15 Things To Do In Cluj Napoca Like A Local
Cluj Napoca, Romania is a city that feels so historic yet so young at the same time. A unique mixture of wonderful historical buildings and museums, beautiful nature, dynamic nightlife, the artsy culinary world, young population, cultural events and international music festivals.
We’re not exaggerating when we say it’s throbbing with life.
It gives plenty to enjoy for every generation, and in every season of the year. It’s becoming more and more like any other international European city where there’s always something interesting happening 24/7.
So what is Cluj Napoca famous for and what is worth visiting? We put together this list of tourist attractions, to give you extended answers, mixing Cluj Napoca’s historic past and dynamic present.
1. Before you come, the first thing to do, familiarise yourself with the city history.
Whenever you visit a new city, one of the first things to do is learn a bit about the city, history, culture and maybe a few local language words. The existence of Cluj Napoca has first recorded almost 2 thousand years ago, in the 1st century, when the Roman Empire conquered Dacia (this was the ancient name of Romania).
It is the third biggest city now in Romania, and the second most populous one after the capital Bucharest, with an urban population of around 300 thousand.
As a university city, it is also giving a home to an extra 100 thousand students each year. It was chosen as the European Youth Capital in 2015.
The city has been shaped by so many different events and ethnic groups such as:
- The Roman Empire founding the place and ruling over it for 2 centuries. The Hungarians taking over in the 3rd century.
- Most of the city being destroyed by a Mongol invasion in the 13th century.
- The city being rebuilt by the Saxon settlers later in the 13th century.
- Becoming a cultural hub and trading centre during the Middle Ages, belonging this time to the Kingdom of Hungary.
- The Habsburg rule in the 17th century.
- The Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.
- Transylvania (hence Cluj) being attached to Romania after WWI.
- The communist years and the notorious dictator Nicolae Ceauseascu’s ‘’urbanization’’ of the city.
- Becoming the modern cultural hub that the city is today.
2. Enjoy the green, is one of the most popular things to do in Cluj.
Cluj Napoca is a very nature-friendly city. Except for a few areas that are packed with apartment blocks built during communism, the city has many green places that you can enjoy. And even these apartment block areas have started to have more and more trees and bushes planted along the streets.
The Central Park (Parcul Central) is a large urban park right in the heart of the city. It contains an artificial lake with little ducks and swans swimming in it, an old casino building that is used today for balls, exhibitions and other fancy events, classical statues, small fountains, a restaurant and many free green places to lay down on the grass and chill.
Many students like to hang out here; they do picnics, spontaneous music sessions, easy afternoon dates, sometimes even practice their hobbies here such as martial arts or juggling.
Another gorgeous green spot to visit is the Botanical garden. This 19th century built garden is splashed over a 14 hectare big space.
It contains 10 thousand different plants from all over the world, a rainforest built inside a greenhouse, a Japanese garden, a Roman garden and a water tower.
Clearly not something to miss. The entrance fee is ridiculously low (around 2 euros!), and it is open every day between 8am and 8pm.
3. Steal a few moments of peace at historic churches.
Given the fact that Cluj Napoca is a centuries old city, there is no shortage of majestic church buildings, still carrying the atmosphere of the time periods they were built in.
The Roman Catholic St Michael’s Church was built in the Middle Ages, between the 14th and 15th century in Gothic style, and it is the second biggest Gothic church in Romania. It stands right in the heart of the city, on Union Square, and this is considered to be the centre of the centre.
In front of the church, there’s the statue of Matthias Corvinus (Matei Corvin on its Latin name), the famous 15th century king of Hungary who defeated the ottomans. The church is unfortunately closed for restoration until 2021, so it can only be visited from the outside.
The Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral was built between 1923-1933, it has a mixed style of Byzantine and Renaissance, and it was loosely inspired by the famous Hagia Sophia. The interior has a soothing atmosphere, with many beautiful mosaics. Open every day between 6am and 9pm.
The Piarist Church was built in 1720 in Baroque style, and it will catch your eyes from afar, thanks to its bright orange and yellow colour.
It first belonged to the Jesuits, who then later gave it to the Piarists, after the Jesuit order was abolished. It’s not always open to the public but here’s their phone number +40 264 595 252 in case you need more information.
