A Trip to the Historical Transylvanian City of Sibiu

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.

sibiu snow
The city of Sibiu was covered in a beautiful layer of snow when I arrived. ©Paliparan
sibiu snowman
A snowman in front of an old building in Sibiu’s city centre. ©Paliparan
sibiu park
Parcul Astra, a park in Sibiu’s city centre. ©Paliparan

Shopping street

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.

sibiu shopping street
Strada Nicolae Bălcescu, Sibiu’s main city centre shopping street. ©Paliparan
sibiu historical buildings
Historical buildings in Sibiu’s city centre. ©Paliparan

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.

sibiu city walls
The old city wall of Sibiu can still be seen at Strada Cetății. ©Paliparan
strada cetatii sibiu
Strada Cetăţii with its defensive towers and Medieval buildings surely is one of Romania’s most picturesque streets. ©Paliparan
parcul cetatii
Parcul Cetăţii, located at the other side of the defensive walls, is also worth a visit. ©Paliparan

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.

pardon cafe sibiu
Pardon Cafe in Sibiu. ©Paliparan
pardon cafe pasta
A plate of pasta in Sibiu’s lovely Pardon Cafe. ©Paliparan

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.

sibiu christmas market
The Christmas market on Sibiu’s main square. The Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church can be seen on the background. ©Paliparan
sibiu christmas market
Some stalls at the Sibiu Christmas market at the main square of the old town. ©Paliparan
sibiu christmas market candy
Some Christmas candies for sale at the Sibiu Christmas market. ©Paliparan
sibiu ice rink christmas market
Of course, the Sibiu Christmas market has its own ice rink. ©Paliparan

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.

christmas market sibiu
Some food stalls at the Sibiu Christmas market. ©Paliparan
langos christmas market sibiu
I stopped for some mulled wine and lángos, which were both tasty. ©Paliparan

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!

sibiu rooftop
The roof has eyes! ©Paliparan

Piaţa Mică

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.

council tower sibiu turnul sfatului
A covered passageway through the Council Tower connects both of Sibiu’s squares with each other. ©Paliparan

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.

piata mica sibiu
Sibiu’s Piaţa Mică, with the Turnul Sfatului (Council Tower) being visible in the back. ©Paliparan
Piaţa Mică christmas market
Piaţa Mică had a few Christmas market stalls as well. ©Paliparan
sibiu lower town
Looking out over Sibiu’s Lower Town from Piaţa Mică. ©Paliparan

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.

sibiu cathedral
The Lutheran Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Sibiu as viewed from Piața Huet. ©Paliparan
sibiu streets
Some of the lovely streets around Sibiu’s cathedral. ©Paliparan
sibiu streets
Some lovely streets around Sibiu’s cathedral. ©Paliparan
Pasajul Scărilor stairs passage
Pasajul Scărilor connects the cathedral with the lower town. ©Paliparan
sibiu lower town
A building in the lower town of Sibiu. ©Paliparan
sibiu cathedral view
A view up towards the cathedral from the lower town. ©Paliparan
sibiu stairs
A dimly lit stairway (Pasajul Piața Aurarilor – or Goldsmith’s Square Passage in English) in the lower town. ©Paliparan

Coffee break

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.

cafe wien sibiu
Sachtertorte and Viennese-style coffee at Cafe Wien in Sibiu. ©Paliparan

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.

sibiu dusk
Sibiu’s old town at dusk. ©Paliparan
sibiu dusk
Sibiu’s old town at dusk. ©Paliparan
Piaţa Huet dusk
Piaţa Huet at dusk. ©Paliparan
snowy bike
A bicycle covered with snow. ©Paliparan
lower town dusk sibiu
The streets of Sibiu’s lower town in evening darkness. ©Paliparan
sibiu street night
Streetlamps in a Sibiu street with the Lutheran St. Mary Cathedral being visible in the back. ©Paliparan
Pasajul Scărilor (‘Stairs Passage’) night
Pasajul Scărilor (‘Stairs Passage’) at night. ©Paliparan
sibiu cathedral night
The Lutheran cathedral of Sibiu seen at night. ©Paliparan

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.

turnul sfatului night
The Council Tower at night. ©Paliparan
sibiu christmas market view
A view over the Sibiu Christmas market from the Council Tower. ©Paliparan
street view council tower
A view of the streets below from the Council Tower. ©Paliparan

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.

sibiu christmas market
The Christmas market in Sibiu, Romania. ©Paliparan
christmas market lights sibiu
With the lights on, the Sibiu Christmas market is at its best. ©Paliparan
sibiu christmas lights
A light show projects snowflakes and warm colours on the surrounding buildings. ©Paliparan
christmas market stall night
One of the Christmas market stalls at night. ©Paliparan
christmas market stall night
Some of the Christmas market stalls at night. ©Paliparan
christmas market stall sibiu
One of the Christmas market stalls at night. ©Paliparan
ice rink night sibiu
The ice rink at night. ©Paliparan
singing santa
A group of singing Santa Clauses in front of the Christmas tree. ©Paliparan
christmas market night
The Sibiu Christmas market at night. ©Paliparan
sibiu snowy tree
Sibiu at night. ©Paliparan

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.

bridge of lies
The Bridge of Lies. ©Paliparan
bridge of lies sibiu
The Bridge of Lies, with the Lutheran Cathedral being visible in the back. ©Paliparan

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.

weinkeller restaurant sibiu
The Weinkeller restaurant in Sibiu is located in a lovely passageway. ©Paliparan
weinkeller
I enjoyed my tochitură (traditional Romanian meat stew) at Weinkeller. ©Paliparan

In short

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)

Koen

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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