View of Brasov with Tampa mountain and the Black Church

An Insider’s Guide to Charming Brasov

Surrounded on all sides by forest-filled mountains, featuring well-preserved medieval architecture, Brasov seems a city from fairy-tales. One of the most beautiful destinations in Eastern Europe, in the past decades it also became one of the most popular for visitors from all over the world.

A Local’s Perspective…

My father’s childhood home in the 1950s, my own home in the 1980s, the city is now my brother’s present home. So, naturally, even though I haven’t lived there in over three decades, I visit it often.

And when I do, I walk the city with my brother, which means I still experience it from a local’s perspective. But I also bring my family, and see the city through my husband’s and children’s eyes, who have only ever knew it as visitors from a foreign land.

I still love the city. In fact, more so now than I did when I lived there. Then again, Brasov was bleak during the Communist years. When I visit, I recognize the old buildings, but now, renovated, they look brighter and more colorful than I remember them. And people who live there smile more now.

Of course, Brasov is very much a tourist town these days, which is a double-edged sword for locals. But good news for visitors.

You no longer need to speak Romanian to get along there; everyone speaks English at some degree. And, at least in the historic center, you meet lots of foreigners from Western Europe, and many Americans, too. No longer a hidden gem, Brasov showcases its scenery and architecture to visitors from all over the world.

Brasov. View of the Old Town from the Tâmpa mountain.
View of the Old Town Brasov from the Tâmpa mountain.

The Mountains of Brasov

The surrounding mountains are the main draw of tourists, visitors, and locals alike in Brasov. Surrounded by these wooded mountains, the medieval architecture of the city adds an air of historical mystery. And the modern cafes offering some of the tastiest pastries and coffee add to the welcoming feel for visitors.

Brasov is surrounded by mountains.
Surrounded by mountains in all directions, with its medieval architecture, Brasov seems a city of fairy-tales.

Densely forested mountains surround Brasov in all directions, and in a way, they define the city. Most locals live here because of them, most visitors come here for them.

Visible from every spot of the City Center, these mountains and peaks offer not only a varied landform but also surround the city with green spaces.

They offer shaded trails to locals and visitors alike, to hike, run, or just stroll along them in the summer months. In the winter, they turn the city into a major ski resort.

Although we don’t visit in the winter, the mountains are the main draw for us, too. We always spend more time in the surrounding mountains than in the city itself.

Mount Tâmpa

Mount Tâmpa, called Cenk in Hungarian and Zinne in German, stands about 1300 feet (400 m) above the city, at an elevation of 3149 feet (960 meters).

Dominating the center of town, this is where Brasov showcases its large, Hollywood-style name sign. Of course, I liked it much better without the sign. Even my husband remembers and misses the mountain without it, though he started visiting the city about 25 years ago.

As much as we dislike it, the huge sign is nothing compared to the way they wrote the town’s name on the same mountain when it was called Stalin city.

My father was telling us that during his childhood they could see the enormous name spelled out by trees. After a devastating fire of 1946 that burned down the trees of the mountain, when they planted new ones, they started with planting them in the shape of letters spelling out the city’s name at the time, Stalin. It was the early days of communism, when overzealous officials even changed city names to fit the times.

Mount Tâmpa, Zinne (German), Cenk (Hungarian) with the city sign of Brasov is visible from every spot in the Old Town.
Mount Tâmpa, Zinne (German), Cenk (Hungarian) in Brasov with the city sign.

These days the mountain is green, filled with trees, and offers plenty of hiking opportunities away from the city life. Several trails lead to the summit, some steeper than others, but those who cannot – or would rather not – hike, can take the cable car. No matter which way you go, the spectacular views from the summit always make it worth it.

However, the hikes also offer something more than a quick journey to the summit. Winding through the forest, or meadows, hiking through Mount Tâmpa, offers an immersion in nature unusual for large cities.

Brasov Historical City Center

View of Brasov city center
View of Brasov historical city center

At the foot of Mount Tâmpa, the Historic Center of Brasov offers more walking opportunities, taking us back in time. Known as Old Town by locals, it features colorful medieval buildings, narrow alleys and pedestrian streets filled with restaurants and cafes.

Easily walkable, the city center offers several must-see landmarks, showcasing the history of Brasov.

The Black Church

The Black Church, the largest Gothic building in the country, dominates the landscape of Old Town Brasov.
The Black Church, the largest Gothic building in the country, dominates the landscape of Brasov.

We like to start our city tour with Brasov’s most distinctive feature, the country’s largest Gothic building, the Black Church.

The massive church took centuries to build, starting in 1383. The constant attacks of the Ottoman and Tatar armies delayed the process, so the construction lasted til 1477. And the massive cathedral ended up smaller than originally envisioned because of constant threats of attacks.

The church is still the largest in Eastern Europe, with an impressive size of 295 feet (90 meters) long, about 115 feet (25 to 37 meters) wide, and 213 feet (65 meters) tall.

When first built, it was meant to become a Catholic Church, named Saint Mary.

