Imagine Transylvania as one huge fortress where the outer “walls” are the Carpathian Mountains surrounding it from all sides in a triangle shape.
Those natural mountain “walls” are now worth exploring for their majestic beauty, wildlife, caves, gorges, scenic drives, or wildflowers.
Within those natural “walls” lived throughout centuries a rich diversity of people: Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Gypsy, Jews, and many others. Each left their distinctive mark on the region in terms of culture, traditions, how they lived, and worked and what they built, making the region a truly fascinating blend of cultures that cohabited for close to a millennia.
The well-preserved customs, traditional occupations such as shepherding or blacksmithing, the lively and diverse music and dances, festivals, markets, stories and legends, all bring to life the rich heritage of the region waiting for you to experience it.
The walk up to a fortress or castle or down a cobbled street of a medieval town will immerse you in the “life of the fortress” as it has been for centuries, just use your imagination.
This is Transylvania’s true appeal: a rich, stepping back in time, kind of cultural experience combined with wonderful nature, wildlife, and charming medieval towns and fortifications.
After 10 years of organizing tours in Transylvania here’s our comprehensive list of the best attractions Transylvania offers. But remember: experiencing its richness and diversity at a slow pace will offer you the best taste of the region!
Based on interest, we’ve clustered the attractions in 3 main categories:
- Charming built heritage
- Rich, multi-ethnic culture
- Soothing nature
CHARMING BUILT HERITAGE
1.Charming medieval towns
Transylvania has some of the most beautiful and well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. With narrow streets, colorful houses, idyllic atmosphere, gothic and baroque styles, these Transylvanian medieval towns are not to be missed when visiting Romania.
Chosen the European capital of culture in 2007 and European Region of Gastronomy in 2019, this authentic city will catch your eye and make you feel you’re living in a fairytale. Here you can find an open-air museum, the largest in Europe illustrating the traditional folk civilization of Romania, as well as one of the most delightful old city centers.
It is a perfectly intact 15th-century gem featuring a fairytale look, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It will fascinate you with cobbled streets, colorful houses, and small boutiques belonging to local artisans.
A chic Romania medieval town with little boutiques and outdoor restaurants, picturesque squares, colorful and full of life. The city contains an entire mountain within its limits called Tampa Mountain and it is a great winter sports destination with its own resort.
Although it is not as famous as neighboring Sibiu, this 750-years old town is definitely worth a visit. It has a well-preserved historical center with narrow winding lanes, Gothic and Baroque styles, and a very particular charm.
2. Castles of Transylvania
Maybe the highlight of our recommended best attractions in Transylvania you shouldn’t miss are the famous castles.
It was built in the 15th century and it’s the most imposing Gothic castle in the whole Transylvania. It offers a huge entrance bridge, tall observation and defensive towers, a knights’ hall, a torture room and quite a few legends to tell.
It is known as the former residence of the Romanian Royal family and it’s one of the finest castles of Europe. Set up in a natural setting, surrounded by mountains and forests, it will fascinate you both with beautiful outdoor and tasteful Neo-Renaissance interior decorations.
A beautiful medieval castle in Transylvania which is usually associated with Dracula. Surrounded by an aura of mystery and legend, the 60 timbered rooms were tastefully decorated by the Queen in the 20s. Some of the rooms are connected by underground passages and preserve important collections of furniture, weapon, and armor dating from the 14th to 19th centuries.
3. Staying in a castle in Transylvania
Above we’ve mentioned only the 3 most famous castles. But Transylvania has many more castles, fortifications, and manors, all part of a fairytale and in some of them you can actually stay. Here are a few of them:
Mikes Castle – known as the most romantic destination in Transylvania, here you will discover a forgotten world.
Kalnoky Castle – it is one of the favorites places of HRH Prince Charles, while in Romania. The castle is at least 150 years old and it welcomes you with a traditional gate.
Daniel Castle – it is located in Talisoara village and hosts different cultural events.
Benke Mansion – Besides the opportunity to sleep like you are in a fairytale, it also offers a great spa center.
Haller Castle – it is a 17th-century old mansion built in classicist baroque style that reflects the elegancy of the old times.
Apafi Manor – it is one of the best examples of how to renovate and preserve a decaying centuries’ old building and give it a new life.
4. Unique experiences below ground
Transylvania is home to unique salt mines such as Turda and Praid. Millions of years ago this land was under a sea and as it evaporated it left a very thick layer of salt not far from the surface.
