Have you ever heard about the European Youth Capital? Every year a European city gets the chance to step into the spotlight, showcase its young side through various social and cultural activities, and thereby increase its reputation as a cool, young city. This year’s selected winner is the Transylvanian city Cluj-Napoca. As I have studied and lived in Cluj-Napoca for almost 3 years, I still relate to the city and feel nostalgic when thinking about my time there – those bitter-sweet student days of sipping endless coffees on sunny terraces, studying at the Central Library, trying to focus on finals and hopping from one bar to another on the legendary Piezisa street in central Cluj-Napoca.

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Now, it feels natural to write about it: it brings me back to my Romanian roots and makes me proud to see the city developing and attracting more and more curious glances. Back in 2008, Cluj Napoca was already somewhat different from other Transylvanian cities: its central location and openness towards the West, the many universities and the two melting cultures, Romanian and Hungarian, made Cluj-Napoca the Transylvanian melting pot of opportunities. Since then it has only grown, the opportunities have become realities and Cluj, the best alternative to the capital city Bucharest. Because of the many dependencies of American IT companies, the city it is now even called the ‘Transylvanian Sillicon Valley’, but Cluj also developed into an important social and cultural hotspot. It hosts some of the best and most prestigious Romanian music and film festivals and its vibrant Transylvanian atmosphere, the traditional (and calorie-rich) food and drinks as well as the welcoming and friendly Romanians makes it an interesting, yet hidden gem to discover.

There are many reasons why Cluj-Napoca made it on the 2015 winning list. The students bring a young spirit to the city. Ambitious and optimistic as they are, Cluj’s citizens are intrepid and develop many social and art initiatives. There is always something new to explore. Cluj-Napoca has it all: for the big and the smaller wallet, for nature addicts and avid city explorers. There is a lot to see in and around the city – music and film, coffee and cocktails, nature and urban development. Here are my 8 unbeatable reasons to visit Cluj-Napoca.

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1. So easy to reach

Situated in the heart of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca holds an international airport that is just a few minutes away from the city centre. The airport offers direct and cheap flights to most western European airports, such as Paris, Barcelona, Geneva or Munich (check Wizz Air, Air Dolomiti or even Lufthansa for great deals). In times of spontaneous and short city trips, we all know how important it is to get somewhere quickly! Once landed in Cluj-Napoca, a short taxi drive will take you straight to the city centre where you can book a tour guide and start discovering the city and its stories.

2. Pretty sightseeing

Cluj-Napoca holds a mix of cultures, remarkable sights and pretty architecture. Renaissance and baroque buildings embellish the city centre, while apartment blocks from the communist era give the city a nostalgic touch. The Feleacu hill will offer you the most stunning view over the city at night and the castles around Cluj-Napoca will throw you back in time. The Banfy Palace, Josika Palace or Szeki Palace are just a few spots where you can relive antiquity.

If you’re up for a longer trip, drive around to explore the great Transylvanian nature. A 30 minutes drive from Cluj will take you straight to the stunning natural reserve at Turda Gorge, a beautiful landscape with over 50 caves. Also, not far from the canyon, you can find a fantastic underworld: the salt mine of Turda.

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3. The mystery

Just a few kilometers outside of the city, in the haunted forest of Hoia-Baciu mysterious things are happening. From inexplicable lights, changing temperatures to unknown creatures that wander around the forest and even UFOs hovering over the area – Hoia-Baciu has seen it all. It’s definitely a good tip for mystery fans looking for a thrill!

4. Safety first

Even if the Hoia-Baciu forest holds its secrets and mysteries, Cluj-Napoca remains a very safe city for solo travels. There is no need to worry about thieves or dishonest people – let your only worry be puzzling together a good city trip and making new friends. People are gentle and helpful. If you get lost wandering around the city, you’ll get directions straight away, no misleading answers! Also, if you had a couple of drinks too many and thus, can’t really trust your orientation to get back to your hostel, just hop into a taxi and it will get you home safe and sound. Taxis are everywhere and the drivers are super talkative and fun to be around.

5. Study abroad at its best

If you are planning to take the chance and experience the student life in an Eastern European city, you should consider going to Cluj-Napoca. Life is good, prices are reasonable, you’ll make tons of friends, you’ll experience a unique mixed culture and maybe learn a word or two of Romanian! Vibrant, fun, international, full of bars and with the Hasdeu neighbourhood full of student dorms, Cluj Napoca is the ultimative Transylvanian student city, perfect for an Erasmus semester or an exchange year. Every semester, the city welcomes many hundreds exchange students from all over the world. Lately, the number of international students wanting to study medicine increased due to the very affordable university tuiton fees. This mix of cultures bring an interesting atmosphere into the city. Romanians are pretty good with foreign languages, so there’s no need to worry about the language issue (Romanian is actually very close to Spanish and Italian!). The majority of students and professors speak fluent English and thus, special courses for foreign students are offered!

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6. It’s affordable

Budget travelers will also be amazed by the good bargains to be made in Cluj. Ever wondered how far you could get with €10? For the basics, you can choose from the following: drink eight pints of beer, eat four ciorbas, visit five museums and the botanical gardens, take a bus ride to Turda for a coffee and a cake, buy three packs of cigarettes or eight bus or tramway tickets. That’s how cheap Cluj really is! If you plan an extended trip, you should know that with €250 you can get yourself a room or even a flat in central Cluj-Napoca. Europe does not get any cheaper than that!

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7. Evolving festival scene

Music and film festivals are booming in Cluj-Napoca. My favourite festival is called Electric Castle. It’s all about electronic music, in a unique scenery, set in the ruins of the Banffy Castle near Cluj-Napoca. This makes Electric Castle the first Romanian festival that built its stages in a castle. It is a one of a kind concept that combines old and new, unites the countryside’s purity and the electronical music’s complexity while bringing together traditions and avant- garde.

After dancing your soles off, you can sit down and unwind over at the Transylvanian International Film Festival – the showcase for Romanian and International upcoming film artists. Focusing on originality and individuality, the always excellent film selection made the festival an important cultural landmark. Because of the relaxed and laid back atmosphere, it’s a must do – even for those who are not super passionate about films!

8. One of a kind bars

Cluj- Napoca is the home of some pretty amazing bars. Let’s pause here and rewind 10 years: Bulgakov is the place where I had my first coffee break during university classes. Back then I liked the artsy and bohemian feeling that it radiated. Now, after many years, it is still a spot where writers and thinkers gather and where art galleries and literature clubs take place. Its historic past makes it one of the best known venues in Transylvania. If you are a sucker for books and discussions, you should definitely visit.

If you’re up for more action head to Soviet Bar, a conceptual pub that brings back those old Soviet days. Through decoration, the bartenders’ outfits and the cocktail menu they are making time travel possible. For a refreshment drink a Moskvich, a Baikal Lemonade or a “Soviet Granade” and think of how it would have been to live in socialist Romania.

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Always good to know

Romanians are very welcoming people, they are willing to offer you everything and tend to insist – a lot- especially when it comes to food & drinks. So when the limit is reached, stay polite and say “Nu mai pot”, that means “I can’t anymore!”

Have you been to Romania or to Cluj-Napoca? How was your experience?


This is a guest post by Iris Pop.

 iris Pop_bio_pic_travelettesIris was born in Transylvania, Romania, a splendid & savage place that waits to be explored. Constantly curious and open for new voyages, she lived, studied and worked in the US, France and Germany. Her current home base is Hamburg, where she gets creative, working in branding & visual communication.

She shares her adventures and discoveries on Instagram @iris_left_right_there