My year living in Bucharest, Romania, was one of the best ever. We loved driving through the Romanian countryside, which is dotted with fairytale palaces and historic fortresses. Below I outline some of the most notable Romanian castles, including what I consider the top sights as well as those I’d consider tourist traps. These sights make up part of an ideal itinerary for a driving route through Transylvania, along with Braşov, Sibiu, Sighişoara, and hiking in Piatra Craiului.
Romanian Castles: Top Sights & Tourist Traps
Peleş Castle: Top Sight
In my book, Peleş Castle is the star of Romanian castles and a total dream. Seeing pics of this palace sets expectations high, and I gotta say that the place lives up to them. On your way into the grounds, the sight of the castle set against a backdrop of trees and rolling hills is whimsically breathtaking. The castle was built in a German Renaissance style – hence the wooden beams that recall images of a Bavarian town – by King Carol I as a summer home. You may need to wait a bit for entry inside, but it’s worth it. The castle’s interior features rooms of different themes, like the Florentine Hall with Italian chandeliers, a Moorish-themed room reminiscent of La Alhambra, and the Louis XIV room. Although Peleş is picturesque at all times of year, I absolutely recommend visiting in the autumn, particularly in mid-October. The foliage surrounding the castle will fulfill all of your fall leaf-peeping fantasies and temperatures are pleasant. There is also an outdoor market near the castle, which makes a great stop for souvenirs or treats. These markets are typical throughout the country, and I love their gingerbread cookies!
Pelişor Castle: Tourist Trap
This castle is on the same grounds as Peleş: in fact, King Carol I had it built for his heirs. Although Pelişor is good-looking on the outside – note its exposed wooden beams and intricately tiled roof – we weren’t particularly wowed by the interior. Peleş is much more impressive by comparison. So, if you’re short on time, I wouldn’t say entry into Pelişor is necessary. A good look at it from the outside will suffice.
Bran Castle: Tourist Trap
Bran Castle is one of Romania’s main claims to fame, but it’s not my fave on this list of Romanian castles. Located in the region of Transylvania, this castle served as inspiration for the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (although Stoker had only seen illustrations of the castle and never actually visited Romania). So, one can imagine how it draws hordes of Dracula fans. As one such fan myself, I was a bit underwhelmed by the castle. Stoker’s castle is described as sitting “on the very edge of a terrific precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything!” Bran Castle does indeed sit on a precipice, but it is nowhere near as lofty or as precarious as the one described in the novel. What’s more, the interior decor is sparse and unimposing. I’m talking white plaster and not much else. On the visit, you’re basically just taken in a line through the castle. There’s so many people that you just kind of follow the flow of the line instead of choosing your own pace, which is annoying. Queen Marie of Romania summered at the castle, but the interior decor lacked signs of royal luxury. Some legends have it that Vled Țepeș, aka Vlad the Impaler and another source of inspo for Stoker’s Dracula, lived here, but that’s false. The connection between Bad Vlad and Bran is dubious at best: He may have laid siege to the castle in the Middle Ages. Honestly, I’d say a drive-by may do the trick to quench your Dracula thirst, as the views of the castle from a bit of a distance are more impressive than seeing the castle from within.
Râșnov Citadel: Top Sight
This low-key sight is a nice stop if you’re visiting Braşov or other sights on this list. The citadel is really the remains of a castle built in 1225. It’s nothing particularly life-changing, but this sight is literally “top”: set on top of a hill, it offers great views of the Carpathian mountains and countryside.
Enjoy your visits to these Romanian castles!