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Roaming in Cluj, the heart of Transylvania

Need to know
Closest airport: Cluj International Airport (CLJ), located on national road DN 1C, 8 km from the city.
How to get there by car: A1, DN7 from Bucharest (around 6 ½ h drive)
Population: 325.000
County/Area: Cluj county/ Transylvania

Last week of summer vacation, I had the bright idea of taking my kids some place to relax before the whirl of the schoolyear. So, I considered Cluj Romania a good option, as it has a lot to offer and there are plenty of amazing places just few km away, such as Turda Salt Mine or Tarnita lake.

Since then, I double checked on Cluj in December to see what it’s like in the cold, but festive season of Christmas.

View from Cetatuia Hill in Cluj Romania
Cluj as seen from Cetatuia Hill

There are quite a few cities, even smaller towns in Transylvania, that have constantly fought to get the “crown” over this region. Although Cluj-Napoca (or simply, just Cluj) is not the most idyllic one, there are some key features that made this city win supremacy over the area of Transylvania.

To find out more about the best of Transylvania click here and to discover the complete guide before visiting the region, click on the link.

Travel to Cluj! Capital of Transylvania and most prosperous city in the region, Cluj Romania has a lot to offer culturally, lots of festival and nightlife!

Taste the famous traditional Transylvanian dishes such as varza a la Cluj (cabbage made Cluj style), or the area’s favourites goulash or paprikash!

Feel the slower pace of life, the mix between modern and old, the newly built tall constructions and the flair of the baroque and traditional establishments!

Beautiful building in Cluj Romania
Beautiful architecture

It is one of the biggest cities in the country, but more than that, Cluj has nowadays got the reputation of one of the most civilized, cultural and economically prosperous cities with a high inflow of foreign capital. It bears the mark of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which resulted in great progress and obviously different ethnicities, traditions and languages that considerably enriched Cluj. On top of all, the fact that Cluj was the European youth capital in 2015 cast a fresh breath over the city and brought a new youth perspective.

Show Contents:

Good to know
Facts about Cluj Romania
Travel guide: the best of Cluj
Other ideas for visiting
Where to eat in Cluj
Accommodation in Cluj

Good to know

Historically, Cluj first appears in a 12th century documentation, and its name means “surrounded by hills”. After being decimated by the Tatars, the history of Cluj goes hand in hand with the Saxon colonists, just like other settlements from Transylvania. The Saxons founded the seven citadels (Cluj being one of them) as centres of flourishing trade to connect the east and the west.

Beautiful architecture in Cluj Romania
Beautiful building in downtown Cluj

Despite the fact that Romania’s history has never been easy, the city of Cluj was somehow lucky for being granted certain privileges by medieval kings. Yet, it was under Matthias Corvinus, born in Cluj in the 15th century that the first signs of “modern” blossoming can be noticed. Two centuries later, after the Habsburgs took control, Cluj turned into the Transylvanian Government’s centre.

During the Austro-Hungarian period, people from Transylvania tried to make their voices heard among the Austrian and Hungarian influences. During those times, Cluj was the capital of the region. Even if times were harsh, when foreign rule ended, and Transylvania became part of Romania in 1918, Cluj underwent significant urban development. Even today, the city is home to a Hungarian minority.

Chill at a terrace in Cluj
Chill at a terrace

Facts about Cluj Romania

As I am a curious person, I did my homework to see what is special about Cluj Romania besides history and architecture. And I came up with these results:

  • The nickname “heart of Transylvania” does not stand for the city’s geographical position, but for the historical and economic development of the region.
  • Cluj is an important IT hub, not only for Romania, and has one of the largest IT clusters in the country: Cluj IT. (Romania boasts more IT engineers per capita than much bigger countries)
  • Cluj is home to the largest university in Romania, the “Babes-Bolyai” University, and one third of the population is made up of young people.
  • Students have one street entirely dedicated to them, called strada Piezisa, full of bars, pubs, cafés, but especially young and fun people, and considerably lower prices.
  • Cluj was European Youth Capital in 2015, that meant a wide range of manifestations throughout the year that culminated with the tremendously successful UNTOLD festival that put Cluj on the map.
  • Cluj has its own dish, called varza à la Cluj (Cabbage made Cluj style), a sort of Romanian lasagna made of meat, rice and cabbage, and embellished with some spices. It is usually served with sour cream and bread, and you can try it at Varzarie, an iconic place for traditional food.
Franciscan Church in Cluj
Sunset over the Franciscan Church

Travel guide: the best of Cluj

Cluj Napoca is one of the biggest and most important cities in the country that boasts beautiful architecture, pleasant restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. It has an effervescent student life, and activities for every taste.

Untold festival, a highlight of Cluj Romania
Wanna blend in?;

Here you have some hints for spending a full and rewarding day in Cluj Romania.

Take a stroll downtown

If you only have a limited time to visit Cluj, you should take the maximum of the experience and stroll around as much as possible to take the pulse of the city. At least this is what we did, and I had no complaints… The downtown boulevards are lined with beautiful classical buildings and lots of decorations. However, the city harmoniously aligns baroque and Secession buildings to new glass office constructions.

