Whether you’re travelling by train or you’re on a Transylvania road trip, Sighisoara and its UNESCO-protected Historic Centre is a must-see. Here you’ll find a collection of photos to inspire your visit, plus a list of the best things to do in Sighisoara, Romania.
Every day we spent in Romania’s Transylvania region was a history lesson. Craft guilds, counts, religious reformations, sieges, great fires, ancient trading routes—there are so many myths, legends and narratives wrapped up in this part of Romania. Strolling through the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Sighisoara in the heart of Transylvania might be the best, most immersive tutorial of all.
We ended up spending a few nights in Sighisoara on our way through Transylvania from Sibiu to Cluj. Since everything is within walking distance, neatly packaged inside the old city walls, one full day is the perfect amount of time to see the Historic Centre and soak up the eerie-yet-alluring atmosphere of Europe’s last remaining inhabited medieval citadel.
Here are my favourite things to do in Sighisoara’s Historic Centre, plus a few tips to help you organise your visit. I’ve tried to keep things brief and let Sighisoara itself do all the talking, so this post contains plenty of photos—and pretty soon a video, too!—to inspire your visit.
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History of Sighisoara
Sighisoara is one of Transylvania’s seven fortified Saxon cities. Located in Mures County, roughly 300km north of Bucharest, it has enjoyed historical prominence given its position right in the lap of the Carpathian Mountains, which once formed a natural land border between Europe and the Ottoman-controlled East.
Like other cities in the region, Sighisoara was established in the 12th century by the Saxons, a group of German-born craftspeople and merchants who were dispatched to Transylvania by their Hungarian overlords.
The idea was to push the kingdom’s boundaries and shore up vulnerable mountain passes from Ottoman and Tatar invasion. Bringing their various trades with them, the craftsmen and their families established Sighisoara—then called Schaasburg—as a successful frontier community and trading hub. Other artisans followed, and eventually Sighisoara was home to 15 flourishing trade guilds.
They didn’t just make the local economy tick—the craftsmen were also responsible for defending Sighisoara. To this end, they erected a set of mighty towers, each in the name of a different guild. These still-standing fortifications, alongside the pastel-coloured merchant houses, are what makes Sighisoara such a special place to visit.
Many consider Sighisoara’s old town to be one of the best-preserved medieval citadels in all of Europe. In 1999, the Historical Centre was officially inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recognised as a relic of Transylvanian Saxon culture.
Sighisoara travel video
Check out my short video of Sighisoara then continue reading to learn where it was filmed!
Things to do in Sighisoara Historic Centre
Sighisoara’s main attractions lie within the confines of the old city walls. The Historic Centre, as it’s officially called, is all alleyways and squares, monumental churches and exquisite stone towers.
Spot the Clock Tower (Turnul cu Ceas)
No matter which direction you face, the Clock Tower looms large over Sighisoara. In fact, the main defense tower and former city hall can be seen from almost anywhere in surrounding Mures County.
Every street and lane affords a different view of the tower and its shimmering tiled roof. Two clock faces, one wood, the other metal, are visible from inside the citadel and from the lower (new) part of town. The stone base of the tower is shaped into two giant archways that form a passage between the two sides of Sighisoara.
From other aspects, just the spire and bulbed turrets are visible above the rooftops. The clock really is a marvel and a perfect example of the high-level craftsmanship Sighisoara’s Saxon guilds were known for.
I wonder what it would be like living in the shadow of such a magnificent structure; if you’d ever tire of craning your neck as you scurried past on your way to the office or the grocery store.
Climb the tower for the Sighisoara History Museum (Muzeul De Istorie Sighisoara) and spectacular views from the open balcony
As you spiral up the clock tower’s steep staircase, glass box displays belonging to the Sighisoara History Museum are laid out over different levels. Artifacts speak to Sighisoara’s history; the most interesting exhibits are the various objects fashioned by the master craftsmen. Laminated information cards in English and Spanish reveal details about the long and arduous process of joining a craft guild.
As you ascend further, it’s possible to see the inner workings of the clock mechanisms as well as the tower’s famous figurines. Unique in Romania, the aptly creepy puppets rotate on a wheel with every new day of the week.
