The old town, Cluj Napoca
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Things to do in Cluj-Napoca

Jade Laurenza

Contributing writer

Cluj-Napoca is a city with a diverse population, gorgeous architecture, and an abundance of history. It has also 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, has widespread and reliable internet, and making friends here is easy. Plus, there are a ton of amazing day trips from Cluj-Napoca.

So, without further ado, please enjoy my unique perspective of Cluj as both a foreigner and a resident.

Piaţă Unirii in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

1. Get to know the city through its squares

Start by exploring the squares in the old town. 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 Matthias Corvinus Monument is the focal point of Piaţă Unirii. It’s a popular photo stop for tourists and depicts the famed Hungarian King, Matthias Corvinus.

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 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.

Chios Lake in the Cluj-Napoca Central Park

2. Wander through a park

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.

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.

It’s pleasant strolling from one park to another along the Someşul River (the Someş). In your wanders, see if you can find Elisabeth Bridge, partially covered in love locks. I stumbled across this gem on 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.

Restaurants in Piata Muzeului

3. Have dinner on Piaţă Muzeului

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.

While you’re in Cluj be sure to 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.

Lily pads at the Botanical Gardens in Cluj

4. Admire the plants in the Grădina Botanică

The Botanical Garden in Cluj is one of the city’s treasures. Even people in other Transylvanian counties rave 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

5. Discover the local history through the architecture

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.

Near the southeastern tip of the old Cluj citadel, you'll find the Cluj-Napoca Tailors’ Bastion. 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.

Altfel Flower Market on Strada Potaissa

6. Visit the Altfel Flower Market in Strada Potaissa

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.

Trees in Hoia Forest

7. Take a tour of Hoia Forest

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.

Banffy Castle reflected in a lake

8. Visit Banffy castle

Banffy Castle is outside the city limits of Cluj, located in the village of Bonţida, and is one of the most incredible Transylvanian castles to visit. 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.

Romanian National Opera

9. Go to the opera or a ballet

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 lesser-known Hungarian Opera House also 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.

The outdoor ethonography Museum in Cluj-Napoca

10. Visit a museum

Cluj has several museums which are well worth a visit. Here are a few favourites:

Pharmacy History Museum

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. Thefirs 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.

The second installation of the TME is located at Romulus Vuia Park (pictured above), 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.

Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral

11. See the churches

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.

Another church worth visiting is St. Michael’s, the main church located in Piaţă Unirii. It boasts the title of the second largest church in Transylvania, 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 Transylvania. In May of 1944, Áron Márton, bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Transilvania, gave a famous speech strongly condemning the deportation of Jews.

When you’ve had enough of churches, head to the Neolog Synagogue – 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.

Untold Festival in Romania

12. Experience a festival in Cluj-Napoca

Head to Cluj in the summer and make the most of festival-season. Electric Castle is an music festival held at Bánffy Castle each year. The festival features many genres of music (including rock, indie, hip hop, electronic), art installations and internationally-acclaimed musicians. There are ten stages, so you’ll always find something to watch. Electric Castle takes place each summer, usually in mid-late July.

If you love electronic music, Untold takes place at the Cluj Arena, usually in August. Featured artists have included Armin van Buuren, Avicii, Tiesto, David Guetta, Steve Aoki and others. If you purchase a ticket to Untold, the bracelet will allow you discounts at other major attractions throughout Romania.

For something a bit more sedate, consider TIFF (the Transylvania International Film Festival), yet another of Cluj’s famed festivals. Since its inception in 2002, Tiff has become the most celebrated film-focused event in Romania.

TIFF takes place annually and is spread out around multiple locations in the city, including outdoor and obscure venues. The festival is usually held in late-July/early-August each year.

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Jade Laurenza

Author - Jade Laurenza

Jade Laurenza is a US expat currently living in Romania. She enjoys slow travel and is never without her yoga mat

Last Updated 26 January 2022

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