A local of Cluj-Napoca, Catalina Ghelan provides s with an incredible episode in the 48 Hours in-series that takes place in a city located right in the middle of Budapest and Varna.
Catalina’s Cluj Napoca Travel Guide sticks out through its richness in information and links as well as through the splendid pictures she took. Cluj-Napoca is not only Romania’s second largest city – it is a regional center with a surrounding picturesque nature that puts the area around Wroclaw to shame.
Well known for its great nightlife and the high quality of living Cluj-Napoca is a definite hidden gem in travel destinations for men.
Romania is not a very famous country, except maybe for negative things, especially in the EU, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have amazing things to offer to travelers. Besides spectacular mountains and beaches at the Black Sea, we also have lots of medieval castles and many relatively well-preserved old towns. But, if you’re more into an urban experience, you have just as much come to the right place.
Cluj Napoca is the second biggest city in the country, after the capital, Bucharest. It is situated right in the heart of an area called Transylvania. Yes, that’s right, Transylvania is not a mythical, magical land, but an actual region in the North-West of Romania.
Coming in second doesn’t mean Cluj Napoca can’t offer a first-class traveling experience. The city is, first and foremost, an academic center, with many top universities and thousands of young people so you can be sure that it’s a youthful and fun city to visit. There are many diverse festivals taking place on a regular basis and it has a thriving nightlife.
All the young people that live here have amazing ideas and initiatives and you’ll have a hard time getting bored here.
How to get there
- By air
The city has a relatively small airport, but that one has very good connections to all of Europe, mainly through WizzAir which offers some of the cheapest flights and is, by far, one of the best ways to get here.
You can either check Wizz Air’s website, or you can check the airport’s website to see if there’s a connection from your city of departure. There are a few connections with Lufthansa Airlines that occasionally offers cheaper flights than WizzAir, especially if you book them in advance. The other carriers offer tickets that are a lot more expensive, but it’s a good thing that the majority of the flights are operated by Wizz Air.
Here is a map showing all the connections that Cluj Napoca has with the rest of Europe ( all carriers).
- By car
The best way to get here by car is probably by entering the country from the Hungarian border. From there you will drive 3-4 hour until you get here. It used to be a hard and demanding ride to Cluj-Napoca because of the state of the roads, but as of today most of them are in good shape and driving goes relatively smooth. If you’re coming from the capital, Bucharest, it will take a bit longer, about 6-7 hours, because you will need to cross the Carpathian Mountains.
- By train
Cluj Napoca is well-connected by rail-roads with most of the country, but only has a few links to the rest of the Europe, most importantly to Budapest.
You must know, though, that the trains in Romania are not as reliable as the ones from Germany, for example. They are often delayed and some of them travel very slowly and stop in every village. It doesn’t mean it can’t be a great experience though, because you will most likely make some friends along the way – because the train ride is quite long, most people start conversations with strangers who are sitting next to them to make the time pass by.
If you’d like an experience like that, I definitely recommend taking the train at least once while you’re here. You won’t get to your destination as soon as possible, and you will probably arrive later than you expected, but you will meet some interesting people along the way and you’ll be able to admire the landscapes.
The city of Cluj Napoca
The city has a medium size, with a population ranging from 300.000-400.000, depending on the season. The reason for this variation is the big number of students, who come here from all over Romania and some from other countries.
Where to Stay
For accommodation, you can check either Airbnb or Booking, they both offer a diverse range of places to stay at.
The prices vary quite a lot, but if you do your research well, you should be able to find a decent place to stay for about 20 Euros per night, putting Cluj Napoca on the same level as Varna (in off-season) Or, if you’ve made some friends on the train ride, they might offer you a room in their apartment for free or for a smaller fee.
If you prefer not to rent an apartment but to stay in a hotel/hostel then have a look at these recommendations:
Cheap hostels (starting at 12 Euros per night)
- Retro Hostel – well-kept hostel, 1 min from downtown square, private room for 22€, breakfast & wifi included.
- Hostel Cluj – located across from Retro Hostel, slightly bigger, private room from 36€, bunk bed in 6-bed-room from 14€.
Medium priced accommodation (between 20-40 Euros per night)
- Hotel Sport – well-maintained 2-star hotel in the heart of the city.
- Panoramic Cetățuie – picturesque 3-star hotel a stone’s throw away from Oldtown
High priced accommodation (over 40 Euros per night)
- Cluj Apartments – very nicely decorated apartments, located in the city center
- Hotel Beyfin – gorgeous 4-star hotel in the heart of Oldtown (double room from 62,10€)
The traffic in Cluj Napoca is pretty bad, especially at rush-hour, since it has narrow streets and way too many cars. Parking also is a problem in the city center, but lucky for you, if you find a hotel/hostel downtown, most of the important places are close by and you can get there in a short walk so you won’t have to deal with the traffic.
If you want to take a cab, you won’t have to worry about the price as they all have the same price (around 0,5 Euros per km), which is a very useful thing.
