Brasov sits at the centre of both Transylvania and Romania as a whole, in an…
Brasov’s Old Town is the historic, architectural, and culinary heart of Brasov. It is where all the best food, coffee, and sights can be enjoyed. That includes the world-famous Black Church, the old defensive fortifications, and more – all of which we will cover here in a complete guide to all the most essential things to do in Brasov.
From literary themed cafes to restaurants which offer traditional Romanian food, as well as a full sightseeing guide and tips on how to easily get from Bucharest to Brasov, here is your complete guide to Brasov Old Town.
Everything we got to experience here was thanks to the awesome people at Romanian Thrills. Book a tour with them to discover both Romanian history and the country’s natural beauty.
Things to Do in Brasov
All the best and most essential Brasov sightseeing is done in Brasov Old Town. While the rest of the city has a lot of great restaurants, hotels, and cafes to explore, the real historic and architectural beauty of Brasov is in Old Town. And here are is a guide to the unmissable things to do in Brasov Old Town when you visit Brasov.
Hotel Tip: Brasov hotels and hostels are all fairly affordable, so make sure to prioritise location and go for something in, or within walking distance of, Old Town.
Read More: Brasov Day Trips that You Have to Do.
The Black Church
The 17th Century was a rough one for Europe; the Great Fire of London in 1666 being a blistering example of that. Only a few years later, Brasov had its own great fire – one which snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Brasov residents. The fire also damaged Saint Maria Church, scarring it so famously black that its name was unavoidably (and officially) changed to The Black Church.
The Black Church is one of the most alluring buildings in Brasov, in part because of its dark history but also simply because it still stands today as a powerful and dominant figure in Brasov’s Old Town.
One of the only things not burned up in the fire of April 1689 was a painting of the Virgin Mary. Before the fire, she wore a dress of deep blue; the fire turned her dress a pitch-black colour, said to represent her mourning for the victims of the fire of Brasov. Because of this blackening, she is now known as the Black Madonna (we weren’t able to take any photos of the Black Madonna since photography in most Romanian churches is prohibited).
Outside the church is a statue of Johannes Honter, a Romanian Saxon and a follower of the teachings of Martin Luther. Honter brought the first printing press to Romania, opened a library, and established a German school in Brasov (which still remains behind the Black Church, and which his statue is gesturing towards).
Honter also instigated the switching of mass readings in Romania from Latin to German so that the Saxon people of Transylvania at the time could actually understand it. In other words, he was a great humanist who is still very much honoured and beloved in Brasov.
Strada Sforii (Rope Street)
Proudly wearinf the title of ‘narrowest street in Southeast Europe’, Rope Street was a later addition to the already established medieval town of Brasov. It was carved out to provide ease of access to firefighters who, during the medieval era, had to make do with carrying buckets of water back and forth to quench the flames.
The stipulation for the width of Strada Sforii was that it had to be just wide enough to fit a fireman carrying two buckets of water. That’s it. And, yeah, it just about manages that.
At the end of Rope Street, you’ll meet a brand new and abstract statue (pictured below) that celebrates the history and imagery of Rope Street. Hilariously, it has already been damaged by a random drunk who tried to do a pull-up on her arm.
Beyond simply being a narrow alley that barely fulfils its purpose, Rope Street also provides for a very impressive photo opportunity. One of the coolest things to do in Brasov is to get an epic photo of the Brasov sign (more on that below) which stands proud on the mountain beside Old Town. Strada Sforii provides the most epic photo op for the Brasov sign. Walk halfway down, away from Old Town, and look up to get the best shot.
There is also a local legend surrounding Rope Street and involving that most legendary of Transylvanians: Vlad Tepes. It is said that Vlad the Impaler stole a kiss from his future wife while walking with her down Rope Street.
For the sake of transparency, this might just be a legend, since records of the street begin in the 17th Century and Vlad Tepes ruled Wallachia (not Transylvania) during the 15th Century. Still a cool story, though!