A walk downtown involves the famous Eroilor Boulevard where locals hang out and you can immerse into actual Romanian lifestyle, blend in with the locals and taste some palatable dish or have a drink. The buildings are an important landmark all over the place; all you have to do is look up to notice beautiful facades – either renovated or not – and marvel at the splendid decorations that embellish them. The pleasant walk continues till you reach Unirii Square, a symbol of Cluj, with the famous Saint Michael church.

Beautiful buildings
Beautiful buildings on the boulevard

Unirii Square and Museum Square

The two squares from Cluj are emblematic landmarks for the city.

Union Square (Piata Unirii) is the biggest and main square in the city. It is dominated in the middle by the Saint Michael Church and the statue of Matthias, and is one of the main meeting points in the city. It is surrounded by Baroque palaces, such as the Art Museum and other pretty buildings. And of course, it is filled with bars, pubs and good restaurants.

Museum Square (Piata Muzeului) is the oldest square of Cluj, named after Transylvania’s Museum of History placed on one corner. Much smaller in size, we found the square more charming and cozy, especially during our second visit in December, when everything was drowning in light.

Saint Michael's Church by night
St Michael’s Church by night
Museum Square in Cluj Romania
Museum Square

Visit Saint Michael’s Church and notice the statue of Matthias

The very heart of the city hosts Saint Michael’s Church. Situated in the main square, this is the second largest gothic church in the country and has the tallest church tower in Romania after Brasov. Its construction started in the 14th century, and nowadays is a Roman Catholic church. It is famous for the baptism of Matthias Corvinus (15th century), John Hunyadi’s son, who valiantly fought against the Ottomans. This recognition is found in front of the church as well, where you can see a statue that represents Matthias Corvinus, a great ruler of the Hungarian Kingdom.

Insider tip!: You can go up some spiral narrow stairs to some point in the church for a better view!

Union Square and St Michael's Church
Saint Michael’s Church and the statue of Matthias during Christimas market
The church on the inside
View from upstairs

Stained glass
Stained glass

Immerse in the universe of plants at the Botanical Garden

We continued our day with a walk to the Botanical Garden (11 lei/a little over 2 euro for adults, and 5 lei/around 1 euro for children and students), a traditional destination for relaxation lovers. The large surface it lies on, together with the variety of green plants from all meridians make it a fabulous destination. Whether you visit the Roman or Japanese Garden, marvel at the beauty of plants in the greenhouse or simply play hide-and-seek behind tall bushes, it is a place to chill.

My daughters in the botanical garden from Cluj Romania
With my kids in the Botanical Garden
Japanese Garden
A glimpse into the Japanese garden

Visit Muzeon, the Jewish museum

At this time of the day, we already got hungry, so we decided to have lunch at one of the trattorias that spread like a web throughout the city. Being with kids, pasta is one of the best options (I love it as well), so we introduced Tortelli Pasta Bar in the GPS and there we were in the blink of an eye, as we were in a hurry to eat.

Pleasant surprise again…but not only with the food…

Right across the pedestrian street where we enjoyed meal, a billboard caught my eye: The Story of Your Jewish Neighbour, a modern interactive concept that tells the story of three Jews from Cluj between the walls of an interactive museum, Muzeon (entrance fee 15-24 lei according to exhibitions/from about 5 to 7 euro ).

Muzeon, the Jewish museum
Muzeon Jewish Museum in Cluj Romania

It was founded in 2020 by a brave couple who discovered the archive of their Jewish ancestors and brought it to light so that the average person can get a glimpse of history and experience a small part of what Jews went through.

The museum presents the life stories of three different people in three languages (Romanian, Hungarian and English) from their happy childhood, Jewish traditions and dishes to the tragic moment of deportation and death/survival. The presentation contains visual and artistic artefacts, combined with Virtual Reality that make the visitor part of the environment.

My kids loved the presentation and understood most of it, which I reckon, was better than history schoolbooks.

Muzeon, the Jewish museum
Muzeon Jewish Museum in Cluj Romania

The Orthodox Cathedral

The Orthodox Cathedral, a landmark of the city, was inspired by Saint Sophia in Istanbul and has four towers in the Romanian brancovenesc style. It was built between 1923-1930 after the unification of Transylvania with Romania, and today is one of the most important religious buildings in Cluj.

The Orthodox Cathedral in Cluj Romania
View over the Orthodox Cathedral in Cluj Romania

Observe the panorama from Cetatuia Hill

Not far from the city centre lies “Cetatuia” (small fortress), an old fortification point that offers panoramic views of the city. It looks like a plateau that rises above the city. It was built by the Habsburg Empire in the 18th century serving as observation and defence point. We suggest a walk on Cetatuia hill at dusk to catch the beautiful colours of the sunset and the sparkling lights of the city… and identify some of the buildings you walked past during the day (at least, this is how I do).

