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Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your people. I used to think they talk funny, but it's because they sing when they talk. They're calm, your people. I remember the time a neighbourhood hooligan was 'yelling' all kinds of obscenities  at a guy on the soccer field. Even though I understood the death threats, it still sounded like he was singing a lullaby. We kept playing, the cops came and took him to the drunk tank, and that was that. No biggie. 'Keep calm and carry on'. Invented in London, embodied in Cluj.

3. I love your eclectic architecture. The Gothic church, the Baroque buildings in Unirii Square. Let's hope they get the restoration work they deserve.  If it happens, there's a chance people will confuse you with Prague. You can handle it.

4. I love your bohemian spirit. You're ready to welcome anybody from anywhere. The Dutch businessman, the British expat, the Latin American/Tunisian/EU Citizen student, the German and American tourists. You're equally willing to let your citizens fly out and explore. Plus, not many cities are equidistant from three European capitals.

5. I love that you're growing. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes. You might gain some weight in cement, but it will help swing your weight at the higher levels of governance. And it's exciting to see you grow.

6. I love your curves. The only things that should be flat are roads and tables, the rest is up for debate. It's nice to be nestled by hills, it reminds your people that your backyard is rich and beautiful. What mysteries do you hide in your haunted forest? What's your good side, the north or the south?   Maybe it's the view driving in that distracts drivers and causes those accidents up on Feleac.

7. I love your cabbies. They never take the scenic route and they have some of the best stories.

8. I love your food. You got all the staples here.  Good steak, good burgers, good duck, probably the best Pad Thai this side of Europe, and let's not forget the Doner Kebab. But this is just the restaurants, because when summer comes around, it's a pleasure to be a stay-at-home vegetarian. Ah, and the drinks - well, they don't have all to be local, good job on shipping that Oban.

9. I love your malls. There are only two. I like that, I'd go crazy if I had to stroll through more than two malls, ever. Also, they both have cinemas, which is nice.

10. I love your art. There's always some artist killing it with a cool display in the city center or with beautiful gallery work. The music scene could use some help, but there's no shortage of places to enjoy music from elsewhere. But the art that  truly excites in Cluj is the vibrant creativity. Slowly but surely entrepreneurs are bringing in new ideas and concepts to the city. It's the easy networking and connections between various types of people that create the electric buzz of a city that's coming of age.

It is what it is.
I know where I've been, and this is where I am. 
Although Toronto is a world-class metropolis, I'm living the dream in Cluj.

I can travel anywhere in Europe within 3-4 hours via direct low-cost flights from the local airport; quick flights got me to Paris, Amsterdam, and Barcelona in 2013. I can watch movies at the cinema, sometimes before they come out in the US -and pay less for the ticket. I also have faster and better internet access than I could dream of anywhere in North America. It also goes without saying that I'm paying much less for rent here than I would for a very crappy apartment in TO, or that my commute to work is 10 minutes on a bad day. Although, infrastructure wise, it can be rough around the edges, it's the safest city I've ever been in -but this goes for most of the country.

I don't think I could ask for more, I'd feel greedy. I already live in the perfect city.

Photo credit: streetsofromania


  1. I know it's not nice to give inks to my own articles, but... I feel the same.

    I love this place. And I hate myself for wanting to leave. And I suffer because of this and I feel stupid and guilty.

    Thanks, Matt.

    1. If you love Cluj, you'll come back. And I'm sure the city will be better for it :)

    2. a nice article! indeed, Cluj is a nice place, no regrets for coming back!! :-)

  2. Thank you. It is amazing how people get to fall inlove with Cluj. I visited some 3 cities of Europe. All with great architecture and all. But here... Here is my home. And trust me it is more than St. Michael's church and the Baroque buildings in the city center ;). It is true moet of the local people (i mean born and raised here) are nice, calm and always ready to give a hand. I am happy people like Cluj.

  3. Regarding your question in the title: No, Cluj is not the best city on Earth. Maybe for you, but that's probably because you haven't visited a lot of cities on Earth.

    1. We, the readers of this article thank you! We were really getting stressed over here for not having the answer to that question! Thank God (and you, of course!) that's finally out of the way now!

    2. I could not agree more with you!! Matt is just loosing it. To write for the sake of writing- this is what this article seems to be. His whole blog might belie a frivol ambition of making a name for himself in the local political spectrum. To invest so much time of your life to lobby for something does not exist ????!!!

