“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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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!
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
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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