The Legend of Dracula and the Myth of Bran Castle
In the heart of Transylvania, tucked away in a valley surrounded by the mystical Carpathian Mountains in a small town that shares its name lies a once great fortress. A visit to Bran Castle is like visiting other castles throughout Romania in many ways, including an association with “Dracula”, aka Vlad the Impaler. The town of Bran’s beautiful rural setting is also like many other beautiful rural settings we encountered during our 5 week road trip around Romania. So why write a post about Bran Castle. Well, because it’s one of the top tourist attractions in all of Romania.
But, why? Why is this one of the top attractions in Romania. This is the question we left with after our visit to Bran Castle. I’m a big fan of vampire lore. I love the strange darkness and sadness of the character of Dracula. This is a sight I was looking forward to visiting. However, after seeing seeing Bran Castle, one of the top tourist attractions in Romania, we were left scratching our heads as to why visiting Bran Castle is, apparently, on every visitor to Romania’s list.
So, we’re going to breakdown why people flock to Bran Castle and shed some light as to why we think Bran Castle is an absolute BUST!
People Are Visiting Bran Castle Because it’s “Dracula’s Castle”
Being dubbed as “Dracula’s Castle” has to be the number one draw for people to visit the attraction. The Dracula legend runs rampant throughout Romania and it’s exploited to a greater degree in Transylvania. Why shouldn’t it? It’s probably Romania’s #1 calling card in pop culture worldwide. What few people realize is that the Dracula character was birthed thousands of miles away by author Bram Stoker. The Irish writer created the character and his famous castle having never been to Romania. It is believed that Stoker created his description of his Dracula character’s residence from a description of Bran Castle that he found in another book. Which, if you ask me is a fairly watered down connection.
As is connection between the fictional Dracula and Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes. Tepes was the ruler of Wallachia, a geographic region that borders Transylvania. Vlad is known for his extreme and cruel punishment of his enemies including impaling prisoners through their torso while still alive. Tepes wasn’t a resident of Bran Castle and it’s debatable if he ever set foot on the grounds. He did, during his rule of the kingdom of Wallachia, have interactions with the lords of Bran while en route to lead assaults on the city of Brasov when they failed to comply with his commands. This is Tepes only link to Bran Castle.
To help clean up the already murky connections between Bran Castle, Dracula, and Vlad the Impaler, it should be noted that the name Dracula goes back to an Order of the Dragon. This order of crusaders that both Vlad and his father were associated with. But that’s where the connection ends.
It’s Somewhat Convenient Visiting Bran Castle
The little town of Bran is about 2.5 hours from the nation’s largest city of Bucharest on one of the better roads in Romania. Bran is also just 45 minutes from the Brasov, one of the more tourist friendly little cities in Romania. So Bran’s proximity to these 2 major hubs makes it an easy day or half day trip.
In our opinion it’s not worth a day trip drive from Bucharest for reasons I’ll outline later. A day trip from Brasov requires much less commitment in terms of time and planning. We would suggest visiting either en route to Brasov from Bucharest or vice versa to save time. Bran essentially survives on the tourist traffic generated by Bran Castle. There are several options for lodging from camping to home rentals. Booking.com has several listings for Bran and the surrounding area.
It’s Well Maintained
Bran Castle is in great shape. It’s been well preserved as it was used as a royal residence until 1948. In 1956, a communist government turned the abandoned residence into a museum. While the ownership of the castle has changed hands many times, for over 6 decades the property has been cared for and maintained. The rooms and the artifacts are something to see and you get a good feel of what the castle must have been like when it was operating as a fortress.
Bran Castle has several exhibits featuring the history of the castle, Transylvania and medieval armory. Recent restoration projects have revitalized a tea house used by the royal family.
Why Visiting Bran Castle is a Bust
NOW….with all that said, I’m going to delve into what Bran Castle has no reason being a top destination in Romania.
It’s Notoriety is Bogus
I hinted pretty strongly at this earlier in the post…the reason people visit this castle is totally BOGUS! This is not Dracula’s castle. It has no connections to Vlad “The Impaler”. It was a royal residence for a midlevel kingdom. The historical significance of Bran Castle is probably relevant if you’re talking about Romanian history. Yes, it’s got some ties to the Habsburg’s. But, these are hardly reasons Bran Castle is famous to international visitors. While there is some information about the Dracula story/legend and reference to the Vlad connection…but it’s not what you think it is. So, know going in, you are not visiting Dracula’s Castle.
While Well Preserved, Visiting to Bran Castle Can be Chaos!
We visited in the summer….on a very nice day….It may have even been a weekend. Big Mistake. The Cue for tickets and entry was 100 meters long. The line strewn back through the tourist village that surrounds the castle grounds making for a bustling crowded scene. People who aren’t in line are trying to pass, people are cutting the line and crowding in all around. Romanians are the worst cutters and do it shamelessly. You can usually call them out and they make their way to the back of the line. However, it gets old having to police adults for cutting.
Once they open the ticket windows and the gates…only 2 windows service the lengthy line. Once inside the gates to the grounds, you then form a line to enter the actual castle. Guess what, more line cutting. I…personally….have an irrational hatred of standing in line. So, for me this was a real struggle.
Once inside, you realize that this castle atop the hill looks much bigger from the outside. With hundreds of visitors inside, the place is cramped. For us, every room in the castle was a struggle. More lines. There’s crowding in the stairways, exhibit rooms, around placards. There were just too many people inside the castle for it be a pleasant experience. It’s not a visitor friendly facility and it’s clear to me that those that run the facility aren’t concerned with crowd management or limiting numbers in and out of Bran Castle.
There’s Nothing Else To Do In Bran
Clearly we didn’t have the best experience on our visit to Bran Castle. Hoping to rebound we strolled through the tourist village outside the castle grounds. After about 2 minutes you realize you are seeing all the same souvenirs. You notice all the restaurants are overflowing with tourists and you realize that isn’t anything more to see. A stroll beyond into town will yield nothing. Outside of the castle and the support built up around it, there is nothing to see or do in Bran.
Basically, Bran Castle is a half day trip. If you don’t have your own wheels in Romania, which is a whole different terrifying struggle and story, getting to Bran is consuming. There are buses hourly from Brasov. You can also consider a more costly taxi or join a tour.
The view of Bran and the surrounding countryside from high up in the castle is about the best thing about Bran.
Visiting Bran Castle is a Bust
Visiting Bran Castle is fine. It’s a cool little museum in an old royal residence and former fortress. But it’s not a top tourist attraction by any means. It’s a castle that’s fine to look at that houses some well preserved artifacts. Bran Castle is sort of a fraud. You can actually visit Vlad’s fortress at Poenari Castle (impaled mannequins and all). As far as castles go, Corvin Castle in Hunedoara, Romania is much more majestic as castles go. To visit Bran Castle under the pretense that you’re in for some sort of blockbuster, mythological or historical experience is just a bad idea.
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