Brasov, Romania. The gateway to Transylvania, where mystical castles, bloodthirsty vampires, howling wolves and enchanted forests are just some of the images that spring to mind when picturing this captivating region. When I was a child, obsessed with vampires and werewolves, Transylvania was firmly rooted in fantasy, and even as I got older, the region still held this almost mythical status in my mind.
When I visited Romania for the first time last year, I knew that exploring Transylvania was an absolute must, and so my first stop after gritty Bucharest was Brasov (pronounced Bra-shov), where I immediately fell head over heels in love and proceeded to extend my 3-day stay in this charming medieval city to a full week, a decision I didn’t regret in the slightest, as there are so many things to do in Brasov, I could have stayed for an entire month (okay – maybe another week would have sufficed).
Getting to Brasov, Romania
If you’re beginning your trip from Bucharest, Brasov is very easy to reach. Located 166km from Romania’s capital, the best way to reach Brasov (if you aren’t driving) is by train, which has a journey time of just over two and a half hours. Although the trains in Romania are kind of old (you won’t be getting a luxury travel experience here!), the views out of the windows are stunning and public transport in Romania is very affordable, with the Bucharest to Brasov journey costing between £4 and £9, depending on when you buy and which train you take.
The best website to use for booking train travel in Romania is CFR Călători.
Things to Know Before Visiting Brasov
Brasov is located in central Romania and is surrounded by Southern Carpathian mountains.
With a population of approximately 280,000, it is one of the largest cities in Romania and its medieval old town is one of the most well-preserved old towns in Europe (frequent readers of this blog will know that I love me a good old town!).
The currency in Romania is the Romanian Leu (lei plural), with one leu being the equivalent of 0.21 EUR.
The language is Romanian, which is 77% similar to Italian, 75% similar to French and 71% similar to Spanish, so speakers of these languages will find it very easy to navigate Romania as a foreigner! Hungarian speakers are also in luck when visiting Romania, as the largest minority language in Romania is Hungarian, with 6.1% of Romanian citizens being native Hungarian speakers!
Brasov is very touristy, but if the thought of seeing Brits abroad makes you shiver like it does me, then fear not because tourists in Brasov hail from countries such as Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
Brasov was actually developed by the Saxons and was essentially a German colony for many years, with Romanian citizens not having the same rights as the Saxons (such as being able to live inside the city walls or operate their businesses). The German influence can be seen in Brasov’s architecture, which wouldn’t look out of place in Bavaria!
Like all of Romania, Brasov is a very affordable city, with a pint of beer costing around 6 lei (1.26 EUR), hostel beds being around 38 lei (8 EUR) and a restaurant meal costing between 12 and 35 lei (2.5 EUR to 7 EUR).
Brasov is safe. I visited Brasov as a solo female traveller and never felt unsafe here. There is a large tourist police presence, and the only real safety issues in Brasov are that of wildlife in the surrounding forests (Transylvania is home to wolves, wild cats and the largest population of brown bears in Europe!) and pickpockets that hang out in and around the train station. As with anywhere, just keep your wits about you and you should be fine.
16 Incredible Things to Do in Brasov
As I touched on briefly in the introduction, there are so many things to do in Brasov that whatever type of traveller you are, you will find something. Do you enjoy sipping coffee in candlelit coffee shops and strolling around cobbled streets? Perhaps you’re a history buff and are more suited to fortifications and historical buildings that have a story to tell. Maybe you’re more of an adventure traveller, basing your travels on where you can hike, or perhaps you’re visiting Transylvania for a spot of vampire tourism?
Whatever it is, you’ll find it in Brasov, and so, without any further ado, let’s begin my list of 16 things to do in Brasov, Romania!
1. Piata Sfatului
Medieval old towns in Europe all have delightful market squares that are often beautifully preserved and make lovely gathering spots, either for Christmas markets or midsummer cocktails. Brasov Romania is no exception, and here you will find Piata Sfatului, or ‘Council Square,’ with Brasov’s 15th century town hall (with the tourist information office and Brasov History Museum inside) and the clock tower (or ‘Trumpeter’s Tower).
