Searching for Dracula - Visiting Bran Castle in Transylvania Romania Header

Searching for Dracula – Bran Castle in Transylvania

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Medieval Bran Castle nestled in a thick forest of snow covered trees with it's red roof tops covered in a thin layer of snow. The Carpathian Mountains are behind the castle with a bright blue sky filled with white fluffy clouds.

“This seems close enough,” I said to Chris, as we got off the bus onto a rural road in Romania. I could see the top of what I assumed was Bran Castle, so I thought we must have been close by at that point, right? I always panic when I travel — I’m so worried about getting lost that I end up getting lost.

I have Romanian ancestry and although the results said I only had 3% Romanian in my blood when I took an ancestry DNA test, I know I have much more than that. Even my last name comes from my Romanian roots. And it’s through my desire to experience the country my ancestors came from and my wish to explore the world of Dracula that I found myself in Transylvania heading for the countries famous “Dracula” castle.

Bran Castle is rumored to be the Romanian castle that inspired the famous fortress in Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula. It’s easily accessible from the charming Romanian city of Brașov, nestled deep within the beautiful Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. The castle oozes all sorts of medieval history and is shrouded in myths and legends regarding how the castle and the historic Vlad the Impaler inspired Bram Stoker’s novel.

Getting to Bran Castle

The entrance to Bran Castle, medieval walls stained with age. Off white stone walls with a rusty red roof top. Romanian writing is engraved into the rock above the brown wooded doors.

On a cool December morning, Chris and I took a taxi to the bus depot in the quaint city of Brașov to start our Dracula-filled journey to Bran in search of the castle. As we stepped into our taxi cab, the driver insisted on us spending the day with him. He offered to drive us to Bran Castle then wait an hour for us to have a look around, before driving us back for a small fee.

Chris and I just looked at each other when he said this and I responded, “No, we’ll take the bus. We don’t know how long we’re going to spend in Bran or at the castle.”. Regardless, the driver continued to pressure us until we arrived at the bus station. He was disappointed as I stuck with my decision to take the bus and drove off in a huff. You can hire drivers to take you to Bran Castle for the day, but I would recommend doing that prior to your trip. I don’t recommend taking up an offer from a taxi driver.

After the taxi ride, Chris and I walked towards a row of small buses with uniquely patterned fabric seats that could have been the original material from when the buses were built in the 1960s. We climbed onto a tiny bus which was already almost completely full of passengers chatting amongst themselves like they’d all known each other for years. Our bus driver didn’t know a single word of English and stepped off the bus to chat with other drivers over a cigarette while waiting for more passengers to show up.

Chris and I took a seat in the back row — it’s not my favourite row when I’m unsure of where I am going or how easy it is to escape a packed bus. It was at that point my anxiety set in. I’m terrible when it comes to the idea of getting lost in foreign countries. I always carefully map out my route, often following the entire journey on Google Maps beforehand, so I can look out for landmarks when doing it for real. This time I didn’t have the luxury of having specific points to look out for, so I was a bit panicked.

After a 15 minute wait, our bus driver was ready to embark on our journey towards Bran Castle. He hopped onto his seat and off we went down the winding country roads of Romania. I knew the route would take approximately 45 minutes, so I kept my eye on the clock as we headed towards our first recognizable stop, Râșnov, which, like Brașov, also has a Hollywood-esque sign with the name of the city on top of a hill. I love Romania.

I started to get antsy as we seemed to be getting closer to Bran. I could see the castle peeking over a hill and decided to get off the bus at that point. I was really paranoid about getting lost, so I told Chris that we were practically there and we should get off the bus at the next stop unless we wanted to go straight past the castle! So, when the bus driver stopped to let off a few passengers in a random country town, Chris and I ventured off the bus.

As we stood in the middle of the road, with Bran Castle a good, long walk away, I laughed and took pictures of the tiny village we found ourselves in before we headed for our original destination. We walked for about 20 minutes in the peaceful Romanian countryside, enjoying the crisp December air until we finally reached our final destination in Bran.

Authentic Romanian Culture

Wooden Vampire Sign wearing a black cape, hat holding a sign that says welcome.

As I’m used to visiting touristy sites, I expected to be bombarded with Dracula pictures, souvenirs and everything else locals could use to take advantage of tourists eager to get a glimpse of Dracula’s Castle. However, the vampire reference I found was a single vampire standee. The merchants with stands below the castle grounds weren’t selling kitschy vampire souvenirs, instead, they offered a glimpse into real Romanian culture. We walked through numerous tents, each laden with traditional Romanian pottery, knitted gloves, hats, and homemade bags. It was incredible and the pottery in particular beautiful.

The lack of Dracula merchandise is the result of people in local villages being very religious and superstitious. They believe that evil spirits, known as “Steregoi” or ghosts in English, live a normal life during the day, but haunt people sleeping in the village by night. It is said that the character of Dracula was inspired by these myths, rather than Vlad Tepes. However, I think Dracula could have been a combination of these myths and the brutal ruler Vlad.

