Chasing Dracula at Bran Castle
We all know that the myth of Dracula and Bran Castle is associated with Transylvania and Romania. This is because Bram Stoker’s novel is indeed based on real people and places that make the story even more captivating.
It is widely believed that the person who triggered Stoker’s imagination is Vlad Ţepeş the ruler of Wallachia, a small principality bordering at that time with the Ottoman Empire and Transylvania. Vlad Ţepeş or Vlad the Impaler was also known as Vlad III Dracula and became famous for his harsh punishments, which often meant impaling criminals and enemies.
Many castles present in modern day Romania are associated to Dracula’s myth. Some even claim to have hosted the Impaler, either as a guest or prisoner, but the truth is that very few of them have something to do with him.
Bran castle is surely the one best associated with the legend of Dracula. It is even advertised as Dracula’s castle, but, however hard to believe it could be, Vlad III Dracula never set foot in it. Even Bram Stoker didn’t know anything about this particular castle, but his description of the vampire’s castle may match that of Bran.
You may be asking yourself if it is worth visiting it, now that you know that there is no Dracula’s related story attached to this place. The answer is yes. The place is fascinating and no one forbids you to imagine that Dracula could have lived in a place similar to Bran castle.
We have visited the castle two times in different seasons and our experiences were dramatically different.
1. Bran Castle’ History
You don’t need to have a major in history to love this place. Bran castle was firstly built in 1212 by the Teutonic Order to protect the eastern border of the Kingdom of Hungary. However, it couldn’t withstand the Mongols invasion and it was destroyed in 1242. Only a century later the local Saxon population rebuilt it with stone to protect themselves from the Ottomans.
It also worked for centuries as a custom post for the goods transiting on the important commercial road connecting Wallachia to Transylvania and passing through the Bran pass.
When Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldova united to form modern day Romania in 1920, Bran castle became Queen Marie’s favorite residence and retreat. She extensively renovated it, bringing it back to its original splendor and redecorated the interiors. For this reason, a decade ago the castle was open to the public as a museum in honor of Queen Marie of Romania.
2. Choose carefully when to visit
The first time we visited Bran castle was early September and we were very lucky. Sunny day and few people around made our visit splendid. We came a second time in mid-August with guests and had a terrible experience. Hundreds of people queueing everywhere and very poor management of the situation made us regret having stopped there.
The difference is so substantial that we decided to share both experiences to help you out deciding when to visit this beautiful place.
3. Bran Castle in Shoulder Season
The little town of Bran is always busy with residents and visitors. However, when we visited in September the crowd was manageable. The town was lively but not packed. We arrived in the morning to find a few people at the ticket booth. Once we got our tickets, we smoothly gained access to the castle, which was equally empty, with the occasional fellow visitor passing by.
We decided to enjoy the castle at leisure. With just 10 LEI (2 €) we rented an audio guide and enjoyed a peaceful walk through the various castle’s rooms.
Note: Audio guides are available inside the castle not at the ticket booth!
No one pushing, no people urging you to move forward or to step aside so they could take a photo. We even managed to take some panoramic shots without any stranger in them, a rarity in popular places.
We spent the best part of one hour within the castle and then moved outside in the park. After a relaxing walk among the trees, we stopped at one of the many restaurants and enjoyed some refreshments. Just before heading to our car we bought some souvenirs and foodstuffs at the permanent town market.
Tip: remember to buy the traditional ‘brânză de burduf în coajă de brad” that is kneaded sheep cheese matured in pine bark, before leaving Bran!
4. Bran Castle in Peak Season
The second time we visited Bran it was a mid-August weekend and it was madness. We arrived at 10 in the morning to find hundreds of people already waiting to get their ticket, even though it was a foggy day. To avoid the long queue, we tried to get a guided tour, which comes with the “skip the line” perk included in the price.
Unfortunately, the tour guys didn’t tell us that we had to pay in advance at their office to join the group. Andre waited at their kiosk for 25 minutes for their call before he realized what happened. “Sorry, no problem, you can go and pay now, the next tour will be in 30 minutes” was the only answer he got.
Luckily Mara stayed in line for the regular ticket and by the time we figured out we couldn’t join the guided tour it was almost our turn at the ticket booth.
Tip: Consider buying the tickets in advance on the official website to save time. This option is now available!
We soon discovered that people were also queueing to access the castle from the gate. A long queue that we partially jumped thanks to Andre’s successful ruse. We don’t like doing that but the abnormal situation forced our hand.
With our dismay, the queue continued inside the castle. It was as full as an egg, with a long snake of visitors moving through the recommended path at a very slow pace. All rooms, corridors and the internal cloister were packed with people. Even the exit was blocked by people stuck in the spiral stairs leading outside. A really risky situation that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
5. How to Reach
If you rent a car, follow your navigator or the signs to Bran / Râşnov. The castle is quite easy to reach but keep in mind the traffic, especially on the local road to Bran town as it gets very congested at rush hours and weekends. Parking may be an additional concern on a weekend or generally during high season.
If you don’t plan to rent a car, you can use the local taxis, the train or a combination of the two. If you are in Bucharest, you can take a train to Braşov and from there get a taxi. It is a 30km ride and it wouldn’t cost you a lot. Alternatively, once in Braşov you can get a train to Zărneşti that stops at Râşnov and from there move with the taxi. The most expensive taxi we used in Romania, charged us 2.92 Lei/Km (0.61 €/km).
6. Visit also Braşov and Râşnov
If you can dedicate an entire day to your trip to Bran Castle, we would recommend to combine it with a quick visit to Cetatea Râşnov and Braşov. The ideal itinerary is to visit Bran early in the morning, maybe sleeping in Bran the night before (we stayed at Conacul Brătescu a lovely hotel), and then paying a visit to Râşnov citadel and Braşov city centre before heading back to Bucharest or to your next destination.
The citadel is very well maintained and it is a pleasure to visit. If can get to the entrance either by car/taxi or using the cable car located in the city centre.
Braşov is a fortified city. Some tracts of the original walls are still standing and they can be visited. The city centre is quite beautiful with the Biserica Neagră or Black church being the main attraction. It is also the most important Lutheran church of the area and the main Gothic-style monument of Romania.