In this trip report, we will cover the main sights of the historical Transylvanian city of Sibiu as well as the city’s annual Christmas market.
Getting into town
My flight arrived at Sibiu Airport just after noon, leaving me with an entire afternoon to explore the city. I decided to take a local bus for the short 15 minute ride to the city centre, which at the cost of just 2 RON (0.40 EUR) is extremely good value. As most of the old town of Sibiu is car-free (or too narrow for buses to navigate) I went out at the ‘Casa Armatei’ bus stop it being the nearest to the historical centre. When I got out of the bus the snow really started to fall down from the sky. Even though it was getting quite cold outside, it also meant that I was in for an absolutely beautiful day as the historical streets and buildings looked gorgeous covered in snow.
After crossing an underground passage in front of the Continental Forum Hotel I arrived at the beginning of Strada Nicolae Bălcescu, which is Sibiu’s main city centre shopping street. Despite the cold weather and snow there were plenty of people out on the pedestrian street, either heading to one of the many shops or walking down the street towards the main square.
The Sibiu city walls
The city of Sibiu has a long history stretching back several centuries. When a Hungarian king conquered Transylvania in the 12th Century, he invited Germans to settle the new territory. The Transylvanian Saxons, as these settlers were called from that moment on, founded the so-called Siebenbürgen – German for ‘Seven fortresses’ throughout Transylvania. One of these seven fortresses was the city of Sibiu, which the Saxons called Hermannstadt, German for ‘Hermann’s city’, as the local settlers in this part of Transylvania were led by a chap named Hermann.
Sibiu, just like the other six cities of the Siebenbürgen, therefore feels decidedly Central European when looking at the architecture of the well-preserved buildings. Most of the city walls have however been removed when they became obsolete due to the advances of modern warfare. However, part of the city walls and two of the defensive towers can still be seen at lovely Strada Cetății, which surely must be one of Romania’s most picturesque streets.
A brief lunch stop
As it was nearing lunchtime, I decided to stop for some food at a lovely restaurant on Strada Cetăţii. The colourful facade of Pardon Cafe invites you to step inside the café’s charming interior, with each room being decorated in a different way. To eat, I had a tasty plate of pasta and a glass of Romanian white wine, which set me back around 7 EUR.
A first look at the Sibiu Christmas market
After the yummy lunch it was time to explore the city further. I headed towards Piața Mare, which is the main city square of Sibiu. During Christmas time, the square is home to Sibiu’s famous Christmas market, containing an ice rink, some children’s fun fair rides, a huge Christmas tree and several stalls for food and souvenirs. Even though the Christmas market is at its best in the evening when the lights are on, it did already make for a pleasant visit during the day.
I could not resist to stop at one of the stalls for some glühwein (mulled wine) and some lángos, a Hungarian specialty of deep-fried dough topped with sour cream and grated cheese, which was absolutely delicious.
One thing to look out for on the main square are the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. Towns across Transylvania are famous for the special windows – which make it look like the rooftops have eyes watching over you!
A passageway underneath Turnul Sfatului (Council Tower) connects Piaţa Mare (big square) with Piaţa Mică (small square). You can climb the Council Tower for sweeping views over the city centre, something which I was planning to do at a later point in the evening when the Christmas lights would be turned on.
Even though its name suggests otherwise, Piaţa Mică is not exactly small. A big part of the square is unfortunately used as a parking lot for cars, which makes this square a bit less charming, although it still has great views back to the Council Tower. When standing at the edge of the square you also have good views downwards towards the lower town.
Saint Mary Cathedral
Sibiu’s main church is the imposing Saint Mary’s Cathedral. This 14th-Century Lutheran church is well-known for its baroque interior and organ, but was unfortunately closed for renovations during my visit. There are some good views of the church from the adjacent Piaţa Huet, but arguably the best views can be had when walking a bit further away. The backstreets around this church are just absolutely lovely to explore. Do not forget to take the Pasajul Scărilor (‘Stairs Passage’) behind the church down to the Lower Town. The Lower Town itself is also a nice, more off-the-beaten-track area to explore, which is best done by just wandering aimlessly around.
