It’s no secret that the whole of the Romanian countryside is covered with castles, fortresses, citadels, and ruins of every kind. Romania is a country chock full of history involving vibrant paleolithic sites, lost societies such as the Dacians, vicious impaling rulers like Vlad Tepes, Ottoman resistance, and so much more. Whether you’re looking to explore long-forgotten, overgrown towers and squares or perfectly restored renaissance masterpieces, Romania really has it all. So! Without further adieu, here are the best castles to visit in Romania.
Corvin Castle is straight out of a Gothic-Renaissance dream and tucked away in southwestern Transylvania. Easily the country’s most photogenic castle, it was built in 1440 and is complete with a massive drawbridge, sky-high spires, grandiose arches, and spectacular dining halls that would put Hogwarts to shame. This Hunedoara jewel is much more than a pretty face, though; it’s full of history and oozing with spooky stories that involve curses left by Turkish prisoners and haunted souls who roam the torture chambers. Speaking of prisoners, Corvin Castle held a quite famous one – Vlad Tepes, (yep, that one) for seven years. Legend has it he was driven insane listening to the screams of the torture chambers, which says quite a lot for one of Europe’s most violent and ruthless rulers. Despite its bloody past, it remains one of my favorite castles I’ve ever stepped foot in and should be at the top of your list of castles to visit while in Romania.
Ah, Bran Castle. You mysterious, spooky, spellbinding gothic gem. Sandwiched between the Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains, Bran Castle tops the list of pretty much anyone visiting Romania; not just because of its ties to Bram Stoker’s epic horror novel Dracula, but because of its history. Perched high atop a hill that overlooks the surrounding valleys linking Wallachia and Transylvania, it was an ideal spot for guarding and protecting the area. The earliest days of Bran Castle can be traced back to the early 1200s when it started as a fortress built by Teutonic Knights, aka the *real deal* crusaders who were…not nice.
A hundred or so years later, it became a full-fledged castle thanks to the Hungarian King Louis the Great. For the next few centuries, Castle Bran became one of Transylvania’s most vital fortifications, and of course, bore its fair share of legends. The surrounding village of Bran was doing quite well for itself until the mid-1400’s when Vlad the Impaler passed through en route to Brasov and murdered hundreds of Saxons and burned down countless villages along the way.
Nowadays, it functions as a museum mostly in honor of Queen Marie and her daughter, Princess Ileana, who were both legendary monarchs of Romania and resided in Castle Bran. Within the castle’s walls, you’ll find a secret staircase and plenty of tributes to the local legends of strigoi, the Romanian folklore creature which vampires are based on. After all, the legend of strigoi, combined with Vlad Tepes’ bloodthirsty rule and eery atmosphere of Castle Bran, is what inspired Stoker’s Dracula.
On the topic of old Vlad, let’s talk Poenari Castle in Wallachia. This spectacular cliffside castle is situated on the divide of what was once Transylvania and Wallachia and cannot be missed while in Romania. It’s known for its incredible 13th-century mortar work, breathtaking views, and one very infamous ruler known for impaling Turks. Yep, Poenari Castle was home to THE Vlad Tepes. When he came across the castle early on in his rule in the 1400s, he knew it was the right place due to its sheer inaccessibility.
Poenari sits 2,800 feet high above the Arges River and was virtually impossible to invade due to its location and complex floorplan. In fact, when the Turks eventually captured the castle in 1462, Vlad managed to escape without a trace through a secret tunnel that led north through the Carpathian Mountains. The castle continued to change hands over the centuries until it was finally abandoned in the late 1800s due to a devastating landslide. Today you can tour the castle and imagine what life must’ve been like in Vlad’s day – but not without climbing a few stairs. It’s approximately 1,500 steps to the top – but I promise it’s well worth it and will prove why this is one of the best castles to visit in Romania!
Hidden in the foothills of the Bucegi Mountains, just a hop and a skip away from Sinaia, lies Peles Castle. This Saxon masterpiece is a testament to neo-renaissance architecture and gives a glimpse into the lavish lives of early 20th century monarchs. Inside, you’ll find a massive (and I do mean **massive) armory with 4,000 pieces of weaponry from all around the globe. That’s not all, though. Peles is also home to more than 160 rooms, a frescoed-out movie theatre, a real-life secret bookcase, and an immaculate glass ceiling above the grand foyer that screams art nouveau.
My personal favorite though, is Queen Elisabeth’s room. Queen Elisabeth of Romania was not only one of Romania’s most influential monarchs, but an incredible artist, poet, and all-around fantastic woman who penned countless literary works under the pen name Carmen Sylva. Here you can see many of her writings, paintings, and personal collections over her lifetime.
