Did you know there are 145 castles and fortresses in Romania? They tell our country's tumultuous, fragmented medieval history always under the threat of Ottoman expansion.
But not all of them can be visited, are in good condition or are easily accessible. That's why we made a list of the 15 most beautiful Romanian castles and fortresses to put on your 'must see' list when planning to visit Romania for the first time.
The most famous castles in Romania are Bran (Dracula) Castle, Peles Castle and Corvin Castle which are popular tourist attractions in Romania. But you'll be surprised that others, while not as popular, are equally interesting and worth visiting!
That's why we've selected the best medieval castles and fortresses that have fascinating stories and legends to tell, or are located in impressive settings in the Romanian mountains.
Most of these castles are included in our day trips starting from different Romanian tourist cities while others can be seen only on custom, private tours. Either way - we're here to help you visit our country so don't hesitate to contact us if you need any help!
So, now, let's get into our list of the most famous castles in Romania:
Table of contents
- 1. Bran Castle aka Dracula Castle
- 2. A royal residence: Peles Castle
- Pelișor Castle, the small brother of Peles Castle
- 3. Corvin Castle: a place of real legends
- 4. Cantacuzino Castle, of the richest Romanian family
- 5. Travel back in time: Sighisoara Citadel
- 6 Banffy Castle: electrified ruins back to life
- 7. Wine tasting at Bethlen Castle
- 8. The impressive Sturdza Palace
- 9. The Palace of Culture in Iasi
- 10. The former Royal Palace in Bucharest
- 11. Iulia Hasdeu Castle - Museum of Spiritism
- 12. Poenari Castle, the real home of Vlad Dracula
- 13. The largest fortified church in Romania: Biertan Church
- 14. The citadel on the hill: Rasnov Citadel
- 15. The impressive Fagaras Fortress
- Citadels to visit in Romanian cities
1. Bran Castle aka Dracula Castle
The first castle on our list is also the most popular in Romania - so let’s get it out of the way!
Built in the 13th century by the Teutonic knights, Bran Castle is one of the most famous castles in Romania. Despite its rich history, spanning over seven centuries, the castle was actually made famous by Bram Stoker and his own spin on the legend of Dracula.
The English author had heard stories about the Romanian ruler of Wallachia Vlad Dracula also known as Vlad Tepes. He lived in the 15th century and was known to be exceptionally cruel and ruthless with his enemies, criminals and traitors. While Bram Stoker never set foot in Romania or saw pictures or Bran Castle, he used this material as inspiration for his famous Dracula novel.
But the 1992 Hollywood movie that mentions Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania and shows something that looks like Bran Castle turned the castle into Romania’s #1 tourist attraction with around 1 million visitors every year.
Local tip:because of its popularity and the fact that it’s a with narrow corridors, small rooms and stairs, the castle tends to get very crowded and sometimes has a limit on the number of visitors allowed inside; so we strongly recommend you avoid planning your visit during weekends and buy your ticket online from their official website
Many tourists flock to Bran castle to get a guided tour of Count Dracula’s castle but they soon discover something completely unexpected: Romanians consider Vlad Tepes a national hero, protecting the land from the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and that Bran is better known as the summer residence of the former Romanian royal family in the 20th century.
So the experience of the real Bran castle is better than the story imagined by someone who has never set foot on Romanian soil – meaning Bram Stoker!
Back in medieval times, the Saxons chose this strategic location at the crossroads of Transylvanian and Wallachian trade routes and overseeing the Rucar - Bran pass, the only point of access to the area from the West. You can see it yourself when you go up to the castle.
Perched on the rocky hill, the construction offers a great view of the surrounding area. Therefore, in the late 1930s, Bran Castle was turned into the summer residence of the Royal family. Renovation works were overseen by Queen Marie herself, a princess of English and Russian descent, married to Ferdinand I, the nephew of King Carol.
During these works, they discovered a well dug in rock in the 14th century, which the queen asked them to turn into an elevator, thus creating one of the underground passages people from all over the world visit old castles to see.
This elevator used to take the royals from the castle to the lush gardens at the foot of the hill. It was only discovered in recent years and turned into a tourist attraction.
There are video projections of authentic Romanian horror folklore stories and legends in the castle. So, those who come looking for Dracula myths still get something on that topic!
Visiting Bran Castle (in the village of Bran) is one of the most popular things to do in Brasov or on a day trip from Sibiu or Bucharest. The only way to get there is by car and there are some busses from Brasov that will take you there. A standard ticket costs 12 Euro.
2. A royal residence: Peles Castle
If you were to pick from a list of the most stunning castles in Romania, Peles Castle would be the first one. Just look at it!
