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  • Andy Honey

Discovering Cluj-Napoca: 10 Reasons to Dive into Transylvania's Charms


a statue of a man on horseback in front of a church

Welcome to a land where history whispers through cobblestone streets, where culture dances in vibrant squares, and where innovation meets tradition.


Cluj-Napoca, the heart of Transylvania, invites you on a journey filled with surprises, flavours, and experiences that will leave you enchanted.


So, grab your map and sense of wonder as we embark on a delightful exploration of ten reasons why Cluj-Napoca deserves a top spot on your travel radar.


1. Historical Hideaways: Step back in time as you wander through Cluj-Napoca's historic center, where every corner reveals tales of bygone eras. Marvel at St. Michael's Church, a towering Gothic masterpiece that has stood the test of time, and lose yourself in the elegant halls of Banffy Palace, home to the National Museum of Art. Don't forget to keep an eye out for hidden gems like the Tailors' Bastion, a medieval fortification with a charming twist.


2. Cultural Kaleidoscope: Prepare to be dazzled by Cluj-Napoca's cultural tapestry, woven from threads of tradition, creativity, and diversity. From classical concerts to avant-garde exhibitions, the city's cultural scene offers something for every taste. Dive into local folklore at the Ethnographic Museum or catch a performance at the Hungarian State Theatre, where artistry takes centre stage in multiple languages.


3. Student Shenanigans: With one of Romania's largest universities calling Cluj-Napoca home, the city pulses with youthful energy and endless possibilities. Join the lively crowds at cozy cafes, quirky bookshops, and bustling markets, where students and locals mingle in a joyful symphony of laughter and conversation. Whether you're sipping coffee or sampling street food, you're sure to find a friendly face and a story waiting to be shared.


4. Parks and Picnics: Escape the urban hustle and bustle and reconnect with nature in Cluj-Napoca's verdant oases. Central Park beckons with shady pathways and tranquil ponds, perfect for leisurely strolls or impromptu picnics. For a botanical adventure, venture into the city's Botanical Garden, where exotic blooms and fragrant herbs transport you to far-off lands without ever leaving Transylvania's embrace.


5. Gastronomic Galore: Prepare your taste buds for a culinary journey through Cluj-Napoca's gastronomic wonderland. From hearty Romanian staples like mămăligă (polenta) and sarmale (cabbage rolls) to international delights and mouthwatering pastries, the city's food scene is a feast for the senses. Don't miss the chance to sample local specialties at traditional taverns and hidden gems tucked away in winding alleyways.


a stret scence in cluj napoca

6. Festivals and Fun: Cluj-Napoca knows how to throw a party, and its calendar is packed with festivals and events that celebrate everything from music and film to food and folklore. Dance the night away at the Untold Festival, where world-class DJs and mesmerising light shows transform the city into a playground of sound and colour. For a taste of Transylvanian culture, don't miss the Transylvania International Film Festival, where cinematic masterpieces take centre stage under the stars.


7. Transylvanian Tales: As the gateway to Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca offers easy access to some of the region's most iconic landmarks and hidden treasures. Embark on a day trip to Sighișoara, the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, or explore the medieval charm of Brasov and its legendary Black Church. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Apuseni Mountains beckon with hiking trails, caves, and breathtaking vistas that will leave you breathless in more ways than one.


8. Archaeological Adventures: Delve into the mysteries of Cluj-Napoca's ancient past with a visit to its archaeological sites and hidden gems. Descend into the depths of the Turda Salt Mine, where underground wonders await around every corner, or uncover the secrets of the Dacian fortresses of Potaissa and Napoca, where echoes of a forgotten empire still linger in the air.


9. Tech and Innovation: Beyond its historic charm and cultural flair, Cluj-Napoca is also a thriving hub of innovation and entrepreneurship. Dive into the city's tech scene and discover a world of startups, co-working spaces, and cutting-edge research centres that are shaping the future of Transylvania and beyond. Whether you're a tech enthusiast or simply curious about the latest trends, you'll find plenty to inspire and amaze in Cluj-Napoca's innovative ecosystem.


