Here’s 20 things to do in Brașov, Romania – a list I’ve put together after enjoying two days there in summer. Brașov (pronounced Bra-shov) is incredibly pretty, with lots of photogenic pastel-coloured cobbled streets and a busy square where you can sit and people-watch against the impressive backdrop of mountains. It’s absolutely full of history (and of course the whole Dracula tale), and something that really struck me was the huge German influence from when it was a Saxon city. The buildings look really German and it’s very popular with German tourists (we even found a bar serving Munich‘s Augustiner beer!) but it also has a very unique feel to it that is absolutely Romanian.
Like Bucharest, Brașov was very affordable for us Western European tourists. However, in contrast to Bucharest, it was very clean and well maintained, with neat and tidy parks and freshly painted shops. The café culture is equally thriving, but the bar culture possibly even more so. It may look like a sleepy little medieval city on the surface but it really comes alive at night. Some of the main streets become one long terrace full of both locals and tourists sampling the local alcoholic beverages.
I should also point out that our two days there were intensely hot. It was August and temperatures ranged from 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, even though it’s mountainous and you’d think that’d make it a bit cooler. I cease being able to function at about 30, which is why I’m looking questionably melty in some of these photos. But at least I got to wear lots of summer dresses and sandals before returning to the grim and rainy UK.
Anyway, here’s my top 20 things to do in Brașov…
1. Get a feel for Brașov on the free walking tour
I know I say this in every blog post ever (sorry if you’re a regular and sick of it) but you can’t bloody beat a good old walking tour to get a decent overview of any new city. The Brașov Walkabout free tour was no exception. It covers all the main sights, including the first Romanian school, which was probably the most interesting bit for me.
The tour meets every day by the fountain in the main square and lasts about 2 hours. Starting times vary depending on season, so check ahead. And as ever, despite being free, you should tip at the end.
Our guide was a lovely lady called Smaranda, who looked uncannily like Naomi Klein (social activist and author of The Shock Doctrine). But instead of launching into a critique of corporate globalisation, she took us on a fun and informative tour of Brașov. I mean, either would have been fine.
2. Photograph Brașov’s ‘Hollywood’ sign
On top of Mount Tampa overlooking the city of Brașov, you can’t miss the massive Hollywood-style sign spelling out Brașov in white letters. But just in case you missed it in the daytime, it goes one step further than the Hollywood one and lights up at night so you can’t fail to spot it from almost everywhere in the city.
There is a reason behind the city having its own Hollywood sign. Between 1950 and 1960, Brașov was given the name Orașul Stalin (Stalin City). A bizarre part of this involved spelling out the name ‘Stalin’ on Mount Tampa using fir trees. Needless to say, they got rid of that as soon as they could and decided to replace it with the Hollywood-style letters.
3. Watch the world go by in Piața Sfatului (Council Square)
Brașov’s main square is a picture-perfect place for people watching from one of the many bars or cafés around it. It’s said to be the place that the legendary Pied Piper led the unsuspecting (and frankly idiotic) children of Hamlin.
I’d love to show you a photo of it, or describe the best café or bar to enjoy it from… but when I was there, it was ENTIRELY full of scaffolding and stage equipment because they were setting up for a small music festival. So for the entire three days we spent in Brașov, the supposedly idyllic square was reduced to a sea of poles, cables and machinery.
To add insult to injury, James Blunt was headlining the festival. You couldn’t make this up.
4. Go up the Tampa Cable Car…
This is a must-do if you’re in Brașov. I mean, when is a cable car not a must-do? There has to be some sort of unwritten rule about that.
You can find the entrance here. It costs 18 LEI per person there and back, or 10 LEI just to go up if you have the time and energy to hike down (which should take about an hour).
The actual cable car journey must be a maximum of about 3 minutes, and you have to queue for a long time if you’re there in summer. But the views as you go up are worth it. Keep an eye out for brown bears as you go, because apparently there are lots living around there.
5. … and enjoy the views from the Brașov ‘Hollywood’ sign
When you reach the top and get out of the cable car, you’re deposited in a building with a café. This is not the end. You need to go out of the back and walk up the hill to get to the Hollywood sign and the viewing platform. This is where I took most of my photos, but you can go up even further through the forest for a slightly different angle.
You’ll be able to spot the different bits of Brașov laid out before you: the uber-German buildings around Piata Sfatului, the warren of traditional Romanian streets to the south, and the more modern flats and factories around the outside.
