Presentation of the destination
Cluj-Napoca is Romania’s second largest city, behind Bucharest. Located in central Romania, Cluj, as it is commonly known, is home to some of Transylvania’s best museums for history buffs, including the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania and the History Museum of Transylvania. It’s not surprising that Cluj-Napoca has such an interesting history since it was an important urban center of the Roman Empire. Cluj is also an extremely picturesque city with the medieval Old Town being preserved. Nature lovers will enjoy the Botanical Garden as well as Cluj’s close proximity to many beautiful natural sights perfect for day-trips including forests and the Turda Gorges. In the city, lovers of the arts will include the National Theatre and the Museum of Art on their to-do lists. St. Michael’s Church, in the center of the city, is an important historical and cultural landmark. A visit to Cluj can fit in nicely with a visit to some of the other important cities of Eastern Europe.
Points of interests / things to see
Located in the former building of the Transylvanian Diet (Parliament), the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania features a collection of traditional peasant textiles and artifacts, as well as a collection of historical documents. Visitors can learn more about the folk traditions and customs of the residents of Transylvania thanks to exhibits on home life, dress, entertainment, cooking, and traditional trade. The museum also dedicates an exhibit to exploring traditional ceremonies and celebrations such as weddings and funerals, as well as traditional holiday celebrations such as Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and the arrival of Spring. There is also a beautiful ceramic pottery collection. The museum is a great introduction into Romanian and Transylvanian culture and ways of life. There are also exhibits dedicated to typical folk instruments of Romania and the Transylvanian region and the museum also hosts a Romanian music archive. The museum was renovated in 2013 thus it is well-curated and presents a charming way to get to know this vibrant culture. Admission is approximately $2 USD. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on weekends 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Closed Mondays. Located at Str. Memorandumului nr 21, 400114 Cluj-Napoca, Romania. For more information visit http://www.muzeul-etnografic.ro/.
The National Museum of History is located at Str. Dr. Daicovici 2. It is one of Romania’s oldest museums dating back to a collection which was founded in 1859. The museum is notable for its extended historical focus as its exhibits go back to Paleolithic times. There is evidence that Cluj had been settled as early as the Neolithic era and the Bronze Age and the museum features artifacts from that time including stone tools, mammoth bones, decorated pottery, and ritual objects. Cluj was also home to the Dacian civilization in the early A.D. centuries before becoming a Roman territory during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. The area around Cluj was home to many Roman military encampments, providing a wealth of artifacts for contemporary archaeologists which are now housed at the museum. Roman villas of the wealthier classes have also been excavated, and the museum artifacts show some examples of life from Roman high society including lamps and statues of gods. As Rome transitioned to Christianity so did Cluj so artifacts reflect a mixture of old Roman beliefs and new Christian ones. Later in the Middle Ages, Cluj was a Hungarian territory and later became part of the Hapsburg empire. The museum contains artifacts such as documents, coins, and decorative art from the Middle Ages to modern and contemporary history. The museum itself is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00am to 4:00pm and is closed on Mondays. For more information, visit http://www.museum.utcluj.ro/.
St. Michael’s is the true center of town, built in the Gothic style. It is the second-largest church in Transylvania. Construction was said to have begun in the mid 14th century, with financial support from local believers. The church took over 100 years to complete. Notably, due to Cluj’s absorption by the Hungarian empire, Protestant ideas began to gain a foothold in Cluj, notably those of Luther and Calvin. Thus, St. Michael’s was converted to a Protestant church during the 16th and 17th century. In Cluj, Unitarianism, a comparatively radical sect of Protestantism with a rejection of the Trinity, was ascendant, and St. Michael’s became one of Unitarianism’s centers. However, when Cluj became part of the Hapsburg empire, the church was seized and re-converted back to a Catholic church, which it remained (though out of official use during the Communist period). The church is notable for its star-shaped vault and stained glass windows. Recent restoration works also revealed the partial remains of some 15th century frescoes,which were probably destroyed during the Protestant era. Visitors can climb the church tower for spectacular panoramic views of Cluj. Located at Piata Unirii (Union Square), the church is conveniently located in the city center.
The Botanical Garden in Cluj falls under the direction of Babes-Bolyai University. The gardens are officially named the Alexandru Borza Botanical Gardens after their founder, a professor. The garden is home to over 10,000 varieties of plants. Not just an aesthetically pleasing place, the garden is also home to research conducted by teams of students and professors from Cluj and beyond. The garden is arranged functionally, thus visitors can see collections of plants and flowers ranging from ornamental to medicinal to a collection of greenhouses arranged by climate. The garden also contains a Japanese garden which attracts many visitors, which includes a Japanese-style building. One of the other main draws to the garden is the Roman garden which hearkens back to Cluj’s roots and includes some archaeological artifacts found nearby. The Roman garden features typical plants and crops that would have been raised during that era and continue to be staples in agricultural production today. The garden is open year-round from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., though the greenhouses have separate hours and depend on the seasons. Admission to the garden is approximately $1.50 USD, with discounts available for students and seniors. Located at 42 Republicii Street. Visit http://www.ubbcluj.ro/en/structura/sport/botanica.html for more information.
