Romanian Castles You Need to See
Regular readers will now know that Romania is one of my personal favorite countries. As well as amazing nature, cool cities and friendly people the Balkan country also has a load of amazing castles dotted all across the country. The constructions date from across the countries tumultuous past and in their own way, they tell the tale of Romania’s history. Some of these are little more than standing ruins whereas others are pristinely preserved.
A few of you have asked me how to visit Poenari Castle in Wallachia so I decided to take the time to provide some basic info as well as do a little round-up of the best Romanian castles that you can should definitely visit.
Poenari Castle is a ruined 13th-century castle situated in the Wallachia region of Romania. Whilst relatively little remains of the castle, it continues to attract visitors to this day.
Archaeologists currently believe that the castle was originally built in the 13th century and over the next 500 hundred years was damaged, extended and rebuilt as one would expect a battle station to be during times of war and siege! It was eventually, finally abandoned in the 19th century and left to ruin.
Is this Dracula’s castle?
Poenari Castle was used by the real-life Dracula (infamous medieval Romanian warlord Vlad the Impaler) for military campaigns but it is not the fabled site of Dracula’s castle. There is a definite connection though, Vlad the Impaler had Poenari Castle rebuilt and reinforced in the 14th century as he considered its hilltop position to be strategically important. Another rumor also has it that Vlad’s wife (well, one of them) committed suicide by throwing herself from the window into the river below.
However, Vlad’s own castle (and therefore Dracula’s castle) is situated in Transylvania near to the city of Brasov (more on this below).
How to get there
There are now specialized tour buses that go directly to the castle from the Romanian Capital of Bucharest. This is undoubtedly the fastest and easiest way.
However, if you would prefer to visit the castle under your steam though, then the closest town is Arefu and the closest major transport hub is the Curtea de Arges. Both Arefe and Curtea de Arges can be reached by local bus from Bucharest but may take upwards of 3 hours. From Curtea de Arges, you can then catch a minibus to Arefu, and let the driver know you are headed for Poenari Castle. Whilst the drivers may not speak much English, they are used to seeing tourists so will probably know where you want to get off.
Once you reach the site of the castle, you will have to ascend the hill by taking the 1,480 concrete stairs. It’s a pretty good bum work out right?
Other Romanian Castles To Visit
Visiting the castles is definitely amongst the best things to do in Romania and they are the jewel in the crown of Romanian tourism. Any holiday or visit to Romania should include an excursion to at least one of the castles on this list.
The aforementioned Bran Castle is undoubtedly the most famous amongst all the Romanian castles.
Bran, as it stands today was built by the Saxons on top of an older wooden castle erected by earlier Teutonic Knights. It was a long time home of Vlad the Impaler and is now known famous as Dracula’s Castle after Bram Stoker used it as the inspiration for his novel.
It is everything you would want and expDracula’sulas castle to be. It has a decidedly medieval menace to it with pointy towers, narrow corridors, steep stairs, and very dark rooms.
You can easily visit Bran by taking a day trip from Brasoz either on a bus tour or by catching local transportation which leaves from the bottom of the main street. Its uniqueness also brought Bran a well-deserved place in a “top 10 most beautiful castles in the world”.
Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle, was once named one of the spookiest buildings in the world by Lonely Planet. It has also been named of the 10 most fairytale-like European castles, but only because “sometimes fairy tales are actually nightmares”. More Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney then…
The Gothic Castle was built around 1446 by invading Hungarians (long-term antagonists of the various ruling Romanian clans). There is another Vlad the Impaler connection here as he was once imprisoned here Vlad spent quite a fair bit of his life been thrown in and out of prison.
(Psst! Whilst we’re talking about those pesky invading Hungarians, I should mention that the neighbouring country has some pretty awesome castles of its own – for more advice and inspiration, check out this post on the Most Beautiful Castles in Hungary)
The Iulia Hasdeu
In some ways, the Iulia Hașdeu Castle looks more like a big elegant house than a fighting castle which is because this is exactly what it was.
This castle has a tragic and poignant history to it. The castle was built by Bogdan Petriceicu Hașdeu, a famous Romanian writer and thinker, in tribute to his brilliant daughter who died of Tuberculosis aged 19.
Whilst Mr Hasdeu only resolved to build the castle after his daughter’s unexpected death, legend has it that she dictated the plans for its design herself. How is this you may ask? Well, apparently she communicated with her Father via a medium during spiritism sessions. Spiritism was very popular during the Victorian era and even celebrated genius’ such as Victor Hugo were heavily involved in it.
