Day trips from Brasov

The Fortified Churches of Hărman and Prejmer

A great day trip from Braşov is visiting the fortified churches in Harman and Prejmer, towns that still retain their Saxon roots. We visited these churches as we left Braşov before heading to Sighişoara. The easiest way to visit these towns is by rental car, but it’s also possible by train or bus. Hărman is not open Monday and Prejmer is not open Sunday, so if you want to do both, you’ll need to visit Tuesday—Saturday. For a map of sites visited in Romania click here.

Exterior view of Harman fortified church with the walls and towers.

Fortified churches are a unique feature of Transylvania, and there are 280 in Transylvania. Each one has its own different style, but common features include high surrounding walls (sometimes several concentric rings) usually with towers, a church in the center of the fortifications, often with its own tower, and rooms for provisions in case of attack and sometimes boarding rooms for the villagers inside the walls—these fortifications often look like a combination of a castle and church. A whole trip could be spent just visiting these wonderful sights, and maps are available that show driving tours of these churches, which are often in little villages. The two listed here are close to Braşov and close together. Their purpose during medieval times was to provide safety to the villagers in times of attack, often from the Ottomans as they sought to expand their empire westward.


The church at Hărman dates back to 1240, the belfry tower was added in the 14thcentury, and the walls were constructed in the 15th century.

Even the church had exterior rooms for protection–ladders could be pulled up.

In addition to the church, the fortifications retain part of the interior living and storage rooms along the walls, giving a feel to what the internal fortifications looked like.

The storage and living quarters along the inside walls.

You can visit some of the rooms and dark walkway around the wall which haven’t changed much from their original state. In the church, women would sit in the center pews and the men on the side pews, in case of attack the women would be in the center protected by the men surrounding them.

The pews where the women would sit in the church.

The men would sit in these side pews to protect the women.

It would have been quite a life to constantly worry about your village being attacked by the Ottomans.  The walls originally had a moat around them, and part of it is still visible.

The caretakers of this church are German, descendants of the Saxons who settled this town.  The entry fee was 4 lei per person (about $3.25).


The village of Prejmer is more rustic than Hărman, with dirt roads in some parts of the village.

A typical street scene in Prejmer–note the horse-drawn “tractor” on the right.

The fortified church has very high walls (12-14 meters high), and given its size, it’s difficult to appreciate from the outside.

Exterior view of Prejmer fortified church.

Reinforced door at the entrance to Prejmer fortified church.

Prejmer was the most powerful peasant fortress in Transylvania. The main entrance feels like a step back in time, just like walking into a medieval village. This fortification also had a moat, which has since been filled in.

The entrance to Prejmer fortifications.

Beyond the initial entrance, there is another entrance into the interior courtyard where the church is located and surrounded by little rooms (272 of them) on four levels attached to the defensive circular walls.

The 13th century Prejmer church.

The interior shelters of Prejmer–where the villagers would live in times of pending attack.

These rooms are well-preserved, and from the courtyard the ring of rooms almost looks like a hotel, with numbers on each door. Each room was assigned to a village family. Many of the rooms are open, and they also provide access to a dark walkway running the length of the walls at the top, where guards and lookouts could be posted.

Typical living quarters inside the fortifications.

The walkway on the upper floor around the walls of Prejmer fortifications.

Some rooms were also dedicated to specific purposes–such as a school, for storage, weaving, etc. The entry fee was 8 lei per person.

A school room at Prejmer. Note the wall paintings.

As with many sites we visited in Romania, we pretty much had these places to ourselves.

References: Lonely Planet – Romania & Information at the sites.

Peleş Castle – Livin’ the Dream

View of Peles Castle from the gardens.

One of the highlights of Romania is a visit to Peleş Castle, located in Sinaia, about 110 km north of Bucharest or 50 km south of Braşov. We visited this fairytale palace on a day trip from Braşov. Although this castle is not old (it was started in 1875 and finished in 1914), it is a testament to what a King can build when money is apparently no object. It was the first European castle to have electricity, central heating—and even central vacuuming—very advanced for its time. It cost about $80 million at the time, and would be almost impossible to replicate today. The craftsmanship is really beyond compare. The main rooms are exquisitely decorated with materials from all over Europe and each has a unique feel – owing to the origin of the decorations as well as the building materials—Italian, German, Turkish, etc. Of special note is the incredible woodwork, and decorated leatherwork on the walls. There are excellent collections of medieval arms too.  A map of sites visited in Romania can be found here.

The German decor and woodwork in the dining room.

Turkish decor and furnishings in a sitting room.

The exquisite wooden circular staircase above the main reception room.

The stunning main reception room.

We owe this marvel to King Carol I and his wife, Elisbeta. It was intended to be their summer residence, and given its location at the threshold to the Transylvanian mountains, I can imagine how the setting and altitude made it a nice escape from the heat of Bucharest on the plains of Wallachia.

Some practicalities: The castle is to the west of the main road (E60) from Ploiesti to Brasov, and I didn’t see any signs to the castle until after we took the northernmost exit off the highway into Sinaia. Parking cost 10 lei (the current exchange rate is about 3.3 lei to 1 USD). Tickets to the castle can be bought in the courtyard of the castle.  It is possible to just view the exterior and wander the grounds by paying the parking fee only, but this would be a serious mistake. Note that it is a steep walk up hill from the parking areas to the castle itself.

View of Peles Castle from the walk leading up to the entrance.

There are 3 prices for tickets (30, 50 and 70 Romanian lei each), and a separate pass is required to take photographs (32 lei). The most expensive ticket includes getting to see the private apartments, a theater where performances are still held, and other areas off limits to the other tours. It also includes nearby Pelişor Palace, which, since we were on the last tour of the day, closed before we could get to it. Allow at least 2-3 hours for your visit. Since Romania is quite cheap by western European standards, the entry fees felt expensive, but in reality are well worth it. Guided tour is the only way to visit the castle interior and tours are offered in English as well as other languages.

One of the private apartments (fine leatherwork on the walls).

An interesting side note—this castle was used as a prop in the 2009 movie “The Brothers Bloom” starring Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con artist brothers. In the movie, it was the home of a young eccentric rich woman (played by Rachel Weisz) in New Jersey of all places, and at one point in the movie the castle is blown up! I was happy to see that through the magic of Hollywood, the castle is still there. This movie was a critical hit, but not at the box office.  If you enjoy offbeat humor, watch this movie.