Please note that this post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase something through one of these links I'll get a small commission at no cost to you. Affiliate links are marked with an *.
Before I booked a weekend away to Cluj Napoca (or Cluj), I’d never actually heard of it. It only entered my radar when I heard an announcement at the airport for a flight boarding there, and then when I next had a look on *Skyscanner for inspiration for my next break it came up on my ‘Everywhere’ search. Cluj is situated in the Transylvanian region of Romania, and it has everything you could want from a European city break: cobbled streets, pretty building and good wine. I visited in September and weather was gorgeous, so my long weekend consisted of wandering around in the sunshine, eating gelato and drinking plenty of cold wine on sunny cobbled streets. Regardless of when you visit, here are 7 things to do in Cluj Napoca.
Eat all the Food in Cluj
Let’s start with the most important of the things to do in Cluj Napoca: eat! There is a huge Italian influence in Cluj Napoca due to brief Roman occupancy, so you’ll find plenty of pizza, pasta and gelato. It’s tastes just as good as it does in Rome and Venice, but it’s significantly cheaper. The best Italian we ate at was called Da Pino, which was just off the central square and perfect for people watching. An antipasti board to share, a mouthwatering prawn linguine main and a bottle of crisp white wine in the sunshine = major holiday vibes.
If you’re looking for some traditional Romanian cuisine, I would definitely recommend Roata. They have a beautifully shady garden where you will be welcomed with a local plum brandy (something I will not be trying again, but you’ve got to give these things a go) and menu full of traditional dishes. I chose a dish of polenta, cheese, pork crackling and sour cream. It wasn’t to my taste, but the restaurant is proud of this traditional dish so I’m glad I tried it.
Other excellent restaurants were Maimuta and Casa Boema, both places at which I had a duck leg with red cabbage – I just couldn’t get enough of the stuff! Casa Boema in particular had a great atmosphere in the evening, offering outdoor dining amongst trees and fairy lights.
But there was a clear winner for best restaurant in Cluj, and that was Baracca. According to the internet, this was the best restaurant in the city, and it certainly wasn’t lying! To start I had beef tartare with black garlic whilst Billy had a goats cheese mousse with lemon gel and butter powder (obviously I made him share it with me).
The main course was the highlight of the meal and absolutely blew my mid. Billy and I both had Angus beef cheek with parsnip puree, homemade pickled onions, a foie gras infused gravy and a load of other stuff that I can’t remember. Finally, I experienced (which really is the right word to use here) the Chocolate Textures, which consisted of chocolate in a variety of different forms.
Three courses each plus a bottle of wine came to around £75 for the both of us, which was incredible value for money, and I think this was my favourite thing to do in Cluj.
Drink Romanian Wine
Romanian wine is beautiful and I’ve been drinking it as often as possible since I’ve been home. There wasn’t a red, white or rosé wine that I didn’t enjoy but my favourites were Crama La Salina and Corcova if you’re looking for a recommendation! In terms of the best places to enjoy said wine, my favourite spots were Bricks (M)eating Point where you can enjoy a drink and some jazz over the river (the terrace literally juts out over the water), and Pergola Terrace on Cetatuia Hill which offers stunning views over the city… definitely worth the climb regardless of the wine. Making the most of the fantastic wine is definitely one of the best things to do in Cluj Napoca!
If you fancy a cocktail instead, head to Charlie Pub where you’ll find a kickass Espresso Martini or Negroni for around £4. For beer try the Soviet or Enigma, the world’s first steam punk bar.
Wander Through Unirii Square
Cluj has a beautiful central square, which is dominated by the Matthias Corvinus statue and a majestic Gothic church. Cafés and restaurants surround the square and offer the perfect spot for people watching over a coffee. But the best bit about the square is the weekend market where you can treat yourself to bread, cakes, local honey, traditional clothes and freshly pressed wine/grape juice (we weren’t entirely sure if this was alcoholic or not) which tastes incredible.
The square leads off onto cobbled streets, which offer plenty of restaurants, bars and shops – perfect for getting lost on a sunny afternoon.
