Looking back at my posts from Romania, I realised that I only ever shared a post on places to eat from the Transylvanian city of Cluj-Napoca. That’s a pity, as the cosmopolitan Cluj was probably my favourite big city stop during my Romanian travels. Found in the country’s northwest, it is considered the unofficial capital of Transylvania and is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the country.
The most likely focus of a visit to the city will be around its central Old Town, made up of several pedestrian streets and squares that have a welcoming atmosphere to them. As it happened, the city was having a massive festival going on during my visit and that only added to its upbeat, positive atmosphere. I never got a clear answer on what the festival was for, but it was good fun regardless.
Anyway, without further ado, here is my list of 11 sights to see in Cluj-Napoca.
1. Cluj-Napoca Central Park
It may seem kind of lame to start with a park, but I honestly really liked this park and always got the sense that Romanians really value these green spaces. That’s partly because they are never empty, there’s always people sitting having a chatting or getting some exercise and just a general community feel. The park runs along the river and stretches out towards a small lake that was clearly a very popular spot for wedding receptions and photo shoots.
2. Morii Canal
Just over the road from the park towards Old Town was this cute little canal. Morii Canal may seem like a small spot, but it’s a nice little canal that flows through the old town and was nice, unexpected find. You can find the canal again further to the east on Andrei Șaguna Street, where things have a little less polish and you get a more realistic, balanced look at Cluj’s development and progress over the recent years.
3. St. Michael’s Church
Quite likely the major landmark of Cluj-Napoca, St Michael’s Church is quite an impressive church in particular for its style and shape. You don’t often see the church spire coming from the centre of the church like this and its roof was exactly what I thought of when I heard the word “Transylvania”. Before the church is the dignified statue to Matthias Corvinus, a medieval king of Hungary who was born in the city of Cluj in 1443.
4. Piața Unirii
Cluj-Napoca is home to some beautiful buildings from a range of architectural periods, but for Baroque architecture the central Unirii Square is the place to be. From this square, you can see spy some graceful buildings like the Banffy Palace opposite the church. There’s also the twin buildings either side of Iuliu Maniu Street that represent the equally common eclectic style from the 19th century. It’s also the place to be when a festival is happening in town, with a free concert on while I visited.
5. Piața Muzeului
This small square secluded within the streets of the Old Town is probably one of the prettiest spots in the city. Surrounded by an elegant church and plenty of restored buildings, plus full of outdoor seating for restaurants, Piața Muzeului is definitely a nice place to stop for a break while out exploring.
6. Old Town Streets
Working your way into the minor streets of the Old Town can help you escape the bustle of the modern city that surrounds it. Unlike many European old towns, you can still find plenty of buildings that have seen better days. I found the atmosphere tends to fluctuate from quiet and peaceful before and after lunch to lively and social at lunch and in the evenings. As Cluj-Napoca has quite a large student population it can be a lot of fun in the Old Town with its many laid-back bars.
7. Old Fortifications
Walking around Cluj-Napoca, you don’t really find many too many spots that truly indicate its long history and that’s because they’re often tucked away or further out. This definitely goes for remains of the City Walls that are hidden in the pedestrian part of Strada Potaissa in a corner of the Old Town. There’s also the nearby Tailors’ Tower, with its rather wonky, abstract shape that now hosts a small museum I believe.
8. Cluj-Napoca National Theatre
One of the more beautiful buildings to admire in the city of Cluj-Napoca has to be the city’s National Theatre. It certainly has the style and colour scheme you often associate with Eastern European architecture and is surrounded either side by some pleasant squares. The Courthouses over the road are also worth a look.
9. Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral
Wholly different to St Michael’s Church is the Orthodox Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral. This Byzantine-style cathedral built in the early 20th century, almost looks like a fortress with its imposing shape. Inside, you can see some gorgeous gilded murals and other fine craftsmanship. Definitely one to go into – for free mind you.
10. Piața Mihai Viteazu
There hasn’t been much in the way of Communist architecture up to this point, but that all changes around Piața Mihai Viteazu. This square sits in front of a rather unattractive building that harkens back to the socialist period. The square itself is quite nice, with a small war memorial and a statue to Mihai Viteazu, a Romanian national hero who effectively ruled Transylvania during the 16th century. A monument I really liked.
11. Cetatuia Park
Fittingly left to last because it makes for such a wonderful spot to watch the sunset, is the hilltop viewpoint Cetatuia Park, where the old city fortress once lay. While you can explore the park and the occasional ruins from the old fortress, its big selling point is the great views you get and its unsurprisingly a popular spot with both local students and families alike. Just be prepared for plenty of steps to get up there.
Have you visited Cluj-Napoca before? If so, where else would you add to this list? If not, which of the above would be your first stop? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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