It was a cold, wet and windy day when our bus pulled into the stop directly below Bran Castle. High up in the peaks, the mist curled around the mountaintops like tendrils and the great castle loomed up, tall and imposing above our heads. From here, it was a slippery walk up to the kiosk, and then an even more perilous journey towards the castle, reputedly the inspiration for Dracula’s Castle…
An early history of Bran Castle (12th-13th centuries)
A fortress has stood in the place where Bran castle now sits ever since the 12th-Century. Bran was named for the Turkish word ‘gate’ and the castle has provided protection over Bran town and its surrounds for Centuries. A wooden fortress was originally constructed by the Teutonic Knights.
This Catholic order was formed in Palestine by German crusaders in the 1100s and their best-known castle is probably that of Malbork Castle in Poland. The original fortifications were constructed before the Teutonic knights were forced to flee the area in the early 13th-Century. In 1242, the original fortress was destroyed, leaving behind very little.
The later history of Bran Castle (14th-century – today)
There is no mention of Bran Castle again until 1377 when Louis I of Hungary gave permission to the people of Brasov to build a stone castle (as long as they paid for it!) During the 1400s, the stone castle was then used to defend the area against the Ottoman empire.
For the following few centuries, the castle passed through various hands and was of significant historical importance in the area right up until the 1700s. By 1920, Transylvania was incorporated into the fabric of Romania and the castle became a residence of the Romanian Royal family.
The castle was then used as a hospital during WWII before being confiscated by the communists in the latter half of the 19th-Century. In 2005, the castle was transferred into private ownership and returned to descendants of the Royal family. Bran Castle was opened to the public in 2009 and has welcomed visitors ever since.
Bram Stoker, Dracula and Bran Castle
Bran Castle is the most visited attraction in all of Romania, in part thanks to Bram Stoker and his legend of Dracula. As a result, the castle welcomes up to 800,000 visitors a year, with that number only rising thanks to social media and the rise of tourism in Romania.
Rather ironically, it could be the case that Bram Stoker had never even heard of Bran Castle when he reimagined the legend of Dracula. After all, in this part of Transylvania, there are dozens of medieval castles, many imposing and most in the mist. Not only did Stoker probably never hear of Bran Castle, but his fictitious character of ‘Dracula’ was only very loosely based on real life.
After all, Stoker loosely based the character of Dracula on a medieval prince, Vlad Tepes (whose summer palace is one of the best secret spots in Bucharest). Vlad Tepes gained the nickname of ‘Vlad the Impaler’ during his rule as a result of his fondness for impaling invaders, enemies and criminals alike. His father had the surname Dracul (Draco in Latin means dragon but a simple misunderstanding meant that Stoker meant for Dracula to mean ‘devil’).
So far, so Dracula? Well, Romania was once divided into three distinct and separate regions; Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia. Vlad Tepes was not from Transylvania (where Bran Castle is based) but actually from Wallachia, a flat and sunny land to the south of the Transylvanian mountains. So in all likelihood, Bran Castle was probably not the inspiration for Dracula, nor his castle! It still makes for a good tale, though…
Visiting Bran Castle: How to visit Bran Castle & tips for visiting Bran Castle
Despite multiple options on offer in terms of accommodation, I opted to stay in the beautiful city of Brasov which is around 45 minutes by bus from Bran Castle. Brasov seemed like the best place to stay in terms of both varieties of accommodation on offer and because there are plenty of things to see and do in the city- ancient churches, old town, plenty of cute eateries, etc.
However, if you are short on time, then at a push, Bran Castle can be visited as a day trip from the Romanian capital of Bucharest. As I had a little more time, I opted to take the Bus from the Brasov Bus station to Bran for the cost of around €1.50 each way.
The bus left from Brasov every half an hour or so and I found it to be the best way to reach the castle as it was fast, inexpensive and convenient. If you want to see Bran for yourself, I highly recommend basing yourself in Brasov and taking a day trip to Bran!
After all, from Brasov, it’s also easy to visit other famous castles in the region such as Rasnov Fortress and Peles Castle (supposedly the most beautiful castle in Romania). Prior to my visit, many people warned me that Bran Castle was ‘just a tourist trap’ and ‘not really worth seeing’.
Although it’s true that there were plenty of tourist shops and cafés to the base of the castle, I thought that the rich history of the castle, as well as its many legends, meant that it was still well worth a visit! Although Vlad the Impaler probably never lived in the castle, nor even visited, plenty of Royal Romanians did make their home here, and it was incredibly interesting to see.