Transylvania is a mystical land of cozy cafes and towering castles, making it the perfect destination for a cold-weather escape. If you’re headed to Romania in winter, don’t just stick to Bucharest! From its ski resorts to its charming cities, you won’t get bored spending a bit of vacation time in winter in Transylvania. Here are our favorite Transylvania winter activities, plus travel and packing tips so you have a wonderful trip!
Read Next: 11 Magical Things to Do in Romania in Winter
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What is the Weather in Transylvania in Winter?
If you’re spending time in the rest of Romania, note that the elevation of Transylvania means this region is much colder than places like Bucharest. Lows in Brasov, Sibiu, Cluj, and other Transylvanian cities average around 20° F and average highs of 36° F, give or take a few degrees depending on the city (-7° C to 2°C).
However, it can easily dip to -20° C (-4° F) on some of the coldest nights — so be prepared and pack appropriately for winter in Transylvania. This goes doubly if you’ll be spending time in mountain resorts like Balea or Poiana Brasov, where the altitude will not do you any favors!
The Best Things to Do in Transylvania in Winter
Here are our picks for the best Transylvania winter activities.
Tour Bran Castle in the Snow
Whether you’re going to be based in Transylvania or you want to visit Bran Castle from Bucharest, a visit to Bran Castle is a must for any trip to Transylvania – even when it’s cold out! And if you’re being honest, doesn’t it look just dreamy covered in snow?
You can tour Bran Castle from Bucharest on a guided tour. If you’ll be staying in Brasov, you can go on a tour of three nearby castles, including Bran Castle, as an all-day castle tour or go on a guided tour of Bran Castle by itself.
If you’d prefer to walk the castle grounds on your own, you can get a Skip-the-Line ticket so you don’t have to wait to get in.
Hit the Slopes in Poiana Brasov
If you’re an avid skier (or even a beginner) head to Poiana Brasov for some winter fun. While I personally enjoyed my time in Poiana Brasov’s hot tubs and spas, I’m sure some of you would opt for the slopes over the Apres-ski options.
This town is located outside of Brasov, so you can still explore Transylvania’s cultural heritage when you’re not enjoying the sports scene.
Enjoy Transylvania’s Christmas Markets
We love Balkan Christmas markets, and some of Transylvania’s are famous outside of the region as being special places to celebrate the season!
The best Christmas Markets in Transylvania are in Cluj, Sibiu, and Brasov. In fast, Sibiu was the first Romanian town to hold a Christmas Market, dating back to 2007 when it served as one of the European Capitals of Culture.
Stay at an Ice Hotel near Sibiu
Thought ice hotels were only for the Arctic? Think again! The beautiful Lake Bâlea in Transylvania has an ice hotel that is open each winter.
Deep in the Făgăraş Mountains, right on the banks of Bâlea Lake, the lake hotel is made by local craftsmen who carve blocks of ice from the nearby lake to create a real hotel you can sleep and stay in. The beds are literally carved by hand from ice, and on top, you can stay warm with reindeer-fur blankets and thermal blankets to provide extra warmth. There’s even an ice church!
I haven’t gotten the chance to stay here yet, but trust me, it’s on my winter in Transylvania bucket list! Check out prices and availability here, if you’re curious!
See a Snow-Capped Sighisoara from Above
The medieval town of Sighisoara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we think it’s one of the best things to do in Transylvania regardless of the time of year.
While I was there when it was very cold out, I missed getting to see it all frosted in snow. Make sure to climb up the fourteenth-century Clocktower to take in the beautiful views of the city from above!
If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of Sighisoara in history and its UNESCO designation, you can go on a two-hour walking tour of the city’s most important sites.
See the Magical (and Eco-Friendly) Clay Castle
One of the places that I found to be the most surprising and delightful during my time in Transylvania is the charming Clay Castle. This future-hotel makes a great place to stop and appreciate the wild Transylvania landscape.
While I love photos and seeing it in the autumn when there are flowers outside, it’s equally lovely covered in a thick layer of snow. Just wear good shoes, since you’ll want to be able to walk all the way around!
Escape the Cold Completely in the Salina Turda Salt Mine
This may sound weird, but Allison and I love being salt tourists. Yes, salt tourists. Being in a salt cave basically drains all the mucus you never knew you had from your face, allowing you to breathe like you’re a kid again. And in Transylvania in winter, where smog can really be a damper on winter days, a salt mine is the perfect antidote to a stuffy nose and blocked sinuses.
If you’re planning to head to Cluj-Napoca in northern Translyvania on your trip, the Salina Turda is also an excellent choice and an easy day trip from Cluj.
The one Romanian salt mine we can’t recommend (told you guys we’re salt people) is Praid Salt Mine near Targu Mures, also in Transylvania. It’s basically a child free-for-all with amusement park rides, lines, and chaos galore — it may be fine for families, but if you’re looking to relax and clear your lungs, it’s not the place to go.
