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Here it is! The long-awaited guide to Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the city that has become my most recent home. I’ve been living here for the past nine months, never expecting a year ago that this would be the case. Cluj-Napoca is an amazingly friendly city, and one of the best destinations for digital nomads. It’s affordable, got widespread and reliable internet, and making friends here is easy. Plus, there are a ton of amazing day trips from Cluj-Napoca.
2020 has been a hell of a year – I quit my comfy job to travel Europe with my dog, COVID and global lockdowns, fell in love, moved to my man’s city and adopted a(nother) puppy. Oh, and to add to the excitement, there’s a baby on the way! Whew! What a wild ride it’s been. So, without further ado, please enjoy my unique perspective of Cluj as both a foreigner and a resident.
things to do in cluj-napoca
exploring the city
Piaţă Unirii is the main square in Cluj’s Old Town. On the perimeter of the square you’ll find restaurants and terraces, St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, and a few storefronts. The square features a large statue of Matthias Corvinus.
parcul central simion bărnuțiu
Central Park is a large urban park spanning part of the southern shore of the Someşul Mic River. Nearer to the city centre you’ll find running paths and trees. Toward the outskirts of the city, there’s a large pond and an upscale restaurant with gorgeous views.
Piaţă Muzeului is where you can find the iconic strung lights hanging above a beautiful cobblestone street that are featured in many photographs of Cluj-Napoca. There are a number of good restaurants (my favorite is Casa Veche – I go here for dinner probably once a week!) as well as Matthias Corvinus House, which is where the famed Hungarian king was born.
Cetățuia is a personal favorite of mine considering the amount of time I spend there. It’s a large hill on the opposite side of the river from Old Town. The stairs are a bitch, but doable and worth it.
Here is where you’ll find the best views Cluj has to offer as well as the Cetățuia Food Truck Park. If you have mobility limitations, take an Uber or a Bolt, because public transport will still make you hike up the stairs.
piaţă mihai viteazul
Another popular square in the city centre is Piaţă Mihai Viteazul, which is a central stop for many city buses. There’s a large statue with beautiful fountain, cheerfully colored buildings and beautiful architecture to admire.
piaţă avram iancu
Piaţă Avram Iancu is right in front of Cluj’s most spectacular building, the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral. In the summer months, you can find an open-air market from which you can purchase authentic Romanian foods, honey, spices, and handcrafted goods.
Cluj’s city river, Someşul (the Someş) is nice enough to enjoy a stroll along the river banks. There aren’t many attractions nearby, but if you’re heading from Parcul Central to Parcul Cetățuia, see if you can find Elisabeth Bridge!
love locks on elisabeth bridge
I stumbled across this gem en route from one park to the other my first day exploring Cluj, the city that would eventually become home. I spent a while admiring the care with which lovers meticulously placed their locks, a symbol of their eternal devotion to one another. (Szilard and I don’t have a lock on the bridge – yet!).
matthias corvinus statue
The Matthias Corvinus Monument is the focal point of Piaţă Unirii, the main square in Cluj-Napoca. It’s a popular photo stop for tourists and (obviously) depicts the famed Hungarian King, Matthias Corvinus.
The Botanical Garden in Cluj is one of the city’s treasures. Even people in other Transylvanian counties rae about Cluj’s Botanical Garden. The entire area spans over 14 hectares, featuring both indoor and outdoor gardens, and boasts over 10,000 species of plants from all over the world! The best time to visit is in the spring, when most varieties are in bloom.
Entrance for one adult is 11 lei (about $2.75 USD) with children, students, and seniors paying only 5 lei.
matthias corvinus house
One of the oldest buildings in Cluj-Napoca, Matthias Corvinus House is located in Piaţă Muzeului. Matthias Corvinus, one of the most renowned Kings of Hungary, was born here in the 15th century. The building has served as a jail, hospital, museum, and today is a visual arts institute.
To the west of Parcul Central is the Cluj Arena, a multi-purpose arena that is now the home to one of the city’s many festivals – Untold. In addition to catching a football game from Universitatea Cluj, you can check out the Untold Festival or catch another concert – artists such as Andrea Bocelli have even played here!
If you’re visiting Cluj during the warmer months, head to Potaissa Street for all of your floral indulgences. One of the most picturesque streets in the entire city, Strada Potaissa is the home to the Altfel Flower Market, which takes place Friday through Sundays from 10-23.
You can catch workshops and performances in addition to bouquets of flowers and potted plants for the home or herbs for the garden. The market has grown so significantly in recent years that car traffic is now restricted.
Hoia Forest has developed quite a reputation over the years. A known site for paranormal encounters and UFO sightings, it’s consistently cited as one of the most haunted forests in the world.
The first UFO sighting occurred in the late 1960’s, putting Hoia-Baciu Forest on the map for lovers of the supernatural. Ever since, strange lights, energies, and other inexplicable phenomena have been reported in the area.
You can take a night (or day) tour of the forest, complete with EMF meters and Geiger counters!
Word to the wise – don’t wander off in any forest by yourself (haunted or not!). Hoia Forest is located near to the outdoor installation of the ethnography museum, so visiting both in one day is highly advisable.
take a free walking tour of the city
Cluj is a city with a diverse population, gorgeous architecture, and an abundance of history. Taking a city tour, free or paid, is a great way to understand both Cluj and its people on a deeper level. There are many popular tours in Cluj, or you can opt for a self-guided walking tour!
