There are plenty of fancy and popular destinations for a city break in Europe but if you want to explore some exciting, hidden beauties, then your place is the ‘Wild Wild East’ where you can find these on a low budget.
Let’s be more accurate: Romania is the ultimate choice for a city break if you are looking for some great experiences. The center region of the country (called Transylvania) has amazing landscape with huge mountains and forests which are perfect for hiking or for winter sports. Besides that, you will find here charming villages and of course big, vibrating cities. The coolest among them is the 700 years old city, Cluj-Napoca, the informal center of the region which is great for a city break.
So let’s jump in, I will give you my tips for a great city break in Cluj-Napoca, Romania!
1. Get a taxi!
I’m sure most of you will come with airplane so once you landed, change your money into Romanian currency, lei. This won’t be a big challenge because the airport of Cluj-Napoca is not big but very modern and super easy to find what you need. When you have money, get a taxi. Traveling by taxi is fast and cheap: 2.25lei/km which is around 0.5 euro so you will get fast and very cheap wherever you want. Keep in mind that most of the taxi drivers don’t speak English but this won’t be a problem: write the address where you want to go in your mobile and show it to the driver and you will arrive exactly where you wanted.
2. Find a good accommodation
Well, this depends on your budget…In Cluj-Napoca, you can find plenty of luxury hotels, very good quality guesthouses, hostels and so on. In the city center, you can find hostels (e. g. Retro Hostel, Transylvania Hostel) on cheap price if you want to stay close to bars and party places to feel the pulse of the city. Besides these opportunities, I highly recommend choosing a guesthouse what is more affordable but also comfortable. The prices begin from 90 lei/night for a double room, it’s around 20-25 euro. When you search on the internet after guesthouse, use the Romanian translation of the word, ‘pensiune’ and you will get tons of offers.
Tips to explore the medieval city center – places you MUST visit
3. Piaţa Unirii – the main square
This place is THE center of the city, the most important meeting point for everyone. Just get a ‘coffee to go’ and sit down on a bench and enjoy the view of the meeting, hurrying and smiling people. You will see here the amazing statue of King Matthias Corvinus who was born in Cluj. The statue was made by the famous Hungarian sculptor, Janos Fadrusz in 1902 but in 1900 at the World Exposition in Paris, the mock-up of the statue won the Grand Prix Prize. Nowadays the square gives home for many festivals like the Christmas Fairy, the Transylvanian International Film Festival (TIFF), or the city’s days (Zilele Clujului).
4. St. Michaels’s Church – the Roman Catholic church
If once you are at Piaţa Unirii, you will certainly notice this enormous church which is the second biggest in Transylvania with its 76m tall tower. Can you guess when it had started to built? In 1349! It means that this beautiful gothic style church is the ‘witness’ of the history in the last nearly 700 years and this is the most famous symbol of the city. Just go inside and take a pleasure in the old altar (inaugurated in 1390) and in the gorgeous gothic windows and you will feel the history around you.
5. Piaţa Muzeului – beautiful narrow streets and little square
If you cross the wide and crowded street in the back of St. Michael’s Church, you will arrive at Piaţa Muzeului. Actually, this name means a lot of things. On one hand, it’s a kind of collection of narrow streets with cobblestones and lovely houses with 1 or maximum 2 floors. Most of these buildings are quiet important like the birthplace of King Matthias Corvinus. On the other hand, it’s a little square too. It’s surrounded by buildings with 2 floors so you can feel hidden and protected from the noise of the city. Here you will find several restaurants and bars with quality drinks and food and in the summer it’s full of terraces’ of these bars. Drink or eat something here, e. g. in Camino which has a beautiful vintage style inside, and enjoy this hidden place!
6. Bulevardul Eroilor and Piaţa Avram Iancu – explore some Romanian monuments
If you stay in front of the statue at Piaţa Unirii, turn right and walk down on Eroilor Street. At the beginning of the street, there is the Monument of the Memorandum Trial. This statue is dedicated to those Romanian politicians who claimed equal rights for Romanians in Transylvania in 1892. If you keep walking down, you can enjoy the view of beautiful houses from the 19th century and you can refresh yourself at a terrace or at a coffee shop. I recommend Café Olivo where you can find delicious and quality coffee at a good price (1 espresso is 5 lei ̴ 1 euro).
At the end of the street, you will arrive at Piaţa Avram Iancu. On the right, you will see the beautiful baroque building of the Romanian National Theatre. On the left is the enormous building of The Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, the most famous orthodox church in the city. You definitely have to enter here to see the beautiful frescos, the amazing altar. Here probably you can see another face of this modern city: deeply religious people from teenagers up to elders.
Tips for relaxing
7. Visit some bars
There is no city break without exploring the atmosphere of the local bars. This is true especially if you spend a city break in Cluj-Napoca. The most hipster place in the city is the pub called Insomnia. This place has been a bar in the last 120 years so yes, this is the oldest pub in the town. Nowadays this is the main meeting point of students, professors, and artists. If it’s about beer you have to visit Fabrica de Bere Ursus. Some decades ago the local beer ‘Ursus’ was produced here and today it’s a really cool restaurant and bar. They kept many pieces of equipment from the factory as a decoration. They are still brewing beer here, you can see the containers right in the restaurant. The kitchen is international and very tasty, really worth to try it!
8. Go to partyyy!!!
After some glasses of beer (and maybe some shots), you MUST go to a party. Fabrica de Bere Ursus is a good choice in this case too. The old factory building has 2 big parts: the restaurant/bar and the Club Euphoria. This club is one of the best in the city: very good music in a modern milieu. Pick up your best and trendy clothes, put up your make-up and enjoy the night till the sun rises! If you insist on good quality, I have another offer for you, a club which was ranked in the top 100 best clubs in the world: Club Midi. If you just look at the building you wouldn’t ever believe this statement: it’s located in an old communist building which looks really old and abandoned. But don’t be afraid, enter because this club is the ultimate home of electric music in the city.
9. Relax in the green!
After a hard night or a long walk in the city, you will need a place where you can really relax a bit. The Central Park (Parcul Central) is the perfect place for this. Here you can find the beautiful building of the old Casino (today museum and event center) and the Chios (restaurant and bar) so you won’t remain without food and culture. Just lie down on green grass or rent a boat on the lake in front of Chios, watch the mallards and swans and refill yourself with energy! Also if you have a hammock, don’t let it home! Youngsters in the summer are relaxing in hammock in the park so put it on the trees and have a nap!
My last tip to handle easier the city
10. Download some applications on your phone
Romania has the fastest internet in Europe (10th in the world) so don’t hesitate to use your mobile, it will make your city break so much easier! What you absolutely need is an app called Cluj City App. In this you can find what places to visit (with short history) bars, restaurants etc. so it helps a lot to discover the city and not get lost. Also, Clever Taxi is very useful too. Probably you don’t speak Romanian so you cannot call a taxi…With this app, it’s not a problem. Just touch the ‘Call a cab’ button and the app searches for all available cars in the city. You just have to touch ‘Accept’ button when it has found a taxi and the car will be coming to pick you up.
That’s all folks! If you want to have a great city break in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, give a shot for my tips, you won’t be disappointed. This city is worth to try it if you want to discover something new and different from popular city break destinations.