Just to warn you, it’s a very rubble-filled and uneven path up. I did it in white sandals because I would rather have a coordinated outfit than be comfortable, but if you’re a practical person who doesn’t like being in pain, I’d recommend trainers or some kind of boot.
Oh and there are plenty of other tourists to take your photo if you ask nicely. My top tip is to ask the youngest people around you. They always take at least three so that you end up with one that you don’t hate. Anyone older will only take one and it’ll be of their own thumb.
6. Have a vegan lunch at Simone
Simone is a lovely little bistro serving local food with loads of veggie/vegan options. It was definitely my favourite place we ate lunch in Brașov.
The interior is gorgeous, with a lot of house plants knocking around and beautiful tiles. There’s a full menu or a menu of the day, and both have excellent options if you’re not a meat eater. Like many hip eateries in Romania, they served amazing flavoured water (for free) and fresh juices (more on them in #15 of this list). Considering the quality of the homemade food, it was really affordable – I mean, everywhere in Romania is relatively cheap for Western European tourists, but this kind of place could easily be more expensive and pretentious. Luckily, it’s not. Just very cosy and tasty.
7. Wander into hidden courtyards
We found this little beauty through a sort of tunnel off Piața Sfatului, and it’s an orthodox church tucked away out of sight within a small courtyard full of plants.
You can go inside the church for free to have a look around. It has lots of colourful frescos, but I think the doorway takes the prize for best photo opportunity. I love a good door.
8. Visit the Nicolae Titulescu park
For a city already surrounded by green mountains, Brașov greedily has more than its fair share of green spaces too.
The Nicolae Titulescu park is only small, but it ticks all the city park boxes: old men playing boules and/or cards, benches to sit and people watch from, a decent amount of trees to block out some of the city around it so that you feel a bit cut off from it. It’ll only take you a few minutes to walk through, but if you’re after somewhere to sit and eat an ice cream or something, it’s not a bad shout.
9. Admire the German-style architecture
If someone picked you up and plonked you down in Brașov, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in a town around Munich or somewhere else in Bavaria. Not only are there are lot of German tourists (and thus the beerhouses to cater to them), but the architecture is very German.
In fact, Brașov used to be called Kronstadt (Crown City) and was built by Transylvanian Saxon knights who were originally from Germany. The crown name also inspired a bit of a running crown theme, and you can see the crown symbol on loads of things around Brașov, including the gate (see #9 of this list).
10. Try traditional Romanian food at Le Ceaun
If you’re after some traditional Romanian food, Le Ceaun is the place to go. I’d researched it on TripAdvisor before we went but our hotel receptionist and the free walking tour guide also recommended it. It has two branches in Brașov, but we went to the one in the main square.
It does soups (inside bread bowls), stews, salads and all that sort of thing. There are plenty of veggie options, such as the traditional mushroom sour soup. Even if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, it’s worth trying. I was pleasantly surprised by how much less ‘hearty’ some of it was compared with other Eastern European fodder, and also by how easy it is to avoid meat creeping into salads and sauces.
11. Experience Romanian café culture
I think we could have spent all day every day during our visit just visiting all Brașov’s cafés. Although a lot of them in the main square and along the main shopping street (Strada Republicii) are more geared towards tourists, you’ll still find loads that are full of locals – and even among tourists, a lot of them are Romanians from other places in the country. Some of the streets become one massive terrace with so many outdoor seating areas outside cafés.
I don’t know whether it was because it was August, but I got a real sense of outdoor living like in Italy and Portugal. People don’t sit round huddled up in their living rooms for a drink, they go out and sit outside a café to watch the world go by. It doesn’t stop when the sun goes down either, because most of them turn into bars at night. Again, it may have been the August effect, but at night they were HEAVING and you couldn’t get a seat anywhere.
For regular readers of this blog, yes I managed to find places serving English breakfast tea. I know you were worried.
12. Walk through Catherine’s Gate
As gates go, this Catherine’s one is pretty extra. It’s medieval and topped with some impressively Disney-esque turrets. It dates back to the 1500s and was built by the Tailors’ Guild to defend the town. You can still see some of the old town walls next to it. Sticking with the crown theme, there’s a motif of one so look out for that.
To the left of the gate from the angle in this photo, you’ll find a wooden eagle carved into a tree stump (obviously) and to the right, there’s the Schei Gate, which is for traffic and not as fancy.
