This city and the capital of Romania couldn’t be further apart. It’s not just the miles between Cluj-Napoca (better known as just Cluj) and Bucharest that differentiates the historic locations – both offer something new to travelers looking to explore ‘old’ Europe.
But here’s why you should venture into the heart of Transylvania, and visit Cluj first.
In recent years, Cluj has caught up with Bucharest in terms of industry. The second most populous city in Romania always had the edge when it came to education, with the old schools and universities excelling in I.T. and engineering. But businesses would often settle elsewhere and train the local talent pool.
Things have changed immeasurably in the last decade or so. Arriving at Cluj Airport, only half-an-hour away from the center of town, my taxi driver told us he was merely earning some extra money before starting his new job working for one of the major airlines as a pilot. He explained that he’d made the move from Bucharest, something that would have been unheard of a few years ago.
It might seem like an odd place to start, but it’s comforting to hear that Cluj is now also financially competing with other Romanian locations. Of course, that means prices have gone up, but as the taxi ride proved, these increases compare favorably with levels in the region as a whole. In short, you’ll get a lot for your euro, pound or dollar in Cluj.
With many universities in the city, there's also a healthy student population. A few bars and clubs have been redesigned to cater for the younger market, and they’ve actually added to the charm of the city. Seeing the old sit along the new makes any visit feel like an adventure.
The big draw for many to Cluj, is Transylvania, the vast region within which the city sits. You could spend weeks exploring the city alone, so it would be foolhardy to attempt taking on Transylvania in one visit. Bit if you're looking for a Dracula experience, you’ll be in for a disappointment. Even the tackiest of souvenir shops won’t be stocking any supernatural paraphernalia.
Cluj-Napoca Ethnographic Park
Cluj-Napoca Ethnographical Park is a sprawling open-air museum dotted with old wooden structures -farms, homes, mills - sourced form all over Romania.
The most prominent is the 18th century church, topped by a dagger-sharp spire.
We Recommend Hotel Lol et Lola in Cluj-Napoca
It's tempting to describe this hotel as "cheap & cheerful", but that doesn't do it justice. Yes, Lol et Lola is inexpensive, but it's the cheerfulness that makes it stand out.
Each of its 20 rooms is decorated in a funky style. Located a short walk from both the city center and the student district, the hotel has a carefree feel to it.