Cluj-Napoca is a lively city with remarkable potential and a long history. A place where art, sports, theatre, film, music, and education all bind together in harmony. Filled with both new and old squares, museums, parks, and buildings that hide mysteries from centuries long-forgotten, Cluj impresses through its baroque style combined with picturesque architecture that creates a unique bohemian atmosphere. Thousands of people are visiting Cluj-Napoca each year, mainly because of three of its most famous festivals: UNTOLD Festival, Transylvania International Film Festival, and Electric Castle.
If you find yourself in Cluj, it would be a pity not to enjoy your time to the fullest. So here's a small list of things to do in Cluj.
If you find yourself in Cluj, it would be a great idea to enjoy your time to the fullest. And trust us, you would have a great time! So here is a short list of things to do in Cluj-Napoca.
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Cluj is a city renowned for its Bavarian atmosphere and unique cafes. You can visit the Mirror Street, where the architecture of the buildings is identical on both sides of the street.
Union Square is the largest and the central square in Cluj-Napoca. The square is home to some of the city's most significant landmarks, such as the old Town Hall, the statue Matthias Corvinus (Matei Corvin), the National Museum of Art, and the Josika Palace. One of the most impressive buildings is the Opera House, built in Renaissance-Baroque-Secession styles. The same building is hosting today the National Theatre.
But if you want to explore the city and get an in-depth historical tour, we highly recommend booking a city tour of Cluj. A professional guide can help you make the most out of your day, and you will discover the amazing stories behind some of the hottest attractions in Cluj on a walking tour. You will see the Matthias Corvinus House, St. Michael's Church, the Museum Square, Banffy palace, or the Romulus Vuia Ethnographic Park.
If you are a nature lover, we recommend the Botanical Garden, the most popular spot for the people living in the capital of Transylvania. The garden is over 14 hectares in area and over 10.000 plants from different corners of the world. The other two spots where you can enjoy nature without hearing the noise of the city is Central Park and Cetatuia hill.
Via Ferrata in Cheile Turzii. Photo source - Lucian Rosu
Cheile Turzii is a natural reserve outside of Cluj, near the village of Cheia. This historic site has been inhabited ever since the Neolithic period, and it is one of the richest and most scenic karst landscapes in Romania, filled with steep cliffs, sharp ridges, and towers of limestone.
Turda gorge formed through erosion over millions of years, and it has a length of 2.9 kilometers and a height of 300 meters. This natural reserve is home to over 1,000 species of plants, animals, and insects, some of which are marked as endangered species (such as the wild garlic).
If you are an adventure amateur, we recommend you try the Via Ferrata route. The difficulty is easy to moderately difficult and lasts from 3 to 3.5 hours - enough time for your brain to pump a lot of adrenaline. As you head along the path, you will be amazed by the enchanting views that the last relief offers.
Just like Cheile Turzii, Turda Salt Mine is located outside of the city, but we can assure you that the trip is well worth it. Inside this antique salt mine, you will find an underground theme park, which was deemed by Business Insider as one of the most stunning underground places in the world.
Turda Salt Mine is the perfect place to spend a fun day – you can play bowling, mini-golf, ping pong, ride the Ferris wheel, have a family picnic, or even take a boat ride in the underground lake. If you decide to book a day trip from Cluj, you'll also visit the Alba Carolina Citadel, one of Romania's most beautiful fortifications, as well as the quaint Rimetea village, a place where the sun rises twice, and the houses are painted only in white. Other trips from Cluj can be found on our website.
Turda Mine Salt
Transylvania is such a diverse, in many regards, being influenced by the neighboring countries all over history. Thus, if you try the local restaurants in Cluj, you will find a mix of Romanian and Hungarian recipes.
We suggest two of the dishes that also bear the name of the Transylvanian capital: Chicken à la Cluj and Cabbage à la Cluj.
Chicken à la Cluj is a specific meal of the gardeners around Cluj, also called "hoștezeni". They were brought by the Hungarians in the sixteenth century, from regions inhabited by Germanic populations. In fact, "hoștezeni" meant those who lived outside the fortifications of the city of Cluj. The meaning comes from the German word "Hochstadt", which means periphery. It seems this community disappeared or was assimilated in the communist period. Even though there are now only 20 "hoștezeni" families in Cluj, their cuisine is the one that takes their name further.
