Last Updated on July 13, 2023 by Ellen
Sibiu, Romania is the country’s first city earn the Capital of Culture designation by the European Union, and it’s obvious why. Situated in the heart of the historic Transylvania region, Sibiu features a picturesque old town, fortified walls and bastions, cafes and public squares, and… its creepy eyes. Yep. Amid all the beauty was something creepy: many old building had eyes.
In fact, Sibiu is also known as the City of Eyes because of the distinctive openings in roofs. The ‘eyes’ were designed to let bats in, so they could eat bugs in the attics. The air kept flour fresh and bats kept it bug-free.
During the communist regime, citizens felt like they were always watched. And, they were: some ‘troublemakers’ were shot and killed from guns pointed at them through the attic eyes during the Romanian Revolution against communism. Before the regime fell, some ‘troublemakers’ were sent to forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union.
Further back in time, the center of old town was fortified by walls and defensive towers. What’s left of these have been restored to create a historic medieval feel today, during the current time of peace and prosperity.
Sibiu was Romania’s first Capital of Culture, several years before Timisoara in 2023 (another fantastic place to visit!). Sibiu was awarded the honor by the European Union in the same year Romania joined the EU — 2007. It has the largest performing arts event in the world. We happened to be there for a week-long music event honoring Romanian-American friendship, which coincided with our Independence Day. It was fun to hear the Romanian bands play Frank Sinatra’s New York New York – and other American classics during the week of the Fourth of July!
Exploring cobblestone alleys and ancient churches, going to concerts, and watching a bicycling race cross the finish line in old town for Stage 1 all consumed our four-day visit. Plan your trip to coincide with special summer events, if possible. Otherwise, you can see the big points of interest in two days.
Budget travel tips for Sibiu
- Use the tourist office for maps and information, and walking tours.
- We discovered our favorite GuruWalk tours are not available in Sibiu, so we took the walking tour offered through the main tourism office on the big square (center building at the top of this page). It cost $10 per person for nearly two hours.
- The tourism staff helped us make a regional bus reservation for our next destination. Bus reservations in rural Romania are needed, and must be made by phone, yet we don’t speak Romanian. Most tourists hire private cars.
- Visit the oldest, largest church in town for next to nothing – the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary.
- Go to a free pipe organ concert, or, pay a few dollars for a special event concert. Check in the church’s office for the schedule, or look for signs posted in front of the building.
- For a small fee, climb the tower for spectacular views of Sibiu.
- Walk through the church to see ruins of an old Catholic church from the 12th century through a glass floor near the altar.
- Admire a large fresco from 1445 near the old ruins.
- Housing – stay in the old town section. We splurged, and it was so worth it.
- We spent $50 a night on a small modern studio right across from Potter’s Tower (an old bastion) in ‘upper’ Sibiu. You might save money if you look for a place in ‘lower’ old town, which is still in the historic area but not as quaint.
Our standard budget travel tips apply here, too, such as picnic, walk wherever/whenever possible, and book a stay early to get the best options for a good deal.
Possible day trips from Sibiu
One of the most scenic roads in Transylvania – and maybe in all the world – is the Transfagarasan Highway. It’s not really a highway: it’s a twisty, two-lane road that passes over the Fagaras mountains, the highest of the southern Carpathian range. This is easily reached from Sibiu.
And if you want to take a day trip to the Turda Salt Mines, using public transportation from Sibiu is cheap. We took the public bus (reservations were needed) and then the local public bus to the mines.
Theo wants to write a post about Transfagarasan and Turda, so I’ll end this post about Sibiu here.
Next, we go further into Transylvania: Brasov! Life is Now!