Arriving in Sighisoara is a bit like stepping back in time.
This tiny medieval city of winding cobbled alleys, steep stairways and secluded squares was my last stop in Romania and ended up being the highlight.
Sighisoara is like a prettier, smaller, quieter and slower version of Brasov. I got the impression that nothing here ever happens quickly and so I dutifully slowed down too.
A UNESCO Heritage Site, Sighisoara offers an invaluable look into the Medieval Ages, of famous vampires, and the story of Transylvania. At the heart of Sighisoara is the Citadel, which is well-preserved and an ode to the early residents that made the city what we see today.
Wandering around Sighisoara is a joy. While the town continues to grow, its historic heart is frozen in time, allowing travelers to experience all the sights on foot. As you go, you’ll find delightful architecture, fortresses and towers that elaborate on Sighisoara’s envious position within Transylvania.
But beyond the home of Dracula, clock towers and churches is a fantastic base to explore the rest of a region rich in both culture and stories.
Explore the Citadel
Sighisoara is a city of remarkable history. Some destinations are havens for artists, adventurers or foodies, but the Transylvanian city is draped in UNESCO-listed sites, most of which are found within the stunning Citadel.
Surrounded by medieval walls, punctuated by towers, your first glimpse of the Citadel is a reminder of Sighisoara’s beginnings. It began as the frontier of The Ottoman Empire, a place of military might and commerce. Despite consistent raids for centuries, today, many of the original buildings stand intact.
Exploring the Citadel is a whimsical experience. It’s an ode to the Medieval era. The surrounding walls stretch for over half a mile (900m) with 14 towers and five artillery strongholds. Each tower bears the name of those that built it from the Blacksmith’s to the Tinsmith’s towers. Each harboring their own distinct personality, creating a skyline like few others in the world.
As you walk further into the center of the citadel, you’ll discover the arresting Clock Tower, vibrant Citadel Square, pastel-colored homes and charming markets.
Prefer some local insight as you explore the Citadel? Check out this 2-hour city tour that takes you to all the highlights with fun, expert narration.
Visit the Clock Tower
Rising out of the ancient streets is Sighisoara’s iconic Clock Tower. Built in the 14th century, the structure soars to heights of 210 feet (64m). In typical Sighisoara fashion, it was both a clock tower, a town hall and the main defensive bastion for several centuries after the last stone was put in place.
The clock you see today is from the 1600s and can be seen from both the Citadel and Lower Town. Above it are four spires that are symbolic of the city’s autonomy through a variety of eras. The tower shimmers in low hanging light, reflecting the sun’s rays back against the cobblestone streets with its ancient windows ablaze like a fiery dragon.
Travelers can enter the Clock Tower, but be sure to put your cameras away until you view the top of the tower. With a big fine avoided, take in the vast views of the city and surrounding mountains. Afterwards, check out the tower’s History Museum.
The museum is found on your way to the top of the Clock Tower, across a number of levels. After seeing the mechanics of the clock, discover historic models of Sighisoara in the years gone by, Renaissance furnishings and ethnography studies of Transylvania.
Relax in the Citadel Square
One aspect of Sighisoara you’ll never get tired of is the Citadel Square. This prismatic space is lined by pastel-hued homes, stalls slinging trinkets and marvelous views of ancient buildings. It’s a lively place to enjoy a morning coffee or an evening meal.
Also known as Piata Cetatii, the square baths in sunlight on cloudless days. The red, blue, yellow and off-green facades create a square that’s filled with cobblestones where executions, witch trials and trade took place. There’s no semblance of similarities between the buildings. It’s a rather unorganized display of historic homes, yet because of that, it all works together perfectly.
After completing your coffee explore the square in more detail, admiring the many designs up close. Along the way, you’ll wander by two of the most beautiful buildings in Sighisoara, the famed Stag House, which features large deer antlers poking out and the Venecian House that encapsulates the city’s man-made beauty.
