Welcome to my compact backpacker’s travel guide to Sighişoara, Romania. Having first visited Sighişoara back in June of 2005, I fell in love with the place almost instantly. It reminded me a lot of Český Krumlov, Czech Republic, another place I have spent a great deal of time in.
For those of you who have never heard of it, Sighişoara is a small town (about 33,000 population) in the heart of Transylvania, Romania, famed birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş, the infamous Wallachian impaler and the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. His speciality was mounting people (in rather large quantities) on long sticks. This delightful and sophisticated gentleman is still to this day somewhat revered by many Romanians since he drove away the Ottoman invaders, most notably in 1462 when Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire was greeted by 20,000 kebabified Turks on the banks of the River Danube.
Though he did not live in Sighişoara for long, it is still the primary reason the place has come to be a significant tourist attraction. Not only that however, Sighişoara is also a UNESCO world heritage town and an extremely beautiful place too.
My first visit to Sighişoara was after coming from Cluj-Napoca, one of Romania’s finest historic university cities. Having put off my trip to Sighişoara for several days due to enjoying my time in Cluj so much, I finally arrived there by train and ended up staying about two weeks.
As is usually the case when I travel, I always plan to get back to places I like as soon as possible. Sighişoara and the general area around it was always one of the top places in my list to return to, especially since I had made quite a few friends there during my first visit. As it turned out, I ended up having to return to Lithuania for personal reasons and the next time I travelled I visited Ukraine and spent several months there. Finally, I returned to Sighişoara in October, 2008 and again in November when I ran Nathan’s Villa Hostel for the winter until leaving in April, 2009. Quite when I’ll be getting back there, I don’t know and I am not going to make the mistake of making any promises this time!
Anyway, I hope you will find this guide useful and inspirational. Since Sighişoara is easy to get to and not too far out of the way from many other popular destinations, you may even want to add it to your itinerary if I’ve convinced you enough.
How to Get There
Sighişoara is almost always reached by train, but in spite of being a small town, it has an abundance of connexions to many popular places. You will find daily trains from Prague, Bratislava and Budapest directly to Sighişoara. From Budapest, the journey is about nine hours and there are both day and night trains. Many people come there directly from Hungary, but if you have enough time, it is well worth visiting Cluj-Napoca on the way for a few days. From Cluj, there are several direct trains a day.
When booking trains in Romania, make sure you avoid the personal trains. These are very slow and quite disgusting in every way. Instead, take the intercity or rapid trains as they are generally super comfortable and much faster. Train travel, regardless of what sort of train you take is dirt cheap in Romania compared to Western standards. In fact, £100 worth of train travel in the UK will cost you about £10 in Romania. Also, remember to get the ticket before you get on the train (anything up to half an hour before is fine and the prices do not change regardless of when you book). If you are booking a night train, make sure you reserve a couchette as well.
Bucharest has several train connexions a day to Sighişoara too as do a number of other popular Romanian towns such as Braşov.
As far as I know, very few busses go to Sighişoara, with the exception of Târgu Mureş which has many direct bus connexions and no trains.
If you are flying to Transylvania, there are budget airline flights to various towns in the region, namely Târgu Mureş, which is the most convenient if you want to get to Sighişoara. Târgu Mureş is the capital of the Mureş county, the same county as Sighişoara and lies under an hour away from the town.
There are abundant accommodation options in Sighişoara and the town does get quite busy in the summer months, so make sure you reserve if going there between June and August. Throughout winter however, from November – April, many places close down. In Sighişoara you will find several hostels and numerous pensions and hotels.
I have always stayed in Nathan’s Villa hostel, which is often widely considered to be the only true backpacker’s hostel in Sighişoara. It is also the oldest hostel there of any kind. Conveniently located just down the street from the train station, it has all the amenities that you need and it’s a hell of a lot of fun too. In fact, Nathan’s Villa is half the attraction of Sighişoara itself for many travellers. You can read more about it in my review here.
If you prefer to stay in the citadel itself, be prepared for quite an uphill hike. As far as budget accommodation options go in the citadel, you can stay in the Burg Hostel which is generally better suited to those who are not up for a big party.
If you want some privacy, then you could try the GIA Hostel, which is more of a pension with several private rooms. It is just next to the train station.
Eat and Drink
You’re not likely to have unforgettable food in Sighişoara unfortunately. In fact, to be quite honest, the food there is pretty hopeless. It’s odd since there are many restaurants which appear quite sophisticated and upmarket and while still typically very cheap by Western standards, they always have some glaring faults such as the occasional inability to refrigerate white wine or serve food that is supposed to be cooked, cooked.
However, there are some places that I recommend, even if it’s just for the sake of having a nice atmosphere and an all-so-round meal at a decent price.