  4. I lived in Cluj all my life (28 years), and only traveled to a few other countries, all in Europe. Cluj is indeed a great city, and the only one I would rather live as far as living in Romania goes (except maybe for Brasov. I could also consider living in Brasov :P). But as far as the rest of the world goes.. I think (regrettably) that Cluj doesn't come very close of being the best city on earth. And it's not even its fault. Cluj just has the major disadvantage of being a Romanian city; and that by itself explains it all.

    1. AnonymousMay 13, 2016

      "Cluj has the major disadvantage of being a Romanian city" - this is the advantage my friend; this is what makes it special. You are just too close to it to see the big picture. You should live (not only visit) say 3-5 years in a highly praised western location and then you'll know what I'm talking about. I envy you for living in Cluj and in Romania every day. I live in Switzerland by the way.

  5. Ms SmartarseFebruary 26, 2014

    As a citizen of Cluj, I have to thank you for the lovely words. Reading this blog post really put a smile on my face. :)

    Sure, we're not perfect, and I've often thought about things like "Hey, why don't we have XYZ here, when other do?", but ultimately for me Cluj is still home.
    It's always nice to see that others (especially people who moved here from elsewhere) are also able to consider it as such.

  6. Well, i like Cluj a lot, also moved there from another country. But to say it is the best city on earth....

    Of course for you as an expat your movie theater ticket and your appartment rent is cheap, but this isn't the case for a lot of local people who are struggling to pay their rents (which are pretty high in comparison with the average wages). Most of the people from Cluj also can not fly to Paris and Barcelona. And what about the medical services, if you are really sick and have no money? I know several cases of people who had to found their own blood donors because there was no blood available at the bloodbank.

    So i agree, it is a very pleasant city to live, don't get me wrong, but you don't need to exaggerate :)

    1. First things first. I want to help dispel the stereotype that a Romanian city is not a great place to be living in. Many, if not most, foreigners have this preconception.

      Believe it or not, there are people in the West who would be surprised to hear that a city in Romania has 24/hr electricity, let alone Internet service that far surpasses what's available on their market.

      I'm aware that there are many issues here, so I feel blessed by the opportunities that put me in a position to enjoy the perks that Cluj has to offer.

      I'm not making an outright comparison to New York, Barcelona, or even Toronto. But I do know I like living here more than I did back there. No exaggeration as far as I'm concerned.

    2. I agree with your last sentence. I too enjoy living in Romania far more than living in my 'home'country the Netherlands. But what i wrote is confirmed in some of the replies here; that especially foreigners like Cluj, and Romanians still feel the need to move out of Romania. Which is too bad, because the brain drain is one of Romania's biggest problems (especially in the medical sector).

      Anyway, Cluj is a great city so enjoy your time there! I only go to Cluj occasionaly nowadays since i moved to the Romanian countryside (which beats the city :))

    3. i'm happy that you like our city :) but most foreigners like it, and romania in general, because they come with outside money; they already have businesses. and romanians still want to move out for this exact reason, to obtain what you already got. if romania would provide all the opportunities that western countries do (starting with the right education, and with how hard it is to make something from nothing here, literally with having just the clothes you are wearing) we would not want to leave so badly.

    4. Yes Matt, keep it real or you will lose credibility, if any

    5. I don't think that what Matt says applies mostly to expats. I'm a Romanian. I wasn't born in Cluj, but I lived there throughout my teenage years. I left the city to study at the best uni London has to offer. Although I made loads of friends here, I feel as if I lost a lot by leaving.
      For now I can't choose to come back to Cluj, unless I give up on the career of my choice. I find myself, however, making life plans around moving back. There is no job in Cluj in the field in which I'm doing a Phd, so I wanna create that job there. I don't think I'll feel at home until I come back. In London I feel like a small piece in a big machine. Cluj on the other hand is growing fast and it encourages you somehow to contribute to that growth, to shape the future of the city. I guess that what I like about it is that unlike the other two cities which I inhabited (Iasi and London), it doesn't miss its past. It is at its best now and it keeps looking forward.

  7. Great blog, love it! I can't agree with you though because I'm also an ex pat though from UK and I also moved to Romania and call it Home! The best city on earth is, of course.... ARAD! No, just joking, they're both great cities because they're in the best country! Sure there are problems but what country doesn't have problems? I visited cluj for a couple of days and you're right, it's a good place to be :)

    1. Only foreigners seem to really appreciate this country. Glad you like the blog :)

    2. Of course you can appreciate Romania if you have money. But most romanians barely make a living from one day to the other. So it's totally understandable why foreigners seem to appreciate this country more; I doubt they have to make a living here with 700-800 RON / month.
      I also met an american couple that lived in Cluj for a while. He was a photographer and she was an english teacher. But after almost an year they left Cluj depressed and returned to the USA, saying that it's impossible to make a living here with our incomes / costs ratio, and that they can't figure out how we all do it. They said that Mexico is also a poor country, but their prices are to match and you can make a more decent living there than in Cluj.

