Image: Dracula's castle
www.RomaniaTourism.com
For true vampire devotees, a must-see is country's Transylvania region. One of the most authentic locations is Bran Castle (a.k.a. Dracula’s Castle), Dracula’s birthplace, Sighisoara, and Dracula’s burial grounds at the Snagov Monastery are also popular sites, especially during Halloween time.
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updated 10/28/2009 9:10:00 AM ET 2009-10-28T13:10:00

Even before Bela Lugosi muttered those infamous words “I never drink … wine” in his 1920s stage and film versions of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” vampires have been ingrained in our culture. Never more than now.

Writers Anne Rice and Stephen King helped keep vampires alive and recent TV shows, movies and books like “True Blood” and “Twilight” have introduced vampires to a whole new generation.

Indeed, tour groups around the world are helping the vampire imagery come to life with excursions to a number of eerie places — from the legendary Bran Castle (a.k.a Dracula’s Castle) in Romania to historic vampire haunts in New Orleans. Even the small town of Forks, Wash., has become flooded with “Twilight”-crazed fans hoping to catch a glimpse of locations made popular by the sexy teen vampires.

For true vampire devotees, a must-see is the area of Romania known as Transylvania, home to Vlad the Impaler, the historical inspiration for Dracula. Simion Alb, director of the Romanian National Tourist Office of North America, says, “One of the most fascinating ways to see Romania is through the Count’s eyes.” For the living who want an up-close Dracula experience, tours take guests on the Dracula Trail.

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Most tours follow the book and include historical sites like Sighisoara (birthplace of Dracula), considered the best preserved medieval fortress in Europe, or Dracula’s Tomb, supposedly on Snagov Island and only accessible by boat. The Count Dracula Club in Bucharest is always primed for a vampire-themed costume party. As for the best time to go to Romania, Alb says it's fall. “Halloween is inextricably linked with Dracula and what place is more associated with him than Transylvania?” he says.

For some, New Orleans has become synonymous with vampires thanks to Anne Rice and her “Vampire Chronicles.” For this reason, Sidney Smith created Haunted History Tours, which take guests on “bone-chilling” tours of real and fictional vampire sites throughout The Big Easy. “We try not to make it scary, but people do leave disturbed when they see places where people were actually drained of their blood,” Smith says. One of the most popular locations is a house in the French Quarter where two brothers were murdered and drained of their blood in the 1930s and whose ghosts, Smith says, have been seen wandering around the area “more than 30 documented times.”

A city that may not be a well-known vampire haunt is San Francisco, but Kitty Burns has changed that by creating The Vampire Tour of San Francisco. “Mina Harker,” vampress from the “Dracula” novel, leads a history-filled but lighthearted tour of the haunted areas of Knob Hill and beyond. “The tour is not dark and gothic, it is even funny, but the places we visit are seriously haunted,” Burns says. Vampires have stayed popular throughout the years because, as Burns says, “vampires have many facets. They are not only scary, but also romantic and classy.”

Then there's the new go-to destination for tween vampire fanatics, Forks, Wash., the real town featured in the fictional “Twilight”series. Tours include stops at Charlie and Bella Swan’s house — though it only exists in the novel, the McIrvin family has volunteered their own home as the official house.

There's even a Twilight cruise in the works for 2010. Featuring stars of the movies, the cruise to Alaska will have autograph signings, a costume ball, and all things “Twilight” all week long. Linda Wolf, owner of Cruises, Cruises, Cruises, Inc. believes that there is so much interest in the cruise because “fans want a forum to discuss their love of the story with the stars themselves and with other fans.”

Go at your own risk; just be sure to carry plenty of garlic and don’t forget your stake.

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