Transylvania. The heart of Romania. The home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yes, Transylvania is most famous for its Dracula connection, but venture into the heart of Romania and you’ll find that Transylvania is in fact one of Europe’s hidden gems. From the majestic peaks of the Carpathians all the way down to towns and villages filled with historical treasures, Transylvania is truly a place like no other.
Interested in exploring one of the most naturally beautiful places in Europe? Start here, with my top five must-have experiences when visiting Transylvania.
1. Peles Castle
Considered by many to be a distant relative of Germany’s world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle, Peles Castle is far and away one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Originally commissioned as a summer residence during the reign of King Carol I of Romania, Peles is something out of a postcard, with breathtaking views everywhere in sight.
Peles Castle (and its surrounding complex) is regularly open to visitors who want to marvel in its Neo-Renaissance architecture, gothic sculptures and pristine courtyards. A quick 20-minute walk from the nearby town of Sinaia (through a vibrant forest no less) will bring you to the Peles’ steps. From there you’ll be able to scour the grounds, take a guided tour of the Castle and relax in the stunning scenery that Peles is famous for.
2.Trek the Carpathians
While Transylvania may be a hidden gem to many, it is renowned among hikers. Adventure seekers travel from all across the world to trek through the Carpathians in Transylvania. There are dozens of different options for hikers, from Postavaru peak to Moldoveanu Peak and everything in between, but for first-time trekkers, there are a couple of spots that you have to hit when visiting the Carpathians.
Start with The Heroes’ Cross at the top of Caraiman peak. Built as a memorial to the First World War, The Heroes’ Cross is a singular sight, attracting all trekkers who hike through the Southern Carpathians. It is truly a one-of-a-kind sight that you won’t get anywhere else in the world, so when you’re trekking through Transylvania make sure to hike your way up to this wonder.
Another must-visit when trekking is Piatra Craiului National Park, also known as King’s Rock. Home to hundreds of different species of plants and animals, the park is brimming with wildlife wherever you turn. In fact, the park is home to the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project, with thousands of bears, wolves and lynx roaming around (but not close enough to put you in danger!).
The Carpathians are a must see for any visit to Transylvania. Photo by R. Cornwall.
3. Brasov/Bran Castle
Of course, a visit to Transylvania wouldn’t be complete without some reference to Dracula. While Vlad Ţepeş – aka Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration behind Dracula – only spent a little while here, Bran Castle has now become the go-to destination for travellers who want to enter the world of Dracula. A beautiful mix of architecture, culture and art, “Dracula’s Castle” is another castle in Romania that makes you feel as if you’re in a dream.
The nearby town of Brasov must also be on your itinerary, especially if you’re already visiting Bran Castle. It is home to some of the best architecture in Romania, with its vibrant colours lighting up the city. It is the quintessential European town, except it happens to have some stunning views of the Carpathians and even a Hollywood-style sign to boot. Make sure to check it out before or after your visit to Bran Castle.
Bran Castle. Photo by M. Bartholomey.
4. Sibiu and Sighisoara
Less recognizable then some of the bigger cities in Transylvania but just as stunning, both Sibiu and Sighisoara are places you won’t regret visiting. Chosen as a European Capital of Culture for 2007, Sibiu is a backpacker’s dream. Still relatively unknown, Sibiu is quickly gaining recognition as one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. It is also at the other end of the Transfăgărășan highway that links it to Brasov, and offers some of the most stunning views you could ever imagine.
The alleged birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, Sighisoara is a medieval-style town that shows you all the best that Romanian village life has to offer. It is a true depiction of what life is like in Transylvania, especially when it comes to experiencing the culinary delights of Romania. It is a recommended stop for any traveller, and along with Brasov, Bran and Sibiu, travellers taking G Adventures’ Halloween in Transylvania can engage in a fully immersive “Transylvanian” experience.
Unlike the previous experiences, which are situated in the heart of Transylvania, Cluj lies further to the border than the heart of Transylvania. One of the bigger cities in Romania, Cluj is home to Romania’s largest student population. This has helped turn Cluj into a hip city, but don’t’ worry – it still holds much of its Transylvanian charm. Wander around through Cluj and you’ll stumble upon endless cafes, museums, churches or festivals. Coupled with stunning architecture and street life, walking through Cluj is an adventure on its own.
Coupled with stunning architecture and street life, walking through Cluj is an adventure on its own.