The castle is rich in occult and mystical in symbolism and one of the rooms was apparently even purpose designed to allow Iulia’s spirit to return and communicate with her father. So whilst touching, this is yet another spooky Romanian castle!
Serene and romantic Sturdza Castle is located in Miclaușeni, is the perfect antidote to the sinister castles of Bran and Corvin. The one-time royal palace includes a beautiful lake and some ancient woodland trees. The castle was built by the Sturdza family, a respected and well-known Moldavian family who became part of ancient Romania’s ruling and influential class
The castle was built in a Neo-gothic style to recall earlier constructions in the region. The Sturdza family motto is engraved on the castle’s façades;
“Utroque clarescere pluchrum”
Which translates as…
“Beauty shines everywhere”
There has been ongoing restoration work at the castle since 2004.
The majestic Peles castle seems to step right out a Disney flick rising up from the woodland covered Carpathian mountains. Finished in 1883, it was originally built as a summer residence for the Romanian royal family but it is now a museum.
The castle is situated on a route linking the historic kingdoms of Wallachia and Transylvania and now falls within the Prahova County borough. The castle is best reached from Brasoz as it is only 30 miles away. You can then combine a visit to Peles Castle with a visit to Bran castle.
The Sighisoara Medieval Citadel
Sighisoara is perhaps Romania’s most remarkable, atmospheric and beautiful city and no visit to the nation is complete without a visit here.
The town itself is a step back in time, it’s ancient buildings and winding alleyways are immensely well preserved and you can almost hear the echoing footsteps from the last 1000 years. In it’s prime the citadel boasted an impressive 14 towers and 9 of them have survived intact to this day. Vlad Dracul also had a house here which you can visit.
The 13th century Rasnov Citadel is an enclosed village/hamlet situated atop a hill and surrounded by impenetrable walls. The Citadel is now mostly in ruins but is definitely still worth a visit to appreciate the scale of the walls as well to take in the breathtaking views. The chapel, school, and water well are also intact and there is a small art museum.
Rasnov is situated in Brasoz county and like it’s cousin Brasoz, the citadel has a cheeky “Hollywood” style sign identifying it to all for miles around.
The Fortified Churches of Transylvania
And you thought it was only the Chinese Shaolin monks who were ready to kick ass?! Whilst, not exactly Romanian castles, special mention just has to be given to the medieval defended churches which were erected to protect monks against the marauding Ottoman hordes who were intent of converting them to Islam at the point of a curved sword!
All of these constructions are now being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name of “The Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania”. There are 7 to visit located at Biertan, Câlnic, Dârjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor, Viscri.
Visiting Poenari Castle and other Romanian Castles
Romania is slowly emerging as trending destination for tourism as word steadily gets out about its beauty and history. Holders of EU, US, Canadian & Australian passport holders do not need a Visa to visit Romania as it part of the EU (though not strictly in the Schengen Zone).
Many young Romanians speak English to a high standard. In fact, some UK business’ now have back-office functions there. Older Romanians generally do not speak much English.
At the time of writing the country is still incredibly cheap to visit for holders of western currency with modern, spacious and comfortable Air B n B apartments are widely available for $25 per night. A local beer can be bought in a store for less than $1 and a meal for 2 in a decent restaurant is still under $20.
The Romanian airline Whizz Air along with several other budget airlines are now offering cheap flights to Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, and Sighisoara. There are also regular flights to Timisoara but the city is located on the other side of the country and not ideal for visiting the castles which are mostly situated around the Transylvania and Wallachia regions.
Navigating Romania’s public transportation systems can sometimes seem quite daunting and to visit many of these Romanian castles, you will need to change busses quite a few times in some fairly obscure towns. One site I find genuinely useful for providing complete route information including times, locations, changes, and prices is Rome 2 Rio.
Alternatively, you may wish to rent a car. Be mindful that some of these castles are set deep into the mountains so the roads can be slow going and hazardous especially in winter. Also, bear in mind that driving standards in Romania are significantly more haphazard than in Western Europe. You will need a full driving licence from your home country. International licenses are not required. That said, if you have come from a Non-Western nation then an international driving license may come in useful.
Check out my previous post if you want to learn some fascinating facts about Romania.
Leave a comment!
Have I missed your favorite Romanian castle? Well leave a comment and let me know. That way, I can try to check it out next time I’m in Romania.