If you head southwest of Brașov, after 28 kilometers you will find Bran, a small town that guards the most important medieval route that connects Transylvania to Wallachia, the Rucăr-Bran Pass. In this village, on top of a steep mountain cliff, stands Bran Castle, which is by far one of the most famous castles in Romania, widely popularized by vampire films and novels. Although there is no evidence that Bram Stoker knew about the existence of Bran, the castle is often referred to as the home of his infamous character, Count Dracula, hence the name of Dracula's Castle.
Bran Castle was first mentioned in documents in 1377 when it was built by the Saxons of Kronstadt at their own expense and labor force. But this beautiful medieval castle is older than that. Initially, it was built as a wooden castle guarding an important mountain pass by the Teutonic Knights in 1212, but it was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242.
As time passed, and military conflicts intensified, the castle was heavily fortified and was used over the ages as a defensive position against the invading Ottoman Empire. Despite popular belief, Vlad the Impaler had little to do with the castle, although he passed through the area occasionally.
Besides playing an important military role, Bran Castle also had a commercial purpose. Being placed at the border of two important regions, it provided safe passage from one location to another, thus improving the relations and economic development of both Wallachia and Transylvania.
In 1920, after the Treaty of Trianon, Bran Castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania, and it quickly became Queen Marie of Romania's favorite home, who ended up renovating it. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and she married Prince Ferdinand in 1893.
Queen Marie did not like much the court life in Bucharest, and she used to ride unattended through the streets and throw roses at the citizens during carnivals. She appointed herself a colonel of the Red Hussars, but her popularity started declining in 1919 when she announced at a peace conference in Paris that she should be the new face of Romania.
During World War II, the castle was used as a hospital by Princess Ileana, Queen Marie's daughter, but in 1948 it was seized by the communist regime.
In 2005, the Romanian government passed a special law that allowed restitution claims on properties illegally seized by the Ceausescu regime, and in 2006 the castle was awarded to Princess Ileana's son, Dominic von Habsburg, and in 2009 it was transferred to his sisters, Maria-Magdalena Holzhausen and Elisabeth Sandhofer. In June 2009, the renovated castle was opened together with the Bran Village in order to preserve and boost the Romanian tourism and to improve the economic situation of the region.
Furniture inside Bran Castle
Today, the Castle is a private museum that displays art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. Thousands of tourists visit Bran Castle each year for an authentic vampire experience, and they are not disappointed. The castle was restored several times, and now it looks very much like it used to during the time of its famous residents.
Surrounded by towers and ramparts, this "pugnacious little fortress", as Queen Marie called it, is a truly stunning castle, especially against the beautiful background dominated by the Carpathian Mountains. Several locations near Bran Castle as well as Bran itself are also home to a Halloween party on the last day of November, so if you want a truly extraordinary experience, make sure to book ahead of time.
Bedroom inside Bran Castle
One of the tunnels inside Bran Castle
But Bran has more to offer than the splendid Bran Castle. You can take a trip to the open-air Village Museum, which is located in the park near Bran Castle. Here, you will find 18 examples of traditional Romanian households, as well as other wooden constructions, such as a sawmill, a fulling mill, which was used to manufacture wool, both powered by water. South of the Village Museum you can find the Ancient Customs House Museum, that displays several examples of foreign goods which were traded through this pass, such as an English clock or a Canadian traveling trunk.
Besides being a great spot to discover the legend of Dracula, the infamous vampire lord, Bran offers countless opportunities for activities that can be performed. 4 kilometers away from the rustic village you will find the Zănoaga Ski Slopes, a rather recent touristic attraction. The ski slope has three tracks - a 650m long track of medium difficulty, a 700m long track of high difficulty, and a track for beginners. The low and medium difficulty tracks are equipped with chairlifts and floodlights. At the base of the ski slope, you can find an equipment rental center and a first-aid center.
Since Bran is located between the Piatra Craiului National Park and the Bucegi Natural Park, the village is the perfect departure location for several hiking trails. You can choose to explore the beautiful Bucegi Park filled with beech forests, bushes, and alpine rivers, or wander into the wilderness of the Piatra Craiului National Park, rich in wildlife and numerous challenging hikes and climbing routes.
Piatra Craiului National Park
The area surrounding Bran is a mountain biking heaven, filled with tracks of all difficulties that stretch across magnificent landscapes and that pass through rustic mountain villages. So, whether you're looking for an adrenaline-filled ride through the mountain tracks, or you just want to ride through the plains and meet some of the locals, Bran is a great choice.
Reaching Bran is quite easy, with buses being available from Brașov's main bus terminal every 30 minutes, and it also easily reachable by car. As for accommodation, our top choice is the Brătescu Mansion, an authentic Romanian mansion located less than 1 kilometer away from Dracula's Castle. The Brătescu Mansion also offers a large range of delicious cuisine, from bio meals to traditional Romanian dishes, which are best paired with one of their special wines. In Bran you will also find several supermarkets and ATMs, so you don't worry about a thing.
If you want to find out more specific info about Bran Castle, such as visiting hours & admission fees, head over to their official website.
It is no secret that Bran Castle owes most of its fame to the Castle of Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel, but few people know that the author never visited Romania, and there are little sources that suggest that he even used Bran Castle as an inspiration.
The main resemblance between the two castles can be found in the description the author gives for his castle of Dracula: "...on the very edge of a terrific precipice...with occasionally a deep rift where there is chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.", which is very similar to what the setting around Bran Castle actually looks like.
Another factor which contributed to the popularization of Dracula's Castle is the common confusion of Count Dracula with Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad Țepeș, who was one of the most ruthless rulers of Wallachia, and the son of Vlad II Dracul, also known as Vlad the Dragon.
Portrait of Vlad the Impaler
Although Vlad Țepeș passed several times through Brașov, there are no known records of him Vlad the Impaler visiting Bran Castle. Vlad the Impaler mainly ruled from Poenari Fortress, and while some claim that Bran Castle inspired the legend of Dracula's Castle in Bram Stoker's novel, these claims have no basis.
So as you can see, there are no huge connections between Bram Stoker's Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, and Bran Castle. And although that does not make the story any less interesting, visitors should always be aware of the difference between the legends and the real history. And as we all know, a written post can never beat a live experience, so we encourage you to go ahead and visit Bran Castle on a guided tour from Bucharest, or you can visit it by yourself in a tour from Brasov.