how to spend 48 hours in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

I ended up in Cluj-Napoca by mistake.  It had the nearest airport to the place I needed to reach, to visit my god-daughter. So, I made reservations for accommodations there, rented a car and spent in Cluj a nice, enjoyable week-end, away from the heat and noise of my home city, Bucharest. So, here is how to spend 48 hours in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

After an incredible flight with one of TAROM’s newest airplanes, a Boeing 737-800 (what can I say, I’m a sucker for airplanes 😀  – too bad the flight lasted only 45 minutes 🙂 ), I arrived in Cluj.  There are many flights from Bucharest to Cluj, but also from many other European cities, so there is no excuse for you not to visit Cluj 🙂

My accommodation turned out to be a nice apartment, in the heart of Cluj (the only “disadvantage” was that I had to climb some hills, when coming back from my walks  🙂 guess that counts as cardio, right !?!).

However, during one of those climbs, I found out the street art is at its best in Cluj 😀

Cluj-Napoca is the second biggest city in Romania, after Bucharest.

It is a university city, with more than 50.000 students coming each year and making it feel more alive.

Not that it actually needed it. Cluj is such an active city, there is something to do here every day and you definitely can’t get bored.

Moreover, you will most likely want to come back sooner, rather than later.

Amazingly, I spent most of the week-end in Cluj, walking (which, if you knew me personally, you’d know is a big step up – I hate working out, although I try to do it regularly).

It was not my first time in Cluj, but I did not manage to enjoy it thoroughly until now.

In the city center, there are so many things to see, starting with St. Michael’s Church, located in Union Square. This church is an emblem of Cluj, being built in the 14th century, in the Gothic style. Currently, it is a Roman- Catholic church, but, throughout the centuries and the various political regimes, it has served many faiths. Both the interior and the exterior of the church are breath-taking.

I could not bring myself to take too many pictures inside, but I could not help admiring the colored stained glass windows, which lined the church, letting the light of the late afternoon in, only enough to create an ethereal atmosphere.

I was simply fascinated by the powerful history that the church had and by the architectural details of the building.

Because I felt there were so many things to see, in so little time (only a week-end in Cluj was a poor decision!) I joined a free walking tour, around Cluj’s center.

The guys at Cluj Guided Tours are organizing lovely walking tours, every day, from 6 pm. The guides are very knowledgeable, funny and ready to answer all your questions.

I had a great time, walking around for almost 3 hours, listening to our guide tell the story of Cluj, reminiscing about its hardships over the centuries and about all the people that came through the city, trying to conquer it or change it, all the while joking with us, which made it even more pleasant.

It was very interesting to note that each of these people, whether they were nomads, conquerors or simple people, who just happened to settle in Cluj, left their certain mark on the city, whether you see it in the architecture or the way the city evolved.

Through every challenge the city made it out proud, even stronger, it appears.

You can still see, nowadays, by the way the buildings are aligned in the city center or by the style of architecture that was used to build new ones, how the city grew, with each century and was shaped in such a way to become one of the most beautiful cities in Romania.

As a local, the guide knew all sorts of locations, for food and wine lovers, for every age and taste.

I was sorry I could not try one of the wine bars that he showed us, but I did take a quick photo, to have at hand next time I go to Cluj :).

As you can see, there is a pretty extensive wine offer to choose from, which, in my mind, makes Cluj much more worth revisiting.

Cluj’s city center is filled with cafés, restaurants, bakeries, ice-cream parlors and wine bars.

I ate at Olivo (the food was very tasty, the waiters were cute, so the visit was worth it :)).

Their coffee is pretty good, the barista knows how to create nice designs in your cappuccino, but I do not recommend the aero-press coffee there.

I do advise you to order the frittata, for a healthy breakfast – there an entire selection of cheeses, meats and vegetables from which you can choose as toppings.

It is brought out in an old iron skillet, which makes you think of the old times, when your grandmother would cook for you in this sort of pan.

I passed by this bakery two days in a row, saw the delights in the window, but could not bring myself to enter it – my fitness coach would be so proud of me.

I made a promise to myself that, the next time I came to Cluj, I would tell my coach in advance of all the “bad” things I would eat in Cluj :)))

If you are a foodie, like I am,  you will get lost in all the culinary treats that the city has to offer, a combination of the cuisines of the Hungarians, the Saxons and the Romanians, with a touch of old Roman and Dacian influences.

You really need to try out the à la Cluj cabbage, which is cooked cabbage, with rice and mincemeat. This is a typical dish from Cluj and you will definitely get the local’s appreciation if you order it.

Also a treat around these parts is the goulash, which is a sort of beef stew, with vegetables, spicy, cooked after an old Hungarian recipe. No matter what nationality you are, for sure, you will enjoy the goulash.

Together with your meal, you will most likely have some entertainment.

Cluj is a well-known location for festivals, concerts and various sports activities. For sure, something will be planned for that exact period when you come to Cluj.

I came across the DERO Color Run by night, which is a half marathon, in which participants of all ages can race and during which you get splashed with colored powder.

This type of activity makes running fun and, as I saw it in Cluj, it was a family event, where children and grown-ups would race, joke and spend quality time together.

It was funny afterwards to see everybody walking around with all colors of the rainbow on them or trying to get rid of the powder before driving off in their clean cars.

At the end of the race, there was a music show in the Union Square, where all the participants danced the evening away.

It impressed me to see how Cluj was able to transform itself, from an old, historical city, into a vibrant and alive location.

On my last day, I decided to return to a place where I always go with pleasure in Cluj, the Botanical Garden.

This is a place which brings serenity and quiet to everyone who decides to visit it.

From time to time, during your walk, you should find a bench and just sit, while you listen to the various cries of the birds or to the tranquilizing sound of the waterfall.

Only once in a while, the peace is disturbed by the planes that fly low, preparing to land into Cluj International Airport.

Only then you realize that you are not in a forest, surrounded by trees and nature, but right in the heart of a buzzing city.

The garden is filled with wonders and each time I visit it, I leave something to see for my next trip.

It is my way of ensuring that I return to this wonderful place.

Sunday was also the day I fell hopelessly in love with the coffee that I had at Narcoffee.

As the name of the place suggests, it does produce addiction (I am going to write some more about my experience there, in another article about one love of mine, coffee).

The coffee shop is so cozy, smelling like freshly grounded coffee and the staff is so friendly, that I did not want to leave it. The news that a coffee shop was also opened in Bucharest thrilled me to bits.

I left Cluj with a heavy heart. As many other places in Romania, I would love to go back to Cluj, to experience even more of what it has to offer and to taste the charm of this beautiful city.

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