The majority of people who visit Cluj-Napoca, Romania are there very briefly only. After landing at Cluj-Napoca airport they storm through the city to catch the onward connection to one of the beautiful towns and cities nearby to start their Transylvania holidays. They don’t give the city the chance it deserves which I personally think is a big mistake.
I found Cluj-Napoca a really cool place to visit. It might not be as stunning as Sighisoara, Sibiu, or Brasov but it can surely keep you busy for a day or two with all the great things to do in Cluj-Napoca!
For me, Cluj-Napoca to be a surprisingly pleasant city and it didn’t feel like a big center at all (yet it’s the second-largest city in Romania with over 300.000 inhabitants). In the center the dogs were barking, I could feel the lilac blooming around and I had the impression I’m in the small, a bit sleepy town.
It could be that it was a May weekend and, since Cluj-Napoca is a students’ city, many of the inhabitants were away. But that actually only added up to the atmosphere for me.
I also felt that Cluj-Napoca isn’t a very touristy place. It’s always in the shadow of more popular destinations in Romania but actually there are many Cluj attractions that visitors can enjoy.
I was really surprised there are not more visitors while other popular places to visit in Romania are packed with tourists. But that let me enjoy Cluj-Napoca even more.
I can definitely recommend visiting Cluj-Napoca and so today I will share with you my favorite things to do in Cluj-Napoca. You will see yourself it is worth to include this city in your Romania itinerary.
Table of contents
- 1 A brief history of Cluj-Napoca, Romania
- 2 How to get to Cluj-Napoca
- 3 Things to do in Cluj-Napoca
- 4 Final thoughts on visiting Cluj-Napoca
- 5 Travel Resources
A brief history of Cluj-Napoca, Romania
The area of current Cluj-Napoca was inhabited already in BC times and was an important center when the Roman Empire invaded the region until the year 274.
In medieval times Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár in Hungarian) was under the Hungarian rule. The town developed rapidly due to the location on the crossroads of two trading routes and especially after getting the city rights in 1270. The greatest king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, was born here in 1443.
In the 16th century, Kolozsvár was included n the Principality of Transylvania and the main cultural and religious center of the region, from 1791 it was its capital. In the Habsburg Empire Kolozsvár was the second-largest Hungarian city, after Budapest.
After the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon, Cluj-Napoca was incorporated into the Kingdom of Romania and remained in the country with a short break between 1944 and 1947. Today Cluj-Napoca is the second-largest city in Romania and the main center of the Hungarian culture in the country.
How to get to Cluj-Napoca
Getting to Cluj-Napoca is actually rather easy. The local airport has connections with places all over Europe, the main airline that flies here is the low-cost Wizzair. Other airlines serving Cluj-Napoca airport are Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, Ryanair, or TAROM.
If you travel overland you can reach Cluj-Napoca by train with direct daily connections from Bucharest or Budapest as well as other cities in Romania. There are also bus connections to numerous destinations, however I found it a bit challenging as there is no major bus station in the city.
Things to do in Cluj-Napoca
There are no major must-visit places in Cluj-Napoca but the city has many interesting places and attractions that you will surely enjoy. Here is the list of all the best things to do in Cluj-Napoca.
Looking at Cluj from Cetățuia Park
I love looking at cities from above, to get a perspective of the place. Usually, I climb to every possible tower but in Cluj-Napoca it’s Cetățuia Park located just across the Someșul Mic river from the center. The park is also a hanging out area for the locals and is a busy, vibrant place especially around the sunset time.
The view from there is really lovely. Not only you can see Cluj-Napoca’s center with the dominant neogothic tower of St. Michael’s Church but you can admire the rolling hills in the background. While on the hill you can also check the interesting building of Hotel Belvedere or stop for a coffee at Pergola.
Admiring the beautiful city architecture
Everyone knows I have a soft spot for the period in history when Austria-Hungary existed and every city that has the architecture from that time instantly goes to my list of favorite places. Well, architecture was one of the reasons why I enjoyed visiting Cluj-Napoca so much.
