Brasov was the second stop on our six-night independently-organised trip around Romania. Although it’s one of the country’s largest cities, the pace of life here is noticeably slower than the buzzing streets of the country’s capital, Bucharest. The buildings are more colourful and well looked after, and there are wide pedestrianised boulevards and spacious plazas.
Initially inhabited by German settlers in the thirteenth century and situated at the crossroads of trade routes between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe, Brasov developed steadily over the years to become one of the most important cities in Romania.
Nowadays it’s used as a popular base for visitors to Transylvania due to its location at the foothills of the picturesque South Carpathian Mountains and the fact that it offers easy access to three of the country’s best castles – Peles, Bran (Dracula’s Castle), and Corvin.
We definitely found lots to love about Brasov. Its Old Town is small enough to explore on foot in a day or so, yet there is enough to see and do in and around the city to keep you entertained for weeks.
Admire the Gothic and Baroque architecture
Brasov’s streets are lined with countless beautiful buildings and one of the best things to do when you first arrive is to simply wander around and admire them all.
People-watch on Piaţa Sfatului
Once the heart of medieval Brasov, Piata Sfatului reportedly played host to the last witch burning in Europe. Nowadays it’s the bustling hub of activity within the city, and is flanked by colourful baroque architecture and popular cafes and restaurants whose outdoor seating spills out into this spacious plaza.
At the centre of Piața Sfatului is the 1420 Council House, which was historically used as a meeting place for town councillors (also known as Centurions) but now houses the Brasov History Museum. On top of the Council House you’ll find the Trumpeter’s Tower – used as a watch tower during medieval times to warn the city’s inhabitants of approaching danger, and so named because a Trumpeter announced the passing of each hour.
Although you’ll no longer hear a Trumpeter here every hour, the custom lives on each day at noon when musicians dressed in traditional costumes trumpet songs from the top of the tower.
Walk down the narrowest street in Europe
Strada Sforii (also known as ‘Rope Street’) is Europe’s Narrowest Street, measuring just 44 inches across at its narrowest point.
Initially used as an access route for Firefighters in the seventeenth century, it now offers a fascinating peek into medieval life in Brasov.
It’s a little difficult to find so I’ve enlisted the help of Google to pinpoint it on a map for you (below).
Catch the cable car up to Tampa Mountain
Towering above the city in every direction are the forest-covered hills of the 900-metre high Tâmpa Mountain, Hollywood-style “BRASOV” lettering signifying its peak.
A cable car will run you up to the top (16 lei one-way / 30 lei for a round-trip), or alternatively you can choose to make the journey on foot by following one of the hiking trails that snake their way up the mountain. Follow the red triangles from the cable car station or the yellow triangles from Brediceanu Alley; either route should take you about an hour.
For the best views of Brasov continue along the path a little further from the ‘official’ viewpoint until you reach a small plateau with some wooden decking. It’s a popular hangout for students so you might have to wait a while to snag a spot for a photograph, but it’s a small price to pay.
Marvel at the greatest Gothic church in Transylvania
The superlatives continue inside the church, where you’ll find the biggest bell in Romania (weighing 6.3 tonnes), the largest collection of old carpets from Asia Minor, and one of the greatest organs in Europe.
Built between 1383 and 1480, Brasov’s Black Church measures an impressive 90 metres in length and 65 metres in height at its tallest point, and has a capacity to accommodate around 5000 people. Just like the massive Kölner Dom in Cologne, it’s impossible to photograph the entire structure from ground level; it’s just so damn big!
What you can do though is make the climb up to the Black Tower (on the opposite side of the city to Tampa Mountain) to admire The Black Church in all its glory.
And in case you’re wondering how the Black Church earned its name (yes, I expected it to be black too), it was nothing more than the appearance of its blackened, smoke-damaged walls following a devastating fire that partially destroyed the church in 1689. I think its rather apt considering Brasov’s dark medieval history.
Gaze across the rooftops of the city from The White Tower
Although the Black Tower offers a better perspective of the Black Church, The White Tower is a more impressive structure in itself and affords the best close-up views of the city down below. It was constructed in 1494 as a defensive bastion and towers 18-20 metres high.
Both towers are located on Warthe Hill, a short walk (around 10 minutes) from Piata Sfatului.
Explore the Schei District
Follow Strada Porta Schei south and pass through the Schei Gate (1828) and you’ll find yourself in Schei, Brasov’s oldest neighbourhood. One of the loveliest sights in this area is the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas, just off Piata Unirii.
St. Nicholas is Transylvania’s first Orthodox church, built between 1493 and 1564 on the site of an earlier wooden building. Originally a Gothic-style church, it has since suffered numerous Baroque restorations. There’s some pretty impressive frescoes to marvel at, both inside and outside.
