Hey there travelers! How are you hanging in there? I know I miss boarding a plane and discovering new places. But, by the looks of things, I’ll be doing a lot more local exploring this year. And to be honest, it’s a good plan. Helping local tourism, show you some beautiful places, putting Romania on the map.
I was lucky enough to have my birthday right after the first wave of restrictions was lifted, here in Romania. I could finally leave Bucharest, get an accommodation and benefit from the terraces being open. Since my birthday managed to drop this year on a 3 day weekend and the first one after lockdown, I knew it’s going to be crazy at the seaside and on Prahova valley. These are the two most popular destinations not just for foreign travelers, but also for locals.
So I set my sights on exploring Transylvania and the village areas. I did a trip a couple of years back to visit some of the Fortified Churches of Transylvania, and those areas are divine (pun intended). Green fields, winding roads and no traffic. So I decided to add a couple to my list.
The base camp for this trip was one of my favorite cities in Romania – Sighișoara. This little medieval gem is right in the heart of Transylvania and because of the pandemic and people not traveling so much, I managed to find the most adorable guest house. Insider tip – if you want to experience Transylvania to the fullest, make sure you book a guest house. These places keep the traditions alive, while incorporating modern day comforts.
Sighișoara – home of Dracula
Nothing stirs up more curiosity and intrigue around Transylvania than a Dracula story. Well, Sighișoara is none other than the birth place of Vlad the Impaler, the historic ruler of Wallachia, that became the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel. FYI, Bram Stoker never even set foot in Romania, let alone Transylvania.
Located at about 4-5h driving distance from Bucharest, this little medieval town had an important strategic and commercial role in Central Europe. It was founded in the 12th century by guilds of Saxon artisans and merchants. The fortified town was used as a military base against the Ottoman Empire and each guild had its own watch tower on the citadel’s walls: Butchers, Rope Makers, Tailors, Tanners, Blacksmiths, Tinsmiths, Shoemakers, Furriers. There are 9 towers still standing today out of a total of 14, and while some are occupied, you can still visit them on the outside.
Technically, in battle, the citadel was never conquered, however, through treachery, back in 1601, when the mayor was not in the fortress, it was occupied by an army of Székely. A bit of a Trojan horse type of story to add some flavor to the history of the fortress. The next 75 years of wars, plagues and natural disasters tormented Sighișoara. It all culminated in 1676 with a great fire that destroyed in 6 hours more than 600 houses, 120 farms and 7 defense towers, among them also the symbol of the city – the Clock Tower.
Sighișoara was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1999 and it is one of the few fortified towns in Eastern Europe still inhabited.
What to see in Sighișoara?
While you can’t enter the other towers, there is one that will guaranteed make up for that. The master tower. The one that dominates the entire landscape. The Clock Tower is the main entrance to the citadel, standing at 64m in height. Until 1556 it was also the town hall, but now it is a great lookout point and hosts the History Museum of Sighișoara. The tower was destroyed in the great fire of 1676, but it was quickly rebuilt a year later. It is probably one of the most expensive clock towers in Europe. Its current mechanism, installed in 1906, was custom made in Switzerland. What makes the clock unique are the 7 wood-carved figurines that are representing the mythological Gods: Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the Sun. Each of them is a personification of the days of the week.
On the façade of the clock there are other static figurines: the Goddess of Peace, holding an olive branch and a trumpet; Justice (blindfolded and with a sword) and Righteousness (holding up a scale) and the Day and the Night angels, that switch at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (they represent the 12h work day for the craftsmen of the citadel).
Right next to the Clock Tower is the House of Vlad Țepeș (Casa Vlad Dracul). Today it houses a small exhibition and a restaurant. You can recognize it by the dragon hanging above the entrance. Might not be the best museum in town, but it’s fun for young kids.