See Romania’s Other Famous Castles
Bran Castle might be the most famous castle in Romania, but it’s not the only castle in Transylvania worth visiting! You can (and should!) add stops at Peles Castle and Raznov Fortress, which are both breathtaking.
Enjoy Cluj, the Capital of Transylvania
Even though Cluj is a bustling city and the capital of the region, tourists tend to skip it in favor of seeing Brasov, Sighisoara, and Sibiu. Which, we love those three towns, but don’t overlook Cluj!
Visit Transylvania’s UNESCO’s Protected Fortified Churches
If you love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, make sure to visit at least one of the UNESCO-designated Fortified Churches that are in the region. The site officially titled the “Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania” is comprised of seven villages: Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Villor, and Viscri.
According to UNESCO:
“These Transylvanian villages with their fortified churches provide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape of southern Transylvania. The seven villages inscribed, founded by the Transylvanian Saxons, are characterized by a specific land-use system, settlement pattern and organization of the family farmstead that have been preserved since the late Middle Ages.
They are dominated by their fortified churches, which illustrate building styles from the 13th to the 16th century.”
It can be hard to visit these on your own unless you have a car, but there are guided tours to different Fortified Churches from several Transylvanian cities.
Eat a Hearty Traditional Romanian Meal
Romanian food is perfect for winter. Comprised of lots of heavy meats, cheesy polenta, and thick soups, Romanian cuisine really sticks to your bones.
While here, make sure to set aside time to enjoy long traditional lunches and dinners (though throw in a few international meals, too, for variety). Here are our favorite Romanian dishes to get you started.
Shop for Traditional Romanian Souvenirs
When it’s cold outside, why not head in somewhere warm to shop? Besides the cozy sweaters and scarves you’ll find and want to drape yourself in immediately, you’ll also see tons of great options for Romanian souvenirs and gifts. Why not be a bit adventurous and bring back some homemade Romanian pickles?
If you’re looking for ideas for what makes the best traditional Romanian gifts, check out our guide to the best Romanian souvenirs.
Warm Up with Some Fiery Romanian Tuica, Palinka, and Hornica
Balkan people take great pride in their local liquors, and in Transylvania, that means you’ll be seeing a lot of hornica, tuica, and palinka. Which, to be frank, I prefer to rakia, ouzo, and even raki.
What’s the difference between the three? Technically all are brandies (usually plum brandies). Tuica is plum brandy, while Palinka is the same stuff except that they distill it one or two extra times. Hornica is tuica that is at the strongest end of the ABV spectrum. So while you may not notice a difference between the three liquors, Romanians will offer you all three at different times. And, well, it would be rude not to accept.
If you’re coming in from the cold, being greeted by a large tray of tuica (or palinka, etc) is an excellent way to start warming up!
What to Pack for Romania in Winter
We have a full Romania packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!
A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. We own and recommend Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria for travel in Romania and beyond!
One or two swimsuits: While swimsuits may not come to mind for winter, if you’re staying in a resort with a sauna, indoor pool, or steam room — or just visiting Bucharest’s epic Therme spa — you’ll likely want one! We suggest bringing two so you never have to put a cold wet one back on. We love this one.
Plenty of winter clothing: You can check our packing list above for our full winter packing suggestions for men and women. At a minimum, you’ll want to bring a warm winter jacket (I love this North Face parka), cozy snow boots, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.
Any ski equipment and clothing, if needed: We’re not skiers ourselves, so we don’t have specific ski gear equipment, but special ski clothes — waterproof pants and jackets, goggles, etc. — and ski gear obviously should be on your packing list, unless you have decided to rent it all when you arrive at your Serbia ski resort.
Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up in the best of times — and winter travel in addition to skiing will really do a number on it! If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside in the cold all day.
Sunscreen: We strongly suggest wearing sunscreen when you spend time outdoors, no matter the weather outside — especially if you’re skiing! The higher altitudes combined with the reflection of the sun off the snow can lead to unexpected sunburns. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen – it’s mess-free, works well in carry-ons, is ultra-protective, and blends in well.
More Romania Travel Resources
If you’re going to Romania, we have a goldmine of resources for you to take advantage of! First, check out this guide to planning a trip to Romania. It’s a good starting point for planning your trip.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Romania (or really, any part of the world)! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Romania is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel – especially winter travel! – so it’s better to play it safe rather than chance having your vacation ruined by a lapse of judgment.
If you’re planning to do winter sports, be sure to check that your specific policy covers ski or snowboard accidents or if you require a higher level of coverage. For example, with World Nomads, ski and snowboarding coverage is only provided on the higher-tier Explorer plan, so be sure to consider that when deciding what insurance plan to purchase if you’re doing winter sports.
Pin this Guide to the Top Transylvania Winter Activities for Your Trip!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.