Visit Dracula’s Castle in the village of Bran
Bran Castle (more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle) is located in the village of the same name, just 29 kilometres from Brasov. There are regular (if slightly decrepit) buses that run the route from Brasov’s bus station a few kilometres out of town. They generally leave Brasov on the odd hour, and Bran on the even hour for the return trip to Brasov.
Bran Castle was built by the Saxons in 1382 to defend Bran pass against the Turks. Although there is evidence to suggest that Vlad the Impaler (the historical figure who was reportedly the inspiration for the character of Dracula) may have spent a few nights in the castle while fighting battles nearby, there is nothing recorded in the history books to indicate that the author, Bram Stoker ever visited Bran.
However in spite of these somewhat tenuous links between Bram Stoker’s character Dracula and Bran Castle, it totally looks like somewhere Dracula would have lived – especially when rumbles of thunder echo all around you and storm clouds roll in overhead.
Marvel at the magnificent Peles Castle in Sinaia
If you’re travelling to Brasov from Bucharest (or vice versa), it makes more sense to stop in Sinaia on route between the two, rather than to make a day trip from Brasov. If you have a large backpack with you (rather than just hand luggage, as we did) then Hotel Caraiman will hold your luggage for 10 lei (£1.94).
Considered to be one of the most beautiful castles in Europe (and quite rightly so in my opinion!), Peleş Castle was commissioned by the beloved and well-respected King Carol the First as a result of his love for its beautiful surroundings – the forest-covered foothills of the Carpathian mountains.
Completed in 1914, for a total cost of 120 million US dollars (in today’s money), the castle covers an area of 3200 square metres and was the first in Europe to be lit entirely by electricity.
The guided tours of the castle’s interior aren’t cheap (especially when you factor in the cost of taking photos – which is more than the price of the ticket itself) but I’d still recommend visiting, even if you don’t go inside.
Peles Castle can be reached by heading uphill from the railway station. Don’t forget to stop at Sinaia Monastery on route.
Treat your tastebuds in one of Brasov’s tempting cafes and restaurants
You’ll be spoilt for choice with cafes and restaurants in Brasov, but I can personally recommend the following.
I picked up the recommendation for this place from a fellow travel blogger, and I’m so glad I made time to visit. The friendly staff here will serve up some fresh, quality produce in a relaxed atmosphere just on the edge of the city’s Old Town.
Don’t leave without trying the grilled Romanian smoked cheese.
Oh, and they have the best WiFi password – “vegetariansdoitbetter”
Tucked down a little cobbled street just off Strada Michael Weiss, Bistro de L’Arte is dimly-lit, atmospheric little haunt whose walls are decorated with local artists’ work. There’s live music during the evening and their hummus is amazing!
Decadent, art-deco style venue where even the menus – printed to look like old newspapers – are in keeping with the restaurant’s theme. We didn’t order food here but I can personally recommend their mojitos.
Only steps away from Brasov’s tourist-filled streets, Kafe Pub is a beautiful oasis of calm with comfy chairs, chilled tunes, and wonderfully mis-matched decor and intriguing artefacts.
Although this is an Italian restaurant, we actually stopped here for what turned out to be a totally delightful breakfast. It’s located right on Strada Michael Weiss, and there’s plenty of outdoor seating under the shade of a couple of large canopies, so it’s a fantastic little spot to stop for a while and watch the world go by.
I love the concept of this cool, cozy little coffee shop on Piata George Enescu – all the tables and chairs (with the exception of the seating outside) are made from cardboard! It’s a really relaxed, family-friendly place that you can comfortably linger in for a lot longer than you planned to.
Stay in a beautiful apartment in one of the city’s historic buildings
We booked Versus Art Studio simply because we loved the look of the place in the photos on Booking.com. It was one of the most expensive properties we stayed at in Romania, but when you consider how spacious and beautifully decorated the apartment was, and the fact that it came with a fully-equipped kitchen, excellent wifi, and views across to Tampa mountain, the £40 per night price tag really wasn’t at all bad.
We managed to tick of all the sights and attractions listed within this article in less than two full days, but if you have longer in Brasov, you may also want to consider the following options:
- Sighisoara. Located 116 kilometres northwest of Brasov, the pretty little town of Sighisoara can easily be visited as a day trip from the city.
- Mind Puzzle Escape Experience. Escape rooms are becoming all the rage across Europe and as someone who loves analysing and problem-solving, I desperately want to have a go!
- Trekking and tracking in the Carpathian Mountains. A number of companies can organise treks into the surrounding countryside, or alternatively you can choose to track wolves or bears. If you fancy the latter then Dan Marin from Transylvanian Wolf comes highly-recommended. Apparently his wife organises cooking classes and cultural tours too. Thanks to Daniela Frendo of The Grumpy Camel for the helpful info!
Have you visited Brasov? Is there anything else you’d add to the list? Any quirky little finds or amazing restaurants you’d like to share?
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