The Museum of Art is located in the main square of the city, Union Square, along with St. Michael’s Church. Housed in the Banffy Palace, an 18th century Baroque-style building, the museum contains a collection of Romanian artists who both emulate the styles and movements of their European contemporaries and develop a style of their own. Thusly, the older works from the 16th century are religious in nature while the beginning of the 20th century marked the ascendance of the avant-garde. Some of the renowned artists featured in the museum include Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907), Theodor Aman (1831-1891) and Theodor Pallady (1871-1956). Exhibits also include antique furniture, cutlery, and decorative elements which represent the style of the wealthy classes during the Banffy family’s occupation of the Palace. One of the nice features of the museum for visitors is that visitors can choose different ticket pricing levels depending on how many exhibitions you want to see. Prices are approximately $1.25 USD for one exhibition while a choice of three exhibitions costs approximately $3 USD. Discounts available for students and senior citizens. The museum also plays host to a number of temporary exhibitions. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 12:00p.m. to 7:00p.m. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more information, visit http://cimec.ro/Muzee/Cluj/index_eng.htm.
Just 30km outside of Cluj visitors will find the castle known as “the Versailles of Transylvania.” This 15th century castle complex bears elements of Renaissance, neo-Gothic, and Baroque styles as different architects added their stamp throughout the centuries. Much of the castle today is in ruins, but restoration works are underway. Visitors can stroll the grounds and imagine how the nobility lived in Romania. There is a cafe available on the grounds for visitors to relax and enjoy drinks and snacks. The gardens of the castle are also worth a visit and contain hints of influences from the royal palaces of France. Admission to the castle grounds is less than $1 USD per person. Located in Bondita, a village outside of Cluj. For more information, visit http://www.wonderfulromania.ro/en/banffy-de-la-bondita-versailles-ul-transilvaniei-langa-cluj/.
The Turda Gorge was formed during the Jurassic Period due to erosion. Today this natural wonder is a must-see attraction in Romania. There are many hidden caves within the rock formations making it a great place for hikers and climbers to explore. Climbers will also enjoy the “Huge Wall” with a height of 200m. There are four bridges suspended over different parts of the gorge which allow you to cross the Hasdate river. The landscape is beautiful and visitors may also enjoy the opportunity to see it from above as paragliding opportunities are also available dependent on the season and weather. The paths in the park are at times difficult and thus hiking and climbing should be done with caution. Located approximately 30km from Cluj.
In conjunction with the Ethnographic Museum in Cluj, there is the Ethnographic Park located on the outskirts of the city (accessible by bus from Cluj). The Ethnographic Park is actually a restored village of traditional buildings including a wooden church and artisanal workshops. Many of the artifacts exhibited and even the structures themselves date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The park opens at 9am but closing hours depend on the season (in winter [October through February] the last entrance is at 3pm). Admission is 6 RON (approximately $2 USD) with discounts for students and seniors. For more information visit http://www.visitclujnapoca.ro/en/atractii-turistice/muzee/the-romulus-vuia-national-ethnographic-park.html.
Approximately 2 hours drive from Cluj-Napoca, Bistriţa is the perfect destination for a day trip. This former fortress town is extremely well preserved and contains many historic buildings including 15th and 16th century merchant houses, surrounded by 13th century fortress walls. The town is also known due to its mention in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Some of the hightlights include medieval guildhouses and the Saxon Evangelical Church. Bistriţa is accessible from Cluj by train, however the train takes approximately 3 hours and thus it is more convenient to drive or take the bus (2 hour travel time). The old quarter of the city is very walkable.
Vacation rentals in Cluj-napoca (Cluj County)
How to get there ?
AirCluj-Napoca has its own International Airport with frequent flights to and from other destinations in Europe including Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna, Stuttgart, Milan, Barcelona, Rome, Munich, Frankfurt, and London, amongst others. Lufthansa, WizzAir, Czech Air, and Tarom, a Romanian airline, all service the airport. The city center is accessible from the airport by bus (runs until midnight), or by a shuttle operated by WizzAir. Those looking to rent a car will also find Europcar and Avis available at the airport.TrainRomania has an extensive train network run by the national rail company CFR, which offers InterCity (IC) service between Cluj and most Romanian cities and towns. However, the train can be rather slow, with a trip between Bucharest and Cluj taking nearly 9 hours. Trains to Budapest in neighboring Hungary are also approximately 8-9 hours. Because of the advent of low-cost airlines it may be advantageous to consider flying between cities.BusFor those on a budget the bus is a good option for getting around Romania. The bus between Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca also takes approximately 9 hours (though there are rapid buses that take 8 hours) but prices are very low, approximately $20USD one way. The company Eurobusways also offers bus routes from Budapest and Vienna to Cluj and the buses usually have Wifi. There are also private shuttles that operate between the Budapest airport and Cluj (a 6-8 hour drive depending on traffic).Within the city of Cluj itself there is a bus and tram network operated by RATUC. Tickets are affordable at less than $2 USD per ride. BikeBiking is a popular way to get around Cluj. There are several shops that offer bike rentals and most hotels and hostels will either have connections to a bike rental program or can let you know where to rent one in the city. One of the best known is “Down Town Rent-a-Bike” located at Strada David Ferenc no. 13. As of 2013 there are also plans to develop a bike sharing program similar to Velib in Paris or Citibike in New York.
Hotels in Cluj-napoca (Cluj County)