Written by Lucy Mallows and Paul Brummell
Transylvania has something of a love-hate relationship with Dracula tourism. On the one hand, the inhabitants of a region so rich in treasures can find it rather galling that their home has been placed on the international tourist map less by virtue of any of these than by the fictional writings of a 19th-century Irish author who never actually set foot in the place. And these concerns are compounded for many Romanians by the fact that Count Dracula draws on a real historical figure, the 15th-century Vlad III Ţepeş, Vlad the Impaler, who in contrast to his negative image abroad is viewed by many Romanians rather positively, in particular for his defence of Christendom against the Ottomans. On the other hand, there is an increasing recognition that Dracula draws in the tourists.
There are many opportunities to buy Dracula-themed gifts © Paul Brummell
The use of Dracula by the tourist industry in Transylvania is often decidedly superficial, from the many hotels and restaurants across the region which have decided that simply adding ‘Dracula’ to their name, coupled with a bit of faux-medieval decor in the restaurant, is the way to pull in a few extra foreigners. Avoid dishes on menus with names like ‘Dracula burger’, which just indicates that you are likely to be served up something smothered in ketchup. There are many opportunities to buy Dracula-related merchandise, from the classical creepy masks to a Count Dracula snow globe, novelty T-shirt, or branded Dracula wine.
Bran Castle is marketed as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ © dinosmichail, Shutterstock
Those looking for more serious Dracula tourism have two broad options. The first is to visit places mentioned in or linked to Bram Stoker’s novel. The key county in this respect is Bistriţa-Năsăud, where the Transylvanian parts of the novel are set. One key place to aim for is the Golden Krone Hotel in Bistriţa: in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, Jonathan Harker stayed here in ‘Bistritz’ en route to the Count’s Castle. And then there’s Bran Castle, marketed as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ by tourist companies across Romania, though actually nowhere near the site of the Count’s castle as suggested in the novel. Stoker had probably seen pictures of this strikingly located castle, at the top of a steep crag, when researching his novel.
The Hotel Castel Dracula is another popular Dracula destination © Paul Brummell
Before arriving in Bistriţa, Jonathan Harker stayed a night at the fictional Hotel Royale in Cluj-Napoca, referred to as ‘Klausenburgh’ in the novel. The Tihuţa Pass in Bistriţa-Năsăud County is the ‘Borgo Pass’ from Bram Stoker’s novel, and the setting for the Castel Dracula Hotel, built in the Communist period.
Vlad the Impaler, the real historical figure who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was born in Sighişoara © Gaspar Janos, Shutterstock
The other option is to visit sites linked to the life of Vlad the Impaler, the real historical figure who served as an inspiration for Stoker’s count. This offers some rich touristic possibilities, but note that, although he was born in Transylvania, Vlad Ţepeş was prince not of Transylvania but of the more southerly region of Wallachia. Most of the main sites associated with his life therefore lie outside Transylvania. Vlad the Impaler built the Old Princely Court, the Curtea Veche, as his residence while he was protecting the southern boundary of Wallachia against the Turks. The Court lies in the attractive Old Town of present-day Bucharest, close to the Piaţa Unirii metro station. In an impressive spot on a high precipice, Poenari Castle was strengthened by Vlad the Impaler, for whom it was an important fortress. It is now a ruin, located on the DN7C, the Transfăgărăşan Highway. Vlad was born in 1431 in Sighişoara, where his father had settled a couple of years earlier. Some claim that Vlad the Impaler is buried at Snagov Monastery, attractively sited on a small island in a lake some 35km north of Bucharest off the main route DN1/E60. On the other hand, he is also said to be buried in the monastery at Comana, south of Bucharest. Basically, nobody knows. Lastly, Targovişte was the capital of Wallachia at the time, and its royal court was extended by Vlad the Impaler, who added the Chindia Tower, the symbol of the town.
Want to learn more about the truth behind the Dracula myth? Check out our guide to Transylvania: