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Visiting Dracula’s Bran Castle: Vampire tour of Transylvania! Vlad the Impaler, Romania Goth Halloween.

bran castle dracula towers

“My friend. Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you.” – Count Dracula’s invitation to Jonathan Harker, in the Bram Stoker novel.

Last Halloween, I got to live out my vampire dreams (or nightmares)… at Dracula’s castle in Transylvania!

With the support of Experience Romania, I got to come and learn about the real Vlad Dracul, a ruler whose history is wrapped up in horror mythology.

moi meme moitie dress elegant gothic lolita

For years, I had the “Goth goal” of visiting Bran Castle in Brasov, Romania. This dark fortress is associated with the bloody tales of Vlad the Impaler. 

I wore my Moi-meme-Moitie dress; the silhouette and design are straight out of Nosferatu. This is an Japanese Elegant Gothic Lolita design by Mana, who you may know from the Visual Kei bands Moi-dix-mois and Malice Mizer.

visiting bran castle romania

Keep reading for an exclusive look inside Bran Castle, including photography in areas that tourists aren’t able to access. We’ll wind up in a torture garden, and get to know the Romanian vampire. (All photos by Joey Wong.)

bucharest to brasov transylvania scenery

As you may remember, I was invited to Experience Bucharest around Halloween 2017. On one of our free days, photographer Joey Wong and I met up with our local Romanian friends, Alex and Beatrice. They kindly drove us from Bucharest to Bran Castle in the early morning.

(To get to Dracula’s castle, it’s also possible to take the train, but there are limited departure/arrival times. You can also rent a car, or hire a private driver for the trip).

When you see the dawn breaking over the misty landscape, it’s easy to understand why Romania is the land of vampire tales. 

brasov romania Wallachia

The drive from Bucharest to Brasov is a beautiful one, especially in fall when the leaves have Halloween hues. If you’re based in Bucharest, this is a perfect day trip to Transylvania. (You can also stay overnight in Brasov, if you want to spend more time in the region).

The journey to Bran Castle takes about 3-4 hours by car, depending on traffic (it’s a good idea to leave early, in case you get stuck). On the way back in the afternoon, the ride took longer.

carpathian mountains romania tourism

As we got closer, the roads became windy, and the Carpathian mountains loomed over us.

The Carpathians are a mountainous range through Central and Eastern Europe, with the largest portion in Romania. These dramatic hills are home to brown bears, wolves, lynx… and maybe some blood-sucking bats?

halloween party dracula castle bran romania

Transylvania is the central region of Romania, located north of Bucharest. Its high-contrast clouds and craggy mountains looked straight out of a horror movie. When we saw these horses under an ominous sign… we knew we must be getting closer.

strigoi romanian vampire legends

At last, we made it to Bran Castle! On their website, you can find access, admission and visitor info. When we arrived, there was a line up for tickets, which cost about 7 euro (there are senior and student discounts). Bran Castle kindly welcomed us as press, giving us permission to photograph usually-restricted areas.

Dracula Castle address: Strada General Traian Moșoiu 24, Bran 507025, Romania

vlad the impaler dracula grave tombstone

Visitors have to first walk up a steep path to the castle, lined by dark gravestones like this one. Do Dracula’s remains lie beneath the soil?

Not quite. In fact, Bran Castle is only loosely connected to the historic Vlad the Impaler, who may have never even stepped foot here. Keep in mind that ever since the publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” novel, the man and myth have blurred in the public imagination. This castle is located in Transylvania (where the fictional Count lived), and has an appropriately imposing, Medieval look… what better setting to dive deep into the bloody legends? 

vlad the impaler portrait dracul

Inside, you’ll find portraits and historical information about Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracula. In real life, he was the second son of Vlad Dracul, the 15th century prince of Wallachia, Romania. Records show that he signed two of his letters “Dragulya” or “Drakulya” — which means “the son of Dracul.”

interior bran castle dracula

Vlad actually lived in Wallachia, the area south of Transylvania. In the late 14th century, a group of German colonists built Bran Castle in Brasov (where I’m standing). Their descendants may have wound up as Vlad’s victims, during his reign.

courtyard bran castle restairant

Although Bran castle wasn’t the primary home of Vlad, it has the “Dracula” feeling conjured by the novel and other vampire works (films, comics, you name it).

