Cluj-Napoca (Cluj for short) is very pleasant university town located in Romania’s northeast and a big stopping point for people traveling west from Hungary. Most people who visit Cluj do so as they pass in or out of Romania.
As on the country’s biggest cities, there’s a lot to do here. The city dates back centuries, and there tons of historical churches, museums, and ruins (especially on Cetatuia Hill) to visit. And, because of the university here, there are a lot of affordable restaurants and a very happening nightlife here.
I really liked the few days I spent here and, while not as historic and medieval as many of Romania’s other cities if you’re looking for a city with a Romanian atmosphere, this place is it!
This travel guide to Cluj will give you the lowdown of everything you need to know to plan your visit to this fun and hip city!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cluj-Napoca
1. Alexandru Borza Botanic Gardens
2. Walk through Union Square
3. See St. Michael’s Church
4. Tour the National Art Museum
5. Visit the Synagogue of Deportees
Other Things to See and Do in Cluj-Napoca
1. Explore the Museum of Zoology
This museum features hundreds of jarred and stuffed animal specimens. It has a rather dated, unkempt feel to it, which just makes the museum feel even more authentic and creepy. It’s not for the faint of heart (they have some unsettling specimens, such as a two-headed cow calf). The museum can be hard to find but it’s worth the effort as there are some 300,00 items here. Admission costs 8 RON for adults and 4 RON for students and seniors.
2. Revel in the nightlife
Cluj is a town full of youthful, college types (it’s a university town after all). That means there are plenty of places to grab a drink. The weekends are pretty lively, as the drinks flow freely and the resident DJs spin late into the night. Some places worth checking out are Charlie’s Pub (if you like whiskey), The Londonder (if you want a pub), and Booha Bar (which is a popular student bar).
3. Check out the Pharmaceutical Museum
The Museum of Pharmacy (often called the Hintz House) is home of Cluj’s first (and Romania’s fourth) apothecary. It originally opened in 1573 and has essentially been around ever since (it was briefly closed during the communist era). There are tons of interesting bottles filled with questionable potions (such as 18th-century aphrodisiacs or ground mummy dust). The museum only has three rooms but it illuminates what medicine was like in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (spoiler alert: it was grim). Admission is 6 RON. Note: The museum is currently closed for renovations but will reopen in 2020.
4. Catch an opera
The Hungarian State Theatre & Opera is close to the river and hosts both plays and operas — many of which offer English subtitles. While the opera house was built in 1910, the Hungarian State Theatre actually dates back to 1792. Tickets must be purchased in advance and usually cost around 40 RON per person. The National Theatre Lucain Blaga is another place to see a performance as they regularly have plays, musicals, and operas on display as well.
5. Shop at the central market
Located behind the Complex Commercial Mihai Viteazul shopping center, this market is where you’ll find locals picking up their fresh produce. You can find a wide variety of foods if you feel like cooking up your own meals like hearty vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, and cabbage are all quite common and affordable, as are local dairy products. It’s the best (and cheapest) place to get produce in the city. Many vendors might not speak English, so prepare to use hand gestures (or download a language app) to overcome the language barrier.
6. Climb Cetatuia Hill
Also known as fortress hill, this spot offers some fantastic views of the city. The name refers to an 18th-century fortress that was constructed at the peak of the hill (which was also used as a prison). Only a small amount of the original building remains. The hill is only 400m high so it’s not a strenuous or long walk. If you feel like splashing out, there’s even a restaurant at the top where you can enjoy some traditional food (at an inflated price) as you gaze out over the city.
7. Admire the Calvinist Reformed Church
This beautiful late Gothic-style church was constructed in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and is part of the Calvinist tradition, which was briefly the dominant religion in the region. In front of the church lies a statue of St. George slaying the dragon, a popular story in Christian mythology.
8. Visit the Ethnographic Museum
The museum is home to over 40,000 objects from the 17th-20th centuries, all of which are peasant-related (as opposed to items from royalty, which is what many museums usually present). It’s a small and informative museum with over 80,000 items in its collection. It will give you some insight into typical rural life in the area that you won’t find in a guidebook. Admission is 6 RON per person.
9. Explore Hoia Forest
This infamous forest has been the site of many alleged ghost and UFO sightings over the centuries (as well as other paranormal activities). In fact, it’s often considered the creepiest forest in the world! Here, trees here warped and bent in unsettling (science hasn’t been able to explain why the trees grow this way). Take a stroll through the woods during the day for free (lots of locals walk here) or do a guided night tour! Night tours cost 85-190 RON per person.
10. See the Salt Mine in Turda
Located just under an hour from the city, the mine dates back to antiquity and was used throughout the Middle Ages. You’ll see how they got the salt to the surface before the invention of modern machinery as you explore the deep, dark, and cool depths of the mine. There’s a small underground lake at the bottom where you and rent a boat and paddle around, games (like bowling and mini-golf), and even a Ferris wheel! It’s a good place to visit with kids, and there is also a spa here if you want to treat yourself to some natural remedies. Admission is 40 RON for adults and 20 RON for seniors, students, and children.
