One month ago, we had never even heard of Cluj-Napoca. If someone would have recommended it to us, there is a good chance that we may have passed on it. Once we found that our travels were going to bring us through Cluj-Napoca, we started to dig into researching the city and found it has so much to offer.
More popularly known as Cluj, it is the fourth largest city in Romania, and is the de-facto capital of Transylvania. It was the second largest city in Romania in during the 2011 census, but has since been passed by Iaşi and Timişoara.
Today, Cluj is a thriving city in multiple facets. It is home to the largest university in all of Romania, Babeș-Bolyai, with over 41,000 students. In 2015, it claimed the title of European Youth Capital. In 2018, it was awarded the title of European City of Sport.
These modern accolades, when combined with history dating back to 1213 AD, make Cluj a fantastic city to explore. The combination of historic and modern sights make it one of Romania’s fascinating cities to visit.
11 Best Things To Do in Cluj-Napoca, Romania
1. Explore Unirii Square
Unirii Square (or Piata Unirii) is one of the largest squares in all of Cluj-Napoca. It’s a great place to start your time exploring Old Town, because it’s right in the middle of everything! The square is surrounded by a church, beautiful architecture, shops and many cafes.
The centerpiece of the square is the statue of King Matthias Corvin. Corvin was King of Croatia and Hungary back in the 1400s, but he was born in Cluj-Napoca! The statue honors his greatness and depicts him sitting atop a horse.
2. Have a cup of tea at Samsara Teahouse
We can’t recommend Samsara Teahouse enough. In case you can’t tell from the picture, this is not your ordinary teahouse. It’s decorated in a beautiful bohemian style, with floor cushions and low tables lit by candlelight. Sheer fabrics hang from the ceiling around ornate lanterns that offer a bit more light.
If the atmosphere isn’t cool enough for you, the tea is absolutely delicious! They offer a variety of yummy flavors, many of which are caffeine free since this place is mostly a night spot. They also have hookahs available, and alcoholic beverages.
3. Explore the area around Memorial Matei Corvin House
If you want to learn a bit more about the history of Cluj, then the Memorial Matei Corvin House is a must. It’s supposed to be one of the oldest structures in Cluj, and they have great exhibits inside. It costs 10 lei per person to enter.
Even if you don’t go inside the museum, exploring this area of Cluj is a must. The pedestrian-only cobblestone streets are one of the most picturesque places in Cluj, with string lights that light up the area at night.
4. Take a stroll along Canalul Morii
The canal that runs through Cluj looks like it belongs in Italy, not Romania! Covering a total of 7.2 kilometers (4.5 miles) it’s an idyllic part of Cluj that’s worth a visit. Along the canal are beautiful and colorful buildings that are home to various restaurants and businesses. Follow the canal to the east and it will lead you into the cozy residential streets of Cluj.
5. Catch a sunset from atop Cetățuia Park
Sitting on the north side of Canalul Somesul Mic from Cluj’s Old Town, this park has plenty of quiet places to read a book or catch a sunset. The paths are well maintained, making it popular amongst the local joggers.
The views to the south offer unobstructed sights of Old Town, including popular landmarks such as St. Michael’s Church and Assumption Cathedral. To the west is the Cluj Arena, which is home to the local soccer team FC Universitatea Cluj. At sunset, locals of all ages turnout to enjoy the gorgeous views of the city.
6. Explore Piata Mihaii Viteazul
This beautiful plaza, which is surrounded by colorful buildings, pays tribute to Mihaii Viteazul, also known as Michael the Brave. The de-facto ruler of Transylvania from 1599-1600, he is a prominent figure is Romanian history, particularly in Transylvania. To many, he is considered the first figure of the beginning of Romanian unity.
7. Play a round of Jenga at Tucano Coffee Puerto Rico
Tucano Coffee has everything a coffee house should have – amazing coffee that is responsibly sourced, free Wi-Fi, and fun decorations. On top of that, we found the staff to be exceptionally friendly!
There are also plenty of free entertainment options too, including books and boardgames. If coffee isn’t appealing, Tucano also offers delicious fresh juices and smoothies (we recommend the Happy Hippie). Since it’s right in the heart of Old Town, it’s a great place to stop in and relax for a bit while exploring Cluj.
8. Admire the colorful houses and architecture
One of the best ways to appreciate the long history of Cluj is to admire the different styles of architecture that adorn the buildings, churches, and facades throughout the city. From Gothic, to Renaissance, to Modern, the buildings offer such a diverse style that you might find yourself taking pictures every which way you look.
It’s not just the buildings that are worth admiring, too. There are plenty of cobblestone streets and paths of different intricate patterns weaving their way through the city. Even the different plazas and parks across the city have their own styles and histories worth experiencing.
9. Grab a drink from Pergola
Located on the south end of Cetățuia Park, Pergola has some of the best views of Cluj’s Old Town imaginable. Built right into the hillside, the restaurant has multiple terraces and patios from which you can admire the city.
While many people go for just drinks and appetizers, Pergola also offers a modest menu that includes multiple pizza and pasta dishes. The prices were respectable too, with the average dish on the menu being around 25-30 lei ($6-7 USD).
10. Visit St. Michael’s Church
Perhaps the best example of Cluj’s Gothic architecture is St. Michael’s Church. The original construction was completed in 1487, but since then there has been quite a bit of history and change. Throughout the years, the church has changed from Catholic, to Protestant, to Unitarian, and back to Catholic.
Today, the tower stands at 76 meters tall (249 feet) and with the cross, it tops out at 80 meters (262 feet), which make it one of the tallest buildings in all of Transylvania. In fact, it is the second tallest church in all of Romania, after the Black Church in Brasov.
Inside, there are beautiful stained glass windows, alters, and incredible organs that are played during Mass. Most incredible of all, rumor has it, that down in the basement of the church are crypts dating back to the 18th century.
11. Have a picnic in Central Park
Central Park Simion Bărnuţiu, or just Central Park, is a nearly 40 acre park wedged between Cluj Arena and Old Town. The main paths across the park are nearly half a mile long which makes it the perfect place to jog, bike, or just enjoy a leisurely evening stroll.
On the southwest end of the park, by the old Casino, is an adorable pond that is the perfect place to have a picnic. Once you’ve finished eating, you can rent a paddle boat in the shape of a flamingo or Volkswagen Beetle and cruise around the pond in style. Prices are 12 lei ($2.84 USD) for 30 minutes per person.
Cluj ended up surprising us quite a bit. When we first arrived, we weren’t sure if we would like it. But we quickly discovered gem after gem in Cluj, and it ended up being one of our favorite places in Romania.
If you go to Cluj, definitely make it a priority to visit the Samsara Teahouse. It was our absolute favorite thing that we did while in Cluj. It’s such a unique and awesome place!
Enjoy your time in Cluj & Happy Travels!