Turda is a spectacular tourist destination and a subterranean wonderland. It was opened in the 17th century, used as a bomb shelter during WW2, as a storage space after the end of the war and it was transformed into a theme park after 1992. Its recreation facilities include a Ferris wheel, a mini-golf course, a lake with paddleboats, a bowling alley, an amphitheater, sports fields, and ping pong tables.
Praid is another of Transylvania’s best attractions. It is popular both among people seeking treatment for various respiratory diseases but also among tourists looking to relax and spend some quality time with friends and family for a few hours. It offers a wide variety of fun options, such as Wi-Fi, playgrounds for children, a church, a 3D cinema, a coffee house and a restaurant, among other things.
5. Fortified churches of Transylvania
Transylvania is home to more than 150 fortifications of a great variety of architectural styles, from Romanic, Gothic and Classic to the Baroque style. They are located in historic villages where the past is still present and the daily habits of locals didn’t change much.
Seven of them were chosen to be part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Built by the Transylvanian Saxons between the 12th and 16th centuries in order to defend their cities from the Ottoman and Mongol invasions, the fortified churches of Transylvania are now considered unique in Europe.
The most interesting ones to visit are those from Viscri, Biertan, Prejmer, and Darjiu but as you drive through Southern Transylvania you will find over 100 of such churches, or fortresses as locals call them. Cristian, Cisnadioara, Alma Vii, Hosman, Calnic, Crit, Meschendorf are also home to very interesting such fascinating structures.
RICH MULTI-ETHNIC CULTURE
6. Cultural and traditional events in Transylvania
Among our list of best things to do in Transylvania is attending a local custom:
The Shooting of the rooster in Apata is an important custom of the Hungarian community which takes place on Easter Day. It consists of a competition between the children in the village who try their best to aim for the rooster drawn on a wooden target.
Splashing those that are called John with water is a winter tradition passed from generation to generation, which is still celebrated at the beginning of every year in Talmacel village. All those bearing the name “John” are splashed with water from Talmacel river, one by one and then rewarded with traditional cake and Romanian traditional brandy, in order to forget about the cold.
The Transylvanian city of Sibiu is home to Sibiu International Theatre Festival, one of the most important festivals in Romania. It represents, besides a celebration of arts, a perfect combination of theatre, dance, circus, movies, books, conferences, exhibitions, performances, and music, with participants coming from over seventy countries.
Fuga Lolelor is a Transylvanian Saxon custom with its roots in the Middle Ages, which is now celebrated as a way for making sure to drive away the bad spirits of winter and welcome the new spring. The original local legends say that one day, as the Ottomans were getting ready to attack the fortress, a brave girl from the village got dressed in a terrifying costume and chased away the invaders.
Sighisoara medieval festival is held every summer and is the place to be if you want to travel back in time. The locals are immersing themselves into medieval characters, making the visitors go on an antique journey on the cobbled streets of Sighisoara.
Haferland week is one of the largest festivals dedicated to the cultural heritage of the Transylvanian German Saxons, a story of a community that left an unforgettable mark on this land. Events unfold in fortified Saxon villages of the region’s ‘oat country’, such as Viscri and Rupea, including religious services in the fortified churches, a traditional ball, and displays of folk culture. It’s a colorful way to immerse yourself in Transylvania’s still-present but fading German Saxon heritage.
The Transylvanian countryside is one of the most interesting highlights of Romania. A thing you shouldn’t miss are the sheepfolds. It is still an occupation practiced like centuries ago and it allows you to witness how shepherd live, how they milk the sheep, and learn about the way they make the cheese.
8. Transylvanian Brunch
It is a cultural-gastronomic event that offers you the possibility to taste the authentic Transylvanian cuisine, old recipes cooked by the local communities together with a village tour, and enchanting stories. Imagine spending a day in a small Romanian village, enjoying tasty food prepared by locals while learning about traditional crafts. It is definitely worth experiencing!
9. White and sparkling wines from Transylvania
The natural Transylvanian setting makes a perfect climate for the cultivation of the vines, especially the white wine grape varieties, out of which flavored white sparkling wines are produced. Transylvanian white wines are highly appreciated as during the planting and growing process, the soil is kept mostly organic, which helps the vines to create a pleasant and fruity note. Enjoying a wine-tasting session at one of the many wineries in the regions is one of the best things to do in Transylvania!
10. Lively Hungarian Heritage
Transylvania hosts a significant Hungarian minority that lives peacefully together with other ethnic groups and minorities.
Rimetea and Coltesti are two fascinating villages of Hungarian heritage set at the base of Apuseni Mountains where locals made from the conservation of their unique patrimony a priority. Rimetea is known for its traditional white houses with green windows, while Coltesti offers great hiking opportunities to its fortress, a spectacular ruin in the panoramic landscape of Trascau Mountains.
