The city of Bran, Romania is most famous for its’ castle. In fact, the opening line of the Wikipedia post for Bran Castle says — and I quote — “Bran Castle is a castle in Bran.”
Now that’s some high-level investigative journalism there.
So, just a warning, but this could get a bit (more) sarcastic.
Bran Castle is indeed a very famous and nationally beloved landmark. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture, positioned well on a hill surrounded by forest, and makes for some stunning photos, mine not included. The castle (as well as the city) lies in Transylvania, just across the historical border from Wallachia, where Vlad the Impaler ruled and lived.
Bran Castle is an imposing sight as you enter Bran.
Advertisement on the castle gate for a 100k ultramarathon, which according to the official instagram page starts and finishes at “Dracula’s Castle”. Nice view of the castle just above the banner.
The stone castle was first built somewhere around 1377 by the Saxons. It was used in defense of the Saxons against the attacking Ottoman Empire around 1438-1442, and as a border point between Transylvania and Wallachia for many years. It sat empty for many years before being acquired y the Kingdom of Romania when Hungary lost Transylvania in 1920. Shortly after, it became a favorite home and retreat of Queen Marie of Romania, who had the castle extensively redecorated, and the castle was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana. However, with the rise of Communism in 1948, the castle was seized from the former royal family. In a movie-plot twist, in 2005 Romania passed a law allowing claims for restitution on property that had been seized during communism, and Princess Ileana’s son, an American, submitted a claim for Bran Castle, and was awarded it. The family continues to operate the castle as a tourist attraction to this day.
And that’s where I (and many others, it seems) have a problem with Bran Castle.
First, to be fair, if you are visiting Bran Castle because you understand the real history of it, and are a fan of Queen Marie and Princess Ileana, and want to see Marie’s decorating, then you came to the right place.
But, if you are visiting Bran Castle because it’s the “Home of Dracula”, or “Dracula’s Castle”, as it has been severely hyped and marketed as, then you’ve been duped and are bound to be disappointed.
The person that Dracula is very loosely based on, Vlad III Dracul, never set foot in Bran Castle. Seeing as it was on the opposite (and unfriendly) side of the border from the land which he ruled, and he didn’t live there, another theory was put forth to attach his name to the castle: he was briefly held prisoner in Bran Castle. Historians have since debunked that theory as well.
Also, it turns out that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, had never heard of Bran Castle, and never visited Romania. The castle described in his book bears little to no resemblance to Bran Castle.
Regardless, the hype has spread so far and so thick that droves of people (720,000 in 2022) arrive every day by car and bus, to see Dracula’s Castle. So many people apparently were miffed by there being no references whatsoever inside the castle to Vlad or Dracula, that a new approach was undertaken: the fourth floor of the castle has a small “History of Dreads” exhibit. (The marketing on the official castle website is of much better quality than the actual exhibit, which looks like what would happen if a class of 8th Graders tried to recreate Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion).
The lack of any real connection of Bran Castle to Dracula, despite years of marketing of it as such, has apparently caused enough bad response that the official website spends a great deal of time and effort explaining that “Visitors to Bran Castle should make the distinction between the historic reality of Bran and the character of the Count in Bram Stoker’s novel. Dracula exists in the imagination.”
I was aware of this prior to visiting the castle, but it’s hard to enjoy the castle tour while watching the hordes of people pay their money to climb through rooms anxiously expecting to eventually read some placard that explains Vlad’s connection to the castle. It’s also a fairly small indoor space, with just enough room for a line of people to snake through, yet they admit so many people that the entire path through the castle, from entrance to exit, is a cattle drive. And we were there before the tourist season really begins.
So that’s my review of Bran Castle. The rest of Bran is a lovely tourist-centered town with nice scenery and restaurants, and lots of hotels, AirBnBs, pensions, homestays, etc. We stayed about a half mile away from Bran Castle and were able to walk to it and around town. While in town, we took part in two of the local “street food” delicacies:
The local version of a giant churro, this pastry is called Kürtöskalács, or Hungarian Chimney Cake. It originated in Hungarian Transylvania, and consists of a sweet yeast dough rolled out and wrapped around a cylinder, then basted with melted butter and coated with different toppings, in our case crushed walnuts.
The other is called Lángos, and is a fried flatbread, like a small pizza, topped with various items, in our case sour cream and cheese. This is also a Hungarian specialty that remained in Transylvania after Romania took over the area. (Image courtesy of happyfoodstube.com)