Cluj has been my home for the past 6 weeks. And it will continue to be so until I feel I have nothing left to explore here. Every day of those 6 weeks flew by, and every day left me clueless on what to talk about.
I tried talking about Cluj’s top attractions, Cluj’s hidden gems and even things to avoid while you’re in Cluj. But each article I began writing felt like it wasn’t giving you any real insight into what it’s like to visit this fascinating city. And knowing that Cluj only receives around 400,000 visitors annually, many of you will never have stepped foot here.
Then it hit me. Since most people reading this will never get the chance to explore Cluj, I might as well give you a short description of what it’s like to be here, so you can imagine for yourself what it’s like.
The City Itself
City charm is the first word(s) that come to mind when describing Cluj. It doesn’t possess the grand size and scale of European Old Towns such as Prague and Rome, but it is home to pleasant streets and stunning architecture in a compact area.
The main square is dominated by Church St. Michael and surrounded by a vast array of trendy bars & restaurants. As you follow the cobblestoned path, you will be drawn to the glowing lane of Matei Corvin street. At least if you visit after the sun goes down. Just follow the lights above you to discover Cluj’s most prized gem, Museum square.
Within these historical narrow lanes are vibrant bars and cafes housed in colourful buildings. In the Summer months, you can sit out and enjoy the suns rays. While in the winter months, you can head into a homely underground pub and stay warm with a coffee or mulled wine… or a few shots of palinka.
In the city centre, there are 3 main green spaces. Two of these are free to enter. They are Central Park, which is most popular with the locals, but my personal favourite is Cetatuia Park. The Botanical Garden is the third main space that costs just 11 lei to enter.
On the weekends, the leafy walkways of Central Park come to life from the chatter and laughter from kids to adults and everything in-between. This large public park was founded in the 19th century. Today it’s home to university buildings, a calming lake, a playground, a restaurant and plenty of green spaces.
Overlooking Central Park is Cetatuia Park, and it has something for everyone. Nature lovers can climb up through the greenery. Those who crave a drink can find one at E.C Garden, where customers can enjoy one (or 4) around a cosy firepit. But photographers will gain the most for making their way up the steep landscape. From above, you can admire the beauty of Cluj’s Old Town and the breathtaking countryside that surrounds the city.
In truth, I haven’t met too many locals originally from Cluj. The city has a large population of foreigners, mainly from Hungary and France. I mostly speak to Romanians who moved to Cluj for work or college, proving that Cluj is one of the only growing cities in the country.
Before I arrived, I was told that not many people speak English here. I was a little nervous about this as I only knew the very basics of Romanian. But since I arrived, every person I had a conversation with spoke English to a really high standard. Not only could they speak great English, but they were all extremely friendly and very open. Many explained the fascinating history of their country, some showed me the best bars in the area, and others even gave me a tour of the city!
I knew visiting Romania would be cheap, but I couldn’t have imagined just how cheap it really is. The first time I went to a bar in Cluj, I got an uber into town, 4 pints in a bar, a kebab and another uber home. This cost me 77 lei (15.54 euro). Back in Ireland, the exact same thing would cost me 50 euros! This is definitely a city to visit if you’re on a budget!
Should you visit?
Absolutely, just not right now.
As much as I enjoy being here, it can be frustrating at times due to Romania’s strict restrictions. The parks and museums are amazing to visit in the daytime, but sadly bars and restaurants close here at 22:00, meaning there isn’t much of a nightlife scene at the moment. And since Cluj has a large student nightlife, it would be worth waiting to see this city when it’s finally back in full swing!