Since you’re visiting our website and reading this, it’s quite likely that you’re planning a trip to Cluj Napoca – pronounced clooge napokah – a wonderful city full of old world charm, expertly blended with the buzz of a lively modern city. This short post will give you some ideas of what you can do here in the city.
1) Enjoy the nightlife:
One third of the population of Cluj Napoca are students at the university here. This goes a long way to explain why the nightlife in Cluj is so vibrant, that paired with the large number and variety of bars, pubs and clubs. Whether you fancy a couple of quiet pints in a bar made of cardboard, a spot of live music, seeing how much unlimited beer you can drink in two hours for just 5 lei (1 euro and a bit) or maybe you want to dance the night away in a club that is home to the best sound system in Romania, Cluj can cater to your needs. There is even a street dedicated to and lined with student bars, Str Piezisa.
Some personal favorite bars and pubs include:
– L’atelier – The bar made out of cardboard
– Old Shepherd – A Romanian basement pub with a Gaelic twist, the widest range of whisky in the city, and beer by the litre.
– Janis stuf – A popular bar with students, inspired by the legendary stuf beach bar in vama veche, it’s lively and open non stop for pizza and drinks.
– The Jack – The smallest pub in the city, but don’t worry if they run out of seats, there are plenty of beer crates to sit on.
2) Enjoy the café culture:
For me, Cluj is a great city to relax in. Roam the streets and see what you stumble upon. There are many cafes to fall into when you feel the need for a break! Seek out Bistro Viena for great coffee, sandwiches and cheesecake! When the weather’s good, they have outside seating, and during winter you can take a seat in the rustic interior. If you have a sweet tooth, check out Enigma, and sample one of their hot chocolates, of which they have many, including chili, chocolate orange and caramel.
If tea is your daytime poison of choice, Cluj is also home to several tea houses. Samsara offers a very chilled out vibe, with cushions on the floor, a shoes off policy and optional shisha pipes. Doamna T is a more traditional tea house, with charming décor, a lovely hostess and her pet dog, Sofie.
3) Eat traditional food:
Traditional Romanian food is a delicious burst of flavour, and generally quite filling, just what you need after a long journey! Cabbage seems to be a common theme;
– Varza a la cluj (cabbage a la cluj) is a tasty dish of cabbage, minced beef and various spices, herbs and vegetables, served with sour cream (another popular choice in Romanian cuisine).
– Sarmale, is similar, with rice and meat stuffed into pickled cabbage leaves and boiled in tomato stock for several hours, again this is served with sour cream.
– Ciorba, which translates to soup in English, is widely available in a great many flavours, including Ciorba de burta (tripe soup), Gulas, borrowed from the Hungarian kitchen, and ciorba de fasole, a deliocious bean soup.
This is just a small selection of traditional Romanian food, of course there is much more to discover. The following traditional restaurants are worth checking out;
– Casa Ardeleana, friendly staff, live entertainment most nights, great food and the occasional free shot of tuica make this rustic restaurant a must!
– Varzarie, which roughly translates to “The Cabbagery” offers a different kind of feel. Typical of communist era restaurants, it also offers great food and great value all day. I recommend the spinach and fried eggs for breakfast!
Cluj is also home to many small bakeries, pastry and pie shops, which line almost every street in the centre. Worth checking out are the freshly made pretzels known as covrigi, which come in many variations, sweet and savory, and palanet, a Romanian pie, again available in many different flavours.
4) Visit the local museums:
Cluj is home to several museums worth checking out;
The National Historical Museum of Transylvania – home to a large collection of artifacts, coins, medieval weapons and armour and many other relics from various ages.
The Pharmacy History Museum – offers a different kind of museum experience, with a large selection of medical relics through the ages, contained in an authentic 19th century laboratory. But what makes this worth a visit is the rather eccentric and very enthusiastic host/guide.
The Ethnographic Museum – consists of two separate locations, the indoor museum, concentrating mainly on traditional folk art and surviving tools and products from various trades and crafts, including fishing, hunting, dress making and many more. The open air museum is a replica of a traditional Romanian village, showcasing old building methods, traditional houses and living conditions.
The Paleontology Museum – Home to a large collection of ancient bones, fossils and entire skeletons. The museum is open by appointment only these days.
5) Wander the city:
For me, Cluj Napoca is a fantastic city to wander. I have spent many hours wearing down the soles of my boots on its streets, through its parks and forests and up its rolling hills. I still have much more to discover and will spend many more hours roaming and seeing what I can find hidden away. There are several places worth wandering around for someone visiting the city;
– Central park; a beautiful park in the heart of city, perfect for picnics and rowing a boat in summer, or ice skating and snowball fights in winter.
– The old cobbled streets; which are home to many great pubs and cafes, the best of which are generally tucked away in a nook or cranny.
– The botanical garden; a wonderful area to walk, complete with woodland, exotic plants, a Japanese garden and an observation tower.
– Citadel hill; it’s a bit of a climb but once you reach the top you are rewarded with a great view over the city. There is also a café at the top, so you can grab a well-earned refreshment.
– The riverside; a walk along the banks of the river Somes is always nice, and you may even end up at the tiny beach, popular with sun bathers in the summer!
– Hoia forest; aka the alien forest, where many have claimed to have seen UFO’s and experienced other paranormal events, is otherwise great for a short hike on a nice day. It’s a bit of a climb, but the forest stretches over the hills and out of the city.
– Faget forest; just 5 minutes from a residential area, can’t claim to be as haunted or as spooky as Hoia forest, but it is home to a wealth of wildlife, from squirrels, rabbits and deer, to wolves and wild boar. Follow the trails and discover the pine forests, stretching up hillsides, rewarding you with more great views beyond the city.
6) Enjoy a festival or two:
Cluj plays host to many, many festivals throughout the year, from traditional and modern, popular music festivals, to food festivals, film festivals (TIFF – Transylvania international film festival – first week of June) and simply celebrations of just being a great city (Days of Cluj – last week of May, Colours of Cluj etc).
There are too many to mention here, but you’re more than likely to arrive in Cluj during some kind of festival or celebration!
7) See a church (or several hundred)
Romania is a country that takes religion fairly seriously, and as such is home to a large number of churches, orthodox, catholic,unitarian among many others. Cluj is no exception and it often seems that every street has at least one church on it. They differ in architecture, from huge, ancient stone cathedrals, to tiny wooden chapels. See how many you can find!