Braşov was called Kronstadt by the Saxons for a reason. Many reasons, in fact. To start with, Braşov literally wears a crown: the old city centre is surrounded by a ring of hills; covered in forest on the eastern side, boasting two ancient defense towers on the western side and a fortress towards the north. This beautiful natural crown, which is turning golden at the moment, is worn by what must be one of the prettiest city centres in Europe. Braşov is a great base if you want to explore the surroundings or head into the mountains, but is definitely worth visiting in its own right. Here are five reasons why, for me, Braşov is the king of all Romanian cities; or, as the Romanians say it, Braşov – regele oraselor din Romania. I could list many more, but there probably is a limit to how long you want this post to be…
1. The old city centre
Let’s start with the obvious. The old city centre is amazing. I’m writing this as it’s raining and it’s still amazing. It never looks dull – no doubt because of all the colourful shades of the buildings. Many of these are pretty old – this is a very well-preserved town. But not too well-preserved: it doesn’t feel like a museum in the way I think Sibiu does: it’s clear that people actually live their lives here; that it isn’t just a pretty tourist destination.
The Piaţa Sfatului is dominated by the beautiful old city hall; the Biserica Neagra towers over it. Do check this last one out from the inside, too – you can buy a ticket or treat yourself to an organ concerto on Tues, Thurs or Saturday at 6 pm. Or attend the German-spoken church service on Sunday morning, 10 am if you can muster the courage to get up early.
Piaţa Unirii is worth checking out too, with its impressive 15th-century Sfântul Nicolae church. Probably the greatest thing of all is that the city is not only surrounded by hills, but also has its ancient defense works still more or less in place. This is definitely worth a walk around. Start from the bottom of Aleea Tiberiu Brediceanu to walk along the old walls and bastions – then cross over to the western side to see the Poarta Ecatarina, Turnul Negru and Turnul Alb. And then, to top it all off, walk up to the citadel that proudly towers over the city – if you’re lucky enough to find it open you can even have a meal up there. And if, after all this walking, you need a rest, try the Nicolae Titulescu park just behind Bulevardul Eroilor to watch all the city’s pensioners play chess together. Or have a nap – despite the fact it’s surrounded by traffic it’s a great oasis.
2. The cafes
I am sitting in a newly discovered one as I write – Shake Coffee. It was pouring it down so I ran into a street I thought I knew – but to my surprise, I had never walked there before. And behold! Through the veil of the rain Shake Coffee appears, a waiter beckoning me in: ‘Come inside – it’s better here.’ I could not but concur, and didn’t mind a coffee. It definitely is better inside. A lot: 1) Sunflower-yellow wall. 2) Smell of coffee. 3) Walls lined with books. 4) Cosy furniture. 5) Free wifi. 6) They do decaf coffee. 7) You get a little folded quote with your coffee. 8) Tea comes in a French press. So thank you rain for bringing me here!
Another cafe I like to frequent is Tipografia, on the corner of Strada Postăvarului/Strada Diaconu Coresi. They have over 180 types of tea and I love their Viennese (decaf) cappuccino. They do pretty great (hot) sandwiches too. The staff are very friendly and they have a free printing service! Which turns this place into a great office when you’re away from home.
Finally, I need to mention Dr. Jekelius Pharmacy Cafe. This is where I go to detox. The amazing thing about Dr. Jekelius is that it is housed in a former pharmacy – and that it still looks like it. They even serve most of their drinks in lab glass! Their teas are all herbal and medicinal – and they have a wealth of smoothies to choose from. And there is an opium jar on one of the shelves… Oh, they make you pee in an Erlenmeyer flask. No. They don’t. Bad joke. Sorry.
3. The bookshops
Although Braşov’s old centre isn’t exactly big, it boasts numerous bookshops. Seriously nice ones, too, that actually sell English books. There is Cărtureşti on Strada Mureşenilor; St Iosif (great selection of music!) and Okian further down the same street; and Humanitas on Piaţa Sfatului. They all have cosy corners where you can sneakily read your book before you buy it. More good places to hide against the rain…
4. The food
Although I am generally not a big fan of Romanian food (sorry), there are plenty of places in Braşov where I don’t mind eating. At all. My favourite place has got to be Simone, ‘a good food district’, as they call themselves. They serve soul food – which varies from a hearty burger to a vegan curry, a sumptuous salad or a veggie quesadilla. Literally everything I have eaten in that place was… very gratifying. Their (Romanian) house wine is good too, and the fact that the place looks pretty certainly helps.
Now that I’ve mentioned vegan: there even is a vegan and raw restaurant in Braşov! It’s called Rawdia and you’ll find it on Strada Appollonia Hirscher no. 7. Great atmosphere; very quiet; good food. The mushroom soup was pretty amazing. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t a vegan.
Although I’ve only had brunch at Bistro de’l Arte, that was enough for me to recommend this lovely place just off Strada Michael Weiss (Piata Enescu 11 bis). The beautiful exterior (yellow walls!) was enough to draw me in, and its equally charming inside. I had a great Romanian-style croque monsieur and grapefruit juice and will definitely be back for dinner one day – with or without live music.
When I do feel like eating a traditional Romanian meal I invariably go to Sergiana – unless the place is full in which case I will resort to Roata Norocului, which is a short walk out of the centre, and has a pleasantly big outdoor terrace. But really, try Sergiana. If only for the free starter that you’ll get. I still don’t know what it is – something like fried pork rinds with red onion. I know, it doesn’t sound very appetizing like that – but it’s absolutely delicious. The restaurant is housed in a basement on the corner of Strada Mureşenilor – it looks like they may have been wine cellars in the past. Although the place is always busy, it never really feels crowded – and the staff always stays calm and friendly. The food is good, traditional and very affordable. Pofta buna!
5. The public transport
Public transport in Braşov is great. It’s very easy as a tourist to get around – you just buy a 4 RON busticket (valid for two 50-minute journeys) at one of the many ticket booths or ticket vending machines (which, strangely, most Romanians don’t seem to use). The RAT BV website is very informative – click the Routes and timetables button for extensive information for each line. Mind that, if you want to go to Poiana Braşov, you need to buy a 5 RON ticket for the no. 20 bus. And don’t forget to stamp your ticket once you get on board.
As said, I could go on listing reasons for my continuous love affair with Braşov – like the many outdoor stores; the gentle Hungarian shoe maker (Balint Isztvan) on Strada Poarta Schei no. 6; the multilingualism; its cleanliness; the second-hand boutiques; the flowers. But I hope these five reasons are enough to make you check it out for yourself – and find your own reaons to fall and stay in love with Braşov.
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