Romania is one of those off the beaten path destinations. Those who do visit Romania often focus their attention on Transylvania, and for good reason!
Transylvania is a region in Romania that may invoke images of vampires, werewolves, and creepy woods, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re there. Instead you will see colorful houses, medieval cities, extravagant castles, and yes, a little bit of vampire kitsch. It’s a mysterious land just waiting to be discovered… and photographed!
For the best photography opportunities, I recommend renting a car, braving unfamiliar roads, and seeing Transylvania for yourself. Transylvania is best experienced at your own pace, because you might love it more than you expect! I have created a list of the best places for photography in Transylvania to better arm you for such an independent photographer’s experience…
Best places for photography in Transylvania
Sibiu turned out to be one of my favorite places in Romania and I originally had no plans to go there. That would have been a true shame! The unique and diverse architecture alone makes this city well worth a visit.
While wandering the twisting streets of Sibiu is great fun, the beautiful city can be best appreciated from up high. After a surprising amount of research considering how accessible these places are, I discovered two viewpoints right in the old town. Both Sibiu viewpoints offer views from north, south, east, and west facing windows. The Council Tower and the tower at the Lutheran Church both offer opportunities to capture the pretty red roofed buildings below and the snow covered mountains in the distance. Both also require a bit of climbing, so be ready for a lot of stairs!
A visit to Salina Turda might be one of the strangest and most unique experiences you will ever have! This old salt mine also provides some great photography opportunities. Be sure to rent a little row boat at the bottom to get especially unique perspectives. You’ll need a fast camera with high ISO capabilities to shoot there because it’s so dark. You can bring a tripod too, but beware that there are a lot of people to work around.
You’ll definitely want to go up to the other levels and shoot the lake from above. It looks like a tiny underground amusement park from up there… well, I guess it sort of is. I mean you can ride boats at the bottom, but you’ll also find a ferris wheel, a bowling alley, and ping pong tables. Random, but awesome! Again, I think a fast camera might be more useful than a tripod here because it can be challenging to find a good place to set up a tripod.
By the time I got to Sighisoara, I realized that my time left in Romania was running short. This means that I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to there and I missed some of the better light of the day. Even so, exploring the old town was a lot of fun and offered plenty of photography subjects. The most famous features of Sighisoara are it’s colorful buildings and ancient citadel. These are all in the old town and can easily be explored in a day. If you’re into old cemeteries, there is a pretty cool one at the top of the hill. You just have to climb the stairs inside the long dark tunnel. Almost as creepy as the steps up to the Lutheran Church tower in Sibiu! If you’re into old gnarly trees, you might consider a brief visit to the Breite Ancient Oak Tree Reserve just outside of town.
Alas, I didn’t see much of Brasov under clear skies. It was in fact raining pretty hard for most of my time there. However, I still believe that some of the best shots of Brasov are from viewpoints surrounding the city. Driving there via Poiana Brasov through the mountains, I encountered several viewpoints that overlooked the city. The weather made the light flat and ugly, but at least it wasn’t raining at that point. It’s not an amazing shot, but I want you to see what the view is like from up there. The next shot is from the mountains, before I ever got to the city viewpoints. Much prettier under those conditions!
There are other viewpoints of Brasov that I didn’t make it to. You can hike or take the cable car (if it’s running) up Mount Tampa which towers over Brasov. I would have liked to do this, but there was no point with the heavy rain and fog. There are also the Black Tower and White Tower, both of which are in fact white and offer views of the old town.
Just a short drive from Brasov and a must for anyone visiting Transylvania, is Bran Castle, also known as “Dracula’s Castle”. A common view of the exterior can be seen from the road or the grounds, like in this photo.
When I tried seeking an alternative view of the castle from one of the neighboring hills, my plans were again foiled by the rain. However, the castle’s interior offers some interesting viewpoints particularly around the courtyard area. The castle decor is only okay in my opinion and not particularly amazing for photos. However if we’re talking about intrigue, there was enough to keep any history geek occupied for hours. Not to mention all the historical curiosities… like the torture chair and convict weighing scale! Yikes!
Also close to Bran and Brasov, Peles Castle boasts a much more lavish exterior and interior. A pause in the rain allowed me a brief capture of the outside. If you visit, be aware that there may be a very large advertisement draped across the front of the castle. Creative framing could hide it though!
To my surprise, the interior of Peles Castle was the most impressive part. You do have to pay to bring a camera in, but it’s worth the cost. You can also pay to see just one level or both, but I was feeling broke and skipped the other level. After a while I get a bit overstimulated with grand rooms, elaborate furniture, and sparkling decor, so that was enough for me. It really is a fantastic castle though and well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The Transfagarasan Highway is a road probably best known for it’s appearance on Top Gear. It’s super windy and somewhat dangerous, but also gorgeous. There are some neat photos that I’ve seen capturing the road’s turns from above. There is also a pristine little lake sitting next to the road that makes for a lovely photo.
I only know this from seeing other people’s photos, because I never made it all the way there myself! In fact, I made it less than 5km from my destination at Balea Lake only to be forced to turn around when I encountered a snowplow that wouldn’t even go that far. I may expand upon this story in another post, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Just know that you can’t always get to the popular sections of the Transfagarasan Highway, because weather may be against you. Go in the summer or early fall and check obsessively with locals about the conditions up there. Fortunately, my drive almost all the way up was very pretty with the fall colors. When I approached from the south I passed by the ruins of Dracula’s actual castle. The road was practically empty aside from the occasional suicidal dog and herds of sheep. There were a good number of stopping points for photos too, which is something I can’t say about all of Romania.
Along the road
Even if you don’t make it to every one of these spots, know that Transylvania is a very photogenic region of Romania. There is so much I didn’t see that I wanted to. You will also see so much by simply driving around. I had plenty of photo opportunities along the roads, getting from one destination to the next. The trickiest part was finding places to pull over. I had to pass the best shots by, but I came away with a few that I’m happy enough with.
Have fun on your Romanian road trip! Eat the food, meet the people, and enjoy exploring the best places for photography in Transylvania. Just watch out for those dogs! ;)