Brasov Sign on Tampa Mountain
While we did stipulate that all the best things to do in Brasov can be found in Old Town, the Brasov sign is a bit of a cheat because it’s a modern addition and it merely overlooks Old Town from Tampa Mountain, a small mountain which sits within the city limits.
The Brasov sign should feel familiar to you if you’ve ever seen a film or breathed oxygen: it’s an unashamed copy of LA’s iconic Hollywood sign. Except it’s actually better than the Hollywood sign because it lights up at night.
The story behind the Brasov sign is far more interesting, and darker, than you might first assume. It originally put in place because, for a decade during the mid-20th century, Brasov went by another name: Stalin. Just Stalin. In fact, several cities across eastern Europe had their names changed to Stalin under Soviet and Communist rule.
On Tampa Mountain, the name Stalin was formed from strategically planted trees. To eventually get rid of the name, more trees were planted to obscure the letters and, eventually, the Hollywood-inspired Brasov sign was put in place, and there it stands proud to this day.
You can also take the Tampa Mountain Cable Car up to the Brasov sign. It runs from 9.30am to 5pm and costs just 10 lei ($2.50) one way or 17 lei for a return trip. If you’d prefer to hike all the way up, you can do that, too! The view of Old Town from the Brasov sign is excellent and taking the time to head up via hike or cable car definitely makes for one of the best things to do in Brasov.
Read More: 9 Unmissable Things to Do in Bucharest
Surrounding the western parts of Old Town are Brasov’s old Defensive Fortifications. If you’re a history buff, visiting these old city walls is one of the coolest things to do in Brasov. And the most impressive part of the old fortifications is Catherine’s Gate.
While a few towers and bastions remain intact, it’s Catherine’s Gate that stands tall and proud to this day. Though what we have now isn’t the entire structure. Much of this medieval gate was demolished in 1827, but the gate that remains is still a sight and a half. In fact, its five small medieval towers are so delightfully reminiscent of a Disney castle as to give you happy fairy tale chills.
The five high-pointed towers of Catherine’s Gate are representative of Brasov’s proudest symbol: the crown. If you have a sharp enough eye, you’ll spy the symbol of the crown everywhere in Brasov Old Town, either literally – in a coat of arms – or symbolically in the shape of things, with Catherine’s Gate being the best example.
The reason for the crown is in part because Brasov’s Latin name was Corona (crown). And so, the coat of arms to this day features a crown. It also features the roots of a tree, the origin of which can be traced back to the Hungarian King Solomon who fled into the woods of Brasov and placed his crown on a tree to trick his pursuers while he hid in the nearby caves.
Council Square (Piata Sfatului)
The place in which you will likely end up spending much of you time when you visit Brasov is Piata Sfatului – the council square of Old Town. It’s the central glue of the district – a picturesque and historic square surrounded by medieval buildings. From the Council Square you can see and walk to the Black Church, spy and photograph the Brasov sign, and walk down Strada Republicii (more on that below).
Council Square is also where you can find plenty of food and drinks, both local and foreign, traditional and modern. If you’re craving Starbucks or KFC, they’re here. If you’d rather try the best traditional Romanian food, here you’ll find La Ceaun (more about Brasov restaurants below as well). And, if you’re eager to explore the Brasov café scene, Kafe Pub is steps away.
As for the history of Piata Sfatului, the first thing you’ll notice is the enormous central watchtower. What was once the Council House is now the Brasov County Museum of History. On one side you’ll spy the Brasov Coat of Arms displayed proudly. The watchtower is known as Trumpeters Tower, where lookouts would use trumpets to signal approaching invaders.
The former Brasov Council House is also where criminals due to be imminently hanged would spend their final night, in the tower overlooking the gallows – perhaps the worst torture they could have been put through. Where the gallows once stood is now the fountain; a far more pleasant sight.
Brasov Council Square is very much the hub of Old Town, and you’ll find plenty of Brasov hotels nearby, which is exactly where you’ll want to be. From Piata Sfatului, all the best things to do in Brasov are within reach, including Strada Republicii.
