If this intoxicating city in the Southern Carpathians has a German air there’s a good reason. In the Middle Ages Brașov was developed and settled by Saxons invited to settle here by Hungarian Kings. Tax exemptions allowed German merchants to build their fortunes, trading with both Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire which was on Brașov’s doorstep. That explains the grandeur of Council Square in the centre, as well as the Gothic Church for the city’s Lutheran congregation.
The charming Old Town is set off by mountainous landscapes, with one dominating peak, Mount Tâmpa, linked by cable car, while there’s also a up-and-coming winter sport resort nearby at Poiana Brașov.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Brașov:
1. Piața Sfatului (Council Square)
A place of trade and fairs from the middle of the 14th century, now this wide open space is somewhere to pause and look south to the vast bulk of Mount Tâmpa.
The plaza is traced by historic painted facades of houses once belonging to the city’s guilds, as well as monuments like the Black Church and the Orthodox Cathedral.
Many of the houses are now restaurants and cafes with terraces sprawling onto the square.
On the south side is the arcaded Merchants’ House from the mid-16th century, which used to be a market building and has been converted into a shopping arcade.
A great time to be on Council Square is in December for the Christmas Market, when everything is in lights and there’s an enormous tree.
2. Biserica Neagră (Black Church)
Seen as one of Eastern Europe’s greatest works of Gothic architecture, the Black Church was constructed by Brașov’s German community during the 15th century.
In the 16th century Lutheran services took the place of Catholic ones, a switch that has persisted to this day.
Just outside is a statue of Johannes Honter, the Transylvanian Saxon humanist who brought Lutheranism to the region.
Don’t miss the 15th-century sculpture on the northern facade, particularly the bas-relief of Jesus in the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
And from the same period inside are brocaded vestments, chalices, a baptismal font and a fresco depicting the Annunciation.
3. Casa Sfatului (Council Hall)
Hard to miss on Council Square is the 15th-century town hall, which actually started life as a Medieval watchtower.
The town hall went up in the 15th century, and had to be modified because of natural calamities and then a Habsburg invasion in the 1600s, leaving it with a blend of earlier Gothic and later Baroque architecture.
Since the 1950s the Council Hall has hosted the County Museum of History, which has an assortment of Iron Age tools, Roman items from nearby forts, Medieval ceramics, antique weapons, pharmaceutical artefacts, traditional handicrafts, coins and more.
4. Mount Tâmpa
Rising 400 metres over the south of the Old Town, to a maximum height of 960, the wedge-like Mount Tâmpa is an ever-present part of Brașov’s landscape.
Keen walkers will be itching to conquer this forest-covered limestone peak, once defended by a 13th-century Teutonic citadel and with distant views of the Burzenland region at the top.
The Knights’ Road, the oldest of many routes to the summit, goes back to the days of the citadel and snakes past old crumbling walls.
The mountain is also a nature reserve, providing a habitat for gray wolves, golden eagles, brown bears and Eurasian lynxes.
And if the slopes look a bit too demanding there’s always a cable car, shuttling to the top in three minutes and with a panoramic restaurant at its upper station.
5. Bastionul Țesătorilor (Weavers’ Bastion)
Under Mount Tâmpa on the south side of the Old Town is the most complete remnant of Brașov’s old fortifications.
In the 1500s the city’s guilds were responsible for looking after the city defences, and this bastion was in the hands of the weavers, keeping attackers at bay while also giving the weavers somewhere to store their wares.
The earliest architecture here is from the 1420s and an extra floor was added in the second half of the 16th century.
There are two guard towers, and indomitable walls with openings for cannons and throwing oil at would-be attackers.
The museum within has details about the Weavers’ Guild, Ottoman weapons, guns and a Hungarian-era scale model from 1896, depicting the city as it would have looked in 1600.
6. Strada Republicii
Setting off diagonally from Council Square is Brașov’s lively main street, which is completely pedestrianised.
Over the last decade Strada Republicii has been given a facelift, and nearly all of the turn-of-the-century facades have been restored.
As you go you’ll see passageways shooting off, leading onto beautiful hidden courtyards.
Keep your eyes peeled for early-20th-century German inscriptions on some of the buildings.
In summer there’s an almost unbroken line of bar and restaurant terraces so there’s no excuse not to linger for a few minutes and watch the crowds.
7. Prima Școală Românească (First Romanian School)
In the village-like Șchei District on Brașov’s southwestern outskirts is a site of real value for Romanian culture.
Here in the grounds of the 16th-century Church of St Nicholas (Biserica Sfântul Nicolae) is the first school ever to teach courses in Romanian.
These first took place in 1583 and the school was in use all the way up to 1941, before becoming a museum not long after the war.
There are more than 4,000 books and 30,000 historic documents at the museum, which also has Romania’s first printing press.
Guided by an elderly caretaker, you’ll get to see the first Romanian bible, as well as volumes of valuable first editions.
