This charming medieval city is found in central Romania, which makes it a perfect base for exploring more of Romania and some of the nearby countries. Being in the city of Brasov is like existing in two different worlds.
The historic center occupies the medieval section of the town, which was founded in the early 13th century, although they have found some archaeological evidence that the area was inhabited as early as 9500 BCE.
A short walk outside the historic area leads you into the more modern, and more sterile appearing, section of the city. During the time of the Communists, this area was built up rapidly as Brasov was an important industrial area. Here is where you will find rather uninspiring buildings, but more of the large shopping centers and entertainment venues.
We absolutely love the historic center and spent most of our time there. In fact, our apartment is in this section.
One of the things we enjoy about this area is that the medieval section lies at the foothills of Mount Tampa and Piatra Mare Mountain. Having spent a lot of my life in places with tall mountains, it helps me feel like home to have these surrounding the town. During the fall, Mount Tampa is especially lovely with its mixture of green, yellow, and red.
While Romania is a member of the European Union, they do not use the euro. Their paper money is called the leu (pronounced like “loo”), although the plural is lei (pronounced as “lay”). The currency abbreviation is RON.
ATMs are easily found all over the city, and every ATM I’ve used has offered an option for instructions in English. Most of them do not charge a service fee for withdrawing cash. Most of them also require you to remove your card before cash is dispensed, which is a great help.
The country is still developing, and it is more of a cash-based culture. However, most markets, larger restaurants, etc., will accept credit cards.
Fast food (like at bakeries, the sausage cart, etc.) is quite inexpensive. For two people, the average mid-range restaurant tab will come to around 50 RON (about $15), and that isn’t being skimpy. Nicer restaurants will be about double that, but that’s also ordering alcoholic beverages, an appetizer, sides, etc.
Beer is quite inexpensive in Romania. In the stores, you can easily find them for around $1 for a large can. Restaurants will charge a bit more. Almost every food store, including small convenience stores, have a decent selection of beer, and most of them also carry other types of liquor.
Romanian is Latin based, although it is a mixture of many languages. If you have familiarity with any of the romance languages, you’ll find reading signs, menus, etc., to be quite easy. Generally, the words are fairly easy to pronounce.
German and Hungarian speakers are quite common here, and many Romanians understand Italian. In Brasov, and most larger cities and towns, it’s pretty easy to find English speakers, though.
The letter ș (notice the squiggly at the bottom) is pronounced as sh. The city of Brașov is therefore pronounced as “bra-shav.”
The letter ț sounds like the ts sound in “bolts.”
Some helpful words to know:
- Buna ziua is a common greeting, essentially meaning good day. You can respond with the same word or very informally just say buna (not common). In the evening, the greeting changes to the very Italian-sounding buna seara, which is “good evening.”
- Multumesc is the formal word for “thank you.” Alternatively, you can say mersi (just like the French merci) which is the informal “thanks.”
- It’s often helpful to know door signs for businesses: The word deschis means open, and inchis is closed. (chi is pronounced hard and sounds like “key”).
- La revedere is how you say “goodbye.”
- The bus and train stations are referred to as gara. The train station and the main bus station are adjacent to each other. Several local bus lines go there. Look for “Gara Brasov” on the signs.
- The T and S-comma letters are often missing from signs. As there are numerous places beginning with the word “Piata,” you should know it’s pronounced like pee-ah-tsa. However, if you mispronounce it, most people will still know what you mean.
- Ceai is the word for tea, and it’s pronounced the same way as “chai,” as in chai tea (the ai sounds like “eye”).
- If you wish to have water without bubbles, that is called apa plata. With bubbles, it’s apa minerale.
Getting here is quite simple. Brasov is a transportation hub for trains and buses, so it is easy to find your way here. Routes often include stops here several times a day. Arriving from Bucharest is especially easy as trains depart almost every hour. The city is about 2-1/2 hours by train or bus from Bucharest.
