Everything happens at a different pace here – that’s what most travelers notice about Cluj after being exposed to Bucharest. One of Romania’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities, the city of Cluj – “The Treasure City” as it is also known – has inherited some of the patient and pedantic ways of the Austrian empire. This legacy is noticeable not only in the ways of the place or the architecture of its boulevards, but also in the people, as the city is a multicultural blend of all ethnicities that have been living here for centuries.
When in Cluj, the first stopover is the medieval centre of the city, with its heart – the Union Square. Here you can visit the gothic St. Michael’s Church with the famous Matthias Corvinus statue guarding its flank, the Banffy Palace Art Museum or the Iuliu Maniu street, called the Mirror Street for its symmetry, and unique in Romania. Head towards the Museum Square on the little cobblestone streets and you are sure to pass by dozens of street merchants, traditional craftsmen or local farmers who will entice you with their mastery or treats. Next, you reach the Casa Matei, a 13th century inn where Matei Corvin, the great Emperor of Hungary, was born. Keep walking until you reach the Museum Square, the most beautiful square in the city. This square is home to the History Museum, the Franciscan Church and Monastery and countless terraces spread around the Carolina Obelisk, a monument honoring the 18th Century imperial visit of Emperor Francisc I and his wife, Carolina Augusta, who fell in love with the city.
Then continue towards the river, cross the bridge and climb the stairs to the Cetățuia hill, where you can indulge in an ice cream, coffee or cocktail at a panoramic terrace, enjoying the most stunning views of the city. Wrap up this perfect afternoon in the Botanical Garden for a few hours of walking through this green paradise in the center of the city. Or, for a more cultural though somewhat morbid experience, visit the Hazsongard Central cemetery next door, a cemetery famous across Central Europe.
You can visit one of the many museums in town – a particularly interesting one is the Pharmacy Museum right across the street from St. Michael’s Church. In the evening, head to watch an opera show at either the Romanian or Hungarian National Opera Houses or a play at the two National Theatres in town. Cluj is one of the few cities in the world with two State operas in different languages. Finish your evening with a glass of wine at Bruno’s Wine Bar, right next to the History Museum in the Museum Square, or try one of the clubs, bars and cafes filling every house within a 3-block radius around the Union Square – just follow the music.
If you’re in Cluj May through October, there are several festivals bursting with energy around the city. You can enjoy TIFF – the Transilvania International Film Festival, Romania’s largest and one of Central Europe’s most prestigious film festivals. Or take your blanket with you in the Central Park for a summer evening of wine, culture and acoustic Jazz at the Jazz in the Park festival.
Nature & surroundings
One of the best things about Cluj is its proximity to many wonderful destinations. Within a half hour’s drive you can admire the incredible Turda Salt Mine with its indoor Ferris wheel, hike through the gorgeous natural reservation in the Turda Gorges or canoe on the Tarnița Lake. If all you want is a picnic, you can just drive on the Cetățuia hill passing the Village Museum and enjoy the Hoia Baciu forest that cuts deep into the heart of the city. Or, drive up on the Feleac hill and head to Făget, a large forest in the South.
If you’re in town for a longer stay, you can always take a two-day trip to Padiș, one of Romania’s most beautiful and popular regions, with mountains that nest hundreds of caves, underground rivers and canyons. One caveat: make sure you’re prepared for a proper camping experience, as there are very few amenities in the area.
Access & getting there
Cluj is easily accessible by all means of transportation. You can hop on one of the 5-6 daily Tarom flights from Bucharest and be there in less than 1 hour, plus the 15 minute cab ride to downtown. You can drive 6-7 hours via either Brașov or Sibiu, or take the train- an 8+ hour ride.
• When meeting someone in Cluj, meet at the “horse’s tail” – this is the most common meeting place for the locals, right behind the equestrian statue of Matthias Corvinus in Union Square.
• Try jogging on the river banks, in the Central Park and around the Iuliu Hatieganu park. Take your bike with you, cycling is a fast growing activity.
• If you’re interested in a guided experience, contact City Tours & Events, they have the friendliest and most knowledgeable guides in town, www.city-tours-events.ro or +40264 439 364
By Andrei Roth
Andrei Roth is the general manager of Recognos Romania, a software development company based in Cluj. He is also involved in the local startup ecosystem, managing a startup accelerator and several educational programs in Romania. He studied in California at UC Berkeley and currently lives in Cluj.