Have A Happy Haunted Halloween By Day Tripping To Dracula’s Home Of Transylvania — But Make It Luxury

Bran Castle
Bran Castle

Photo Credit: Natali Strelnik/Shutterstock.com

Is there a more epic Halloween trip you can imagine than a visit to Transylvania, land of Count Dracula, king of the vampires? I didn’t think so… and I just had to experience it for myself. But is this Romanian region as spooky as it seems?

TransylvaniaPhoto Credit: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock.com

Well yeah, not really. Transylvania, technically, is known for medieval towns, mountainous borders, and gorgeous castles like Bran Castle, rumored home of Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Vlad Tepes, or Dracula. Who, as Voivode of Wallachia three times between 1448 and his death in 1476/7, was a cruel and ruthless ruler, to be sure, but perhaps not one that actually drank blood. It was Bram Stoker that made “son of the devil” ( in the Romanian language, “dracul” means “the devil,” ul is “the”) into the biter of lore. But the castle? Spooky as heck. And at night, the region has an otherwordly feel. So I may say vampires aren’t a thing, but would I walk alone around Bran Castle at night? Probably not.  


Photo Credit: ecstk22/Shutterstock.com

That being said, much of Transylvania — inclusive of Sinaia and Brasov — are actually absolutely chic, very affluent ski resort towns. The city of Brașov is as charming as it gets, featuring Saxon walls and bastions, ringed by baroque buildings, charming restaurants, and the impressive Gothic Black Church. I mean, King Charles even owns property in nearby Viscri.

The hoards of kitschy Dracula paraphernalia outside of Bran Castle didn’t scream anything other than tourist trap, but this lovely region was unbelievably appealing, and entirely reminiscent of Bavaria in Germany. It was untapped and clean, almost like a secret that only I and a handful of European tourists knew about. Cobblestoned streets, cleanliness, verdant greenery… it was almost as if the area, save for a handful of modern salons, stores, and restaurants, had bypassed time.

Peles Castle
Peles Castle

Photo Credit: Serenity-H/Shutterstock.com

Was it what I expected? Not really. I was much more entertained by Peleș Castle, a Neo-Renaissance palace in the Royal Domain of Sinaia, than Bran Castle, which paled in comparison architecturally. I didn’t expect to find the world’s biggest brown bear sanctuary, Libearty, in Zarnesti, or to be so moved by the plight of former furry captives that I adopted one myself.

But that’s Romania for you. An endless surprise — and one with endless amounts of stories that desperately need to be told, Dracula’s aside.


Athenee Palace
Royal suite living room

Photo Credit: Eric Cuvillier

There is one major road to Transylvania from Bucharest, Romania’s capital, and admittedly, this can make the journey challenging. And there are a few 5-star properties in Brasov, but I preferred the excitement of staying in a major city and day-tripping to the land of Dracul (and not just because I thought something or someone could suck my blood).

Bucharest, though lesser known than some of its European brethren, is fun. There are dozens of restaurants, attractions, and glamorous hotels to explore, and as such, I opted for this, as opposed to an overnight in Brasov (which would have been easier, but is vastly preferable during the winter when it becomes a proper ski resort town and the traffic becomes 15 times as bad). That said, the rest of the year, moving can be slow — so allow yourself a lot of time to tour, to wander, to explore. And prepare to do a lot of driving, unless you have a helicopter, private plane, or magic carpet.

Athenee Palace
One bedroom suite city view at Athenee Palace

Photo Credit: Eric Cuvillier

Which brings me to my recommendation: the InterContinental Athenee Palace Bucharest.

With a legacy of over 100 years, InterContinental Athenee Palace Bucharest is steeped in culture and heritage, resides in a prime location overlooking the Revolution square, offering guests views across the Romanian Atheneum and Royal Palace, and is opulent and chock full of history — the kind of place a typical luxury traveler would relish in a city that’s still finding its footing among more quintessentially established luxe locales like Paris and London.

Athenee Palace
Royal suite dining room

Photo Credit: Eric Cuvillier

There’s an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, a gym is equipped with Precor equipment, a sauna, and a steam room, as well as a club lounge with all the amenities you’d expect from a five-star Intercontinental.

Its signature restaurant, Robertos Bucharest, offers up traditional Italian, and it’s delicious, but I was more intrigued by English Bar for its incredibly unique history. In 1948, the hotel was nationalized by the Communist government, who bugged every room, tapped every phone, and staffed the entire hotel with informers. As such, this bar became the meeting place in Europe for English spies and the Gestapo to trade information. And it remained intact until the Romanian Revolution of 1989, before closing its doors in 1994. Under the Hilton umbrella, the property underwent a $42 million renovation from 1995 to 1997, and, as of January 1, became an Intercontinental. It’s not only lavish, but indisputably the grand dame of Bucharest. As such, it’s seriously the best place to stay.


In Transylvania

Libearty Bear Sanctuary

Photo Credit: Inspired By Maps/Shutterstock.com

  1. Bran Castle. Natch.
  2. Peles Castle in Sinaia.
  3. Brasov for its beautiful scenery and Hollywood-like Brasov sign.
  4. The Libearty Bear Sanctuary.
  5. Bukovina for its UNESCO painted churches.

In Bucharest

Bucharest, Romania

Photo Credit: Razvan Dragomirescu/Shutterstock.com

  1. The Palace of Parliament, the world’s second-largest administrative building (after the Pentagon). It’s also the world’s heaviest building.
  2. The Romanian Athenaeum.
  3. Old Town for the cafes, shopping, and more. It’s also one of the youngest “Old Towns” in the world at only just a decade old.
  4. Visit beautiful Herastrau Park.
  5. The National Museum of Art of Romania.


English Bar
English Bar

While a unique place to visit, Romania isn’t overwhelmed with gastronomic choices like other European cities are — but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself or be able to indulge on your getaway. In Brasov, check out Bistro de l’Arte, whose chef and owner, Oana Coantă, was named “Woman Chef of the Year” by the Gault&Millau guide. In Bucharest, the historical English Bar is a must. Also check out Kaiamo, an art-driven, seasonally focused gastronomic eatery, and The Artist, which is influenced by the Romanian seasons, and Mosto — Natural Wine Bar & Bistro, where you can sip some interesting wines (and don’t have to worry about a vampire sucking your blood).