Moving around within the city is quite easy as well. Brasov is quite walkable, and most of the interesting sights are within an easy stroll. After spending a lot of time in the Americas and southeast Asia, we still find it a bit interesting that once we step into the safety zone of a crosswalk, cars will go out of their way to stop. You can be standing on the curb and many will ignore you, but once your foot steps in the zone, it’s like magic and all traffic stops.
Jaywalking is acceptable (although cars won’t stop for you like they will at a crosswalk or green light).
The city is served by an excellent transit system of buses and trolleys. Fares are 2 RON (about 60 cents USD) per trip. An unlimited day pass is available for 7 RON. During peak hours, it is rare to have to wait more than 7 minutes for a bus. During slower hours, the more popular routes will pass by every 15-20 minutes. Buses begin early in the morning and go until quite late.
Bus drivers do not accept cash. You need to buy a ticket at one of the RABTV kiosks. When you get on the bus, you’ll see a box with a slot in it. Stick your ticket in the slot to validate it. Occasionally a supervisor will be on the bus and will check people’s tickets. If you have not validated your ticket, or don’t have one, they will usually fine you, and they don’t care that you’re a tourist. I usually buy several two-trip tickets (doua calatori) and keep them in my wallet since not every stop has a nearby kiosk.
Taxis are very inexpensive. Fares are advertised on their door with the average price running 1.39 RON per kilometer. We’ve yet to pay more than 7 RON for a taxi.
Note: Taxis will almost always use the meter. The exception is the taxi stand at the train station. They will consistently try to go off meter and will try to charge enormous rates. Ask a couple of them to use the meter, and if that doesn’t work, go to the Unirea shopping center next door or walk to the street and hail a taxi in motion. The fare from the train/bus station to the historic center (Piata Sfatului) is 7 RON.
There are a few different free phone apps available for securing a taxi; however, I have not had any luck using any of them.
There are plenty of food choices in Brasov, and the food here is excellent! I have a post on my food site with dining suggestions in Brasov, so I won’t go into much detail here.
You won’t see a lot of American food options here. If you’re the kind of person who just needs to visit McDonald’s, you’re in luck. There is one near the Council Square (Piata Sfatuli) as well as a KFC. There are actually a total of 3 McDonald’s restaurants in the city.
If you just love Starbucks, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. You won’t find one here. But there are LOTS of cafes with extremely good coffee.
Our two favorite restaurants are Sergiana’s (free pork!) and what we call the sausage cart. The brown cart is located in the square near the fountain. They sell what in the US we would call bratwursts. They are quite delicious and inexpensive at 8 RON each. I recommend the picanti which is mildly spicy, but they’re all good. They also sell sodas, beer, and hot wine. It is usually open from 12-7.
Yes, you can sit in the square and drink a beer, and that’s considered totally normal.
If you want Chinese food, I would suggest leaving the historic area and going to Pandamania, or call them for delivery. They usually have someone available who speaks English to take your order. It isn’t typical of what is considered Chinese food in most places, but it’s still pretty good.
If you like pizza, our favorite is Pizzaiolo. They not only deliver but you can order online! The pizza is quite good and is very close to New York-style pizza. Their jumbo pizza is truly huge. They also have good pasta and salads.
The square is full of places with outdoor seating. Publick has a great drinks menu, including nonalcoholic (fara alcool), juices, shakes, etc.
Every meter or two you’ll find a bakery serving covrigi and other treats. Tigger really likes the covrigidog which is basically a hotdog wrapped in pretzel-like bread.
The produce here is exceptionally good, especially at the farmer’s market located next to the Star building. You can also find raw milk (about $1 per liter) inside the adjacent Agrocenter building.
Really, all the food is quite excellent.
There are lots of pensiunea, some hostels, hotels, B&B’s, and guest houses throughout the city as well as within the historic center. AirBnB also has some decent offerings. We stayed at Taj Mahal which was pretty decent, although if dark entrances and passageways bother you, this would not be a good place. Also, if you have mobility challenges, forget about it. (Note that although the booking site says they accept credit cards, they do not.)