13. Eat delicious Italian food at Dei Frati
Dei Frati was hands-down the best evening meal we had in Brașov, and definitely the best atmosphere of anywhere I’ve eaten for a long time. You know when you imagine the perfect setting to sit outside and eat? Well this is it. Fairylights, cobblestones, flowers: everything you need for al fresco dining in a cute little side-street.
The food was incredible (and as a weird coincidence, served on the same turquoise plates we have at home!). Whenever somewhere does homemade pasta, I’m all over it. We shared a starter of bruschetta and then had a mixture of veggie and pescatarian pastas for our mains. Everything was exquisite and on a par with the homemade pasta we had in Rome.
I was about to burst but managed to find a small amount of room for dessert, although this did involve discreetly unbuttoning the top of my skirt. Such is life.
14. Visit the Black Church
Brașov’s Black Church is so called because it’s a church and it’s black. Well, it’s blackened. I’d say it’s more of a grubby brown colour. It’s from the 15th century but only became black in 1689, when the Habsburgs (or their forces, not the actual royals) came and burnt it.
On one of its pillars, you can see a statue of a boy leaning forwards like he’s dropped his phone off the edge. No one knows what he’s meant to be up to. But naturally there are plenty of guesses like he was the son of the priest in charge when the fire happened and he was on the roof but couldn’t escape. Others say he was involved in building the church and someone pushed him off.
Equally grim, you can see bullet holes in pillars inside the church (it’s 1.5 euro to get in). They’re not that old though. Apparently, they happened in 1989 during the revolution.
You can go to an organ recital on Tuesday evening if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m very much not.
15. Pretend to be healthier than you are with some juice
I was pleasantly surprised by how many cafés and restaurants had loads of different homemade fruit/vegetable juices on offer. This made me feel better about the insane amount of food I stuffed my face with throughout our trip.
The pic below is a delicious raspberry sour juice from #6 on this list, but we had brilliant homemade juice in loads of places and there seemed to be a lot of juice bars around in both cities we visited. I can’t find anything online that says Romania is particularly into juice (in fact, this article says that Romania has the lowest consumption of fruit juice in the EU?!) so maybe we just happened to go to particularly juicy places… Either way, it’s got to be better for me than ordering a(nother) G&T.
16. Squeeze down the tiny Rope Street
This sounds good doesn’t it? A really narrow street – one of the narrowest in Europe. What a cute little novelty eh. Wouldn’t it make a good photo, much like the square that I ALSO didn’t get a photo of? Yes. Yes, it would.
But unfortunately Rope Street was closed for renovation while we were there. Yup. But unlike the square being closed, I can’t really blame Jame Blunt for this. I mean, I’m going to anyway. Why must he torment me so?
Still, I’m going to keep Rope Street on this list because if you’re visiting Brașov, it’ll most likely be open and fully renovated by the time I’ve published this post and you can see what it’s all about even if I wasn’t allowed to.
17. Go Greek at Athanasios
Restaurant Athanasios is an excellent choice if you’ve eaten too much over the course of your visit and want to do tapas-style sharing. The highlight for me was probably the mustardy olives, which sounds weird but was strangely delicious.
The decor inside this restaurant was gorgeous: all pale blue and distressed white wood. It’s actually tucked away down a little alleyway and isn’t somewhere I’d initially go for due to the photographs of food lining the alley’s walls (usually a warning sign of touristy muck) but we both really enjoyed it.
18. Do a day trip to Bran Castle (‘Dracula’s Castle’… sort of)
If you really want to see Bran Castle as one of your Romania must-dos, then you can get there from Brașov. HOWEVER, I’m not going to recommend it without a couple of warnings…
First off, the journey. Our lovely hotel receptionist did warn us it’d be ‘interesting’. You know this isn’t a luxury travel blog by any means. I’m 100% a Premier Inn and public transport kind of girl. But I struggled with spending 45 mins being boiled alive on a filthy, ancient bus. The fact it was August didn’t help, I know. It it was like an oven and far too many of our fellow tourists seemed to have not grasped the concept of ‘deodorant’. Hmm. Anyway, if you’re harder than me, the bus from terminal number 2 is at least cheap (8 LEI each).
Second, the town of Bran was full of tourist tat. That was a shame really, because Bran Castle itself was quite imposing and beautiful. It was also insanely busy (the photo below is proof that tactical angles are everything!). It was August, so crowds are to be expected, but I’ve heard from other travellers that it’s pretty chokka all year round.
So basically, if you’re planning on visiting the castle, go for it but with these things in mind. If you’re a big Dracula fan (and you know it’s not really the Dracula Castle) or if you just love beautiful castles, it’s worth seeing.