Located in the luxurious, old-school mountain resort of Sinaia at the base of the impressive Bucegi Mountains where the Romanian Sphinx is located, you can get here by car or train from Bucharest or Brasov.
The construction of the castle began in the late 19th century at the order of King Carol I of Romania and took over 40 years to complete. Its neo-renaissance style and surreal setting in magnificent mountain scenery make Peleș Castle feel like a fairytale castle.
It’s packed full of wondrous and innovative items and with delightful particularities that make it worth visiting, if not even one of the best places you will see during your trip to Romania.
We’ll just begin by saying that Peleș castle was the first European castle to be fully electrically lit up with power produced by its water plant nearby. It also had central heating, vacuum cleaners cleverly hidden in walls, and retractable stained-glass panels allowing royals and their guests to gaze upon the night sky without going outside.
When taking a guided tour, pay attention to every detail. Otherwise, you might miss some interesting information about the Murano crystal chandeliers adorning some of its 160 rooms. Not to mention the secret passageway hidden behind the bookcase.
The wonderful thing about Peles Castle is that you see the authentic life of royals and the effort they put into building modern Romanian society. Why? Because when the Romanian communist regime came to power in 1947 and King Michael was forced into exile, Peles Castle was closed to the public and ‘frozen in time’.
It was only after the fall of the communist regime that people discovered everything is almost in its original state - that’s why we think this is one of the best castles you should visit when you travel to Romania!
Once you’re done visiting, step outside, savor the fresh mountain air and admire the beautiful sculptures in the garden and artesian wells. This is how royals lived!
Pelișor Castle, the small brother of Peles Castle
If you plan a day trip to Sinaia and want to visit Peles, do not miss out on Pelisor Castle on a nearby alley close to Peles Castle. King Carol built Pelisor Castle for his nephew, Ferdinand I, the future king of Romania, and his wife, Queen Mary.
While Peles was for protocol and state visits, Pelisor was more of an intimate residence. It is now open to the public now despite a specific contrary wish of the last king of Romania, King Michael.
The construction of the second royal residence began at the end of the late 19th century in an Art Nouveau style with Celtic and Byzantine influences.
Many stories and legends revolve around Pelisor, the home of Queen Marie who was a beloved Royal family member. For example, some museum curators and even visitors claim to feel a whiff of her favorite violet perfume in random places in the castle.
There are 99 rooms, and while you may not get to visit all of them, you would still get to see the King’s study, or the specially decorated Golden Room, with elements reminiscent of the Queen’s birthplace in Scotland.
Check the opening hours for both castles on the official website as they differ depending on season. Tickets start from 10 Euro and go up depending on how much you want to visit.
3. Corvin Castle: a place of real legends
There’s a recurring theme throughout Romanian history – the threat of invasion from the Ottoman Empire. Corvin Castle also known as Hunyadi Castle played an important role in this context and is one of the most impressive castles of Romania.
It dates back to the 15th century when John Hunyadi (Iancu de Huneoara in Romanian), a military general for the King of Hungary and de facto ruler of Transylvania, took over the ruins of the mid-14th century fortified castle of King Charles I of Hungary.
He liked that it had a moat surrounding it, high walls, and a good elevated position overseeing the area. So he started expansion works and turned it into a military garrison and residence for a man of his position.
Hunedoara castle soon became a sign of the power and wealth of the Corvin family where the future king of hungary, Matthias Corvinus was born.
Corvin Castle also had a variety of rooms that served as a military prison where Turkish prisoners and criminals were kept and even fed to wild animals in the pit. As you enter the castle you’ll see on the right side one of these rooms, and a torture chamber on the left. They were often used by John Hunydi to send a message to his visitors.
Since these are the first two chambers you can visit, be advised that some of the exhibits feature mannequins in distressed positions. This is a warning for those traveling with children that they might prefer to skip these two chambers.
The must-see attractions of Hunyadi Castle, one of the largest castles in Europe, are the towers, of which the Capistrano Tower is the best preserved one, and the Diet Hall, where the nobles assembled.
Apart from that, you should see the well Iancu de Hunedoara forced three Turkish prisoners to dig in rock promising their freedom if they succeeded. Iancu died in the meantime, and Iancu’s wife had the prisoners killed anyway. They left her a special encryption on the well’s walls, which we encourage you to go and read for yourself. It will give you shivers!
And if you are on a guided tour - ask your guide about the secret trap door under the Knights’ Hall, leading to the Dungeon of the Forgotten. Or why the seal of the Corvin family is a raven holding a golden ring in its beak.
