We went to Transylvania for mountains in the first place. For long, scenic, overwhelming hikes. For the wild landscapes of Făgăraș, Retezat and Bucegi Mountains. What we got from them was mostly fog and rain though. Instead we found wonderful castles to fall in love with.
Actually, we’ve found one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. It’s not Dracula’s. In fact, Dracula never had a castle in Transylvania. (Nor he existed, anyway.) But there’s one that’s getting really popular and known to be his, isn’t there? We’ll reveal all the secrets, bear with us.
Let’s start with our very favorite: Peleş Castle in the small town of Sinaia. (Sorry, Dracula, you have to wait.) If there’s only one castle you visit in Transylvania, it should be this one.
With Bucegi Mountains as a jaw-dropping backdrop, Neo-Renaissance Peleş Castle and its richly decorated interior took our breath away. With over 160 perfectly decorated and furnished rooms, and the finest art collections in Eastern Europe, it’s among the prettiest castles we’ve ever seen!
We’ve already written a long and detailed guide on how to visit (and when not to visit) Peleş Castle – read it here!
Pelişor is right next to Peleş Castle, they are part of the same complex. Art Nouveau style Pelişor Castle is much smaller though, it features only about 70 rooms. It’s so lovely! I mean, it’s Art Nouveau, and we usually adore Art Nouveau buildings. Pelişor is a great example why. 🙂
Unlike us, don’t visit it in the summer. And unlike us, buy the ticket at the same time you do for Peleş Castle. Otherwise you might miss its interior tour, and you’ll regret it – needless to say, like us.
So this is that very famous castle that’s known to be “the Dracula Castle”.
Dracula’s or not?
But why is it associated with Dracula in the first place? Because Bram Stoker, writer of the famous character imagined Dracula’s castle to look something like Bran Castle. Funnily enough, Stoker never even visited Romania. But Bran Castle is the only castle in Transylvania that somewhat fits his description of Dracula’s Castle.
Dracula’s character is sometimes confused with Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad Dracul) who was the ruler of Walachia. He has a bad reputation for being cruel and merciless, probably because impalement was his favorite method of execution. Sadly though, it was not that extraordinary that time – we are talking about the 15th century.
Anyway, Vlad Dracul definitely existed. But he never lived in Bran Castle. That’s it. Sorry to ruin your day. I hope we didn’t. Because as long as you make peace with the fact that Dracula (and his castle) exists only in your imagination, you can explore what Bran Castle has to offer.
Is it worth visiting Bran Castle?
First of all, surrounded by peaks of the Bucegi and the Piatra Craiului Mountains, it offers captivating views. The castle itself stands on a 200 feet high rock, and with its many towers and turrets it looks quite dramatic. It has that aura of mystery that creates legends.
I think if you arrive with sky-high expectations, Bran Castle will surely disappoint. (That’s true for most places you visit. But especially places so hyped as this castle.) Otherwise, it’s a nice, well-preserved castle. We liked the timbered rooms, the old yard and the narrow secret stairways. It has a small collection of art, furniture and weapons, too.
Bran Castle is less than 30 kilometres from Braşov, and that makes it one of the best day trips if you visit the city. But due to all the hype, it can get very crowded, and this fact makes those narrow, romantic stairways a lot less romantic. I hate to sound like a broken record, but all I can say is: avoid summer.
Useful information before you visit
At least all that hype around the castle has one advantage: it has a great website, and you can even buy your tickets online. We visited the castle on our own with an audio guide, and it was an enjoyable visit overall.
We should have skipped the Tunnel of Time though. There are separate tickets for this multi-media show in an underground passage, but we didn’t find it that exciting as advertised.
Now let’s move on to a lesser known castle. In the beautiful mountain resort of Bușteni, we found Cantacuzino Castle – by accident. We originally wanted to take the cable car up to the Bucegi Mountains. But the queue was ridiculously long. It was already late afternoon, and we decided it’s not worth wasting our time waiting just to reach the entrance when the cable car closes. As I took a look at the nearby souvenirs, tired and disappointed, I noticed a nice picture.
It was a picture of Cantacuzino Castle on a fridge magnet. We instantly checked Google Maps about the exact location of this good-looking castle. Then we checked the opening hours (official website is here). Ready, set, go. It took about 5 minutes to drive there, and a couple of more to find a place to park.
Touring the castle
Soon we were eagerly waiting for our guided tour to start. The tour was in Romanian (like all the guided tours in Cantacuzino Castle), but we got a short English description.
This Neo-Romanian castle belonged to the Cantacuzino family until the forced nationalization in the communist period. Then the original furniture was removed, too. After 1989, it was returned to Cantacuzino descendants. Today it’s private property and it’s open to the public. Sadly, its room are empty. But they are renovated, and we particularly liked the main hall with its paintings and fine decoration.
What we liked the best about Cantacuzino Castle is the park though. Those views of the castle with the enormous peaks of Bucegi Mountains are fabulous! By the way, this park is free to enter.
There was yet another castle we were curious to see. Because we’ve seen its copy countless times already: Vajdahunyad Castle in the Budapest City Park (Városliget in Hungarian). Vajdahunyad is actually the Hungarian name of the town Hunedoara where the original castle is located.
Corvin Castle – also known as Hunedoara Castle or Hunyadi Castle – is the largest medieval castle in Transylvania. The Gothic-Renaissance castle was built for John Hunyadi, governor of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 15th century. We found its tall towers and bastions quite impressive. Its countless windows and balconies are embellished with stone carvings.
Rather a fortress than a home
In the age when it was built, the purpose of a castle was first and foremost defense. It was not built to be a comfortable home, but a well-protected fortress and a prison. Though comfort is relative, and I guess it was considered comfortable in that age (surely, not for the prisoners).
After a huge fire and many decades of neglect, the castle we can visit today is the result of a thorough restoration. We didn’t find its interior as stunning as the building from the outside. We could explore it on our own with an audio guide, and we liked the large inner courtyard and the Knight’s Hall the best.
There’s a well in the courtyard. According to a legend, it was dug by three Turkish prisoners. They were promised freedom when they were done – it took them 15 years to reach water. Legend also says that there was a bear pit inside the castle where prisoners were thrown to be mauled to death by wild animals. (I don’t really get it when people question whether our age is more human than earlier times. Have they ever visited a medieval torture chamber?)
Some believe that Corvin Castle was a source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula Castle. What? Another Dracula Castle? Stop it. The guy is a fantasy figure. And Stoke never saw any of the Transylvanian castles.
However, several movies were filmed in the castle. The latest is the horror movie The Nun (2018) where the castle was used as Carta Monastery. I think it looks pretty dramatic in the trailer.
Finally, let’s finish with something useful: the opening hours can be found on their website.
Which castle looks the most tempting to you?
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