Cluj-Napoca City Guide: top things to do & places to visit
Cluj-Napoca (or simply Cluj) is Romania's second largest city with a vibrant personality: young-hearted and always-up-to-something, a major cultural and university hub full of creative energy and good vibes!
With a mix of medieval landmarks, architectural jewels and trendy urban hotspots, Cluj is a laid-back city where people enjoy life at a slower pace than in the capital Bucharest. It's also ideally located to explore the must see sights of Transylvania. And with so many cheap low cost flights from all over Europe, Cluj-Napoca is perfect for a quick city break!
Your Romanian Friend wants to help you visit major cities in Romania with the help of locals so we've asked one of our friends to write this small Cluj-Napoca travel guide.
If you're a first time visitor to Romania be sure to check our 10 travel tips for visiting Romania.
Last but not least, have a look at our selection of the best tours and day trips in Cluj-Napoca - plenty to choose from!
Cluj – Napoca: the biggest festival in Europe!
What makes Cluj-Napoca so unique? Why do so many people talk about the positive vibe this city has? Simple: the young people, the creative spirit, the enjoy-life but work smart (and not necessarily long hours!) attitude you can see here! And the fun, smiles and friends you can make everywhere – in a new coffee shop serving Ethiopian single origin or hip bars, at the massive Untold music festival or the alternative, hipster-ish Electric Castle festival.
There are many things to do in Cluj because the city is the unofficial capital of Transylvania and Bucharest’s estranged and prideful little brother. Historically, Cluj has always been a cultural and political cradle where Romanians, Hungarians, Germans and other minorities have coexisted for centuries. Ready to find out why?
Discover the best sights of Cluj-Napoca
The best way to do some sightseeing and explore Cluj is on foot because the main landmarks and sights are located closely in the city centre. In fact, the city’s layout is a huge East-West axis so I suggest you start your journey either from Central University Library or Avram Iancu Square.
Starting from the latter you will notice the massive Orthodox Cathedral and statue of Avram Iancu (a major figure in our history). The beautiful building opposite is the National Theatre and Opera House with a superb Renaissance-Baroque-Secession architectural mix representative for many important buildings in Western Romania thanks to Habsburg and Hungarian influences. Next, continue on the wide and busy Eroilor Blvd. one of the most important sights in Cluj where locals love to hang out. It's a lively boulevard filled with nice places to eat, have a drink and take in local life. There’s a specialty coffee trend going on in Cluj and on this street you can find Narcoffee Roasters, Olivo, Roots and Meron, all of which serve great coffee and bites - and during evenings wine! On the parallel I.C.Bratianu street there’s A La Tarte where you can enjoy a quiche with water on the house or Joben, one of the coolest places to go out in Cluj-Napoca.
While roaming the streets, be sure to check the upper levels of the building’s you’re passing by. Though some have been restored and others not, they are still beautiful and old and make for great sights in Cluj and good spots for those passionate about photography! And whenever you see a courtyard – step inside, it’s allowed and no one will be upset. Beautiful gardens, unique details, roaming or lazy cats – take your pick. These hidden spots will make great photos for your Instagram and your friends back home jealous!
Continue your walk until you reach Unirii Square with its massive St. Michael Gothic church, one of Cluj's most popular tourist attractions and major city landmarks. If there’s nothing going on – enjoy the open space and take a look around: no one is in a rush here, locals or tourists catch their breath, enjoy a sandwich (try Souper) or a coffee in the sun. Blend in with the crowds and admire the details of the imposing Matthias Corvinus monument.
If you want to learn more about Cluj-Napoca's history, tourist attractions and culture from a friendly local guide, we suggest you book a walking tour with Florin for a Short Walk & Talk about Cluj-Napoca with a Local.
Finally, you should also consider visiting the Botanical Garden in Cluj-Napoca, the largest and, according to some, most beautiful in Romania with many unique sights. During springtime there are 40.000 tulips on display which makes it the biggest tourist attraction in Cluj. Find out more and about visiting hours on the official website.
Want to visit Transylvania? Start from Cluj-Napoca
Thanks to its geographical position and transport connections, the city is a very good base to explore the region of Transylvania. The main attractions around Cluj that you shouldn't miss: the Turda Underground Salt Mine and the Alba Iulia Citadel. For those looking for something different - and courageous enough -there is a haunted forrest near Cluj-Napoca where a UFO was sighted 50 years ago, with strange activity ever since - you can go on a tour in Hoia Baciu forest either by day or night.
From Cluj you can also go on a day trip to visit the most popular sights in Transylvania such as the famous Sighisoara Citadel and Saxon fortified villages. Or go to Northern Romania to discover the traditional and picturesque region of Maramures with its unique Wooden Churches.
