TRAVEL

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Sibiu: A Historic City with a Sustainable Future

July 4, 2022

Transylvania is perhaps best known as the setting of ‘Dracula’ (believed to be based on former Romanian King ’Vlad the Impaler’), amongst the misty mountains of the Carpathian range. But there is so much more to discover in Transylvania, from the rich cultural traditions to the valuable built heritage, from the great outdoors activities to the enriching indoor cultural events.

 

Within the Carpathian range stands the Făgăraș Mountains, with their diverse flora and fauna, painted with colour in the spring and snow-covered come winter. And at the foot of the Făgăraș Mountains lies Sibiu, a city filled with medieval charm and surrounded by natural beauty. If you are a theatre buff, hiking enthusiast or cycling connoisseur, then Sibiu is likely to be on your radar already. For those unfamiliar, allow us to introduce you to this small but idyllic city.

 

Sibiu is the only city in Romania to be awarded 3 Michelin stars and is ranked fifth in the European Best Destinations 2021 list, compiled using votes from travellers, and it’s often listed as a top travel destination for sustainability and inclusivity. This walkable city is rich with cultural history and awe-inspiring architecture, but nature is never far away, with parks, forests and salt lakes all within 20 km. If you dream of escaping to a captivating but compact European city, known for its outdoor activities, culture and gastronomy, Sibiu might just be for you.

 

 

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Let’s Travel Back in Time

 

Sibiu allows you to take a trip through eight centuries of history. It was once the capital of the region (the Principality of Transylvania), and the architecture and infrastructure reflect this. Fortress walls, defence towers and garrison buildings were erected, as well as museums and beautiful living spaces, endowing the city with a valuable architectural heritage. In 2003, following decades of communism, during which historical buildings were not well maintained, local authorities began revamping the historical centre. The narrow cobbled streets, the charming town squares and the quaint connecting passageways were all brought to life again. Historical buildings were redeveloped to preserve their architecture while giving them a new purpose. Today, the historical centre of the city is not just a well-preserved museum: it’s also a lively, well-used and welcoming location for locals and tourists.

 

Many of the town’s must-see sights can be explored on foot. The City Hall has recently invested in upgrading pedestrian infrastructure; sidewalks are being redone and made accessible to people with disabilities, crossings on main streets have received special sensor lighting for greater safety, public lighting is more efficient, and urban furniture has become more of a focus. This means you can explore without leaving a heavy footprint.

 

Whilst walking through the squares and streets, you may get the feeling you are being watched. Sibiu has earned the nickname ‘The City with Eyes’ thanks to its beautiful buildings which appear to be gazing down at passers-by. Local folklore has it that the houses were designed to resemble the all-seeing eye, watching for any wrongdoings. However, the architects among your group may insist that they were actually intended for ventilation of the attics. We’ll let you decide.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

The Great Square (Piata Mare), Albert Huet Square and the Small Square (Piața Mică)

 

The first stop on your walking tour should be The Great Square (or ‘Piata Mare’). Set in the heart of the walled city, once upon a time, it hosted fairs, markets and sometimes even executions. Fast forward to today, and the large square is the city’s key open-air venue for cultural and community events all year round, including the famous Christmas Market. The square is lined with colourful, medieval buildings and features some of the most awe-inspiring architecture in Sibiu. Notable buildings here include the Turnul Sfatului (Council Tower), City Hall, the elegant Holy Trinity Roman-Catholic Church and the award-winning baroque Brukenthal Museum.

 

 

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

When it opened in 1817, the Brukenthal Museum was the first museum opened in Romania, and indeed in south-eastern Europe. It was located in Brukenthal Palace in the Great Square, home of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, governor of Transylvania, and housed his art collection. It’s now known as the Brukenthal National Museum and exhibits diverse valuable collections in nine buildings. It encompasses the Art Galleries, the Brukenthal Library, the Museum of History, the Museum of Pharmacology, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Arms and Hunting Trophies, making it the largest museum in eastern Europe. In 2010, the museum was awarded the ‘European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage” under the category Education, Training and Awareness-Raising.