At the crown of the Clock Tower is an open-air wrap-around balcony. The wooden walkway was originally conceived as a vantage point for spotting fires; now it affords beautiful city views.
Note: The Museum and viewing deck are open 9am–6.30pm Tues–Fri & 10am–5.30pm Sat–Sun in summer (closed Mondays). In winter, the tower closes early 3pm. Admission costs 15 RON per person.
Visit the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, AKA Count Dracula
Don’t let those pretty pastel streets fool you: Sighisoara also has a connection to the more sinister side of Transylvanian history.
Vlad Tepes, AKA Vlad the Impaler, ruled Romania’s southern Walachia region in the 1400s. Despite what Bram Stoker tried to tell us, Vlad’s ties to Transylvania are in fact pretty loose. The strongest link is this canary yellow house in Sighisoara’s citadel where the man who inspired the character of Count Dracula was born in 1431. It’s now a restaurant. You can pay an extra fee to be shown into young Vlad’s bedroom, which he slept in until the age of four.
Nearby, behind the church, you’ll find a rather diminutive bust of Vlad Tepes. It’s unclear if Sighisoara fully embraces its affiliation with Dracula or loathes it. About a decade ago, a plan was devised to construct a Dracula-themed amusement park near Sighisoara. Petitions from residents and other Romanians ultimately nipped it in the bud.
Note: The restaurant (and house) is closed for maintenance during the winter months.
Marvel at the majestic Guild Towers
Given their location, Sighisoara’s residents lived under an almost constant threat of invasion. Who better to protect the citadel from marauders than the city’s guildsmen.
Every guild in Sighisoara—the rope makers, tanners, tinsmiths, furriers, butchers, boot makers and tailors—had its own tower. Members were charged with raising funds to build and maintain their fortification, and also took on the responsibility of manning the towers in the event of a siege.
I know they were meant to intimidate the Ottomans (check out those arrow slits along the top)—but I think the guild towers are adorable. For some reason they remind me of garden gnomes!
It’s not possible to climb inside the towers (at least not in winter), but you can of course walk through the grand stone arches at the base. The gates are still a major thoroughfare for Sighisoara’s residents, with a slow trickle of cars, bicycles and pedestrians passing through at all hours.
Get lost on Sighisoara’s colourful streets
Most of Sighisoara’s citadel is made up of rows and rows of brightly painted burgher houses. These quaint dwellings on prime real estate once belonged to the city’s merchants. Many have been preserved with various degrees of success and turned into businesses: B&Bs, cafes and gift shops.
Fortress Square (Piata Cetatii) is Sighisoara’s main plaza and has beautiful facades on all four sides. The Stag House (the pink building with the deer antler, pictured above) and The Venician House are considered Sighisoara’s finest architectural accomplishments.
Browse Sighisoara’s folk shops
Sighisoara’s legacy of Saxon craftsmanship lives on in the gift boutiques scattered around town. Although many appear to sell mass-produced, cheap souvenirs, there are a few workshops producing high-quality woodwork, textiles and ceramics.
Arts & Crafts is a popular boutique and probably your best bet for finding authentic Romanian handicrafts. I bet there are dozens more shops and stalls open in summer when the tourists come out to play.
Climb the Scholar’s Stairway (Scara Scolarilor)
Also known as the Scara Acoperita (covered stairs), the Scholar’s Stairway connects the Piata Cetatii with the Church on the Hill. It was built in 1642 as a safe passage for the school children who followed the pathway up the hill to their high school. Originally there were more than 300 stairs, but only 176 stairs remain today.
Walking up the stairway is an eerie experience. Sunlight filters through the loosely fitted slatted walls. The low ceiling and claustrophobic-inducing taped walls makes the final portion even more spectacular as you’re abruptly launched from darkness into daylight and a front-on view of the church at the top. There are some nice vistas looking back over the citadel from the top of the stairs.
Visit the fortified ‘Church on the Hill’ (Biserica din Deal) & the German cemetery (Cimitirul Bisericii Din Deal)
At the top of the covered staircase lies the late-Gothic, triple-naved Church on the Hill. It’s a nice example of the fortified architecture famous in Transylvania. Behind the church is a cemetery. This is the final resting place of Sighisoara’s early German settlers. The tree-lined alleyways look beautiful covered in snow. Creeping ivy covers many of the tombstones, adding to the ghostly atmosphere.