10. Warm Welcomes: Last but certainly not least, Cluj-Napoca is a city that welcomes visitors with open arms and warm smiles. Whether you're exploring its historic landmarks, sampling its culinary delights, or simply wandering its charming streets, you'll find yourself embraced by the genuine hospitality and kindness of its residents. Let Cluj-Napoca's playful spirit and infectious charm captivate your heart and soul.


statue of a man on horseback

The Best Time to Visit Cluj-Napoca


Spring (March to May): Spring brings milder temperatures and blooming flowers, making it an excellent time to explore Cluj-Napoca's parks and gardens. The city starts to come alive with outdoor events and festivals, offering a taste of local culture without the crowds of summer.


Summer (June to August): Summer is peak tourist season in Cluj-Napoca, with warm temperatures and longer days perfect for exploring the city's outdoor attractions. From vibrant street festivals to alfresco dining in the historic center, there's no shortage of activities to enjoy. However, be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices, especially during popular events like the Untold Festival.


Autumn (September to November): As the summer crowds dissipate, autumn offers a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere in Cluj-Napoca. The weather remains pleasant, with cooler temperatures and colourful foliage providing a picturesque backdrop for sightseeing. It's also a great time to sample seasonal delights at local markets and cozy up in cafes with a cup of hot coffee.


4. Winter (December to February): Winter brings a festive atmosphere to Cluj-Napoca, with Christmas markets, holiday lights, and traditional celebrations adding a touch of magic to the city. While temperatures can be chilly, it's a great time to experience the cozy ambiance of local restaurants and cafes, as well as nearby ski resorts for winter sports enthusiasts.


a rooftop view of cluj-napoca

Travelling to and Around Cluj-Napoca


By Air: Cluj-Napoca International Airport (CLJ) is the main airport serving the city and offers domestic and international flights. If you're travelling from abroad or within Romania, flying to Cluj-Napoca can be a convenient option. Several airlines operate direct flights to Cluj-Napoca from major European cities such as London, Paris, Munich, and Istanbul.



By Train: Romania has an extensive railway network, and Cluj-Napoca is well-connected to major cities across the country. Traveling by train can be a scenic and budget-friendly option, allowing you to enjoy the picturesque landscapes of Transylvania along the way. Trains from Bucharest to Cluj-Napoca typically take around 8-10 hours, while trains from other cities like Timisoara and Brasov have shorter travel times.


By Bus: If you're looking for an affordable way to travel within Romania, buses are a popular option. Several bus companies operate routes to Cluj-Napoca from cities across the country, offering comfortable and convenient transportation. The bus station in Cluj-Napoca is located near the city centre, making it easy to access popular attractions and accommodations upon arrival.


By Car: Renting a car gives you the flexibility to explore Cluj-Napoca and its surrounding areas at your own pace. Romania has well-maintained roads, and driving to Cluj-Napoca can be a scenic journey, especially if you're coming from cities like Brasov or Sibiu. Keep in mind that parking in the city centre can be limited, so it's a good idea to book accommodations with parking facilities if you're planning to drive.



By Ridesharing or Carpooling: Ride-sharing platforms like BlaBlaCar offer an alternative to traditional transportation methods, allowing you to share rides with other travellers heading to Cluj-Napoca. This can be a cost-effective and eco-friendly option, as well as a great way to meet locals and fellow travellers along the way.

 

Travel Tips


Currency and Payments: The official currency in Romania is the Romanian leu (RON). While many places accept credit cards, it's always a good idea to carry some cash, especially for small purchases and in more rural areas.


Language: Romanian is the official language in Cluj-Napoca, but you'll find that many locals, especially younger generations and those working in the tourism industry, speak English proficiently. Learning a few basic Romanian phrases can still be helpful and appreciated by locals.



