The largest city in Transylvania, and the storied Romanian region’s unofficial capital, Cluj-Napoca – or plain Cluj in regular conversation – is some way from the clichés of Dracula-worthy architecture and dark-hearted goings-on. For that, you need to head to central Transylvania; here, in north-west Romania, towards the Hungarian border, this university city has a noticeably young population and a good line in cute coffee shops, with communist-era buildings standing alongside grand orthodox churches and architecture from Saxon and Hungarian eras of rule.
Cluj’s history is long, originally dating back to the second century. Nowadays, in a Romanian context, it’s second only in size and forward-thinking intent to the capital Bucharest, with a vibrant cafe culture, lots of tempting restaurants and plenty of sizeable festivals.
Find your feet
Central Cluj is walkable in a way that the sprawling Bucharest can never be. The old town is the quaintest area: start at St Michael’s Church, a Gothic landmark that lays claim to being the second-largest church in Transylvania. Across the square is the Matthias Corvinus statue, in tribute to the 15th-century Hungarian king who liked to walk among his subjects in disguise, something that he could probably have managed in this microcosm of Cluj, with its range of bustling bars and restaurants. In the daytime, meanwhile, you can snack on local pastries from nearby hole-in-the-wall shops.
Walk through the Central Park to the west of the city centre and you will reach the Cluj Arena – home to one of the country’s most successful football clubs in recent years, CFR Cluj.
Meet the locals
Cluj’s coffee shops are where its residents congregate throughout the year, whether cosy inside during winter or seated on the streets during warmer months.
Flowers Tea House (Emil Isac Street) is a favourite with students and twentysomethings, with brightly decorated walls, chatty young staff and a menu that majors in myriad flavours of tea.
For something slightly edgier, explore the backstreets to find steampunk cafe Enigma (Iuliu Maniu Street). It has a bar and a passable menu of international dishes, but the real draw is its decor, strewn with metallic accents and strange industrio-futuristic figures.
Source of article: thenational.ae