Step inside Casa Vlad Dracul
In 1431, the infamous Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, was born right here in Sighisoara. The story, fact or fiction, revolving around the famous historical figure, is a major drawcard for travelers exploring what was once Transylvania and now the center of Romania. It’s easy to see why one of the best sights in Sighisoara is the Casa Vlad Dracul.
Visitors to the famous home will be able to walk into the very room Vlad the Impaler took his first breath. The home itself was owned by his father, Dracul, whose name translated to the Dragon with Dracula meaning Son of the Dragon.
After exploring the home, step into the resident restaurant for some authentic Romanian food. The local cuisine will see you sampling ciorba (soup) mici (sausage and mustard) and some cabbage rolls. Top it off with a wander through the gift shop for some Transylvanian inspired hand crafts and souvenirs.
To round out your time with Vlad the Impaler, continue to wander around the Old Town until you find the statue of the iconic figure. The statue itself is marvelous, but the expansive views of the New Town are just as memorable.
The best time to visit Casa Vlad Dracul and experience the haunted side of Sighisoara is at twilight. On this tour, you can explore the narrow streets and discover the home to the world’s most iconic vampire, Dracula.
See the Church on the Hill
From the Lower Citadel, travelers will have a hearty walk up a steep hill in order to reach our next attraction. But each step will be immediately worth it as you gaze upon the Gothic church that was built in the 15th century. The structure has a storied reputation in local life, one that continues to this day as the church is considered to be one of the finest in Romania.
The hill itself stands at over 1,400 feet (429m) above the ground. The lush surroundings, ancient paths and age-old trees provide an appropriate setting for the Church on the Hill. Yet what’s inside is even more captivating.
As you enter, you’ll be able to notice parts of the frescoes that were first developed in the 1480s. These once covered all parts of the church’s interior, showcasing an endless array of local legends, historical figures, and a blend of mythology and religion. In 1776, they were painted over, yet recent restorations have been able to salvage many of the original tales. These include the Last Judgment and St George battling the dragon.
Take a walk through the Breite Oak Tree Reserve
Your first few days in Sighisoara will bring a strong dose of culture, art, and history. But it’s important to explore the region’s natural side and at the very least enjoy some peace and quiet. The Breite Oak tree Reserve is a great place to do that, with its 180 acres representing the largest grassland plateau in Europe.
You can explore it all on the 15.5-mile (25km) trail that loops through the park with barely another local or tourist in sight. It’s a tranquil experience as you wander by soaring trees that support a vast range of native wildlife and migratory species. The reserve boasts over 600 old growth hornbeams, which, in typical Sighisoara fashion, have their own spot in history.
The giant trees are both hauntingly beautiful and incredibly old. Off the 639 hornbeams in the park, over 500 have lived for more than two centuries, with the oldest trees having begun their lives in the 1200s. Those particular trees have seen it all, from the very foundation of Transylvania to a mix of wars, independence and natural events.
Wander up the Scholar’s Stairs
Another of the best walks you can do in and around Sighisoara are the Scholar’s Stairs. This isn’t your average trail, it’s not even your average staircase. That’s what makes it such a must-do for visitors and a rite-of-passage for locals.
The Scholar’s Stairs features over 170 steps, begins in the Lower Citadel and is another way to get to the Church on the Hill. The steps are enveloped in a Medieval-era wooden tunnel that was built to protect children and teachers from the elements on their way to church and classes at the Josef Haltrich High School.
The steps took on a legend of their own over time and became a place where couples would test their love. Here, the man would kiss his partner on each of the steps (there used to be 300!) before telling his partner her name. If he was able to do so at each step, it was a sign that they were soulmates.
Explore the Saxon Cemetery
After making your way up the Scholar’s Steps, you will reach the Church on the Hill. But there is another site that you should visit right nearby. The Saxon Cemetery features winding paths as crooked as the old tombstones that guides you through the hauntingly gorgeous enclave.
The dense green trees and mossy grounds create plenty of natural splendor and enveloped the tombs, some of which date back as far as the 18th century. As you explore along the cobblestone paths, the sun shines through a canopy of old-growth trees and shimmers on different headstones. Most show not just the name of the deceased and the year they passed, but often their occupation adding an extra layer of interesting history to the experience.
Afterwards, make your way to one of the best gilded towers in Sighisoara. The Ropemaker’s Tower is the only one of the nine remaining towers that is still inhabited. Here, the guard of the Saxon Cemetery lives. Untouched by the fire of 1676, the tower is one of the oldest and grandest. Its terracotta roof and surrounding greenery are reminiscent of the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Take a trip to Biertan
Another town, not far from Sighisoara, that captures the essence of Transylvania, is Biertan. However you choose to visit, from this tour to driving a rental car, the fun starts early on this day trip.
A majestic countryside quickly fills the car window with pleasant and fascinating views. The rolling hills, covered in old forests, are a spectacular sight. The forests then disperse to showcase endless green meadows and ancient stone fences that mark the beginning and end of each field. It’s a scene straight from a Romanian fairytale.
Upon reaching Biertan, your first stop should be the fortified church from the 16th century. The main road cuts right through town, delivering you to the church that will immediately draw you in. The church sits above town with the surrounding neighborhoods enveloping it like budding children.
In front of the church is a square the decorated with colorful flowers and carefully trimmed hedges. From there, wander through town to discover the culture, architecture and history of southern Transylvania, a town virtually unaltered since the Medieval era.
Visit the Torture Chamber
When visiting the historic clock tower, make time to stop by and visit the Torture Chamber. Harboring so much history from Medieval times, it’s no shock that Sighisoara has a dark side, but such is the preservation of the chamber the experience feels recent and visceral.
The chamber itself is small and it won’t take you long to see it all. As you step inside, the eerie past creeps over you as if the chamber is still haunted by all the people that met their ends inside. Travelers will be able to gaze upon certain artifacts, such as tools used to torture those under interrogation.
It’s an eye-opening experience that showcases the true nature of this era and the methods used to find the truth. The chair laden with sharp nails is sure to grab your attention as you try to picture the unfortunate soul who had to sit down.
Travelers will be able to combine the entrance fee to the Torture Chamber, the history museum in the tower and Case Vlad Dracul into one ticket.
Admire the Monastery Church
In a city of architectural gems, the beauty of the Monastery Church can get lost in the shadows. Yet if you love beautiful buildings, then it is a must see. The Monastery Church is a Lutheran church that was built in the 13th century using a Gothic design with a delightful Baroque interior.
Maintenance and improvements occurred throughout the centuries, however much of what you will see is around 600 years old. Surrounded by lush grounds, lampposts and cobblestone streets, it’s a spellbinding sight, with its orange roof glistening against the sun, along with the multiple opulent spires.
The beauty doesn’t end there, either. Wander inside to discover the Baroque interior that offers hints of the church’s original Dominican Monastery before becoming the go-to evangelical church in Sighisoara. Aside from the grand altar, elevated ceilings, you’ll find Anatolian rugs that were originally added for the city’s early German population.
See the Towers
As you explore the Citadel, you’ll see the nine remaining towers that have protected the city throughout the centuries. But with each tower being so distinct, there’s so much to learn about each one. Aside from the Ropemaker’s Tower, there’s the arresting Tinsmith’s Tower that has a distinct and somewhat head scratching design.
As you gaze upon it for the first time, it can take a minute to see how the structure comes together. The base begins as a square before it twists itself into a knot to form a pentagonal tower that switches again to an eight-sided look out area and then a six-sided roof. It looks as if it will tumble down at any moment, yet the Tinsmith’s Tower has stood the test of time. It stands at 82 feet (25m) and, besides scars from the 1704 siege, looks in great condition.
