The story of this thrilling Transylvanian town begins in the 12th century when the King of Hungary invited Saxon merchants to move to the region. Sighișoara soon became a place of military and commercial value in the Holy Roman Empire, and the city’s flourishing guilds built a citadel on the hilltop.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site today, Sighișoara’s inhabited citadel is a delight, with streets of colourfully painted houses watched by nine towers. And we can’t go any further without mentioning that Sighișoara is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the infamous ruler who would become the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Sighișoara:
In the late Medieval period Sighișoara was at the frontier of the Ottoman Empire and faced repeated sieges and raids.
Between 1300 and 1500 it fell upon the city’s various guilds to build and maintain defensive towers.
What’s striking is how many have reached the 21st century intact.
There are nine in total, including the fabled Clock Tower, which follows below.
Standing at up to four storeys high, the rest still carry the names of the guilds that built them: Blacksmiths, Butchers, Cobblers, Furriers, Rope-makers, Tailors, Tanners and Tinsmiths.
At the latter you can still find evidence of damage from a siege by anti-Habsburg forces in 1704.
2. Clock Tower
Sighișoara’s defining image is this 64-metre tower, which was both the main defensive tower for the citadel and the town hall up to 1556. The Clock Tower went up in the 13th century and was enlarged and remodelled over the next few hundred years.
The four corner turrets on the tower’s roof have meaning, as they symbolise Sighișoara judicial autonomy in days gone by.
The famous clock was installed in the 1600s and has automatons facing both the citadel and Lower Town.
From the citadel side you can see allegories of Peace, Justice as well as two angels representing day and night.
On the Lower Town side is a dial with a group of seven figures symbolising the days of the week.
Inside is the History Museum, and you can go up to the balcony to contemplate Sighișoara’s romantic townscape cushioned by mountains.
3. Piața Cetății (Citadel Square)
After the Clock Tower you’ll find yourself on an adorable square where all the main events happened in Medieval Sighișoara.
At this very spot were chaotic markets, fairs for tradesmen, public executions and witch trials.
As you cast your eyes on the pastel-painted facades you’ll notice that none of the buildings are quite the same, and almost all have some to say for themselves.
On your left as you approach from the clock tower is the 17th-century Stag House.
The reason for the name will be obvious when you see the antlers poking out from the corner of the building, while a recent renovation revealed a mural depicting the rest of the stag’s body.
4. Church on the Hill
The stiff climb from the Lower Citadel is worth every step to see this 15th-century Gothic church, considered one of Transylvania’s finest.
At an elevation of 429 metres, the church is built on an earlier Romanesque basilica and is noted for its frescoes that were painted in the 1480s.
These once coated every surface of the interior, but were whitewashed in 1776 and fragments have been brought back to light after a restoration.
Among the scenes you can make out are St George fighting the dragon, the Last Judgment and the Passion.
Also see the 16th-century altarpiece, which was painted by Johann Stoss, who was the son of famed Nuremburg sculptor Veit Stoss.
5. Covered Staircase
Linking the Upper Citadel with Citadel Square, the Covered Staircase dates to 1642 and is sheltered for its entirety by a timber roof and walls.
It was built to allow students to get up to the school by the Church on the Hill even when there was snow on the ground.
When the staircase was finished in the 17th century there were 300 steps, and even if only 176 remain today it’s still one of the things you have to do at Citadel Square.
In the summer you’ll hear street musicians playing at the upper level as you make your way up.
6. Monastery Church
Once attached to a Dominican monastery, this church by the Clock Tower was first raised in the 13th century.
The prevailing style of the architecture is Late Gothic, while much of the 17th-century interior fittings like the, pews, pulpit and altar are early Baroque.
Lining the walls are some 35 oriental carpets donated by the city’s various guilds.
The most valuable work is the bronze baptismal font, which was cast at a Sighișoara in 1440. There’s a Latin inscription with this date, as well as floral motifs and reliefs depicting bible scenes.
7. Turnul Frânghierilor (Rope-makers’ Tower)
Protecting the northwest walls of the citadel, the Rope-makers’ Tower is a particularly quaint sight because a dwelling has been built into the side of it.
This is inhabited by the groundskeeper of the Evangelical Cemetery.
From a distance you can see the filled-in loopholes on its lowest levels, going back to the 1200s.