We also recommend the cabbage à la Cluj, which resembles the famous "sarmale." The difference is that the cabbage is sit in layers. The recipe would have been recorded in a cookery book by the year 1695. Well, it seems a clear proof of the tradition of the Transylvanian cuisine.
Cabbage à la Cluj. Photo source: http://lauralaurentiu.ro
The story of the Hoia Baciu forest near Cluj-Napoca begins with the legend that a shepherd entered with his 200 sheep in the woods and never left. As a result, unusual phenomena have never stopped since then, and the number of onlookers increased. The place is also called sometimes the Bermuda Triangle of Romania, and those who have ventured here have reported various strange physical states and light beams that can't be explained. Some even have photographed UFOs, as it was the case in 1968 that attracted paranormal phenomena specialists from all over the world.
Lately, the place has attracted the attention of international publications as BBC, The Guardian, or the Independent. Recently a documentary, where former BBC news presenter Peter Baker is the narrator, was released online. It delimits objectively what is real and what is only a myth about the Baciu forest.
Photo source: http://romania-insider.com
Panoramic View from Cetatuia Cluj. Photo source: http://cluj.com
If you want to see the city from above, Cetatuia Clujului is your go-to place. The citadel was built between 1715 and 1735, and it is located on top of a hill close to the city center. From up there, you can enjoy the beautiful architecture of Cluj, and its busy streets seen from above will make you feel like a giant.
Pro tip: If you're looking for something more unique, make sure to stay and watch the sunset.
Built between 1316 and 1487, St. Michael's Church is the fifth largest church in Transylvania, and it is an important tourist attraction in the city. Over the years, the church was witness to several significant historical events, such as the election of numerous Princes of Transylvania or the speech of Áron Márton, a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Transylvania, in which he strongly condemned the deportation of Jews.
Near the church, you can also see the statue of King Mathias Corvinus, the legendary King of Hungary.
Saint Michael Church at twilight
And we're not talking about just visiting some of the museums, such as the National Museum of Transylvanian History, the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania, or the Art Museum. There are many other places in Cluj where you can experience the incredible sense of art and culture. For example, Fabrica de Pensule is a hub of contemporary art founded in 2009, where independent artists can display their works for the world to see.
The artistic sense of the city can also be observed in its cafes. If you plan on having a coffee, a beer, or any kind of drink in Cluj Napoca, use this chance to enjoy a unique location. You can visit the steampunk-themed Enigma Cafe, the Cuban Che Guevara Socialist Pub, or the Bas Tattoo Cafe; a former tattoo salon turned into a coffee shop.
Inside Enigma Cafe. Photo source: Enigma Cafe Cluj, Facebook
Among Romanian cities, Cluj Napoca can be considered the city of music festivals with three major events that become a brand of the Transylvania region and of Romania.
The first major event was organized not far from Cluj in Bontida, inside the courtyard of Bannfy castle under the name Electric Castle. It was in 2013, and since then, the festival grew and received the award for the Best Medium-Sized Festival at the European Festival Awards. The Electric castle festival is the perfect escape for those that love rock music, indie, hip hop, electronic, techno, and drum and bass; artists like The Prodigy, Skrillex, or Thirty Seconds to Mars have been here.
Another major music festival in UNTOLD, the first edition of the festival, took place in 2015, and since then, the festival grows up to 370.000 participants in four days at the 2019 edition.
For Jazz lovers, we have Jazz in the park, the only festival that will take place even during the pandemic restrictions. The 2020 edition, with a limited number of participants, was held in the National Ethnographic Romulus Vuia.
Cluj Napoca Airport is the second largest airport in Romania with a connection in the main cities in Europe. The connectivity can make the city a starting point to explore the Transylvania region with the fortified gothic churches or even Maramures with the traditional Romanian architecture. From Cluj, you can take a multiday tour to Apuseni Mountains, the western part of the Carpathians with spectacular landscapes, Roman gold mines, and caves to explore. If you are going to the south, you can visit the Turda Salt Mine, Alba Iulia, with Alba Carolina Fortress, Corvin Castle, or Sibiu, one of the most charming cities in Transylvania.