Cluj- Napoca is one of Romania's largest and most important cities. While it does not have the name recognition like Brasov does, its history and importance shouldn't be overlooked. Starting as a Roman settlement in the 2nd century AD, Napoca grew into being a controlling city for Transylvania and the area. With royalty calling it home, churches were built, schools were opened, and the city grew rapidly. Today it is the second largest city by population bolstered by a huge student population (second largest university in the country) and is one of the few cities that sees consistent growth.
What to do
St. Michael's Church
As Cluj has been a major city in Romania since it was occupied by the Romans, it should come as no surprise that it also has some fantastic churches. St. Michael's Church dominates the Unirii square and has stood the test of time since it ground-breaking in 1316. Taking over 150 years to complete, the massive church (second largest in Transylvania behind the Black Church) has been the site of some of the most important events in Cluj's history including several royal appointings. The church is currently under renovations and is closed to the public, however, the exterior is quite stunning itself. Make sure to walk around the square and get a bite to eat in view of it.
Attached to one of the largest universities in Romania is the city's Botanical Garden. Started in 1871, the 10-hectare garden is divided into numerous areas and contains over 10,000 species from around the world with a portion dedicated to Romanian Flora. There is a Japanese garden with a creek and house and the one of a kind Roman garden. Built into the archeological remains of the Roman city of Napoca, the garden is truly one of a kind!
There seem to be spots around the world that have more alien activity than others- or so some people believe. This is one of those spots. Since the 60s there have been frequent reports of strange activity in the area including lights, sounds, and general uneasy feelings. It doesn’t help that hundreds of trees in the forest have a sharp bend at their base. To top it all off, there is a circle in the middle of the forest that nothing grows! What is truly going on will probably be a mystery forever! To get there your best bet is to take an uber each way for roughly 25 or 30 Lei as the public transport system around town takes you just outside and therefore quite the walk to the entrance of the forest. Use'Derekk353lue' to get $5 off your first ride.
Covid Conscious Activities
With Covid-19 being such a huge factor in daily life, it is important to take steps towards a safer holiday like trying to limit your daily contact with others. Keep up to date with the latest local advisories and information.
Cluj may not be one of the most popular cities in Romania but that plays to its advantage when it comes to travel post Covid-19. Without the flocks of tourists, main squares like Unirii can be much more enjoyable and calmer then Brasov or Bucharest. Hoija Forest is also just on the edge of the city if you want to walk with the supernatural. Not only are the trees in the forest curved at their trunks, but a massive circle in the centre seems to excite all sort of the paranormal!Try taking a self guided walking tour or audio tour to learn more about the city while staying socially distant from others.
Where to Stay
Cluj is home to one of the largest universities in Romania and thus a huge student population. This brings with it lots of restaurants, cafes, and bars but the city lacks true attractions. We would suggest trying to stay near Unirii Square as there are lots of restaurants around, but you can also stay near the main train station if you are wanting to go on a day trip outside the city. As it has a huge university population, there are a ton of Airbnbs available especially in the central area with lots of food and drink options around.
How to get there and around
Cluj has an excellent bus system allowing you to get all around the city without much struggle. At many of the main stations, there will be both machines as well as a staffed kiosk selling tickets. You can only use cash at the kiosks and tickets have to be bought in sets of two. Similar to Brasov, we did see many people using the two sides of the ticket for 2 people travelling one way.
As Cluj is one of the biggest cities, it is a large train hub allowing access to pretty much all parts of the country and beyond! This is great as many of the sites you want to see are outside of the city.
With a large university population, Cluj-Napoca is a hub for low-cost carriers thus is a great spot to fly into or out of. Without a subway system, there are 2 main ways to get from the airport to town. The first is with a taxi or ride-sharing service. Depending on where you are going, this will probably only cost about 10 Lei and should be quick and efficient. Use'Derekk353lue' to get $5 off your first Uber ride. The alternative option is using city buses. There are several lines that run to the airport so ask the person at the kiosk or even a local what is the best option from the stop you are at.
This is by far our top suggestion for a day trip from Cluj. Not only is Turda home to the spectacular salt mine, museum, and underground amusement park, it also has the breathtaking Turda Gorge. On the edge of Turda, you find Salina Turda which is a millennium-old underground salt mine. A staggeringly large amount of salt has been harvest from beneath your feet allowing for an incredibly unique place to visit. Take a ride on a Ferris wheel or take out a rowboat in the underground lake! Once you have got your fill of what is said to be healthy salt air, head just out of town to Turda Gorge an area where it seems the ground was literally ripped apart allowing for an amazing river to flow through. The beautiful walk that you can do through the gorge takes you over the river on a series of suspension bridges and in one spot you actually have to hold on to chains in order to get around the cliff face!
About 2 hours directly south on the train is Alba Iulia with its star-shaped fortress. This is one of the coolest fortresses that you will ever come across as it holds a true city behind the 6 points of the walls. With wide tree-lined boulevards, massive churches, universities, and a castle within a castle, it is not hard to forget that you are within the walls! While the site is massive, we found there was not much else to do in the town so suggest to do it as a day trip or as part of a great road trip!