Local insight:With so many stories and legends, we think Corvin Castle is one of the best Romanian castles with an authentic medieval feeling to it, even compared to Bran Castle
But on the outside - Hunyadi Castle is simply spectacular. It’s also the largest Gothic-Renaissance construction in Europe. But its location in the small town of Hunedoara, Central-Western Romania makes it difficult to visit other than by car or on a guided tour from Sibiu, Timisoara or Cluj-Napoca. Tickets cost 10 Euro.
4. Cantacuzino Castle, of the richest Romanian family
Cantacuzino Castle recently become a highly popular attraction when the Netflix hit show Wednesday directed by Tim Burton was filmed there. Given the director’s penchant for gorgeously dark and gloomy settings, fans started traveling here to see the actual castle that inspired Burton!
Located in Busteni, very close to Sinaia in a similarly spectacular natural setting, Cantacuzino Castle was built at the request of Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino roughly around the same time as the Peles Castle.
The Cantacuzino family was an important Romanian political, business and intellectual dynasty. The Prince was also the richest man in Romania at the time, so he spared no expense in building the castle!
The castle itself was a Romantic masterpiece completed in the neo-Romanian architectural style known as Brancovenesc. It must have been nothing short of impressive to see in its original state, but unfortunately when the communist regime seized power in 1947, it wanted to eliminate all signs of wealth and aristocracy. So most of the original furniture and ornaments disappeared…
Since 2010, the Cantacuzino heirs put the castle through an intense restoration work process. Many wall frescoes and decorations were recovered and since 2014 the castle has been open to the public.
You can still see the oak staircase, specially designed to be supported by the walls, with no other beams holding it up, and the Ablesti calcareous fireplaces decorated with colorful mosaics and golden sheets, the Carrara marble stairs, and the Murano stained-glass.
Like most beautiful castles, Cantacuzino Castle has a Ball Room decorated with 27 coats of arms belonging to members and kin of the Cantacuzino family. Everything is romantic and beautiful, and it represents the promise of a modern state and a bright future aligned with the countries in the West, a promise that came (and left, unfortunately) with the royal family.
The castle domain is spread over 3000 square meters. The courtyard features artesian wells, a waterfall and even a grotto.
The terrace overlooking the Bucegi mountains and the Caraiman cross is breathtaking, and many of the royals have had their pictures taken there in the early 20th century. There's a restaurant with a terrace where you can admire the jaw dropping sceneries of the Carpathian Mountains.
5. Travel back in time: Sighisoara Citadel
Once you pass the walls of Sighisoara Citadel you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time! This medieval fortress is among the last fortresses in the world where people still live.
It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999 and is a popular location for those who want to visit Transylvania and learn more about its history. This is also where Vlad Dracula was born and his house is now a restaurant and a tourist attraction in the citadel.
The citadel’s construction began in the 12th century and it has been continuously upgraded to match the requirements of those times. For example, at one point, it used to have 14 towers to defend against - surprise - Ottoman attacks! Each guild in the citadel was responsible for the upkeep of a tower and so each had its own story and specifics.
Of these, 9 still stand today and the Clock Tower is by far the most famous. Built in the 14th century and known as the Hours Tower, it is the landmark of Sighisoara Citadel. This is a massive defense construction meant to protect the main gate and access to the citadel.
The clock mechanism still runs today and its figurines are interesting to watch. Obviously these too have stories that a guide can tell you more about. Until the middle of the 16th century, the room on the ground floor served as Council Hall. The tower can be visited for a small ticket.
Sighisoara is a beautiful destination for a day trip. And it also comes with a surprise for travelers coming to Romania looking to find the legendary Vlad Tepes. You will discover that he was born in the house with a Dragon Coat of arms in 1431.
6 Banffy Castle: electrified ruins back to life
Banffy Castle located in the village of Bontida, 40 km away from Cluj-Napoca dates back to the 15th century. It belonged to a wealthy family of Hungarian descent who governed Transylvania in the mid 18th century.
In the late 17th century the initial building was fortified and brought to its current look. Its stylistic features correspond to Rennaisance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Neogothic trends. It is seen as the most representative for Transylvanian architecture.
As with all aristocratic families, there were stories of intrigue, unpermitted love and murder. And during the second world war, the castle was used as a military hospital for German soldiers, many of which died on the site. This made Banffy Castle develop a reputation among locals as being
haunted similar to the famous Hoia Baciu forest also near Cluj.
As with most imposing edifices representative of liberal and capitalist values under communist rule the castle was abandoned and fell into decay. It was reclaimed by the descendants of the original owners after the fall of the communist regime and since 1999 it began a long, painstakingly slow restoration process.