Weather: Check the weather forecast before your trip and pack accordingly, especially if you're visiting during the winter months when temperatures can drop significantly. Summers can be hot and humid, so lightweight clothing and sunscreen are essential.


Public Transportation: Cluj-Napoca has a reliable public transportation system, including buses and trams, which makes getting around the city easy and affordable. Consider purchasing a rechargeable travel card for convenience and savings if you plan on using public transport frequently.


Safety: Cluj-Napoca is generally a safe city for travellers, but it's always wise to take common-sense precautions. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas, and avoid walking alone at night in unfamiliar or poorly lit areas.


fields in romania with a mountain backdrop

Accommodations: There are plenty of accommodation options in Cluj-Napoca, ranging from budget-friendly hostels to boutique hotels and apartments. Booking accommodation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons or major events like festivals, is recommended to secure the best rates and availability.


Exploring the City: Cluj-Napoca is a walkable city, and many of its main attractions are located within the historic centre. Take time to wander through the charming streets, explore hidden alleyways, and discover local cafes, shops, and landmarks along the way.


Day Trips: Consider taking day trips from Cluj-Napoca to explore nearby attractions such as the Turda Salt Mine, the medieval town of Sighișoara, or the picturesque Apuseni Mountains. Many tour operators offer guided excursions, or you can rent a car for added flexibility.


Local Cuisine: Don't miss the opportunity to sample traditional Romanian dishes and regional specialties during your stay in Cluj-Napoca. From hearty soups and stews to delicious pastries and desserts, the local cuisine is sure to delight your taste buds.


Respect Local Customs: As with any destination, it's important to respect local customs and traditions while visiting Cluj-Napoca. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, ask for permission before taking photos of people, and be mindful of cultural sensitivities.


a statue with traditional romanian buildings

My Recommendations for Budget Accommodation in Cluj-Napoca


Rodizio Hill Resort - Guests at this beach hotel will appreciate convenient on-site amenities such as a children's pool and barbecue grills. Limited housekeeping is available.


Nest Inn Meteor - A garden and free self parking are available at this smoke-free aparthotel. The apartment boasts a heated floor (bathroom) and offers free WiFi and a kitchen. Guests will appreciate conveniences, such as a microwave and a coffee/tea maker, while a plasma TV with cable channels and Netflix provide a bit of entertainment. Housekeeping is available on request.


Hotel Biscuit - This hotel features a restaurant, a snack bar/deli and a coffee shop/cafe. Free WiFi in public areas, free self parking and a free manager's reception are also provided. Additionally, concierge services, dry cleaning and laundry facilities are on-site.


Gaudi Accommodation - Laundry facilities, a 24-hour front desk and express check-in are available at this apartment building. Free WiFi in public areas and free self parking are also provided. Additionally, multilingual staff, a garden and a reception hall are on-site. Each apartment provides free WiFi and free wired Internet, an LED TV with cable channels, and a kitchen with a fridge, a stovetop and a microwave. Comforts include a memory foam bed and premium bedding, and guests will also appreciate thoughtful touches, such as free minibar items and an espresso maker. Housekeeping is available on request.


Hotel Confort - Along with a restaurant, this smoke-free hotel has a bar/lounge and a coffee shop/cafe. WiFi in public areas is free. Additionally, coffee/tea in a common area, a business centre and conference space are on-site.

Hotel

Rating

Parking

Price per Night (from)

3 Star

Parking Included

£31

N/A

Parking Included

£35

3 Star

Parking Included

£35

N/A

Parking Included

£37

3 Star

No On-Site Parking

£48


Things to do When Exploring Cluj-Napoca



Enjoy a lengthy 2.5-hour walking tour through the fascinating city of Cluj-Napoca, know as Cluj for short.


