We all love those iconic travel attractions: Paris, Milan, Venice, the Louvre. But how about something new, have you ever heard of Transylvania? How about visiting Cluj-Napoca, the underdog of Europe?
Cluj-Napoca is arguably the most beautiful city in Eastern Europe with close to 3000 years of history. It was called Napoca during Roman settlement but is now more commonly called Cluj (as a shorter name).
It is Romania’s technopolis, with a vast number of IT activities that are taking place here, and it is also considered a cosmopolitan European city, being the preferred business site by many foreign investors.
No, this isn’t where vampires live. (well not anymore at least)
Bram Stoker only made you to believe that when he used Transylvania as the setting for his novel, Dracula.
Come join me and I’ll show you the mysterious and a fascinating city. The land beyond the forest.
The Beauty of Cluj-Napoca & Transylvania
Bohemian Spirit – Our people are calm in general and foreigners think our language is mellodic, almost like a lullaby when you hear us speak. We welcome visitors with warm hospitality and some call it the Bohemian spirit.
The Smell of Spring – Cluj is surrounded by forests and grasslands, when Spring is in the air we all feel it. Some people’s backyards have a view of the hills. You will be bewildered by an abundance of Chestnut trees, fragrant botanical gardens, and picturesque waterfalls and lakes.
Old-World Vibe – Even with skyscrapers and big commercial centers, the charm of old Gothic and Baroque buildings still bring back old Transylvanian mystery.
Contemporary Art – Cluj has many contributions in the international contemporary visual arts and the national performing arts. It is home to many known Romanian musicians who are energizing the country’s music scene. The taste is eclectic, far from ordinary.
What Makes Cluj a Great Place to Live?
In recent years, Cluj has seen huge economic growth and with it a boost in foreign investments. That boost also attracted an inflow of young, dynamic people which breathe new life into the city.
It is home to the country’s premier universities, banks, and IT companies.
Here is a video to show you just how amazing it is to live in Cluj-Napoca!
Quick and (semi) Interesting Facts
European Youth Capital in 2015 – Cluj-Napoca was awarded the title of European Youth Capital in 2015. Romanian youngsters participated in highlighting the cultural, social, political, and economic developments of the city.
They can easily integrate well into the community with 90% of Cluj citizens believing that foreign presence brings a positive impact to the city.
The Friendliest City in Europe – The Bohemian spirit is alive in Cluj. Out of 79 cities in the European Union, Cluj-Napoca was identified as the friendliest city — showing warm hospitality to foreign visitors.
The City with the Best Air Quality in Europe – In 2014, the French magazine We Demain ranked Cluj-Napoca as the city with the best air quality in EU. The pollution level is so low that it has not even exceeded the recommended level.
The Art City of the Future – The New York Times called Cluj a “hub for art” and the Huffington Post included Cluj as one of the 12 cities in the world that will “shake up the Art World in the 21st century”.
The eclectic tastes of the young contemporary artists have surely attracted the attention of these global media outfits. That just says a lot about our future domination in art.
The Economic Capital of Transylvania – In 2014, Forbes Romania has awarded Cluj-Napoca with the title of “Economic Capital of Transylvania” due to its impressive economic developments in the recent years.
Romania’s Most Attractive Growth Pole – In a study conducted by consulting company KPMG Romania and the Management Authority for the Regional Operational Programme (AM POR), the municipality of Cluj was hailed as the best among growth poles — stressing its well-managed absorption of European funds.
Did You Know?
Quality of Life – It is the core concept of the 2014-2020 development strategy.
City of Innovation – 1 in every 25 people living in Cluj are contributing to the IT sector that is continuing to grow, opening doors for more innovations that will also support other sectors, such as furniture, agriculture, and lifestyle.
Silicon Valley of Europe – It is considered to be the “Silicon Valley” of Europe with its fast-growing IT sector. Internet connection is the second fastest in the world, and the best in EU, according to Pando Networks.
Romanian’s Sports Capital – Cluj hosts major sports events in Romania. It has a very active community.
Move to Transylvania – Cluj has a higher quality of life than London or Paris, Barcelona, Prague or Manchester.
Untold Mystery Revealed
When Cluj-Napoca was chosen as the European Youth Capital in 2015, it hosted the first Untold Festival, Europe’s newest multi-genre and dance music festival.
A lineup of the world’s best DJs and international artists performed with more than 80 hours of non-stop techno dance music on several concert stages at the city-centre.
In 2015, the lineup consisted of Avicii, David Guetta, Dimitri Vegas, and Armin Van Buuren, among others.
In 2016, Tiesto and Afrojack hopped on board. Untold is the winner of the 2015 European Festival Awards as the Best Major Festival.
The next video will reveal how Untold Festival has taken over the mystical land of Transylvania:
Top 6 Places to Visit in Cluj-Napoca
Central Park – The life and energy of the city is strongly centered around this little piece of paradise. It is one of the main attractions in Cluj because it offers a lot for everyone. One can simply go for a stroll, find a lonely spot, and relax with a good book.
You can bring the entire family for dinner at one of the restaurants there, or setup a picnic blanket on the grass. Anyone can go and do aerobics, jogging or cycling, or simply hang out with friends.
During Summer, the lake is open for sightseeing while riding a Swan boat. During Winter, the lake becomes a place for ice-skating.