Just like other medieval market squares, Piata Sfatului was once used for beheadings, floggings and public humiliation, as well as being the place where witches were tortured. However, unlike other European market squares, legend has it that this square is linked to the Pied Piper of Hamelin – after he lead the children away, they were said to re-appear here!
Surrounded by stunning 18th century buildings, most of which are now bars and restaurants, Piata Sfatului is the perfect place to sit outside and enjoy a drink while soaking up the lively atmosphere.
2. The Black Church
Biserica Neagră, or ‘The Black Church,’ is the largest Gothic church in Eastern Europe, and its name comes from the fact that in 1689, a huge fire burned the church, and the walls inside darkened with smoke. While the inside of the church is not as ornate as others that I’ve seen, it is home to the biggest mechanical organ in Romania, as well as the largest collection of Anatolian carpets outside of Turkey.
Just like many other things in Brasov, this church has its own legend. On one of the pillars, there is a statue of a little boy leaning forwards…although nobody knows exactly who this boy is or what he is supposed to be up to, many believe that a German child annoyed one of the Bulgarian builders who was constructing the church, and so the builder pushed the child off the church tower before bricking the child’s body into the church walls to conceal his crime .
The Black Church of Brasov costs 9 lei to enter and is closed on Mondays.
3. Take a Cable Car Up Tampa Mountain
Something anybody visiting Brasov can’t fail to miss is the Hollywood-style ‘Brasov’ sign that overlooks the city from Tampa Mountain. This sign is another thing that has its own story. Between 1950 and 1980, Brasov was given the name ‘Orasul Stalin,’ which means ‘Stalin City.’ During this time, the name ‘Stalin’ was displayed on Mount Tampa using fir trees, which have now been replaced with the Hollywood-style letters!
It is actually possible to take a cable car or hike up to this sign and enjoy the beautiful views over Brasov. The walk is only about one hour, but there are some loose rocks and rough terrain so sensible shoes are advised. The cable car takes just few minutes and costs 18 lei both ways or 10 lei one way.
4. Visit Dracula’s Castle!
Dracula, or rather, Vlad the Impaler, was born not far away from Brasov, in the fairytale town of Sighisoara. Now, while of course Bran Castle is not actually in any way related to good old Vlad, that hasn’t stopped it from being considered Dracula’s Castle, a message that the Romanian tourism boards don’t hesitate in pushing! This association comes from the fact that apparently it is the only castle in Romania that fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle due to the fact that Stoker penned the novel after reading a description of Bran Castle that was available to him at the time.
Although Bran Castle is super touristy, if you visit Transylvania in search of vampires, you can’t miss it!
Bran Castle is located a 45 minute bus ride away from Brasov. The bus fee is 8 lei and entrance to the castle is 40 lei for adults.
5. Discover the Medieval Old Town
It’s sweet and simple but one of the absolute best things to do in Brasov is simply walk around and take it all in! Brasov’s medieval old town is beautifully preserved, and even if you’re not an architecture buff, you can’t fail to be impressed by the stunning buildings and cobbled streets. One thing you have to try while you meander is a kürtőskalács (chimney cake), a sweet treat specific to Transylvania and Hungary.
Now, you may be thinking that kürtőskalács look very similar to the Czech trdelník, sold on every street corner of Prague. However, the difference between the two is the size! Kürtőskalács cakes are absolutely massive, and while you may need to loosen your belt a little, it would be rude not to – I mean, it’s all in the name of culture!
6. Attend a Free Walking Tour!
Something that I say in every single ‘things to do in X’ post is TAKE A DAMN FREE WALKING TOUR. To those of you who are unfamiliar with free walking tours but have seen the large groups of tourists being led around by a guy or gal with an umbrella and thought ‘oh hell no,’ just humour me for a second.