Author Bram Stoker never even went to Romania before writing his book. He based Count Dracula’s castle on Whitby Abbey in England, which I also visited.

impaling on stick romania vlad

Vlad was called “The Impaler” by the Ottomans, and was also known as the Butcher or Demon. What’s the deal with the nickname?

As the castle banners indicate, impalement was Vlad’s favorite method of execution — spearing bodies on a stake, and leaving them to die. He executed thousands in this manner, and even created a “Forest of the Impaled” with 20,000 pierced bodies. Some say Vlad enjoyed dining with his palace associates, surrounded by a circle of impaled victims.

history tour bran castle

Vlad is usually depicted as a villain, but there’s another side to the story. Many Romanians consider him a hero, and one of the country’s greatest rulers.

visit bran castle tickets admission hours

It’s important to understand the context of Vlad’s actions. As a youth, he was imprisoned by the Ottomans, and severely abused. When he took reign, his harsh punishments were a way to strengthen the central government from dissenters. Some historians interpret his cruelty as rational acts to secure the independence of Romania, as the land was surrounded by the much stronger Turks.

goths romania transylvania trip

During his reign, Vlad actually lived in Poenari Castle, a cliff-side citadel in Wallachia. You have to climb 1,480 concrete stairs to reach the top. Poenari castle is located quite a bit further from Bucharest, so I’ll have to wait until next time to visit.

real count dracula castle

Vlad the Impaler was possibly imprisoned inside Bran Castle for a few months; he was exiled and jailed multiple times during his three reigning periods. Regardless, the Transylvanian castle is sensational, and makes you feel as if you’re a character in the Dracula story.

secret tunnels dungeons vlad dracula

What dark secrets hide within these walls? Perhaps a crypt lined with coffins?

Bran Castle does have a system of secret tunnels, which weren’t discovered until later. These narrow, steep passages were built as escape routes. On regular tours, you aren’t able to go inside… but this vampire got special permission.

interior historic bran castle

In 1920, Bran Castle came into the possession of Queen Maria, the last queen of Romania. In 2009, it became open to the public as a museum and attraction. Inside the castle, you can see relics of her royal residence, including art and furniture from her personal collection.

vlad tepes impaler dracul

No wonder Queen Maria made this her special residence. The castle architecture is captivating, with winding staircases and picture windows.

romanian strigoi vampire tales

On the upper levels, you can learn about Vlad and the folk tales that inspired vampire legends. My Romanian friend Alex found his ancestor on the family tree… proof of his vampire bloodline!

I read about “strigoi,” the evil souls of the dead that kill victims by sucking their blood, and have the ability to transform into animals (forming the inspiration for modern vampire tales). If pregnant women drink cursed water or go outside without covering their heads, then Satan puts a red bonnet on them and their newborns. Unless it’s removed, the babies will transform into “strigoi” — the undead that live among us.

bran castle architecture windows

The sunlight… it burns, it burns!

Standing inside Dracula’s Castle, I realized how much the legend has inspired fashion, art and pop culture — from Lost Souls, to Interview with the Vampire, to Buffy.

brasov transylvania landscape

Through this arched window, I looked out at Transylvania. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel turned the region into a household name associated with vampires. With a landscape like this, no wonder this is perceived as a magical, mysterious and dramatic land.

vampire bangs girl hairstyle

Similarly, we’ve all heard of the word “Nosferatu,” which refers to The Devil in modern Romanian. Photographer Joey Wong captures the spirit in this image.

sleep inside dracula's castle hotel

Can you see my reflection in the mirror? I didn’t stumble across any coffins in Bran Castle, but the entire castle had a haunted feeling (creepy nooks, squeaky staircases, four-poster beds straight out of Dracula movies).

transylvania vampire tours travel

When night falls… it’s not difficult to imagine “strigoi” flying out from these woods!

girl inside iron maiden torture device

Bran Castle also hosts rotating exhibitions. When we visited, there was a collection of torture devices used in the Middle Ages.

