If there’s one place in Europe that’s been deeply misunderstood, it’s Transylvania. Who knew that one book — from an author who had never actually been to Transylvania, let alone Romania — could change the perception of a destination so greatly?
If you hear the word Transylvania, your mind likely instantly and unavoidably goes to vampires and spooky woods. While the latter may be true, as Transylvania literally means “across the forest,” the former… not so much, although naturally, you will find quite a bit of Dracula kitsch amongst the traditional Romanian souvenirs!
There are countless places to visit in Transylvania that are worth adding to your Romania itinerary, but we’ve decided to keep the list short and sweet, so that you can see everything in 3-5 days in Transylvania, though more would, of course, be welcome!
Without further ado, here is the list of our favorite things to do in Transylvania! At the end of this list, we’ll include a suggested Transylvania itinerary so that you can best plan your route. Transylvania is best and most easily accessed by car. However, it is definitely doable by public transport as well, though for a handful of sights you may find hiring a driver for a few hours quite useful.
Explore the beautiful Bran Castle
Okay, so we know we said that there is so much more to visit in Transylvania than just Dracula sights…. but trust us that Bran Castle, commonly called “Dracula’s Castle,” is completely worth it!
While of course, Dracula was a fictional character, he had a real-life basis: Count Vlad Dracul III, more commonly (and scarily) known as Vlad the Impaler, whose name derived from his favorite way of executing the people he conquered.
That said, no matter what people tell you, Vlad the Impaler never actually lived here, nor is there any evidence he actually even stayed here. It’s all just a big marketing ploy. Interestingly, this ploy was started by the Communist party in the 1970s when trying to court Western tourists, marketing the castle erroneously as the “Real Dracula’s Castle” (despite having zero connection to either character, historical or fictional).
Despite all that, Bran Castle is entirely worth seeing for its incredible beauty and history. There’s something about the way it juts high on a mountaintop, both blending into and sticking apart from the trees surrounding it. Going inside is simply magical, exploring all the different rooms that you could easily get lost in. Had Bram Stoker ever actually visited Bran Castle, you could get why he would imagine it haunted – or perhaps that’s my overactive imagination having read Dracula when I was in my early 20s.
The castle has a long and storied history with many layers, first starting as a fortress in the early 13th century by Teutonic nights, then shortly after destroyed by Mongol invaders. It took shape again around 1377, though fortifications and renovations over the centuries would change its appearance until it is the castle we all know and recognize today.
Where to Base Yourself: Brașov
Don’t miss the equally spectacular Peleș Castle
While Bran Castle gets all the fame in Transylvania due to its successful-yet-erroneous marketing genius, it may be easy to overlook Peleș Castle. However, don’t! That would be a huge mistake, as Peleș Castle is perhaps the most beautiful in all of Romania – a country well known for its castles.
Exquisitely ornamented with red half-timber decorations that show the inspiration of its German architect, Peleș is unique in the region. Designed in to be a typical alpine palace, Peleș is indeed a synthesis of various classical European styles, from Italian to German and beyond. The castle itself is rather new, started in 1873 and only completed in 1914. Despite being little more than a century old, Peleș has become an incomparable icon of Romanian castles and is often considered one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.
Where to Base Yourself: Sinaia or Brașov
Discover the candy-colored Sighișoara
Sighișoara was the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, but if you’d be expecting a dank dungeon somewhere… you’d be pretty much as wrong as you can be! Sighișoara is one of the most colorful towns in Romania and it is simply beautiful – no wonder the entire Historical Center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Be sure to climb the steps to the Clock Tower for the best view over Sighișoara. The Sighișoara Fortress is also well-worth spending some time exploring, if not only for its beautiful views. But my favorite part of Sighișoara is simply walking around the pastel-colored center, snapping photos everywhere I go (watch out for rabid Instagram girls!)
Where to Base Yourself: Overnight in Sighișoara or in Sibiu
Explore historic Brașov
Brașov is the second largest city in Transylvania, but it still has a quiet, historic vibe, making it a can’t-miss on a Transylvania itinerary. Things to do in Brașov include climbing the 15th century White and Black Towers, which offer amazing views over the city, walking the historic city walls, and relaxing with a coffee in the chill Piata Sfatului.
