Driving through Transylvania’s Fortified Saxon villages and exploring Bran Castle

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
6
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
7
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
4
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
7
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
6
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
6
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
60 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Europe
country
Romania
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 250
Time of year visited
September
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
204th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 70% SUMMARY RATING: Worth doing

Summary

Once you creep over the Transylvanian Alps, you’re into a wide lowland area of rolling hills that is dotted with picturesque Fortified Saxon Villages, well preserved Old Towns and, of course, the famous Dracula castle of Bran Castle.  Whilst some parts of more worth visiting than others, the whole area easily allows you to dream back to what it must have been like in a bygone age untouched by the modern world
The Citadel of Sighisoara, Bran Castle and the fortified church of Viscri are must sees.  The rest is more about the slow paced vibe of the Transylvanian lowlands.  Total of 2-3 days is probably enough, and I’ve listed some tips below

highlights

#1 Wandering through the wonderful Sighisoara Citadel with its gorgeous pastel-coloured buildings, fortified walls, cobbled lanes and overlooked by its church on top of the hill

#2 Exploring Bran Castle and learning the non-Dracula history of the place (surprisingly interesting)

#3 Driving the non-highway route from Sighisoara to Sibiu via Biertan as you pass by some of the lesser known old Saxon towns and with views ahead of the stunning Transylvanian Alps

#4 Exploring the Fortified Church and village of UNESCO-listed Viscri. It felt incredibly real and you can easily imagine what it must have been like to live there . . . and defend it

#5 Getting that spooky Transylvanian vampire feel in the evenings

#6 Hiking up to the Breite Oak Tree Reserve just above Sighisoara

#7 Being fortunate enough to be exploring an area where even your hotel room has 500+ year old murals

#8 If returning to Bucharest, driving along the Transfagarasan Road. The “World’s Best Road” according to Top Gear

#9 Walking through the Old Town of Brasov

Travel Tips

  • The highlight is Sighisoara – the various UNESCO-listed Saxon villages are nice, but the real highlight that has suitable scale is Sighisoara with its citadel full of gorgeous pastel-coloured buildings, fortified walls, cobbled lanes and overlooked by its church on top of the hill.  A truly wonderful village to wander round and I would recommend staying here for 2 nights
  • While in Sighisoara, you want to make sure to stay in the Citadel.  We stayed in the Georgius Krauss Guesthouse, which I’d recommend.  Especially if you can stay in the room with the 500+year old wall murals.  It must be the only place in the world that you can see such old paintings whilst not in a tourist site (although the de-humidifier can be a tad noisy).  You can walk around the Citadel Walls, and if you fancy something a bit longer, there is a mini hike up to the Breite Oak Tree Reserve on the plateau just above the town. To get there, head to around halfway along Ana Ipătescu Street and you’ll see a sign for the various hikes (it is also shown on google maps as Via Transilvanica). From there you head up the steep path to the plateau.  Will take around 2.5 hours there and back from the Citadel, and with 160m / 530ft of ascent.  If raining I wouldn’t bother and also don’t go around dusk time as they get bears nearby!
  • Saxon Villages – of the UNESCO-listed Saxon Villages, they’re all worth seeing as you will most likely be driving thorough them anyway. The one I most enjoyed was Viscri with its fortified church – it was just so unusual and compact, and allows you to easily imagine what it must have been like living there and trying to defend the place.  Definitely worth an hour or so.  The other village worth seeing is Biertan
  • Avoid the highway – there is a highway linking Brasov,Sighisoara and Sibiu.  You’ll have to use it at various points, but it doesn’t add much to the charm of the place.  If possible, try to drive on a route that takes you through the centre.  In particular, the drive from Sighisoara to the start of the Transfagarasan Road near Sibiu via Biertan was beautiful and had us regularly stopping gorping at the views of the distant Transylvanian Mountains
  • Bran Castle – when you initially see it, it might not be up to the imposing standard you would be expecting of “Dracula’s Castle”, and also, in vast contrast to all the tat that surrounds it, the castle itself surprisingly doesn’t have that many references to Dracula (“Dracula”, aka Vlad the Impaler, had very little to do with the Castle).  But, it’s nevertheless got its charms.  Firstly, unusually for many castles, the interior is done very well, with almost all rooms of the castle visited as part of the route and you get a real feel for the interior of the place.  Secondly, the history of Queen Mary, a British aristocrat who married the King of Romania and persuaded him to side with the Allies rather than Germany in the First World War, is really interesting to learn about. Definitely worth checking out, but manage your expectations – it ain’t Neuschwanstein Castle on top of a Transylvanian mountain
  • Brasov – Brasov’s Old Town is surprisingly pretty and certainly worth an hour or so walking round. We stayed in Vila Katharina which was lovely and would recommend, along with the Prato Restaurant, both of which are in the Old Town
  • Transfagarasan Road – if driving back to Bucharest, and doing so between May and September, you simply must experience the Transfagarasan Road.  Labelled “The Best Road in the World” by Top Gear, it is stunning and see more tips here at Driving the Transfagarasan Highway of the Transylvanian Alps

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone