Growing up, I was always one who sought out a good scare, whether it was visiting a Haunted House at an amusement park, watching horror flicks with one eye open, or sharing ghost stories around a campfire. So, when an opportunity to visit Transylvania arose, I finally had my chance to see if there truly was a land where the undead roamed, werewolves lurked in thick forests, and men could transform into blood-thirsty bats. With bags packed (garlic included, left the wooden stake at home), I was ready to embark on my trek into the Carpathian Mountains to visit the mysterious land of Transylvania.

she-wolf brasov transylvania romania

The Capitoline Wolf in Brasov.

Transylvania does not disappoint when it comes to setting the perfect stage for a search for Dracula among other legendary semi-human creatures. With its majestic mountains draped in a thick fog, its gothic castles set against overcast skies, and its small medieval villages that look as if time has not touched them, it is the perfect environment to put anyone in the mood for a good ole vampire hunt. Transylvania gives you a good dose of both the myth and the reality when it comes to Dracula. From your base camp in Brasov to a trek through the Carpathian Mountains, you will be able to explore the must-see sites of Dracula encompassing fiction, reality and a whole lot of kitsch. But there is more to Transylvania than just creepy crawlers and things that go bump in the night. Here are my top recommendations for your journey to Transylvania.

1)  Brasov

 

brasov romaniaBrasov, a city surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, is located about 2 ½ hours north of Bucharest. It makes a great base for exploring the must-see sights of Transylvania. What you’ll find in Brasov is amazing scenery as well as a nice pedestrian zone offering old world charm.

brasov town square, transylvania, romaniaTown Hall Square is a very picturesque town square at the top of the pedestrian zone. It is here where you’ll find Brasov’s most famous landmark, the Black Church, and the Old Town Hall which houses Brasov’s History Museum.  

brasov, transylvania, romania

In the pedestrian zone, you’ll find many shops and restaurants catering to both tourists and residents.  In nicer weather, you can opt to sit out on the main walkway to enjoy your meal. I’ve been told that on summer weekends, this area gets very crowded.  Apparently, that is not the case on chilly weekdays in mid-May like the time I was visiting; it was more like a ghost town.

While visiting Brasov, try to work in a hike to the top of Tampa Mountain. Tampa Mountain is where the large Brasov sign stands above the town, and it is also where the original defensive fortress was built. It was at this fortress where Vlad Tepes attacked the city in 1458-60 destroying the citadel and impaling 40 merchants on top of the mountain. A hike to the top takes about an hour or you can opt to take the Tampa cable car to the peak (3,000 feet). Not only will you be walking in Dracula’s steps, but you’ll enjoy some great views of the old town from this perch.

2)  Bran Castle
bran castle transylvania romaniaBran Castle, located 16 miles northeast of Brasov, is the castle that served as the inspiration for Dracula’s Castle in the Bram Stoker’s novel, “Dracula”. Although it was in existence during the life of the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes never resided here. However, that does not make Bran Castle any less vampire-lair worthy.

bran castlebran castleThe castle sprouts up from a rocky bluff and is located right at the edge of town at the Rucăr – Bran passage. Here, visitors can enjoy rooms dedicated to Transylvania’s most famous count and experience vampire-esque surprises like a hidden staircase, ancient torture devices, Queen Marie’s Tea House, and a glass elevator known as “Dracula’s escape route”.

bran castle souvenirs romania

Who wouldn’t want a mug with a “mug” like that on it? You can even find strings of garlic at this total kitsch market.

At the base of Bran Castle, you’ll find a souvenir and local crafts market. This is the place to go for your Dracula souvenirs, as you will not find a collection like this anywhere else in Romania.

3)  Sighisoara

brasovAnother town worth visiting while in Transylvania is Sighisoara, which is located 72 miles northeast of Brasov (about a 2 hour drive). Many pay a visit to this town because it is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, but it is also a World Heritage site.