The Bootmakers’ Tower is another not to be missed. It’s one of the best-preserved towers in Sighisoara, having stood in place since the 1680s. The Baroque tower has a soaring roof providing an elevated lookout and looks every bit a historic building. Sadly, visitors cannot wander inside, as it is the home of a local radio station.
Explore the New Town
After seeing all the towers, make your way beyond the fortified walls of the Citadel to explore Sighisoara’s New Town. The Citadel is perched on a hill with the “Lower Town” providing a glimpse as to what invading forces would have seen as they saw the strategic placement of the towers. Travelers will also be able to see a different perspective of major landmarks such as the clock tower.
But after taking in the views, spend some time exploring the town, that while not as historic as the Citadel offers a more authentic look into modern life. The main road through the New Town is where you’ll find rows of restaurants that cater more to locals and serve genuine Romanian cuisine. Restaurants here to add to your list include La Perla and Corcodia. The latter providing a three-course lunch special that suits even those on a shoestring budget.
Afterwards, head towards the Tarnava Mare River and cross the Strada Gheorghe Lazar bridge, or further along the main streets for shopping, Sighisoara-style.
Try the local cuisine
Like a lot of population tourist destinations, you’ll have to get off the beaten path to discover true, authentic cuisine. While the Citadel is packed with restaurants and cafes, they can be overpriced and cater to an international audience. So to eat where the locals eat, head beyond the city walls into the New Town.
Dishes to keep an eye out for include ciorba, a soup with a sour profile with plenty of hot peppers, cream and vegetables. Then there’s sarmale, the national dish, the comprises minced meat and rice before being rolled in cabbage. Last up is mici, a popular street food that features red meat, seasoned and grilled.
Although technically Hungarian, langos is another treat beloved by locals and one you should try, especially if Budapest isn’t on the itinerary. Small hole-in-the-wall shops are where you often find this delicacy, which is fried bread smothered with onion sauce, sour cream and cheese. It’s a mix of pizza and flatbread and is utterly delicious.
Be sure to leave room for dessert as no dining experience in Sighisoara is complete without pananasi. This is a classic local dessert that is a scrumptious donut lathered with sour cream and jam. It’s simple and will send your taste buds straight to heaven.
Day trip to Saschiz
Just fifteen minutes away from Sighisoara, Saschiz is another town to add to your itinerary. You can choose to drive, while the short distance makes taking a taxi a budget-friendly option. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is renowned for its fortresses and historic church built by Saxons.
The highlight of Saschiz is the fortified Saxon church that was built in the 1400s. Much like the structure in Biertan, the church marks the center of town, and looms large across the landscape. The stone arches and rising tower have lost none of its grandeur over the centuries. In fact, its presence seems to have only strengthened over time.
The facade mighty church couldn’t be more different from the airy interior that harbors a softer beauty. Here, the whitewashed walls guiding you towards the ancient altar.
Another stop on your day trip to Saschiz is the ruins of the Peasant Fortress. In contrast to the church, the old fortress shows the wear and tear of time with its ruined walls rising out of the greenery before crumbling towards the top.
Enjoy a festival
If your dates are flexible, arguably the best time to visit Sighisoara is towards the end of July. On the last weekend of the month, the town’s population doubles as locals mingle with out-of-towners and travelers alike at the Medieval Festival.
The festival first occurred in 1992 and sees the ancient Citadel return to its glory days for a weekend of events, celebrations, food, music and art. On each day, there’s something different to look forward to. The markets quickly fill up with browsing patrons, many of whom get into the spirit of the weekend and dress in the finest medieval wares.
But not far from the markets will be knights in shining armor battling for your attention as they recreate life in the early days of Sighisoara. Complementing the battles are traditional music, complete with dancing along with the chance to learn all about the old trades of rope-making and smithing. As you experience the festival, be sure to keep an eye out for the inevitable arrival of Vlad the Impaler.
