0900: Leave for Bran castle.
Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle, is undoubtedly, one of Romania’s top attractions. It is certainly one of the busiest attractions Romania, and hence the plan to visit the castle early in the day.
0930: At entrance to the castle ground.
From the outside, the castle looked just like I had imagined. Perched on a cliff and sheer drops on all sides. A small path leads upto the castle entrance.
In the entrance hall, there is an introduction to the history of the castle. Bran Castle was built between 1377 and 1382, as a fortress to protect the trade route that passed through the Bran gorge and to act as a customs house between the regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. The design of the castle means that only a guard of 35 was required to defend it from an invading force.
In 1918 Transylvania became part of greater Romania and the council of Brașov offered the castle to Queen Marie as a symbolic gesture. Queen Marie spent much time in the castle and modernised it, including adding electricity. Upon her death, Queen Marie left the castle to her daughter, Princess Ileana. The Princess and her family lived there until 1948, until they were exiled by the communist regime. The castle was restored back to the ownership of Princess Ileana’s descendants and was opened to the public as the first privately owned museum in Romania in 2009.
Much of the castle is dedicated to exhibiting it as it was in Queen Marie’s time. The result is that the castle interior is very different from described in Dracula. There’s whitewashed walls, rickety staircases and low ceilings. The ceilings are so low that I had to duck through a couple of doorways (and I am pretty short). The rooms are decorated comfortably, but not lavishly.
There are however, several rooms dedicated to the story of Dracula, that brought the castle its fame.
Vlad Dracul the third, better known as Vlad the Impaler, was the ruler of Wallachia on and off between 1448-1476. Bram Stoker is said to have taken inspiration from Vlad III, feared for his brutal treatment of enemies and law breakers, for the character of Dracula. However, there is no evidence that Vlad III lived at the castle – although it was believed that he was imprisoned there for a short time.
In the castle, we also heard the story behind the Vlad III family name Dracul. Vlad II was award the Order of the Dragon by a another European King, and he received a medal depicting a Dragon to commemorate this. However, when he returned to Romania wearing his new medal, Romanians, never having seen a Dragon, interpreted the creature on the medal to be the Devil, which in Romanian language is Dracul.
Although the castle gained fame as Dracula’s Castle as featured in Bram Stokers book, there is no evidence that Bram Stoker ever visited Romania, let alone the castle. However, it is believed that he saw drawings of it. It is the only castle in Transylvania that matches the description in the book. Because of the location of Bran Castle, its dramatic architecture, and its connection to Vlad III Dracul, the Romanian government in the 1970s decided to market the castle as the “real Dracula Castle”.
When you climb to the top of the tower, there are great views over the Bran Valley.
Inside the castle, there are a couple of rooms where you can pay more to visit. One is the torture room, exhibiting implements of medieval torture, costs 10 lei (however, the door to the room is left open, so if you don’t want to pay you can view it from the doorway).
In the courtyard, there is the castle’s ancient well, which was converted to a lift in Queen Marie’s time. It cost 20 lei to go take this lift, which leads to a tunnel that ends in the gift shop. The tunnel is the only place where they had capitalised on the castle’s connection to its dark past and Dracula. The tunnel has several interactive features and audio visual attractions. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but worth the 20 lei.
Tips for visiting Dracula’s Castle
- Entrance to the castle costs 40 lei.
- Avoid weekends if you can help it. It gets very busy.
- If you can’t avoid weekends, visit the castle early in the morning, before the coach parties arrive from Brașov and Bucharest.
- The Castle has a lot of low ceilings, stairs and enclosed spaces, so be prepared for this.
- Unlike Peles Castle we visited yesterday, all the rooms have English descriptions. So you don’t need a local guide to visit the castle. Audio guides are available, for an additional fee.
- If castle toilets are busy, use the ones at the coach parking lot.
1130: End of Bran Castle tour. Time for some souvenir shopping. The area just outside the castle grounds is full of souvenirs shops, selling authentic Romanian souvenirs as well as really cheesy Dracula merchandise.
1230: Drive to Brașov.
1330: Arrive in Brașov and free time to wonder the old town.
Brașov is regional capital of the province of Transylvania and Romania’s 7th largest city. The city dates back to the 11th Century and is famed for its well preserved old town. The old town is on the foothills of Tampa mountain, which is over 900m high. There is a cable car from the old town to the top of the mountain, but we did not have time to take this. On the Tampa mountain, Brașov has its own Hollywood sign.
Tampa Mountain, with the famous Brașov sign
I spent the free hours walking along the city walls, and climbing the White Tower – one of the battlements on the city wall. The tower is a bit of a climb, but provides great views of the old town and Tampa mountain from the top. If you don’t have time to take the cable car, this is a good option to get views across the top of the city.
Brașov very much reminded me of Tallinn. The Brașov old town is similar size to Tallinn and has a well preserved medieval wall. But unlike Tallinn, where pretty much every corner of the old town is a tourist attraction, cafe, or souvenir shop, tourism in Brașov is still in its infancy.While is a popular destination, it is by no means overtaken by tourism. Even on this sunny Sunday afternoon, most people we saw around were locals.
1630: Walking tour of Brașov with our Tour Leader.
Visit St Nicholas Church. A Romanian Orthodox church, and one of the oldest churches in Brașov, dating back to 1200’s.
Brașov is also home to one one of the narrowest streets in Europe – rope street. Narrow enough so that I could touch both sides of the street at once.
The walking tour ended at the city most famous land mark – The Black Church. The Black Church is a Lutheran church built in the 14th century. A fire in the 17th century partially destroyed the church, giving it its current name.
The church is home to the largest mechanical organ in Europe. Because of the organ the church concerts are are popular and sells out 12-18 months in advance. The church also has one of the largest collection of Ottoman rugs, gifted to the church by traders, upon completion of their journeys.
1830: Dinner at Brașov restaurant.
2030: Head back to Bran, and early night for everyone, as we will be heading to the airport early tomorrow.
What are your thoughts about my Transylvania weekend trip? Have you been to Romania? Would you like to visit? Leave a comment below and let me know.