Brasov is a fantastic base for exploring the beautiful Carpathian mountains and Transylvanian lore. The most obvious day trip from Brasov is, of course, to the infamous Bran Castle. It is said that Bram Stoker used the Bran Castle as inspiration for Count Dracula's castle in his novel. According to the people at the Bran Castle, theirs is the only castle in all of Transylvania that matches the description as written by Stoker. The novel reads that Drac's abode sits at "the very edge of a terrific precipice . . . with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.”
Many other sources state that Stoker was not even aware of the existence of the Bran castle. Non-believers claim that Stoker's description of Dracula's Castle actually bears no resemblance to the Bran Castle. We'll leave the legitimacy of the claim for you to ponder when you visit.
We decided to make our own day trip that included both the Bran Castle and the Rasnov Citadel. It's an easy DIY day adventure and we love being free of tour groups and on our own schedule. Dying to check out a fictional vampire's pad ("One vampire pad, ah ah ah"), and a real life citadel, we packed a lunch and headed to the bus station to catch one of the many buses to Bran.
The 70 or so air fresheners hanging from the aged bus' ceiling did nothing to enliven the air, but their existence made me exponentially happier. Its delightful, explainable details like these that make me fall deeper and deeper in love with travelling independently. Why were there so many surely expired air fresheners hanging from the ceiling? Who knows? But also, why not?
Bran is a cute little village. The castle loomed above us in all its spooky grandeur. On a dark, foggy evening one's imagination could easily conjure up all sorts of mysterious manifestations in a place like this. We wandered around a bit, on the opposite of such days, bright and happy under the late spring sun, in search of tacky Dracula themed souvenirs to giggle at. We were both shocked and a little disappointed that, though there were many, many stalls selling handicrafts they were very light in the fang selection. Sadly, I wasn't going to get that festive Dracula Christmas ornament I had been hoping for! However, there was a bat themed water fountain that I was quite entertained by. Had it been pint time, there were plenty of patios that could have fit the bill. Alas, it was barely mid morning, so we stuck to coffee.
The castle itself was expensive to enter (40lei). The entrance alone was the busiest place we had experienced in Romania. The people must have teleport-ed in as there was no evidence of mass tourism anywhere else. We chose not to go inside, based on the reviews we read prior to arriving, but enjoyed seeing the castle perched on the rocky hill from town below.
We got back on the bus headed towards Brasov but asked to be let off at Rasnov. The driver didn't tell us when we had arrived at the Rasnov stop so we ended up having to walk back through the town after scrambling to get off the bus at the far end of Rasnov. Like Brasov, Rasnov has a Hollywood-esque sign high up on the hill so there's no confusion as to where you landed. In hindsight, when you see that huge Rasnov sign backed by a mighty citadel up on a cliff- get off the bus. No Google Maps needed- this is your stop. Based on what ended up being many personal experiences, the bus driver will never tell you when its your stop.
It turned out that all the tourists had, in fact, been lured to Dracula's castle because we had Rasnov practically to ourselves. The main cobblestone street that leads towards the citadel was charming and alive with the goings on of locals but there was nare a tourist in sight. Conveniently, the main road lead us straight to the main square from which the funicular (12 Lei pp/return) goes up the mountain to the citadel. Our private funicular ride up (seriously- where are all the people??) afforded us great views over the town and valley below stretching all the way to the base of the mountains.
The medieval Rasnov Citadel was built as part of a defense system for Transylvanian village sometime between 1211 and 1225. We found the citadel both fascinating and beautiful. The views were incredible and other than a small school group, it was almost empty. We were very happy with our decision to spend more time in Rasnov and less in Bran. If one needs even more convincing- the citadel has a mythical well! Being on a rocky outcrop, water was scarce. Legend has it that two Turkish prisoners were forced to dig the well for 17 years in hopes of being let free upon its completion. The prisoners wrote verses of the Quran on the inside walls of the well as they dug, which can still be seen today! Elders from Rasnov even believe that there is a 300 year old treasure concealed deep in that same legendary well!
When you're done at the Citadel you can flag a Brasov bus back on the main highway where you got off coming from Bran.
We thought Bran and Rasnov were a great day trip from Brasov. We were back late afternoon and still had time to have a beer on one of Brasov's fantastic patios before getting ready for dinner. Stay tuned! A post on our favourite Brasov hangouts is coming soon.
Take Bus #41 from Livada Postei (4 lei/ticket) to Autogara 2. Buses leave every 30 mins for Bran. Its super easy. Buses pass right by Rasnov and its easy to hop off and catch another one passing by when you're ready to head back to Brasov. A quick note: Bus drivers do not stop unless you specifically tell them to. Don't assume that because you bought a ticket from the driver that he will let you know when you've arrived at said stop. Its weird. In most of our other travels, bus drivers have been extremely helpful getting us off the bus where we requested. Download the Google Map of the area so you have an idea where you are, or enlist locals on board to help you.