This northwestern Transylvanian city, in the heart of the Carpathian mountains, combines cosmopolitan modernity with old-world European charm. Cluj-Napoca, commonly called simply Cluj, brims with spectacular Gothic and Baroque architecture, from churches to the Palace of Justice and Banffy Palace, which houses an art museum. Union Square, at the center of the city, is a must-see for any visitor. In addition to Saint Michaelâ€™s Church, the square holds one of the most important pieces of public art in Romania, a Gothic statue of Matthias Corvinus, a 15th century king of Hungary. The surrounding area is full of sights, with plenty of museums and attractions to occupy you.
Cluj makes an excellent base of operations for exploring the surrounding mountains, as well, including the town of Bistrita, which lies approximately 65 miles northwest. This well-preserved medieval town features remnants of the defenses that once surrounded it and merchantsâ€™ houses that date back as far as the 15th century, when it was a thriving trading post. The nearby Apuseni Nature Park features a system of over 400 caverns, many of which are open to exploration, while Scarisoara Cave, another nearby cave, houses the second-largest underground glacier in Europe.
Must see: Built between 1350 and 1487, Saint Michaelâ€™s is a spectacular Gothic church overlooking Union Square, full of sculptures and stained-glass windows. The altar dates to 1390.
Lodging: Grand Hotel Italiaâ€“This luxury hotel features spacious rooms, a pool, banquet hall and in-house laundry and dry-cleaning facilities. Its central location allows easy access to attractions like the Palace of Justice and Avram Iancu Square.
Cuisine: CiorbÄƒ is a traditional Romanian sour soup, often made with lemon juice, borÈ™ (fermented wheat bran) or sauerkraut juice. Popular variations include ciorbÄƒ de burtÄƒ (tripe) and ciorbÄƒ de periÅŸoare (meatballs, usually pork).
Ground Transportation: When hailing a taxi, make sure itâ€™s from a reputable firmâ€“cab companies will display their logo somewhere on the car, so avoid vehicles simply marked â€œtaxi.â€ Also, drivers will often take roundabout routes to your destination, especially if youâ€™re obviously a tourist.
Packing Tips: Even in summer, it can be chilly in the mountains, so itâ€™s best to bring clothing that can be layered.
Recommended Books: Transylvania, of course, is closely associated in Western popular culture with vampires due to Bram Stokerâ€™s classic of Gothic horror, Dracula, a chilling, atmospheric read that still holds up today.
Currency: The leu is the local currency, although a conversion to the Euro has been announced for the near future.
Calling Code Romania: 40
Best Travel Dates: Romaniaâ€™ winters are bitter cold, but any other time of year is worth visiting.