Another of the towers to fit into your tour is the Tailors’ Tower, which was badly damaged in 1676 when a gunpowder deposit exploded.
The pair of portal arches below are Romanesque and after a restoration you can see where the portcullis would have slid down between the stone.
8. History Museum
When you pay to enter the Clock Tower your ticket will give you entry to three museums.
Two are in the same building.
On the upper floors is the small but worthwhile History Museum, which has historical models, medical instruments, an assortment of antique clocks, furniture from the Renaissance period, paintings and an ethnographic collection for Transylvania.
In the basement is the Torture Room, full of grisly interrogation instruments and explanations of the disturbing methods used to extract confessions.
With the same ticket you’ll also be able to view the weapons collection at the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler.
9. Holy Trinity Church
You could leave the Citadel for a few moments and cross the Târnava Mare to visit the main church for the town’s Orthodox congregation.
Younger than it looks, the Holy Trinity Church was only consecrated in 1937 and ended up at this removed location after a proposal to build it in the Historic Centre was denied.
Go in for the radiant tempera paintings composed by Anastase Demian, who produced frescoes in churches across Romania in this period.
10. Vlad Dracul House
At no. 5 on Strada Cositorarilor is the house where Vlad the Impaler was born in 1431. Feared for his cruelty, the Prince of Wallachia was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and spent the first four years of his life in this building.
Going by the vaulting on the ground floor, this ochre-painted house may well be the oldest in the city.
Hanging outside is a wrought iron sculpture of a dragon, symbolising the chivalric Order of the Dragon to which Vlad the Impaler belonged.
The ground floor has a medieval-style restaurant while on the first floor is that weapons collection, showing the evolution of armaments used in Sighișoara over the centuries.
11. Breite Nature Reserve
Bring your camera to this glorious natural site just to the south of Sighișoara.
On a huge grassland plateau are hundreds of old growth hornbeam and oak trees (639 in all), some as old as 800 years and predating Sighișoara’s citadel.
This plateau stands at a maximum of 530 metres and has one of the highest expanses of deciduous forest in Europe.
If you fall in love with this landscape you could spend all day on a 25-kilometre circular trail with nobody but an occasional shepherd for company.
12. Evangelical Cemetery
At the top of the Covered Staircase you’ll also come to the cemetery for the Church on the Hill.
Generations of Saxon residents were buried here, to the point where the number of Germans interred at this cemetery outnumbers the total living in Transylvania today.
Be sure to take in the historic tomb monuments, the oldest dating back to the 18th century.
But with its rich foliage and remote setting far above the rest of the city, it’s also somewhere for a bit of peaceful reflection.
If you have time you should make your way south in search of the town’s synagogue.
Dating to 1903, this handsome but unassuming building is on the street where Sighișoara’s small Jewish community used to be.
Back then the town had more than 100 Jewish inhabitants, just a memory today after the death of its last elderly citizen a few years ago.
In recent decades this man had taken responsibility for the upkeep of the Synagogue, which held its last service in 1984. The bimah at the centre, rows of benches and galleries are all still in place at this monument to a different time.
There are now plans to open a centre for Jewish culture here.
14. Medieval Festival
Sighișoara’s population doubles in size on the last weekend of July for the annual medieval festival, now in its 25th year.
On these three days the streets within the citadel walls go back to their roots when they’re filled with handicraft markets, street musicians, concerts, traditional dance performances, movie screenings and enthusiastic stunt shows with knights in full armour.
On the “Road of the Craftsmen” you can also watch live demonstrations of old-time trades like smithing, printing and rope-making.
And since we’re in Sighișoara, don’t be surprised if Vlad the Impaler makes an appearance with his two wives.
You could follow up Sighișoara with a trip to another Medieval marvel, 15 minutes down the road at Saschiz.
Like its neighbour, Saschiz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it has a fortified Saxon Church raised at the end of the 15th century.
Outside this is a powerful structure, reinforced by 22 buttresses and today defended by a single tower to the north.
But this all a complete contrast to the interior, which is light and airy, with whitewashed walls and net vaults in the nave and above the altar.
Posted on the opposite hill are the crumbling and abandoned ruins of the Peasant Citadel, warranting the hike for the unforgettable scenery from the top.