If you think winter holidays are best spent in a cozy medieval setting and you also happen to be a fan of German towns, then you will love this charming destination. Sibiu is one of seven Transylvanian citadels built by the Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century, and in its glory days, it was also the richest one. Surrounded by mountains (Făgăraș, the tallest mountains in Romania, are visible in the background) and keeping many of its medieval towers and buildings, this town is a small gem that attracts many tourists every year (attraction map).
And in winter it becomes even more appealing, as the Christmas Market opens at the end of November.
If you chose to spend a few days in Sibiu in December, here are some tips to make your stay memorable:
You can reach Sibiu both by bus and by train, from several Romanian towns. Of course, you can also reach it by car. From Bucharest, there are 2 direct trains daily, and they also stop in other touristic destinations, such as Sinaia or Brașov. If almost 6 hours on a train seem too much for you, you can always think of stopping in Brașov for a night or two.
By bus, the trip will be roughly the same as by train, but most times minibuses will get there faster than they say they will. You can book a seat with Memeontobus, or make a reservation with one of several transport companies, by phone or through autogari.ro.
If you plan to visit around the holidays, you should think of booking a place at least one month ahead. Otherwise, you will be left with the most expensive choices, or with no choice at all. Prices go through the roof during the holidays or around event dates, and the best places (good value for money) will quickly fill up. A small apartment in the attic of an old house, with a rustic feel and great views was my last pick, and I did not regret it. But there are also a lot of nice hostels available, as well as luxury apartments or hotels.
The feel of the place
Medieval houses painted in pretty pastel colors, brown brick roofs, tall, pointy churches, old guild houses and towers, cobbled streets connected by stairs, this is Sibiu’s charming old center. This great tourist brochure describes its main attractions and includes a map of the most interesting areas.
Although it seems small and traditional, the town of Sibiu has several modern museums, as well as a fancy shopping street and trendy pubs and restaurants. So you will have a taste of both worlds.
Walk around town
The Great Square (Piața Mare) is the heart of the city. Surrounded by several medieval buildings and bordered by the town’s two tallest buildings, the Council Tower (Turnul Sfatului) and the Roman Catholic Church (Biserica Romano-Catolică „Sf. Treime”), this is also the place of the Christmas Market and other fairs.
From the Great Square, several passages will take you to the Small Square (Piața Mică), which might actually be even nicer, with its view of the entrance to the Council Tower, the colorful, distinctive building of the Universal Ethnography Museum (Muzeul de Etnografie Universală Franz Binder) and the many cafes and restaurants.
It’s also the place to find the Bridge of Lies (Podul Minciunilor) and the former Butcher’s Hall (currently, Casa Artelor where you can buy handmade traditional objects and clothes) and the lovely Pharmacy Museum.
As for the name of Sibiu’s famous bridge, although there are many explanatory legends, in truth, it is due to the resemblance between two German words: Liegenbrücke (lying bridge) and Lügenbrücke (lies bridge). Liegenbrücke was the actual name of the bridge, but in time, due to the similar pronunciation, it was called Lügenbrücke and thus transferred into Romanian as the Bridge of Lies.
Another lovely area is Huet Square (Piața Huet), with the Lutheran Cathedral. It is right behind the Small Square and close to the Stairs Passage (Pasajul Scărilor).
Left of the Lutheran Cathedral, you will easily run into the Stairs Tower and the Journeymen House.
If you’re in the area and feeling hungry, you can stop at La Pasaj (Strada Turnului 3A) for a good meal in a cozy atmosphere.
Strada Nicolae Bălcescu is a large boulevard with many designer shops and cozy restaurants and cafes, stretching from the Great Square to Strada Cetății. It opens into smaller streets with restaurants, or passageways that will take you to hidden spaces.
It is on this street that I discovered a hidden antique shop, where a nice old man and his young shop assistant / niece kindly helped me with information about the many interesting items. I did find something I was looking for: an old German beer mug made of opal, with a painted hunting scene. The shop is called Antik and you will find it at No. 23 Nicolae Bălcescu.
Another (bigger) antique shop is found in Huet Square, called Art Antik (address: Piața Albert Huet 1).
If you explore Strada Alexandru Papiu-Ilarian, you will run into Sibiu’s most famous traditional food place: Crama Sibiul Vechi. However, if you want to eat here, you might have to wait for a long time, as it’s almost always full. Or, you can book ahead.
Further down the street you’ll find another appreciated traditional restaurant, La Bufnița.
Starting at the end of Nicolae Bălcescu street, Strada Cetății is declared the most beautiful street in Sibiu.
Here, you will find three of the town’s medieval towers, as well as what remains of its protection wall.
This is also where you will find the Museum of Natural History (right before the Thalia Concert Hall), several nice cafes and smaller streets to take you back to the old center.
Parallel to Strada Nicolae Bălcescu and also connected to Strada Cetății, Strada Mitropoliei is where you will find the House with Caryatids and the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
As said above, Sibiu has quite a few museums and if time allows it, they can prove to be a delightful experience. The most interesting are the Museum of Pharmacy, the Museum of History (Altemberger House), „August von Spiess” Museum of Hunting, Brukental Palace art galleries and the Museum of Natural History. All these museums can be visited by buying the combined ticket (one day ticket), which costs around 10 euro. And the entrance is free on December 1st, Romania’s national day.
The ASTRA National Museum Complex (village museum) is quite far from the center area and requires at least half a day to see, but it’s worth visiting.
Hunt for medieval relics
In Sibiu, everywhere you look there might be a medieval building. They are signaled by informative metal plates. While most relics are in plain sight, some of them might have to be hunted for. Such is the Tanners Tower, hidden on a peripheral street (Strada Pulberăriei), or the old Asylum Church and Hospital on the charming Strada Azilului.
See the city from above
If you’re a fan of climbing narrow stairways to the top of towers and admiring the town from above, in Sibiu you will be able to try this not from one, but from two observation points. One is the Council Tower, with 141 steps and a height similar to that of a seven-story building. Besides the actual view of the town, you can also check out the clock mechanism, just before you reach the last level.
The second high point is the tower of the Lutheran Cathedral, the tallest building in Sibiu. The tower is 73.34 m high in total, and has 4 small towers with windows, from which you have a complete view of Sibiu.
You can also visit the interior of the cathedral (the combined ticket – cathedral + tower – costs under 2 euro).
Have a drink in a local pub
Sibiu may not strike you as a place for party lovers, and, indeed, you might not find many pubs and clubs for your partying needs. Hard Rock Cafe (Strada General Gheorghe Magheru 45) is considered the best pub in town, Music Pub (Piața Mică 23) being a close second. Cotton Pub in the modern side of town (Strada Doctor Ion Rațiu 9) is also well viewed, and so is the nearby Supporters (Bulevardul Victoriei 26) sports bar. And you can also try St Andrew’s Scottish Pub in the old town (Strada Avram Iancu Nr. 11), with a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Well, that’s it. If it sounds interesting, don’t hesitate to visit Sibiu on your next trip to Romania.