If you don’t mind being a bit further out, we really enjoyed our stay at Studio Hostel. I don’t know why they call themselves a hostel because they aren’t one. They are more like an apartment hotel which offers small and larger studios with kitchenettes. It’s a much newer building and was quite comfortable. A bus stop is extremely close, and it takes maybe 15 minutes to get to the historic center from the hotel. Make sure to contact them directly for a discount. Their site doesn’t mention they give discounts based on length of stay.
Things to do and places to see
Brasov has a lot of history. Saxons founded the city and later Bulgarians moved in. The valley has seen a lot of invasions and war being in the intersection between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. The city is also tied to Vlad the Impaler. The famous woodcut of Vlad enjoying his meal while people are hanging impaled on stakes nearby memorializes an event that occurred in the valley near here. He had impaled thousands of people, and when the Ottomans came into the valley, they saw the horrific sight and turned and fled.
Vlad also had raided Brasov more than once and threatened to burn down one of the churches. In the end, he had a treaty with Brasov which promised him shelter should he have to hide from the Ottomans in exchange for no more raids.
The historical center is absolutely packed with historical buildings. The remnants of the wall that used to encompass the city are interesting to see, as well as some of the watch towers. You can also go down one of the most narrow streets in Europe, Strada Sforii (or String or Rope Street).
The historical center is separated by the Saxon and Romanian areas. The contrast between the two is quite interesting to see.
The Black Church (Biserica Neagra) is the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul. Its interior is not as impressive as other cathedrals but still interesting to see. They often have concerts and performances. You can see their schedule outside the main entrance. It is closed on Mondays.
Brasov has a free walking tour which begins every evening at 6 PM between March and November. During the winter season (November through March), the tours only operate by request. The tour typically runs about 2 hours and covers most of the important historical parts of the medieval city. It’s quite good, and you can’t beat the price.
Mount Tampa offers amazing views of the whole valley. There are hiking paths leading to the top, or you can take the easy way out and use the cable cars (15 RON return ticket). The large Hollywood-like Brasov sign is near the cable car terminal.
If you have a more adventurous spirit, check out Parc Aventura.
A short bus ride away is Poiana Brasov, a very popular ski resort. Nearby Sinaia (home of Peles Castle) also offers skiing, but locals have told me it gets very crowded there. They like Poiana better.
There are two nice parks around the square. One is found by following the path at the base of Mount Tampa (along the remnants of the medieval wall), and the largest and best (Parcul Nicolae Titulescu) is found right outside the square near the town hall and county buildings.
As mentioned earlier, the city is a great place for exploring other parts of Transylvania especially. Bran Castle, also known incorrectly as Dracula’s Castle) is a very short bus ride, as is Rasnov which houses a beautiful fortress. Prejmer is one of many sites in the region with an impressive fortified church.
The medieval towns of Sighisoara and Sibiu are quite close, and the popular Targu Mares is only a few hours by train.
What else would you like to know about Brasov? Have you visited?
April 5, 2014
We are on the train right now from Bucharest to Brasov. Only have a few days before we have to be back in Bucharest, but really looking forward to it, especially given how highly you two have recommended it!
April 5, 2014
Lovely! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Make sure to check out my other blog for some recs on food while you’re there. Such a special place. http://travels4yum.com/dining-brasov/
November 8, 2013
We were there about 3 weeks ago. Agree with everything you said… For budget travelers Kismet Dao hostel is really great – clean, friendly staff, not a party place, next to Star and the mountain. Bran Castle is definitely worth a visit!
November 9, 2013
You were probably here when we were then! Good to know about another budget option. They seem to be well hidden for some reason.
November 8, 2013
Great post! We will be in Brasov soon so this is really helpful. Looking forward to seeing and eating some of the stuff that you mentioned.
November 8, 2013
Lovely! When will you be passing through?