19. Treat yo’self at a very cute shop (Pebs Concept)
Pebs Concept was my favourite boutique shop in Brașov. Wherever we go, I like to hunt out little independent shops to buy myself some kind of treat to remember the holiday by.
Pebs had loads of really unusual handmade jewellery, but not the disgusting silver Celtic mess you sometimes find when somewhere says ‘handmade jewellery’. This was on-trend, delicate gold stuff that wouldn’t look out of place in Anthropologie or somewhere like that. It also sold unique homewares, photo frames, bags, cards, bathroom stuff, and art prints.
A pair of their earrings I had my eye on were 78 RON (about £15) so it wasn’t super cheap if you’re used to Primark prices like me, but it was worth it. If you think about it, you can spend more than that on the high street for earrings that later go green and that everyone else has too. Plus, you’re on holiday, which is the perfect excuse to treat yo’self.
20. Stay in affordable luxury at Antler Boutique Hotel
I’m going to wrap up this post on things to do in Brașov with where to stay to do all of the things.
We spent our trip at the utterly lovely Hotel Antler. I rarely rave about anywhere we stay (and they’ve not asked me to give them a shoutout or anything), but I would highly recommend it. Our room was stunning, with lots of antler-themed things going on. But the main thing I liked was coming into the hotel from the bustling, warm street and immediately being hit with a (not overpowering) scent of cleanliness and a general aura of calm. Something about it was very zen. The staff were really helpful without being overbearing. One girl even warned us about the crazy crowds at Bran Castle (which we should have paid more attention to!).
For only £48 per night, you can’t go wrong. I mean, I’ve paid double that for a barely-functioning Travelodge in the UK, so this was an absolute steal in my view.
Final thoughts on Brașov, Romania
Brașov was incredibly pretty, quaint and colourful – the perfect antidote to gritty, hip Bucharest.
It was also one of the most tourist-filled places I have ever been, which I was half expecting but was still an eye opener. It’s a huge tourist hub – just not so much for British tourists. It was full of German, French and Italian couples and groups of friends on their holidays. We didn’t meet any other British people, which was really nice. I like to avoid them at all costs.
It’s worth noting that the food was excellent in Brașov. That was the case for Bucharest too. Everything is made fresh and it was all incredible (oh and always worth the sometimes rather long wait!). Eating vegan, veggie or pescetarian requires some research, but that’s always the case. Once you’ve identified some options for each city, you’ll be impressed with how good they are.
Romania as a whole was an incredibly interesting country. We only visited two cities, but it was very different from anywhere else in Eastern Europe I’ve been to. Definitely worth a visit.
On a less cheery note, and I mentioned this in my Bucharest post, apparently a Romanian leaves the country every nine minutes to go and work abroad. I’m not sure how precise that statistic is, but we’ve all read about how many people have left Romania due to corruption and poverty, especially young people whose skills and creativity the country needs. Just before we arrived, there were protests in Bucharest by locals visiting home from their jobs abroad. I won’t go into it all too much or we’ll be here all day, and you probably saw lots about it in the media anyway.
But like I said in my other post, I really hope things work out for Romania and that those who left for work can go back and help repair it. If you’re interested in reading further on this, there’s a good photo essay in the Guardian about Romanians in the UK.
Useful information: 20 things to do in Brașov, Romania
How to get there (and away)
We flew to Bucharest direct from Liverpool with BlueAir, which is Romania’s answer to Easyjet. It took about 3 hours 30 mins. After 3 days in Bucharest, we got the train to Brașov. This took about three hours. It cost about £20 for a return ticket. I must warn you though, it’s a pretty rudimentary train and we both got bitten by fleas on it.
Where to stay
We stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Antler, which was about £48 a night. See #20 on this list for more information.
How to get around
Romania as a whole is car-heavy. But Brașov is walkable and the public transport (buses or trains) to nearby places is functional (if a bit of a state!). There are two main bus stations in the city: Autogara 1, at the train station, and Autogara 2, on the Avram Iancu Street, by the football stadium.
When to go
Not August! Although I didn’t die (it was close), melting in Romania’s insane summer heat probably wasn’t the best idea. We ended up going at this time for various reasons outside our control, but we knew it wouldn’t be ideal. We survived though and I understand that it was unusually hot, even for August. Like most city breaks though, spring or early autumn are the best for exploring. Brașov gets cold and snowy in winter so that wouldn’t be ideal.
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