Nestled in the heart of Transylvania, lies the city of Cluj-Napoca. Known simply as “Cluj” to the locals, this place dates back to the 2nd century and is rich with history. It was once inhabited by the Romans, the Germans and the Hungarians before becoming the Romanian city it is today in the 1970’s.
With one of the most bustling economies in the country and a population exceeding 330,000, Cluj-Napoca is now a vibrant cultural and educational hub. The city is home to over six universities and has the largest student population in Romania. Earlier this year, Cluj-Napoca earned it’s title as the European Youth Capital of 2015.
I jumped at the opportunity to visit Cluj during my stay in Romania. Although it was a long journey from my base in Brasov, I had a feeling that the city would be well-worth the drive. And it was.
After a tedious five hour drive through the Transylvanian foothills and a quick Instagram-mission in Targu Mures, I made it to Cluj.
My first order of business was checking into my accommodation for the night at Hotel Transilvania. Although the hotel has an apparent connection to Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, I felt that there are probably better options within the city centre. You can read my full review of Hotel Transilvania here.
I took a quick rest in the hotel, grabbed my camera and went out to explore the city. Without a map in hand, I decided to let my feet guide me on this walk. Which luckily for me, did not get me lost. My first stop was at Piata Mihai Viteazul, one of the main squares within the city.
Surrounded by communist architecture and a centrepiece statue of Mihai Viteazul the himself, the square is underwhelming to say the least. So I continued on my journey.
I ended up at the city’s main square, Piata Unirii, which is dominated by the 15th century St. Michael’s Church (one of the best examples of gothic architecture in Romania) and is home to Banffy Palace and the Art Museum. Surrounded by impressive 18th century buildings, countless shops and restaurants, I decided to sit down in the square and simply watch the people of Cluj go about their daily lives.
From the main square, I continued my walk down Bulevard Eroilor, a central avenue in Cluj with a large pedestrian zone. Full of colourful buildings, plenty of benches and endless options for shopping or dining, this has to be my favourite place in Cluj.
Walking down Bulevard Eroilor led me straight to the most famous Romanian Orthodox church in the city. Catedrala Adormirea Maicii Domnului lies on Avram Iancu Square, along with the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre. I was definitely impressed with the Cathedral and surrounding square. I found a Gigi’s Covrigi shop on the corner, bought a cherry-filled pretzel and sat in the square as the sun set.
For a late night dinner, I walked over to Fast Food Istanbul on Strada Hermann Oberth and indulged in a delicious kebab plate and a Cherry Coke. I continued walking around Cluj for a little while longer until heading back to my hotel for the night.
With only a short amount of time left in the morning before I had to begin my journey to Sibiu, I checked out of my hotel and went to Fortress Hill. Rather than walking up some 200 feet to the top of the hill, I decided to drive and park at the top.
So here I was, at the edge of a haunted forest, hoping my car wasn’t going to get stuck in the mud. When I finally managed to complete an eight point turn and began driving back to civilization, a white horse walked in front of my car. It stood there and we stared at each other before it ran into the dark woods beside me.
Where did the horse come from? Did it want me to follow him into the forest?
These are things I will never know.