At night, taxi drivers often wait near the night-clubs, so you won’t have any trouble finding one, when you want to go home after a night out. And during the day, you can use the great smartphone app CleverTaxi that will spot your location and let you call a cab with a tap of your finger. It’s free and you can see how close the driver is to you on the integrated map.
As I mentioned earlier, most of the interesting places can be reached by walking and you’ll find many locals who will be happy to explain to you how to get to a certain place. Most of the young people speak pretty good English and are very open to foreigners so you won’t have any trouble with getting directions.
In Cluj, we love our coffee, and you’ll see that there’s probably a coffeeshop at every corner.
Many of them have photos or paintings by local artists on their walls so you’ll be able to enjoy a coffee and admire some modern art at the same time. Most of them also have free WIFI which is great for any traveler for keeping in touch with family and friends and for finding out what they’re going to do next. Just ask the bartender for the password and enjoy Romanian high-speed internet.
What to do
For people coming from Western Europe, they’ll be very happy to learn that the price for a beer in Cluj Napoca ranges from 1-3 Euros, even in the most expensive nightclubs. It’s an absolute bargain and there are a lot of great options to choose from – you can try our range of local beers or you can stick with your favorite imported one. Either way, you’ll be able to spend less on this “essential” purchase.
If you prefer other types of drinks, a glass of wine costs somewhere around 2-3 Euros, and you can enjoy a cocktail for 3-4 Euros. For locals, the prices aren’t as low as they might seem for someone coming from a Western country, but it’s still affordable.
Note that Romania is not part of the Euro zone and that you will have to pay in the local currency of the Lew. But as an avid reader of Euromentravel.com’s unbeatable travel tips you are most likely already aware of the best advice to save money when you travel so getting your hands on the local money without any kind of hassle will be no big deal to you.
- During the day
As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend going to one of the many coffee shops that the city has to offer, even if you’re not a coffee drinker. Go for the art, for the funky decor or for the free internet and you won’t regret it. Some of the most interesting ones are:
- L’atelier Cafe – with all the tables and chairs made of cardboard (no joke)
- Yolka – which has a tree on the ceiling
- Bulgakov – which always has a different range of photographs and paintings on its walls
- Joben – one of the most impressive ones, it was featured in many international toplists of the best bars because of its steampunk themed design.
Naturally, we have many other things to offer other than coffee-shops.
For instance, you can take a short tour of the Pharmacy Museum (it’s a bit creepy), you can take a walk around the old town, on paved narrow streets and take a few photos, you can visit the Botanical Garden, you can climb the Cetatuia Hill and have a panoramic view of the city.
You can check our calendar, and see if there are any interesting festivals going on. I highly recommend coming here during a festival, because of the many diverse activities that you’ll be able to experience. And I’m not just talking about music and concerts;
Cluj has many types of festivals, with much diverse activities to go along with them: indie movies, fun and quirky seminars, graffiti competitions, skateboarding contests, and many others. Other cool activities are: spending a lazy morning in a hammock in the Central Park or playing a room-escape game where you’ll be locked in a room and you’ll have to search for clues on how to get out of there. All that in 60 minutes.
- The nightlife
Cluj Napoca has some of the most active nightlife in all of Romania.
On a regular Saturday night, all of the bars and clubs are full and there are many styles of music that you can choose from. Most of the bars and pubs don’t have an entrance fee, only the clubs do. Even there, the entrance is quite affordable at somewhere around 5-10 Euros. If you want more of a fun evening with friends where you can hear each other’s stories you could go to a bar like Shadow Bar, Irish Music & Pub, Casa TIFF, The Shelter or even experience the Communist vibe at The Soviet.
If you’d rather go for a night of dancing, you can choose from our many clubs, like NOA, The Sin or The One. There are many more pubs, clubs and bars, of course, but if I were to list them all here, it would take me a few pages, so I’ll let you discover the “hidden gems” on your own and let you decide which one is your favorite.
If you prefer nature instead of a crowded club, you can also go camping in one of our many forests that surround the city. Of course, the most famous one is the Hoia Forrest, which is presumably a hotspot for aliens and paranormal activity. Sometimes, there are organized activities in this forest hosted by the people who own the room-escape venues – it’s a unique experience, that’s worth trying at least once in a lifetime.
Cluj Napoca was elected the European Youth Capital this year, and for good reason: it’s the perfect place for young people, and many of those who come here to study end up settling here, because of the professional opportunities and the endless options of spending your free time. There are a lot of activities going on at any time and a lot of unique places, people are very friendly and all in all, it’s a great city, no matter if you’re just visiting or if you want to live here.
Want more from the same author?
Be sure to check out Catalina‘s Linkedin Profile and connect with her through her Facebook page.
In case you were wondering where the tremendous photography of Oldtown Cluj-Napoca stems from have a look at Christi Misan’s portfolio
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