Ballpark Estimate: $200 + airfare to Bucharest, Romania
Yes, there really was a Dracula. And, yes, there really is a Dracula’s Castle located in the Transylvanian region of central Romania. One of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, today this castle remains much as Bram Stoker described it over one hundred years ago, making it the ideal destination for thrill seekers and history buffs.
“The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green treetops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.” – from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897
Dracula’s Castle, otherwise known as Bran Castle, is located in the rustic mountain village of Bran — a historic border checkpoint separating the regions of Wallachia and Transylvania. Built in 14th century, the castle was originally occupied by a group of warrior-princes who protected local villagers from invasion by members of the Ottoman Empire. The most infamous of these princes was Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476). From 1456 to 1462, Vlad the Impaler ruled Wallachia with an iron fist, instilling order throughout the region. His preferred method of punishing criminals, smugglers and prisoners of war was to have them impaled on wooden stakes and placed in public view, the reported fate of over 100,000 Turkish soldiers. Tales of Vlad’s merciless reign spread rapidly across Transylvania and earned him the ominous title of Dracula or “of the devil,” according to 15th century Saxon literature.
In the autumn of 1462 Dracula was double-crossed and captured by Hungarians. The King of Hungary, in an ironic twist of fate, chose to imprison Dracula in Bran Castle for two months before transferring him to a castle prison on the outskirts of Budapest. There he remained for the next 12 years. On November 26, 1476, Dracula was released from prison and resumed his role as King of Wallachia, but his reign was short lived. A month later he was captured and killed by Ottoman Turks.
Five centuries later Bran Castle became home to another royal resident: Queen Maria of Romania. A distant member of the Hapsburg royal family, Queen Maria renovated the castle in the 1920s, transforming it from an imposing medieval fortress to a comfortable summer getaway. Romania’s flapper queen introduced modern amenities — indoor plumbing, electricity, telephone access — and supervised the interior décor of the castle’s Yellow Room, Music Room, Tyrolese Room of King Carol II, and Saxon Room of Prince Nicolae. She also authorized improvements to the castle’s grounds, including the addition of a royal hunting house, church, greenhouse, rose garden, guest house and tea house. Queen Maria died in 1938, and according to her wishes, her heart was placed in a stone crypt adjacent to the castle’s church. Although the church no longer stands, Queen Maria’s crypt remains a popular attraction among castle visitors.
Visiting the Castle
Bran Castle attracts thousands of native Romanians and international tourists each year. Upon arrival, just beyond the castle’s gates, visitors encounter a bustling open-air market run by local vendors. Here one can buy all manner of Dracula-themed souvenirs as well as traditional Transylvanian clothes, cheeses and palinka, a potent vodka-like mixture distilled from apples.
Once inside the castle’s gates visitors can explore the “Museul Satelui” or Village Museum, featuring folk architecture from Bran and the surrounding local villages. From the museum, a cobblestone footpath leads uphill to the base of the castle. Intimate by European standards, Bran Castle offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and river valleys. The castle’s courtyard is diminutive yet inviting, and vampire seekers will especially enjoy climbing up the cramped and dusty “secret staircase.”
What It Costs
Romania was recently accepted into the European Union in 2007. The country’s official currency is the Lei, although Euros and American dollars are often accepted for financial transactions.
First, purchase airline tickets to Bucharest, Romania. Next, travel 100 miles from Bucharest to the Transylvanian city of Brasov. For this leg of your trip one can rent a car, take a train, or go by bus. After arriving in Brasov, take a bus or drive 16 miles to the village of Bran. Next, choose to stay in a hotel in Brasov or a local villa in Bran. The cost to enter Dracula’s Castle is approximately $6 per person. The castle is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
- $800 to $1,500 – round trip airfare to Bucharest, Romania (depending on the departure city and season of travel)
- $40 to 45 per day – car rental (unlimited mileage)
- $20 – round trip coach fare on a train from Bucharest to Brasov
- $20 – round trip bus fare from Bucharest to Brasov
- $6 – round trip bus fare from Brasov to Bran
- $50 to $100 – hotel in Brasov
- $30 to $60 – local Villa in Bran
- $6 – admission fee