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Cluj-Napoca. The “smartest city” in Europe

Amazing stories published by tech professionals that decided to work from unique cities in Romania

Cluj-Napoca (often referred to as Cluj) is the up-and-coming tech capital of Romania, a city with a high quality of life, an academic and cultural center with a focus on innovation and growth. Informally known as the “capital of Transylvania”, it is a vibrant, dynamic city that has seen a fantastic development in the past years.

 

Over the past decade, Cluj has gone through a process of real renaissance, as it became the second biggest city in the country, with a population likely closing in to 350.000 people. It is now also the second biggest student city, with over 80.000 students annually in 6 universities that are competitive at a national or even international level. Out of the 6, Babes-Bolyai University is the largest in Cluj (as well as in all of Romania), and it ranked in the #801-1000 interval in the global QS University Rankings for 2021.

The city has recently been awarded as the “smartest city” by Emerging Europe, surpassing other European cities such as Tallinn, Sofia or Vilnius. 

Cluj has been called the “capital of Transylvania” due to its geographical location in the center of the Transylvania region, as well as the “Silicon Valley of Romania” due to the first IT clusters that developed here. The clusters not only led to a sustainable economic growth, but to the growth of its social-cultural life as well.

Cluj was the European Youth Capital of 2015, it was ranked as the most welcoming city to foreigners (according to a European Commission study), but it is also among the top three fastest-growing local economies in the EU (2019 info from Eurostat).

Download the complete Tech Lifestyle In Romania Whitepaper or see tech jobs in Cluj-Napoca

Quality of life

According to the Urban Barometer created by the World Bank (in 2020) that measures urban quality of life, Cluj-Napoca is the most attractive city in Romania in regards to the quality  of life, economic opportunities and cultural options.

Transportation infrastructure

Cluj-Napoca is well connected to Romanian cities from the center and west of the country through European road E60, as well as to Hungary: it is 180 kilometers away from the border, 4 hours by car to Budapest.

Cluj is served by the “Avram Iancu” International Airport nearby, with direct international connections to Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Switzerland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Egypt and the UAE.

Inside the city, public transportation is assured through a bus-and-tram system run by the City Hall (under the CTP Cluj-Napoca brand) which covers the entire city (including the airport, in the outskirts). 41 electric buses run through the city, together with 26 trams, 251 Diesel buses and 82 trolleys. City Hall confirmed an acquisition of 50 more trolleys and 22 more trams to be delivered by 2022.

Cluj is #225 in the traffic index rating done by Numbeo, ahead of Berlin, Barcelona or Amsterdam. Its infrastructure is well maintained, and connects the major neighbourhoods of Cluj to its shopping areas:

  • Iulius Mall in Gheorgheni neighbourhood (in the East)
  • Central Shopping Center (downtown)
  • Platinia Shopping Center on Calea Manastur (in the West)

In addition to public transportation, you can easily find taxis all through the day and at night, as well as international ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Bolt. New additions to private mobility are electric scooters, provided by both Lime and Bolt, around the extended downtown and the adjacent neighbourhoods.

Bikes are commonly seen in the city, starting with the past few years. There are also multiple locations where bikes can be rented, operated by the ClujBike brand.

Shopping

Cluj is home to the famous cosmetics brand Farmec, as well as to Jolidon brand of lingerie. There are of course many more shopping opportunities, both international and local, including famous clothing brands such as H&M, Zara, Levi’s, Tom Tailor, U.S. Polo or Tommy Hilfiger.

Electronics are well covered by many local shops, including national chain Altex, as well as iStyle Apple Premium Reseller. Emag, the national ecommerce platform, has a strong presence in the city.

Sports

In terms of sports (both for playing them or watching them), Cluj-Napoca has plenty of opportunities. You can watch football at the Cluj Arena stadium (completed in 2011 according to UEFA standards), at the “Dr. Constantin Radulescu” Stadium or at the “Victoria Someseni” Stadium. To play football, there are plenty of private football fields for rent across the city, from Unirea Sports base and Club Transilvania in the West, to Gheorgheni Sports Center in the East, with CMC and “Balcescu” downtown.

