Alba Iulia is steeped in Romanian history. Not only was it one of the most important cities during the middle ages and a capital of several empires, but it also holds an important spot in modern Romania. As visit to the citadel is likely all you will do but it is well worth it to get lost in the mini city inside a set of walls.
What to do
City Walls and Towers
As the city was the capital of several empires, it should come as no surprise that there is a huge set of city walls. What makes this city unique is the star shape that makes up the citadel. While most fortified cities, choose to build in a circle or square, the city chose a star and created limited entrance gates. Inside the walls, an entire city was developed including massive tree lined boulevards, town halls, a massive church, and of course a few prison cells. Surrounding the star shaped citadel was once a moat which is now a stunning cobblestone walking area and where many festivals are held. The citadel is free to enter though there are specific buildings or sections that you can pay to enter. Make sure to be along the main street at noon to make sure you do not miss the guards parade.
One of the most important buildings in the Citadel is Union Hall where on December 1, 1918, an assembly of Romanian leaders met and declared the union of several historic Romanian states which had been divided and conquered by foreign powers over the past century. This meeting when well and the local Romanian leaders of Transylvania, Bessarabia, Bukovina, the Kingdom of Romania all unanimously voted to unify creating the Kingdom of Greater Romania. Of course this meant that the majority of Romania was once again together and under their own control which obviously was a celebrated moment. If you happen to pass through Romania in early December, you will have the chance to join in the yearly national Holiday.
Covid Conscious Activities
With Covid-19 being such a huge factor in daily life, it is important to take steps towards a safer holiday like trying to limit your daily contact with others. Keep up to date with the latest local advisories and information.
Where to Stay
Other then the citadel, there isn't a lot to do in Alba Iulia itself so it is best to visit the city as a day trip from Cluj, Turda, or Sibiu or as a stop on a road trip. There are lots of places to stay in Alba Iulia if you do decide to but make sure there are some places to eat nearby. Many of the communities around will have family run pensions which offer some local Romanian flare, while the bigger cities have tons of Airbnb's and well run hotels.
How to get there and around
Once you are in the historic area, everything can be easily reached by foot. The historic centre is quite compact with the first Romanian school being the furthest spot from the main square at only about 15-minute walk. The majority of visitors arrive at the main train station which is about 40 minutes walking from the centre. Instead of making the long trek, you can opt to take the bus or an Uber into town. An Uber costs about 10 Lei while the bus costs only 2.50 Lei. Bus tickets can only be bought as roundtrips, thus you will need to keep the slip for your journey back to the station. Be sure to stamp your ticket with the machine when you get on the bus or risk heavy fines! If you are travelling in a pair, you should be able to use your ticket as two one-ways if your plan is to only go the one way.
Brasov is well connected to the large cities of Romania and the tourist areas nearby. You can either take the IC train or regional trains from Bucharest to the south (2 hours) or from Sibiu or Sighisoara to the east. The most famous castle in Romania, Bran Castle, is located about an hour east by bus which can be picked up at the main bus station (which is not the same as the main train station so watch out!)
Brasov is the perfect base for southern Transylvania as it is a hub for transportation as well as being surrounded by world-class attractions. You can easily spend a week in Brasov if you explore the outer areas. While cities like Sighisoara and Sibiu are often said to be day trips, they are quite a distance and deserve way more time than a few hours. The options below are great day trips that take less than an hour to get to on public transportation.
At less than an hour on the train south towards Bucharest, Sinaia is a gorgeous mountain town with some spectacular hikes and even better castles. Peles, Pelisor, and Foisor Castles are the three major castles in the town and are all in a line about a 35-minute walk away from the train station. Peles and its younger sibling Pelisor, are modeled after hunting lodges rather than fortified castles like Bran or Rasnov and were built in the early 20th century for the
Romanian Royalty. Peles Castle was a state of the art luxury residence complete with electricity (the first in Europe to be built with it), a huge arms collection, and a retractable stained glass roof over its main foyer. Decked out in stunning wood trim from around Europe and filled with treasures of the world it is well worth the visit - and expensive entry ticket! Next door is the colourful palace of Pelisor built shortly after Peles Castle. Foisor Castle is still owned by the royal family and is private so you must have an invite for the small number of functions that are held within the space or be super special!
On the edge of the town is the Bucegi National Park, which is littered with excellent hiking routes. Follow the Royal Path up to the Franz Josef Rocks for an awesome overhead view of the city and down the valley.
High on a hill overlooking the valleys below is the major fortress of Râșnov. Râșnov was one of the biggest and strongest fortifications in Transylvania for centuries and developed a city within its walls. Way less travelled to than its neighbour to the west, Bran, the castle is not in as good of shape but is stunning in its own way. It is on the same bus route as Bran so you can easily do both castles on the same day if you are down for an adventure!
Bran Castle is the perfect example of what good marketing can create. "Dracula's Castle" has gone from a little known castle in a gorgeous area, to the most visited site in Romania though nothing truly special has taken place in it. It is not where Vlad Tepes (the real "Dracula") lived nor is it the actual castle that inspired Bram Stoker to create his classic novel. The only connection is the location of a castle overlooking a river that has allowed a great marketing team to spin this castle into the popular attraction it is now. This all being said, the beauty of the castle should not be discredited and the grounds are quite stunning! Take a look at the "Hidden Gems" page for information on how to find the perfect Photo Op spot!