Initial impressions on Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Initial impressions of a place I am visiting for the first time is information I like to jot down before familiarity diminishes the observations. I generally have images of a place in my mind as I plan my travel that rarely match the reality once I am immersed in a new place and culture.

Cluj-Napoca, Romania – city of youth

Cluj (pronunciation rhymes with stooge) is the second or third largest city in Romania depending on data source with a population of about 325,000 residents. There are several cities around 300,000 people in Romania and the second city population leader changes, whereas the capital city Bucharest is over one million residents.

Cluj-Napoca was the European Youth Capital in 2015 and the most striking aspect of the city to me in first impressions is how many young people are seen on the streets. There are something like 11 universities in the city including Babeș-Bolyai University, the largest university in Romania.

So many students gives the city a vibrant pub, cafe and art culture.


The downtown seems to have two main arteries of wide one way roads running east to west. There is little opportunity to cross the main roads without being at a crosswalk signal. Even then it is best to wait several seconds before attempting to cross roads as I have seen vehicles cut off pedestrians or even more commonly, pedestrians hit the green light crosswalk en masse and leave a car stranded in the street blocking the cross traffic lane.

Bus rides cost 2.50 RON or about 62 cents. The exchange rate is currently 4.06 RON = $1.00 US Dollar, so it is easy to convert money by thinking of 1 RON Romanian leu as worth 25 cents or divide price by 4.

I rode the bus from the airport to the city center, but have not been on a bus since for the past three days. The city is easy to walk, albeit a bit noisy on the main streets through town.

Cluj Bulevardul 21 Decembrie 1989 is the main artery leading into Old Town from the east (airport).

I quickly learned upon arrival in Cluj-Napoca that there are limited roads that connect the main westbound artery and eastbound artery through the town center. Many of the roads off these main roads only go part way between the two main streets. There are numerous roads that branch off the main arteries, but many lead into courtyards and dead end roads. Basically I found that there is no easy way to avoid the traffic when walking around the city center since any road that cuts across perpendicular to the main east and west directional arteries is also full of cars heading to one of the main roads to go east or west.


After having spent quite a bit of time in Czech Republic and Poland over the past two years, Romanian seems more easily decipherable to me as a monolingual American English speaker. And certainly easier to navigate than places like Ukraine and Bulgaria with their Cyrillic script.

I find I can read more signs than I expected. Many places, especially pubs, have signs in English.

No problems yet encountering people who can’t speak sufficient English to help me out. As I have found in other European countries, sometimes the first person I meet in a store, restaurant or pub will pass me on to another server more fluent in English.

Cluj-Napoca Museum of Transylvania History Romanian-English


Average prices for meals in restaurants seems to be about 20 to 40 RON or $5 to $10. A whole pizza or doner kebab is around 14 to 18 RON or $3.50 to $4.50. At nicer restaurants in Old Town the dinner prices for pasta are 30 to 35 RON. Salmon dinner or a complete Japanese restaurant meal I’ve seen for 35 to 45 RON. Those are prices in the city center restaurants and cafes. I imagine there are less expensive places and I am sure there are much pricier fine dining establishments. I don’t care for fine dining when out and about by myself. My chicken dinner at an Old Town Square restaurant last night with a beer was 35 RON or $8.75. My doner kebab with a beer at an Old Town cafe two days ago cost 21 RON / $5.00.

An entire ham and mushroom pizza I bought cost 16 RON or less than $4.00. It was way larger than I expected considering the price and I only managed to eat half of it.

Cluj doner kebab 15 RON and Staropramen beer 6 RON = 21 RON or $5.00.
Cluj Pizza 16 RON – $3.94.


The average price for a 400 ml draft beer is 8 RON. The most I paid was 10 RON for a bottle of Stella. A common lager in pubs is Ciuc for 5.00 to 7.50 RON. Ursus is a Cluj-Napoca beer.

Pub life is pretty inexpensive at $10 a day for all I want to drink. I even read about a pub where 5 RON allows you unlimited beer for 2 hours. With so many pubs to explore, I have been limiting myself to one beer per pub and getting around to check out the decor, music and vibe of different places.