Going up the road you will reach the main square where there are several cafes and restaurants with good traditional Romanian food. But more about food later on, after I virtually take you through the whole citadel. After reaching the square, take a left on the School street, to reach the covered staircase. The school is at the top of the hill, so you really have to put in the effort to learn something. 175 steps later you could consider you’ve done your workout for the day. The school on top of the hill appears for the first time in official documents in 1522 and it is one of the oldest in Transylvania.
Near the school you will find the Church on top of the hill. Around Transylvania, many of the schools were located near the church because religion had a strong association with education.
Returning to the main square, you can either trace your steps, or you can take the long way down with a stroll through the cemetery. And before you say “I’m going back”, this is not as creepy as it sounds. You can walk through the old cemetery and discover the stories that hundred year old tombstones have to tell. If you look carefully, you’ll see on some of them symbols that represent the persons craft.
Where to eat in Sighișoara?
After a long stroll, you come back to the main square where most of the terraces and restaurants are. Straight out of the gate you will notice The House with Antlers or The Stag House (Casa cu Cerb). On the sides of the building you will see the murals of two life size stags, uniting on the corner in a single head with actual antlers. It is one of the oldest buildings in the citadel. Casa cu Cerb is a guest house, and you can book a room here and it also has a restaurant with a terrace, where you can enjoy a couple of drinks. Since not everything was fully open due to the pandemic, this place was only serving drinks, so I can’t give you a review on the food.
However, right across the street, you will find Casa Kuhn. It is also a guest house, and you can book your accommodation here, but if you are looking just for some delicious food, this is a good place to try. I had slow cooked ribs with wedges and the house apple strudel with vanilla sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Let me tell you… it was a good thing I took a long walk before this lunch, because I literally couldn’t move afterwards.
Another good place to eat some large size traditional Romanian dishes is Casa Vlad Dracul. They have a nice terrace in the back and I would highly recommend going all Romanian with a traditional platter that has sausages, eggplant salad, smoked lard (don’t knock it till you try it), zacuscă (which is like a traditional veggie dish) and a few types of local cheeses. As for the main course I was craving something called bulz. This is made with polenta, bacon or sausages, a type of cottage cheese called burduf (but not the one you are used to), fried egg and sour-cream.
As you can see we like our food. These are big, heavy plates. So make sure you get your workout in before you sit down.
For a nice refreshing mint lemonade or a cool beer there is a little cafe/terrace to the left of the covered staircase, called Casa Cositorarului. This cute terrace wrapped in beautiful greenery and colorful flowers is also a boutique pension and you can check it out here.
Where to stay in Sighișoara?
My recommendation is to stay inside the citadel. There are quite a few hotels outside the fortified walls, but you will get a better sense of the local atmosphere if you stay in. There are also a number of guest houses you can rent, that will make you feel like you are part of the locals. My stay was at Dominic Boutique Tâmplarilor.
Behind the wooden gates you’ll find a typical inner yard and a little piece of history. According to the owner and the fresco on one of the walls, this is presumed to be the second oldest house in the citadel (dated 1576), surviving the destructive fire from 1676. The owner is very nice, the house is large, beautifully decorated and you are just 2 minutes away from the main square, all the while being very private. You can check out booking dates here, and if you are curious to know what’s under the bedroom floor… you have to wait for my YouTube video.
Other booking recommendations that I mentioned earlier are:
This article contains affiliate links from Booking.com. I may receive commissions when you click these links and make purchases, but this does not influence your final price. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you. These are recommendations solely from my perspective.
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- The best way to enjoy this part of Transylvania is to rent a car. Parking in the citadel is forbidden for visitors, but there is parking at the bottom of the hill. A full day pass is around 1€.
- Locals are very used to tourists, so it is highly unlikely to not be able to communicate: English and German are the most common languages. To be honest, I was a bit shocked to see it so empty. 75-80% of the tourists that come here are foreigners. One shop owner told me that it hasn’t been so deserted since before the 1989 anti-communist revolution.