My Full, Practical Guide to Transylvania


It’s time to finally cover – and do it exhaustively – the Transylvania region in Romania. In this full, practical guide this popular region, you’ll learn:

  • How to get to Transylvania
  • Best places to stay
  • How to get around the area
  • Best places to visit & things to do
  • What to eat and drink
  • Things to know before visiting

Transylvania is this magical land in Central Romania and probably the most famous part of the country.

Even so, people usually know just very few things about this region. When I searched online for Transylvania, I was surprised to see the questions people were searching for: Is there a place called Transylvania? Is Transylvania real? Is Transylvania a country?

Yup, it is – and there is so much more to it than Dracula & Vampires! Today, I am here to tell you about the REAL Transylvania: amazing cities (including medieval towns still standing), mysterious castles, exciting cultural life, unspoiled nature, and special people.

Even Lonely Planet chose it as The Best Region of 2016 – and let me tell you, as a Romanian native, that the entire area has grown A LOT since, and now has even more to offer.

We even have an international music festival held in a castle, here in Transylvania: Electric Castle. Yup, it’s in a freakin’ CASTLE! Which, btw, is one of the coolest music festivals ever. (And then there’s Untold in Cluj Napoca, another amazing one!)

How to get to Transylvania

Black Church and view of Tampa Hill in Brasov
Black Church and view of Tampa Hill in Brasov

Sorry to disappoint a few of you, but Transylvania is not a country. It’s a a historic region located in central Romania, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains.

Depending on where you plan to be in Transylvania, you can get here by plane, train, bus, or drive yourself through the region.

Cluj-Napoca is the biggest city in Transylvania, with several bus and train connections to other cities in the country, as well as international destinations. It is also the place where one of the largest international airports in the country can be found.

It is the most approachable city in Transylvania, and the first that comes to mind when talking to locals about this historic region.

Most of the bigger cities in the region have international airports – click here to check a list of all international airports in Romania)

Bus schedules: autogari.roFlixbus.

Train schedulesinfofer.robahn.de

Getting here by plane: Many low-cost operators offer flights here, with Wizz Air having the most varied offer. But there are also other options from Ryanair and other low-cost operators.

Where to stay in Transylvania

We’re talking about a huge region, with endless possibilities – from fancy hotels to small pensions and apartments for rent. I recommend checking out all accommodation deals in Transylvania here – or go with my recommendations below.

For particular recommendations, I will focus on the three major cities that are “tourist hubs” in Transylvania: Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, and Brasov.

Where to stay in Cluj-Napoca

Even the most expensive recommendations can be considered affordable, as I won’t go over $50 per person in a double room (but usually A LOT less!)

$: Retro Hostel

$$: Guest House Andrei

$$$: Homeland Center Cluj

Where to stay in Sibiu

$: Galeria Grafit

$$: Boutique Damiani

$$$: Cetatea Medievala

Where to stay in Brasov

$: Transylvania Guest House

$$: Zoom Rooms

$$$: Safrano Palace

How to get around in Transylvania

Transylvanian city
Aerial view of the medieval town of Sighisoara

Once you get here, if you don’t want to be stuck in a single place, it’s time to explore the area. Here, your main means of transportation will be the car, buses, and trains – there are no flights between Transylvania’s cities (at least at the moment of writing this article).

Keep in mind that Transylvania only has a minimum amount of highway kilometers, so you won’t be getting from one city to another in less than 30 minutes. So take your time and enjoy the view!

Getting around by train

My favorite way of getting around the country, although usually slower than driving or getting a bus. At least it’s more comfortable – but be prepared for the trains to have delays sometimes, with some of them even missing air conditioning.

But the scenery is very pretty, the tickets are cheap and there are plenty of connections to places that are far to get to otherwise.

You can buy your train tickets from cashiers in train stations, but you can also get them online, which is probably the better option, as many cashiers don’t speak English.

When buying online, you can check out the national train company here. Some private companies offer a limited number of trains in the region, like Regio Calatori here. The good thing about the private companies is that you can buy your ticket in the train.

