Off The Beaten Path Things to Do in Transylvania
Romania has never been able to grasp a foothold on the popular backpacking and travel routes in Europe but it’s a country where there are countless things to do and interesting places to explore. The region of Transylvania, which is most well known for being home to Dracula, is the most beautiful in all of Romania and full of natural beauty and many quaint tucked-away towns and villages.
Many travelers will make it to Brasov, the biggest tourist destination in the country, but very few of them venture even further into Transylvania to discover all that is has to offer. Thankfully, with the ever-improving infrastructure and the growing number of tours being offered it’s never been easier to explore the region.
With these 5 best hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path things to do in Transylvania not only will you be able to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Carpathian Mountains but if you visit the destinations on this list you’ll be introduced to a wide range of some of the most culturally and historically important places in Romania.
The Well Preserved Medieval Town of Sibiu
Tucked away in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains is the well-preserved and beautiful town of Sibiu. First mentioned in the 12th century, Sibiu has stood the test of time and is now one of the most gorgeous and well-preserved medieval cities in all of Europe.
From tight, winding alleys to imposing church towers that dominate the city skyline it’s hard to walk very far without stopping to take a few photos or stare up in awe at the incredible Saxon architecture. In 2007 Sibiu was named the European Capital of Culture – for good reason.
Much of the Old Town has been carefully preserved and restored so it’s easy to forget what century you’re in when you’re strolling past old defensive towers and Saxon churches that were built hundreds of years ago.
If you’re looking to beat the crowds of Bucharest or Brasov and want an in-depth experience of Romanian history then you should definitely head to Sibiu. To this day it still retains its Medieval charm but it’s hard to say how long that will last as it’s growing more and more popular every year.
The Sighișoara Citadel – the Birthplace of Dracula
The city of Sighișoara, only an hour’s drive away from Brasov, is known as the birthplace of the legendary Dracula and is one of the seven Saxon citadels in the area. The citadel, or fortress, was built on the hill in the center of town to protect the Hungarian Empire from invasion or attack from the Ottomans but today the city is a bright, colorful and beautiful place with a rich and intriguing history.
It was here where Vlad Tepeș, known to the world as Count Dracula, was born and you can even visit the exact house of his birth in the Sighișoara Old Town. Today you can’t walk very far without being reminded of Dracula but that doesn’t make it any less of an incredible place.
The Citadel was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status and the center of the Old Town, where the citadel has been best preserved, is a prime example of a Medieval fortified city. For hundreds of years the city has been inhabited by both Saxons and Romanians and today it’s one of the few remaining citadels in all of Europe where people continue to still live and work.
Very few people have ever heard of Sighișoara, and even less have visited, but it’s definitely worth checking out and exploring as one of the hidden gems in Transylvania.
The Transfăgărășan Highway – The Most Beautiful Road in the World
A few years ago the team and producers of the UK show Top Gear were looking for filming locations in Romania and happened upon the Transfăgărășan Highway. It’s not surprising that after they spent a few days filming their series they gave it the designation of being the most beautiful road in the world.
The Transfăgărășan, known locally as the DN7C, was built in the early 70s for military purposes but today it’s a wonderful place to drive and spend an afternoon exploring. Nearly 100 km in length, the highway takes you up and over the Făgărăș Mountain Range, a small part of the Carpathians.
It’s hard to notice the high, rugged mountain peaks towering over you as you drive through river valleys and alpine forests to reach Balea Lac, the glacial lake at the top of the highway. From here you can choose to hike to Moldoveanu, the highest peak in Romania, or head down the other side where you’ll pass the enormous Vidraru Dam as well as Poenari Fortress, one of Dracula’s many residences.
The Transfăgărășan has only recently started to become popular, since it was mentioned by Top Gear, but it’s still an off-the-beaten-path destination and there are still very few people willing to make the journey. From Brasov it’s a 2-3 hour drive but it’s definitely worth it for the incredible views and gorgeous natural scenery.
The Beautiful Biertan Fortified Church
It’s hard to travel very far in Transylvania without running into a fortified church. These churches were built by the Saxons in the Middle Ages as a way to defend the secluded and remote villages from attack. Defensive towers and protective walls were added to existing churches for even further protection. Since the church was the most important building in the village in those times it was always used to hold many of the villagers to keep them safe.
Today there are more than 150 different fortified churches in Transylvania but none is as impressive or well-preserved as the one in Biertan. The Biertan Fortified Church, which is located 9km away from the nearest major road, was completed in 1524.
It has survived hundreds of years of invasions, natural disasters and even neglect but over the past 30 years its historical and cultural importance have been recognized and efforts are continuously underway to restore it to its original glory.
The village that it’s located in, Biertan, is a prime example of how the Saxons lived and the architectural design plans they followed. Biertan is laid out in a grid-pattern around the church with all of the houses extremely close together. This made it easier to defend them and the proximity to the church meant that all the inhabitants could quickly make it to safety if needed.
While there are plenty of other fortified churches in the area the one at Biertan is, without a doubt, the most beautiful and impressive. It’s arguably one of the best hidden gems in Transylvania and definitely worth checking out during any visit to Romania.
The Hoia Baciu Forest – Transylvania’s Most Haunted Place
You’d think being the birthplace of Dracula and home to many of his castles and fortresses that Transylvania was scary enough – but there’s more. Located just outside of the biggest city in Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca, is the Hoia Baciu forest, which is said to be the most haunted place in the entire country!
It’s in the Hoia Baciu forest that in 1968 a local biologist managed to grab a photo of a UFO flying high above the trees. Long before he took that photo however, there have been many claims about odd occurrences and supernatural events happening.
The forest actually got its name from a shepherd and his flock of more than 200 sheep who simply disappeared one day and were never heard from again. To this day many people who visit the forest complain about hearing screams, having intense anxiety or a feeling of someone watching them and other things happening to them that cannot be explained.
Even more interesting is the empty circular space that’s devoid of all trees that’s right in the middle of the forest. There are theories as to how it got there but no one really knows for sure why trees don’t grow in that one circular patch. Don’t worry though, many people hike in the area every day and nothing ever happens to them!
For an off-the-beaten path and spooky adventure you should definitely head to the Hoia Baciu forest near Cluj-Napoca and see what you can find!
Thanks to our guest blogger Stefan Pidruczny from StefanRTW. On his blog Stefan writes about different destinations to help fellow travelers make the most informed decisions on where to go, what to do and what to bring on their next trip.
You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter