Cluj-Napoca has become one of the top cities to visit in Romania since it evolved into a vibrant and artsy cultural centre of Transylvania.
Many hear about it when the notorious music festivals started to attract international music lovers, and it transformed it into a destination for travellers looking for the comfortable but affordable city life in Romania. After visiting Cluj a few times, I want to share with your some of the top places and best things to do in Cluj-Napoca.
You can save all the places for later on your Google Maps (the complete Cluj-Napoca travel guide on Google Map):
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What are the best things to do in Cluj-Napoca?
Cluj-Napoca is the second-largest city in Romania, after Bucharest, the capital city. But in the last decade, Cluj has been lucky enough to absorb all the great lifestyle influences of the western lifestyle, as it is closer to Budapest than it is to Bucharest.
Today, I find Cluj more similar to central-European cities, not judging just by the appearance of the city, but also by the way the people act and live their lives in general. Coming from Bucharest, I can clearly see a difference between the two cities, and I understand why many adults choose to move to Cluj from Bucharest.
With that in mind, let’s discover the best things to do in Cluj-Napoca.
Cetatuia (Parcul Cetățuia)
Cetățuia Park is one of the top places to see when visiting Cluj-Napoca as it offers a beautiful view of the city. It is a popular meeting place for couples and teenagers during the evening to admire the lights of the city.
This hilly park is actually a 1735 military fortification that has star-shaped walls, that used to have several bastions protecting it. It was built during the Habsburg occupation, to protect the city. Over the years, the fortification has been through many transformations, being used as a prison, serving as a home for the poorest inhabitants in Cluj and then chosen as the ground for the Belvedere Hotel during the communist era.
Unirii Square (Piața Unirii)
Right in the centre of Cluj-Napoca, you will find Union Square (Piața Unirii). This is the largest square in Cluj and it also stands between the medieval walls of the fortress and the historical centre of the city. Right in the middle of the square, you’ll find Saint Michael Church and the statue of Matia Corvin. On the sides of the square, you’ll find fascinating buildings, such as Banffy Palace which is home to the Art Museum, the National Bank and Continental Hotel, which was built in 1894.
Saint Michael Church (Biserica Sf. Mihail)
This is a Roman-Catholic church and it is one of the most representative monuments of gothic architecture in Transylvania. It is probably one of the most famous buildings from Cluj and you can see it on most postcards and videos from Cluj. The church is 70 meters wide and the church’s tower reaches a high of 80 meters. The church is part of the Romanian patrimony.
The Statue of Matthias Corvinus (Statuia lui Matia Corvin)
Matia Corvin, or Matthias, was one of the Hungarian kings and he ruled the kingdom between 1458 and 1490. He was born in Cluj in 1443 and was the second son of Ioan of Hunedoara, and one of the Kings of Hunedoara Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in Eastern Europe, that still stands today.
The Central Park (Parcul central Simion Bărnuțiu)
The Central Park in Cluj. commonly known as Parcul Mare (The Big Park) is the main green space in Cluj. The park is spreading on on 13 hectares and has a history starting from 1827.
But the locals love this park because it’s the perfect place to unwind and disconnect from the city’s traffic and agitation. Inside the park, you’ll find the old Casino’s building, where many cultural activities often take place.
Ethnographic Park of Transilvania (Parcul Etnografic al Transilvaniei)
The ethnographic museum of Transilvania has two components – the Ethnographic Museum (located on 21 Memorandumului Street, close to the centre) and the Ethnographic Park (Taietura Turcului Street).
While the museum might be considered boring by some, the park (Parcul Etnografic National Romulus Vuia) is a must-see, as this was the first open-air museum in Romania.
Cluj-Napoca Art Museum (Muzeul de Artă Cluj-Napoca)
The Cluj-Napoca Art Museum is hosted in a beautiful 18th-century Baroque building, right in the heart of the city. If you’re an art lover, you’ll be pleased to discover the many valuable and gorgeous pieces exhibited here. Inside, you’ll find paintings, graphics and decorative art.
The permanent exhibition includes pieces of art signed by famous Romanian painters, such as Nicolae Grigorescu, Ștefan Luchian, Dimitrie Paciurea, Theodor Pallady, Camil Ressu, Vasile Popescu.