If you want to learn more about traveling by train in Romania, I recommend checking out my article here.

Getting around by bus

The major cities are connected by a regular bus schedule, and you will often find local buses taking you to the smaller cities and villages too.

You can check the schedules on Autogari.ro (I’ve linked to it above), as well as FlixBus. You can buy some of your tickets online on the website, but usually the best idea is to go to the actual bus station and ask around for options – many are not listed online.

There are several companies where you have to reserve your seat on the phone prior to leaving. Be sure to always double check! Since not all cities are connected by buses, so be sure to always check the train schedules too.

Renting a car in Romania

This would be the best approach if you want to make sure that all destinations are within reach.

Most of the natural attractions in this region can not be easily reached by public transport (sadly).

Bigger cities offer rent-a-car possibilities at reasonable prices (from 15 Euros/day), so this can be an option too if you don’t mind doing some driving yourself – and be warned that driving in Romania is a bit chaotic, to say the least.

Use blablacar:

The online form of hitchhiking, also very popular among the people here, it’s also a bit like Uber and the like, but without any guarantees.

It’s basically a ride sharing opportunity, where drivers heading in a specific direction will make them public and you can hop in for a small fee. However, many of these are unreliable, so I only recommend it as a last resort option. You can check it out here.

Hitchhiking in Transylvania

As there often is a lack of transportation possibilities between short distances, people often use hitchhiking to get around. It’s popular among locals also, not just the adventurers.

The drivers sometimes will ask you for money (depending on the distance), so it’s best to ask before you get in, not to have any surprises.

Taxis in Transylvania

Taxis are available in almost every city (even the small ones) and it’s a popular service among locals. Taxis are a relatively cheap way of getting around in cities- especially during night when there is no public transport available.

In small cities you can expect that they will take you to the next village for a fair price. Make sure to always discuss the price before getting in to avoid getting scammed. Or, even better, read my guide to taxis in Romania first.

What to visit in Transylvania

village in Transylvania

You can spend months in Transylvania and still barely scratch the surface, as this vast region has a lot to offer, from beautiful natural wonders to amazing cities, villages and all sorts of attractions, both old and new.

I will try to sum up the most important things to see in Transylvania below, also linking to various other articles I have published in case you want to go more in-depth with a particular destination (or more).

Because, no matter how you put it, you will most likely not have enough time to see everything.

Cities to visit in Transylvania

Castles and fortresses in Transylvania:

  • Peles Castle
  • Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle
  • Valley of Fairies Castle
  • Biertan fortified church
  • Corvin Castle
  • Oradea Fortress
  • Fagaras Fortress
  • Alba Iulia fortress
  • Harman Fortified Church
  • Rasnov Fortress
  • Rupea Fortress
  • Prejmer Fortified Church
  • Viscri fortified church
  • Deva Fortress
  • Sarmizegetusa

Romania as a whole is home to plenty of amazing castles, so if you want to explore even more of these impressive structures from the past, I go in-depth in my article about the best castles in Romania.

Natural wonders of Transylvania

While the region itself can be considered a natural wonder as a whole, there are some other main attractions that are more or less natural and are definitely worth seeing: from one of the most amazing salt mines you can visit to breathtaking roads and everything in between.

Here is the list of the main attractions (but I am sure I’ll miss at least a few):

  • Turda Salt Mine
  • Turda Gorge
  • Bicaz Gorge
  • Transfagarasan road
  • Transalpina road
  • Retezat National Park
  • Saint Anna Lake
  • Bear Lake
  • Rodna Mountains
  • Garden of dragons
  • Scarisoara Ice Cave
  • The Living Fire Glacier Cave
  • Salt Canyons of Praid (or at least make sure to check out the Praid cheese when you get here!)
  • Red Lake in Harghita

Villages to visit in Transylvania

For those looking for the real “Raw-mania,” I recommend visiting one or more of the charming villages in the region. I have an in-depth article about living in a Transylvanian village, if this is something you’re considering.