Turda Salt Mines – Transylvania truly has a penchant for mystery. Here's an underground carnival composed of mini golf, table tennis, Ferris wheel, mini bowling, and a pond complete with row boats.
To add to the enigma, these were all built 15 stories underground, enough to take you to a science or fantasy fiction setting you only see in movies.
No wonder some tourists are reminded of the lake in Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter’s 6th book.
Turda Gorge (“Cheile Turzii” in Romanian) – Located 15km southeast of Cluj-Napoca, it is one of the favorite places for picnics and outdoor activities in Romania. It is a natural sanctuary ideal for hiking and fun adventures.
The cliffs have a towering height of 80 meters with small waterfalls descending from them. It has an amazing landscape, caves, and wild vegetation.
King Matthias Corvinus Statue – The statue of Matthias Corvinus, the Hungarian King from the 15th-century, is a must-see. He was depicted in many Hungarian folk tales as a leader of fairness and who disguised himself to build a direct relationship with the people within his jurisdiction.
His good nature as a king of fairness is reflective of the Romanian people. In the background there's St. Michael’s Church, the country's biggest Gothic tower from the 14th-century.
Cluj-Napoca Botanical Garden – Its official name is “Alexandru Borza Cluj-Napoca University Botanic Garden”. It is not only a tourist destination but also a center for teaching and research.
It displays a large variety of flowers specific to the season. It has two main attractions, the Japanese Garden (with a Japanese-style house situated by a brook) and the Roman Garden (with the statue of the Roman God Ceres as the central image). Overall, peace and quiet dominate the place.
Cluj Arena – It is a multi-use stadium that can hold 30,000 people and is now ranked Category 4 in the UEFA Elite Stadium list. It is the home ground of FC Universitatea Cluj, Romanian professional football club. It's built on the same location where an old stadium was.
You can also find interesting things to do in Cluj-Napoca here and here, and places to visit around Cluj-Napoca here.
Top 12 Restaurants in Cluj
These are among the favorite food joints that both locals and tourists frequent. There is, for sure, a restaurant that will satisfy your taste buds, whatever delish you prefer.
Adi Steak House – The restaurant’s homey ambience would make you feel as though you are greeted by an old friend as you enter the door. They have the friendliest staff! And the steaks? Definitely the best in all of Romania, and arguably the best in the world.
Pokka Bistro – They have a fresh, new approach to Mexican and Tex-Mex food. Can’t go wrong with their Quesadillas and Tacos and they have awesome Guacamole. The place is lovely and small but not too crowded and the staff are friendly and attentive. (currently only delivery service available)
Olivo Caffe Cluj – Their chic and classy restaurant décor is just a backdrop to their amazingly great coffee and food. Never miss their cappuccino, it’s the best in town!
Baracca Cluj – It’s awarded The Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year in 2015 by Romanian TopHotel Awards. And what do customers have to say? They have excellent attention to details in the recipes, they have attentive staff, good timing for food preparation, and not only the best in Cluj-Napoca but better than many restaurants in Europe!
Via Cluj – The place is a fine-dining and has a romantic atmosphere coupled with creative presentation of food. It’s quite posh and serves really fine wines.
Camino Cluj – They serve the best and tastiest pasta and the prices are reasonable. If you like to eat at the terrace, they have blankets if you are cold. After your sumptuous meal, head over to Charlie for some drinks.
Charlie Pub – Get ready to be taken to a different time and place as Charlie gives you a nice fusion of modern and historic vibe. They have the best cocktails and the music is really nice… they play a lot of Jazz!
Zama Cluj – To have a taste of Romania’s authentic flavor, head on to Zama for some local Transylvanian dishes. Very close to the city center and they serve amazing mushroom soup and spinach with egg.
Joben – A perfect spot for a night cap. They have steam-punk-inspired interiors unique in Romania and they serve very good cocktails and carefully selected wines.
Casa Boema – You can have a serene dining experience at their awesome terrace, an open-air patio under the trees. A cozy place to have your brunch, lunch or dinner. And don’t forget to try their ribs!
Bujole – Go there for some fun evening with nice music and drinks. They also serve great food and coffee and the prefect ambience for an evening with friends.
Hanul Dacilor – It has an exquisite, traditional décor with wooden floor and tables. They serve traditional Romanian dishes in huge portions at an affordable price.
Livada – You can enjoy your nicely-prepared food in this garden restaurant. They have a nice space as a playground for children. Adults would love the jazz music playing in the background.
Fabrica de Bere URSUS– Ursus was an old beer factory so no wonder everyone is raving about how great their beer is. Inside, there’s still a hint of the old beer factory. Locals and tourists frequent this place for a total fun dining experience.
Café Bulgakov – An awesome place to get your authentic Hungarian food. It has a relaxed atmosphere, perfect if you want to have good food and drink while reading a book.
Restaurant Panoramic Cetăţuie – The food is just okay but the spectacular view has all the reasons why this place is a must to visit. It's located on top of a hill overlooking Cluj.
And these are some of the amazing things about the city I call home…
I could never find an article to have everything I wanted to say about Cluj-Napoca, so this is my try at it. If there's something missing (important), feel free to post it in the comments.
If you love Cluj and you think more people should know about it, please share this article.
Video credits: Lazar – Stories in Motion, Untold SRL