4. Watch a game in Cluj Arena.
Cluj Arena is a recently built (between 2009-2011) multi-purpose stadium with a modern design, located near Central Park. It hosts sports events like football, track and field, and rugby. The building also contains many conference rooms and a large space for concerts and electro parties.
5. Participate in the many fun festivals the city has throughout the year.
As already mentioned, Cluj Napoca is a student city, full of tens of thousands of the new generation European youth. And they love to party. That’s why the city has events after events all year round.
There are film festivals such as TIFF (Transylvania International Film Festival), Comedy Cluj, and ClujShorts, giving you insight into the works of the most talented and upcoming young filmmakers.
With performers in the past such as Prodigy, Steve Aoki, David Guetta, Tiesto, Florence + the machine, Thirty seconds to Mars, these two festivals have achieved to be recognised on an international level.
Both of these festivals each have 200-300 thousand attendants from all over the world. And if the lineup didn’t already sound cool, Electric Castle is held in the court of Banffy Castle, built in the 17th century.
Other fun festivals are:
- Jazz in the Park held each summer in the Central Park
- Interferences International Theatre Festival, that has dozens of theatre groups performing from all around the world
- FORM Days, a music and arts festival
6. Get loose in the city’s artistic pub life.
There are pubs on top of pubs in this bustling student city. And they’re all so uniquely different from each other. If you were wondering where can you have your dinner or a pint in Cluj, you shouldn’t be worried.
These are the most creative pubs and bars in Cluj Napoca that you should put on your bucket list.
- Joben Bistro and Enigma both have fantastic steampunk designs that will make your jaw drop.
- Samsara Foodhouse is serving vegan and vegetarian food, while a real olive tree is growing indoors in the centre of the place.
- Samsara Chillout Teahouse has different atmosphere rooms such as the Psychedelic room (jellyfish lights hanging from the ceiling, the ceiling looking like the sky full of stars, colourful soothing lights), the Middle East room (this room feels like you’re trapped in an Arabic Nights tale) and Meditation room. It is the perfect place to chill after you had a super healthy meal at Samsara Foodhouse.
- Sisters Coffee is the most popular coffee place in Cluj, as it serves dozens of coffee specialties.
- Toulouse is a chic place that looks like you just went back in time to the Belle Epoque.
- Jaxx is a 50s rock n roll place with stuff hanging on the walls such as guitars, motorbikes and an oldschool car. You will feel like you’re walking on the set of the movie Back to the Future.
- Submarine is an underground pub that is designed to look like the inside of a submarine.
7. Hit the dynamic nightlife.
Of course, if sitting in a bar won’t cut it for you, no worries, the city has you covered. There’s always a party somewhere in Cluj Napoca, every single night of the week.
For djs and techno, there’s Midi, Noa and Euphoria Music Hall.
For a more bohemian atmosphere, that plays retro music, rock n roll, reggae, jazz and ska, try Flying Circus.
If you want to party among people wearing cocktail dresses and suits, After Eight is your place. Warning: there’s a dress code here, and they won’t let you in if you don’t look fancy enough.
8. Look for some paranormal experience at Hoia Baciu forest.
Located 10km near Cluj Napoca, a mysterious forest that is notorious for the weird phenomenons reported by people over the years. It’s even called the ‘Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania’, and the world’s most haunted forest.
According to the tales, a shepherd disappeared together with all his sheep, sometimes in the 19th century. Then in 1960, a biologist reportedly saw an object resembling a flying disc.
Over the years, many people who visited the forest experienced weird things such as shadows, whispers, dims of light out of nowhere.
Hoia Baciu forest was featured in a few US documentaries. Critics say these reports are all gibberish, meant only to attract more tourists. Whether or not it has some truth to it, it’s definitely a spooky forest to visit.
9. Visit museums should be on your things to do list in Cluj.
These are the most noteworthy museums in Cluj Napoca we think you should visit.
- National Museum of Transylvanian History (history & archeology museum). Open between 10am and 4 pm on Tuesday, and Thursday – Saturday, and between 12 noon – 6pm on Wednesday. Closed on Sunday.
- Astronomical Observatory, where you can look at stars through telescopes. Open only on Fridays, between 9pm and midnight.
- Zoology Museum, a dusty room that looks like it hasn’t changed a bit since last century. Open on Tuesday – Sunday, between 10am and 4pm.
- National Art Museum inside Banffy Palace. Open on Wednesday – Sunday, between 10am and 5pm.
- The Transylvanian Museum of Etnografico. Open on Wednesday – Sunday, between 10am and 6pm.
- Gate su’ Feleac, a private folk museum that we highly recommend. It has a charming rural design featuring a traditional gate, a yard, a house with a stunning interior: all the furniture, decoration, clothes are traditional Romanian. It’s private, which means you’ll have to make a prior reservation calling their phone number +40 766 529 550.
10. Look down at the whole city from the top of Cetatuia Park.
Don’t worry, you won’t really need to climb. There’s a stairway built in the park, leading up to the very top of the hill, from where you can see the whole city. Yes, the whole city.
All the historic old town buildings, the arena, the whole central park, and residential areas far away. We recommend going up there during daylight, just before sunrise, and wait for all the city night lights.
11. Have a beach day at Tarnita lake.
Just about 30km outside the city, there’s a beautiful lake popular amongst tourists, as well as locals. People come here to relax, soak up some sun, swim, picnic, listen to music, and just hang out with friends. Careful though – a descendant of the famous Loch Ness monster ‘’Nessi’’ is said to live in this lake. Tarnita Lake is definitely a must on your things to do in Cluj list, and a great way to spend some amazing time outdoors.
12. Spot the beautiful architecture.
There are so many beautiful buildings all around the city that you could easily just walk past without noticing. Try to spot them. Some examples:
- National Theatre and Opera
- Tailor’s bastion
- Old City walls
- Matthias Corvinus house
- Palace of Justice
- Banffy palace
- Szeki palace
- City Hall
- Campuses of Babes Bolyai university
- Avram Iancu square (Piața Avram Iancu)
- Unirii square (Piața Unirii)
- Reformed Church
13. Have a relaxing walk in Hazsongardi cemetery.
This is a very large and very old cemetery, founded in the 16th century. Aside from the fact that so many famous Romanian and Hungarian people were buried here (poets, writers, journalists, politicians, artists, historians etc), it’s a very calming place to take a walk at.
Contrary to the popular belief that all cemeteries are very spooky and creepy, this one is truly quiet, peaceful, soothing. Birds chirping on trees, flowers and greens everywhere, centuries old headstones, other people walking in silence.
If you want to make the experience even more unforgettable, visit the cemetery on the night of the 1st of November. The Romanian Halloween tradition is quite similar to the Mexican Día de los Muertos.
Thousands of people go to every cemetery, decorating the tombstones of their deceased loved ones with flowers and colourful candles. At night, the whole cemetery is lit up by thousands of these colourful candles, looking just like the one you see in the beautiful Día de los Muertos-themed Disney animation, Coco.
13. Walk back in time at National ethnographic park Romulus Vuia.
This stunning open-air museum is located 7km near Cluj-Napoca, founded in 1929. It contains folk houses built in the style of traditional Romanian architecture, gateways, craftsman workshops, an 18th century wooden church, tools that rural Romanian people used when doing activities such as fishing and pottery.
Open on Wednesday – Friday, between 10 am and 6 pm, on Saturday between 10 am and 12 am, and on Sunday between 10am and 11:45 pm.
14. Take a day trip outside of the city.
In case you have some extra time on your hand, these are the best day trips in Cluj county or even beyond, that we recommend.
- Piatra Secuiului, a picturesque mountain hill.
- Rimetea, a charming little village that hasn’t changed much for centuries.
- Banffy Castle, the location of the previously mentioned Electric Castle music festival, built in the 17th century, is a wonderful sight. A majestic and massive castle that has a mixed style of Baroque, Renaissance, Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic.
- Turda salt mine, a very popular tourist attraction, that is both a museum of salt mining and an amusement park, has restaurants, and even a small church built into it.
Shopping can easily turn into a day trip, so if you’re in the mood Cluj Napoca has two shopping centre complexes. Iulius Mall, a smaller but very contemporary mall and Vivo, a large shopping center with dozens of shops, food area, and cinema.