This town is famous for one thing: It’s the site of a castle that may or may not have been lived in by a largely fictionalized character that was created by a writer who never set foot outside his native Ireland. But if you’re ever in this neck of Transylvania and don’t pay it a visit, it would be like driving through Orlando and not stopping to get your picture taken with Mickey Mouse.
The official name is Bran Castle, and in its 600-year history it has served as a fortress, a customs post, a hospital and the favorite home of Romania’s Queen Marie. But, to the thousands of tourists who flock to it each year, it’s the home of the mash-up of history, legend and Bram Stoker’s imagination known as Dracula.
If you come here expecting spookiness and other frightening stuff for your 25 lei admission (approximately $8), you might be disappointed, though. It’s a museum, not a Halloween haunted house. You won’t see ghosts floating through its rooms or hear chains clanking down its hallways. There’s not even a coffin for Dracula to sleep in.
There is, in fact, some debate about whether Vlad the Impaler — the real-life Romanian who spawned the fictional Dracula character — ever slept here, in or out of a coffin. Some sources say he never lived in the place. Others insist he stopped by occasionally, when he was not otherwise engaged in his hobby of spiking people on wooden stakes.
If there’s anything scary about the castle, it’s the steep staircases you would have to negotiate; be warned that there is no handicapped access in and around the castle. (Or, indeed, in most of Romania. This is no country for old men … or women.)
But if you survive the steps, you’ll get an inside glimpse of Romanian history. And, of course, the opportunity to eat Dracula pizza and Dracula soup at Bran’s many restaurants. Or to buy stuff at the seemingly endless souvenir booths at the edge of the castle.
I mean, if you go to Transylvania, you must come home with a T-shirt that reads:
Dr. Acula, Romanian Cardiologist.
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