Romania’s city of Brașov is kind of a perfect reflection for the country’s Transylvanian region. The city has all the elements that make Transylvania such a captivating place, available to you in a single city. It is yet another city of the Siebenburgen, whose development into a medieval city is owed to the Saxon Germans who settled there. Aside from its heritage and historical areas, it is also almost surrounded by the vast Carpathian Mountains and the dense forests that cover them. Despite both of these, it is also very much a big, modern city that tourists will find easy to navigate and comfortably meeting their needs. I spent several days exploring Brașov and here are 11 essential things to do when visiting this endearing city.
1. Piața Sfatului (Council Square)
A sensible to start your exploring of Brașov is the old town’s main square, Piața Sfatului. Historically a market square, today it is just a pleasant square that happens to be surrounded by some gorgeous old buildings. It is also features some eye-catching patterns in the paving stones. The square makes for a useful meeting point and many of the walking tours of the city start here.
2. The Black Church
If Brașov has one landmark attraction, then it has to be the gargantuan Biserica Neagră, or the Black Church. This huge Gothic Cathedral owes its origins to its Lutheran German settlers and to date is one of the largest Lutheran places of worship in the world. Its name comes from an incident where the church was greatly damaged by fire from invading forces in the Great Turkish War, 1689. Thankfully for tourists, it was soon repaired and looms over the old town to this day.
3. People Watch in Strada Republicii
If wandering and window shopping are your kind of thing, then a stroll down Strada Republicii is strongly recommended. This stretching pedestrian street pierces the heart of the old town and runs up to Piața Sfatului. Aside from the various boutique stores, there are very small alleys that shoot off to bars, cafes, restaurants and hostels. Many of these cafes and restaurants have outdoor seating areas in the main street, making it a good place to take a break and people watch.
4. Explore the Side Streets
Like any old town of a decent size, you find the real charm of the place by deviating from the main areas and exploring the side streets. Turn off Strada Republicii at any point and you’ll find many quaint buildings to uncover. One side street of particular note is Strada Sforii, the Rope Street, so called because of its extreme narrowness. It is said to be the narrowest street in Europe and when you walk through you’re likely inclined to believe it.
5. Brașov Citadel
While the modern city is quite sprawling, the older parts of town all sit narrowly between several series of hills. For medieval purposes this meant fortification, but for our purposes it means plenty of viewpoints! One such viewpoint that is easily accessed is the Brașov Citadel. While a little out of the old town, the hilltop doesn’t take too long to walk up and offers good views out over Brașov’s old town as it gets wedged between steeper and steeper hills. The citadel itself has some fierce fortifications but not much more beyond that, the interior now hosting a restaurant.
6. White Tower, Black Tower
Speaking of fortifications; dotted around the perimeter of the old you can still find some stoic old towers from when such things were necessary. Found in the Belvedere Park to the northwest of the old town are Turnul Alb and Turnul Negru, ie. White Tower and Black Tower. Surrounded by surprisingly dense forest considering how close they are to the city, these towers are both in good condition, with more panoramic views over Brașov’s rooftops. Note, while the White Tower is indeed white, the Black Tower is not at all black.
7. Bastionul Graft
Just down hill from White Tower is the Graft Bastion, a small fortified building attached to the city walls. Its name comes from the small Graft canal that runs under it and along the outside of the walls. It in fact once connected with the White Tower by a long and steep bridge. Inside the bastion is a museum, however it was closed through the duration of my visit.
8. Schei District
While Brașov’s Old Town feels appropriately old, it has nothing on the Schei District. Located beyond the old city walls and in a valley at the start of the mountains, the Schei neighbourhood used to house ethnic Romanians and Bulgarians who were forbidden to live within the fortifications by the Saxons. Visiting Schei, you immediately feel like you have left Brașov behind and found yourself in a small mountain village. The streets of Schei are a little narrower and windy; the houses are smaller and more rustic; and the pace of everything feels just a little slower. It is here in Schei that you will find the First Romanian School at St Nicholas’ Church, a church with a beautiful interior.
9. Catherine’s Gate
You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at, but Catherine’s Gate is the oldest remaining gate of the city. Today, it looks like a very modern reconstruction, so modern in fact that it almost looks a little fake. This is probably due to the tower being restored in the mid-19th century, but the gate actually dates from 1559. In fact, this is the only gate that those living in the Schei District were allowed to enter through to visit inside the city walls.
10. Bastions and Walls
While towers like the White Tower and Catherine’s Gate are interesting spots, their scattered nature doesn’t help you properly appreciate the full extent of the city’s fortification. Thankfully, a large section of the city’s defences is mostly intact on the Old Town’s southeastern side, below Mt Tampa. Along here, you will find a series of impressive bastions starting with the Weavers’ Bastion along to the Drapers’ Bastion connected by the city walls. Walking along here at the edge of the forest is very gentle and has more decent views of the city.
11. Tampa Panoramic Viewpoint
If stunning views of the city of Brașov is what you’re after, then you’ll want to head for Mt Tampa. Mt Tampa is super easy to identify, it’s the one with the Hollywood-style “BRASOV” sign atop it. While you can take walking tracks that lead up to the top, who can pass up a cable car ride? The cable car, which costs 16 RON return (3.6€), takes you up to the top, but you’ll need to walk over to the panoramic viewpoint at the sign for the sweeping views out over the city. For those that like hiking, there are several trails that lead from the top of Mt Tampa out into extensive woods that blanket the nearby Carpathian Mountains.
Have you visited Brasov or hope to one day? What sights have I missed? Feel free to share in the comments.
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