Looking for a cheap, relatively close, fascinating and surprising destination? We have an offer for you – Cluj-Napoca. The second largest city in Romania is located in the northwest of the country and is considered the capital of the Transylvania region. It is a vibrant student city with a charming old center and surrounding mountain views that make a perfect day trip destination. Direct and cheap flights make Cluj a particularly recommended destination for a visit.
So what is there to do in the city and its surroundings? Here are some experiences you shouldn’t miss:
A walking tour of the ancient center
Like many other European cities, the highlight of Cluj is its old center, with cobbled streets dotted with baroque churches and medieval houses. Union Square (Piaţă Unirii), the largest of the city squares, is the heart of the old city. Some of the most important monuments in the city are concentrated in and around the square, including the statue of Matthias Corbinus, King of Hungary from the 15th century, and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Michael. The second largest church in Romania and one of the most impressive in the country was built in the 15th century in Gothic style. Another building you can’t ignore is the 18th-century Baroque Bánffy Palace, which houses Cluj’s Town Hall and Art Museum. The square is full of cafes and restaurants, where you can sit, catch the sun and watch the people passing by. From time to time, especially in the summer, concerts are held in the square. Another central square is Piaţă Mihai Viteazul, which is surrounded by beautiful colorful houses and in the center of which is a handsome fountain.
View from Chattoya Park
The most beautiful view of Cluj is seen from Parcul Cetăţuia, which is located on a hill at a height of 405 meters in the north of the historic center of the city. Of the Habsburg fortifications built here in the 18th century, only part of the walls, individual buildings and two gates remain, but it is still pleasant to walk here and enjoy a view of the city, especially at sunset.
A visit to the museum
Cluj has several fine museums and if you are interested in history, culture and art you should visit at least some of them. The Cluj Art Museum housed in the impressive Banfi Palace displays works by the best Romanian artists. Don’t miss the Transylvanian Museum of Ethnography with its two wings. One wing is located in Raduta Palace and has items and clothes that used to be used in the rural areas of Transylvania. The second wing is actually an open museum located in the Romulus Vuia Park and has buildings of farmhouses from different regions of Transylvania, including windmills and wooden churches. The museum also has workshops where you can witness demonstrations of various ancient crafts. The stream that flows through the park, the wandering goats and the squirrels that jump between the trees contribute to the pastoral atmosphere of the place.
One of the fascinating and surprising museums is the pharmacy museum, which is housed in the building of the oldest pharmacy in Clouse, from the 16th century. The building is decorated with a beautiful mural from 1766, and it has apothecary tools such as pots, bottles and scales, alongside medicines that were accepted in the old days and have disappeared from the world, such as coral powder and lobster eyes which were used thanks to their high calcium content.
Don’t miss the Jewish Museum either, which focuses on personal stories based on personal testimonies, letters, documents and memories.
Cluj also has a vibrant art scene, and alongside the Cluj Art Museum it has plenty of galleries such as Galeria Quadro for modern art and the more underground Fabrica de Pensule.
The green lung of Cluj is the central park (Parcul Central) near the city center, with paths winding through lawns, trees and an abundance of vegetation. A section of the Someşul Mic River flows through the park, and there is an impressive fountain and a charming lake where you can sail in swan-shaped boats.
If you want another small escape to nature, visit the botanical garden (Grădina Botanică), which is one of the most beautiful in Romania. The garden covers an area of 140 dunams, and contains over 10,000 species of plants from all over the world. A charming Japanese garden with a wooden bridge over the water pool, sub-tropical mangrove swamps, greenhouses of tropical plants, a cactus garden, streams and a waterfall are some of the surprises that await you in the garden.
A night at the opera
Even if opera is not your cup of tea, a visit to the Cluj-Napoca Opera House (Opera Națională Română Cluj-Napoca) is a recommended experience, if only because of the magnificent neo-baroque building from 1919 that is considered one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. The inside of the building is just as spectacular as the outside and includes gold decorations and crimson colored seats. Not only opera but also ballet and theater performances are presented there.
Cluj is great in any season, but summer is the city’s festival season, with a host of exciting events. The biggest festival in the city is Electric Castle, a music festival that takes place every July at Castelul Bánffy. The festival has performances by local and international musicians from different genres – rock, indie, hip hop and electronic, with the performances taking place on ten different stages so that everyone can find something to their liking. Alongside the performances there are artistic installations. Another festival is the Untold electronic music festival which takes place in August and hosts a long list of well-known international musicians such as Armin van Buuren, David Guetta and Tiesto. In September, the Jazz in the Park Festival takes place in the central park, which is considered one of the best small festivals in Europe, with performances by renowned international musicians (this year, among others, Assaf Avidan and Avishi Cohen will appear at the festival) and an excellent atmosphere. If you prefer a more relaxed pastime, try the Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF), a prestigious film festival held in July/August.
Bars and cafes
Cluj is a young student city and as such, it has plenty of great places to drink, whether you’re an alcohol lover or a coffee lover. One of the trendy bars in town is Enigma, a beautifully designed bar with kinetic sculptures and excellent cocktails, including ones with beer! Another bar worth visiting is Insomnia, whose audience consists mainly of artists and actors.
If you are one of the coffee people, you will find in Cluj a fairly developed coffee culture, a relic of the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Meron is a chain of cafes with fine coffee brewed locally and seven different locations around the city. Sisters is a hipster cafe with a Berlin vibe. There are cafes that serve excellent food, such as Eggcetera that serves brunches throughout the day.
The capital of Romania has several excellent shopping malls, one of the largest of which is Iulius Mall Cluj with 230 stores of local and international brands, cafes and restaurants, a children’s playground, a trampoline complex and a cinema complex. Adjacent to the mall is a green park. Another mall is VIVO Cluj Napoca, which has stores of leading brands, dozens of restaurants and cafes, Gymboree and cinemas.
If you prefer shopping with a little more character, you will find some excellent thrift stores in the city. Helofita is a large outlet that specializes in second-hand clothes in good condition and has several branches throughout the city. Tabita is also a chain of second-hand stores where you can find many vintage bargains.
If you prefer designer clothes, you’ll be happy to know that Cluj has a fashion design faculty, and many young designers are opening stores in the city. One of the interesting stores is Dopium Urban by the designer Christina Talpatin who takes old clothes, recycles them and creates completely different clothes from them.
A trip to the Salina Turda salt mine
If there’s one day trip you don’t want to miss in Cluj, it’s a visit to the Salina Turda salt mine, which is a short drive from the city. An impressive salt mine is hidden deep below the ground, which was closed in 1932 and opened in 1992 as a tourist destination. The complex includes, among other things, a huge hall with spectacular salt drips in many forms, an underground lake where you can sail in a pedal boat, and even an underground amusement park with a giant wheel, mini golf, table tennis, bowling and more.
For more information – another travel guide to Romania
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