In 2013 a small group of people had the idea to organise a festival on the castle’s estate and call it Electric Castle. Every year since then the festival has grown: lasting almost 5 days and bringing in almost 200,000 people and 150 artists over 7 stages. The festival takes place in mid-July, lights up the entire estate and incorporates the ruins of the castle in its schedule. Part of the revenue from this festival goes to restoration works.
This is one of the most popular music festivals in Romania and in Eastern Europe - and is one of our favorites!
We even wrote a guide about Electric Castle for people going the first time.
If you’re looking for more things to do in Cluj Napocaj, then consider visiting Banffy Castle on a day trip. it is accessible only by car and sometimes it hosts other cultural or private events. So when planning your visit check to see if the premise is free for visits. One of our guides can do that for you and tell you more about the castle’s history.
7. Wine tasting at Bethlen Castle
The impressive Bethlen Castle was purchased by one of the largest wine producers in Romania and turned into a spectacular location. Now a symbol of Jidvei wines, at Bethlen Castle you can spend the night in a luxurious setting, dine on Romanian delicacies and enjoy a superb wine tasting event in a historical setting.
The full name of the castle is Bethlen-Haller although you may also hear it referred to as simply Jidvei Castle.
Initially built in the 16th century, the castle was redone between 1615 and 1624 by Count Stefan Bethlen, who copied his Chambord castle in France.
Eugen Haller then refurbished the castle in the 18th century, added the park, and built the surrounding fence and impressive gate.
As with all the other castles in Romania under the communist regime, this exquisite piece of architecture was nationalized and, with the specific lack of respect for legacy, it was, in turn: kindergarten, prison, dining room, and butchery.
There are still enough elements of the original castle resembling those on Loire Valley, so we guarantee you will enjoy your experience here. Located in central Romania, you can visit the castle on a day trip from Cluj-Napoca or Sibiu. If you’re interested in doing a wine tasting there you must book well in advance since the castle regularly hosts events.
8. The impressive Sturdza Palace
Located in Miclăușeni close to the city of Iasi in Eastern Romania, Sturdza Castle is a Neo-gothic construction dating back to the late 19th century. It belonged to the Sturdza family, which played a significant role in Romanian politics and had a tumultuous history.
Until the 16th century, the estate belonged to a high-ranking nobleman governor of this region in Moldavia, Miclăuș. In the 19th century Dimitrie Sturdza inherited the estate and built the baroque-decorated church near the Sturdza palace which he filled with precious religious items.
Dimitrie’s son went on to add an English park around the palace, and he added to the collection of rare books and manuscripts.
A visit here is the best way to discover how Romanian peasants lived on boyar estates for centuries and the opposite way of life of the nobles.
9. The Palace of Culture in Iasi
If you’re in Iasi then a visit to the Iasi Palace of Culture will be a journey into the heart of Moldavian culture and tradition. The palace in itself is a thing of exquisite beauty with stylishly decorated rooms.
It was built in a Neogothic style at the beginning of the 20th century. The construction has generous dimensions with a ground plan of 7730 square meters. It served as the Justice court and administration office of Iasi and the entire region of Moldova before the 1859 union with Wallachia.
Even at its construction, the monumental building was set apart by its novelties and innovative technical elements purchased from Germany.
You can visit the Hall of Honor, the clock tower, the Henry Coanda room, and Voyvod’s Hall, all in excellent condition. The Palace is home to many museums, like the Ethnographic Museum of Moldova, the Art Museum of Moldova, the History Museum of Moldova and The Science Museum.
10. The former Royal Palace in Bucharest
The Royal Palace of Bucharest was the primary royal residence until King Michael was forced to abdicate by the communist regime that came to power in 1947.
Start from: Revolution Square next to the Rebirth Memorial (The patatoe)
Starting in 1953 the Royal Palace hosts the Romanian Art Museum and does so even today. However, since the communists took up office in most of the grand buildings in Bucharest, the palace also was set on fire during the Romanian Revolution.
11. Iulia Hasdeu Castle - Museum of Spiritism
If you travel to Romania drawn by ghost stories about Bran and Transylvania, you must include the Iulia Hasdeu castle on your list. The castle is located in Campina some 80 km away from Bucharest so you can stop by on your day trip to visit Peles Castle, Cantacuzino Castle, Brasov or even Bran Castle.
Start from: Bucharest
Iulia Hasdeu was the only child of a prominent Romanian noble family. The father, B.P. Hasdeu, was a writer and a philologist, the descendent of a very old Moldavian boyar family. The daughter, Iulia, was a genius. Unfortunately, she died just a few days before turning 19 from tuberculosis in 1888.
