Romania’s Bran Castle is well-known around the world for supposedly inspiring Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. While a visit to Bran is a lovely trek out into the small towns and mountains of Transylvania, those who are looking for vampire lore at Bran Castle will probably be disappointed.
Dracula’s Connection to Vlad the Impaler
Bram Stoker’s Dracula has always been tangentially connected to ruthless Romanian ruler, Vlad the Impaler, whose full name was Vlad Dracula. The famed prince of Wallachia is known all over the world for killing thousands of people, typically by impaling them. Though he has a reputation for being monstrous, Romanians actually see Vlad as something of a hero for having driven off the Ottoman Turks and saving the Romanian Empire. His cruel and violent executions were actually seen as necessary to maintain independence and keep criminals at bay.
When writing the most famous vampire story of all time, Stoker came across this bit of history and thought Dracula might be an apt moniker for a bloodthirsty villain. The book was inspired by ancient Romanian folklore and superstitions about vampires.
And what does Vlad the Impaler have to do with Bran Castle?
Not much. Vlad the Impaler never lived in Bran Castle, because he ruled the neighboring Wallachia, and not Transylvania. And though it’s sometimes known as Dracula’s castle, there is no evidence that Stoker ever visited Romania, or that his descriptions of Dracula’s castle in Transylvania were actually based on Bran Castle at all.
But since Stoker’s Dracula was based in Transylvania and Bran Castle vaguely resembled the book’s descriptions, it came to be associated over time with the fictitious Count Dracula. You can’t even Google “Vlad the Impaler castle” or “Dracula castle” without seeing a picture of Bran Castle as your first result. But the connection is tenuous at best and based mostly on the look of the castle.
Visiting Bran Castle
Now that your expectations about the historical significance of Bran Castle have been tempered, here is what you’ll find when you visit. The castle is actually a museum that displays the art and furniture of Queen Maria of Romania, who restored and actually lived in the castle during her reign. It’s still a gorgeous and imposing medieval castle, though perhaps smaller than you might expect.
The self-guided tour takes you through several floors and a small central courtyard. The castle offers sweeping views of the town around it. And the interior houses art and furniture, which truth be told, are nothing special. This is especially true when you compare Bran to other castles in Romania like the unbelievably ornate Peles Castle (which you can visit on the same day).
The panels of information at Bran are sloppily designed, like they were made in the 90’s by someone who just discovered MS Paint. Information is overlaid over photos of Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys in an attempt to give visitors some semblance of a connection to vampires.
That being said, it’s still very creepy. Since it’s a small, wooden castle, you can sometimes hear footsteps of other visitors creaking above you. One secret stone passageway gives you a claustrophobic feeling as you ascend to another floor of the castle. But other than that, it’s actually a fairly unremarkable castle. Unfortunately, nothing about the art or furniture is particularly breathtaking.
So should you skip it?
Unless you come from a country that is full of beautiful Medieval castles, Bran Castle is still a worthwhile visit. It’s open all year round, with hours that vary by season. From April 1 to September 30, it’s open until 6 pm every day. From October 1 to March 31, it’s open until 4 pm. Admission is 35 leu (around $8.50). Unlike other castles around the world, there isn’t much to see outside the inner walls of the castle, so I recommend going inside it. It’s a completely self-guided one-way tour so you can spend as long or as little as you like in the castle.
However, if you’re really pressed for time, and you only have one day to see one castle in all of Romania, then yes. Absolutely skip Bran. In that case, I recommend Peles Castle in the Carpathian Mountains. It’s easier to get to and downright mesmerizing inside and out.
But in order to give Transylvania the time it deserves, you should definitely make a pit stop in Dracula’s fake castle. The nearby town of Brasov is also a lovely place to spend the night or at least enjoy a hearty lunch in the cobbled streets of Old Town.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Brasov guides on GPSmyCity here.