With the evening slowly falling, it was getting increasingly cold while walking around the old town. As it did not look like the snow would stop to fall anytime soon, I decided to take a coffee break at lovely Cafe Wien. With its dark wood panel walls and interior it felt exactly like an old-fashioned Viennese coffee house. With many (Austrian) coffee specialities on the menu, you are spoiled for choice. I went for an ‘umgestürzter Neumann’ and could not resist to order a Sachertorte (Sacher Cake – a famous Viennese chocolate cake recipe) with it. Both tasted excellent.
Sibiu at dusk
Even though I was already enjoying my day a lot, it would soon even get better. When I went out of Cafe Wien at dusk, the snow and Medieval buildings looked even more beautiful than they did during the day due to the grey and dark blue colours of setting evening darkness. Walking around Sibiu’s quaint streets at this hour truly was a magical experience. I will let the pictures do the talking.
Climbing the Council Tower
At this point, I decided to climb to the top of the Council Tower which links Sibiu’s two main squares. I have climbed the tower before during the day on a previous visit, so this time wanted to use the opportunity to see the Christmas market from above. There is a negligible 2 RON (0.40 EUR) to climb the tower, which you have to pay one floor up. The uneven and rickety wooden stairs of the Medieval tower do not make for easy climbing, so take this into account if you have difficulties walking. The view from the top is however well worth the short climb, although the double-glass windows make it quite hard to photograph when it is dark outside.
The Christmas market at night
The Christmas market is at its best – and most crowded – during the evening hours when the lights are on full display. Not only is there a big Christmas tree with lights, there is also a light show projected on the surrounding buildings of Piața Mare. A group of singing Santa Clauses made the festive atmosphere complete. You really cannot get more in the Christmas atmosphere than by visiting this Christmas market at night – although I have to say that the snowy weather also hugely contributed to the fairy tale surroundings.
Bridge of Lies
Another must-see attraction at night is the so-called Bridge of Lies on Piaţa Mică, which I purposely withheld from the entire trip report until now. Even though the bridge is well-worth visiting during the day, it is especially beautiful at night with its Christmas lights turned on. Legends say that the name either came from the perceived power of the bridge to detect lies or from the bridge being a famous meeting place of soldiers and their girlfriends. According to the first legend, the bridge supposedly would make sounds like it is about to collapse if someone is walking over the bridge while telling a lie. The second legend has it that the bridge was a famous meeting place of cadets of the army academy and their lovers, to whom they would make all kinds of promises which they were never planning to keep.
Dinner at Weinkeller
For dinner I opted for a restaurant called ‘Weinkeller’ (German for Wine Cellar), which is located in a beautiful passageway. The restaurant serves traditional, hearty Romanian fare. I opted for a tochitură – a traditional meat stew – which was served with polenta on the side. To drink I had a glass of excellent Romanian red wine (the restaurant has a number of quality Romanian wines to accompany the food, some which can also be ordered by the glass). Even though I did have better Romanian food before on my travels across the country, I really enjoyed my food and the surroundings and would certainly recommend the restaurant.
Sibiu is one of Romania’s most beautiful cities – with Christmas time being an especially good period of the year to make a visit. In my opinion, the Christmas market and its beautiful lights are one of the best you can find in Europe. While some of the famous German Christmas markets such as the one in Nuremberg are increasingly overrun by tourists, this Christmas market is as far from the beaten track as you can possibly get – and just as good!
Even when you are not visiting at Christmas time, Sibiu is a great historical city to visit. In winter, you can combine a city to Sibiu with a stay at the Ice Hotel at Balea Lake up in the Carpathian Mountains. In Summer, Sibiu makes for a great base to drive the famous Transfăgărășan Highway, which according to Jeremy Clarkson is the best driving road in the world. When staying in Sibiu, there are a number of other sights well-worth visiting, such as the Brukenthal art museum and the Astra open-air museum.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Europe’s Hidden Christmas Market Gem‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Flying from Bucharest to Sibiu on TAROM in economy class
2. Sightseeing in Sibiu’s old town & a visit to the local Christmas market (current chapter)