Peasant Citadel Saschiz
The highway linking Brasov and – well, anywhere, but specifically Sigisaoara, is full of magnificent ruins. Lost castles, crumbling fortresses, and forgotten churches dot the hills that roll between then two historic cities. One, in particular, is the Peasant Citadel perched above the tiny 12th-century village of Saschiz. Peasant Citadel is a true example of ruins – it’s completely overgrown, derelict, and eerily beautiful. The name comes from the fact that it was built by and for Saxon peasants as protection from the Turks. And protect it did – even today you can see the remnants of the once dominating 360º watchtowers and 10 meter high stone walls.
Despite being entirely in shambles – Peasant Citadel is 1,000% worth a visit. The overgrowth provides a dramatic display of just how much time has passed since this citadel was bumping and all that’s happened since.
In Northern Romania near Cluj Napoca, you’ll find one of the nation’s largest and most interesting castles – Banffy Castle. This 14th-century relic actually started as an estate for a family of Hungarian aristocrats known as The Banffy Family. Over the years, the Banffy’s continuously developed the castle with modern touches like a statue gallery, servants mansion, English parks, and more. In it’s prime, it gained a rep for being the Versailles of Transylvania thanks to its opulent foyers, ornate grand halls, and expert combination of Renaissance and Baroque styles. Sadly that all changed when German troops demolished much of the grounds in the second World War, leaving a shell of what was formerly the most lavish spot in the country. Shortly after, the Communists transformed what remained into an agricultural coop (seriously, who was in charge of city planning for these people?). Fortunately, though, much of its former grandeur has been restored in the past few decades. It’s absolutely worth a visit even if it’s not quite the opulent palace it once was. I think its evolution and ultimately de-evolution over the years makes it an even more unique place to visit in comparison to the stereotypically pretty and preserved tourist sites.
Fagaras Fortress was initially built as a massive wooden fortress in the 12th century until the Tartars came along and burnt it down. In 1301, it was built from stone (smart move) and gradually became one of the strongest fortifications in all of Transylvania. One of its most notable features is the deep moat which frames the grounds. In times of civil unrest (see: often), the moat was filled from a nearby brook to keep the haves safe from the have-nots, which only drove a further wedge between nobles and peasants.
Over the years, it held all sorts of Transylvanian royals but eventually became known as a palace of queens similar to Hungary’s Veszprem. By the Communist era, Fagaras had been repurposed into a prison for political opponents, which took away much of the grounds’ glamour. Fortunately, what remains today has been beautifully preserved and functions as a history museum and is still one of the best castles to visit in Romania.
Pelisor Castle lies in the same complex as Peles but is truly in a league of its own. There are plenty of characteristics that make Pelisor special, but what really shines is “The Golden Room” (pun intended). Like most of the castle, it was designed by Princess Marie of Edinburgh, who was the wife of then Prince Ferdinand. She had a very unique style and loved mixing different Byzantine and Celtic elements. Within The Golden Room, you’ll find oak timbered walls that bear the Scottish thistle in a shimmering gold pattern, hence the name. The Scottish thistle is an excellent reminder of the eventual Queen Marie’s lineage. She was not only the last Queen of Romania but also the granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria. The Golden Room also holds a small casket containing the heart of Queen Marie as Pelisor was where she took her last breath.
In Rupea, about 3/4ths of the way between Brasov and Sighisoara is one of Romania’s most fascinating fortifications – Rupea Citadel. This Medieval citadel dates back to at least the early 1300s when the Saxons first rebelled against King Charles of Hungary. More interestingly, it was built smack dab on top of Dacian ruins. It was here that the last Dacian King, Decebalus, took his own life to keep from being taken prisoner by the approaching Romans who’d taken the rest of the area. After the Roman’s conquest, they built a large portion of the fortress and citadel, which is seen today. Over the centuries, it was enhanced again and again as the Ottomans continued to become more a threat through the Middle Ages. At its height, the citadel held around 400 people and was inhabited until the late 18th century when a storm forced the entire citadel to be abandoned for good.
Cris Bethlen Castle, also known as Magna Curia, is located in Kreisch in Southern Transylvania. This unbelievably pretty Renaissance castle was built in the 14th century and was known for its massive towers that dominated each corner of the complex. Like most others on this list, it was pushed further into ruin during the communist era, with some of the living quarters even being used as stables for a time. Nowadays, you’ll find it’s been mostly restored to its former glory, is a wonderful showcase of Romania’s renaissance days and is one of the most photogenic castles to visit in Romania. Bethlen Castle is absolutely worth your while, not just for its stunning Renaissance architecture but for the beautiful natural area that surrounds the castle.