If not, at least visit these amazing villages:

  1. Biertan
  2. Viscri
  3. Săpânța (home of the merry cemetery, a unique one in the country)
  4. Mălâncrav
  5. Rimetea
  6. Corund
  7. Sâncraiu
  8. Valea Viilor
  9. Câlnic

For more information about the landmarks, you can visit the official tourism website of Romania or keep coming back here on Romania Experience, where I am always updating articles and posting new ones.

What to eat and drink in Transylvania

The quick and simple answer? Try everything that is local (this goes to any country you visit).

Most of the Transylvanian dishes – like the top foods in Romania – are based on meat. Basically, we eat meat with meat. You can still find a variety of dishes that are based on vegetables, but traditional Romanian food is very meat-heavy.

The following traditional foods can be found in almost every local restaurant, and you should try them all:

  • mici/mititei (grilled ground meat rolls made from a mixture of beef, lamb and pork with spices)
  • sarmale (meat-stuffed cabbage)
  • varza a la Cluj (it’s the same as sarmale, except they don’t stuff the cabbage)
  • ciorba de burta (tripe soup)
  • ciorba de fasole (traditional bean soup – sometimes served directly in a bun)
  • gulyás (traditional Hungarian dish, also popular in Transylvania)
  • zacusca (mix of vegetables spread on bread)
  • salata de vinete (a creamy aubergine paste)
  • mamaliga cu branza (polenta with cheese – but also served as a side for sarmale and other meat-based dishes).

Oh, my, and there’s the chimney cake: kürtős kalács. It is made of sweet dough, cooked over charcoal, with different coatings added (cinnamon, sugar, minced walnuts, cocoa powder, coconut). YUM!

If you’re on a budget, check for daily meal offers (Meniul Zilei) or just have a ciorba (usually a big bowl of hearty soup enough for a light meal).

Transylvanians are also proud of their homemade alcoholic drink palinka/palinca, and they have all the reasons to be. Unlike the tuica which you can have in the rest of the country, palinca is stronger and usually made exclusively of plum. Tasty and, I have to repeat: really strong!

Things to know before visiting Transylvania

Brasov Old Town Area

Transylvania can be very “balcanic” (not sure if this is a real word) sometimes, but it’s also more Western-like than most of Romania. An interesting and usually charming mix, for sure.

Yes, you’ll probably get frustrated now and then, but that’s to be expected in most new countries. There are no highways, everything kind of works backward, you’ll get a culture shock at some point, public transport is often late and chaotic, the customer service could be improved… but all of these are part of Transylvania’s charm and you’ll get used to everything (and even end up loving these) eventually.

The currency in Transylvania is RON (Romanian Lei). 1 Euro is around 5 Lei, while 1 US Dollar is around 4.6 Lei (double check this!).

Keep in mind that in most places, you can only pay using the local currency. Also, some places (fewer and fewer, fortunately) only accept cash – so make sure you always have at least some cash on hand.

Exchanges can be found in each city, but make sure to double-check their rates and if the have any commissions (most won’t and rates will be fair – usually better at a bank). If you want to play it 100% safe, always exchange money in a bank.

The official language in Transylvania is Romanian. However, there is a significant number of people who speak Hungarian – in some areas, exclusively. In major cities, the younger generation speaks English, but in the rural/not touristy areas, you’ll have to use body language, most likely.

If you are visiting Romania by car, be sure to pay the road tax (called Rovinieta aka the Romanian Vignette). You can buy it at gas stations when entering the country, or you can buy it online on the official website or via the iPhone App or Android app.

Final words

I hope that my guide to Transylvania helped you better understand the region, and especially make the best choices when it comes to what to visit, where to stay and why the area is so amazing.

As I said earlier, you will need a lot of time to visit this region in-depth – but if you plan things right, in a couple of weeks you could be able to check the main attractions and cities off the list (although it will be a race against time!).

If you think there are some other areas in Transylvania that should be mentioned – or if you have any type of advice for fellow travelers interested in Romania’s famous region, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Calin
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