However, soon after it was finished, locals chose Reformation, and had no need for a Catholic Church. So, they transformed the building into an Evangelical church in 1542.

The church got its present name from getting burned and blackened by a devastating fire in 1689. Rebuilt in the 18th century, it kept the name of Black Church.

Besides being the largest monument of its kind in Eastern Europe, the Black Church also features the largest collection of Turkish rugs outside of Turkey, and one of the oldest altars in the country.

However, its most impressive feature is its mechanical pipe organ, one of the largest in Europe.

And, while during my earlier visits I only admired the beauty of the organ, during my latest stay in Brasov I also enjoyed an unforgettable organ concert in the Black Church.

The mechanical pipe organ of the Black Church is one of the largest in Europe.
The mechanical pipe organ in the Black Church, one of the largest in Europe.

Council Square

From the Black Church, we walk over to the Council Square, one of the largest pedestrian spaces in Romania. Surrounded by colorful medieval buildings, the Council Square sits at the center of the square.

The City Council Square of Brasov, surrounded by colorful medieval buildings, and dominated by the City Council building dating from the 15th century.
The City Council Square of Brasov.

The central building, the Council House, the original seat of the town hall, stands in the center of the square. The building’s oldest elements date from about 1420, although the tower and the upper floor were added later, between the 16th and 17th centuries.

However, much of what we see today is the result of it being rebuilt after the fire of 1689. The façade depicts the coat of arms of Brasov, originally the symbol of the Honterus printing house.

The Trumpeter Tower dominates the building, named after the trumpeters who announced the approach of an invasion or other imminent danger.

Today the building houses the tourist information office and the History Museum.

Catherine’s Gate

Catherine's Gate
Catherine’s Gate

The only original city gate that survived since medieval times, Catherine’s Gate dates from 1559. Built by the Tailors’ Guild, it was integral part of the city’s defensive system. For several centuries, it was the only gate on the western walls of the fortress city of Brasov.

The square building with four turrets had a moveable chain bridge, and inside, wooden galleries with several rows were set up for defenders.

You can see the coat of arms of the city above the entrance, and part of the old city wall near the gate.

The gate is more of a landmark than a place to visit, but its beauty makes it a must see sight of the city.

Modern Life in Brasov

A new district in Brasov.

The newer neighborhoods in Brasov could fit in any major Western European city. Modern buildings, world-class shopping centers, new architecture mixes with an occasional old building. When walking near the Coresi shopping center, for example, surrounded by modern apartment buildings, I forget I am in Romania.

It is a younger crowd in these places, where the primary residents are local professionals. You don’t see the tourists here, who stick to the historic center. Walking through these districts gives you a glimpse of the lives of locals, no different from in any other major city in the Western world.

Other Things To Do In Brasov – and Nearby

The above sites are only a fraction of what Brasov has to offer.

Poiana Brasov with its Postavarul Mountain offers some of the best mountain hikes and views of the city, besides popular tourist shops, hotels and restaurants.

The Black Tower, White Tower, and several Bastions still stand, offering a deeper look at the medieval history of the city.

And then, just a few miles away, you’ll find some spectacular castles, including the famous – and picturesque – Bran Castle. Others include: Râșnov and Rupea Citadels, and the fortress of Fagaras.

The nearby Bear Sanctuary of Zărnești offers a close-up look at the bears in the country, and a learning opportunity about them.

And less than two hours away, you can visit a more compact citadel town, the UNESCO site of Sighisoara.

Things To Know About Brasov

  1. Where is Brasov?

    The city of Brasov is in Transylvania, present-day Romania.

  2. How to get to Brasov?

    Although Brasov does have an international airport, it is still (in 2023) not possible to fly into the city from international destinations. Instead, the easiest way to get to Brasov is to fly to Bucharest, Sibiu, or Cluj. From there, you can rent a car, or take public transportation to the city. From the Bucharest airport you’ll find shuttles into the city, several times a day. Depending on traffic, you can get from Bucharest to Brasov in approximately three hours.

  3. What are some of the best things to do in Brasov?

    From hiking on forested mountain trails surrounding the city, strolling through the historic city center and marveling at the medieval buildings, even shopping, everyone can find something to do in Brasov. The surrounding mountains offer plenty of opportunities to hike for nature enthusiasts. You can find trails up to Tampa Mountain even in the center of the city, with no need to drive to them. Take a cable car to the top of Tampa mountain to see the city from above. Explore the medieval buildings in the city center. Don’t forget to visit the Black Church. If you are there on a Saturday, you can even attend an organ concert there. Dine or stop for a cup of coffee in one of the restaurants of cafes in the historic city center. Modern stores and malls also offer shopping opportunities.

About the Author

Emese grew up in Transylvania, near the now-world-renowned Sighisoara, and spent several years living in Brasov. Though she now lives in the US, she still revisits the places of her childhood often, with her American family. This gives her several perspectives when writing about places in her former homeland. She can understand them from a local perspective, while also appreciating and noticing things that make these places unique for first-time visitors.

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