The grand townhouses and the building of the public use you can find in the center of Cluj-Napoca are just magnificent, some of the finest from that period I’ve seen. all the details and funky shapes are just amazing.
Unfortunately, many of the buildings really need the renovation or just the simple painting but even if a bit neglected they surely are impressive.
Explore the city center
You will find most of the monuments in the city center and that’s where you will spend most of the time during your trip to Cluj-Napoca.
The heart of the city is Piața Unirii – the Union Square – where you will find St. Michael’s Church (probably the most impressive Gothic churches in Transylvania), the National Art Museum and the statue of Matthias Corvinus.
Not far from it, at Piata Avram Iancu, there is a beautiful Orthodox Cathedral and Romanian National Opera building (very similar to the one in Chernivtsi, Ukraine).
Another important area is Piața Muzeului (the Museum Square) with the Franciscan Monastery and the Transylvanian History Museum. On the way there you will pass the house where Matthias Corvinus was born.
But no matter where you go in central Cluj, you will find some nice spots – charming lanes, remnants of the city walls, hidden courtyards, or the canal. Cluj-Napoca is a really pleasant city to discover.
Wandering around Central Park
The local Central Park occupies a large area in the center of the city and is such a nice getaway. It’s perfect for wandering around and relaxing and in the hot days, it is a perfect escape from the busy city.
In the middle of the park you can find the small lake and the casino – in front of it you can rent the rowboats and hydro-bicycles and go for a ride.
During my visit, Central Park was flourished with intensive green colors everywhere but I can only imagine how stunning it must be when the autumn with its colors comes.
One of the most surprising things about Cluj-Napoca was its exceptional cafe scene. I was overwhelmed with the number of great cafes and spent one day just hopping from one to another.
You will find them mostly in the center and the majority of cafes are really good so you don’t need to worry about the quality – just follow the people.
My favorite places were Casa TIFF, Tucano Coffee (it’s the same brand as in Chisinau, Moldova) and Sisters Cafe.
Enjoying the vibrant atmosphere
Cluj-Napoca is the city of students and the vibrant atmosphere was probably my favorite thing about this city. Besides all the great cafes there are also numerous pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating areas full of people.
Even if I was in Cluj-Napoca over the weekend with a bank holiday the city was bustling and so many people, locals mostly, enjoyed being out and about.
Cluj-Napoca is also home to the iconic Enigma Bar – the first kinetic steampunk bar in the world. It’s a must-visit place in Cluj!
Visit the botanical garden
The botanical garden in Cluj-Napoca, founded in 1872, is another green oasis in the city that is worth visiting. This beautiful place is located some kilometer away from the center and showcases a variety of plants from all over the world, there are around 10.000 of them.
The most interesting parts are the Japanese garden and the hothouse but the whole botanical garden is great.
Visit the ethnographic museum
Another interesting place is “Romulus Vuia” Ethnographic Park with 18th- and 19th-century buildings from the Transylvania region. You can see here mostly farmyards with the tools that were used back in those times, as well as the church with beautiful paintings inside.
If you like an ethnographic museum you can’t miss this one!
Go for day trips
Cluj-Napoca can be a good base for some interesting day trips around.
The most popular one is Turda with the exceptional salt mine, located only 35 km away from Cluj.
Another great place to visit is Oradea – the art-nouveau gem located on the border with Hungary. You can easily get there by train from Cluj-Napoca. On the way you can see Huedin with impressive Gypsy palaces – this is such a unique and crazy place.
You can also go south to Alba Iulia, known mostly for its star-shaped fortress.
There are so many great places to visit in Romania and you can see some of them from Cluj-Napoca and return in the evening to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
Final thoughts on visiting Cluj-Napoca
As you can see, even if Cluj-Napoca doesn’t have any major attractions it is a place worth visiting, for its architecture, vibe, cafes, and more. It’s a perfect place to relax, before exploring Transylvania or after a busy time in beautiful Romania.
I personally wouldn’t mind returning to Cluj-Napoca, just to spend some more time there and enjoy this cool city.
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