See the Holy Trinity Church
Away from the Citadel on the other side of the Tavarna Mare is the Holy Trinity Church. The eye-catching design is found away from the center of Sighisoara after the original proposal was denied. Instead, it was built slightly out of the way. But without the historic buildings around it, the Holy Trinity Church stands out even more,
The church is one of the more recently built landmarks around Sighisoara. Construction was completed in the late 1930s. It is now the center of the town’s Roman Orthodox community. From the outside you can see the beautiful neo-Byzantine cathedral in all its glory, with the river trickling along. If you arrive in the morning or at dusk, you’ll hear the church bells sing from the top of a paper-white tower.
After wandering around the grounds and admiring the gilded stone and arches, make your way inside to spot the elaborate frescoes and the soaring domed ceiling.
As you explore Sighisoara’s colorful streets, you’ll come across some amazing souvenir stalls and folk shops. These are often found in the vibrant burgher houses that were the former homes of merchants and traders. Now an assortment of shops, you’ll quickly discover that the Citadel is a delightful place to indulge in some retail therapy, however historic it may be.
Sighisoara is a rich tradition of craftsmanship that began with the arrival of the Saxons. Although centuries have passed, these traditions remain today thanks to the many boutique folk shops that are spread not only through the Citadel but in the New Town. One of the best folk stores to visit is Arts and Crafts. The simply named store is the place to go for genuine Romanian craftwork that will make for the perfect mantelpiece.
Many of these shops are spread randomly through town, but there are strong congregations at the Centatii Market and around the Clock Tower. Here, you’ll find anything from beautiful trinkets to refined Romanian fashion.
Have a drink
Although Sighisoara is renowned for its marvelous old town and not its nightlife, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great places to go for a drink during the day or after dark. The courtyards and patios around the Citadel are a delightful place to enjoy some Romanian wine or try some craft cocktails, while the nightlife can be a fun way to mingle with locals.
For some daytime brandy, make your way to Teo’s Cellar. This distillery is five centuries old and produces a range of local liqueurs alongside its traditional 3-year barrel-aged brandy. Check out the beautiful cellar on a tour, enjoy a sample and, if you want, stay overnight.
Another place to check out is the Voynich Cafe and Pub. Not only is it a popular spot for a morning coffee, it comes to life in the evening with delightful cocktails and wines steps from historic buildings. The regular events also include fancy dress competitions and quizzes.
To keep the night going, head to the Aristocrat Society Club. The upscale layout has great Saturday nights, with themed events and DJs spinning tunes into the early hours.
Check out the Umbrella Street
The very name gives it away, but nothing can quite prepare you for the unique sight of Sighisoara’s Umbrella Street. From the end of the narrow laneway, you’ll find a grid of umbrellas connected together to provide shade to the restaurant and cafe patrons beneath. To arrive, make your way to Octavian Goga Street.
The umbrellas come in all sorts of colors and will change depending on the time you visit. It’s a rainbow-esque views with providing an elegant scene to the already picturesque laneway. It’s one of the best places to see in Sighisoara and immediately you’ll be seeking out a place to enjoy a meal under the colorful umbrellas.
Some of your options include the beloved Mimoza Dine and Wine, Al Forno and Casa Ferdinand, the latter at the foot of the Sighisoara Fortress.
Watch the street performers
One of the highlights of wandering around Sighisoara is the impromptu performances put on by locals. It adds a layer of mystery to your explorations as while you may be on your way to the iconic sights, you never know when you’ll stop to admire dancing, singing and art shows.
These performances are most common around the Citadel and on the weekends. In fact, this part of Sighisoara even has a dedicated jester to entertain the crowds, so don’t be surprised when a rupture of applause comes out of nowhere.
I loved Sighisoara because it was so incredibly peaceful with an extremely slow pace of life. We took this rhythm to heart and spent much of our time there strolling down the colourful streets and taking photos of everything.
I left feeling that Sighisoara is the type of place I could see myself arriving at, planning to stay a couple of days and leaving months later.
So if you’re planning on heading to Transylvania then be sure to add Sighisoara to your itinerary.
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