The earliest sign of settlement in the area of Bistriţa is in Neolithic remains. The Turkic Pechenegs settled the area in 12th century following attack from Cumans. The native Hungarians called them Besenyő and were given the Beszterce district, centered by Beszterce. Transylvanian Saxons settled the area in 1206 and called the region "Nösnerland". The destruction of Markt Nosa ("Market Nösen") under the Mongols of central Europe is described in a document from 1241. Situated on several trade routes, Bistriţa became a flourishing medieval trading post. The town was named after the Bistriţa River, whose name comes from the Slavic word bystrica meaning "the limpid water".
Bistriţa became a free royal town in 1330. In 1353 it gained the right to organize an annual 15-day fair, as well as a seal containing the coat of arms of an ostrich with a horseshoe in its beak. In 1465, the city's fortifications had 18 defensive towers and bastions defended by the local guilds. It was also defended by a Kirchenburg, or fortified church. The town was badly damaged by fire five times between 1836 and 1850.
It became part of Romania after 1919, except during its reversion to Hungary between 1940 and 1944.
The main attraction of Bistriţa's central square is the Lutheran church, which was built by the Transylvanian Saxons and originally constructed in the 14th century in Gothic style but later remodeled between 1559–1563 by Petrus Italus with Renaissance features. It was renovated in 1998.
On June 11, 2008, the tower and roof of the church caught fire for reasons that are yet unknown. The main part of the church suffered just a little damage and is not in much danger, the interior being intact. It is speculated that both bells residing in the tower (one dating from the 15th century,the other from the 17th) might have melted.
The church suffered from fire in 1857, when the tower's roof and the bells were destroyed. The roof was rebuilt after several years.
The Bistriţa-Năsăud County Museum, located in a former barracks, contains Thracian, Celtic, and German artifacts. 19th century fires destroyed much of the city's medieval citadel.
In Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, the character Jonathan Harker visits Bistriţa and stays at the Golden Krone Hotel (Coroana de Aur). Although no such hotel existed when the novel was written, a hotel of the same name has since been built for tourists.
In the PS2 game Shadow Hearts, Bistriţa (where it is spelled "Biztritz") was a major place and home to the role-playing character "Keith Valentine".
- Arcalia Dendrological Park (17 km from Bistrita) it hosts over 150 species of trees (Japanese acacia, silver fir trees, Caucasian spruce fir)
- Colibita Lake (artificial dam, situated in Bargau Mountains)
- Lakes Lala Mare and Lala Mic (glacier lakes, below Ineu top)
- National Park in the Rodna Mountains (37,429 ha in Bistrita – Nasaud county)
- Piatra Corbului – “Raven’s Rock” – (geological and vegetal park, situated in Calimani Mountains)
- The Salt Mount in Saratel
- Tausoare Cave (the deepest cave in Romania – 478.5 m)
- Sângeorz–Băi (balneo – climatic resort, situated in Mounts Rodna, Suhard and Bargau, approx. 55 km from Bistrita)
- Colibita (approx. 50 km from Bistrita)
- Piatra Fantanele (approx. 60 km from Bistrita, at an altitude of 1,100 m (3,608.92 ft) – Tihuta Pass)
- Valea Vinului – Wine Valley – (approx. 90 km from Bistrita)
Museums and Exhibitions
- Transylvanian Saxons’ Museum - Livezile
- Museum of Contemporary Art – Sangeorz-Bai
- Andrei Muresanu Memorial House – Bistrita
- Liviu Rebreanu Memorial House – Liviu Rebreanu village
- Silversmith’s House – Bistrita
- George Cosbuc Memorial House – Cosbuc village
- Ion-Pop Reteganul Memorial House – Reteag village
- Castel Dracula Hotel is located in the mountains of Bargau, at 1,116 m (3,661.42 ft) height, in Bistrita, in the village of Piatra Fantanele. The hotel is a real tourists' attraction due to its precious architecture style, that of a medieval villa, and for the impressive beauty of the places, genuine Romania nature part of.
- Hotel Coroana de aur (Golden Krone Hotel)- Address: Piata Petru Rares nr.4
- Hotel Diana - Address: Calea Moldovei nr.80
- Hotel Codrisor - Address: Str. Codrisor, Nr. 20
- Hotel Cora - Address: Str. Codrisorului, Nr. 23