Where is the real Dracula’s Castle? Hint: it’s not in Transylvania

Can you identify the real Dracula’s Castle from these pictures?

This week marked the 124th anniversary of the novel Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. (The 125th anniversary is going to be a real banger, I bet.) To mark the occasion, I’m going to provide you with priceless information that will make you a star at your pub’s next video trivia game and possibly get you laid – or at least second base out in the alley – depending on how much beer your victorious answer earns your team. The question that will bring you glory is, where is the real Dracula’s Castle? You know, the one where 15th-century Prince of Wallachia Vlad “The Impaler” Dracula lived?

There are three sites in Romania that are billed as “Dracula’s Castle” in the interest of selling more undead-themed t-shirts and coffee mugs, but only one of them is where Vlad “Tepes” Dracula actually lived, passing his time scaring the living crap out of Ottoman invaders during his reign as Prince of Wallachia.

Below are three pictures purported to be “Dracula’s Castle.” They’re located at the Tihuta (Borga) Pass, Bran and Poienari. Can you pick out the real Dracula’s castle?

Hotel Castle Dracula, not the real Dracula's Castle
Bran Castle, not the real Dracula's Castle
Poienari Citadel the real Dracula's Castle

Let’s get the no-brainer one out of the way first

The first picture, the “castle” at the Tihuta Pass, is nothing more than a tourist trap hotel, built in the early 1980s, to siphon just a few more dollars out of die-hard fans of the fictional Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, retracing the journey taken by protagonist Jonathan Harker. Though the non-fictional Vlad Tepes probably wandered through the area once or twice in the 15th century, this building isn’t even 40 years old. Furthermore, it’s located clear on the other side of Transylvania, practically in Moldavia, hundreds of kilometers away from Wallachia where Vlad ruled.

Close, but no

The second picture, Bran Castle, is a more realistic option. It has fairytale turrets, a dramatic setting and it was actually standing when Vlad Tepes was beating a hasty retreat through the Transylvanian countryside, but this was not the real Dracula’s Castle. It was built by Brasov Saxons in 1382. Vlad may have spent the night here after being chased out of his real pad by pissed off Turks in 1462. More recently, it was home to Queen Marie from 1920 on and a summer chill-out out zone for King Michael before the Communists removed him in 1947.

In 2006, as part of a program to return property grabbed by the Communists, ownership of the castle was returned to its rightful heir, Dominic Habsburg. The grandson of Queen Marie, now a New York-based architect who immediately decided to cash out and sell the place. After Romania failed to get the funds together for a first-option offer, Habsburg placed the castle for sale to all comers. The castle was still on the market at the time of writing.

Ta da! The real Dracula’s Castle

The third picture, Poienari Citadel, is the real Dracula’s Castle, home to Vlad Dracula, built by miserable, soon to be skewed, prisoners in 1459. Dracula famously holed up here, while being besieged by the Ottomans in 1462, before tip-toeing away in the night with the help of local peasants.

A large part of the structure fell down the mountain in 1888. What remains is a rather small cluster of head-high ruins, which may seem somewhat disappointing on their own. But they are enriched by the mountaintop setting and the 1,480 spirit-sapping stairs one needs to endure to access the site. One imagines climbing up there was a real bitch for those prisoners to climb, back when it was just a dirt path while loaded down with stones, bricks and buckets of mortar.

Walking down is no picnic either. You’ll be feeling it in your quads the next day, for sure.

I’ve been to Poienari (POY-nar) Citadel several times while researching Romania for Lonely Planet guidebooks. Despite being a place of such importance for someone considered to be a hero in Romania, it was almost always empty when I visited. Or, at worst, there were a few other people wandering around. If you go, you may have the entire site to yourself, allowing you to reenact your favorite Dracula moment – real of fictional.

And there you have it. The location of the real Dracula’s Castle. Please use this information for good, not evil. Though, if you decided to opt for evil, I’m sure Vlad Dracula wouldn’t mind.

If you enjoyed this post, you are going to LOVE the book I wrote about Vlad The Impaler, “Backpacking with Dracula: On the Trail of Vlad The Impaler Dracula and the Vampire He Inspire.”