Don’t miss taking the cable car up to the Hollywood-esque BRASOV sign on the hill! It has amazing views over the entire city.
Where to Base Yourself: Brașov, obviously!
Check out the intriguing Râșnov Citadel
Just outside of the city of Brașov is one of Transylvania’s most interesting fortresses and citadels. Quite different than the well-constructed and still-livable castles and palaces of Bran and Peleș, the Râșnov Citadel has quite clearly seen better days. However, that’s part of what makes it so interesting!
You feel a bit like Indiana Jones walking around this former fortress area, and it makes you understand just how hard Transylvania had to work back in the day to keep its territorial integrity (even though that didn’t always go so well!)
Where to Base Yourself: Brașov
Ski or spa in Poiana Brașov
Not part of Brașov proper but rather a mountain resort about a 30-minute drive or 1-hour bus ride away, Poiana Brașov is hands-down one of my favorite places to visit in Transylvania.
I mean, who doesn’t love being surrounded by spas with saunas and outdoor hot tubs in the middle of the mountains? Or being surrounded by ski lifts taking you to one of over 10 ski pistes if you’re more adventurous/coordinated than we are?
While Poiana Brașov is definitely a winter ski resort, it’s still lovely to visit in the summer, when you can hike, enjoy the spas, and excellent food in the mountain lodges (we especially loved our meal at Teleferic Grand Hotel).
Where to Base Yourself: There are plenty of hotels in Poiana Brașov, or you can stay in Brașov proper if you prefer the city
See the amazing “Clay Castle”
Did you know that in Romania, there is a “castle” made of clay just 40 kilometers outside of Sibiu? Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor, which means “Clay Castle in the Valley of the Fairies,” is a brand-new “castle” soon-to-be-opened as an eco-hotel in the heart of rural Transylvania.
This castle is made entirely of clay and other eco-friendly materials, the brainchild of a Bucharest native who grew tired of city life and wanted to strip life down to something more basic.
While for now, there is nowhere for guests, it will open soon. In the meantime, it’s a great place for a photo shoot or a picnic. There is no public transportation here, so you will need a car or to hire a taxi from Sibiu.
Where to Base Yourself: Sibiu – or here, when it opens!
Get followed by the eyes of Sibiu
Sibiu is most famous for its distinctive architectural style – tiny slitted windows that look like eyes following you everywhere you go in the city!
While this seems a bit spooky, I actually found Sibiu delightfully cute – and home to one of the best, most diverse restaurant scenes in Romania. Sibiu was formerly one of the European Capitals of Culture, which resulted in a complete revival of its Old Town and better upkeep of its historic architecture. Now, Sibiu is one of the European Regions of Gastronomy, and it’s attracting a lot of talented chefs to reinvent Romanian and Transylvanian cuisine.
When you’re not stuffing your face or getting weirded out by the ‘eyes’ of Sibiu, there are several fantastic things to do there. Cross the Bridge of Lies (if you dare), climb the Council Tower, check out exquisite art at the Brukenthal National Museum, or explore the Lutheran Cathedral (and climb its bell tower for yet another perspective of the city). A good outing is a day trip to ASTRA just on the outskirts of the city, one of the best open-air ethnological museums in the country.
Where to Base Yourself: Sibiu
Check out the fortified church of Biertan
Transylvania has not had an easy history, full of being at times the conquerors and the conquered, always fighting for survival. You can see that everywhere: in its walled cities, its castles and fortresses, and even in its walled churches.
There are seven villages with fortified churches in Transylvania – the network of them form a UNESCO World Heritage Site – but the most famous is Biertan.
Where to Base Yourself: Sibiu, Medias, or Sighisoara
Explore the little-known Corvin Castle
While Peleș and Bran Castle gets all the love, it’s little known that there are even more (and perhaps even more spectacular) castles in Romania worth visiting. Corvin Castle should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Transylvania for its size, beauty, and history.