Bran Castle is a very quiet place in December. The grounds are lined with trees that have shed their leaves and gone quiet until the rejuvenating spring wakes them up. When we visited, the grass was starting to die and was covered with a thin lining of snow, giving the place an eerie feel. We entered Bran Castle and were whisked away into a time long ago as we ventured from room to room in search of a sign of Dracula. Before long we found it — a tiny sunlit room, deep within the castle walls filled with information about Dracula and his ties to Vlad Tepes.

Who was Vlad Tepes?

Roof top of Bran Castle, White weathered walls with rusty red roof tiles

Vlad Tepes, often referred to as Vlad Dracul (son of the dragon) or Vlad the Impaler, was a Prince who lived in the now ruined Poenari Castle. He was a vicious ruler, had a killer moustache and may have never even stepped foot inside Bran Castle. However, Vlad’s history and the stories of Dracula have tied Vlad and Bran Castle together forever.

Vlad gained power over Romania, but the people of Transylvania were not happy. They spoke up against him and declared a rival family to be better-suited leaders. Vlad decided to show the people how much of a gruesome leader he was by hosting a banquet and inviting everyone who opposed him as guests. When his visitors arrived, he stabbed them one by one and impaled their bodies on spikes.

He carried out this act so often that there are rumors he had a whole forest of spikes surrounding his castle, with the impaled bodies and heads of anyone he wanted to be destroyed dangling off them. Most people find this detail about him grotesque and are appalled by his actions. I, however, think it’s a fantastic idea! I mean, it’s brutal and definitely dark. But it’s also incredibly effective. Would you attack a castle lined with impaled heads and bodies? I wouldn’t!

Inside Bran Castle

A white weathered well sitting in the center of Bran Castle walls

Chris and I wandered through the dark, silent corridors of Bran Castle, entering rooms filled with old furniture from times long forgotten. We admired intricate designs carved into wooden cabinets, wardrobes and beds and the authentic Romanian pottery, plates, and cups that lined the walls. It was like stepping back in time, experiencing first-hand Romanian history and reliving the stories from all the Romanian royalty that called Bran Castle their home.

We came across some corridors overlooking a courtyard with a wishing well in the center of the castle. It was an enchanting, beautiful and peaceful little area surrounded by a rocky medieval castle. This space contrasted starkly against the rest of the castle, which was largely a series of somber corridors leading to rooms filled with a fascinating history. Bran Castle had a very different atmosphere compared to other castles I’ve visited in the past, like Edinburgh Castle. It offered an air of solitude and I could really feel the souls of those who lived, worked and fought in Bran Castle all those centuries ago.

While the castle itself is beautiful and a delight to explore, it does have a darker side to it. The rumors of ghosts who haunt the dungeons, combined with the secret passageways, creepy looking stairs, and long dingy hallways create a spooky atmosphere when you’re there all alone.

Creepy worn stairs leading up to darkness inside Bran Castle

Even though the castle’s history is cloaked in Dracula-related myths that are unlikely to be true, you can still get a sense of how the character Dracula was born from the burnt orange roofed castle sat atop a hill in the mountains of Transylvania. Whether or not Vlad the Impaler actually used the castle as a base or if it only held him as a prisoner is irrelevant. You can still feel and embrace the incredible history that occurred here. The same applies to if the castle genuinely inspired Bram Stoker — it doesn’t matter. It’s still a wonderful castle overlooking the magnificent Romanian countryside. And it’s definitely worth a visit!

Bran Castle Tour

A mossy building on the grassy grounds below Bran Castle. A Large boulder sits in the ground in front of the medieval moss covered building.

There are several tours available if you would rather be guided by a knowledgable professional on your trip to the castle. Depending on the tour you are interested in you can take one straight from Bran Village or if you would rather take a day trip from Bucharest to Bran Castle tours are also available!

Book your Bran Castle Tour here or book your Bucharest to Bran Castle tour here.

Visit Bran Castle

How to get to Bran Castle from Brasov: Buses to Bran leave from Bus Terminal No. 2 every 30 minutes.

Bus fare: 7 Lei per person

Visit the Bran Castle website for additional directions if you’re planning on taking a car.

Entry price: 40 Lei per adult

Opening hours: Hours change seasonally and according to the day, but for most of the year, the castle is open 9am-6pm. Visit the official website and view their timetable to confirm the opening hours for your visit.

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Comments 24

  1. I loved this whole trip (apart from the flight there haha). I also read some people in Romania like Vlad as he fought against the Ottoman/Turkish empire who were trying to take them over. Two sides to every story I guess.

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      It really was such a great trip! Minus all of the snow problems of course. Yeah…. the Turks vs. Romania was definitely a big thing back in the day!

  2. I think that’s so cool that you were able to visit Romania where part of your ancestry is from, now you just have to visit Ireland to visit the other half, but please take me with you, hahaha.

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      YES! I really want to visit Ireland! I’d love to go back to the places where our ancestors are from!

  3. Wow I really would like to see Bran castle and Vlad if I’m lucky or unlucky 😉 ..didn’t know you had Romanian ancestry that’s pretty cool …Great read as always Crystal !!!

