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Cluj Napoca is considered the unofficial capital of Transylvania, a region in Romania better known than the country itself. Small and quaint, the city used to bustle with tourists who came for the architecture and the students who came for the world renowned universities. Nowadays, it’s filled with artists, business people, festival goers and locals nostalging for the old good times, when traffic was not an issue.
What puts Cluj Napoca on the world’s map?
Probably every ghost-story lover in the world heard about the Hoia Baciu Forest, situated just next to Cluj Napoca. The forest got its name from a shepherd who presumably disappeared one night, with his 200 sheeps and was never to be seen again. Another local story depicts that one day, the whole forest disappeared, just to reappear again in the next day.
It has been said for years that the woods here are haunted by ghosts, and that unexplained events take place when people dare to stay overnight. The trees are weirdly shaped, like they decided to change directions whilst growing, resulting in twisted twigs that make for great eerie photos. Even though the location could prove to be a golden goose for tourism, locals are not keen on disturbing the spirits, and are not always happy to get visitors.
Nevertheless, groups of people are always trying to discover what goes on in the forest and the stories go from night injuries with no one in the room to unexplained appearances in what will probably remain one of the greatest mysteries in decades.
The city changes at the beginning of summer and every yard, park, cinema room or historical building becomes a potential screening place for the first international feature film festival in Romania. The restaurants and bars are filled with students looking to expand their cinematic horizons, directors and actors having casual conversations with the public and the city seems busier than ever. The crowded traffic it’s just an opportunity to walk between the various locations of the festival or rent an electric scooter. All you need during TIFF is the official schedule, film tickets and the bandwidth to experience all it has to offer, from movies in Unirii Square to acoustic concerts in Arkhai Sculpture Park (Vlaha), where the artist Ernő Bartha created an unique hay sculpture museum in his backyard.
A small gathering of volunteers and four stages in 2013 became one of the biggest festivals in Europe and the place to be every summer. The festival is held on the Bánffy domain, in Bontida, about 30 km away from Cluj. During the festivals, you can take the train, buses or even a cab, though a short 15 min drive can become a longer journey, as people flood from the city to catch the first concerts.
EC started as a music festival, but has now expanded and includes art installations, talks with specialists in various domains, from technology to photography and even a sign language translator for the hearing impaired at the Main Stage. As for accommodation, the prices soar during the festival, and most places get occupied even one year in advance. Place a tent in someone’s yard in Bontida or simply get a camping ticket and spend a week like you’re 16.
Soon after Electric Castle made a name for itself on the European Festivals map, Untold was born, the largest electronic music festival held in Romania. The EDM festival is held mostly on Cluj Arena, next to the Central Park, so locals usually know to avoid that area, if they are looking for a quiet place. The number of participants grows every year and both festivals are bringing a huge number of tourists in the area, when in summer, the streets used to be emptier, as the students returned to their cities. The locals only get a couple of peaceful weeks before the city gets crowded again in September.
Cluj Napoca was selected the EYC of 2015, a recognition of the city’s continuous efforts to improve the dynamic of a multicultural city. The event was marked by projects, events and initiatives that attracted and involved the youth in all aspects, from social to leisure. Though this was a great acknowledgement for the city, with Cluj Napoca also being recognised as the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe, the rent prices increased and have remained on a growing trend since then. Nevertheless, the city is booming with tech startups (UiPath), hospitality businesses (the Unirii Square recently became pedestrian on the western side and new restaurants/coffee shops opened in the area) and student life, from jazz festivals in the park to a vibrant nightlife. Piezisa is widely known for its bars and parties until the early hours of the morning.
The second biggest city in Romania, Cluj used to be mostly known for its universities, but the last decade transformed the city in a multicultural environment, attracting Romanians and foreigners, who are either looking for a great Romanian experience or to get involved in the ever changing IT market.
In the weekends, there are amazing areas close to the city to escape to: Cheile Turzii is a great hike for beginners, less than an hour drive from Cluj; once a well kept secret, Tarnita lake has become the “place to be”, after Instagram influencers made it famous across the country; or the Turda salt mine, known for its underground amusement park, including a Ferris wheel, an underground lake that may be explored with paddles and rowboats and even a spa.
You can easily travel to Cluj by car, buses or train. The international airport “Avram Iancu” is located only 9 km from the city centre, with frequent flights to Europe. The bus line 5 takes you all the way to and from the airport, no need to take a taxi, which will be more expensive.
The city has expanded a lot in the past years, absorbing the villages around into the city’s suburbia, but when it comes to the centre, walking is always the best option.
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