 

To enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Great Square, climb to the viewpoint at the top of the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Mary, located in Huet Square. One of the highest cathedrals in Romania, the climb is not for the faint-hearted. Before you head up, take the time to marvel at the architecture and artwork of this Gothic-style church, with the beautiful and large steeple. See the gallery of tombstones built into the church walls, including the son of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, Mihnea Cel Rău (meaning ‘the bad’), who was thought to have been murdered on the steps of the church. As you walk out of the Cathedral, take a moment to marvel at the magnificent buildings of Albert Huet Square too.

 

Another stop must be the small square (Piața Mică), with its many charming cafés and arcaded buildings, formers homes of the city’s most prestigious master craftsmen. Here, one house originating from the 13th century was recently restored and now houses the Marriage Registry Office in a lovely hall, which preserves design elements from the original building.

 

All through the historical centre, you can see the grand 13th, 14th and 15th century buildings where the city’s most important officials and citizens lived and worked. Many of them serve as houses today.

 

 

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

The Goldsmith’s Square Passage and the Bridge of Lies

 

It’s not just Sibiu’s squares that are to be admired. Lose yourself in the narrow streets and quaint passageways such as the picturesque Goldsmith’s Square Passage, lined with historic buildings, or dare to cross the Bridge of Lies. This cast-iron bridge, the first of its kind in Romania, is adorned with neo-gothic geometric motifs and connects the Old (Upper) and New (Lower) Town. Legend has it that the bridge can detect the lies of those who crossed it and will make noises if a liar walks over. Will it let you pass quietly?

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

City Defences and Places of Worship

 

Remnants of Sibiu’s defensive walls can still be seen. The Thick Tower, which once formed part of the defence ensemble, was later transformed into the first theatre in Romania. Today, it hosts the State Philharmonic Orchestra. Two defence towers on Cetății Street, formerly guarded by guildsmen, have been renovated and opened to the public as historical sites and exhibition spaces.

 

Sibiu also boasts some wonderfully ornate places of worship that are wonderful witnesses to its history and cultural tolerance. Besides the Holy Trinity Church in the Great Square, you will also find the magnificent Orthodox Cathedral, an architectural jewel built in 1902-1904, and Reformed, Franciscan and Greek Catholic churches all within Sibiu’s historical centre, together with a Synagogue.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

The ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization

 

A little further afield, but easily accessible by bus, is the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization. Spreading across 90 hectares, the museum is the largest open-air ethnography exhibit in Europe. It will give you a fascinating insight into traditional Romanian households from different regions and time periods. Transport yourself back in time as you explore the grounds; see thatched shepherds’ homes, pottery and iron workshops, a dance pavilion, a pub and windmills from the Black Sea and Danube Delta regions. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride or watch the museum’s new virtual reality show and learn about local traditions. The museum was rated three stars in the Michelin Guide.

 

Low-carbon Transportation

 

While Sibiu’s walkable centre is rich with history, the municipality is thinking towards the future. Significant investment has been made into smart mobility, offering environmentally friendly transport options for residents and tourists. 110 new vehicles have been purchased to improve public transportation offerings, increasing the frequency of transport and extending the routes. From bike-sharing systems and electric minibuses for nearby areas to low-carbon buses for trips further afield, there’s a host of eco-friendly transport options - without the worry of parking!

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

A Cycle-Friendly City

 

‘Sibiu Bike City’ is the new bike mobility service for the community. This bike-sharing system offers 552 smart bicycles and tricycles, including four tricycles configured to ensure the mobility of people with motor disabilities, and another eight specifically designed for seniors. Bicycles are available at 49 points across the city, connecting the neighbourhoods with the city centre through a system of smart bikes, docking systems and smart terminals. Docking stations are solar-powered, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability. The bicycles are green, with red accents designed to maximise the bicycle’s visibility in heavy traffic. Bikes include theft-proof smart locks, enabling users to make safe pit stops, and payment is quick and simple via a mobile application - it’s as easy as… well… riding a bike. To further facilitate the use of bicycles in the centre, City Hall is working to create more than 25 km of additional bicycle tracks along popular transit routes as well as the Cibin River. The lanes will be separated from car lanes and pedestrian paths for greater safety.