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      Yes! I don’t know if I would want to come face to face with Vlad, but if you ever run into him please tell him I say hello! From very far away… 🙂 Yep! I mostly have British and Western European ancestry but I do love my Romanian roots!

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      Thank you! Romania was a really great place – if you get a chance you should definitely visit!

  4. Those stairways look creepy for sure! If I were to attack a castle, I would definitely choose one that was not surrounded by heads hanging from spikes! Sounds like an amazing adventure!

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      I know, right! It really has to be the best technique to really display how brutal you are. Nothing says STAY AWAY better than a forest of your impaled enemies.

  5. Oh wow this is incredible!!! haha I would have panicked a bit, as well (probably for me after seeing that Dracula sign! :)) I’d love to check this out someday!! xx

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      Hahaha, that little wooden vampire! I wonder if he is still there. I hope you make it there someday! Romania is a very beautiful country.

  6. I fully agree. Putting heads on spikes is a great way to keep others away from your castle. A little macabre but effective. My first taste of Romania was great, and I’m dying to extend to this area next time. Bran castle is most definitely on the list. Pinned for when I do

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      Yes! Vlad the Impaler’s entire history was quite macabre. You should take a proper trip to Romania where you drive around to various cities! I really feel with your writing and photography skills would really show off the country in an incredible way.

  7. This is such an amazing castle! We went during Halloween, and only got to tour the inside at night, which was kind of a drag, because they didn’t have much for lights, so we didn’t see much ahah Nice to see it in your photos 🙂

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      Well, that’s a shame! It was really pretty inside – I should have included more pictures of the furniture and what not, maybe I’ll add those pictures to social media. I really enjoyed Bran Castle. I think I would take a trip there at Halloween for the spooky vibe but I definitely would be disappointed as well if I hadn’t walked through the castle in the daylight first.

  8. I had never heard of Vlad the Impaler–and it’s probably wrong that I am so amused by the name…

    Bran Castle is actually stunning, and I love the fact that it is not a fairytale/storybook castle. I guess it’s ‘storybook’ in a different kind of way. Insert evil laugh?! Too much?! It also looks pretty spooky to me.

    After visiting Tallinn, I definitely don’t love when a place overplays history with chotskies and cheap, fake garb. There is a limit to what is appropriate and fun vs ridiculous/annoying/disrespectful. I’d miss not having Dracula-related paraphernalia, but I respect and get it too. I don’t blame the superstitions. Who wants to mess around with that? We all know that I got sucked into a certain museum because of penis pasta.

    Thanks for sharing. I hope to make it here one day. Definitely fits in with my literary travels. Dracula is a classic.

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      That’s right! An EVIL storybook castle! There is a movie – it’s a mockumentary about vampires that you should watch called What We Do in the Shadows. I am pretty sure it’s on Netflix but one of the characters is called Vlad the Poker. I don’t know why I am bringing this up but I feel like I need to tell you to watch it.

      Yeah, I am totally a sucker for terrible souvenirs but there is definitely a line when it can become disrespectful and inappropriate. And it sometimes becomes insanely overwhelming when its the same garbage at every stand.

      I hope you make it someday, too! It’s a beautiful castle! And Romania is such a great country.

  9. So fun fact (and this should tell you everything you need to know about me), my old camera (which is now dead, RIP) was named Vlad… of course after Vlad Țepeș, because well, why not. Our current camera is named Igor, who is often an assistant to villains. We may have some problems…

    Great post! I’ve always wanted to visit Bran Castle and you really brought it to life. I love that it isn’t kitted out with tons of kitcsh souvenirs. That drives me crazy. And I love that it’s because the locals are so superstitious, which hopefully means it will never happen!

    Speaking of, I actually heard on a podcast recently that many people believe Elizabeth Báthory may also have been inspiration for Dracula. And although I know who she is, I’d never heard that theory before.

    Also very cool that you’re Romanian! I wondered where the surname was from. I know generally what my ancestry is, but have been debating one of those tests for years. Although clearly they’re not that accurate…

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      Hahaha, love that you name your inanimate objects! At least your cameras anyway! You and Jeremy have now become the villains though. I have heard from some people that the area below Bran Castle has a ton of Dracula souvenirs, so it could just be specific times of the year when they decide to infiltrate the shops with crap. Possibly during high season.

      I have actually heard about Elizabeth Báthory and her possible connections to the story of Dracula. Either way, she was a vile woman for her blood obsession.

      Yeah, I find the DNA test thing was entertaining. It was cool to see what they got right! I would like my sister to take the test to see how similar we are with regards to the places our ancestry is from according to the tests. Yes – my last name scares everyone who reads it! The only place I have ever been where someone said my name with utter confidence was Romania. It was cool.

  10. I appreciate that they don’t sell kitsch vampire souvenirs and instead you get more of an authentic feel. I’m planning my trip here for October and can’t wait! And now that I type this I realize I’ll actually be there ON Halloween!

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      how exciting! Will you do a Halloween tour while there? It’s a really awesome castle! Are you touring a lot of Romania?

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