Tucked majestically beneath the verdant hills of the Southern Carpathian Mountains in Central Romania lies the historic charming city of Brasov, one of Romania’s most visited cities. Awash with gothic, barque and renaissance architecture, this once walled city is one of the loveliest cities in all of Transylvania.
Brasov was founded on an ancient Dacian site in the 13th century at the crossroads of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Europe. A thriving German mercantile community of skilled craftsmen enabled Brasov to dominate the economical life and importance of the region during medieval times. Beautiful churches and colorful buildings were built along with fortifications to protect the city against invaders. Parts of the 15th century wall still exist as well as a couple of lookout towers.
Today, Brasov remains a charming city to wander and explore, enjoying its stunning architecture, its delightful bohemian walking streets and mass of fabulous outdoor restaurants and cafes. It is also an excellent launching off point to many hiking trails and day trips to medieval castles in Transylvania. I found Brasov delightful and the perfect place to base ourselves for the majority of our stay in Romania.
We arrived around mid-afternoon after a relatively straightforward three-hour drive south from Bucharest. Quite frankly, getting out of Bucharest took the longest and was the most difficult part of the drive given its swath of roundabouts and signs in Romanian. Thankfully we had GPS in our rental car or else we certainly would have gotten even more lost than we did.
As you leave Bucharest, you pass through the surrounding Romanian countryside a place of tranquility and beauty. In the Middle Ages, Romania was made up of three principalities: Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania with Transylvania inspiring the most legends and mystique. For it was here in Transylvania that the lore of Dracula began and it is easy to see why given the number of castles, fortifications and medieval towns.
We based ourselves at the lovely Hotel Kolping located about a ten minute walk up above the city, in the mountains. It served as the perfect place to stay as long as your wore ear plugs at night or are a sound sleeper. (There is a bit of noise at night from the barking dogs trying to ward off the bears coming down from the mountains for a midnight treat). But despite the noise, the hotel is lovely with an incredible view of Brasov, a wonderful friendly staff and excellent food.
When we first arrived in Brasov, it was overcast, gray and gloomy yet I still found it quite lovely nevertheless. There would be a day or two of rain followed by perfect, cloudless days. In my option, the grayness captured the romantic mood and sense of mystery of Brasov. It was also great weather for doing a do-it-yourself walking tour which takes only a couple of hours.
We first went to the Council Square (Piata Sfatului) which is the heart and soul of Brasov, and one of the most beautiful squares in all of Romania. The street is lined with stunning red-roofed merchant homes which once belonged to the Saxons who built these homes in medieval times. The most notable sight to see in the square is the famous Biserica Neagra or “Black Church”.
The Black Church was built from 1383 to 1480 and is the largest Gothic church in all of Romania. It received its name due to the effects on its appearance after a fire damaged it in 1689. The inside of the Black Church can be toured however no photographs are allowed. The church can be seen from miles away and is especially magical viewed from above on Mount Tampa.
After touring the church, the winds came in and swept away the rain clouds. The sun appeared and shined down on the square illuminating its buildings and bringing Brasov to life. Families were out playing with their kids by the fountain. Couples were walking hand in hand. People were enjoying a cool drink at one of the many lovely outdoor cafes in the square. Meanwhile I was taking pictures of the lively, colorful buildings that lined the square and were even more brilliant with the afternoon sun.
What I loved most about Brasov was its bohemian, laid-back feel. For a town of its size, I was amazed by how many excellent outdoor restaurants and cafes there are in Brasov. We found several that we thoroughly enjoyed. The only difficult decision was deciding where to eat! Also compared to other European countries, the prices in Romania are extremely good. We were able to have a three-course home-cooked meal with a bottle of Romania wine for under $25.
Brasov is a great city to spend time just wandering its cobblestone streets and soaking in the character and charm of the city through its elaborate buildings and facades. Some were beautifully restored and immaculate while others were in need of renovation yet still had a story to tell through its layers of peeling paint.
You can also hike or take the tram up to the top of Mount Tampa (where the Hollywood-like Brasov sign is above) for a bird’s eye view of the town. We opted to take the 1960s Communist tram up and hike down. The views were absolutely spectacular and worthy of a post all in itself.
As I often do when traveling is make sure to look up. I thought about all the history that I’d witnessed in just a short time in Brasov and without the crowds that are common in so many other parts of Eastern Europe. It was lovely!
We spent five days in Brasov using it as our base for exploring Transylvania. Within that short amount of time, I easily fell in love with Brasov’s unique beauty, charm and liveliness. I would go all the way back to Romania just to spend more time in this lovely town with its friendly people, beautiful architecture and relaxing feel.