Explore the Botanical Gardens
Just outside the city (we’re talking a 15/20 minute walk from the square) are the botanical gardens where you can explore 14 acres and 10,000 types of plants. It’s great for walking off the hangover from all the Romania wine, and the Japanese garden is home to a lake full of the cutest little turtles! It’s about 40p for an adult, but the guy on the entrance charged us for student tickets (we look nothing like students) which were even cheaper.
Have a Nap in Central Park
If you fancy a day in the park, this is the place for you. In the summer the trees are lined with hammocks full of locals reading or relaxing with friends, and the park plays host to an annual jazz festival (sadly we missed this). There are plenty of things to do in Cluj Napoca’s Central Park from hiring a pedal boat on the small lake, to grabbing a bite to eat next to the water or just having a good old wander.
Descend into the Salt Mines
The salt mines were major highlight, after the food and wine of course, and one of the best things to do in Cluj Napoca. As we had a slightly longer holiday than we usually would for a city break, we hired a car for a couple of days and spent some time further afield. The salt mines are in Turda, which is about a 40 minute drive from the centre of Cluj. We stopped in Turda itself on the way for some lunch and a wander around the markets. It’s a lovely place so I’d highly recommend stopping off if you’re heading that way. If you don’t have a car, there are organised trips from Cluj that you can book on to such as *this one.
The salt mines themselves are stunning, and so interesting! Take a jumper because it’s a little chilly in there, and spend some time learning about the salt mining trade in days gone by. As you delve deeper in to the mines you’ll find the main attraction… a huge lake where you can hire a rowing boat! There’s also a ferris wheel, mini golf and bowling down there so plenty of things to do.
But the absolute highlight of the salt mines is… a ham vending machine!!! Never thought I’d see one of these in my lifetime. The ham in the vending machines is cured using salt from the mines, and obviously we bought some. It was really tasty!
Venture Out to the National Park.
If you decide to hire a car, you must add a drive through the Apuseni national park to your list of things to do when visiting Cluj Napoca. We didn’t see much of the park as it’s huge, but we drove through forests and around a stunning lake. If you like mountains and hiking it’s definitely worth visiting, and there are plenty of remote cabins that you can stay in.
On the way to the national park, stop off at Huedin for endless market stalls including plenty of street food. We stopped at a couple of BBQ stands for kebabs and pork steaks, charged at pennies but so delicious!
Important Warning (and Slightly Amusing Story): Do Not Trust the Sat Nav!
We drove through some beautiful farm land with views of rolling hills and mountains. But we made the mistake of following the sat nav down narrower and narrower single track roads, feeling increasingly remote until we hit a muddy puddle and got stuck. We tried all sorts – pushing the car (not ideal in white dress), calling our dads for advice (no reception), walking to the nearest farm house and knocking (no one home) giving up and playing with two gorgeous puppies that had found us and were so cute that I momentarily forgot about our situation.
In the end, and running low on Pringles, it was a case of standing on top of the hill waving in all directions as it got colder and darker, and we worried about genuinely dying. Luckily a farmer spotted us in the distance and phoned his friend who came to our rescue. Through pointing and facial expressions, we managed to explain our situation and she kindly phoned another friend who turned up with his 4×4 and saved the day! The woman even escorted us to her farm house where her son cleaned our car whilst we went inside for a much needed drink.
There were loads of other things that we wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to, such as the Pharmacy Museum where you can make your own love potion, the Ethnographic museum where you can learn about the region’s history and the Hoia Baciu forest, a mysterious place dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania.
Hopefully I’ve inspired you to give Cluj a chance, and given you some ideas of things to do in Cluj! If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might enjoy the following:
- 5 Reasons to Make Eastern Europe Your Next Holiday Destination
- How to Book a Last Minute, Super Cheap, Multi-City Break Using Minimal Annual Leave
- A Very Snowy Weekend in Vilnius
- Why Sofia is the Perfect Destination for a Relaxing Summer City Break
P.S.if you enjoyed this post please share it to your favourite social media channel using the icon below, or pin the below graphic by hovering over it. Thanks!