 

Sustainable Mobility: Protecting the Built Heritage

 

To see more of Sibiu’s centre in a shorter time, hop on one of the electric minibuses which stop throughout the centre. The electric public transport line was designed with the environment in mind. By offering frequent, emission-free travel in the centre, it is envisioned that residents and tourists will choose the convenient and affordable emission-free alternative and leave their cars in one of the downtown parking lots. If you dread parking in town centres, Sibiu has you covered.

 

To explore further afield, ride one of Sibiu’s eco-friendly buses, powered by compressed natural gas. In 2021, Sibiu purchased a fleet of 40 eco-friendly buses equipped with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, information monitors and a plug socket for charging mobile devices. The buses are also designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. This modern, comfortable, low-carbon transport option is supported by apps and digital services, which make travelling and paying the fare easier. Subsidised by the City, the price to passengers is around 40c per trip. Routes are being extended and frequencies are increasing, making the bus a more reliable way to travel.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Enjoy Nature: Relax, Explore, Discover

 

If you consider yourself to be a nature-lover or wellness tourist, there is plenty for you to explore around the area. In Sibiu’s centre sits a magnificent historical spa, and with the city’s seamless transportation options, you are never too far from the healing powers of nature.

 

Sibiu Public Bath

 

Sibiu is home to the oldest spa in Romania, dating back to 1904. The building is also an architectural gem, being the twin sister of an edifice in Munich. The building has been recently upgraded into a fresh new spa and wellness centre whilst maintaining its historical charm. It also features a smart Building Management System for sustainability. This year-round attraction offers guests relaxation and rehabilitation with a pool, massage facilities and several sauna and saline therapies, alongside an accessible sports hall. From hot stone treatments to hydromassages, which will you choose?

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Binder Lake

 

The Binder Lake Sports and Leisure Resort is a definite option for those who love water sports. SUP, wakeboarding, water skiing and canoeing are all available here. The Binder Lake is currently unique in Transylvania due to the sports installations and is an example of sustainable urban development through reconversion.

 

Sub Arini Park

 

Nature lovers and birdwatchers are sure to find joy in the captivating Sub Arini Park, one of the oldest parks in Romania, with some trees dating back more than 150 years. 68 species of trees can be found across the 22 hectares of the park. They include 30 exotic species with origins in Japan, China, the Himalayas, North and Central America and the Alps, including the American red oak, mahogany tree, silver spruce and the white poplar of Himalaya. This diverse scenery is home to 95 species of birds.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

The Dumbrava Forest

 

Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese relaxation practice where you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. Don’t miss a chance to experience this in the enchanting Dumbrava Forest. The natural beauty of Dumbrava is a mirror of the wonders of nature throughout the seasons. From the captivating colours in the spring and summer to the golden leaves in autumn and the snow-painted treetops in winter, you are sure to be dazzled by Dumbrava.

 

Ocna Sibiului - Salt Lakes

 

Around 20 km from Sibiu sits the salted lakes. Formed from salt mines, this area is popular amongst those seeking natural health remedies. In addition to the highly concentrated salt-lake water, the area features Horea spring mineral water, sapropelic mud and a calming hilly topoclimate. While we can all benefit from a little eco-therapy, enjoying the beauty of nature, you may particularly benefit from a dip in the lakes if you suffer from chronic rheumatic or joint diseases, as the lakes' waters have been known to help these conditions.

