Regardless of whether it is Dracula’s home or not, Bran Castle is a beautiful castle sitting up high on the rocky hill that is worth visiting.
In the 1800s and 1900s, Bran Castle was home to Romanian royalty such as Queen Marie of Romania.
The castle is also a museum, so if you are a history buff you get to learn all about Romania’s history during this time.
I didn’t have to deal with any crowds as it was December but I have heard it can get pretty crowded in the summer months. Plan to go first thing in the morning if you can to avoid the congestion.
April 1st – September 30th : Monday 12 – 6 pm, Tue – Sun 9 am – 6 pm
October 1st – March 31st : Monday 12 – 4 pm, Tue – Sun 9 am – 4 pm
3. Rasnov Fortress
Visiting Rasnov is a must especially if you are going to Bran Castle. The Rasnov Fortress is in between Brasov (12 miles) and Bran Castle (9 miles) providing an excellent place to take in marvelous views from the top.
Rasnov sits high up on a hill that serves as a perfect vantage point to eye any imposing threats, back in the day that is…
As you get close to the fortress you will see a sign with the bold letters “RASNOV” perched on the hill just like the one in Brasov or Hollywood!
Have you ever seen the 2003 movie Cold Mountain? It featured Nicole Kidman and Jude Law featuring what was supposed to be the Cold Mountains of North Carolina (U.S.).
But it was actually filmed in Rasnov! Once you park (down below), there is a shuttle train that will take you up to the fortress entrance.
The fortress and castle were built around 1225 by the Teutonic Knights. I find it interesting that the only time the fort was captured (1600s) was because the water supply had been cut off.
Well, let’s just say they learned their lesson and soon after built a deep well within the fortress.
The last time the Rasnov Fortress was used was during the 1848 – 1849 revolution. The fortress was built as a refuge and could hold a whole community when needed. Since that time, it has not been in use until it was renovated and opened for visitors.
As you make your way around the fort, there are many locals selling their wares in stalls along the way.
Up at the top, be prepared to be blown away by the views of the valley and surrounding mountains. There isn’t much else to do in Rasnov but don’t miss out on seeing it!
Tips: Right after entering the fortress, there is a ladder to your right that you can climb (small fort) that gives you a great view of the fortress. As mentioned earlier, driving to Rasnov and Bran Castle is the easiest but you can take an Uber or bus from Brasov.
May to September – 9 am to 7 pm
October to April – 9 am to 5 pm
Sighisoara is a little further out from the three towns above but shouldn’t be missed! If you are coming from Brasov, it is about 120 km (75 miles) and is the easiest to reach by car. You can also take the train which takes about 2.5 – 3 hours.
Once you arrive by train it is an easy 15-minute walk to Sighisoara’s Old Town sitting majestically up on the hill. It’s no surprise why the town has been preserved in time as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sighisoara is the most charming and gorgeous Old Town I have ever seen. You truly feel like you have walked into a fairytale and/or a set of a movie.
It has a very whimsical and romantic feel that is idyllic for a romance waiting to happen just like in the movies. Haha. One can wish, right?
You can easily see all the main sights of Sighisoara within one day yet it is one of those towns I could see myself just relaxing in for a few days.
At the center of the Old Town or citadel section, is the Clock Tower & History Museum (open 9 am to 3:30 pm, 5:30 pm or 6:30 pm depending on the season).
You can climb up the clock tower for the fabulous views of Sighisoara and its orange rooftops below.
The main square in the Old Town is Piata Cetatil (Citadel Square) with picturesque buildings surrounding it.
During the warmer months, cafes will burst out onto the square making it an ideal spot to have a coffee and watch people strolling by.
One of my favorite things about visiting Sighisoara was just wandering the charming and over the top photogenic streets! The buildings are painted with such pretty pastels on cobblestone streets that are a photographer’s dream.
When you are ready for a break, walk over to Casa Cositorarului for some lunch and/or a drink in this cozy and inviting restaurant. It is also a hotel in case you are looking for a place for the night although I have not stayed here.
For fans of Dracula, Vlad the Impaler was born in Sighisoara in 1431, starting out a life of privilege and then moving into a much darker time.
Vlad was the son to Vlad Dracul who was a knight to the Order of Dragons. For a small fee, you can walk up to see the supposed exact room where Vlad the Impaler entered the world.
For reasons I don’t fully understand, Vlad’s father Vlad Dracul sent him away as a hostage to the Turks.
There he witnessed and suffered the torturous punishment of the Turks that he later took note of and used those same methods himself.
Hence his torturous and brutal treatment of others would lead to a bloody trail giving him the name “Dracula”.
Make your way up the Scholars’ Stairs through the covered wooden covering that leads you to the Saxon Cemetery and the Church on the Hill. They were creative with the name, huh?
It is not only beautiful and peaceful but the views are pretty great too. There are only a few main streets in Sighisoara’s Old Town, so don’t fret about getting lost.