11. Take a free walking tour
Cluj Guided Tours offers 2 daily walking tours in English that can help you deepen your understanding of the city and its people. You’ll see all the main sights and learn about the city’s past with much more detail then you’d get from a guidebook. The tours are held at 11am and 6pm every day and last a couple of hours.
12. Relax in Central Park
Founded in the 19th century, this large urban park is a great place to go for a stroll or sit back and relax with a book. Located on the southern shore of the Somesul Mic river, the park is home to a man-made lake, trails, and a pavilion to relax in. The University of Arts and Design and the Chemistry Faculty of the Babe?-Bolyai University can also be found here.
For more information on specific cities in Romania, check out these guides:
Cluj-Napoca Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostels start around 50-60 RON per night for an 8-bed dorm. Expect to pay at least 150 RON for a private room with a double bed. Wi-Fi and lockers are common, and a few hostels also include free towels. Free breakfast is available in around half the hostels in town so shop around if that’s a priority for you.
Camping is possible in the area, though you’ll want to stick to dedicated campgrounds. Wild camping is legal but theft is a bit common so it’s much safer to camp in designated areas. Prices start at 25 RON per night for a basic plot.
Budget hotel prices – There are only a few budget hotels here. Mid-range 3-star hotels are much more common. They start at 130 RON per night. Most will include free Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs, and coffee/tea makers. Many also include free breakfast as well. There are only a couple mid-range hotels that have pools, but if that’s a priority expect to pay around 220 RON per night.
Airbnb is available in the city, though shared rooms are virtually non-existent. For your own room, prices will be at least 75 RON while an entire home/apartment will cost around 160 RON per night.
Food – Cheap meals in Cluj cost around 25 RON. Soup is a good option for saving money, as it costs around 10-15 RON and is pretty hearty (it also typically comes with a side of free bread). A meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost closer to 50 RON for a three-course meal, while fast food will be around 19 RON. A beer out at a restaurant or bar will cost around 10 RON, while you can get it for less than half that price if you buy it in a store.
If you buy your own groceries and cook your meals, expect to pay about 140-190 RON per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods. Save money by shopping at discount supermarkets like Profi, Lidl, and Penny Market.
Backpacking Cluj-Napoca Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Cluj for 125-170 RON ($30-40 USD) per day. On this budget, you’re staying in a hostel dorm (or camping), cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. On this budget, you’ll also have to stick to mostly free activities (like hiking or free walking tours) and limit the number of paid attractions you see. If you want to drink more, add $5-10 USD per day to your budget.
On a mid-range budget of about 255-365 RON ($60-85 USD), you’ll be able to stay in a budget hotel with a double bed, eat out for all your meals at budget-friendly restaurants, and see any paid sites you want (such as museums, the opera, or the salt mine).
On a luxury budget of 640 RON ($150+ USD), you can stay in a nice hotel, eat out for every meal, rent a car, and visit as many museums and attractions as you’d like. The sky is the limit here!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Cluj-Napoca Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Cluj is pretty cheap. First, Romania itself is cheap. Second, Cluj is a university town so there’s tons of students around and that always means cheaper prices! It’s hard to spend money here if you’re coming with a budget mindset already. That said, there are a few things you can do to save money in Cluj if you look for them:
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see. It’s a great community to be a part of.
- Eat lunch out – Although food in Romania is inexpensive in general, you can save more money by cooking your own dinners and eating your lunches out. A lunch menu in Romania typically consists of three courses (soup, main, dessert), and can cost as little as 30 RON.
- Shop at discount grocers – If you’re going to cook or even are just grabbing a snack, save money by shopping at discount supermarkets like Profi, Lidl, and Penny Market.
- Stay at Transylvania Hostel – There are hostels all around Romania (and the Balkans) that are a part of the Balkan Backpacker network. Transylvania Hostel, located in Cluj, is one of them. If you book directly and tell them you’re aware of the network you’ll get 10% off your stay.
- Take the train – To get to/from Cluj, take the train. Trains in Romania are slow, but they are the cheapest way to get around. If you’re not in a hurry, take the train (there are some night trains around the country as well if you’re going long distances).
- Start your trip here – Wizz Air flies to Cluj-Napoca and you can find flights for as little as $15 USD from destinations around Europe. It’s a budget airline so don’t expect much, but it’s a cheap way to get your foot in the door!
Where To Stay in Cluj-Napoca
Cluj-Napoca has a few hostels and they’re all pretty comfortable and sociable. These are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Cluj-Napoca:
How to Get Around Cluj-Napoca
Bus – A single-ticket ride on the public bus is 2.50 RON per person while a day pass is 14 RON. If you’re going to be here for a while, you can buy a three-day pass for 23 RON.
That being said, most of the city is within walking distance though so you can likely get away without using the bus much unless you’re staying in a hotel or hostel far from the main tourist sites.