Another way to experience the Hungarian heritage is at the Rosehip Festival which takes place every October in the village of Sancraiu. It celebrates rosehip which is abundant in the region and the locals make jams out of it, in a competition, while wearing traditional clothes.
11. Fading Jewish Heritage
Romania is home to a rich Jewish heritage, with many beautiful and well-preserved synagogues and cemeteries. At the last count there were around 800 Jewish cemeteries and 100 synagogues.
Among the many places in Transylvania where you can find traces of old Jewish communities, worth a visit are The Great Synagogue from Sibiu, Synagogue of Targu Mures, the less-known places from Brasov, including two cemeteries, the Neologic Synagogue and an abandoned Orthodox Jewish synagogue which can be visited only from outside. There are now fewer and fewer Jews in Transylvania, with not more than a few hundred people in a town.
12. Gypsy coppersmith community
Maybe one of the most interesting communities you’ll ever meet in Transylvania is the gypsy coppersmith community. They are skillful people, both with music and with craft, they wear traditional clothes and speak their ancestral language. Be ready to step in a whole different world ruled by old laws and gypsy traditions.
You will be able to witness their craft and maybe get a souvenir from their shops set up on the main street. Besides the coppersmiths there are many more gypsy groups but getting into the details would require writing an entire book.
13. Christmas markets
Transylvania during winter is filled with well-kept traditions but you can also be delighted by more recently imported concepts such as Christmas markets. But the special thing about them is that they are placed in the medieval town squares in places like Sibiu, Brasov, Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara. One of the best attractions of Transylvania is the Christmas Market in Sibiu, which was even featured in New York Times. Merchants from all over Romania gather together and create an unrivaled festive atmosphere.
14. The mountain villages near Bran
Near Bran you will be amazed by Transylvania’s beautiful and calming mountain villages set in natural surroundings. Pestera and Sirnea villages are some of the best spots for admiring the Carpathians, between the Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains.
15. Hiking and skiing in the tallest mountains in the country
Romania is a great destination for hiking, mountaineering, skiing, and other outdoor adventures and sports with a third of the country being occupied by the Carpathian Mountains, the highest peaks in Romania are located in Transylvania region: Moldoveanu peak at 2544m, Negoiu peak at 2535m and Vistea Mare peak at 2527m, all of them being part of the Fagaras Mountains.
For a taste of the natural beauty of Transylvania, the Apuseni National Park, Fagaras, or Piatra Craiului National Park are some of the best options. You will admire the picturesque valleys with traditional villages that preserve a simple way of living.
For winter sports enthusiasts Romania has over 150 approved ski slopes, such as Poiana Brasov, Predeal, Paltinis, Straja, that will ensure you’ll have a wonderful time, whether you like skiing, snowboarding or sledding.
16. Horse riding
Transylvania, the fairy-land steeped by rolling hills and picturesque villages is the perfect place for a horse ride. The horse riding centers are definitely not missing from the region. Equus Silvania, Transylvania on Horseback, or Cross-country Farm are only some of the places that can give you an equestrian experience. We’ve heard from travelers who’ve been on many riding holidays all over the world that the trails in Transylvania are some of the best in the world.
17. Wildflowers of Transylvania
Beautiful late-spring carpet of wildflowers in hay meadows or alpine meadows across the region is one of Transylvania’s true treasures, worth seeing and capturing on your camera. Definitely one of the less-known best attractions in Transylvania but a key reason that brings HRH Prince Charles of Wales to Transylvania every year!
18. Caves from Apuseni Mountains
The Apuseni Mountains, the lowest-altitude range from the Carpathians are particularly popular for having over 1500 caves that draw in numerous visitors. You should not refuse the pleasure of admiring the natural treasures created by nature over millions of years, so here are some of the most fascinating caves from the Apuseni Mountains:
It is the most famous cave in Romania and was accidentally discovered in 1975. The reason behind its name is given by the numerous bear fossils discovered inside the cave from the animals that were sheltering inside over 15.000 years ago.
Photo by Zátonyi Sándor
One of the oldest glacier caves in the country, it is 700 m long, with a high portal of 24 m and approximately 3800 years old. The main attractions are the Great Hall, the Church, and a hall with ice stalagmites.
It is a rudimentary-arranged cave that was declared a monument of nature and its fame stems from the three footprints of the prehistoric man found inside.