In 1893, blinded by pain, Hasdeu begins the construction of the castle in Campina. It resembles a miniature of a medieval fairy tale castle, and Hasdeu began conducting spiritism sessions to communicate with his dead daughter here.
Locals claim to have witnessed numerous odd events, and you can see most of them wary of walking past it.
12. Poenari Castle, the real home of Vlad Dracula
If you come to Romania looking for the real Vlad Tepes, you can find part of his story in his secondary residence in Poenari Castle.
All you have to do to get there is to travel to Arges County in the small village of Arefu and begin climbing 1480 stairs all the way to the ruins of the fortification dating back to the 14th century, which was considered impenetrable at the time.
Poenari Castle is ‘down the road’ from Transfagarasan Highway and Balea Lake so you can visit this famous Romanian castle when going on a day trip on the best driving road in the world!
Just try going up those stairs, and you will understand how most invaders would give up mid-way. Its position is 800 meters above the entire valley, giving them a clear view of anyone approaching.
That’s why Vlad Dracula decided to make Poenari Citadel his home - unlike Bran Castle where he never set foot!
Right now Poenari Citadel is going through restoration works which are expected to finish by the Summer of 2024.
13. The largest fortified church in Romania: Biertan Church
Although not a castle, Biertan fortified church is a must-see for anyone visiting Romania. It's one of the 160 fortified churches in Transylvania and an important tourist attraction.
In the late 15th century, Transylvanian Saxons built the architectural complex comprising the church and the surrounding fortifications in late Gothic style.
A fun fact about the Biertan fortified church is that it used to have a cell for couples that wanted a divorce. They would be locked in here for 2 weeks with only one cup, one plate, and one spoon to share. In all of the years it has been used, only one couple ever went through with a divorce.
14. The citadel on the hill: Rasnov Citadel
The Rasnov Citadel is closest to Brasov and very easy to get to. It was first mentioned in the 14th century, and the Teuton knights built it to protect the Saxon population in the area from the Tatar attacks.
The position, perched up the hill, overlooking the land, is advantageous. Rasnov fortress would control access to Transylvania, giving it considerable strategic importance. Like any other good medieval fortress, Rasnov Castle did a fine job protecting the people who took refuge inside during attacks, as it was pretty impenetrable.
15. The impressive Fagaras Fortress
Fagaras Fortress is another impressive fortification located on the road connecting Sibiu to Brasov, which makes it ideal to visit on a day trip.
It dates back to the 17th century and served as a residence for local noblemen and princes. Despite the impressive centuries-long history of the medieval fortress, one of the most important things that happened here consists of it becoming a communist prison.
Since anti-communist fighters in the mountains used to take refuge in the fortress, the communists retaliated by turning the fortress into a horrible political prison with dehumanizing and spirit-breaking torture chambers. They even kept the medieval Iron Maiden as the cruelest device. It can be seen on display.
Citadels to visit in Romanian cities
Some of the fortifications built in Romania were so good at keeping people safe that the populations around them grew and grew. In time, as it happened everywhere, people living in urban locations no longer needed to take refuge in fortifications.
The Romanian cities developed around the former citadels are definitely worth visiting:
- in Bucharest
Visit its streets packed with new-renaissance architecture, this specific Romanian style you will quickly recognize. In the Old Town area you will find the Old-Princely Court (the seat of power for Wallachian rulers), the oldest inn in the country Hanul lui Manuc and a church dating back to the early 18th century.
- in Alba Iulia
The history behind the Alba Carolina Citadel is awe-inspiring. Built on the former Roman castrum of Legion XIII Gemini (around 106 A.D) and over the medieval fortress of Balgrad (16th -17th centuries), the citadel was given an essential strategic purpose by Eugen de Savoia, who started to build up elaborate fortifications in a Vauban style in the 18th century.
In 1921, the orthodox cathedral of the Alba Iulia citadel held the coronation of the first king of unified Romania, King Ferdinand. This was an important event in Romanian history.
Suceava and Piatra Neamt are cities built around the former fortresses of Stephen the Great in the Region of Moldova. You can visit both fortresses anytime, but the best experience is when a Medieval Festival is held on the premises.
There are other well-kept citadels to visit in the cities of Oradea, Suceava and Piatra Neamt.
So there you have it - a taste of the best castles in Romania!
Which one do you want to put first on your list when visiting our country?
Let me know if you need any help with planning your trip - that's what we're here for!
Your Romanian Friend,