Our first trip was about 100km away from Cluj, at the Alba Carolina fortress. It`s easy to get there, it`s about an hour and a half away from Cluj by car, two hours by bus, and about two and a half hours if you choose to take the train. The road to Alba is fairly good, while the railway is quite old and slow – hence the time difference.
Why did we go to Alba? Because we haven`t seen the fortress after the restoration. We were less guided by patriotic feelings and more by the desire to see the medieval buildings. Moreover, it was a wonderful spring day, and there was a frenzy of activity between the walls of the fortress due to the Roman Apulum Festival held there. So, all conditions were perfect for a day escapade to Alba Iulia.
There are 4 direct trains to Alba from Cluj and lots of buses – about every 30 minutes, from the bus station. There are also lots of car sharing options, from the Calea Turzii street or on BlaBlaCar. The fares are about 40 lei by train, 20 lei by the bus and 15 lei for car sharing.
We got there (not too early) in the morning, at the Alba Iulia bus station which is situated within walking distance from the city center. The fortress has several gates, but it`s worth it to have a tour of the fortress outside its walls first – for a nice view of the city from above and the green hills in the area.
First, we visited the Mihai Viteazul Church, a relatively new wooden construction (1988), which follows the original design of the one built by the Romanian ruler back in 1597. Then, we entered the fortress through the 3rd gate, which was restored in 2013 and looks quite impressive.
After entering the fortress, we saw the Roman castrum, antique vestiges, medieval remains and modern architectural monuments from 1714, when the fortress was given its present shape. At the time, it was designed more as an aristocratic residence than a defense structure, the powerful cannons used in that period rendering useless the old fortified walls and moats.
Some other landmarks that are worth a visit are: the Roman Catholic Cathedral, The Palace of the Transylvanian Princes, the seven bastions and the three fortifications, the Apor Palace, the Custozza Monument and all the gates of the fortress. If you are passionate about history, you might like to visit the Principia Museum (with Roman vestiges) as well as the Romanian National elements like the Coronation Cathedral, The National Museum of Unification (which is actually a history museum) and the Union Hall.
Being a festival, we walked among the stands, ate junk food, watched some reenactment groups (Dacians and Romans) and an amateur theater play, bought some souvenirs, took pictures with the randomly positioned statues on the alleys (which you can`t see in many places in Romania) and took a long walk to discover all the innermost recesses of the fortress. When we decided to leave, a pouring rain tried to make us stay some more, so we hid in a cafe to have a nice cup of tea.
We didn`t visit too much of the rest of the city this time. Anyway, the fortress is the most important tourist attraction of the city. It is definitely worth a visit, we recommend it to Romanian as well as foreign tourists. It`s an ideal destination for a one day trip, but a stay longer than that might get boring.