Several names instantly remind you of Romania, such as Dracula, Transylvania, Nadia Comăneci, or Nicolae Ceauşescu. More recently, another name appeared. It’s Sibiu, a city with a long history, with medieval towers, walls, and houses. It is so well preserved that you can easily imagine the knights in their shining armor or the beautiful ladies in their stunning dresses—a city with a thriving cultural life, great architecture, and for food-lovers, amazing traditional dishes.
Sibiu is probably the most beautiful city in Romania. Its old center, renovated in 2007 when it was designated a European Cultural Capital, looks like a fairy tale. It is easy to imagine yourself living centuries ago when you find yourself surrounded by the medieval buildings, towers, and walls of Sibiu.
To all these, add the friendly people. Because above anything else, Sibiu is about people. Without them, Sibiu wouldn’t have been the first city in Romania with a museum, an asylum, a pharmacy, a cast-iron bridge, or a paper mill.
The location of Sibiu
Sibiu is located almost in the center of Romania, in the Transylvanian Plateau, and is not far away from the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains (also known as the Transylvanian Alps). It is 275km from Bucharest, 143km from Braşov, and 178km from Cluj Napoca. It is served by an international airport which has many connections to and from Germany.
The history of Sibiu
The history of Sibiu is part of the history of the many other German cities of Transylvania. Although a Romanian population had been living there for a long time, the city's recorded history starts in the 13th century when Andrew II of Hungary gave the Teutonic Knights the right to settle the area. After some disagreements with the Hungarian king, the knights were forced to leave, and their place was taken by German settlers.
The first mention of Sibiu appeared at the end of the 12th century when it was called Cibinium. Before that, it seems that a Roman garrison had existed there for a while. Thus, Sibiu was also known as Villa Hermani and later by its German name of Hermannstadt. Although severely damaged by the Tartar invasion of 1241, the medieval town of Sibiu became in a short time the most important German city of Siebenbürgen, the old name of Transylvania. It literally means “Seven Cities,” the original number of the German cities founded there.
It was designated as the location of the German assembly known as “Universitas Saxorum.” In the beginning, only Germans were allowed to own properties in the citadel. Still, as the centuries passed, they lost their old privileges, and Sibiu became the most important center in the fight of Romanians for their rights. It joined Romania after the Great War. Today, it is not just an important tourist destination, the eighth-most idyllic place to live in Europe (according to Forbes), and an important industrial center of Romania.
Medieval Germanic squares, baroque architecture, hidden little passageways, twisted staircases, frozen-in-time cobblestone streets, archways, slender towers, bulky bastions, “eyes” in the rooftops, an entire old world can be seen in Sibiu. To the past, add the present. Hotels and guest houses sheltered by former watchtowers, lively bars and restaurants full of local flavor, jazz music, several cultural festivals held throughout the year, and bustling urban life. This is Sibiu.
There is no doubt that any tour of Hermannstadt will begin in the Large Square (Piaţa Mare). Designed in the 14th century, the square was initially used as a cereal market. Later it became a place for public meetings and the little medieval entertainment known as public executions. The oldest buildings of the square are located on its southern and eastern sides. They are old private houses dating back to the 14th century and belonged to the richest nobles of Sibiu. One of the most imposing is the Brukenthal Palace, the present art museum. This is, in fact, the oldest museum in Romania, inaugurated seven years before the National Galleries in London. Right across from the museum, one can see the City Hall, the newest building in the square, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, and next to it, the Catholic Church, built by Jesuit monks in 1733. In the northeastern part of the square, an archway pierces the old town hall tower, which today offers a great panoramic point if you climb all the way to the top.
Once on the other side of the tower, you’ll find yourself in the Small Square (Piaţa Mică). Merchants once used this square to sell their products. Today, only the House of Arts recalls more or less of those activities as it here that you can buy some of the best traditional hand-made Romanian souvenirs. The Small Square boasts many good restaurants and bars, making it very lively throughout the day and night. But one of the main attractions of this square is without a doubt the Bridge of Lies. It is said that if you want to test the love of your partner, then this is the place – if he lies to you, then the bridge will collapse with him on top of it.
Huet Square is the next one, the oldest and the smallest. The whole city had been developed around it, but it lost its importance to the other larger squares. It is known for its Staircase Passage and the Journeyman House, but most importantly for its Evangelical Church, the symbol of Sibiu.