Panorama from Cetatuia Hill
The dream team from the winter journey to Cluj

This was all we could pack in one full day. It was time to go back to our accommodation that was 18 km away. And have a good night’s sleep!

Other ideas for visiting

The Museum of Pharmacy is one of those museums to be found in many cities in the country (such as Sibiu or Oradea). The building from Cluj that shelters the museum originates from the 15th century and was initially the first of its kind in the city.

Matthias House is to be found downtown and is just as old as the museum. It is famous as the birthplace of Matthias Corvinus. He was king of Hungary in the late 15th century, one of the most honest rulers.

Matthias House
Matthias Corvinus House

Cluj Tailors’ Tower is another attraction that is part of the old fortress. Deserted for a while, the bastion is now part of the tourist circuit.

Depending on taste, Cluj can offer many types of entertainment. If you are into opera, you can check out their schedule on and if you love movies you should come right in time for TIFF (Transilvania International Film Festival).

The Opera House in Cluj is fabulous. It shares the premises with the theatre. If you are not into this type of shows, you can check out their site and book a guided tour of this amazing neo-baroque establishment built at the beginning of the 20th century. The tour lasts around 45 minutes and costs 15 lei (3 euro)/person.

Cluj OPera and Theatre
Cluj Opera and Theatre

If you like festivals, you should try UNTOLD, which is in top 5 electronic music festivals in the world. It takes place each year in August and lines up an impressive number of famous DJs. No need to say that you need to buy tickets ahead and book accommodation.

Stadium Fireworks at Untold Festival
Untold festival;

If you think chilling and relaxation are more your cup of tea, you should visit Cluj at the end of the summer for Jazz in the Park. Named Europe’s best small festival, this event gathers artists from all over the world and displays many musical genres, such as contemporary jazz or indie.

Jazz in the Park
Jazz in the Park; photo: Tudor Oros

Talking about relaxation, a stroll in Central Park will do. One of the main and largest walking areas in Cluj, the park features a lake with ducks and swans, and some pavilions that shelter good restaurants. It is closely bordered by Cluj Arena, the main stadium for concerts.

Where to eat in Cluj

Eating in Cluj can prove a joyful opportunity. At least, we took pleasure in indulging our taste buds. Cluj is full of lovely restaurants, eateries and many cafes with delicious food.

Average prices and good food

  • Most of the eateries display a large variety of dishes. We tried Rhedey Café (on the corner of Union Square) and found an excellent variety of dishes (Hungarian dishes as well) for a fair quality-price rapport. It is a cozy place.
  • Colin’s Gastro Pub was a good choice although initially we entered to escape cold. The pub has a friendly and original décor and the hot celery soup was fabulous.
Rhedey Cafe is a good alternative
Rhedey Cafe
Samsara is the best vegan/vegetarian restaurant
Samsara Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant
  • Casa Boema Restaurant is placed in the old town and has a more sober attitude compared to the previous. With an international cuisine and a variety of wines, Boema is the perfect combination between smart and intimate.
  • Olivo Caffe is a good restaurant, initially famed for the coffee and different blends from all over the world.
  • Samsara is the best vegetarian/vegan option. I’ve been in love with this restaurant since our first encounter. It looks beautiful (and has a stunning terrace for the summer) and the dishes taste like heaven.
Boema restaurant in Cluj Romania
Boema restaurant

Traditional food

  • Varzarie is one of the iconic places if you want to try the famous varza a la Cluj (cabbage made Cluj style). Of course, you can also sample other traditional dishes with cabbage, beans or potatoes.
  • Zama looks great and has on offer soups, but also many traditional dishes.

Fancy and splurge

  • Baracca is a fine dining restaurant that boasts not only culinary competition-like food, but also many awards.
  • Kupaj is a fancy place which combines the joy of eating interesting dishes with the pleasure of tasting a good wine.
Winter coffee
Winter coffee; photo: Tudor Oros
Pasta and wine
Pasta and wine at Boema

Accommodation in Cluj

Cluj has plenty of accommodation options. We tried Tonitza Apartments which has a good price-quality rapport and you can choose the dimension of the apartment. Everything inside is new. Cluj Apartments is also fabulous, and is downtown. Hotel Belvedere is well placed and has a swimming pool.

Although it is at around 18 km from Cluj, I cannot not mention one of my very favorite accommodation. It is called Harmonia Mundi and you can find more about it here.

Tonitza Apartment
Bedroom in Tonitza Apartment

Recommended by TTF:

  • Young and vibrant city full of trendy urban hotspots
  • Beautiful Baroque Secession architecture combined with new glass buildings
  • Very friendly locals eager to help
  • Delicious and authentic food.

City essentials
For public transportation access

Taxi companies and Uber

  • Uber is available in Cluj
  • Taxis are relatively inexpensive and widely available.
    • Nova Taxi – +40264949
    • Diesel Taxi – +40264946
    • ProRapid Taxi – +40264948

Cluj Tourist Information Centre (Centrul de Informare Turistica)
Address: Downtown 6-8 Eroilor Blvd

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