National Museum of Transylvanian History (Muzeul Național de Istorie a Transilvaniei)
The Transylvanian History Museum exhibits over 400,000 valuable pieces belonging to the historical heritage of Transylvanian culture. This is one of the most prestigious archaeological institutions in Europe and foresees the diggings from the Dacian settlements from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa (I posted a video about this place) and several other Roman camps from Transylvania.
Tailors’ Tower (Turnul Croitorilor)
While discovering the old town of Cluj, you will likely run into the famous Tailors’ Tower. It’s one of the few fortifications from the old Cluj fortress that is still standing.
It was funded by the tailors’ guild of the time, and it was customary that each guild had its own tower, to defend the city.
The tower was first built in the 15th century and it is the only one to exist today. Inside, you will find a small museum.
Matia House (Casa Matia)
The Matia House (6 Matei Corvin Street) is one of the most important historical monuments in Cluj. This is where the great Hungarian king, Matia Corvin, was born, on February 23, 1440. His statue is in the middle of the grand square of Cluj, only a few minutes away.
Matia’s father, Iancu of Hunedoara, was the ruler of Transylvania, a province of the Habsburg Empire at the time. Although the family’s main residence was at the Hunedoara Castle, Iancu chose Cluj as the birthplace for his son, as a way to cool down the opposition for the new Hungarian king, Vladislav I, also known as Vladislav III, the Polish king.
Hintz House (Casa Hintz)
The Hintz House hosts the Pharmacy Museum in Cluj, and it is located on one of the corners of Union Square. The building was used to host the first pharmacy in Cluj in 1573. Inside, the walls are still decorated with the original 1766 Baroque mural paintings.
Over the years, the building served many purposes and was even used as a pastry shop during the communist regime. You’ll notice that the corner of the building is now a pedestrian sidewalk, and the building facade is simple, missing all of its original decorations. The exhibits of the museum date from 1904. It’s well worth a stop as one of the things to do in Cluj, as it’s only a few steps away from the main square in Cluj.
Botanical Garden (Gradina Botanică Alexandru Borza)
If you’re in Cluj only for one day, and it’s not winter, then you should definitely not miss the botanical garden. The garden spreads on 14 hectares and it exhibits various plants and ecosystems from different continents and areas of our planet. They say to have over 10,000 types of plant categories.
Of course, the plants you’ll see during your visit will depend on the current season. You’ll get the chance to see various spring specific flowers, and during summer they claim to have over 350 species of roses.
The Japanese garden from the middle is one of the main attractions. But if you’re lucky enough to find the greenhouses open, don’t miss them. They host numerous tropical plants from all over the world.
Unfortunately, I visited the botanical garden in Cluj on a Monday, when the greenhouses are closed for the public. I recommended checking their current schedule before visiting the botanical garden in Cluj. (Check the schedule here http://gradinabotanica.ubbcluj.ro/en/opening-hours/ )
Here’s the vlog from Cluj, from my last visit which was in June 2021:
Where to eat in Cluj-Napoca? (Best vegan restaurants in Cluj included)
After a short stroll around the centre of Cluj, you’ll notice that there are many lovely places to sit down and enjoy a meal. But I have a few recommendations if you are looking for the best vegan restaurants in Cluj:
Rated as the best burgers in Cluj, you’ll find yourself in the position to actually choose what kind of vegan burger you want. The owners are two brothers who are both renowned chefs who worked in fancy restaurants in London and won culinary awards that I don’t know much about. But I can tell you this – this place will not disappoint. Vegan or not, you’ll find something to your liking and you will probably tell others about this place.
Only a few steps from the main square in Cluj, you will find this cosy vegan place with fresh veggie and fruit bowls. There are many options and sizes available. It was really yummy, the location is lovely and the staff is friendly.
If you’re in Cluj on a hot summer day, you don’t want to miss the tasty ice cream from Mortiz. The ice cream shop is right next to the main square in Cluj and they have an impressive collection of vegan ice cream (sorbet).
Other notable restaurants to eat in Cluj are:
- Samsara. It’s a fancy Vegan restaurant, with lovely design and great staff. I feel it’s on the expensive side of things to do in Cluj.
- Da Pino. One of the fancy restaurants in town, expensive, but with great staff and food.
- Eggcetera. They serve breakfast all day long.
- Baraca. One of the most praised fine dining restaurants in Romania. It’s the place to go if you want to experience the absolute best service and food.
- STORIA Cucina Centrale. You’ll find the best Italian cuisine in Cluj at this restaurant.
- Indigo. The go-to Indian restaurant in town.
- Roata. The place to taste traditional dishes from Transylvania.
You’ll probably need a reservation for most of these fancy places, especially if you plan to go there for dinner when all places get super crowded.
Day trips from Cluj
If you got want to rent a car (or you’ve got to Cluj by car) then you will want to visit the surroundings of this beautiful city.
There are many beautiful sites not too far from Cluj, although you might not be able to see all of them in one day. Also, in some places you might want to stay for at least a couple of hours, to enjoy the place.
After exploring Cluj and its surroundings, I can recommend the following places to add to your day trips from Cluj itinerary:
- Bontida Castle (Banffy Castle)
- Turda salt mine (Salina Turda)
- Tarnita Lake (Lacul Târnița)
- Sic reed (Stufarisul de la Sic)
- Baciului Gorges (Cheile Baciului)
- Baciu Hoia forest (Padurea Hoia Baciu)
Since you cannot visit all of these in one day and I will try to group them to make an itinerary for your day trip. However, if you have more time and want to explore some more, I also recommend checking out this 5-day Romania itinerary, which includes some of these place, and more (castles, ancient Roman ruins and natural wonders).
Cluj day trip option 1: Visit Turda salt mine
The mine is located in Turda, a city only 30 km away from Cluj. Turda salt mine is considered to be one of the most spectacular underground formations shaped by humans. While I’m not a big fan of underground attractions, this place is one of the top attractions in Romania and it’s well worth a visit. You can stay as long as you want, but know to read the latest announcements on their website. Also, bring some warmer clothes, as the temperature is around 10°Celsius, regardless of the time of the year.
Here’s is the vlog from Turda Salt Mine near Cluj:
If you want to visit something else around Turda, I recommend checking out the Mihai Voda monastery. This is the burial place for Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), of the most prominent figures in Romanian history books. He was killed in 1601 after he united the three Romanian countries (Transylvania, Moldova and Wallachia).
Next to his grave is the lovely monastery that carries his name. Unfortunately, not a lot of people visit this place and there is not a lot of content about it. I accidentally found out about it, as I was driving by. This is a common thing in Romania, to discover amazing historical or natural places, just by driving by. There might be a small sign indicating the direction from the main road, and that’s it. The road there isn’t the greatest either and it has some potholes, but any car will make it.
Here is the vlog from the Tomb and Monestary of Michael the Brave (Mormantul lui Mihai Viteazul) near Cluj:
Other places to visit in and around Turda city are the Turda Gorges (Cheile Turzii) which are a lovely nature escape. I haven’t been there yet, but it looks beautiful and according to Google Maps, there are marked trails. I believe that Transylvania offers some of the best landscapes.
Cluj day trip option 2: Banffy Castle
Bonțida is a small village only 30 km from Cluj, and it hosts the beautiful Bánffy Castle. The castle dates from the 15th century and it has been called “the Versailles of Transylvania”.
You’ll discover that the castle grounds are absolutely lovely, and if you go in May, you’ll be mesmerised by the acacia trees in full blossom.
The castle is now under serious renovations, as it was left in the will of fate for many decades, and only the exterior is open for visitors. Even so, the location is often rented for events such as private weddings. Each year, there is an electronic music festival (Electric Castle) that attracts fans from all over the world. I’ve never been to the festival, but I hear it’s great.
If you want to explore more on this day trip from Cluj, consider adding to your itinerary the Sic reed (Stufarisul de la Sic), which is a lovely reed nature reserve. The landscape is special and the location is nice for photos. During the summer days, it might feel too hot to walk around too much, but luckily there are two wooden pavilions and a watchtower, where you can stop for a short while and cool down. Note that the wooden path is not in the best condition and you might accidentally fall off it if you don’t watch your step.