The tour might continue along Mitropoliei Street. First, you’ll pass by the Altemberger House, now the History Museum, or the House with Caryatids. In the end, you’ll reach the Orthodox Cathedral, a copy of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Continue through Astra Park, where the chess and backgammon players are too busy to notice you taking their pictures, and arrive at the beginning of the pedestrian alley, the former Nicolae Bălcescu Street. Many bars and stores line each side of the alley, and don’t miss the local hot bagels or the local donuts for sale there.
Just after the grocery store, turn right and walk towards the area of the old medieval towers. Around the 14th century, Sibiu had 19 guilds practicing 25 crafts. Each guild had to build and take care of a tower. On Cetăţii Street, you can find one of the quietest and quaint areas of Sibiu. The towers are lined along the cobblestone street like soldiers of a forgotten world. There is a good section of the medieval wall between the Potters’ Tower and the Carpenters’ Tower. Once an area full of danger and battles, the former moat is a lovely alley where young couples come to steal kisses from each other. And not far from the wall, one can see the Thalia Concert Hall, originally a former medieval tower.
These are just some of the many tourist attractions of Sibiu. In addition, you can have adventures in the Lower Town, and the local market might be another great destination for those interested in the city's daily life.
Accommodation in Sibiu
Modern hotel chains, local hotels up to 5 stars, boutique accommodations, and guesthouses centrally located or in the surroundings can satisfy the requests of any tourist. Because Sibiu is, before anything else, a medieval town, you might try a place located right in the medieval center. Luckily there are plenty of options. You could start with Casa Luxemburg (3*), located in the Small Square. Its large rooms with great square views will make you feel like you are living in a fairly-tale. Casa Levoslav (4*) is a small boutique hotel located right next to the Large Square. Villa Weidner is a 3-star guesthouse also located in the Large Square. If the absence of the elevator in these quaint places poses a problem, then you might try the oldest hotel in Sibiu, Împăratul Romanilor (3*).
Very close to the old town center are the Ramada and Continental Forum hotels, both of them with 4 stars and both offering good service and many amenities. The Ibis Hotel (3*), a little cheaper, might be another option since it is close to the medieval town. Finally, the Hilton Hotel (5*) is located about a ten-minute drive from the town center.
The surrounding villages also might be a perfect choice if you have a car. They provide en suite rooms, homemade meals, and plenty of fresh air. The villages of Răşinari and Sibiel might be the best for a countryside experience.
Restaurants in Sibiu
Like Braşov and other Romanian cities, Sibiu has so many restaurants and bars that it would be impossible to mention them all – so I’ll stick to just a few of them. My first choice would be Crama Sibiul Vechi. I think this is the best traditional restaurant in the country. Located in a medieval small wine cellar, the waiters dressed in traditional folk costumes will be happy to give you quick and excellent service. Usually, the house wines in these restaurants are quite bad, but not in this one. They also serve several local beers, such as Ursus and Silva. Above all, don’t leave here without trying the “Shepherd’s Bag,” the “Mutton with Polenta,” and the dessert of baked apples with wild berries and ice cream.
Crama Ileana, located outside of the medieval citadel, and Crama Sibiană, located in the Small Square, are equally good and built in the same style. Should you be tired of traditional food, try some Italian dishes at Go In, located in the Small Square, or at Max, located in the Lower Town on Ocnei Street.
The city of Sibiu can offer you several days of interesting sights, just by itself. But if you want to see more than one place and explore the surrounding area, then you are definitely in the right place. At the foothills of the Carpathians, the countryside around Sibiu will take you into a different world. It seems that all of the rural worlds are gathered in this area.
Shepherds might block the road with their huge flocks of sheep, horse-drawn carts might try to pass by your car, and angry turkeys might try to attack you from behind. But, perhaps you can try to milk a cow as they are plentiful on the hillsides if you get thirsty. And when you think that this is the perfect rural area globally, you then discover an old mountain ski resort at Păltiniş.
If you didn’t have the chance of driving on the Transfăgărăşan Road, in just half a day you can explore this amazing road from Sibiu. During the winter, when the road is blocked by snow, you can take the cable car.
Day tours can be done in any direction. Visit the remote villages of the former Saxon area, admire the UNESCO sites of Valea Viilor, Biertan, or famous Sighişoara. And in one day, you can drive to Corvin Castle, the spookiest building in Europe according to Lonely Planet. On the way, you can take a detour to the beautiful and newly renovated citadel of Alba Iulia.
Once again, Sibiu is probably the best city in Romania. And for several reasons: it is a great medieval citadel which has been beautifully renovated, it is full of cultural festivals, bars, and restaurants, and it is one of the friendliest cities in the country. That’s why we love Sibiu.