The city is centered on Piata Sfatului, on which the city's most imposing monument, the Black Church, backs. A wide-open medieval square, Sfatului is the best place to succumb to Brasov's salubrious charms; throughout the day, people meet to plot their next move, be it dining at one of the always-packed restaurants, exploring the city's architectural heritage, or people-watching and chasing pigeons. Around the square a range of attractive Saxon buildings vie for attention. In the center of the square is the 15th-century yellow-and-white Casa Sfatului (Council House), now home to the city's tourist office as well as the Brasov Historical Museum (Muzeul Judetean de Istorie Brasov; tel. 0268/47-2363; Tues-Sun 10am-6pm); capping the building is the 58m-high (190 ft.) Trumpeter's Tower, originally used for meetings. West of the Council House, amid a long row of fabulous buildings, is Casa Muresenilor, Piata Sfatului 25 (tel. 0268/47-7864; Tues-Sat 9am-3pm), now memorializing the 19th-century political journalist and editor, Iacob Muresianu. On the eastern side of the square is Casa Hirscher. Built between 1539 and 1545 by Apollonia Hirscher, the widow of one of the city's mayors, it was set up as a trading house for the merchant community, but is now a tourist restaurant, Cerbul Carpatin (Carpathian Stag; tel. 0268/44-3981). And at the northern end of the square, next to the shamelessly located KFC, is a passage leading to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin, tucked well away from public view; completed in 1899, the church tower was destroyed by earthquake in 1940, and only rebuilt in 1972.
From Piata Sfatului you can either wander south through the Schei District, or head for the northwestern corner to take Strada Muresenilor, which stretches past a number of restaurants and bars and soon reaches Bulevardul Eroilor, with the leafy expanse of Parcul Central on the far side. Turn right along Bulevardul Eroilor, passing the ugly facade of the Aro Palace Hotel to reach Brasov's Art Museum at no. 21 (Tues-Sun 10am-6pm), which includes a sizable collection of works by notable 19th- and 20th-century Romanian artists. Farther on is a Memorial to the Victims of the 1989 Revolution; behind this you'll see the bulky District Council building. Eroilor becomes Bulevardul 15 Novembrie, with Piata Teatrului spreading out in front of the Sica Alexandrescu Drama Theater. Turning right in front of the wooden memorial cross, however, you'll head into Strada Republicii, a charming car-free promenade lined with the city's most alluring shops and cafes, and a few decent restaurants; of particular note are the many antiques stores (the best being Rams Antik and Antique Edy, which has two branches). Although there are a few interesting diversions up the various side streets, Republicii eventually lands you back on Piata Sfatului.
Bird's-Eye Views -- Locals like to take romantic strolls along the promenade above the long section of defensive walls that still remains on the eastern edge of the city, at the foot of Mount Tampa. Midway along the promenade is the Telecabina Tampa, a cable car that delivers passengers to the top of the mountain, 995m (3,265 ft.) up, in 140 seconds (Mon noon-5pm, Tues-Fri 9:30am-6pm, Sat-Sun 9:30am-8pm; last ticket sold 30 min. before closing; L7/$3/£1.85 return). Ignore the restaurant (expensive and soulless) and take the path to the right and walk for around 10 minutes to the recently built Terasa Belvedere lookout point.
For more great photographic vantages of the city, head for the Black Tower (Turnul Neagru), part of the defensive walls, which once protected Brastov and which still hold vigil over the city from the face of Warthe Hill, west of Piata Sfatului (Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; last tickets 5:30pm; admission L4/$1.70/65p; photography L20/$8.60/£5.35). The tower includes a pretty drab medieval display; ignore this and take the steps leading to the top levels; the view from the top of the Black Tower is spectacular (you can happily pass on the White Tower). Take the pathway behind the Black Tower up to Promenade Warthe for more great city views.
Brasov's fabulous little forest-fringed ski resort, Poiana Brasov, is situated on the slopes of the Postavarul Massif, a fine year-round Carpathian Mountain getaway. It's beautiful in summer, when the mountains are perfect for extended hikes and when Romania's athletes come to train in open space and clean air. From December through March, it fills up with skiers; casual winter-sports enthusiasts will have an easy time of it. Experienced skiers won't be challenged, however; this is generally for beginners and anyone looking for a relaxing time on the slopes, although some of the pistes are rated difficult. There is limited off-piste skiing. There's a gondola service as well as two cable cars to get you to the summit of Cristianul Mave (1,690m/5,543 ft.) and Mt. Postavarul (1,802m/5,911 ft.), the two peaks here. Poiana Brasov offers ski instruction as well as a range of slope activities; for all the information you might need, visit www.ana.ro; alternatively, try www.skiresorts.ro. The best restaurant in town is Coliba Haiducilor, Strada Drumul Sulinarului (tel. 0268/26-2137), with a lovely country atmosphere, warm log fire, and home-style cooking. If the salubrious atmosphere works its charms on you, ask the owners about their accommodations at Casa Viorel, Strada Poiana lui Stechil (tel. 0268/26-2431; www.casaviorel.ro; doubles from 50€/$64). You can also organize accommodations through many agencies in Brasov; try to avoid staying at the larger hotels, which are soulless.
Will the Real "Dracula's Castle" Please Stand Up?
Part medieval fortress, part tourist con, Bran Castle (tel. 0268/23-8333; www.brancastlemuseum.ro; Mon noon-7pm and Tues-Sun 9am-7pm May-Sept, Tues-Sun 9am-5pm Oct-Apr) is probably the best-known attraction in Romania, but its claim to fame is dubious indeed. Most people arrive in modest Bran village, just 30km (19 miles) from Brasov, expecting to find "Dracula's Castle," and many suckers leave oblivious to the truth: Vlad Tepes may have passed through Bran at some stage of his violent career, but he certainly never lived here. If anything, Bran Castle is very much a fairy-tale castle; perched upon a cliff, with whitewashed turrets and defensive bastions, it is somehow too quaint, too fragile, too pretty, to entertain thoughts of bats or monsters.
Completed in record time, between 1377 and 1382, Bran was built as a defensive outpost to protect Hungary's Transylvanian interests against the expanding Ottoman Empire; it also collected customs on goods moving between Wallachia and Transylvania. Control of the castle changed repeatedly over the centuries, until the people of Brasov gave it to the Romanian Royal family in 1920. At the request of Queen Marie, chief architect Karl Liman (who also worked for her at Pelisor in Sinaia) transformed the defensive fortress into a modern summer residence fit for royalty, complete with electric lighting and running water. Marie, who is featured in many photographic displays, undertook the interior design, styling the rooms much as they look today. There's certainly nothing scary here, unless you have a fear of crowds; try to arrive as early as possible to avoid the masses and walk through the castle at your leisure (alternatively, English guided tours are available; ask for availability), enjoying the fantastic views from the balconies, windows, and battlements.
Included in your ticket (L12/$5.15/£3.20 adults, L6/$2.60/£1.60 seniors and students, free for children 4 and under) is an ethnographic display of well-maintained (and usually locked) peasant homes at the foot of the castle hill. Not included is a visit to the superrevolting Haunted Castle and Skeleton's Tavern for kids that forms part of the tourist clutter of souvenir stalls near the ticket office. In 2006, the castle was officially returned to Princess Ileana's son, Dominic, a New York City architect. The jury is still out on what he will do with his inheritance, but so far there's been no indication that anyone's prepared to clear out the kitsch flea market around the entrance to Bran's extensive ground and restore some of the property's grandeur.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.