I felt genuinely scared, standing inside this iron maiden lined with deadly spikes. The lady’s evil smile makes matters more frightening.

vlad impaler's spike wooden impaled

I’m pointing at Vlad the Impaler’s favorite instrument. Sometimes, the stake was sharp and killed victims quickly. Other times, it was dulled and oiled, and went through the body in a way that didn’t pierce the heart — prolonging the pain and duration.

eastern europe tortune instruments

I shudder to think of what it was like, living in the time of these torture devices.

bran castle vampire fashion

What a treat to visit Castle Bran and immerse myself in the world of Vlad the Impaler. Even though it’s technically not “his castle,” I loved the sinister experience and Transylvanian setting.

count dracula romanian red wine

I leave you with some Romanian vampire souvenirs. I took these photos at Bucharest’s Henri Coandă airport; you’ll find a huge selection of Dracula-themed red wines in the shopping area before departures. I wish I could have bought them all… but I had no room in my suitcase.

dracula liqueur draquila

In addition, there’s a selection of vampiric liqueurs. Who needs tequila when you can drink Draquila?

I was intrigued by Potion of Dracula, a plum brandy or “palinka” that hails from Transylvania. The 40% proof liqueur is packaged in what looks like a magic flask, with an antique lock and keey.

conte dracula wines romania

Don’t you think the 555 should be 666? I didn’t have the opportunity to try any of these Count Dracula wines, but I did enjoy the Romanian red that I had at an Experience Bucharest networking event.

bat vampires count dracula keychains

I was tempted to pick up these cute magnets and keychains, which I found at a rest-stop during our roadtrip from Bucharest to Dracula’s Castle.

dr frank n furter doll rocky horror

How do Romanians feel about being associated with vampires? It’s a mixed bag, but many of them embrace the Vlad Draculea “bloodline” and its impact on pop culture.

Most of the airport’s souvenirs had a vampire theme, including stuffed toys and “Vladut’s Story” plums in chocolate cream. There was even a plush of Tim Curry’s character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, who hails from”Transsexual Transylvania!”

romania vampire dracula toys souvenirs

I guess he’s Count Chocola for a reason… quite a few of the Dracula gifts were chocolates. Love the coffin figure as well.

romania halloween club vila bran

A million thank yous to Experience Romania for the best Halloween ever. I loved exploring the country, and am dying to come back and see more.

dracula gothic travel tourism

Whether he’s a folk hero or fanged horror villian, Dracula has captured the imagination of millions worldwide. At Bran Castle, you get to become part of the legend.

So I leave you with a quote by Bram Stoker’s Count: “Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”

(And if you’re hungry for more bloody tales, here are all my travel posts about Bucharest and Romania!)

SHARE & COMMENT

24 Comments

  1. Manny
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    The Dracula wine! I want to try.

  2. Fiona
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s just amazing! Spent Halloween at Brans Castle last year and loved every second! Even met Dracula at the after party

  3. Yin
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I took a photo on that ledge also.

    Nice memories.

  4. Wisso
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    .yes ..its was perfect time…and im coming this summer

  5. JSD
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    superb post

  6. Prudy
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    i am thinking he still lives there, vlad the impaler….

  7. Ean
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Such a brilliant innovative and imaginative look….

  8. NATALYU
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Coolness!!!!

  9. Tiana
    Posted March 21, 2018 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Outstanding work like always.

  10. Jordan
    Posted March 21, 2018 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    That was worth a read! You’re a great travel journalist, Carmina!

  11. Simm
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    A place I must visit!! <3 what more could you ask for on Halloween <3

  12. CAN DO
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Great job! I felt like I was there!

  13. Steve
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Great post, very interesting, on my list of places to go now

  14. Mya
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Very well made article. I’m from Romania but live in UK. Last year I took my boyfriend to Bran Castle and we had a lot of fun therr. The only thing i can say is,the secret tunnels,especially the stairs,in October,last year were open to public. We walked down the stairs and took pictures. Next time visit Sinaia and Peles Castle. You will see something completely different

  15. Luminita
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Bran is marketed as Dracula’s castle but I think the castle is beautiful on its own. even without the claims connecting it with his myth and the location also provides for a great view. I like the bits about Romanian history it shows you really did your research during your visit.

    • lacarmina
      Posted March 28, 2018 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      I really appreciate that, thank you! And I agree, it’s a magnificent castle.

  16. damian galvin
    Posted March 29, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    If anyone is looking to stay near Bran Castle, get in touch & we can hekp you find a place to stay. We run a real estate company in nearby Brasov & have a handful, not too many, but a handful of useful contacts for nice villas, a hotel & a bed & breakfast at sensible prices

    best
    White Mountain Property

  17. Lynn
    Posted June 30, 2018 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    Hello
    Is the coffin figure souvenir you saw in Bucharest airport ? Is it for sell ? Or just a display in the shop
    Thanks

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