I will likely write an article on pubs I like in Cluj-Napoca.

In the nearby supermarket a 500ml Ursus Premium beer is 2.49 RON / 62 cents.

Cluj-Napoca SHTO College Bar

I have not been shopping for gifts yet. Cursory glances at prices in stores and craft stalls indicates there are plenty of good value deals to find.

Cluj-Napoca 3 RON second hand store

Last year in Sofia, Bulgaria I filled half my suitcase with high quality items purchased at a second hand store for about $20.




  • Karung October 20, 2018

    Ric, wonderful write up, never been to Romania, this city will be on bucket list.

  • Ric Garrido October 20, 2018

    A couple other pieces of information I picked up today is Cluj-Napoca is considered the friendliest city in Europe in locals’ attitudes regarding acceptance of foreigners.

    Also, as one of the leading technology centers in Romania with educated workforce, Cluj dubs itself Silican Valley of Romania.

    Supposedly high standard of living for the country.

    I find it a very laid back place with lots of nice restaurants and pubs. Seems to be quite a bit of stuff happening. I have attended two art shows.

  • HHC October 20, 2018

    Are you visiting the Turda salt mine? There are cheap buses to/from Turda.

  • Lisa Poe October 22, 2018

    Having just gotten back from Czechia, I’m interested in hearing more about Central European destinations. Thanks, Ric.

  • Ric Garrido October 22, 2018

    My next article should be suited for your interests. I have spent about six weeks in Prague, Brno, Pilsen, Ceske Budejovice over past three years. A similar amount of time in Poland in Krakow, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Warsaw. A couple weeks in Slovakia and a couple weeks in Bulgaria. Lithuania and Latvia too.

    In short, I love Czechia and Poland. Slovakia and Bulgaria I enjoyed too, but they are definitely a lower standard of living with more challenges for a tourist in terms of infrastructure. For example, in Sofia you have to keep your eyes focused on the ground since there might be an 8-inch deep hole in the sidewalk you can step into and hurt yourself.

    While it would probably not be an issue for a female traveler, when I am walking around alone in downtown areas of cities in Poland, I get harassed by women trying to get me into a ‘girly’ bar. This is a street job for young attractive women in every city downtown of Poland I have stayed (except Sopot). They get a commission for every guy they get into the club and can be persistent. I don’t like it.

    That has not been an issue in Cluj, Romania.

    I have felt safe in Cluj, where I have walked around for miles all day, sometimes past midnight. There is no place I have been in the city center that has even remotely had me on alert.
    In general though, just about any place in Central Europe I have been feels significantly safer than most big cities in USA.

    The problem I encountered in Sofia, Bulgaria a few times and I have heard the same thing about cities in Ukraine are loads of stray dogs can be scary when you find yourself on a street with some roaming big dogs that decide they want to focus on you. I have had the same experience in rural Ireland, though there they were local farm dogs and not strays. I have taken many detours to avoid dogs in some places.

    Have not experienced that in Cluj.

    I tend to visit a place, then decide whether to return with my wife Kelley. I think Kelley will enjoy Cluj and there is a good chance we will be back here in the next six months.

    Sibiu is the city that I see most recommended for Romania and I had planned to go there. But I was feeling tired after arriving in Romania and going to Sibiu would have meant traveling there when the weather was forecast to be the rainiest of the time I am here. I would have gone to Sibiu from London if the airfare had been comparable, but it wasn’t. Cluj-Napoca is the second busiest airport in Romania. Sibiu would be a 4-hour bus ride and I decided that should be a different trip.

    Sighisoara is another smaller destination that looks very attractive. That is 2.5 hours from Cluj.

    My ideal itinerary would be 5 days each in Cluj, Sibiu and Sighisoara to get a sense of different places. Seems like most travelers want to go to as many places as they can. That is not my style. Seven days in Cluj is great for me. Every day I have found new wonderful experiences that I could not have possibly seen in only 3 or 4 days here. And I have not even ventured more than 2 miles from the city center.

  • Ric Garrido October 22, 2018

    Main complaint about Cluj is traffic. I have taken to wearing earplugs when walking along the main roads.

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