 

Păltiniş Resort and Arena Platoş Paltiniş

 

The oldest and highest resort in Romania, Păltiniş reaches an altitude of 1440 metres. Skiers can enjoy snow for six months of the year, and non-skiers can relax in one of many nearby chalets, villas, restaurants, bars or shops. Accessible by bus from Sibiu (Line 22), scenic views, fresh mountain air and endless hiking opportunities await here. For beginners and families with young children, the nearby Arena Platoş Paltiniş boasts one of the best Ski Schools in the country, where well-trained teachers are on hand to improve the ski skills of all age groups. The Arena Platoş Paltiniş is the newest ski and snowboard resort in Sibiu, designed as a family-friendly sports and health complex.

 

Bâlea Mountain Area

 

80 km from Sibiu stands the magnificent mountain area of Bâlea-Capra within the Făgăraş Mountains. In the summertime, visitors to Bâlea can enjoy hiking, biking, climbing and even bungee-jumping. In the winter months, Bâlea is ideal for adventurers seeking out spots for snowboarding, mountain climbing and extreme skiing. While you’re in the area, travel to the nature reserve of the Bâlea Lake Alpine Tundra, rich in diverse flora and fauna that paint the landscape green, purple and white. Wildlife photographers could even capture Carpathian stags, chamois, marmots, foxes, eagles and bears around these areas.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Cycling

 

Sibiu is also a popular spot amongst cyclists. Sibiu Cycling Tour is a professional cycling road race, which began in 2011 as part of the UCI Europe Tour, and this year it will take place between the 2nd and 6th July 2022. For non-professional riders, Sibiu County offers the opportunity to cycle through historic towns and natural beauty, with many routes of varying length and difficulty. Adventure seekers can choose to travel the Transfăgărăşan road, which has been referred to as ‘the best road in the world’. It takes you more than 150 km through the Carpathian Mountain range, and you may even befriend a bear or two en route.

 

Hiking

 

In the autumn of 2021, Sibiu hosted Eurorando, the largest pan-European hiking event. The next event will take place between the 11th and 18th of September 2022, where 20 breath-taking routes and 400 km of scenic hikes are waiting to be explored by hikers at all levels. If you prefer to walk at your own pace, there is no shortage of routes across Sibiu. Ranging from easy to difficult, choose a route based on your preferred speed and scenery.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Taste Local Flavours

 

After adventuring, you will surely have an appetite. Where better to satisfy your cravings than Sibiu? Sibiu was named the ‘European Region of Gastronomy’ in 2019 thanks to its unique and diverse cuisine, including traditional cured meats and a variety of speciality cheeses. With sustainability in mind, Sibiu has no shortage of local dishes and vegan and vegetarian offerings. Due to the city’s multi-ethnic character, the traditional cuisine is deliciously diverse. Traditional Romanian food boasts a mix of ingredients influenced by many cuisines, including Turkish, German, Balkan and Hungarian. Enjoy Sărmăluțe - minced meat mixed with spices, rice and onions, rolled in fermented cabbage or vine leaves, and boiled in a special sauce, or its vegan alternative made with a mixture of ground nuts, chopped mushrooms and grated carrots. Those with a sweet tooth will love the Cozonac Sweet Bread and Papanași. Cozonac is a sweetbread filled with sweet walnut paste, poppy-seed paste or Turkish delight and raisins, while Papanași is a doughnut-shaped mixture of cottage cheese and semolina; fried and covered in sour cream and jam.

 

Sibiu’s culinary delights can be enjoyed year-round in the daily markets: Cibin Market on Turnului Street and Rahova Market on Rahovei Street. If you’re visiting on the weekend, be sure to visit The Country Fair at ASTRA Open Air Museum between April and October, or year-round at the open-air Transylvania Farmers’ Market from 8.00 am until 2.00 pm every Saturday. Eat like a local with vegetables and fruits fresh from the farmers of Sibiu County and enjoy a taste of Sibiu with homemade pies, bread and baked goods as well as traditional cheese, honey, juices and jams from local producers.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Cultural Events

 

Culinary events aren’t the only taste of Sibiu culture you can enjoy on your visit. Sibiu shines as a cultural light on the map of Romania and Europe and has hosted both the influential National Literature Association and the Metropolitan Chair of Transylvania.