The city is close to Apuseni Natural Park, part of the Western Carpathian Mountains, where lots of caves, wild trails and natural wonders await - so outdoor fans will be pleased! There are many hiking trips in Apuseni Natural Park you can do of varying difficulty, but if you're looking to also see traditional village life this is a good place to experience it!
Hungry much? Or looking to do some shopping?
Back in the city, it’s time to move towards Muzeului Square, another major sight of Cluj with lots of bars, terraces and clubs – it’s the beating heart of the city! See how people enjoy their drinks and talks, blend in with the crowds and maybe make some new friends! If you're looking for places to go out and eat in Cluj-Napoca, try the best ribs at Bistro Vienna, homemade pasta at Camino and a cocktail at Charlie Pub. You can also try Casa Boema for Romanian tapas or Baraca for gourmet (and expensive) delicacies
Next on the list should be the Central Park where you'll see people laying on the grass, hanging hammocks and enjoying life – there’s always an event going on here during summertime. Buy cotton candy – a staple of Romanian childhood, take a ride with a swan boat on Chios lake or ride on Rocky’s wagon, the oldest and most loved pony in Cluj. Also across the road near the Mill Canal you can find lots of beautiful houses that were built between the Two World Wars and are very well kept to this day. If you keep on walking through the park and enjoying the city’s feeling you will eventually reach the Somes river walk. It’s another local life spot where people ride bikes, walk their pets or lay in the sun on a small improvised beach. Keep calm and enjoy life!
If you want to go shopping in Cluj-Napoca you've got only 2 options to choose from, depending on which is closer. There are 2 large shopping malls in Cluj-Napoca: Vivo! in the Eastern part or Iulius Mall in the Western part. Both usually within a 15 Lei taxi ride (around 4€) from city centre. And both have food courts with a great range of choices.
Any evening plans?
As the evening comes it’s time for some good dinner: though most places in Unirii Square are on the expensive side due to increasing tourist numbers, there’s Casa TIFF nearby with a beautiful secluded garden or Bulgakov on the narrow cobble stone streets around Potaissa street.
After dinner comes the great nightlife experience of Cluj which rivals that of Bucharest. Piezisa Street is full of bars, clubs and eateries and since there’s a large student campus nearby – prepare for a long, crazy and memorable night, shots and good music included! Muzeului Square is also a good choice for your evening, more toned down but lively and very popular. Choose whatever tickles your pickle and for some good wines try Crush Wine Bar. Londoner's Pub or Hemingway's cocktail bar have always been among the local favourites.
My insight: if you happen to be in Cluj on a Monday evening, the Londoner Pub organizes a quiz night every week in English! You can always join, it’s a friendly atmosphere and they serve some great cocktails, even if you’re not in the mood to show how smart you are.
By now you should have plenty of ideas on things to do in Cluj. But we've saved some of best recommendations for last:
- hike up to Dealul Cetatuia (Fortress Hill) for great views of the city and rest at Pergola cafe (views included!);
- check out the hangar sort-of-club where all kind of urban events and concerts take place: Form Space
- must try the the street food pastry called palanet with cheese or cabbage filling, you'll see them everywhere; or langos if you're lucky enough to find it!
But Cluj is not all about doing things or going places. You should blend with the locals and experience the city’s lively, positive and friendly vibe. This is what makes Cluj such a unique city: how locals enjoy life!
Travel tips for visiting Cluj-Napoca
From the Cluj-Napoca airport to the city there are 2 options: public bus number 5 or 8 that runs every 10 min (20 min in weekends) from outside the airport's perimeter, journey time to the city around 30 min and tickets for 5 Lei. Second - which we recommend - taxis waiting outside the arrivals gate where you will find an official waiting line. Journey time to city centre around 15-25 min for 5 -7€ (~30 Lei), depending on destination and traffic. Always make sure that the meter is running.
The best way to navigate Cluj-Napoca is by foot: the main landmarks and squares are all within walking distance. For anything else, catch a taxi (Daniel, Nova, City) for 2,25 Lei / km. You can also use Uber which is even cheaper or get the Clever Taxi app to order a cab on your smartphone and pay cash. Public transport is available through bus and tram (two ride ticket for 4 Lei), but routes are very local. Renting public bikes is, unfortunately, not available for tourists (yet).
So - that's it! All my tips on how to visit Cluj-Napoca like a local with the best sights for you to see. I hope it will inspire you to come over for a quick visit – we can grab a drink in some of the spots I mentioned!
Your Romanian Friend
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