    3. with all do respect to my hometown Arad, Cluj is a multicultural, architectural and cultural mosaic I would compare it rather to Budapest than to Prague,but anyway it continues to surprise me each year

    4. @Horatiu C, there's no way to get around it, living on 800 RON/month is extremely hard.

      The ideal situation for expats here is to have an income generated by business outside of the country. A well crafted online product or service can easily generate enough business on which one can live comfortably. I shouldn't imply this is just an expat option though, anyone can do it if they're passionate about something and good at creating value in the online economy.

      This is how living in Cluj can turn into a significant advantage over living in larger Western cities.

      @novac agreed, Cluj does keep on delivering pleasant surprises.

    5. AnonymousMay 20, 2014

      @Hotariu C as a Mexican living in Cluj I can tell you that Mexico it is an expensive place and the prices don't necessarily match what you can make, the society is extremely divided and there is no other choice thatn to work hard; however I can also tell you that I am working in Cluj and live a nice descent life, when I moved here I never thought I would like it this much considering that I have also traveled half the globe and lived in Cities like Mexico, Paris and Madrid for me there is something that is priceless when I wake up everyday I know that I will get on the taxi and I won't get kidnapped or killed. I guess I have the peace of felling safe in this city. I guess what I want to say is maybe us expats appreciate more this city because we have been out there and have something to compare so maybe you should try to get out there and see for your own eyes what's best for you because one things is for sure we all are different and we have diverse priorities in life and that is what makes life interesting. And of course is always nice to see the world.

  8. Sorry but i really dont get it i spent some very average evenings there and past through to use the airport but a florence barcelona london or bristol its not.

    1. I'm an expat Romanian living abroad for more than a quarter of a century now and I agree with you. Let's not exaggerate. Barcelona must be one of the best cities in this world - great architecture, fantastic art, culture, language, people OK, food exceptional, good transport, shopping, sites, whatever one wants and much more one never knew s/he wanted!
      Beats Cluj any time on absolutely every level, including the pick-pockets LOL No offense.
      If Cluj could become Barcelona in 200 years, I would die happy

  9. Poza e bestiala! Parca Clujul nu ar avea cu ce sa se mandreasca, si ramane panorama Manasturului.

  10. Thanks for this article Matt, as I wrote a while ago about your travel-article through RO, I think articles like that make Romanians abroad want to come back, even for just a while.

    I am aware that Cluj is not perfect but for me it is also the best city on earth and I whish that more Romanian cities get "crazy" as Cluj did in the last 10 years and would develop that quickly on all levels. I think it s a city where anyone can feel a wind of change despite of the all day tipical Romanian problems.

    1. Wind of change, exactly. It's very exciting to be here -or better yet, become a part of it.

  11. nice article : )

  12. Hello
    I am from Sydney, which is a wonderful city and great place to live. I have been fortunate over the years to visit Cluj on a regular basis. Have made some wonderful friends and met some terrific people. Food is great, wines and beer also.
    For anyone to be able to visit Cluj, try the food and meet people from the city and surrounding areas. You will enjoy and not forget.

    Thank you
    Bob H ( Sydney and Cluj)

  13. de ce nu un articol in limba romana?

    1. lol, pentru ca nenea matt nu stie romana. de aia ii rapundem toti in engleza, ca sa ne inteleaga si el, sarmanul strain delirant :P

    2. Un articol in limba romana este. Cel mai important, zic eu :)

    3. Nu în limba romana, pt ca nu-i folosește nimănui!

      You have to learn, all of you, that you are not writing travel blogs about Romania for Romanian tourists!
      Romanians know their own country and they don't need blogs to inform them about any place and any city, really.
      They even know secret places that no tourist agency in Romania knows they exist!
      Because the travel agencies in that country are THAT BAD at their job! Most of them do not know what's worth seeing in Romania and when and where even!
      If you wanna sell that country to the outsiders (because those are the people you want to attract and they don't know s#!t about Romania, not even the fact that it's in Europe) then you have to write in English so that the people everywhere from China to Japan and from Ghana to South Africa and from Fiji to Peru can read the info.
      You entice people to visit telling them the truth: the good, the bad, the ugly and the wonderful. That way nobody'll ever be disappointed.
      Do not exaggerate, don't lie to them and they will come.