Rustica – The folks at Nathan’s Villa always recommend this place and some people rave about the authentic Romanian cuisine it offers. In my opinion the food is acceptable but nothing special and they often don’t know how to serve wine, which is odd for a wine producing country. It also has an amusing smoking area surrounded by a glass wall so that those foul and filthy fiends who don’t smoke can remain secluded from the smokers. Anyway, this place is worth a visit. It’s quite delightful in many ways and conveniently located in the centre of the town, but not in the citadel itself (which, surprisingly, is relatively empty as far as entertainment venues go). Everyone there knows where it is, so the staff at your accommodation will be able to tell you where to go.
Jo Pub – I don’t know why I like this place. It’s pretty disgraceful. Stodgy food often served stone cold, beer sometimes served warm and just about everything else about this place fails. However, it’s like a big beer hall and can have a great atmosphere. It gets packed out with all sorts of people on the weekend evenings and can be a good fun place to go. However, I can’t recommend it for food, but you might want to try it if you’re into pasta and pizza. It also has a great summer terrace which can make up for some of its shortcomings. Again, your receptionist will tell you where to go.
Concordia – Just across the alley from Jo Pub, this place is a far better choice for food in general. It has a sophisticated looking interior and a great terrace. A nice spot with reasonable food and good prices.
Perla – Also in the centre, just round the corner from Jo Pub, this place is also worth a try, but the food is a bit touch and go. However, if you’ve been unimpressed by all the others, you’ll be unimpressed by this place too.
Stejarul – This place is a must visit. I only ate there once and I was quite impressed. Nothing overly special, but better than most other places in town. However, unless you’re happy to hike up a small mountain, grab a taxi from in front of the train station. It should cost you about 8 Lei (£1.80 at the time of writing). This place is also a pension and affords fantastic views of the town. It’s right by Vila Franka, which you might also want to consider for a meal.
You might be surprised that I would even add a section on nightlife for a town of this size. However, Sighişoara actually does have some kind of nightlife. Nonetheless, if you are staying in Nathan’s Villa, you’ll probably be having plenty of fun there until the small hours and spend a lot less money too. Many of the bars are open until late and some of them can be a lot of fun. While I normally stay at the hostel, it is great to go out occasionally. Here are my recommendations.
Aristocrat – Anything but aristocratic, this wannabe posh nightclub has ridiculously high prices but if you go when they have a special promotion or you are already fairly tanked up when you go out, it can be worth a visit. It’s a huge place built on three floors with a large balcony on the third. Just across from the second bridge if walking away from the station area, this place is easy to find with its bright lights and adjacent cinema and casino. Be aware though; at the entrance you have to pay 40 Lei (£9) to enter, but this goes towards credit for drinks, so, effectively, entrance is free. It’s most economical to buy a bottle of vodka and a carton of orange juice to share with your group than buy individual drinks. If you’re a smoker, make sure you have plenty before you enter and avoid the beer. It’s better value to drink vodka mixes instead. The place has a lively dance floor which gets packed out with students over the weekends.
Diablo – This is a late night bar and quite a fun place to go with a small group of people. It has an abundance of cocktails on the menu which are very reasonable in price. Definitely worth a visit if you want to relax for the evening and enjoy the cheap drinks.
Culture Pub – I have never been here, but I’ll mention it because it’s also popular and I have heard good things about it. Ask the staff in your accommodation for more information.
Things to do in Sighişoara
While you can see the town in a few hours, it’s well worth climbing up the hill to the church but you don’t get much in the way of views due to walls and trees being in the way. The clock tower just off the citadel square and round the corner from Dracula’s house is an absolute gem and houses a museum too. Dracula’s house itself is now a restaurant and in the vicinity are a plethora of gimmicky souvenir stalls and normally an opportunity to get an utterly preposterous looking photo with a scarecrow-like statue of Dracula.
However, for me, Sighişoara is all about the day trips. The surrounding area right in the heart of Transylvania is beautiful and full of delightful historic villages and fortified churches. The problem is, unfortunately, that they can be difficult to get to.
I would strongly recommend that you get a small group of people together to share a taxi to Biertan. It’s about 20 minutes away and the taxi driver will wait for you for two hours if you pay about 100 Lei (£22), including the return trip itself. It works out pretty cheap if there’s three or four of you and it is definitely worth a visit. Biertan is a small village, unreachable by public transport, with a quaint square and a beautiful fortified church. While you’ll probably spend no more than an hour looking around, it’s well worth having lunch there too in the amazing medieval restaurant just at the foot of the hill where you go up to the church.
If you can get a lift or arrange a taxi, check out some of the smaller villages in the area too. Even better, if you have the budget, hire a car for a day and explore the area. There is so much to see, some wonderful countryside and some of the most rustic villages you will find in Europe. In fact, a visit to Romania is really not complete until you’ve seen some of the countryside.
In Sighişoara itself, be sure to take a trip up to the Vila Franka / Stejarul area on the hill overlooking the town. You’ll get some great photo opportunities and get to see the whole town in all its splendour.