Skiing, Igloos and Dracula: Why Sibiu, Romania Should Be Your Next Winter Vacation on the Cheap
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If you're like me, your first thought when you read the title above was probably: "Huh?" Which is fair, because no one I know has heard much about Romania, let alone the city of Sibiu. So where is it, and what's so great about it?
Well, it turns out Sibiu, the former capital of Transylvania, is set almost dead center in the country of Romania, and it has a lot going on.
Where to Stay in Sibiu
I first stumbled upon the city when looking for a place to use my $250 resort credit from the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. The list of these hotels is a lot shorter than you'd think — only around 200 resorts around the world qualify for the credit. The Hilton Sibiu happens to be one of those resorts, and it's beautiful:
More than that, though, it has oodles of charm:
And check out the executive lounge (free for Diamond members, a status awarded by that Aspire card mentioned above):
The best thing about it? It's cheap. The room rate for a Friday night right before New Year's is a measly $124:
At this rate, you can extend that resort credit to two full nights at this hotel. Not bad!
While I was excited by the prospect of getting great value out of my credit, I was absolutely beside myself when I realized that Sibiu is home to the Hotel of Ice, which is a full-service hotel featuring — you guessed it — rooms made of ice.
I've been wanting to sleep in an ice hotel ever since reading Erika Owen's review of her experience, but I've always been put off by the exorbitant costs charged by such Scandinavian specialties as the Icehotel.
Fortunately, rooms at Sibiu's Hotel of Ice ring in at $109 per night, or, if you're truly feeling like splashing out, you can reserve your very own igloo for $166 per night:
I went with the igloo, because I figure it's either 'go big or go home' in the mountains of Romania. In contrast, the Swedish Icehotel will run you $799 for a single night:
The Hotel of Ice has tons of winter activities to do, as well. Whether you're looking to snowmobile, stargaze or get married in a chapel made of ice, the hotel has you covered.
What to Do in Sibiu
Awesome accommodation aside, Sibiu has a lot going for it. Featured as the European Capital of Culture in 2007, it was the first Eastern European city to claim the title after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Originally settled by German Saxons in 1191, the city was a major hub for trade and a large cultural center. Very few Germans remain today. The culture of the city is as lively as ever, with Christmas markets, medieval towers and an absolute plethora of museums to explore (don't tell me you don't want to go to the Pharmacy Museum).
In the summertime, Sibiu is host to the largest performing arts festival in the world, though when the crowds wind down there are still plenty of performances to see, with several different theaters and even a philharmonic orchestra to visit.
And for those looking for a bit of mystery, Vlad the Impaler — more commonly known as Dracula — once lived in Sibiu. Even better, his birthplace is located just an hour away in the city of Sighisoara. Between the two, you're well on your way to traveling the Vampire Trail of Count Dracula himself.
Once you've finished exploring the city itself, you can head to Paltinis, 10 miles from Sibiu and the oldest ski resort in Romania. Founded in 1894, it features numerous slopes for skiers of all skill sets (including a bunny slope, just for me). It's close enough that you can commute from the city, but there are a number of chalets, villas and private holiday rentals to choose from if you'd like to overnight.
How to Get to Sibiu
Unfortunately, as a smaller city in a less-traveled part of Europe, Sibiu isn't easy to reach. You'll ideally want to fly into Sibiu International Airport (SBZ), located just 10-12 minutes from the city center and 15 minutes from the Hilton. Many flights into and out of the city are operated by low-cost carriers like Wizz Air, though you do have the following options with two of the three major alliances:
- Star Alliance:
- Austrian Airlines offers daily service from Vienna (VIE) through November. It drops to six times per week (excluding Saturdays) through March before starting back up with daily flights in April.
- Lufthansa offers two daily flights from Munich (MUC) to Sibiu.
- Sky Team:
- Tarom, the flag carrier of Romania, offers 3x weekly flights (Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays) from Bucharest.
Wizz Air's destinations include Brussels-Charleroi (CRL), London-Luton (LTN), Madrid (MAD) and Stuttgart (STR), though be sure to check the flight schedules for your dates of travel, as many cities don't have daily service.
Europe is absolutely rife with wonderland-like winter destinations — from Scandinavia's northern lights to Switzerland's Alps. However, these places are as popular as they are pretty, and have the prices to match. Sibiu features all the same breathtaking activities — skiing, an ice hotel and a vampire's trail — for a fraction of the cost.
What are you waiting for?