      You need foreigners because they bring money in - you don't really need to inform Romanians about their country because they know it pretty well - it's compulsory to learn about it in school and they do. Unlike the Americans they also know Geography pretty well.
      Romanians, when they travel inside their own country they mostly stay with friends and relatives, or use tents and stuff like that.
      What you need is people READY TO SPEND hard currency, people to stay in hotels and motels, eat at restaurants, buy kitschy souvenirs and visit not ONLY the villages but the cities, the museums, the mountains, the Black Sea, the Danube Delta too. Not just a bunch of monasteries...
      So you ADVERTISE IT IN ENGLISH, you write about it in that language, not in Romanian. The Romanian tourism bureaus don't advertise properly - they are too silly to know how to present the country in several languages, their advertisements are so unconvincing and so boring and stiff.

    4. My above reply to Anonymous was a joke :)
      The only writing I've done in Romanian is about my views on the ways in which many people here don't fulfill their potential. This is also not a tourist blog. As much as possible, I try to write objectively about things I notice about Romania as a returning Romanian.

  14. No, it is not the best city on earth. How can it be when it has exactly 1 park, no bicycle lanes, it is full of traffic and the allow building of blocks everywhere? And the list can continue with corruption,...
    On the good side it is probably the best city in Romania.

  15. i totally agree with you.. well, except one thing though: parks. cluj has a shit-load of parks. the central one, hategan, rozelor, colina, mercur, intre lacuri, are just the well known ones, plus many more that i don't know by name.
    not to mention that cluj is surrounded by forests and nature. you can walk 10 minutes from grigorescu or gruia neighborhoods and you are in the hoia-baciu forest. or from manastur and you are in faget. or from gherogheni and you are in becas, and so on...

  16. Yes. The old hungarian part of the sity ist very nice.

  17. parerea mea despre articol: cacat

    1. trivial dar adevarat

    2. not nice but entirely true

  18. AnonymousMay 19, 2014

    I have traveled all over the Europe, I have visited many cities, but always returned home, because no city was good enough. No city was my home, my Cluj. When I was in Paris, Wien, Berlin, Zurich it was nice, cool places, but I felt lonely `in the middle of the people`, but that never happened in Cluj, even thou I walk alone through the city surrounded by people-I feel loved, wanted, happy

    1. That's exactly how it feels to live here.

  19. You must have been intoxicated(exuberance, unrestrained exultation?? ) when you wrote this article. I can give you countless reasons for which Cluj qualifies ,for the time being, merely as a provincial Romanian town, but what is the point- we will never publish them.

    1. Maybe I was just high on living in the best city on earth?

  20. Really, Matt!!!! Articles like this put me off from considering such blogs, let alone giving them any credence

  21. I know this is an old article Matt.. Thanks for sharing your opinions though as an expat there. I'm seriously considering moving to Romania from Atlanta.

    You are obsolutly right that anyone with an Internet connection can make money. It just takes a lot of creativity and passion for something you love. I picked up creating mobile games through being an avid gamer and learning programming.

    The current income I generate is not quite enough for me to survive here in the US without a second job. Which leaves me less time to develope games.

    I hope that more Romanians can read this and see your country is ripe of opportunity, especially considering you have one of the fastest cheapest internet connections in Europe.

    I'm also self taught and did not attend school for what I do. So yes anyone with some computer knowledge and good English reading writing skills can learn and create an income from anywhere. find your passion and the rest will follow.

    So thanks for sharing Matt! You have convinced another expat that Cluj is the right city in Romania for me ;)

    1. Hi Evan, it may be an old post, but it's always nice to get a comment like yours. Like you say, it's good for others to see that Romania looks good even from far away.

  22. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the post, after reading it i kinda feel falling in love with the city again, I'm a Transylvanian girl, lived around Europe for the last 5 years, at the moment I'm in London, and I have to move back, and I will move back to Cluj, a part of me is excited, the other part wants to stay in London...
    Hard decisions...
    What do you recommend to meet foreign people in Cluj where to find them?
    Just one more time, my heart was melting after this article ...


  23. Hi all,

    I will be moving to Cluj soon and I am wondering about which are the best places (areas, quartiers) to live in there.
    Do IRIS is nice?


    1. No , Iris is not at all a good area to live in Cluj . It is quite isolated from the central part of the town and there are lots of old communist factories there . I would say the best areas to live are Grigorescu ( it has a beautiful park near the Somes river and it is very well connected to the centre ) and Gheorgheni ( in spite of the communist blocks ,there are lots of parks and trees everywhere and it has an amazing location ) . Andrei Muresanu is also a very nice location


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