Do you dream of amazing castles, love chasing legends, and adore beautiful scenery?
If you have been following me for any time, you know I do. Which is in part why I wanted to go to Romania. Famous castles, vampire legends, and beautiful mountains? Sign me up!
Of course, like with everywhere else, I was pressed for time. I only had a week to make my way from Bucharest to Cluj and about 100 things I wanted to see. Ok maybe not quite 100, but it seemed that every city I read about, I wanted to visit. But the distance between them, and trying to figure out how to get everywhere using public transport, was a bit of a pain in the butt. It was only while talking to a local friend that I learned about Bucharest City Tours, and that they ran a Two Castles in a Day plus Brasov tour. Three of the biggest sites on my list and I could do them all in a day? Without having to figure out how to get between them on all on own? It sounded perfect, and it was.
We started our day early, meeting at 8am in front of the Royal Atheneum. The meeting spot was the first thing I appreciated; no obscure office building down a random side street, but a main point that was easy to find on my map. From there we bundled into the mini bus and began our journey to our first stop: Peles Castle.
Located in Sinaia, Peles Castle was a little over a two hour drive from our starting point. We did make a quick (and appreciated) snack and toilet stop about halfway through. As we got closer, our guide Emil shared with us some of the history of Peles Castle; about Romania’s first king who built it and lived there, and how it has been used in more recent history by Romania’s ex communist leader, Ceaușescu. He shared with us how historians looking over Peles Castle were worried that Ceaușescu would change it and therefore ruin the history, so in an effort to make him use it only for official business, and not as a home, they told him there was a fungus growing throughout the castle that would make him sick. Apparently it was a believable enough story, because Ceaușescu never stayed the night.
As we arrived to the castle Emil quickly collected our ticket money (20 Lei- keep in mind there is an additional 32 Lei charge if you want to take photos) and went to purchase tickets while we took photos and marvelled at the beautiful building around us. Despite being busy, there was only a 15 minute wait time before our group was taken on the castle tour.
The tour was good, but a bit of a whirlwind with it being a large group and so busy. It was great to have Emil on hand to further explain, or point out different things along the way. I noticed a couple others on the tour, but not part of our group, hover around as Emil told me more about the weapons that were used in battle versus those gifted to the king in his family.
As the tour inside the castle wrapped up Emil took us for more photos from a couple different vantage points before heading off to the next stop; a quick bonus stop of the Sinai Monastery (5 Lei). After a quick look around and time for photos we boarded the bus again and headed for the famous Bran Castle; the supposed home of the Prince of Darkness, Dracula himself.
As we drove through the mountains Emil took the time to tell us the history of the castle and how it’s tied to the Dracula Legend. He explained how the historical figure behind the story, Vlad the Impaler, was nicknamed Dracula but sadly everything else was pure fiction. Vampires don’t exist in Romanian folklore. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look for him when we arrived at Bran Castle.
Again, Emil took care of our tickets for us (30 lei) and we quickly made our way up the hill to the imposing Bran Castle. Very different from Peles Castle, Bran Castle was designed as a fortress not just a home, and although the Romanian royal family did live here, it’s definitely not as warm and welcoming, or nearly as ornate, as Peles Castle was. However I could easily see how this castle; imposing on a cliff face in the mountains, could be the home to the legendary vampire.
There was no official guided tour at Bran Castle, but Emil led us through, allowing us time to explore each of the rooms and expanding on the information provided in each one. And while Dracula was (sadly) not in residence, quite a few macabre torture devices were including an interesting scale-like contraption meant to determine if someone was a witch. If you were weighed and came to weigh a lesser weight than was expected, it was believed that the devil had stolen a part of you are you were sent for torture.
As we wrapped up our visit to Bran Castle it was time for lunch. Emil had checked earlier in the day to make sure that everyone was willing to try some Romanian food and ok with the different types of meat involved, so when we arrived at the restaurant our starters (a cheese, vegetable, and sausage plate) was already on the table ready for us. What followed was a veal dish and a sheep dish with polenta, finishing with a traditional Romanian dessert, Papanași, and a local shot on the house. Lunch cost 15 euro, or 68 Lei which was, as they tell you in advance, not included in the tour price.
Stomachs full, we drove 45 minutes to the beautiful town of Brasov, our final stop of our busy day. Emil took us to the Black Church (8 Lei) so named because of the great fire centuries ago that has turned it a grey/black colour, and the smallest street in Europe, Strada Sforii. From there we had about 40 minutes to explore Old Town on our own; shop, take photos, or grab a coffee before heading back to Bucharest (3 hours or so depending on traffic). Luckily traffic wasn’t bad at all and we finished where we started just after 9pm.
A busy day? Absolutely. But a great one. Unlike other full day tours this didn;t feel rushed, despite all the travel involved. Emil and our driver were both patient and willing to wait on those of us who wanted to take a couple extra photos, check the stalls, or just fell behind. There wasn’t anywhere I wished I had more time, and neither did I feel like we had too long in places either. It was an easy, stress-free way to see some of the best of what Romania has to offer and I would recommend the tour to anyone coming to the area.
If you do book, please keep in mind that the tour changes during off season depending on the opening times and schedules of the castles. For example Peles Castle was closed Mondays and Tuesdays during my time of visit, so make sure to look into that in advance. Bucharest City Tours have all the information listed on the Two Castles in One Day webpage.
As a final tip, I would also recommend bringing more cash than the recommended amount. One guy on our tour brought the minimum but found himself short after the additional stops. While ATMs are available on most stops it’s better to have the cash on hand just in case. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on anything!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Bucharest City Tours 2 Castles in One Day trip. However,as always, all opinions (and inability to find Dracula) are my own.