The fortified church of Biertan, Transylvania © Otto Schemmel
Thanks to the legend of Dracula, Transylvania
remains one of the most famous region of Romania, conjuring up
images of haunted forests and werewolves, medieval towns, vampires,
dramatic mountains, and turreted cliff-top castles.
Transylvania is not just about Dracula, however.
It contains splendid mountain scenery and alpine peaks, some of the
country's best hiking and skiing, rural villages, and a way of life
that remains almost as it was in the 18th century. Historic towns
are scattered throughout the region, with stone medieval streets,
defensive towers, and fortified churches. The charming town of
Sighisoara is the most striking introduction to Transylvania, the
birthplace of 'Dracula' (a medieval prince, Vlad Tepes, who led the
Romanian resistance against the Turks), along with the impressive
castles and churches of Brasov and Sinaia, and the dramatic castle
of Bran, also known as Dracula's Castle, that looks every bit a
vampire's lair with its soaring turrets and dramatic setting.
The populace is a mixture of different characters
and customs that have been shaped by years of colonisation and the
coming and going of different groups, including Romanians, Gypsies,
Hungarians, and Germans. Despite the creeping effects of
modernisation into the large towns, visitors to this region will be
rewarded by its medieval charm and the traditional character of the
people. Memories of horse-drawn carts piled high with cabbages,
driven by elderly couples with scarf-covered heads and rough hands;
lively food markets, quaint cobbled streets, and hilly pastures
nestled among the Carpathian Mountains will be the lasting
impressions left by the charm of Transylvania.
See our separate guides to the following Transylvania holiday resorts: Sinaia
Castle Bran © Florin73m
Often referred to as Dracula's Castle, the fortified medieval Bran Castle is a national monument and landmark of Romania. Looking exactly as a vampire count's abode should, the forbidding façade, towers, and ramparts rise out of the forest, perched high on a steep cliff face against a dramatic mountain background. Despite its aesthetic, there is little evidence to suggest Vlad Tepes, the speculated inspiration for Dracula, ever stayed there.
Bran Castle was built in 1377 to protect nearby Brasov from invaders, later becoming the favourite summer residence of Queen Marie, offered to her by the people of Brasov. The rooms and towers surround an inner courtyard with a sculpted stone fountain. A warren of narrow, winding stairs, secret chambers, and underground passageways lead between vaulted halls, a prison, a living area, and watchtowers with sweeping views.
The rooms are decorated with a collection of Baroque furniture, elaborately carved four-poster beds, weapons and armour dating from the 14th to 19th centuries. On the grounds below is an open-air ethnographic Village Museum consisting of old local-style architecture with household objects, costumes, and furniture on display. At the entrance to the castle grounds is a large handicraft market to entice tourists with souvenirs from the fantastical castle.
Address: Strada General Traian Moșoiu 24, Bran; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.bran-castle.com; Telephone: +4 0268 237 700; Opening time: Tuesday to Sunday 9am-4pm, Monday 12pm-4pm. ; Admission: 40 Lei adults, 10 Lei children, other concessions available.
Brasov, Piata Sfatului © Constantin Barbu
Nestled at the foot of Mount Tâmpa, is the charming medieval town of Brasov, one of the seven fortified towns settled by the Saxons, with a distinct Germanic flavour to its history and culture. The Saxons built massive stone walls and seven bastions around the city that are still visible today, as well as ornate churches, elaborately trimmed buildings, and a fine central square that is said to be where the legendary Pied Piper led the children of Hamlin.
Lining the square are the red-roofed merchant's houses, now occupied by cafes and shops surrounding the 15th-century Old Town Hall, home to the History Museum. The town's landmark is the impressive Gothic structure known as the Black Church, so named because a fire blackened its outer walls in 1689. The interior represents the quintessential East European church, with balconies, stained glass windows, an enormous organ, stone columns, and walls adorned with fabulous Turkish carpets. Many people use Brasov as a base for visiting the nearby attractions of Dracula's Castle at Bran, as well as Râsnov Castle and the ski resorts of Sinaia and Poiana Brasov.
Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania © Myrabella
The quintessential fairy tale castle, complete with turrets and surrounded by forests, the neo-classical Peles Castle was the summer residence for Romania's kings. Built by King Carol I in 1883, the castle is a masterpiece of German-Renaissance architecture with an exquisite exterior, and emerges from fir forests and the towering peaks of the Carpathian range.
The castle's 160 rooms are magnificent; lavishly decorated in ebony, mother of pearl, walnut, and leather with crystal chandeliers, fine collections of sculptures, paintings and tapestries, and stained glass windows and furniture. It is set within a large park with a statue garden in front. Further up the hill from the main palace is the smaller Pelisor Palace, built for Carol I's son and decorated in the Art Nouveau style.
Address: Aleea Peleșului 2; Website: www.peles.ro; Opening time: Wednesday to Sunday 9.15am-5pm, closed Monday and Tuesday/ ; Admission: 30 lei Adults, free for children, other concession available.
Sighisoara © MarculescuEugenIancuD60Alaska
Sighisoara is a beautifully preserved medieval town, renowned as the birthplace of 'Dracula', or Vlad the Impaler. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven fortified towns founded by the Saxons in the hills of Transylvania. The hilltop citadel dominates the town with the original medieval settlement enclosed within the fortress walls, surrounded by nine surviving towers.
Within the old town, the narrow cobbled streets and steep alleyways, brightly-painted, lopsided houses, ancient churches, stone archways, and covered stairways are watched over by the striking Clock Tower, the control tower of the main gate with magnificent views over the whole town and countryside. At the foot of the Clock Tower is the simple yellow building where Vlad was born and lived with his father, Vlad Dracul, and is marked by a hanging wrought-iron dragon. It now houses a restaurant with medieval furnishings.
The ancient cobblestone street that passes beneath the Clock Tower leads to the lower town, and although shabbier than the citadel, it has some interesting little shops where 'Vampire Wine' and locally made products can be bought. There are also lively markets here and pretty stone squares where townsfolk gather to chat animatedly about daily affairs. Every year in July the town is host to the Sighisoara Medieval Festival, one of Romania's biggest and most popular festivals.