Another weekend off, another weekend away. And what more fitting than a visit to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania a week before Halloween?
Finding a remarkable $450 round trip flight from NYC to Romania and getting off at work at 4pm Thursday afternoon, I headed straight from the hospital to the airport to catch a 7:30pm Air France flight to Paris. After enduring viewing of Independence Day 2: Resurgence and sleeping in for 4 hours, I was in Paris by 8am Friday morning.
With a quick one hour layover at Charles Du Gaulle airport, I caught a 10am flight to Bucharest. After 3 more hours napping away in the air, I landed in Bucharest’s tiny OTP airport by 2pm Friday.
Luckily, stamping into Romania takes seconds, and you can be out the airport in minutes.
Although I’m a usually a big fan of taking cabs into the city to save time on quicker trips, the actual best way to get into Bucharest is to take Bus 783, which stops right in front of the arrivals terminal and costs a mere 9 lei ($2.25 USD). If the automated ticket machine outside is broken (like it was for me), there’s a kiosk immediately to your right that will take over selling tickets.
Bus 783 comes every 20 minutes during daylight hours. Once it arrives, dash in as quickly as you can and grab a seat; this bus gets extremely crowded and notorious Bucharest traffic can make standing with all your luggage a maddening experience.
It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get from the airport to downtown Bucharest, depending on traffic. I got off at the stop right next to the Intercontinental Hotel, immediately north of Old Town.
Having taken advantage of IHG’s Accelerate Offer last year, I was able to snag a 2 free night certificate for any IHG property in the world. And learning that the Intercontinental here is one of Bucharest’s finest hotels, I ended up using my free weekend stay here. I crashed the moment I checked in.
Refreshed and recharged the next morning, I hailed an Uber for 8 lei ($2 USD) to pick me up for a 5 minute ride to Gara de Nord, Bucharest’s main train station.
To reach Dracula’s Castle — which is formally known as Bran’s Castle — you first need to get to the city of Braşov. Trains from Bucharest to Braşov run hourly, especially in the mornings, and cost around 45 lei for 2nd class and 70 lei for 1st class.
Although the ticket machine doesn’t have an English option, it’s pretty intuitive, or you can use the ticket booths which are staffed by adequately competent English-speaking agents.
For those of you wondering which class to choose, 2nd class is cramped, but works fine enough:
Whereas 1st class has way more leg room and privacy:
The ride takes about 2 hours and 50 minutes, so enjoy the views of Transylvania on your way to Brasov:
Having taken a 10am train, I arrived in Brasov at around 12:45pm:
Right outside of the train station is a wall of kiosks; on the side that’s facing out towards the city, you can get tickets that cost 2 lei for Bus 23 or Bus 23B that stop about 100 yards south of the train station.
Bus 23/23B arrives every 10-15 minutes and takes you 10 minutes away (4 stops) to the regional bus station called Autogara 2 – Stadium.
From Autogara, you will need to take another bus that has the sign “Brasov-Rasov-Bran” on it, which leaves once every hour (or hour and a half depending on the time of day). It costs 7 lei (buy when you board) and takes about another 40 minutes to reach Bran.
Alternatively, you can befriend a few other tourists here (like I did with Ty and Dmitry, an American tourist and a Russian tourist respectively traveling on their Fall Break from NYU Abu Dhabi University & College in UAE) and split a metered taxi to go directly to Bran Castle within 30-40 minutes. It will cost about 120-150 lei total (or about $10 USD per person if you fill up the cab with 4 people).
Once you reach the village of Bran, you feel like you’re walking through the Transylvanian version of its Wonderful World of Harry Potter…or Dracula in this case.
Follow the crowds and most likely you’ll reach the ticket booth for Bran Castle. It costs about 35 lei for adults, and 20 lei if you have a student ID:
Head past the gate and walk up a small hill to reach the very castle that would inspire the legend of Dracula:
Because of its loose association with Vlad The Impaler (the actual man that inspired Bram Stoker‘s Dracula), who actually was a prisoner here for 2 days, this 12th century castle in turn became popularly associated with being the legendary castle of Dracula himself.
Around the time of posting, this castle was making news again when Airbnb offerred an international competition for guests to stay here overnight (in coffins!) this upcoming Halloween:
We just missed the party by 1 week!
An entire tour of the castle will take you about 30 minutes to fully explore, and if you go around Halloween like we did, be prepared for Halloween-related kitsch decorated all over the venue as well as the massive crowds taking photos of them.
The highlight is a secret stairwell that takes you from the 2nd to 3rd floor:
People seemed to be pretty tiny back then as all the rooms and ceilings seemed to hang pretty low:
Don’t forget to step outside for the views:
And finally, near the end of the tour is an optional exhibit on various medieval torture devices that were used on and killed real people back in the day of Vlad the Impaler. Tickets cost 10 lei per person and can be bought at the gift shop out in the courtyard.
This exhibit spans 3 tiny floors and features some of the world’s most popular torture devices, most notably. . . .
The Iron Maiden:
The Interrogation Chair:
A vertical version of The Rack:
The Judas Chair (You sit on this with weights hanging from your limbs…):
The Wedge (where they force feed you water until you suffocate, or split apart):
The Rack (where they stretch you until you split apart/suffocate/die):
The Joint Crusher:
The Skull Crusher:
The Breaking Wheel (where they attach your limbs to the wheel and break you apart):
And finally, the one that gave Vlad The Impaler his very moniker, the Impaler:
Not surprisingly, we spent twice as long in the torture gallery than the entire castle itself. Afterwards we dodged the souvenir shops and headed back down and wandered the surrounding grounds:
Then we headed back out to the village, where a bunch of temporary haunted houses solicited our Halloween spirits and beckoned us for our easy money:
…but we decided instead to take a cab and head back to Brasov.
– At time of posting in Bran, Romania, it was 53.6 °F –
Humidity: 93% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast