Brasov is one of those places which look better than the postcard. Fringed by the Carpathian Mountains and adorned with colourful Baroque buildings, this medieval fortress in Transylvania looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. The maze of cobbled streets adds to the city’s old-world charm. In fact, its otherworldly beauty is what makes Brasov one of the most visited cities in Romania.
This quirky city can easily be explored on foot in a day, but you might want to base yourself here if you plan to visit other historical cities and attractions in Transylvania.
Here’s a quick guide to making the most of your time in Brasov.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to get to Brasov is by train. Being a major railway hub and a popular tourist attraction, Brasov can be reached by train from almost every city and town in Romania, and there’s even a daily connection to Budapest, Hungary.
The train station is a 45-minute walk from the Old Town, but you can get a bus or a taxi to the city centre for a small fee.
WHERE TO STAY
While there are plenty of hotels in Brasov), I highly recommend staying in a pensiunea (guesthouse) on the city outskirts or in a nearby town if you’re travelling on a budget.
One place you should definitely check out is Zarnesti, a quiet town at the entrance of Piatra Craiului National Park. Zarnesti is less than an hour’s drive from Brasov, yet it offers a break from busy tourist spots in Transylvania. We stayed at Pensiunea Mosorel
, a family-run guesthouse overlooking the Carpathian Mountains.
WHAT TO SEE
Founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211 and later inhabited by the Saxons, Brasov boasts a wealth of history, culture and architecture. Located at the heart of the Old Town is Piata Sfatului, or the Council Square, which is ringed by elegant buildings with pastel facades and russet-tile roofs.
The Old Town Hall stands proudly in the middle of the square. Built in the 13th century to serve as a meeting place for the town councillors, the hall nowadays houses the Brasov History Museum.
Brasov is also a major shopping centre, and the Old Town is teeming with shops, cafes and eateries. Traditional craft shops selling embroidered clothes, painted eggs, woodcarvings, hand painted pottery and exquisite lacework can be found on almost every main street leading up to the square.
Brasov’s star attraction is the Black Church, which got its nickname after a great fire engulfed the city in 1689 and blackened the walls of the church. Besides boasting the largest church bell in Romania and an impressive 4,000-pipe organ, the Black Church also harbours an extensive collection of Oriental rugs which were donated by German merchants in the 17th and 18th century.
Brasov sits at the foot of Mount Tampa, the same mountain where a Hollywood-style sign bearing the city’s name has been erected for all to see. You can walk to the top of the hill (3,000 feet), which takes about an hour, or ride a cable car to get some staggering views of the Old Town.
Other places worth seeing include Rope Street (one of the narrowest streets in Europe), the defensive fortifications and bastions bordering the Old Town, and the Schei district; the area where Romanians lived when they were refused entry into the citadel during the Saxon rule of Brasov.
WHERE TO EAT
There’s no shortage of restaurants and cafes in BraSov, but this also means that you’ll be probably be spending at least 15 minutes trying to decide where to eat. We had lunch at Sergiana
, a traditional Romanian restaurant which was recommended to us by our guide. While this saved us the hassle of having to look for a decent place to eat, we still ended up spending half an hour trying to decide what to have. Sergiana offers a vast selection of meat-based dishes, its main specialities being venison, wild boar… and pig testicles.
If you don’t feel like having a big meal, there are a few bakeries close to the square which serve freshly-baked savoury bites and sweet pastries.
One of the great things about Brasov is that it’s fairly close to other popular sites in Transylvania, including the neighbouring fortress of Rasnov. Located on a rocky hilltop, Rasnov was built by Teutonic Knights in the 14th century to protect Transylvanian villages from invaders.
Another place worth visiting is Bran Fortress
, widely known as Dracula’s Castle. The number one attraction in Transylvania, Bran Castle owes its fame to Bram Stoker, who is thought to have been inspired by this medieval fortress when writing his world-famous novel Dracula.
Romania is home to the largest population of brown bears in Europe. There are around 6,000 wild bears living in the Carpathian Mountains, while another 70 bears have been rescued from a life in captivity and now live in the Libearty Bear Sanctuary
– 70 hectares of oak forest in the Carpathian Mountains. The bears are closely monitored and looked after by rangers and volunteers, and the sanctuary is open to visitors at an admission fee of 40 Lei (just 9 EUR).
If you’re up for some adventure, book a hiking trip to Piatra Craiului National Park; a mountain range in the Southern Carpathians which offers potential sightings of wild bears, wolves and lynx. It is also a great way of experiencing the real Romania, where people living in mountain villages still practise traditional farming methods. Our trip to Piatra Craiului was organised by award-winning guide Dan Marin from Transylvanian Wolf
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