Commonly known as Brasov’s pedestrian street, this is the main shopping street of Old Town. No cars can come down here, and it’s on this street that you’ll find the best Brasov restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops.
Beginning in Council Square and making up the spine of old town, with smaller streets reaching out and away like limbs, Strada Republicii is home to almost every single one of the Brasov restaurants we’ll be exploring below: L’etage, Bibliotheque Pub, Pickles, and more besides for you to discover for yourself.
If you’re in the mood to shop, Strada Republicii has some great stores. Our favourite which we discovered when strolling up and down Strada Republicii was Cato: a stunning local store that sells gorgeous high-end jackets, boots, sweaters, scarves, and more for a really good price. It’s not usual for us to promote a particular clothing store on Books and Bao, but the stuff here was just so beautiful. Strada Republicii always delivers.
If you’ve finished your Brasov sightseeing and you’re wondering what to do in Brasov Old Town, simply take a stroll down Strada Republicii and explore the shops, cafes, and restaurants on offer. Speaking of Brasov restaurants…
Brasov Restaurants & Cafes
We’ve already covered at length the wonders and delights of traditional Romanian food, and a lot of it hails from Transylvania. So, while you’re in Brasov, make sure to fully explore the local cuisine in as many of the following Brasov restaurants as possible.
The coffee culture in Brasov is also intense – far more so than in the capital of Bucharest. Take advantage of that while you’re here and check out these fantastic speciality and themed local Brasov cafes and pubs.
Let’s begin with one of the very best Brasov restaurants. In fact, if you’re specifically looking for traditional Romanian food, La Ceaun is the best. There are two branches in Old Town: one on Council Square and another on a side street just off from Strada Republicii.
La Ceaun is a rustic and traditional restaurant with modern trappings which serves all the best Romanian dishes. Here, you’ll find the very best mici (known here in Transylvania as mititei) and sarmale. The Council Square branch of La Ceaun also offers a colossally sized papanasi for dessert.
Just be aware: only the Council Square branch offers mici and papanasi, thus making it the superior branch of La Ceaun. For this reason, we can’t really recommend the second branch; it’s better to just stick with the restaurant on Council Square, so vitally important to your diet are mici and papanasi.
While the restaurant does look quite fancy, and the food is plentiful, the prices are still insanely reasonable for foreign visitors. For locals, they’re arguably a little pricey, but you won’t have any problem affording a few meals at La Ceaun.
If you want to know more about the dishes mentioned here, like sarmale, mici, and papanasi, check out our detailed guide to local Romanian dishes.
As bookish travellers, we’re obligated and excited to discuss a place with this much literary charm. L’etage is a Brasov restaurant, café, and bar. When we visited, we just had a few coffees, but they also have an extensive drinks range and fantastic dinner options.
L’etage, located halfway down Strada Republicii, is a great place to come during the evening. Live music, from a lone pianist to a larger band, is playing almost constantly, and the décor is made up of literal walls of books. The theme here is books and music, and it is executed so masterfully.
What L’etage really has going for it as one of the best Brasov restaurants is its underground musical charm, its dedication to using books and literature as a decorative theme, and its pub-like charming atmosphere. A great place to eat, drink, and be merry.
Perhaps our favourite place in Brasov to sit and relax. Found on Strada Michael Weiss, and offshoot of Strada Republicii, Pharmacy Café is a little wonderland for fans of Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, or Robert Louis Stevenson – in fact, the official name above the door is Dr. Jekelius, named after one of Stevenson’s most beloved characters.
The décor of Pharmacy Café is subtle – understated – but clear enough to be just a little bit, and delightfully, campy. But the place always has a perfectly calm and relaxed atmosphere that soothes as well as its drinks do. It’s the perfect antidote to a long and exhausting day of exploring and sightseeing in Brasov. If you’re looking for a place to relax, have a coffee, and take a load off, Pharmacy Café is exactly that.