Here is the vlog from Banffy Castle near Cluj:
Cluj day trip option 3: Tarnita lake
One popular weekend escape for those living in Cluj is the beautiful Tarnita Lake (Lacul Tarnita). I have plans to go there on my next trip around Cluj, because I didn’t visit the lake yet. If you feel like you want to go on a short hike, I recommend heading to Piatra lui Lucaci (it translates Lucaci’s stone and I have no idea why.) Put it on your Maps and then hope up on the hill. The views over the lake should be glorious. If you have more time, you can head towards the Apuseni mountains, where you’ll find unreal caves and waterfalls. I’ve been to Bears’ cave a few years ago and it did not disappoint.
Cluj day trip option 4: Baciu Hoia Forest
I’ve saved the infamous Hoia forest (padurea Hoia Baciu) for the last option as a day trip from Cluj, because I haven’t been there and don’t understand the hype around this place. To be honest, I’ve heard about this place for the first time from two American girls (or at least one was American), sitting next to me on a plane (can’t really remember where I was going) and talking about this forest as if it was a world-class attraction in Romania.
I said nothing, but they went on and on about the stories they’ve heard and they were extremely excited to get to Cluj to see it. So what’s up with Hoia forest? For some reason (that we Romanian don’t know or understand) it is said that this forest is haunted. Some online travel outlets even appointed this place as one of the top haunted places in the world. I had no idea about it until recently.
The point is that some go to Hoia forest to see weird stuff happening. I’m not sure if it’s their imagination, but I have no desire to go there. In case you’re looking for something out of the ordinary to visit near Cluj, I guess this is the place. Again, I must warn you, locals will think you’re crazy.
How to get to Cluj-Napoca?
Get to Cluj by plane
Cluj is the second-largest city in Romania and it has pretty good airfare connections to major European cities. It’s probably cheaper to fly to Cluj from Italy than it is to jump on a plane from Bucharest.
When planning your trip to Romania and especially to Cluj, it comes down to what you want to do and visit. If you’re planning to visit only Cluj and its surroundings, jumping on a plane might be the best (and cheapest) option to get to Cluj.
Get to Cluj by car
Of course, you can get to Cluj by car. If you’re driving from Bucharest, then you should reserve an entire day for the trip, because it will take forever. There are some portions of highway, but you will drive through many villages and cities too and it will take a long time. According to Google Maps, there are only 455 km between Bucharest and Cluj, but it will take at least 6 hours to get there. Factor in the breaks, the traffic and you will probably spend close to 10 hours driving.
Another option is to drive from Budapest, which is roughly the same distance (460km) and it should take around 6-7 hours. But this is a matter of your travel plans. Do know that you will have to cross the border from Hungary to Romania, which might get crowded during summer. Since Romania is not in the Schengen zone, all travellers need to be checked for ID.
Get to Cluj by train
Unless you are a train aficionado, I don’t recommend this option. Trains aren’t as reliable in Romania as they are in western Europe. The most annoying thing is that they are older trains, which don’t present the best travel conditions, and they move very slow because the tracks haven’t been maintained in ages. When travelling by train in Romania, you’ll know the time you get on the train, but can’t predict the time you’ll reach your destination.
Another issue with train travel in Romania is the cost. Train tickets are ridiculously expensive. It’s true that now we have two other private companies that offer train rides, but even so, I would only recommend this option if you have lots of time to spare and you’re travelling alone (can’t share the costs of renting a car).
Where to stay in Cluj-Napoca?
Cluj has many cute and fancy hotels and accommodations. When choosing a place to stay, it comes to your budget, and type of travel. If you want to explore the city centre, where all the cool historical places are (and the great cafes and restaurants), then you should find a place close to the centre.
But if you just want to see a thing or two, and prefer cheaper accommodation, then there’s no need to splurge on an expensive hotel. Luckily, Cluj offers plenty of options for all kinds of travellers. The good news is that even those more fancy hotels have rooms starting at around 50 Euro, but prices might depend on the season and the current demand.
Best hotels in Cluj closest to the city centre:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cluj – City Plaza (450m from downtown)
- The Square Hotel (200m from downtown)
- Hotel Beyfin (500m from downtown)
- Guest House 1568 (200m from downtown)
Best budget hotels in Cluj (under 40 Euro for a double room):
If you want to have all the comfort of a home, you can book an apartment in Cluj, that meets all your needs. You’ll find plenty of fancy apartments right in the heart of the city, but you’ll want to book those ahead of time, as most people prefer apartments, especially during summer, when they attend the music festivals in Cluj.