Taxi – Taxis here can get expensive (relative to taking the bus at least) so I’d avoid them for anything other than a short trip. Prices start at 2.33 RON and go up by 2.30 RON per kilometer. However, if you’re traveling with someone then taxis can be a good choice as you can split the fare and save some time (they are much faster than buses as well).
Always call your taxi in advance to be sure that you get a reputable driver.
Bicycle – Cycling is a great way to get around the city as everything is pretty compact and lots of locals bike around as well. You can find rentals for 35 RON per day (or 7 RON per hour). Helmets are an additional cost (10 RON/day). The city is relatively small so cycling is a great way to explore!
When to Go to Cluj-Napoca
The best (and most popular) time to visit Cluj-Napoca is during the summer, from June to August. Temperatures will be hot and rain will be infrequent. Expect temperatures around 30 C (86 F) during this time. These will also be the busiest months of the year for tourism, but even then, the crowds are much smaller than what you’ll find in western Europe.
The shoulder season on late April-May and September-October are great times to visit as well. You’ll beat the crowd and have much milder temperatures, which is perfect for anyone looking to head into the hills for some hiking. You’ll get more rain in the spring, but you’ll get the stunning autumn colors in the fall which makes for a stunning backdrop to your trip.
Winter is Romania can be quite cold, with temperatures dropping just below zero (32 F) during the day and down to around -5 C (23 F) at night. Snow is common, which can affect conditions if you’re traveling by car. Cluj-Napoca can look quite charming in the winter, especially when compared to Bucharest which has a much grimmer atmosphere due to the influence of Soviet architecture and their reliance of grey, bland concrete. But whether that charm is worth the cold weather is up to you!
In short, I wouldn’t recommend a winter visit unless you have a specific desire to enjoy the cold and crowdless cities.
How to Stay Safe in Cluj-Napoca
While Romania is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, bad things can still happen so it’s always good to be prepared and plan ahead.
Crime against foreigners in Cluj-Napoca is rare so you don’t need to worry too much about scams or theft but be safe because ya never know what could happen! You’ll want to take the same precautions you do at home such as not flashing your valuables, being aware of your surroundings, and not traveling alone at night while intoxicated.
Theft is mostly common when riding city buses and trams so take extra precautions when riding or waiting at a stop. Never have your valuables within reach; always keep them secured in your bag (and always keep your bag within sight).
Additionally, you will want to take some extra precautions when renting a car. While the roads are safe, rental cars are targeted for theft more than local cars, so just make sure you take precautions and lock your vehicle when you’re not using it. When booking, make sure your insurance covers theft.
Solo female travelers should feel comfortable exploring Cluj-Napoca on their own, though the standard precautions apply (don’t accept drinks from strangers, don’t walk alone late at night, etc.).
Bribery and corruption are common, but not in any day-to-day capacity (think political or corporate bribes). Tourists experiencing bribery or corruption is practically unheard of though so it shouldn’t be a concern.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Cluj-Napoca Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Cluj-Napoca. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Sweden, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Cluj-Napoca Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Cluj-Napoca, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Cluj-Napoca
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Cluj-Napoca
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Cluj-Napoca Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
A Concise History of Romania, by Keith Hitchins
If you want to get a sense of how Romania came to be, this is a good book to start with. Spanning over 2,000 years of history, Hitchins paints in broad strokes but provides you with a concrete narrative to follow as you weave through Romania’s turbulent past. The country holds a unique place between east and west and this book does a great job of clearing up some of the muddied historical waters.
The Land of Green Plums, by Herta Müller
Published in 1994, The Land of Green Plums is a novel about four young people growing up under Nicolae Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime. Partly autobiographical and no stranger to painting with a political brush, the book was eventually translated into English where it went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009.
The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies Under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944, by Radiu Ioanid
Before World War II, around 800,000 Jews lived in Romania. Today, there are less than 20,000. Using archival records, unpublished reports, memoirs of survivors, and personal letters, Ioanid does an excellent job of illuminating this dark and tragic period of Romania’s history. It is definitely not an easy book to read as every page packs an emotional punch, but it is an important read that adds insight and context to Romania’s devastating history.
Romania Since the Second World War: A Political, Social and Economic History, by Florin Abraham
This book picks up where the last one left off, covering the brutal years under Communist rule and the barbary that occurred under Ceausescu. From there, the book navigates the socio-economic changes that stemmed from Romania joining NATO and also the EU. This is a long and detailed account that has a bit of an academic feel to it, but it is definitely worth a read for a modern perspective on contemporary Romania.
The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom, by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross
If you’re looking for some light reading, this book of quotes is a great place to start. It’s full of words of wisdom from famous (and not so famous) Romanians, covering topics like art, family, health and more. If you want to get a sense of the people without doing any heavy lifting, this is the book for you!
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Cluj-Napoca
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Cluj-Napoca Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Romania and continue planning your trip: