Transylvania travel guide
2 minute summary
Imagine following a farm track past flower filled meadows, fast-flowing rivers and steeply sloped primeval forests; in the distance you spy the turrets of a castle atop of a rocky escarpment. Who lives there? Who lived
there? You pause for a nip of plum brandy and nibble of potato bread before setting off again to explore more of rural Transylvania with the fast approach of nightfall prompting a zestier spring to your step.
It has to be said that Transylvania will get your heart racing in more ways than one and the chance to experience an untouched version of Europe makes a trip to the region all the more enticing. Fortified churches, Saxon villages and medieval architecture put Transylvania high on any historian's hit list with the chance to don your hiking boots and tackle the Carpathians often providing an outdoor adventure equal to the Alps.
Our Transylvania travel guide uncloaks this mysterious region…
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About five times the size of Wales and flanked to the east and south by the Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania retains much of its medieval character both in the cities and surrounding rural communities. Wildlife, including bears, wolves and lynx, all prosper within the area's steep pine forested slopes and Prince Charles has also been known to make an appearance, although it's far more noteworthy to catch a glimpse of a white tailed eagle wheeling over Zarnesti Gorge. Travelling by train is an ideal way to bypass unsurfaced roads although hiring a 4x4 vehicle presents plenty of scope to explore, with the meandering Tranfagarasan Road providing passage over the southern Carpathians and into Wallachia.
Transylvania's Saxon past is in evidence throughout the region with seven villages falling under the UNESCO World Heritage banner thanks to their architectural styles and cultural significance. The village of Biertan, which can be found about 80km north of Sibiu, is a prime example and features a fortified church complete with bell and clock towers, Catholic frescoes and annex for divorcing couples.
Visiting Transylvania without mentioning the D word is always going to be tricky and a trip to Bran Castle will do nothing to prevent the occasional: 'Mwhaha, I want to drink your blood', etc. Once that's out of your system, Bran Castle provides a perfect cultural, if not slightly touristy, interlude with Queen Marie's art and furniture combining with secret passage ways and fabulous views from the upstairs balcony.
Medieval architecture and Gothic church, yup! In the shadow of Bran Castle's fairy tale spires, oh yes! Birthplace of the Romanian national anthem – you’ve got it! But is Brasov the home of Vlad III, aka: Vlad the Impaler? No. Brasov is a picturesque market town situated within the Southern Carpathians which makes it the perfect base for winter sports enthusiasts, people watchers and summer hikers.
Just 15km from Brasov the red roofed town of Râsnov is well-known for its strategically placed medieval citadel that was once inhabited by locals seeking refuge from invading Turks. Cobbled streets, Saxon houses and traditional tavernas give visitors to Râsnov a glimpse at the past and it's well worth taking at least a stroll before or after checking out the town's famous fortress.
A former European Capital of Culture and one of Romania's most important cities, Sibiu is bursting with Germanic character and features a series of pedestrianised squares as well as over 40km of cycle trails. The Holy Trinity Cathedral, Bridge of Lies and the Passage of Stairs are just a few of the highlights with obligatory fortified churches adding to the attraction of heritage museums and art collections.
As one of Europe's best preserved medieval towns, Sighisoara is not to be missed and if you were holding out for the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler you'll find it, rather appropriately, next to the city's weapons museum. A 12th century citadel, a covered staircase leading to a Gothic church, and an iconic clock tower are all present, with views from the hill perfect for potato bread picnics.