Normally, I like to be in a town longer than one day. Being in the middle of an extended journey, this was really a side trip. A passed through the region to see what it was like. I decided that I could stop for a day in Cluj on my way from Bucharest to Budapest. I would spend a day in Cluj. Since I got in on the train in late afternoon, I guess you could say I had a day and a quarter.
Getting to Cluj.
The city of Cluj is serviced by both trains and planes. There is an airport on the outskirts of town that provides connection to/from numerous European cities.
The train station is centrally located in the northern part of the city center. As with anywhere else in Europe, if it appears on the rail map you can get there. I took the train to Cluj from Bucharest. The 9 hour journey came in an hour late, but it came in. The Rail system in Romania is solid, but maybe still a little Post-communist by Western European standards.
What Cluj Is Not.
If you’re headed to the capital of Transylvania in search of vampires and whatnot, you won’t find it. The city isn’t a warren of mid-evil houses enclosing tight cobblestone street and small squares.
Where it may have been a sleepy little hamlet at one point, those times have long past. There is very little middle-ages architecture, no vampires, and not a lot of old world charm.
Sorry. If you’re interested in Vlad the Impaler and all the vampire folklore (I was!), there are numerous day trip options to the various sites. Sadly, none of them are in Cluj.
What Cluj is.
The city of Cluj is a very modern feeling city, with busy streets and throngs of people coming and going. With a population of around 320,000, the current city of Cluj is a vibrant and active place.
The city has a young feel to it. The universities, and its draw to younger Romanians makes it a very trendy city. You won’t find any boiled potatoes or buckets of ale in this town. Countless outdoor cafes, and restaurant give it a Western European feel. The populous, for the most part, is outgoing and friendly.
Exploring the Old Town.
All that being said, you can have a good time in Cluj, once your objectives have been adjusted.
The old city area of Cluj is compact, well-defined, walkable, and holds most of the historically interesting sites. Your best option is to get out early enough to get a table at one of the outdoor cafes around the central square, where you can enjoy a coffee and views of the very old ST Micheal’s church or the imposing statue of Matthias Corvinus.
After coffee, head east toward the theater and take in the centuries of varying architecture jumbled together along the various street. From the theater area, and it’s impressive Orthodox Church, make your way back down the river to the museum area. They have numerous museums to chose from. They’re all small and quaint by western standards, but their still nice and get you out of the summer heat.
After the museums, find another street-side cafe or bar and cool off with a beer. When you’re ready, cross the river and climb the steps up the side of Fortress Hill. From the top you get good views of the Old Town area.
And, don’t forget to hydrate. The summer sun is surprisingly hot at mid-day.
Where I would say that no one is intentionally going to Cluj, if you’re passing through Transylvania it’s well worth stopping at. Where Bucharest’s post-communist rot will wear on your emotions after a while, you’ll find none of that in Cluj. It’s clean, modern, and tastefully trendy. If you forgo the language difference, you can easily imagine yourself almost anywhere in Europe.
Drink in the cafes. Walk around Old Town. Check out a couple museums. Then, get on the train. It’s a town that’s worth a stop … if you’re already headed that way.
Now, get out there! Go find new places to see! New cafes to drink in.