Small towns like Sibiu tend to get overlooked as mere hopping off points that can be skipped over entirely. A statistically unassuming city literally in the middle of Romania, Sibiu is a fortress city that holds its own for travelers heading to mountainous border of Transylvania. Voted by you as The Best City to Visit in 2013, here are the best parts of Sibiu not to be missed.
Where To Stay
Visiting in the middle of winter I had my pick of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. The one that eventually caught my eye however was Pension Zanzi, a close 5 minute walk from the historic city center. Inside, Zanzi has the cozy feel of a cottage with large wooden beams featuring prominently holding the structure together. The staff also went out of their way to be helpful – in one instance locating a gym for me when I asked and then driving me there on the first day to make sure I would find it.
The rooms tend to vary in quality, but for the rates around 112 Romanian lei ($35 USD) a night, Pension Zanzi’s a bargain for a single room with a more local feeling than the larger hotels across town. Alternatively, if Zanzi is booked up, take a look at the newly opened Welt Kultur Hostel which came highly recommended from knowledgeable locals.
Crossing From Big Square To Little
Sibiu is a small city travelers can mentally organize around the Big Square (Piata Mare) and Small Square (Piata Mica) adjacent to it. Basically everywhere to see is within a 3.5 kilometer radius; aside from the outdoor ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, you can get everywhere on foot. Inside town there’s the Brukenthal Museum – containing paintings by Romanian artists with additional fees to access the second wing of the museum featuring a larger collection of European art.
Though you’ll really have to love portrait paintings or museums to enjoy the Brukenthal, the ASTRA is worth the 20 minute, 1.5 lei ($0.50) ride to the last stop on bus 13. The model homes aren’t anything special – especially if you’ve ever seen one of the countless villages in eastern Europe – it’s the 10 acre backdrop of the lake and forest that will capture your senses.
Entrance is 15 lei ($4.50) to the ASTRA which, doubles as one hell of a jogging trail if there’s no ice on the ground.
- Budget Breakfast – Although its touristy nature doesn’t make it a popular choice for locals, if you’re like me and need lots of fairly-tasty calories in the morning, head to Casa Frieda. For around 45 Romanian lei ($13.50) you can get an omelet, salad, soup, bread, drink, and side dish. Then watch your waitress’ shocked look as you consume it all.
Afterward you might want a dose of caffeine or shot of lung cancer as Sibiu has a glorious cafe culture in a country where 26% of the population smokes. To go along with the sultry fog of carbon monoxide in the air are refreshing waves of free wireless, some of the world’s fastest, available pretty much anywhere.
- Pardon Cafe & Bistro – Quickly became one of my favorite cafes in the world for its ambiance, food, coffee, and wine. Often the managers or owners will be walking around to show you around Pardon, if they do, tell them hello from me.
- Baroc Cafe – Less than a quarter of the size of the smallest cafe in Sweden, I almost walked out because I was confused when I first entered. Baroc holds about 8 people, including the server, comfortably, ensuring you’ll never have to wait for your espresso.
- Bistro Salut – Although the decor is distinct, you’ll notice the similarities to its larger cousin Pardon Cafe right next door.
- Mustache Caffe – A good mix of liveliness, fast Internet, and size for a short coffee break or few hours of working for you digital nomad and business traveler types.
Assuming you’ve still got some wind let, climb to the top of Council Tower (Turnul Sfatului; entrance 5 lei) to get the best views of Sibiu. Your camera however, will have to content with the annoying panes of glass between you and amazing shots.
Church Hop To Liar’s Bridge
Much like cafes, there are no shortage of churches in Sibiu to visit. Since it’s not quite as fun to indulge in church-visiting burnout as it to
drunk drink your way around town, you can narrow your selection to these holy buildings.
- Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cathedral – Despite being one of the largest churches in Sibiu that sits right in Piata Mare, once you’re inside you’ll wonder how such a building can hide in plain sight.
- Holy Trinity Cathedral – Designed after the 1,477 year old Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, if the interior artwork doesn’t grab you, the solemn prayer might draw you in to contemplate more than physical brick and stone.
Unfortunately the impressive Evangelic Chruch in Piata Mica has been closed for renovations for over a year. Rather, wander a bit to find Biscerica Azilului as you cross The Bridge Of Lies. According to local legend, Liar’s Bridge will collapse if a fib is told on it. Given that it’s been standing since 1859, it would seem the residents (or at least, boyfriends) of Sibiu are tactfully trustworthy.
Where To Eat In Sibiu
Visually, Sibiu is a difficult place to discern good, local food. Not that there isn’t any but a casual walk along the pedestrian Strada Nicolae Balcescu showcases overpriced eateries whose clientele don’t know any better than to keep looking. Right beyond the old fort walls of The Citadel of Sibiu is, in my opinion, one of the best places to eat in town.
- Crama Ileana – Authentic Romanian cuisine in a welcoming environment floating just below street level, if you’re in Sibiu, you need to eat in this restaurant that looks more expensive than it is. A large meal, sides, soup, plus glass of wine will run you about 60 lei ($18).
- Tango Grill – A good mix of Romania and Western dishes done very well, its location in Piata Mica – or reputation make – it a bit more expensive than it should be.
Going back to a favorite of mine, Pardon Cafe also has a noteworthy kitchen and pizza oven.
Tiny To Its Advantage
Many said, “Sibiu’s too small” or “you’re visiting at a bad time of year” when I arrived early December in Romania’s 18th largest city. Honestly though, those were two of the aspects I enjoyed most about Sibiu. The Christmas market in the middle of Piata Mare brought the frigged evenings to life. Strolling through the warm lights scented with spiced wines, my surroundings were devoid of other tourists, who generally prefer to visit during the warmer months for festivals, giving the sense I had Sibiu all to myself – which was an honor to have of The Best City to Visit in 2013.