A UNESCO designated town, it has a lot more going for it than just being Dracula’s birthplace. It is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, with its nine towers, winding cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches. Attractions include the home of Vlad, the Church on the Hill, the 13th century Venetian House, and the Church of the Dominican Monastery. A visit to Sighisoara is like stepping back in time, and it’s a town not to be missed on your journey through Transylvania.

4)  Rasnov Fortress
rasnovOn a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains, and only 9 miles northeast of Brasov, you’ll find the Rasnov Fortress. Sitting 650 feet above the town of Rasnov, you can’t miss this restored fortress.

rasnov

rasnovThe fortress was not only used for defense, it was also a place of refuge at times throughout its history.  As such, it resembles a fortified small village, with homes, a school and a chapel. When you visit Rasnov Fortress, you’ll be treated to some great views of the valley but there’s also a degree of kitsch here, too, with a souvenir shop within the fortress.

rasnov

5)  Peles CastlePeles Castle RomaniaA trip 40 miles south of Brasov to the town of Sanaia is where you’ll find one of Europe’s most stunning castles. I have seen a lot of castles in Europe, and I found Peles to be the most stunning of them all.

Peles Castle Romania
Located at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains, Peles Castle is located in a picturesque town that is also a popular ski resort during the winter season.  The scenery at Peles Castle is breathtaking yet eerie as the fog creeps down the sides of the mountains.

peles castle romaniaThe castle’s 160 rooms are beautifully decorated with European art, Murano crystal chandeliers, German stained-glass windows and Corboda leather-covered walls. If you want to take photographs inside the castle, you’ll have to pay a fee to do so. Do yourself a favor and pay the fee. You’ll regret not being able to photograph the beautiful rooms of this castle, each offering its own unique charm and character from the Turkish Salon to the Theater Room and so much more in between.

Trip Tip: While in Sinaia, you should consider visiting the Sinaia Monastery. It once served as the residence of the royal family until Peles Castle was built. It is still a working monastery today.

Trip Summary

Be sure to sleep with one eye open.  You never know when Count Dorkula is going to pay you a visit when in Transylvvania.

Be sure to sleep with one eye open. You never know when Count Dorkula is going to pay you a visit when in Transylvvania.

When my journey through Transylvania came to an end, I had a camera full of amazing photographs but no memory of any encounters with the undead, werewovles or vampires. Feasting on blood red wine and the Mixed Grill Dracula at dinner each night, snacking on chimney cakes during the day,and seeing some extraordinary scenery made this trip a delightful surprise.  Transylvania is a beautiful area in Romania, and as two women driving through the countryside exploring on their own, we never felt safer.

I did, however, later uncover one piece of evidence that vampires may exist.   As it appears my travel companion may have had a different experience while trekking through Transylvania, and now, the legend of Count Dorkula shall live on.

BRASOV TRIP SHEET

Suggested Itinerary: 

  • Day 1 – Brasov
  • Day 2 – Rasnov Fortress and Bran Castle
  • Day 3 – Peles Palace and the Sinaia Monastery
  • Day 4 – Sighisoara   

When to go:  Anytime is a good time, but consider your interests.   If you are a skier, you may want to visit during the winter months.  If you don’t like crowds visit during the spring or fall.  If you want nice weather for hiking and enjoying outdoor restaurants, the summer is your time to visit.

How to get there: You’ll need a car to make the most of your visit, and you can easily rent one at the Bucharest airport.  The roads are fairly good, albeit going up and down the mountains, you’ll encounter quite a number of hairpin turns.

Where to stay:  Hotel Casa Wagner is ideally located right on the town square placing you in the heart of the pedestrian zone. You can easily walk to restaurants, shops and bars from this no frills but clean and comfortable hotel.  Parking is not available, but there is free street parking about four blocks away along Strada Castelului.  There is no place to drop off bags either, but there is a small pull off area along the main road (Piata Sfatului) along the square that gets you very close to the entrance to the hotel.  Be quick, there’s usually a cop standing around that area.

Where to eat:  There are many dining options around the pedestrian zone from fine dining to pub food.

Featured image, CC: Tsvetelin Pavlov