The oldest document of all is a manuscript dating to the 11th century.
There has been a Jewish community in Brașov since 1807 when its first members were permitted to settle in the city.
By the start of the Second World War the community had grown to more than 4,000, a far cry from the 230 residents today.
Brașov’s Orthodox Synagogue fell victim to Ion Antonescu’s dictatorship in the Second World War, but the Neolog Synagogue is still here.
With a neo-Moorish and neo-Byzantine design and impressive scale, the building testifies to the vitality of Brașov’s Jewish population when it was built at the turn of the century.
The architect was the Hungarian Lipót Baumhorn who designed more than 20 synagogues in Austria-Hungary.
9. Strada Sforii (Rope Street)
A quirky detour, Strada Sforii not far from the Șchei Gate is one of the narrowest streets in Europe.
At a minimum of 111 centimetres, this 80-metre passageway dates back to the 1600s and is only beaten for narrowness by Spreuerhofstraße in Reutlingen, Germany and Parliament Street in Exeter, England.
It’s impossible to spread your arms as you squeeze down this shadowy passage, so you won’t be shocked that Strada Sforii wasn’t originally designed for everyday use, but as a route for fire-fighters in the Old Town.
10. Bran Castle
A day trip not to be missed from Brașov, Bran Castle is under half an hour to the southwest.
This 14th-century fortress is often connected to Count Dracula and his real life 15th-century inspiration Vlad the Impaler.
And while this isn’t strictly true as Vlad the Impaler didn’t have much to do with the castle, the true history of the building is exciting enough.
A romantic tangle of towers built onto a rocky promontory over a gorge, it was a bulwark against the Ottoman Empire in the late Middle Ages and was controlled by a succession of Hungarian Kings.
When Transylvania was ceded to Romania after the First World War it became a favourite residence for Marie of Romania, and the museum inside has many of the queen’s possessions.
Recommended tour: Dracula Castle & Brasov: Private Tour
11. Pietrele lui Solomon (Solomon’s Rocks)
In the southwestern Șchei district on a tributary of the Șcheiu River you’ll come to a strange karst formation.
Divided in two by a stream is a pair of vast, sheer rocks, steeped in local folk tales about a Hungarian king or Solomonars, dragon-riding wizards who control the rain.
At the start of the 20th century excavations on the site found vestiges of a fortress that had been manned since Neolithic times.
Today it’s a favoured picnic and barbecue spot, while climbers are a common slight on the vertiginous slopes.
And from here, a bike trail weaves through the mountains to the nearby ski resort of Poiana Brașov.
12. Turnul Alb (White Tower)
On a spur defending the west side of the Old Town is the semicircular White Tower, which forms a pair with the nearby Black Tower.
You’ll have no trouble identifying this bright whitewashed bastion on its high perch from Council Square.
Raised in the last decades of the 15th-century this structure was maintained by Brașov’s tile-makers’ guild and at five storeys was the tallest of all the city defences.
To keep would-be attackers out, its entrance was several metres from the ground and needed a ladder.
There’s a wooden staircase inside, which you can climb to stand behind the crenellations and view the Old Town against the backdrop of Mount Tâmpa.
13. Poiana Brașov
From mid-November to mid-March the peaks around Brașov are coated with a permanent layer of snow.
But it’s only recently that this snow-sure climate has been harnessed for winter sports.
Poiana Brașov is a ski resort under 15 kilometres from the city proper that has gone through big investment in the 2010s, expanding its skiable area to 80 hectares and creating 24 kilometres of pistes.
Nearly all of its slopes now have snow-making facilities, ensuring a 120-day season, while the nos.
20 and 100 buses provide quick transfers from the centre of Brașov to the resort.
In warmer weather the four mountains encircling Poiana Brașov are a hiker’s dream, with sweeping meadow, lofty vantage points and many hectares of fresh oak and hazel forest.
14. Libearty Bear Sanctuary
Fair to say that bears haven’t always been well-treated in Central Romania.
But after the country joined the EU in 2007 its zoos became subject to European laws for animal husbandry.
As many smaller zoos couldn’t comply with these new standards, this sanctuary not far southwest of Brașov swelled with newly rescued inhabitants.
The Libearty Bear Sanctuary has 70 European brown bears living in 27 hectares of enclosures in deciduous woodland, providing ample tree cover, space to hibernate and lots of water in the form of streams and pools.
15. Parc Aventura
On Brașov’s southeast outskirts is a family-oriented attraction with ladders, rope nets, bridges and zip-lines between trees.
Children under eight years old can take part on four purple courses, on which they’ll be permanently attached by carabiner to a safety rope for maximum security.
Older climbers can tackle eleven different courses, ranging in difficulty from yellow for beginners to a single black route for experts who need an extra hit of adrenalin.
And if that’s not enough, there are also side activities like a 300-metre zip-line crossing a lake, and a literal leap of faith from a height of 16 metres.