What is Cluj known for?
Cluj is known for many things, that relate to history, its geographical location and friendly locals. It attracts one-third of all Romanian students, has a vivid nightlife and even has a full street of bars.
Here’s an approximate list of things for which Cluj-Napoca is famous for:
- Cluj is around 2000 years old. It was one of the most important citadels from the Eastern Roman Empire.
- It stands at the heart of Transylvania, both geographically and historically.
- In 2015, Cluj was elected as the European Youth Capital.
- It has a street full of bars – Piezisa Street (strada Piezisa).
- The city has its own local dish, which most Romanians love – Varza a la Cluj (Cluj style cabbage)
- Tourists can see 15th and 16th-century medicine in the Pharmacy Museum, which contain mummy dust, as well as love potions.
- In 2014, Cluj was declared the friendliest city for foreigners. In 2021, it was named the most business-friendly Romanian city.
- Cluj is one of the top cities for IT companies, in the world, because it has a high density of IT engineers.
- The city attracts music enthusiasts from all over the world, during its famous summer music festivals.
Festivals in Cluj
Cluj is the best Romanian destination when talking about festivals, and especially music festivals.
What are the festivals in Cluj?
- Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF), since 2002. TIFF takes place in June and lasts for 10 days.
- Electric Castle, since 2013. Takes place in July. EG claims to be one of Europe’s few truly 24-hour festivals. Takes place on the grounds of Banffy Castle, 30 km away from Cluj.
- Untold, since 2015. Untold takes place in August. Attracts one of the biggest crowd and you need to book your accommodation a few months in advance if you want a room in Cluj during the festival.
Although I’ve never been to any of these festivals (because I can’t stand large crowds), I believe that you should be aware of these events, when travelling around Cluj during the summer. Of course, if the point is to attend one of these festivals, that’s great too, but make sure to make all the necessary arrangements ahead of time.
However, know that each one of these festivals gathers considerable international crowds. You will surely face huge traffic queues in and around Cluj, if you will plan your trip during these festivals. Another reason to carefully plan your trip to Cluj outside the dates of the festivals is that everything gets booked during those dates.
Actually, the entire area gets booked by those attending the festival. It gets to a point that there are no available rooms to book, even if you are a couple of hundred kilometres away from Cluj. I know because I was one of those tourists looking for a room around Transylvania, during the largest music festival.
Honestly, going on a road trip in Transylvania during the festivals is a total nightmare, and the traffic is beyond any expectation of preparation. I would say to avoid driving anywhere around Cluj at the end of July and the beginning of August.
Cluj is a great city, the largest city in Transylvania and it has quite a nightlife scene. That is because of the many universities that attract thousands of new students each year. You can’t be a student without a few good bars and clubs to visit every now and then.
If you’re looking for Cluj nightlife, then you should check out:
- After eight – A fun nightclub that organises regular parties, offers good music and great cocktails.
- Booha Bar – The most popular student bar, located right in the student area of the city. Opens every day at 6 pm.
- Caro Vintage Club – During the day, this is a nice restaurant in the centre of the old town, which turns into one of the most popular (and crowded) clubs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
- Charlie – This is a theme Cluj bar that promises to teleport you to the early 20th century in the US. Lots of whiskies are involved, as that is the prohibition time.
- Che Guevara Social Pub – The ‘50 Cuban decor will be a great conversation topic as you sit down. Enjoy the great food and awesome cocktails.
Things to do in Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Is Cluj worth a visit?
YES. There’s no question about it. Cluj-Napoca is one of the best cities you can visit in Romania, and you shouldn’t miss it, as there are many things to do in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
If you only have a day or so to spend in Cluj, then I recommend spending them exploring the centre area of Cluj, or even going on a free walking tour. However, the tours might have a special program during the pandemic. Check out the website of Cluj Guided Tours for more details about the available tours in Cluj.
Let me know if this guide about the best things to do in Cluj was useful for planning your trip in and around Cluj-Napoca, and please let me know if you have any questions. You can always DM me on social media, or send me an email. Safe travels!