Cluj-Napoca provides many other options for athletic endeavours:

  • Gyms: WorldClass chain, BigFitness, Total Gym, Gold Gym, Olympus Center, Bamboo Gym, and many others
  • Tennis: Tenski, Winners Sports Club (includes Padel tennis), Matchball, and many others
  • Squash: Squash Club and Squash Tech
  • Other sports: swimming, martial arts, basketball, handball, fencing are also available

Healthcare

Cluj is served by many large public hospitals that span the whole city length, both for general purpose and for different specific treatments. Among the largest are the Cluj Emergency Hospital (recently renovated), Cluj Municipal Hospital and Children’s Emergency Hospital.

There is also a private hospital that belongs to the largest private clinic network in Romania, “Regina Maria”, together with many public or private clinics all around the city (7 belong to Regina Maria alone).

Cost of living

Quality of life, by comparison

  • You would need around 1,900€ (9,575.44lei) in Cluj-Napoca to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 4,800£ in London, 5,000€ in Paris, 3,300€ in Madrid, 4,000€ in Rome (assuming you rent).

Monthly expenses:

  • Rent in Cluj-Napoca is, on average, 80.18% lower than in London, 70.97% lower than in Paris, 54.66% lower than in Madrid, 59.20% lower than in Rome
  • Internet in Cluj-Napoca is 77% cheaper than in London, 68% cheaper than in Paris, 80% cheaper than in Madrid, 72% cheaper than in Rome.
  • Preschool in Cluj-Napoca is 82% cheaper than in London, 61% cheaper than in Paris, 30% cheaper than in Madrid, 36% cheaper than in Rome.

Purchases and going out

  • Consumer Prices Including Rent in Cluj-Napoca are 65.50% lower than in London, 61.36% lower than in Paris, 42.41% lower than in Madrid, 51.27% lower than in Rome.
  • Restaurant Prices in Cluj-Napoca are 59.50% lower than in London, 56.88% lower than in Paris, 54.66% lower than in Madrid, 51.29% lower than in Rome.
  • Groceries Prices in Cluj-Napoca are 46.74% lower than in London, 61.41% lower than in Paris, 32.03% lower than in Madrid, 47.70% lower than in Rome.
  • A beer in a bar in Cluj-Napoca is 74% cheaper than in London, 78% cheaper than in Paris, 49% cheaper than in Madrid, 69.50% cheaper than in Rome.
  • Taxis in Cluj-Napoca are around 80% cheaper than in London, around 85% cheaper than in Paris, 70% cheaper than in Madrid, 54% cheaper than in Rome.

Family and kids
 

Cluj-Napoca is a great city for families, with children or without. There are many options for leisure activities and great educational opportunities at all school cycles and all ages (for developing new skills). 

In terms of leisure, Cluj central park “Simion Barnutiu” downtown is a great option for spending a lazy afternoon, Cetatuia Park provides a great view of the city, Iulius Mall Park for a post-shopping reprise, the Sports Park for a bit of jogging, as well as many other smaller parks and gardens. They are well maintained and provide a green oasis, just out of sight from the urban bustle.

Looking at schooling, tens of public and private kindergartens can be found (including Montessori), as well as more than 25 public secondary schools: “Ioan Bob” is the highest rank in the city, and one of the highest ranking in the country, “Spectrum” International school is a close second. Cluj-Napoca has 20 highschools, some with national recognition: “Emil Racovita”, “Elf”, “Avram Iancu”, and “Tiberiu Popoviciu” High School of Computer Science.

Furthermore, for families with children, Cluj-Napoca City Hall provides an allowance between 1230 lei and 85% of the average income for the last 12 months worked before the birth of the child (up to a maximum of 8500 lei), for up to 2 years of age. 

Networking opportunities

Cluj’s vibrant tech community is organized alongside a few clusters, in community hubs. It has the highest percentage of startups per population in the country, with 1 out of 11 people in Cluj working in IT. There is an increasing number of tech entrepreneurs who relocate to Cluj due to its informational and social ecosystem.