Visit the birth house of Matthias Corvinus, Hungary's most renowned 15th-century king, and learn fascinating stories about his life, as well as the importance of wine in the region.

Continue the tour to the large Union Square to admire the classic Gothic style of the 14th-century St. Michael's Church, and the large equestrian statue of Corvinus that rests in front of it.


Continue walking until you arrive at the "Street of the Intellectuals," famous for its many educational institutions, including the Babes-Bolyai University. As you walk, learn from your knowledgeable guide about the fate of the witches living in Cluj in the Middle Ages, and the formation of the Guilds. Walk past the remains of the city's defensive walls and arrive at a newer part of the old city, named the Avram Iancu Square. Admire the Orthodox Cathedral that rests here, built in the 1930s, as well as the National Theater, built in 1906 by a team of Viennese architects.




Embark on an unforgettable journey through Transylvania's rich history and captivating charm. Start with the pick-up from Cluj city centre, followed by a 2-hour drive to Medias. Stroll through the city, admiring the Citadel of Light and stunning 15th-century medieval buildings. Next, visit the UNESCO-listed Biertan fortified church, surrounded by impressive 15th-century walls.


Experience Sighisoara, home to Europe's only inhabited medieval citadel, boasting 9 towers, including the iconic Clock Tower. Explore the history museum, torture chamber, and marvel at the 12th-century architecture. Discover the Hill Church and other captivating sites like the Stag House and Venetian House.


Embrace Transylvania's diversity, where Romanian, Hungarian, Gypsy, and German communities have coexisted for centuries. Visit a Gypsy community practicing age-old copper smithing crafts, and gain unique access with a trusted guide. Return to Cluj via a scenic route, taking in Transylvania's breathtaking landscapes.




First, we'll delve into the fascinating history of the Turda Salt Mine, one of the world's oldest and most unique salt mines. The mine has a rich history that dates back to the Roman Empire. Salt extraction from this mine began during the Roman occupation in 107 AD, and it continued to be a significant source of salt for the region for centuries.


Step inside this remarkable underground world and marvel at the striking salt formations, massive halls, and impressive machinery. Learn about the mine's fascinating history and hear the stories of those who worked here centuries ago.


historic building with bridge

Next, we'll make our way to the majestic Corvin Castle, one of Europe's most stunning castles. The castle was originally built by the nobleman Voicu of Hunedoara in the 14th century, but it was later expanded and transformed into a formidable fortress by his son, John Hunyadi. The castle played a significant role in defending the region against the Ottoman Empire, and it was a vital military stronghold for the Kingdom of Hungary.


Step back in time as you wander through the castle's halls and courtyards, marvel at the intricate Gothic architecture, and learn about the castle's storied past. Marvel at its Gothic architecture, learn about its rich history and explore its numerous chambers, halls, and courtyards.


Finally, we'll explore the grandeur of the Alba Carolina Fortress, a stunning example of Vauban-style military architecture. Discover the history of this impressive fortress and its role in Romania's past as we explore its many courtyards, ramparts, and bastions.


men dressed as soldiers carrying flags

In 1918, Alba Iulia played a pivotal role in the unification of Romania when the Great National Assembly, comprising over 1,200 delegates from all over the country, gathered in the city to declare the unification of Transylvania with Romania. This event is considered one of the most important moments in modern Romanian history and is celebrated every year on December 1st as Romania's National Day. You'll be amazed at the scale and detail of this magnificent structure. You will explore the massive walls, towers, and bastions.




Cluj-Napoca is a city that beckons adventurers with its blend of history, culture, and modernity, inviting them to explore its hidden treasures and uncover its many delights.


So pack your bags, grab your sense of wonder, and prepare for an unforgettable journey through the heart of Transylvania.


Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, an art lover, or simply a curious soul, Cluj-Napoca promises an experience like no other—a kaleidoscopic adventure that will leave you spellbound and longing to return again and again.


Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links including Amazon products where I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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