Visiting Bran Castle, the Real Dracula Castle
In Romania’s Bran Castle, you can learn about Vlad the Impaler, the bloodthirsty man who inspired Dracula.
Visiting Bran Castle, the Real Dracula Castle
Even if you haven't read Bram Stoker's "Dracula," you know the story and its title character.
The vampire has captured our imagination ever since his eponymous novel was published in 1897. The Transylvanian count who haunts the night, tricking innocent people and sucking their blood is the basis of countless plays, movies, parodies and Halloween costumes.
But while we're sure (OK, mostly sure) immortal bloodsucking creatures of the night don't exist, Dracula was inspired by a real man named VladIII Draculea. Nicknamed for his favorite pastime, Vlad the Impaler was as bloodthirsty as the fictional creature named after him. There is also a "real" Dracula castle that you can visit — although its connection to Vlad the Impaler is more complex than you'd think.
Learn more about visiting Dracula's Castle and the man who inspired the fearsome legend of the most famous vampire in history.
Is Dracula's Castle Real?
Fans of horror and literature come to Bran, Romania, to follow Dracula's legend. The main attraction in this small Transylvanian town is Bran Castle.
Perched on a hill and surrounded by mountains and forests, the ominous castle is advertised as the "real" Dracula Castle. And while it does have a faint connection to Stroker's famous novel, it isn't where Vlad the Impaler lived.
We'll get more into this in a second, but first, let's talk about the castle itself. Built in the 13th century, Bran Castle has had a long and interesting history. It was originally constructed as a fortress against the Ottomans and also as a customs point for trade between different Romanian regions.
In the 20th century, it became the residence of Romania's last monarchs and served as a royal hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II. After the communist regime took over in 1948, the royal family was exiled, and the castle became a museum.
Those interested in history will have a great time in the castle, walking through its rooms and courtyards and learning about its various inhabitants. Though most people still come here mainly for one thing: its connection to Dracula.
How Bran Castle Became Dracula's Castle
As we already stated, Bran Castle is located in Transylvania, a region usually connected to vampires in the world's collective imagination. And yet, Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired the story of the vicious Vampire, ruled over Wallachia, not Transylvania.
How, then, did a Transylvanian castle become tied to Vlad?
Bram Stoker never actually set foot in Romania. His inspiration came from an 1820 book about Vlad the Impaler, which fascinated the author. He was particularly taken with the name "Dracula," since "drac" in modern Romanian means "devil."
He also learned from books that Transylvania — which is not where Vlad the Impaler lived nor reigned — had folktales of "steregoi," living people whose souls came out at night to haunt villages. Tales of vampires have also existed in the area for centuries. Stoker mixed these details to make a vampire named Dracula, who lived in a castle in Transylvania and only came out at night.
While researching Romania for his book, Stoker came upon an illustration of Bran Castle. Sitting high above the mountains, where it's dark and misty, he found it the perfect abode for his monster.
Vlad Tepes' real castle is in ruins, and Bran Castle is the inspiration for the book's setting, so the latter is usually advertised as the "real Dracula's Castle."
If you're into Dracula and other ghoulish legends, a visit to Transylvania and Bran Castle is worth it. The castle fits Stoker's description of Dracula's quarters so well that you'll half expect Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder to pop up in period costumes beside you.
You should also learn more about the fearsome man whose life was so horrific that it inspired one of the most infamous devils in history.
The Man Behind the Legend — Vlad the Impaler
Born sometime between 1428 and 1431, Vlad III Draculea was the ruler of Wallachia, a region in what is now Romania. He got his name from his father, who was inducted in the Order of the Dragon, a Christian order of the Holy Roman Empire that fought against the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
Vlad Draculea lived a violent life. Besides growing up in constant war, he and his younger brother were captured and held hostage by the Ottomans for years. Once he was released, he learned that his father and older brother had been murdered.
From this point on, his life became a medieval cliché of fighting for the territory he deemed to be his birthright. Though his general story is one in a million, Vlad III managed to survive in the history books because of his uncommonly horrifying sadism (and that's by medieval standards).
As you may have guessed from his colorful nickname, Vlad the Impaler (or Vlad Tepes, in Romanian) loved to punish people by impaling them. While other rulers at the time used this method to instill fear in the hearts of opponents, no one seemed to enjoy it more than him.
Vlad the Impaler's Horrifying Acts
By some accounts, he impaled 20,000 Turkish soldiers in 1462 and left them on display for the Ottoman army to see. The strategy reportedly worked, as horror took hold of the Ottomans, who retreated from their invasion.
But it wasn't just enemy soldiers he impaled. Anyone who displeased him was at risk of a terrible death. Some claim he impaled 500 Boyars (Russian aristocrats) after a banquet on a single night. He also impaled merchants who were allied with the Boyars, as well as poor and sick commoners he deemed unsightly.
Other horrible torture techniques he would use included boiling or skinning people alive, disemboweling, and nailing turbans onto people's heads.
It's hard to know which stories are true and which are exaggerations, but during his lifetime and after his death, there were rumors that he enjoyed dipping bread in the blood collected from his victims. Though these accounts are not verified, they have persisted throughout the centuries in connection to his name. He is estimated to have killed 80,000 people.
Eventually, Vlad Tepes' violent life caught up with him, and he was killed in an ambush in 1476. Several reports state that he was beheaded and that his head was delivered to his mortal enemy, Mehmed II, who impaled it and left it on display over Constantinople.
How to Visit Dracula's Castle
Intrigued and ready to head to Bran Castle? You can do a day or weekend trip to it from Bucharest.
If you love driving, renting a car is the fastest way to arrive from the Romanian capital, with a traveling time of around two hours and a half. Otherwise, you can take a train or a bus to Brasov, and then transfer to a regional bus or hail a taxi to Bran. This will take about four hours.
Though it's possible to do the trip in one day, we recommend staying at least one night in Bran. Besides the fun ghoulishness of spending the night at the foot of Dracula's castle, the town itself is undeniably pretty and a destination worthy of your time.