The Cluj-Napoca Tailors’ Bastion is near the southeastern tip of the old Cluj citadel. Until 2007 the building was abandoned, but the city has since restored the tower and transformed it into a tourist site. There are exhibits on each of its three floors and it now serves as a Centre for Urban Culture.
try varza a la cluj
Cabbage is by far one of the most popular ingredients in traditional Romanian food. And Cluj-Napoca has its very own preparation! This dish is prepared with minced meat, onion, cabbage, and rice and finished with a sour cream mixture. The specific recipe varies greatly among families and restaurants alike.
museums & venues
cluj-napoca romanian national opera
The Romanian National Opera in Cluj-Napoca is one of the city’s most iconic institutions. It’s situated across from Piaţă Avram Iancu and is a common stop for visitors in the city. Here you’ll find opera and ballet performances.
the hungarian opera house
The Hungarian Opera House is lesser-known than the Romanian National Opera, but offers some spectacular performances. It’s situated adjacent to the eastern end of Parcul Central, making it a convenient stop after a dinner at the park or one of the nearby restaurants. Like the Romanian National Opera, it also offers presentations online during the global lockdown.
Banffy Castle is outside the city limits of Cluj, located in the village of Bonţida. In the 1940s the building suffered destruction by German troops but has since been restored.
In its history, the building has served as a hospital, a driving school, a co-op farm, and again a hospital for children. Since 2013 it’s served as the site of Cluj’s famed Electric Castle Festival.
The Pharmacy History Museum is located in the oldest pharmacy building in Cluj, nicknamed ‘La Sfântul Gheorghe’ or also known as the Hintz Pharmacy.
Dating back to the 16th century, the museum has very interesting sources of healing still located within its walls. These include Syrian asphalt, which was used to treat rheumatic disorders, as well as coral powder and lobster eyes, used for their naturally high calcium content.
transylvanian museum of ethnography
Technically, the Transylvanian Museum of Ethnography in Cluj is two separate installations. The first, pictured above, is located at Reduta Palace downtown. Here you’ll find exhibits featuring items and clothing used in traditional rural Romanian life as well as an impressive historical photo collection.
ethnographic park romulus vuia
The second installation of the TME is located at Romulus Vuia Park, toward the outskirts of the city. Here you can visit an open-air museum that features traditional farms with buildings collected from different regions of Transylvania, authentic mills, and wooden churches. You can also view a number of workshops that demonstrate different aspects of rural life.
jewish history museum
Muzeon is a Jewish storytelling museum that is focused more on personal tales rather than historic exhibits. The stories are the result of research and careful examination of hundreds of letters, memoirs, documents, and personal testimonials.
st. michael’s roman catholic church
St. Michael’s Church is the main church located in Piaţă Unirii. It boasts the title of second largest church in Transilvania, though it is perpetually under renovation. The scaffolding certainly takes away from its Gothic architectural beauty, but hopefully it will be complete soon!
In the 1600s it was a popular site for elections of the Princes of Transilvania.
In May of 1944, Áron Márton, bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Transilvania, gave a famous speech strongly condemning the deportation of Jews.
The Neolog Synagogue is the only working synagogue in the city. With its stunning Moorish-style architecture, it makes for an excellent photography subject.
The building itself has a sordid history – it was built in the 1880’s, suffered attacks in 1927 by the Iron Guard, rebuilt by the Romanian government, damaged by bombs of the railway station in 1944, and in 1951 once again restored. Today it serves as a memorial to Jewish deportees during The Holocaust.
The Reformed Diocese of Transylvania is a moderately conservative Reformed, Calvinist church in Romania. Cluj is one of the headquarters (together with Oradea) of the religious institution and is composed of two bishoprics: the Reformed Diocese of Királyhágómellék and the Reformed Diocese of Transylvania. Approximately 95% of its followers are of Hungarian ethnicity.
dormition of the theotokos cathedral
The Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral is my absolute favorite building in Cluj. The union of Renaissance and Byzantine architecture is nothing short of breathtaking. The fountain adjacent to the main entrance provides a lovely spot to sit and people watch. Stop here during the summer months to enjoy the market stalls set up in Piaţă Avram Iancu.
events & festivals
Electric Castle is an annual music festival held at Bánffy Castle. EC features many genres of music including rock, indie, hip hop, electronic, techno, and drum and bass as well as art installations, similar to many US-based festivals.
You can catch internationally-acclaimed musicians such as Florence + the Machine, Skrillex, Deadmau5, alt-J, Franz Ferdinand, Fatboy Slim, Sigur Ros, Thievery Corporation, Die Antwoord among many, many others. There are ten stages, so there will always be something good to watch.
Electric Castle takes place each summer, usually in mid-late July. Headliners were just released for 2021 (should all go as planned), featuring The Deftones, Gorillaz, and Twenty-One Pilots!
Untold is another major festival taking place at the Cluj Arena, usually each August. It’s more genre-specific than Electric Castle, focusing on electronic music. If you purchase a ticket to Untold, the bracelet will allow you discounts at other major attractions throughout Romania.
Featured artists have included Armin van Buuren, Avicii (RIP), Chainsmokers, Tiesto, David Guetta, Bonobo, Afrojack, Steve Aoki and others.
TIFF is an acronym for Transylvania International Film Festival, and is yet another of Cluj’s famed festivals. Since its onset in 2002, Tiff has become the most celebrated film-focused event in all of Romania.
TIFF takes place annually and is spread out around multiple locations in the city, including outdoor and obscure venues. TIFF was the only festival held in Cluj in 2020 given the fact that social distancing was more feasible than would have been with EC or Untold.
The festival is usually held in late-July/early-August each year.