Sinaia is a very small town but it has one huge draw and that is Peles Castle! And if you were wondering whether it is worth visiting, that is a big yes. Sinaia is in between Bucharest and Brasov, so it is easy to visit on the way there or back.
Built in 1875 – 1883, Peles Castle was the summer home of King Carol I located up behind the Sinaia monastery.
The walk is quite gorgeous as you walk through a wooded area that is a relaxing and pleasant way to see a little bit of the town on the way. To fully take in and enjoy the tour and surrounding area, expect to spend 2-3 hours.
Even though it was super foggy and snowy, I loved taking that walk. Once you see Peles, I hope you agree that it is a breathtaking castle and truly out of a European fairytale.
Both on the inside and outside, Peles is completely lavish and elegant reminiscent of a true royal residence. I could get used to living here for sure…
There are two different tours that you can take at the 160-room Peles Castle but I recommend taking the longer one (optional tour) if you have the time.
You won’t regret it as you get to see more areas of the castle! Keep in mind that if you don’t take a tour you don’t get access inside.
You will learn so much fascinating history such as Peles Castle was the first castle in Europe to have electricity. It also had central heating and a central vacuum system which I find so cool considering the time period.
Two other sights to see in Sinaia is the Sinaia Monastery (spend ~ 30 minutes) and Pelisor Palace.
Pelisor Palace is the smaller next-door palace for King Carol I’s nephew Ferdinand. It is also available to visit every day except Mondays and Tuesdays. For up to date info visit their website, here.
Tips: If you want to take a tour, head to the ticket window and buy your ticket. The next available time could be full but you can walk the grounds around the castle while waiting for your tour time.
Don’t arrive too late in the day, as the last basic tour takes off at 4:15 pm and the last optional tour (longer) takes off at 3:30 pm.
Note: If you are just visiting Sinaia for the day and need a place to store your luggage there are a few possibilities. I heard varying reports on whether you can store your luggage at the train station.
When I visited it was no problem, the attendant gave me a ticket and I was on my way. If that is not an option the nearby Hotel Caraiman may also be able to check your bags.
Also note that Sinaia is technically not part of Transylvania but for logistics and close proximity to other places to visit Transylvania I have included it here.
Sibiu is 143 km (89 miles) or about 2.5 hours from Brasov. Sibui is another great city to use as a base when traveling through Transylvania. You can reach Sibiu by train or bus if you opt not to drive. Both of these options will take closer to 4 hours to get there.
If you have seen photos of Sibiu, you will smile as it is well-known for its building windows that are shaped like “eyes”. So when walking, it seems as if the buildings are watching you! Start out your visit by wandering both Piata Mare (large square) and Piata Mica (small square).
Piata Mare has the most gorgeous buildings, cafes and hotels surrounding it. Major attractions off of Piata Mare is the Brukenthal Palace and Museum and the Casa Haller (Haller House).
From Piata Mica, the major sites to visit is Liar’s Bridge and the Council Tower. Supposedly if someone stands on Liar’s Bridge and tells a lie, then the bridge will collapse.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to test that! The Council Tower built in 1588 is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm if you are game to climb the 111 steps to the top. For the view, why not?!
Nestled somewhat in between Piata Mare and Mica is Piata Huet. The highlights of visiting Piata Huet is the Evangelical Cathedral which was built between 1320 and 1520. The tomb of Mihnea the Bad (Dracula’s son) rests here after he was stabbed on the cathedral steps.
It has a 73-meter (239 feet) tower you can climb if you are not too tired after the Council Tower! It just happens to be the tallest tower in Transylvania too.
From Piata Huet, wander over to the Passage of Stairs which separates the lower and upper sections of Sibiu’s Old Town. It is very photogenic and especially lovely to capture near the end of the day during the golden hour.
Cluj-Napoca is also referred to as “Cluj” that is 282 km (175 miles) from Brasov and 443 km (275 miles) from Bucharest, in the northeast section of Transylvania.
If you are traveling by car, it’s about 4.5 to 7 hours so it definitely is not a place to go for the day. If you are based in Sibiu, then you could easily spend a day in Cluj and not feel like you spent the entire time in a car!
Although you can travel by bus or train, I would avoid as it will be even longer than if driving.
As Cluj is the capital of Transylvania, it might be easier to fly into Cluj’s International Airport (CLJ) instead of making the long drive from say Bucharest.
Cluj’s history has a very strong German and Hungarian presence which is evident in its architecture. The main town square in Cluj is Piata Unirii with the Gothic 15th century Cathedral of St. Michael.
Also off of Piata Unirii is the Pharmacy Museum which is an old pharmacy or apothecary that was in use from 1573 to 1949. You can see old bottles, pots, and prescriptions that were used.
A short walk from the Pharmacy Museum (about a block) is the birthplace of Matyas Corvinus. He was Hungary’s greatest king and reigned from 1458 to 1490. He was born in mansion No. 6 and is of both Hungarian and Romanian descent.
If you are looking for a bit of nature, meander over to Parcul Central that has a lake, fountains, paths to walk, and an old-style casino building. Either before or after you visit Parcul Central, wander over and take the steps up to Cetatuia Hill.
