7 must-see places in Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania)
March 19, 2019
by Alma Gray
Cluj-Napoca is one of Romania’s oldest cities, its name dating back to the Roman period. Known as the capital of Transylvania region and, also, for its many prestigious academies and fruitful cultural life, Cluj-Napoca or simply, Cluj, is a multiethnic city that primarily impresses with its urban imperial architecture, an important reminder to the Romanian people, that the county of Transylvania once belonged to the great Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Cluj-Napoca enchanted me from the very first day I moved here. At that time, I had immediately felt the powerful energy emanating from the old, beautiful buildings and ancient trees above which the autumn twilight sky stretched like a mantle. Set in a valley, the city itself is surrounded by green hills which provide plenty of oxygen and shield it from powerful winds as well. It is also crossed by the river Someș and it is said that underneath the city there are many secret tunnels.
If you ever find yourself traveling along the land of Dracula, you should not skip this marvelous city. Whether it’s a business or pleasure trip, here are 7 important attractions that would make your journey a memorable one. You can get to Cluj-Napoca by car, train or plane, as it also has an international airport.
* Important notice: if you’re a music lover, then you should definitely buy a ticket to one or both opera houses in this city. There’s the National Romanian Opera House as well as Kolosvary Magyar Opera. You won’t regret it!
1. Unirii Square
Unirii Square or Piața Unirii is located right in the center of Cluj-Napoca and it’s also the largest square in the city. Open air concerts, festivals, and fairs are often organized here, near the majestic statue of Matthias Corvinus, the King of Hungary and Croatia during Middle-Ages. Here you can also visit St. Michael’s Church for free, a Gothic-style Roman-Catholic cathedral with the highest tower in Transylvania (80 m). I often like to go in there to meditate and contemplate the beautiful stained-glass vaulted windows.
Spend some time here feeding the chubby pigeons or simply admire the magnificent imperial architecture of the city center while enjoying a cup of coffee or have lunch at one of the sidewalks restaurants terraces.
2. The Museum Square
Walk on the left hand, past St. Michael’s Church, cross the street and you will enter a paved footway that leads to the Museum Square (Piața Muzeului), a cozy place situated in the oldest quarter of Cluj-Napoca. If you have time you can also visit the National Museum of Transylvanian History, or just have a beer with sausages at Bistro Vienna, in a friendly rustic vintage environment. Make sure to take a look at the local little shops and buy a unique souvenir. This quarter is a kind of labyrinth so make sure to explore it. You will discover little hidden pubs and also underground night clubs.
3. Central Park
Have a walk, jog or rent a Cluj Bike and explore the Central Park of Cluj-Napoca with its large long main alley and side alleys shielded by breath-taking secular trees. In the XIXth century, the local gentry used to meet here during horse-back rides, while in winter, as the pond water froze, people enjoyed ice-skating. Nowadays, we just feed the wild ducks and swans at the pond during spring and summer, rest on a bench with a book near the beautiful Park’s Casino with its white facade, exercise at the open air gym or simply enjoy an afternoon picnic on the green grass. No matter your choices, you will spend a revigorating time here.
4. Cetățuia Hill
Cetățuia is a fortification built during the Habsburgs’ reign on the hill with the same name (405 m). Many parts of the old fortification are gone now. Here is also placed Belvedere Hotel and a cross-shaped monument dedicated to the National Heroes, the martyrs of the 1848 Revolution. Cetățuia is an important tourist sight as it provides a spectacular panoramic view of the city. From here Cluj BT Arena can also be seen, its curvy, UFO-like shape adding a plus to the whole picture. You can get there by car or stairs. There’re also some hidden old stairs you can use, the one I also loved to use while jogging. Up there, you will discover a natural park where you can relax and have some fresh air. Or maybe you will enjoy Pergola, a nice terrace from where you can continue admiring the view or Panoramic-Cetățuie restaurant situated on top of the hill.
5. The National Ethnographic Park “Romulus Vuia”
The National Ethnographic Park “Romulus Vuia” is an open-air museum established in 1929. It exhibits 13 rural households with 90 characteristic constructions from 12 different Romanian regions. Visiting this village with its peculiar old houses is like time-traveling. You can go inside the houses and see how Romanian peasants used to live more than 100 years ago. Don’t miss the old wooden church. I remember spending a whole pleasant summer afternoon there, in the middle of this nostalgic universe.
6. Hoia-Baciu Forest
Near the Ethnographic Park is the Hoia-Baciu Forest, the most interesting attraction in Cluj-Napoca as it’s known for paranormal activities. Local stories say that people who went deep into this forest simply disappeared or entered a portal, finding themselves somewhere else, miles away from the city. Other legends describe how the trees and branches curve and bend, changing their shape. If you’re interested in this subject you should definitely do some further research and explore this forest with local guides and organized groups.
7. The Botanical Garden
Situated in the southern part of Cluj-Napoca, The Botanical Garden was founded in 1920. It covers over 14 hectares in area and displays over 10,000 plants from all over the world. The Japanese Garden and also the Roman Garden are the main attractions here, as well as the greenhouses. In May, most of the flowers are in full bloom and the garden offers a large colorful, enchanting palette. If you have enough time, make sure to spend at least a couple of hours in this wonderful place and take some pictures as a souvenir.