Free Walking Tours are the best way to explore a new city as they allow you to not only get your bearings and figure out where everything is, but they also always include all of the main sights, and what better than seeing all of the main sights a place has to offer while having a fascinating historical breakdown of each one? Not only that, but Free Walking Tours are a great chance to meet other travellers, and also ask your tour guide any questions you may have about the city.
The Free Walking Tour Brasov is run by Walkabout and takes place every day between April and September at 6pm from the main square.
7. Enjoy the Views from the Black and White Towers
A few steps away from the old town are the two towers of Brasov, the Black Tower and the White Tower. The Black Tower is not actually black, but takes its name after a lightning bolt struck it. Regardless, you are able to climb the steps to the top of both towers (for free!) and enjoy beautiful views over Brasov.
8. Take a Picture in Europe’s Narrowest Street
Strada Sforii, or String Street, is not actually Europe’s narrowest street (there are narrower streets in England, Sweden and Italy), but for some reason, it is known as such. I don’t mind giving it the title if it wants it. Strada Sforii is 53 inches wide at its widest point, and just 44 inches at its most narrow.
There isn’t actually anything on this street (aside from tourists taking pictures), but it’s worth having a mosey down just to say you’ve been to Europe’s narrowest street (that isn’t actually Europe’s narrowest street).
Oh, and fun fact (because apparently I’m full of em in this article), Strada Sforii was originally designed to be a fireman’s passageway.
9. Soak up the German Culture
As most of Brasov was constructed by the Saxons, lovers of German culture will be right at home here. Once you’re done admiring the German architecture, make sure to kick back in one of the many German beer houses with a German beer or a good old bratwurst!
10. Visit Romania’s Most Impressive Castle
Most people visiting Romania make a beeline for Bran Castle, but speak to any Romanian and they will tell you without hesitation that the most beautiful castle in Romania is Peles Castle.
Now, funny story. While I was in Romania, my friends and I tried to go to Peles Castle.
What we actually ended up doing was going to the ‘Guard House of Peles Castle,’ thinking that we were in the castle itself and being very underwhelmed. I do have to confess at this point that we may have written in the guestbook saying that their chandelier game needed working on if they wanted to be taken seriously as a castle.
Upon leaving, and driving all the way back to Bucharest (much further away from Peles Castle than Brasov is), we found out that we’d actually visited the Guard House, which is just a few metres from the castle, and somehow, ladies and gents, we missed it.
Yes, I am the worst travel blogger on the planet, I am aware.
ANYWAY, if you’re not a moron like me and you DO actually end up finding Peles Castle, it makes a great day trip from Brasov (so I’ve heard), and, er, you should go.
11. Discover the Quirky Bars and Coffee Shops
My faaaavourite thing about Brasov was spending my afternoons discovering all the best hole in the wall bars and coffee shops, that all seem to be based around books (one delivers your bill in a beat up paperback), and are full of rich mahogany, soft jazz and dusty old books.
My favourite place to curl up was Kafe Pub, which serves 500ml coffees in every flavour from hazelnut to creme brûlée and looks like the Gryffindor common room.
Other favourite coffee and cocktail spots in Brasov were Biblioteque pub, Dr. Jekelius Pharmacy Cafe, Bistro de l’Arte and L’etage.
12. Admire Catherine’s Gate
If you’re making a list of historical things to do in Brasov, then having a peek at Catherine’s Gate has got to be on it. Catherine’s Gate is the last standing original medieval gate in Brasov, having been constructed in 1559 and bearing the Brasov coat of arms.
Although the medieval city of Brasov had five entrances, Catherine’s Gate was the only one that Romanians themselves could use to enter the city (paying a tax each time they passed through it) during the Saxon rule between the 13th and 17th centuries. During this time, Romanians were forbidden from owning land or houses in the city walls and so lived in the nearby area of Scheii Brasovului.
