You can hardly travel all the way to Romania and not go to the home of Dracula—or at least, the former stomping grounds of Vlad “the Impaler” Tepes, who is widely thought to be the inspiration for the Bram Stoker classic.
And you can hardly drive north of Brașov without seeing the signs—quite literally, I might add—that you’re very nearby to the iconic castle.
SVV and I had been to Dracula’s stomping grounds once before, on our first road trip to Romania when the castle was dusted with a new coat of snow, and we couldn’t wait to see what it looked like under the summer sun. We were staying right in the heart of Brașov, and from there, there are two ways to take that reach Bran Castle in roughly the same amount of time, both of which take 45 minutes, not including extra stops.
Personally, I prefer the scenic route through Poiana Brașov, where you can also hit up Râșnov Citadel if you have the time, though you do climb up in altitude before going back down again. (I warn you in case you, too, are adverse to heights like my mother, who nearly slugged me for forcing her on that winding, but safe road!)
The farmland surrounding the castle is beautiful, and on a sunny day, you’ll want to pull over to take photos at random, so budget that into your timeframe, as well.
When we finally arrived, we paid $5 to park in a lot in the town center and started making the climb up to the entrance to the castle.
To reach the entrance, you must first walk through a large, crowded market of shopkeepers peddling items from China. I remember loving this market 11 years ago, but this time around, it was the exact same, cheap crap from booth to booth. That said, the hot dogs were still delicious!
Admission to Bran Castle is around $8, though if you’re over the age of 65, don’t forget to ask for your senior discount as it will work in most places around Europe.
We quickly came to find that perhaps we were a bit spoiled on our first visit to the castle in mid-December, as we had the place to ourselves. This time, we weren’t so lucky. Throngs of people packed the tight spaces, and I often had to wait a few minutes for tourists to get out of the frame whenever I wanted to take a picture.
The castle is a national monument in landmark—I’d venture to say Romania’s most well-known landmark globally—and was built in the 13th century.
In the early 1900’s, it became a royal residence and favorite home of Queen Marie.
I got a bit claustrophobic in spots, especially when climbing the narrow staircase that once served as a secret passage between the first and third floors, but the nice thing about Bran is it’s well-ventilated and there’s always a window or balcony from which to steal a breath of fresh air.
The castle was pretty much exactly as I remembered it, give or take an extra 300 bodies, but also much larger than I recall.
It took us a solid hour to get through the entire structure, and that was at a decent pace, not much dawdling.
On the way back to Brașov, we drove via Poiana Brașov once more. But not before we ran into a bit of a detour on the main road.
You haven’t really been to Romania until you’ve been herded by a cow-pede!
Once we reached the quaint ski town of Poiana, we had one more stop to make before it was time for a beer; we detoured to Vila Zorile, where we’d stayed for a couple nights all those years ago.
Rather than deal with the rude hostesses of the restaurants in Brașov, we opted to stay atop the mountain for dinner, where people turned out to be must friendlier. Upon our Airbnb host’s recommendation, we went to Coliba Haiducilor for a true Romanian feast that totaled about $12 a person, beer and shots of palinka included.
It was top-notch and the best meal we had in the four days we were in Romania.
On the next day, our final one in Brașov, we had a bit of a tight schedule as we needed to return our rental car to Bucharest before spending the night at an airport hotel in anticipation for an early morning flight out.
On the way, there was one final location SVV and I wanted—make that needed–to visit, and that was Peleș Castle, the Neo-Renaissance castle on the outskirts of Sinai where we’d gotten special treatment so many years ago.
Need a refresher? I give you 11 years ago, when we had the entire place to ourselves:
Yes, that’s us sitting on the furniture in off-limits areas all over the castle. But we were the only ones there, and the women working that day ushered us under the ropes silently and we may have slipped them a twenty as we left, so who were we to say no?
Now, you get 2016, when we had to wait a half an hour just to get into the building.
I think I actually prefer Peleș in the winter when there are fewer people and less rules.
Still, the ornate flamboyance with which this summer castle was built is worth a stop, even if they do charge extra to bring in cameras (and you have to flash your photography pass in each room to prove it, too, so don’t try to take photos on the sly).
Somehow we missed the beer garden we intended to have lunch in on the way out of Peleș—it’s a 15-minute walk down a steep decline to the parking lot, so wear sturdy shoes—and wound up at Bastion instead, which was just mediocre and took us nearly two hours just to get food (on a Wednesday at 2pm when we were the only people in the restaurant—ludicrous!). This put us on an even tighter schedule once we hit the road once more.
Another two hours later, we zoomed into the rental car return at 7:57pm, just three minutes sigh of closing time. We’re nothing if not punctual.
Then, it was a night in the weirdest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, which I’m pretty sure doubled as a porn set, and the family went back to Tennessee while we headed for Germany. Romania was definitely the most challenging part of our three-week trip around Europe, but difficulties aside, I’m glad we gave it another go.