Transylvania has topped Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel list for 2016 in the regions category. With that said, is there really any reason that you’d doubt the fact of how awesome Transylvania is? If you’re still not convinced, let me try!
3 Reasons to go
- It’s Cheap! Although part of the European Union, Romania’s currency is not the Euro, but the Romanian Lei, which is almost 1/5th of a Euro. That means that everything is cheap, including accommodation, transportation and food!
- The people are friendly. Transylvanians are known to be very friendly and inviting people, so whether you’re in search of directions or even accommodation, they will be more than happy to help you out!
- It’s a great mixture of culture, history, fun and outdoors. Transylvania might have everything you will ever need: a roaring nightlife in the big cities, lovely little towns with rich culture, and incredible fortified churches along the road with snowy mountaintops serving as backdrops.
Destination A: Cluj-Napoca
As the European Youth Capital of 2015, the University town of Cluj-Napoca has grown into quite a must-see in Romania. It is mostly famous for its festivals and great nightlife scene, but also has a ton of cultural sites as well.
Destination B: Turda
Before the Salt Mine and Salt Bath opened, Turda was off the map to most travelers, but now thanks to great marketing strategies this once dormant town has been seeing an increase in tourist inflow in the last couple of years.
Destination C: Sibiu
Since it was named Cultural Capital of Europe, Sibiu has become a must-see for every traveler coming to Romania. With its lovely houses, intriguing architecture and rich history and culture, Sibiu is truly one of the best cities to visit in the country.
Destination D: Brasov
Boasting similar influences as the city of Sibiu, Brasov is also on the must-see list, mainly because of its proximity to medieval Saxon fortifications and churches, mountains, castles and palaces. But the city itself is also worth a stop, having impressive old walls, historic sites and great restaurants.
Destination E: Sighisoara
The small town of Sighisoara is worth seeing mainly because of its Old Town part and fortification, still in amazing conditions today.
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Day 1: Arriving to Cluj-Napoca
Transylvania has numerous airports, but its largest is the Avram Iancu Airport in Cluj Napoca, also the second largest in the country after the one in the capital city of Bucharest. Since it welcomes numerous airlines, I think it would be the best place to start your Transylvanian trip. You can get around by public transportation, but renting a car is best, especially if you want to see some hidden gems along the way! Since Cluj-Napoca is one of the largest university cities in the country, nightlife is booming here, so why not start your trip with a little party in one of the numerous bars, clubs and cafes the city has to offer?
Day 2: Explore Cluj-Napoca
After a copious breakfast (the only way to eat in Transylvania), head to the center of the city and explore the second largest Gothic church in Transylvania, St. Michael’s church. If you’re lucky, they might even let you climb up to the tower, from where you can admire a 360-degree view of the lovely city. If the weather’s good, head to one of the most beautiful Botanical Gardens in the country, located close to the city center, and spend a few hours getting lost among the thousands of rare plants and trees. If you’re an art fan, go back to the city center and enjoy a lovely art exhibition at the Banffy Palace!
Have a bite to eat in one of the numerous restaurants in the Matthias Square, and maybe even grab a couple of drinks while you’re at it. Don’t stay up too late, though, because day 3 will be filled with adventure!
Day 3: Breathe In the Salty Air in Turda
After another plentiful breakfast, hop into your car and drive about 40 minutes southeast of Cluj-Napoca to the small town of Turda. Although the city is usually overlooked by tourists, it is home to one of the coolest underground salt mines in Europe. After you’ve admired the majestic Mine, its history and licked a few salt walls to see if they were real, spend a couple of hours in the Gorges of Turda. It is an easy hike, but a truly spectacular one, which will take you about 3 hours to complete. Following this long day of exercise, have a relaxing afternoon in the Salt Baths of Turda.
Day 4: Wander around in Sibiu
Start the day early and drive to Sibiu via the city of Medias. On the road from Medias to Sibiu be on the lookout for the numerous Fortified Saxon Churches along the way, which are mostly located right next to the main roads. Once you’re in Sibiu, take a walk along the old city walls which have guarded the municipality for centuries. Walk around the small streets and admire the many colorful buildings shaded with Venetian blinds. Don’t forget to climb up to the Council Tower for around half a Euro to admire the best panorama of the city, with the Fagaras Mountains in the background.
Admire the largest Gothic Cathedral in the country, the Black Church, then stroll along the Old City walls and stop at the numerous towers for an overview of the city center. For the best views, however, either climb up to the Fortress, or take a ride in the cable car to Tampa Mountain to enjoy the awesomeness of Brasov from above. Walk through one of the narrowest streets in Europe, Sforii Street, and enjoy a nice evening meal in one of the many exquisite restaurants in the city.
Day 6: Day Trips from Brasov
There are many day trips you can take from the city of Brasov. You can visit Bran Castle, often portrayed as Dracula’s castle, which in truth isn’t related to Bram Stoker’s character nor Vlad the Impaler, but it is still a lovely national monument to see. You can also visit the stunning, Neo-Renaissance Peles Castle, the lovely summer residence of the old Romanian King. For a more outdoorsy day, drive down to Busteni and take the cable car up to Bucegi Mountains where you can observe interesting rock formations, including the Omul, often used as a national symbol. Or you can also go to the 7 Scari Canyon, a stunning gorge which has beautiful waterfalls in its path, and seven stairs on which you need to climb in order to get to the next level.
Day 7: Go all medieval in Sighisoara
Conclude your last full day in Transylvania with a trip to the lovely town of Sighisoara, famous for being 1 of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Romania. Sit around in a café, wander around the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, grab a real Transylvanian meal such as the “sarmale”(cabbage rolls), “mamaliga cu branza si smantana” (corn meal with salty cheese and sour cream), or even bean soup in bread (yes, the bread is your plate).
Day 8: Fly Out
Head back to Cluj-Napoca to return your rented car and fly out. Hopefully your time spent in Transylvania was well worth it, and you will be returning very soon for some more!
Tips & advice
- There is a relatively good public transport system in the form of buses, connecting the main cities. I don’t advise train travel though, as it is expensive compared to how slow and dirty it is.
- Don’t hesitate to ask around! I know directions are hard to get, and every info that you can find online is usually in Romanian, but feel free to ask around, shoot a couple of emails to bloggers from the country (including me), I assure you that everyone will be delighted to help you out!
- Don’t be afraid to get off the map! The true Transylvanian gems such as really old churches and fortifications, can be found in the small villages around Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov. Throw away the map, and ask for advice on how to get to the old church in a small village. Don’t forget to ask youngsters, because older people don’t really speak English!
Adrienn Takacs is a Hungarian Freelance Travel Writer and creator of her own blog, Cityoftheweek.net. She writes mainly about traveling in her home country, Romania, and Eastern Europe. In the last few years she started hiking and blogs also about various outdoor itineraries under her blog.
Photo credit: Adrienn Takacs