A trip to Romania is not complete without visiting its famed castles: Peles and Bran. Even if you haven’t been to Romania, I’m pretty sure you would have heard of “Dracula’s Castle” and feel that it would be cool to see his lair.
Well I’ll be honest and say that was me prior to arriving in the country. The novelty and the spookiness of the thought was irresistable!
And then there’s another castle, a lesser-known one but it left me so impressed and astounded.
The two castles I visited in Romania are completely different from each other, but both very significant in Romanian history and are a must-see when visiting Romania.
Where: Sinaia, Carpathian Mountains
Unlike it’s famous counterpart (Bran or ‘Dracula’s castle’), many people, myself included, would only have seen famous photographs of Peles and just describe it as “that really pretty castle in Romania” but not fully know its name and where it is.
Well I’m really glad I got to visit Peles because it turned out to be the most impressive authentic European castle I’ve been to.
Built between 1873 – 1914, Peles is a Neo Renaissance Castle nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. This castle was the project of King Carol I of Romania (1839-1914), who fell in love with the mountain scenery of the site.
We arrived in Peles early in the morning (before the tour buses) and I observed several people taking lots of photos of the castle’s exterior. It truly has an impressive facade, surrounded by thick trees, mountains and forest.
I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time photographing the exterior of the castle, because what’s inside was even more impressive.
By strict definition, Peles is actually a palace but it’s been called and known as a castle all this time. One of the main differences between a palace and castle: Castles normally have common structural features like moats, gatehouses and arrow slits in walls. These are not for any other architectural purpose, other than to protect the castle from invaders. A palace, on the other hand, incorporates architectural features to the structure for aesthetic reasons.
Castle or not, Peles really has an astounding interior.
The details in every room (over 160 of them!) are so intricate and well-preserved. Every room also has a theme / obvious purpose. Some rooms even have cultural themes, reflecting on the times when Romania traded goods with neighbouring and far flung countries.
If you are into interior design, history, or just interested in fine details, it may take you hours to self-tour the castle. It took us about 2 hours on a self-guided tour (with audio guides), and we didn’t even explore the upper level of the castle.
Just across the road from Peles is Pelisor Castle, a smaller place (but a castle/ palace nevertheless!) where King Ferdinand I (the nephew successor of King Carol I of Romania) and his wife Queen Maria lived.
Here’s a mini tour of Peles Castle, so you can hopefully see how elaborate the details are inside!
Now unlike Peles Castle, Bran Castle needs very little introduction. Almost everyone knows this as “Dracula’s Castle” and unfortunately, that is a completely wrong information brought about by Bram Stoker and tourism marketing that rode the fictitious hype.
The distance to Bran Castle from Peles is over 1 hour by car. And the stark difference that I immediately noticed upon reaching Transylvannia is how much more touristy it is.
I mean, really…
Bran Castle is atop a 200 foot high rock, and at the base of it lies stalls and stalls of ghoulish souvenirs. The place has obviously capitalised on the hype that Bran Castle is wrongly famous for being ‘Dracula’s Castle’ thanks to Bram Stoker.
Bram Stoker never really set foot in Transylvannia but used his imagination that his created character, Dracula lived in Transylvannia. And even though Dracula is a fictitious character, people made the conclusion that Dracula is actually Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), the Prince of Wallachia , who, during the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans led his army to protect Romania and infamously impaled his enemies during battles.
And though Vlad Tepes really was an impaler, he was by no means a vampire. (Ergo: he is NOT Dracula!) and the only relation he has with Bran Castle is the existing records that Vlad the Impaler was arrested near Oratia fortress, which is close to Bran Castle. So he may (or may not) have been imprisoned in Bran Castle.
Nevertheless, for all the tourist trap hype that Bran Castle endured and is still carrying, it’s still worth your while to visit Bran Castle, especially with it being just an hour away from Peles Castle.
Bran Castle’s architecture and design is Gothic style, which adds more element to the Dracula story.
What we do know for certain though, is that Bran Castle was the Royal Family’s summer residence until 1947, and in 1957 it officially became a museum.
And since it’s already known as Dracula’s castle, the top level of the castle has a sort of montage wall with information and facts about Bram Stoker, the 1992 movie adaptation of Dracula (starring Winona Rider and Keanu Reeves, with Gary Oldman as Dracula), and also a fact board about Romanian superstitions and supernatural beliefs ( Man, reading about the Strigoi scared the hell out of me!) *Strigois are, according to Romanian superstition, troubled souls that rise from the grave and can live within people around us* – Let’s not go there!
Bran and Peles are two different castles, and prior to visiting Romania, I had my eyes set on ‘Dracula’s Castle (before I knew any better). After visiting both castles, I have to say that it was Peles Castle that left me more impressed. There were less people, and it contains much more well-preserved artefacts and areas to explore.
Tips on Visiting Peles and Bran Castle:
- Arrive early! Even if Romania is not exactly a massive tourist destination, there are still huge tour buses that go to the castles and it’s always a better experience when there are less people.
- Take a private tour (or drive yourself). There are loads of “2 Castles in One Day” trips available but it means having to go with a big group. I personally enjoyed visits to both castles because we were free to explore on our own time.
- For Peles Castle, make sure your valuables (wallet, passport, etc) can be kept in your pockets as bags are not allowed inside.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. Not so much because you’ll be walking a lot (ok that too) but because the flooring of both castles are made of wood and delicate. In Peles, you will be given cloth to wear over your shoes, but heels still create loud, thundering noises. Also, there are relatively inclined cobblestoned walkway leading to Bran Castle, which may be slippery when raining.
- Take a light rain jacket in case it rains. There are no covered walkways from the carpark to both castle entrances.
- Don’t take too many gadgets / cameras with you. There is an extra fee for every camera that you take inside. A separate fee for video cameras.
Entrance to Peles Castle: 20 Romanian Lei / Adult (approx AUD 18.00)
Entrance to Bran Castle: 30 Romanian Lei / Adult (approx AUD 27.00)
Camera Fee: 20-30 Lei for each camera, per castle.