Maybe Transylvania is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, but the landscapes, people, and culture of this region in Romania are anything but dark and spooky. Check out these nine unmissable towns across Romania's most picturesque province.
Romania was officially formed on December 1, 1918 in Alba Iulia, when Transylvania united with the Kingdom of Romania. And with the country having just celebrated its 100th anniversary, there's no time like the present to visit this charming town.
The main draw of the city is its fortress, the Alba Carolina Citadel, which is the largest of its kind in Romania. Star-shaped and massive, it contains the remains of two earlier fortresses, one from the middle ages and one from the Roman Empire. It was built up in the 18th century by the Hapsburgs to protect the province. It's free to the public, and every day except Sunday between May and September a changing of the guard occurs complete with costumes, drums, cannons and torches. The town itself is also beautiful, full of well-preserved old buildings and tree-lined streets.
Romania's second-largest city is considered by many to be its best. Cluj is the country's capital of culture, packed with enough museums, art galleries and music festivals to keep visitors pouring in year round.
Cluj's architecture has been through a number of different eras, and Ottoman, Baroque, Medieval and Brutalist influences all coexist in one place. Its pedestrian zones are lined with unique bars and restaurants overflowing with craft beer and wine from the region. Also, be sure to stop at one of the many Hungarian restaurants around the city for a steaming bowl of gulas.
Less than an hour from Cluj is a small town whose main activities take place underground. Turda is home to a massive salt mine that was closed in the 1950s, but has been a popular attraction and salt therapy center since 1992. It was turned into an amusement park in 2008, and with boat rides, table tennis, and even a ferris wheel, life doesn't seem so bad 120 meters below the Earth.
Biertan is one of 150 UNESCO-listed villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, and the town's church was built in the Late Gothic style with some Renaissance influences. What makes it unique is its matrimonial prison. The prison was a small room with only one of everything: one dish, one fork, one pillow, one cup, etc. Couples seeking a divorce would stay here, forced to share and work together, in hopes that it would improve their communication and change their minds about separation. The folk festival in September helps keep the village traditions alive, and Ion Constantinescu, a local artist, creates original paintings and sculptures using traditional methods dating back centuries. His studio is just next to the church.
This is the birthplace of the real Vlad the Impaler, but its relationship to the Dracula myth stops there. Although a little worse for wear compared to some of the other towns on the list, Sighisoara wears its shabby-chic aesthetic with pride. Its walled medieval old town is UNESCO-listed all by itself, and most of its houses are over 300 years old. The city is dotted with several defense towers, but the clock tower offers the best view over the entire city. A medieval festival is held every July, mixing the city's history with modern Romanian culture.