Less photogenic than its counterparts in southern Transylvania, Cluj nevertheless has a fine collection of Habsburg-era architecture. It’s a far more modern atmosphere, with the accompanying thundering traffic that circles much of the city center.
Cluj was upgraded from a town to a colony by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD 124. It served as the capital of Transylvania from 1791 to 1848 and again after the union with Hungary in 1867. The old Roman name of ‘Napoca’ was added to the city’s name in the 70s to highlight its Daco-Roman origin.
There’s a (reportedly) sensationalized history of Romanian-Hungarian tension here. Though it’s not palpable today, it was most definitely an open wound during Ceausescu’s time in power. In the 1990s, then-mayor and Romanian nationalist Gheorghe Funar had all the garbage cans painted in the colors of the Romanian flag.
This is maybe Romania’s best party town, in addition to being a good place to rent a car and launch trips to Maramures or the Apuseni Mountains. Cluj’s student population has spurred an active and friendly club scene, often hidden in cellars where both the pounding bass and cigarette smog will give your lungs a night you won’t soon forget.
There’s also a variety of excellent restaurants that will come as a relief to anyone who’s been in Romania for several weeks and had their fill of bad pasta and repetitive Romanian food.
Prices reflect the fact that Cluj’s standard of living is one of the highest in Romania, but it’s still a virtual steal when you compare this to prices west of Hungary.
One of Cluj’s highlights is the paradoxically modest Pharmaceutical Museum, which was one of the most unexpectedly satisfying 60 euro cents I have ever spent.
Cluj holds the International Folk Music & Dance Festival of Ethnic Minorities in Europe in August and the increasingly huge and respected Transylvania Film Festival during the last week of May.