 

In 2004, at the invitation of the Great Duchy of Luxembourg, Sibiu applied for the title of European Capital of Culture before Romania became an EU member state. In the three years that followed, Sibiu’s community came together to highlight all the cultural and spiritual assets the city possessed. In just three short years, the city’s street infrastructure was upgraded, roofs and facades of historical houses were restored, and the cultural calendar was created. The European Capital of Culture Program acted as a catalyst for positive change.

Three years later, Sibiu was named the ‘European Capital of Culture’, together with Luxembourg.

 

Sibiu hosted more than 1,000 events that year: from theatre and exhibitions to music and book launches, a diverse calendar attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists to Sibiu, generating a booming development in the tourism and hospitality industry. The city found innovative and unique locations to ensure cultural events became more accessible to the local public. As indoor locations were insufficient compared to the huge number of events, the city began using the squares and streets in the historical centre as stages for events. Today, 12% of the local budget goes to cultural institutions and hundreds of events each year. It is part of the reason why Sibiu is seen by many as one of Europe's most culturally active cities.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

International Theatre Festival

 

Each June, Sibiu hosts the International Theatre Festival; the third largest celebration of theatre and the performing arts in the world. The International Theatre Festival is world-renowned, attracting tens of thousands of culture enthusiasts as well as internationally renowned artists, ambassadors, directors, and presidents. The ten-day event takes place across a variety of venues, celebrating not just theatre, but also dance, music, opera and street performances. There are also many special events including play-readings, films and exhibitions. During the festival, visitors from all over the world pack into Sibiu’s streets, cathedrals, churches, plazas, parks and theatre halls to enjoy the festivities.

The 29th International Theatre Festival will take place between 24th June and 3rd July 2022.

 

The International Theatre Festival is organised, with the support of City Hall, by The Radu Stanca National Theatre—one of the oldest theatres in Romania. The Radu Stanca National Theatre shows have been invited to festivals around the world, so be sure to stop by and experience a hometown performance.

 

The GONG Theatre for Children and Youth

 

The GONG theatre aims to educate and entertain young people and is a great stop for family-friendly fun. Enjoy traditional stories such as The Nutcracker, Pinocchio, and Snow White, classic plays including Romeo and Juliet, animation and puppet shows, and storytelling workshops.

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

The Ballet Theatre

 

Founded in 2008, the Sibiu Ballet Theatre has grown from 10 dancers to more than 40 members hailing from around the world. The Theatre’s repertoire includes Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker and Giselle, and include classical ballet as well as contemporary dance and neoclassical ballet productions. Since 2008, the Sibiu Ballet Theatre has organised The International Competition of Classical and Contemporary Dance, an annual event hosting more than 200 competitors from across the globe. This event welcomes well-known names within the international dance scene into the judges’ panel and onto the stage.

 

 

IMAGE: Primăria Municipiului Sibiu

Sibiu Christmas Market

 

Escaping to Sibiu during the winter months, you’ll find one of Romania’s best-known Christmas markets. One of the largest Christmas markets in Eastern Europe, it bustles with people from all over, who come to browse the handmade trinkets and Christmas treats. Starting in November, the Christmas Market keeps the holiday spirit strong right through until January.

 

Sibiu: Safe and Sustainable, With Something for Everyone

 

Sibiu is alive throughout every season, from the first outdoor events in spring to the Christmas Market and skiing opportunities in winter. It really is a city with something to offer everyone. Whether you want to relax or have an active break, this is a city that can accommodate you. Immerse yourself in its past, enjoy its trendy cultural scene or venture into the beauty of its surrounding countryside; it’s up to you. No matter how you decide to spend your time here, Sibiu’s eco-friendly transport options and activities make it easy to explore or take it easy in a sustainable way. It also ranked highly on the European Best Destinations’ list of safest places to visit after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, making it even more attractive as a holiday destination.

 

It’s no wonder, then, that Sibiu already attracts visitors from around the world, and that the buzz about this small but perfectly formed city has grown rapidly in the last several years. Why not come for a visit and discover its magic for yourself?

 

 

 

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