When visiting Romania, Cluj-Napoca is one city you shouldn’t miss.
In contrast to Bucharest, the second biggest city in Romania has a charming air and laid-back lifestyle with an interesting mix of people from different backgrounds from all over the country.
And thanks to a large number of students who come to study at one of Romania’s most prestigious universities, the Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj has a youthful energy and a fantastic going out scene which makes it the unofficial capital of Transylvania.
What makes Cluj-Napoca even better for tourists is the fact that the city is backpacker-friendly, affordable, and well connected, which makes it a perfect place to set up base and explore the region.
The average room price for a double room, per night, is $35-50.
A City of Contrasts
Cluj-Napoca or Cluj, as locals like to call it, features a complex blend of old and new, modern and traditional.
This contract can be seen in the city’s architecture, historical and cultural landmarks.
And like in many other cities in Transylvania, most attractions are concentrated in the historical center known as the Old Town area.
Here you will find Avram Iancu Square, Museum Square, Saint Michael Church, the house of Matthias Corvinus and many others.
And scattered between these landmarks are many bars, pubs, restaurants and coffee shops where the city comes to life and locals sometimes queue to get a table!
1. Take a look at the ancient City of Napoca
The best way to visit the city is on foot so you can admire the sights and take the local atmosphere.
Start your historical journey with the Roman ruins beautifully displayed behind reinforced glass right in the center of the city in Union Square.
Although discovered only a few years ago, the remains date back from the V –VI century A.D.
From this moment on the city became a strategic point and a cultural hub in the region.
2. Get lost on Eroilor Blvd.
The bustling Eroilor Blvd. is one of the most famous streets in Cluj with many terraces and shops lined next to each other.
But besides enjoying food and drinks, tourists should admire the beautiful townhouses which belonged to the city’s upper class.
The Opera House and the National Theatre are two important buildings you will encounter on your stroll on Eroilor Blvd., and they feature a beautiful mix of Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
There are many places to go out: Joben is hip and stylish, Form Café is urban and industrial.
Samsara food house combines vegetarian and vegan food with a clean design with natural elements.
Noah and Euphoria are the go-to clubs.
Cluj also has a booming – and delicious – specialty coffee scene and Roots, Meron, Narcoffee are the best places for that.
Depending on where you go out, food and beverage prices start from $1.35 for a beer or coffee, $2.50 for a glass of wine and $15-25 for a dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant.
3. Stop by the Saint Michael Church
Saint Michael Church in Union Square is undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark.
The church is built in Gothic style 600 years ago and is safely guarded by the immense Mathias Corvinus Monument.
If you pass by the church on Saturday evenings starting from 5 pm you can hear the organ recitals.
Entrance is free so if you need a breather from your adventures in Cluj, go in, have a seat, and enjoy the show!
Local tip: over the Summer there are many public, open-air events and fairs going on in Cluj with free performances or shows.
4. Visit the Alexandru Borza Botanical Garden
The botanical garden is part of the Babes-Bolyai University and is used for teaching purposes – so this means you’ll find here many species of exotic, rare and beautiful plants showcasing the diversity of our nature.
You can get there by bus, and the entrance is a little over $2.
Make sure to stop by the Japanese gardens and the greenhouses.
The Japanese garden is wonderfully decorated in traditional Asian style, while the greenhouses host impressive plants, gathered from different corners of the world: enormous water lilies, banana trees, and other exotic plants and trees.
5. Take a trip to Sighisoara and Oradea
Once you’re done exploring Cluj, hop on a train to visit the medieval Sighisoara Citadel or the charming city of Oradea.
Tickets cost between $7-$10 each way, and this will be a great way to blend in with the locals and see Romania’s countryside.
With a history that goes as far back as Roman times, Sighisoara still is one of the best-preserved medieval citadels in Europe, part of UNESCO heritage.
Landmarks you shouldn’t miss:
- The Blacksmiths’ Tower (Turnul Fierarilor)
- Butchers' Tower (Turnul Macelarilor)
- Cobblers' Tower (Turnul Cizmarilor)
- Furriers' Tower (Turnul Cojocarilor)
- Ropemakers' Tower (Turnul Franghierilor)
- Tailors' Tower (Turnul Croitorilor)
- Tanners' Tower (Turnul Tabacarilor)
- Tinsmiths' Tower (Turnul Cositorilor)
But don’t just rush from one to another – take your time to admire the colorful houses and medieval architecture – and then imagine how people lived 500 years ago!
Oradea is another jewel-of-a-city you could visit: the city features many beautiful Art Nouveau landmarks and townhouses that will impress even people not familiar or interested in design or architecture.
There’s a lovely promenade along Criul Repede river where you can relax at a terrace. Other places to put on your visiting itinerary: the Moon Church, Oradea Citadel, and Casa Darvas.
6. Take the bus to Sibiu
A bus to Sibiu, one of Transylvania’s most famous cities, is another excellent option.
With a rich history, friendly locals, and a great fine-dining scene, Sibiu is a lively city! Go for a stroll in the Old Town area and make sure to stop in the Large and Small Square to get the pulse of local life.
Don’t be afraid to venture on side streets – you’ll find cozy and bohemian cafes alongside artisan shops.
Prices here are like those in Cluj-Napoca so you won’t go bankrupt while visiting.
Sibiu also offers plenty of accommodation options and hostels, so maybe you’d like to spend a couple of days here and go on tours in Transylvania to visit the famous Transfagarasan Highway, Corvin Castle or even Bran Castle!
7. Go hiking in the Apuseni Mountains
All these cities are lovely but if you’d like to see the great Romanian outdoors consider a hiking day trip from Cluj-Napoca to Apuseni Natural Park.
Full of unspoiled natural wonders, Apuseni Mts. will impress you with their picturesque sceneries and rural life.
See the Scarita Belioara Reserve an impressive rocky ridge to get the best views over the Western Carpathians Mountains.
And don’t be afraid to say hi to the locals: it’s customary for visitors to salute and they will be more than happy to sell you local produce from their garden!
Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend – a local initiative promoting handpicked tours with the best local guides so travelers can discover the authentic beauty of Romania while supporting responsible tourism. Plan your trip with help from a Romanian Friend and follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see what you can visit!