Pros: Very beautiful city, car free city center, large open plaza, a cultural center of Europe.
I was in Romania in July/August of 2008 with my oldest son and the water polo team that he used to be part of. My son used to play water polo for St. Marks School of Texas in Dallas, and the coach is a Romanian native, a proud Dacian, and a former member of the Romanian Olympic water polo team. He organized this trip for the kids to give them some international water polo experience and as a pleasure trip. He needed two parent volunteers, one of them being me and the other a fun, friendly and smart fellow with the name "Jim". Mihai, Jim and I had a wonderful time together and so did the kids. In Bucharest the kids played Water Polo against Romanian teams and a team from Qatar. We spent time touring Bucharest, and we visited Walachia, Transylvania, and the beautiful cities of Sighisoara, Brasov, and Sibiu.
Sibiu is one of the largest cities in Transylvania with a population of about 175,000. It is also one of the most important cultural and religious centers in Romania. Sibiu was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2007 together with Luxembourg. It is easy to understand why. Sibiu is an old city with many beautiful churches, buildings, bridges, hotels, monuments, art institutions, and a city wall. The city was founded in 1190 by German settlers and transformed into a fortified city (to survive the tartar invasions) by 1350. In 1452 the 4th ring of walls was added to the 3 rings build in the 14th century. These walls later repelled the mighty Ottoman invaders 3 times. During its history Sibiu was part of Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and Transylvania. Sibiu can also lay claim to a number "firsts" in European history. It was the first city with a zoo in Romania, it was the first city in the Austria-Hungary Empire to use electricity, and it was here the first power line in Southeastern Europe was set up. It was also the second city in Europe to use an electric-powered trolley.
The old city of Sibiu lies on the bank of the Cibin River about 200 meters from the river and is to a large extent surrounded by a city wall with large medieval towers. One really great thing about the old city center of Sibiu is that it has been cleared of cars. You can stroll around the city center, relax at café's, eat outside in the sunshine, have a beer, visit beautiful buildings and churches, and there are no cars. Children can run free in the middle of the street, the air felt fresh and clean, and there is no noise pollution from nearby traffic. Since there were no cars and virtually no crime we could safely allow the kids to do their own thing as long as they promised to stay within the city walls. The kid's loved it. Even though my personal opinion is that Brasov was a slightly more interesting city than Sibiu, most of the kids thought that strolling around on their own in the Sibiu city center was the highlight of our visit to Romania (I wonder what they did?).
In the middle of the old city you have Piata Mare, or the large square. The large square has been the center of the city since the 16th century. The square is 142 meters (466 feet) long and 93 meters (305) wide. OK I know that is not a square that is really called a rectangle. The square (rectangle) is surrounded by old buildings, café's and restaurants. On the northwestern corner of the large square is the Brukenthal Palace, one of the most important Baroque monuments in Romania.
Our visit to Sibiu
We drove from Sighisoara (the birthplace of Dracula) to Sibiu. On the way we stopped in Biertan a medieval fortified town. The Biertan church was once the center of the Lutheran Church. It was interesting to see how everything was fortified and built for defense. Even the church had fortified room behind a thick steel door, where the town folks could seek protection. Transylvania was often attacked by various invaders, for example, the Tartars (Mongols), and the Ottoman Empire, but it was also attacked by many other barbarian tribes as well as surrounding nations.
When we arrived in Sibiu we checked into our hotel "Imparatul Romanilor". This is a historic hotel built in 1555. In 1895 the hotel was named "Imparatul Romanilor" (The Roman Emperor). Many famous personalities stayed here, for example, King Carl XII of Sweden, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Liszt, Johann Strauss, Emperor Joseph II, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. I can add that King Carl XII of Sweden was a major Swedish warrior King and he was among the first to try to invade and conquer Russia (then came Napoleon, etc.). This was a very interesting and beautiful hotel and it was located inside the old city. The lobby was very nicely decorated with gold plated chandeliers, mirrors, astounding art, and beautiful red carpet. Despite all the baroque decorations the hotel was also very modern. It had wireless internet, elevators, clean modern bathrooms, a nice restaurant, and parking behind the hotel outside of the car free area.
We walked to a restaurant where we had some delicious Romanian specialties, and beer and Pizza. We were seated in a cozy cellar with brick walls and the service was impeccable and the food fabulous and it was not expensive. I don't remember the name of the restaurant; however, this seemed to be very typical of Sibiu. After lunch we let the kids roam the old city as they wished, and they loved it. Jim and I walked around the old city and looked at the old buildings and visited a small art museum. We visited the city walls and the towers, and we walked along narrow tunnel like cobble stone streets. It was very picturesque and it was an interesting experience. Again the fact that there were no cars made our tour of the old city a great experience. We also visited a large Lutheran Church and walked up to the top of the Church tower to see the Church Bell and the view. There was also a beautiful Orthodox Church (in the picture above) nearby.
I would also like to add a few words in regards to practical matters. Credit cards are not accepted in many places in Romania including Sibiu. However, "Imparatul Romanilor" took credit cards. In fact they claimed that they also took Discover card despite the fact that Discover Card told me that you could use Discover Card in Romania or anywhere in Eastern Europe. I paid using American Express. I should add that the ATM machines take American ATM cards and I found it to be easy to take out cash from the so called "Bancomata".
Another thing to remember is that you have to change your Lei back to dollars before you leave Romania. You can do that at the airport, but you get better rates in Banks or on the street. It easy to change money in Romania, however, outside of Romania the Romanian currency "Leu" (Lei is plural) is not traded. Romania is inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe and compared to the United States.
Conclusion and final recommendation
I would say that Brasov and Sibiu are the most beautiful large cities in Romania and Sighisoara is probably the most beautiful citadel in all of Europe. So if you are touring Transylvania you should stop one day in Sibiu (and you should stop in Brasov and Sighisoara as well). I was very happy with our hotel "Imparatul Romanilor". However, Sibiu offers 34 other hotels which I do not know anything about. They could be even better. If you visit Sibiu then you should visit the old city, eat or drink at a street café, visit a couple of old churches, and museums and see the city wall.
To see other Romania reviews check these out.
Poenari Castle (Dracula's real castle)
Palace of the Parliament
Sighisoara (vampire capital of the world)
I would like to thank Chris (cr01) for adding this entry.