That is if you want a great view overlooking Cluj, make your way to this 15th century fort or citadel. It might have been a great source of Cluj’s defense at one time, but today get up there early to enjoy the spectacular panorama.
A few other notable things to see in Cluj is the Botanical Garden and the Orthodox Cathedral that are both in walking distance from Piata Unirii.
8. Transfagarasan Highway
The Transfagarasan Highway has been described as the “coolest road in the world” for its winding road of switchbacks not too far from the town of Sibiu.
It’s likely you have seen a photo of the pretty highway that curves amongst the green hills of the Carpathian Mountains.
In total, the Transfagarasan Highway has 90 km (56 miles) of paved road for you to enjoy. Made during Romania’s communist era, the leader Nicolae Ceausescu wanted a quick way for the military to cut through the mountains.
During most months, you won’t be able to access the road as it is covered in snow but it is open from June through October.
9. Turda Salt Mines
About 40 minutes south of Cluj is the Turda Salt Mines that is a museum of salt mining history in Romania. On the tour, you will get the chance to go underground to see the various rooms of the salt mine.
Today the salt mine serves as an underground theme park and a spa wellness center. It includes a lake, boat rides, a mini-golf course, and a Ferris wheel.
Kinda random, right? But if you plan to be in Cluj, this is on the way and worth visiting as it is the world’s largest salt mine museum. It is also one of the oldest in the world!
10. Feast on Romanian Food
I had no idea what to expect about Romanian food prior to my visit but I can say that I more than enjoyed every bite I had!
Romanian food is excellent and has traits from Hungarian, German, Russian, Polish, and Turkish cuisines blended to their own specialties.
Many Romanian dishes will likely have sauerkraut, sour cream, polenta and/or garlic. I was in heaven with all the garlic… The one local tradition that you must try is Sarmale that is cabbage leaves filled with minced meat, rice and, spices.
Sarmale comes with fresh sauerkraut and sour cream. I am not a fan of sour cream in the U.S., but in Romania, the sour cream is incredibly good!
Another popular dish is Mici that is grilled minced meat that looks much like sausage links. If it is cold out, Ciorba de Burta (beef tripe soup) will warm you up with its tasty flavors with the addition of sour cream, vinegar and garlic paste.
There are so many more amazing dishes, but those are a few that are essential to try when visiting Transylvania.
If you have a sweet tooth, the ultimate dessert to try is Papanasi. I was blown away with the incredible taste and have decided this might be my favorite dessert that I have ever had.
Papanasi is somewhat similar to a donut or a beignet but much better. It has fresh sour cream and luscious fruit preserve poured on top of the fried dough. The dough has soft cheese inside that is so tasty. The combination of these ingredients is mind-blowing!
When To Visit Transylvania
Transylvania is beautiful to visit during any season but do keep in mind that they get the fours seasons.
If you are looking for warmer weather, Spring through Fall will be ideal. The summer will have the warmest temperature ranging from 19 C to 22 C (66 F to 70 F).
Since you are at a higher elevation, it will be a little cooler than say Bucharest and the areas along the Black Sea.
The winters can be pretty cold and brutal, yet gorgeous covered in snow. Just be prepared and dress in warm clothes as it is not unheard of to get as cold as – 15 C.
I visited at the beginning of December and loved it. The snow and crisp air made it a lovely winter wonderland.
I would recommend going in the fall or early part of winter as I think it is such a pretty time to go. In the fall you will see the changing of the leaves and early winter isn’t too cold but you get to experience the snow and the holiday season decorations.
I also think this time of the year adds a little bit to the spookiness of the tales of Transylvania! If you are looking to do more hiking then the summer or fall is ideal.
Although Romania is part of the European Union (EU), the currency used is the Romania Lei (RON) throughout the country.
If you book things online ahead of time or at certain hotels, you might be able to pay in Euros. Just don’t count on it!
Once you arrive in Romania, you can exchange money at the airport or at exchanges in most cities.
Got Travel Insurance?
I had always heard that it was wise to get travel insurance before going on a vacation. But I always thought that would be a waste of money and not needed as my medical coverage would be enough. Well, I was wrong to ignore those recommendations! Granted for most trips, nothing goes wrong but it just takes one bad accident or hospital visit to change your perspective.
On a trip to Panama, I traveled with both of my parents. Although I suggested that we get travel insurance, my dad was adamant that his medical coverage would be enough. Long story short, he got severe pneumonia and was hospitalized for four days. It was the scariest few days. In the end, he was treated and we were on our way again but we lost out on a lot.
Because we had to cancel excursions, hotels, and activities, we were out that money. For treatment, my dad had to pay out of pocket and he never got reimbursed by his health insurance! Since this trip, let’s just say I will always purchase World Nomads travel insurance for all those normal and random things that can go wrong. I have since used World Nomads and have been very happy with their service. It is worth the peace of mind knowing that myself and my loved ones will be covered!
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