When discussing the tourism industry of Romania, often many people will only know of one specific sight to be seen- and they will call it “Dracula’s Castle”. In addition to being far from the only landmark in the country, the connection to Dracula isn’t as cut and dry as many people think. It is widely accepted that Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (much better known as Vlad the Impaler) was part of the inspiration for Dracula author Bram Stoker as he was writing. However, there is little historical evidence that points to Vlad III ever living in the castle for any significant length of time.
The castle’s official title, Bran Castle, reflects its proximity to a Romanian village of the same name. Its history goes back to the 14th century and passes through many unique phases, including use as a fort, customs house, royal residence, hospital, and finally, a museum. We lined up for entry to this museum shortly after opening time along with many other tourists to begin what would be a very crowded but educational and enjoyable tour of the castle.
It was quite fun to walk around inside the castle, even while dodging the elbows of people taller than me. The rooms were set up with medieval furniture as though their former occupants would be returning any minute, and there was lots of information lining the walls so that we could learn about what we were looking at. Many of the doorways were tiny and narrow, requiring some tall people (so not me!) to duck as they passed through. One particular set of stairs seemed as though it was once a secret passageway- dank and dark and a bit eerie!
We saw some traditional “castle sights”, like ornate quilts in big bedrooms, fancy paintings hung on stone walls, full suits of armor and lots of weapons. We were also able to learn a little bit about the various connections between the castle’s history, Vlad the Impaler as a historical figure, and Bram Stoker’s novel. They are all undoubtedly connected, however there is much debate as to exactly how tightly wound these connections are and how much they matter!
One of my favorite parts of our time at Bran Castle was the little courtyard in the middle, centered by a little well and surrounded by the second floor walkways of the castle. It was so quaint that you could almost call it idyllic, and it is so easy to forget the associations that this place has with things like impalers or vampires!
After stopping in the little gift shop to look around, we enjoyed browsing the little market stalls at the foot of the hill that the castle looks over. You can literally find anything there, from homemade knits to plastic renderings of cartoon characters to aged cheeses. We caught one more view of the epic castle before leaving town. Considering we had such limited time in Romania, we didn’t stick around in the area too long, but I know for sure that “Dracula’s Castle” is worth a visit!