One of the most encouraging things about Brasov in general is that so many shops and cafes are open far later than in many European cities, so don’t worry about missing your chance to relax at Pharmacy Café – it’s open from 8am to 12am every single day of the week.
Bistro de l’Arte
When we visit another country, it doesn’t take long to get used to their average cost of living. Spend a week in London and you get used to paying £8 for a pint. Spend a month in China and you’ll be appalled when you leave and find that other countries’ taxis cost more than $5.
My point here is that Bistro de l’Arte is a little pricey – perhaps the priciest of the Brasov restaurants we’ve mentioned here. But it’s still cheap, or at most average, by Western European standards. Comparatively to other Brasov restaurants, though, it feels a little high-end.
All that said, you pay for what you get. And Bistro de l’Arte provides the finest local cuisine and a very refined and authentic décor that’s perfect for a date night. It has a medieval style décor that breathes traditional both inside and out, and the wine list is appropriately generous.
As the name suggests, this is another literary themed place that suits the scene of Brasov perfectly. You enter Bibliotheque Pub down a short alleyway off Strada Republicii, and this alleyway is lined with rustic bookshelves, themselves lined with old, warn tomes of Romanian literature.
The menu for Bibliotheque Pub is a perfect and welcoming mix of authentic Transylvanian cuisine and a broader selection of foreign staples like burgers and fries. It’s affordable and strikes an ideal balance between local and foreign, while having one of the best aesthetics of any of the Brasov restaurants we’ve covered.
Moving away from the Brasov restaurants and into the more selective locales. Kafe Pub is a coffee shop, pure and simple. It’s another bookish, literary themed café that offers an enormous selection of coffees of every kind, with all of the assumed Italian words plastered across the menu. If you like your coffees sweet, there’s a host of flavour choices available.
Kafe Pub is very much a lazy Sunday afternoon kind of place. If you love tucking a book under your arm and heading out to a coffee shop for some quiet reading time in a soothing environment, Kafe Pub is exactly what you’re looking for.
Kafe Pub is for the people coming to Brasov to relax, take in the local vibe, and forget their troubles. The décor, which features hipster vintage staples like an old gramophone and rows of books, reinforces that delightfully, and the soundtrack which accompanies your drinking session is as jazzy and smooth as the coffee they serve.
While Luado Chocolate is neither a Brasov restaurant nor a café, it is still a unique and dazzling local place that absolutely deserves both mentioning and visiting. This place is a local chocolatier found on a corner of Council Square.
While you can pick up handmade boxes of chocolates here for yourself or as souvenirs for loved ones back home, you owe it to yourself to try their hot chocolate – the authentic type that’s made with a lump of chocolate on a stick (the best kind). If you visit Brasov in winter the hot chocolate is especially soothing and welcoming.
Getting from Bucharest to Brasov
Let’s close off this guide by mentioning exactly how to get from Bucharest to Brasov. Most people who come to Brasov fly into Bucharest first, then make plans to travel north from Bucharest to Brasov. And what’s the best way to do that?
You have a few options, but the best of them is to travel by rail. The trains across Romania aren’t all quick and reliable, but the one from Bucharest to Brasov and back certainly is. It takes two hours and the scenery is extraordinary, especially if you catch the mountains when they’re caked in pure white snow.
Just head to Gara de Nord station in Bucharest and hop on the train to Brasov. You can buy tickets at the station or online. We suggest online to guarantee yourself a seat. And they’re cheap, too!
If you’d prefer the more adventurous option, you can rent a car. Driving in Romania has built up a kind of scary mythology which I want to put to rest right now: driving in Bucharest is terrifying and not recommended. Driving anywhere else in Romania is absolutely fine.
If you want to rent a car, hop on the train at Gara de Nord and get off at Sinaia – a gorgeous mountain resort town. From there, you’re far enough from Bucharest to rent a car and safely drive the rest of the way to Brasov and beyond.