Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania
Along with Romania’s Hunyad Castle and Poenari Castle, Bran Castle is often associated with the fictional tale of Count Dracula. Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia – otherwise known as Vlad III Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler – is thought to be the real-life inspiration for the titular monster in Bram Stoker’s best-selling 1897 novel, Dracula. Legend states that during his lifetime, the real Vlad III was imprisoned in Bran Castle briefly in 1462. Dracula fans flock to Bran Castle and other Romanian sites to walk in the fabled footsteps of the fictional Count as well as the notorious real-life Prince.
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Tower of London, England
One of England’s most famous castles, the notorious Tower of London, boasts a chilling history of imprisonment, torture and death. In the 1070s, England’s new king William the Conqueror had a vision to create an imposing royal residence, fortress and prison on the north bank of the River Thames. The resulting Tower of London with its central White Tower, surrounding buildings and battlements struck fear and submission into the hearts of its citizens. Individuals deemed guilty of crimes – both real and imagined – were locked up and made to endure cruel punishment. Bloody executions by beheading (including Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn) and suspicious murders within its walls added to the Tower’s frightening reputation. By the 19th century, the Tower’s gruesome past was put to rest and the property opened to the curious public. The Tower of London, with its shocking history, royal connections, and Crown Jewels, is now one of England’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s estimated that over two million people visit each year.
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Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit, Scotland
Other famous castles may be more extravagant, or in better shape, but Urquhart Castle is notorious for its history and a particularly elusive neighbour. Built in the 13th century on the banks of Loch Ness, the highland castle spent 500 years deeply embroiled in several bloody battles. Up until the 17th century, Urquhart was a medieval stronghold. Its formidable tower, lakeside location and size – it was once one of Scotland’s largest castles – made it an appealing target for both English and Scottish forces. After centuries of turmoil, Urquhart was finally abandoned in 1692. Fearing that enemies would seize Urquhart, fleeing soldiers blew up part of the castle to render it uninhabitable. What remains today is a beautiful ruin with a picture postcard vantage point of Loch Ness and the mysterious sea monster that’s said to lurk beneath its dark waters.