Also called Hunyadi Castle, the castle is one of the largest in Europe and figures on the list of the Seven Wonders of Romania. Built in the 15th century by a Hungarian architect, Corvin Castle has more in common with Hungarian castles than, say, Peleș or Bran which have different architectural influences. It was restored extensively in the 17th century and kept up well. Rumors abound about Vlad the Impaler being imprisoned here… but like all Vlad rumors, they are unverified.
Where to Base Yourself: Sibiu or Deva
Check out quiet Târgu Mureș
This little town is quite underrated! We really enjoyed our time in Târgu Mureș, mostly because it’s home to one of the nicest hotels in Romania, Hotel Privo. Don’t miss a fantastic meal there and check out the wine cellar – their enthusiastic sommelier will be happy to show you around. And you can even organize a wine tasting at local vineyards – yes, Romania grows wine, and as I drank liters of it to get me through my trip I can vouch that it is excellent!
There are a handful of interesting things to do in Târgu Mureș but we think exploring the city’s gorgeous architecture is a great place to start. Buildings like the Culture Palace, Citadel, and Orthodox Cathedral are all worth your time. However, skip doing a day trip to the Praid salt mine – we think the Turda one is miles better (more on that below).
Marvel at the Turda Salt Mine
Note: Do not confuse this with the Praid salt mine near Targu Mureș, which is objectively a hellscape full of unsupervised children and weird carnival rides.
Turda Salt Mine is breathtaking – except not really, as the restorative salt crystals will give you back what feels like years of breathability ruined by smog and bad life choices. With an underground lake, main hall, and various halotherapy benefits, you’ll find yourself awed by this gorgeous and unique place hidden under the ground.
Where to Base Yourself: Cluj
Check out big city life in Cluj
Sadly, while Stephanie and I have covered Transylvania rather extensively…. we haven’t made it to Cluj ourselves yet! As our good friend and Romanian travel blogger Alice is from there, we’ve heard quite a bit about how wonderful the city is, and we look forward to checking it out on our next trip to Romania.
Cluj-Napoca (called Cluj for short) is one of the largest cities in Romania and the largest city in Transylvania. From green spaces like Central Park and the Botanical Garden to churches like St. Michael’s Church and the Metropolitan Cathedral to the legendary nightlife, there’s plenty to do in Cluj!
Where to Base Yourself: Cluj, obviously!
Creating a Sensible Transylvania Itinerary
While there are so many things to do and places to visit in Transylvania, we advise you to minimize moving around so as to not drive yourself too crazy on your travels – even if you have a car! Instead, cluster your trips as much as possible so that you can move around less and see more.
I recommend starting your Transylvania itinerary with Brașov if you fly into Bucharest. Between Bran Castle, Peleș Castle, the city of Brașov itself, Rașnov Citadel, and Poiana Brașov, give yourself anywhere from 3 days to 1 week in this area. You could stay overnight in Sinaia on the way from Bucharest to Brașov if you want a smaller Transylvanian city experience – it’s home to Peleș and it’s a cute city in its own right.
From Brașov, make your way to Sibiu. Give yourself a few days (at least 2, but 3-4 would be welcome) in Sibiu, where you can see the city of Sibiu, the ASTRA museum, the Clay Castle, the fortified church of Biertan, and Corvin Castle on relatively easy day trips.
After Sibiu, you can stop in Mediaș (Biertan is near here, so maybe save this if you have a car!) or just make your way up to Sighișoara, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Transylvania and one place I truly don’t recommend skipping. Try to spend the night in Sighișoara if you can – it’s a place you want to soak up the magic.
After Sighișoara, you can stop briefly in Targu Mureș (just skip the Praid salt mine – trust us) before making your way to Cluj and its far better Turda Salt Mine. Cluj itself is worth a couple of days if you have it to spare for your Transylvania itinerary.
If you’ve rented a car, it may be worth it to see if you can pick up in Bucharest and drop off in Cluj-Napoca. Sure, there will be an extra charge, but it may not be that much more than the gas you’d pay to return it, plus a small convenience fee. If not, you’re in for a long 6+ hour drive back without stops!
Don’t Leave without Travel Insurance!
Finally, make sure you always travel to Romania with a valid travel insurance policy. Transylvania is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.