While the Alps are the most famous and dramatic in Europe, they are far from Europe's only notable mountain chain. The towering Pyrenees separate France from Spain and in Central/Eastern Europe one finds the gentler but storied Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathians carry with them some of the deepest, darkest myths and legends of Eastern Europe.

The Carpathians are covered with an extensive network of hiking trails. As the mountains are not so tall, it is normally easy enough to hike up to the summit and back on a day's excursion. The Carpathians blend medieval history, folklore, and stunning scenic beauty into one. There are even many stunning train routes that cut their way through the stunning mountains past castles and timeless villages.

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How The Carpathians Are Central to Europe's History

It is in the Carpathian Mountains that folklore stories like Count Dracula and the vampire stories take place. They are some of Europe's favorite ranges for hiking and exploring. While around half of the range is in Romania (especially the Transylvania region), the rest are in other countries.

The highest peaks in the Carpathians are the Tatra Mountains between Slovakia and Poland where the peaks exceed 2,600 meters (8,500 ft). The second-highest section is nearly as tall with the Southern Carpathians in Romania reaching heights of 2,500 m (8,200 ft).

  • Highest Peaks: 2,600 meters (8,500 ft)

The Carpathians are also home to some of Europe's most noted wildlife - including its largest populations of brown bears, wolves, chamois, and lynxes.

  • Wildlife: Home to Europe's Largest Populations of Bears, Wolves, Chamois, and Lynxes

The greatest concentration of wildlife is in Romania. Romania is possibly the best place to explore the Carpathians owing to its association with Dracula, having the highest concentration of wildlife, its large (for Europe) virgin forests, and having around a third of all Europe's thermal and mineral waters.

Related: Svaneti Is The Most Stunning Alpine Valley (Outside Of the Alps)

Transylvania Is Central To the Carpathians - But There Is Still Much More

The Carpathians form an arc that cut their way through many of Europe's countries including Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Slovakia, with small amounts in other countries.

But don't restrict oneself to Romania. Poland, Slovakia, and others have enchanted Carpathians and forests just the same. Discover many castles - many forgotten deep in the Carpathians, find quaint and timeless European alpine villages, and hike up to restaurants perched on the summits with awe-inspiring vistas and enjoy a beer (in Europe, there is always beer).

  • Romania: Has Half Of The Carpathian Mountains

If one is into Dracula's history and exploring the castles of Transylvania associated with it, one will also be exploring Europe's Carpathians.

Related:

Swiss Alps Mountain Observatory: Truly At The Top Of Europe

Brașov - The Perfect Dracula Base In Transylvania

While there are many popular cities to explore in Transylvania, one of the most popular is Brașov. It is a city in Romania's Transylvania with a population of 250,000 and not only does it have a stunning old town center, but it is also a favored base to explore the legendary Dracula world of the surrounding Carpathians.

From here the Dracula castles are an easy reach as well as countless hiking trails.

  • Tip: For a Quieter Stay To Really Enjoy The Mountains, Stay in Bunești A Short Train Ride From Brașov

Another Transylvania city to visit is the larger city of Cluj-Napoca which is widely considered to be the capital of Transylvania and is another gateway into the Carpathians.

Bran Castle - aka Dracula's Castle

Bran Castle is one of the most famous of the "Dracula" castles and is an easy 16 miles from Brașov. It is sometimes called "Dracula's Castle" (although there is no evidence the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, even knew this castle).

Today Bran Castle is one of the region's most popular tourist attractions with people coming from far and wide to visit.

  • Monday: 12PM - 6PM
  • Tue–Sun: 9 AM - 6 PM
  • Adults: 45Lei (9€) - $10
  • Note: There are Crowds In the Peak Season

See up-to-date information and any events at Bran Castle on its official website.

Poenair Castle - Authentic Vlad The Impaler Ruin

Alternatively if one would like a more authentic Dracula experience, consider visiting the ruins of the Poenair Castle. It may be much less impressive than the Bran Castle, but it was actually the home of Vlad the Impaler.

It is set atop a mountain and accessed by climbing 1,480 concrete stairs.

  • Built: From 1453
  • Status: Ruined
  • Home: Of Vlad the Impaler