13. Beat a Dracula Escape Room!
I know that pretty much every city on the planet has an escape room at this point, but there is something special about attempting a Dracula escape room in Transylvania, no?
While I was in Brasov, it was raining and so my friend and I had a bash at the Dracula’s Den room at Escape Rooms Brasov. There were only two of us, and I’m ashamed to say that we didn’t manage to escape within the hour, but we had a lot of fun nevertheless and at just 50 lei or 10 EUR each (with the price decreasing dramatically for bigger groups – a group of 5 would pay just 5 EUR each), it was a great way to spend an hour.
14. Visit Rasnov Fortress
Just 9km from the centre of Brasov is the small town of Rasnov, complete with its very own 700 year old fortress, which has only surrendered once throughout history! While castles such as Peles Castle were designed to house the Royals, fortresses like this one were home to entire communities, and whenever the city of Rasnov was under attack, everybody would run to the fortress and take refuge in the small houses inside its walls.
For less than 1 EUR, you can enter Rasnov Fortress and wander around the cobbled streets inside, trying your hand at archery or buying a souvenir to take home.
15. Explore the Schei District
The Schei district is the area just outside the walls of old town Brasov and is where the Romanians lived under Saxon rule. Although not part of the old town, the Schei district is no less beautiful and is definitely worth a walk around.
It is here that you will find the 16th century St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and the First Romanian School. This school used to be the only school in Transylvania, and every village would pay for one student to be educated here so that when he returned to his village, he could share everything he learnt with the rest of the villagers!
Nowadays, the First Romanian School is open to the public as a museum, and features a library of 6000 Slavic and Romanian books, the first Romanian Bible, and the first ever Romanian printing press, which produced the first ever Romanian letter in Latin, the first Romanian schoolbook, and the first Romanian Bible.
16. Visit the Bears’ Sanctuary
There is a cruel history of cruelty towards bears in the Balkans. Bears were kept in cages outside restaurants as a way to attract customers, or else they were made to stand on red hot sheets of metal so that they would ‘dance’ in front of the jeering crowds. I write more about this topic of ‘dancing bears’ and ‘restaurant bears’ in my guide to the Bear Sanctuary Prishtina.
Now the practice is thankfully illegal, but there are hundreds of traumatised bears that cannot survive in the wild and thus depend on the various bear sanctuaries to look after them. Libearty Bear Sanctuary (see what they did there?) is just a 40 minute drive from Brasov and is home to 70 bears and 70 hectares of oak and hazel forest up high in the Carpathian Mountains.
Libearty Bear Sanctuary is only open to visitors in the mornings. You can buy tickets and find opening times here.
Budget Accommodation in Brasov Romania
I stayed in two hostels during my time in Brasov Romania and I recommend them both for different reasons.
JugendStube has the absolute best location, hands down. As soon as you step out of the door, you are on one of the main streets in Brasov’s old town, and the adjacent street is the main street where all the nightlife is, leading to Piata Sfatului, or the main square. The dorm rooms, kitchen and common room are pretty basic (though totally fine!) and there is not a whole lot of atmosphere in this hostel, but if you just want a place to sleep in a great location then JugendStube is your best bet. Jugenstube also provides a free breakfast and free lockers. To book your stay at JugendStube hostel, just click here!
Kismet Dao was the second hostel that I stayed at in Brasov, and it was my personal favourite of the two. While the location is not as central (Kismet Dao is located in the Schei district, a ten minute walk from the old town), the rooms are decorated beautifully (more like a nice AirBNB than a hostel), and the building as a whole really has the extra ‘wow’ factor. From my experience, it was also the more sociable of the two hostels. Kismet Dao offers a free breakfast and free lockers. To book your stay at Kismet Dao hostel, just click here!
So, there concludes my list of 16 things to do in Brasov, Romania! Brasov is an absolutely magical place with so much to offer, and I really hope that this list has given you some ideas of how to spend your time in Brasov! Don’t forget to share this article if you enjoyed it as it helps me a lot.