19. Bear watching
Transylvania gives you the opportunity to learn in a non-intrusive way about bears, being able to observe them in the wild, and seeing them come to eat in the middle of the forest. You can choose between the Libearty Bear Sanctuary and the bear observatories located in the forests where you see wild bears.
20. Scenic drives on Transfagarasan and Transalpina
Maybe two of the most famous best attractions in Transylvania are the scenic drives of Transfagarasan and Transalpina.
It is a high-altitude road which goes through the Carpathian Mountains and is surrounded by nature on all sides. It is also known as the Devil’s path or the King’s road as it was built under King Carol the second. Winding its way through valleys and plateaus up to 2200m – a height not reached by any other mountain passage in Romania, you can only imagine the landscapes you are able to admire on your trip there.
It is the second-highest paved road in the country and it goes without saying that the top attraction along this scenic route is the road itself. It offers spectacular views of the sharp road turns and surrounding mountains. At the highest point you will find Balea Lake at 2000m altitude and a 1 km tunnel that cuts through the mountain.
21. Gorges of Transylvania
Last on our list of best natural attractions in Transylvania you should not miss are the spectacular gorges of Turda and Bicaz.
It contains one of the richest and most scenic karst landscapes in Romania. The canyon is nearly 3km long, with 300m-high walls sculpted in weathered limestone. To best enjoy the place we recommend you to hike and hill walk in the middle of nature, where human intervention is kept to a minimum.
Bicaz Gorge is a passage between the historical regions of Transylvania and Moldova and it enchants with its wilderness views and hidden trails with caves and waterfalls.
22. Winter in Transylvania
Most people visit the region when it is warm. But imagine all those castles, fortresses, medieval towns with cobbled streets and mountains under snow? Taking about fairy-tales … visit Transylvania in winter!
To the CHARMING BUILT HERITAGE category, there are a few more attractions we would like to add which are less popular.
23. Fortresses in Transylvania
Transylvania’s Saxon fortresses are a major highlight when visiting Romania and they best illustrate the rich medieval heritage of the country.
First mentioned in 1331, it is located on a rocky hilltop and it is one of the medieval monuments that survived the passing of the time. It was built as a protection against Tartars and later was enlarged by the Saxon population.
It is one of the best-preserved medieval sites and an iconic attraction of Transylvania. The traces of the first settlement date back to Paleolithic and early Neolithic but it was first mentioned around 1300 by the local Saxon community. It is shaped like a snail shell and it consists of three smaller fortresses built in three different periods of time.
Six Dacian fortresses dating of the pre-Roman Dacia are still present in Transylvania. The largest Geto-Dacian fortification is Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of the pre-Roman Dacia and the political, military and religious center of Dacia. Two of its main attractions are the Great Sanctuary, which has a calendar function and it is known as the Dacian Stonehenge, and the Andesite Sun, a solar disc that is also a very exact calendar, comparable to the Mayan one.
24. Alba Iulia – the cradle of Romania’s national spirit
Amongst our recommended best attractions in Transylvania that you should not miss is the town of Alba Iulia. Its history starts 2000 years ago when the Roman Empire conquered the Dacian Kingdom. Today, it highlights the ruins of a Roman castrum, a medieval fortification, and the largest citadel in Southeastern Europe. But, one of its most impressive roles is being the place where, on the 1st of December 1918 Transylvania decided its union with Romania, which is celebrated today as the National Day of Romania.
25. Timisoara & Oradea
These two very charming cities are considering being part of wider Transylvania, in regions known as Banat and Crisana. Few people visit them as they are on the Western side of the country, close to Hungary. And it is the Hungarian and Austrian influence that is very strongly felt here, Timisoara having the nickname Little Wien.
Oradea impresses with its great architecture and lively atmosphere. You will admire Oradea Union Square with its Black Eagle Palace, Church of the Moon built in baroque style, and some of the oldest and most important Jewish heritage in Romania.
Timisoara, known for being the first European city to introduce electric street lights in 1884 and the second in the world after New York City. It is also the first free town in Romania’s 1989 revolution, which overthrew the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. It was chosen to be European Capital of Culture in 2021, featuring its vibrant cultural life and distinct architectural character.
These are our 25 best attractions in Transylvania (in reality a lot more as we’ve grouped them) that you should not miss. Be it notorious monuments or fascinating hidden gems, while visiting them you’ll be sure to get an insight into the local culture and leave the country feeling amazed by its charm.
We can organize a tailor-made private tour to any of these places and help you discover the magic of Transylvania! For an example of such a trip, see our Private Tour of Romania, Tour of Transylvania from Sibiu, or Tour of Transylvania from Cluj-Napoca.