By: Heather Keys
Enveloped within the majestic Carpathian Mountains, you’ll find Romania’s alluring and mysterious region of Transylvania. Much more than the home of Dracula’s Castle, Transylvania is home to exquisite architecture, charming villages, and must-see festivals and events that beautifully showcase the area’s unique legacy.
Transylvania’s Iconic Castles
Embark on a journey through the storied realm of Transylvania by taking a tour of its iconic castles—there are more than 50 of them! Let’s have a look at just a few that you can’t miss:
We can’t speak of Transylvania without evoking the haunting allure of Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle. Steeped in myth and legend, the castle’s fame stems from its alleged ties to the bloodthirsty character immortalized in Bram Stoker’s renowned novel.
Originally built as a fortress in the 14th century to defend against the Ottoman Empire, Bran Castle served as a royal residence and a museum—and was never actually visited by Bram Stoker! It is open to the public today, and is an incredibly popular tourist destination in Transylvania, with tours that will teach you about the castle’s legacy within the region.
Continuing our exploration, we arrive at the imposing Corvin Castle, celebrated for its intricate Gothic architecture and links to Romanian nobility. Constructed in the 14th century by John Hunyadi—a Hungarian military leader and governor of Transylvania—this castle offers a fascinating glimpse into medieval life. Here, you can see ornately decorated rooms, a medieval courtyard, and even a torture chamber. It’s one of the largest castles in all of Europe, and an absolute must-see on any visit to Romania.
A comparatively newer castle, Peleș Castle was built in the 19th century as a summer residence for King Carol I, and is exemplary of German Neo-Renaissance design. Once the summer retreat of Romanian royalty, the castle’s opulent interior is home to intricate woodcarvings, luminous stained-glass windows, and gorgeous paintings that reflect its storied past. Journey through this castle and enjoy the grand reception hall, the royal armory, the music room, its many gardens and terraces, and an enormous collection of art and artifacts.
Transylvania’s Enchanting Villages
Venture off the beaten path and travel to the picturesque villages of Transylvania, where you’ll be immersed in traditional Romanian, Hungarian, and Saxon architecture, cuisine, and craftsmanship. Three that you absolutely should visit include:
Begin your journey in the beautiful medieval citadel of Sighișoara, a UNESCO World Heritage site that echoes the tales of its storied past. Here, you can walk in the footsteps of the infamous Vlad the Impaler (who lived in exile here), exploring the city’s majestic citadel and the striking clock tower that dominates the skyline.
Next, venture to the remote village of Viscri, where the centuries-old fortified church—also a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is a testament to the region’s rich Saxon heritage. Travel here and enjoy its well-preserved medieval architecture surrounded by rolling hills, fields, and forests. Many of the buildings here have been restored and are now used as guesthouses, restaurants, and shops, giving you just a glimpse of immersion into Transylvania’s history.
Complete your odyssey in the charming village of Biertan, home to one of Transylvania’s best-preserved fortified churches—and, as you may have guessed, also part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. This 15th-century church is a fantastic example of Saxon architecture and hosts defensive walls, towers, and gates, plus a gorgeous interior with Gothic and Renaissance elements throughout. Further afield from the church, you’ll love the narrow streets, old stone walls, and beautiful central square.
Festivals and Events Celebrating Transylvanian Heritage
Should you have the wonderful opportunity to visit Transylvania, there is no shortage of festivals and events celebrating the region’s heritage! A few to consider:
Sighișoara Medieval Festival
Step back in time during this summer event in the town of Sighișoara, where the medieval era comes alive through costumed reenactments, parades, and traditional music and dance performances.
Bran Castle Halloween Party
Embrace the spooky atmosphere of Dracula’s Castle during its famous Halloween party! Revel in the spooky decorations, live music, and costume contests that will make for an unforgettable experience.
Transilvania International Film Festival
Held annually in the city of Cluj-Napoca, this festival showcases independent films from around the world, featuring screenings, workshops, and other engaging events for film enthusiasts.
Transilvania Blues Festival
Unwind to the soulful sounds of blues music at this annual event, held in different locations across Transylvania. Local and international artists come together to perform for this exciting festival!
Cluj-Napoca Jazz in the Park
Spend a relaxing summer day in the city of Cluj-Napoca, as the soothing melodies of jazz music fill the air during this annual event. Set against a picturesque backdrop, the festival features both established and emerging artists.
The Sibiu International Theater Festival
Witness the transformative power of theater at this prestigious event, which showcases an array of performances from around the world. Ranging from experimental plays to classical productions, the festival provides a platform for artistic expression and creative collaboration.
A Quick Culinary Tour of Transylvania
We can’t close out this article without mentioning some of the delectable cuisines you’ll find on a tour of Transylvania. A few favorites:
- Sarmale: Savor the succulent sarmale—cabbage rolls stuffed with a delicate blend of rice and meat—a festive dish that graces tables during holidays and special occasions.
- Mici: Relish the smoky aroma of mici, a popular street food comprising grilled minced meat rolls found throughout the region.
- Cozonac: Sweeten your adventure with a slice of cozonac, a festive bread with nuts and dried fruit, traditionally enjoyed during the Christmas season.
- Ciorbă de burtă: Warm up with a bowl of ciorbă de burtă, a comforting and flavorful tripe soup that is a staple in Romanian cuisine.
- Papanasi: Indulge in papanasi, scrumptious doughnuts filled with soft cheese and topped with sour cream and fruit preserves.
Ready to Travel to Transylvania?
With its stunning landscapes, majestic castles, picturesque villages, and vibrant cultural heritage, Transylvania offers an unforgettable experience for every traveler! Whether you’re a bookworm checking off your bucket list, a history nerd exploring Transylvania’s storied past, or whether you’re looking for an adventure beyond the traditional, this is absolutely the place to be.
Have you had the opportunity to explore Transylvania? Share your stories and advice with the Frayed Passport community!
Featured image by danieldudu from Pixabay