Other churches of note in Sighisoara include the Church of the Dominican Monastery, located next door to the Clock Tower; the Baroque-style Klosterkirche, which was built in 1289; and the Romanian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church, which sits on the opposite side of the river.
Walk through the old city gates into Sighisoara’s new town
Sighisoara’s lower town is obviously much newer than the citadel and boasts a suitably eclectic mix of architectural styles. From the new town, you can see different aspects of the clock tower as well as nice views of the church.
Looking up at what remains of the fortified walls and towers, you get a better sense of what it would have been like to approach Sighisoara from a distance. It’s interesting to see the citadel from a different perspective—that of an avid Ottoman invader, perhaps. You can also appreciate the citadel’s strategic location and get a feel for just how high it sits above the plain.
The lower town isn’t as charming as Sighisoara’s historic core, but it’s still worth a wander. The best reason to visit the new town? It’s where you’ll find Sighisoara’s main restaurant and cafe strip. We ate at Concordia and Restaurant La Perla, which were both decent but nothing to write home about.
If you’re travelling on a budget, Concordia offers a daily lunch special until 4pm, where you can get a three-course meal for just 19 RON (less than 5 USD).
How to get to Sighisoara
There are both trains and buses connecting Sighisoara with other towns and cities in Transylvania and beyond.
Distances & approximate travel times
- Targu Mures to Sighisoara | 54km, 1 hour drive time
- Sibiu to Sighisoara | 93km, 1.5 hours drive time
- Brasov to Sighisoara | 117km, 1.75 hours drive time
- Cluj to Sighisoara | 160km, 2.5 hours drive time
- Bucharest to Sighisoara | 300km, 4.5 hours drive time
Getting to Sighisoara from Sibiu
There are two daily trains that run direct from Sibiu to Sighisoara at 12.05pm and 5.12pm. The journey takes 2.5 hours, and tickets cost 11.70 RON (approx. 2.80 USD) per person for a seat in second class. We took the midday train and found it an easy and comfortable way to travel.
Getting to Sighisoara from Cluj
Travelling south from Cluj, there are three direct trains to Sighisoara at 10.14am, 1.40pm and 4.50pm daily. The journey time is between 3.5 and 5.75 hours depending on which service you use. The first train of the day is the fastest, and also offers a first-class wagon. We took the train going the opposite way (from Sighisoara to Cluj) and paid 29.80 RON (approx. 7.20 USD) per person for second class seats.
Tip: The Romanian Railways website is available in English and is very easy to navigate. Search for up-to-date timetables and fare info for getting to Sighisoara from elsewhere in Romania here.
Visiting Sighisoara as a day trip
It’s possible to visit Sighisoara as a day trip from most of the surrounding cities in Transylvania. Given its location, it makes sense to visit from either Sibiu or Brasov, which are both less than two hours away by road.
Because buses are relatively infrequent and trains aren’t timed well for same-day returns, you should consider an organised day tour of Sighisoara that includes road transport. Check out this full-day itinerary departing from Sibiu, or this option that departs from Brasov. If you’re staying in town but still prefer to go around with a local guide, you might like to book a city tour of Sighisoara.
Where to stay in Sighisoara
If you want to extend your time in Sighisoara, there are several quality accommodation options to choose from. We stayed at Venesis House, a family-run guesthouse located in the new part of town, about 10 minutes’ walk from the citadel. Doubles are comfortable and sparkling clean, and the price is excellent (we snagged a room for under 25 USD/night in the off season). Ion, the host, also offers complimentary pick up and drop off from the train or bus station.
Accommodation inside the old city walls is mainly small B&Bs. Both Pensiunea Cristina si Pavel and Pension Pivnita lui Teo are housed in gorgeous family homes, and the hosts receive accolades for their hospitality. If you’re on a tight budget, Burg Hostel is located in the old city and offers beds for as little as 15 USD/night.
At the opposite end of the spectrum: There is a Hilton in the new town. But if you’re after something up-market in Sighisoara that’s a little more authentic, I recommend Fronius Boutique Residence. It’s located within the old city walls and is full of character.
What are you favourite things to do in Sighisoara? Does this look like a town you’d love to visit? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!