Top tech communities in Cluj:

  • TransilvaniaIT: Transilvania IT Cluster is the largest IT&C cluster in Romania and it operates in the North-Western region of Romania since 2013 and has more than 130 members. Transilvania IT Cluster established Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub in 2017 and since then it acts as a provider of competences, know-how, innovation programs, support for startups and SMEs in the region through a cross-sectoral approach. The gold labelled cluster represents a bridge on a local, regional, national and international level and has strong links and direct connections with the actors from Transylvania’s ecosystem like start-up communities, the local public authorities, technology companies, universities and other clusters and also at international level. With over four years of history, Transilvania Digital Innovation Hub is the first operational DIH in Romania, recognised in 2019 as "Fully Operational DIH" by the European Commission JRC. Transilvania DIH partners are: Transilvania IT Cluster - orchestrator, Babeș-Bolyai University, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, AgroTransilvania Cluster, Transilvania Creative Industries Cluster, Romanian New Materials Clusters, Transylvania Furniture Cluster, Transylvania Energy Cluster, INCDTIM, Access IT Oradea and Cluj-Napoca City Hall.
  • Cluj Hub: “the most famous co-working space in Cluj, Cluj Hub has hosted over 1,000 events, with international brands like TEDx, CreativeMornings, FuckUpNights, NASA Space App Challenge, and most of the local meetups in Cluj-Napoca (WordPress, JavaScript, Developers, AI, UX/UI, Business Networking, etc.).” (from eu-startups.com)
  • Cluj Startups: has a thousand active members in the community and is in touch with most of the active startups in the region.
  • FreshBlood.Health – “A community aiming to support new startups in healthcare by merging medical knowledge with technology. It was founded in 2017 and is working in partnership with EIT Health.” (from eu-startups.com)
  • Tech’n Trade – “Enables entrepreneurs and innovators to create amazing experiences in retail tech, supporting them in product building and offering free workspace and a space for meetups to the community.” (from eu-startups.com)
  • Startup Grind Cluj – Startup Grind, powered by Google for Startups, is a global startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. The cornerstone of the organization is their monthly events featuring successful local founders, innovators, educators, and investors who share lessons learned on the road to building great companies.” (from eu-startups.com)
  • Silicon Forest – “Silicon Forest provides a range of facilities designed to create an informal and creative workspace. Based in the city center, the hub is an ideal meeting place for professionals with innovative ideas. The space is tailored to tech industry entrepreneurs as well as companies and freelancers from other business areas.” (from eu-startups.com)
  • ClujIT: “a cluster based organization formed of active organizations in the information technology field: providers of software services and solutions, universities and research institutes, public bodies and other catalyst organizations.” (from their website).

There are of course other network opportunities, at some of the large-scale tech events that take place in the city (all sourced from eu-startups.com)

  • Startup Weekend Cluj – “As part of the Startup Weekend global organization, this startup event is meant for programmers, business people, designers. Startup Weekend is the place to look for a team, validate your idea, and create a prototype to test it and receive feedback and guidance from experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts, all during one weekend.”
  • Techsylvania – “The leading tech event in Eastern Europe, exploring visionary ideas, ground-breaking projects and changing markets, through conferences, workshops & much more. Over 3,000 engineers, founders, investors, executives and CEOs of IT & digital companies, banks and pioneers of growing startups from across the world meet at Techsylvania.”
  • Cluj Innovation Days – “An international annual event focused on encouraging innovation, research and entrepreneurship as key ingredients towards building sustainability in businesses and community development. (from eu-startups.com)
  • Codecamp – “It has become one of the biggest IT events in Romania. Codecamp is the perfect place to find out more about new technologies, practices and trends in the IT Industry.”
  • IT Days – “It is a regional conference in Cluj that focuses on innovation, entrepreneurship and technologies in the IT space. Since its start in 2013, the conference has gathered together the biggest companies in the tech world. More than 800 participants attend the two-day conference each year.”

Funding

There are a few investment structures available in Cluj-Napoca, some with big funding and lots of reach. We are looking at accelerators, incubators and VCs (sourced from eu-startups.com):

  • GapMinder – “VC fund targeting IT software and services startups in Romania and Central & Eastern Europe, offering up to €1.5 million in seed funding and an additional €4.5 million in follow-on rounds.”
  • Techcelerator – “A 10-week long acceleration program for tech startups, to help them reach market fit through dedicated pre-seed and seed investment rounds. Techcelerator is the only accelerator in Romania backed by an investment fund.”
  • Spherik – “Was born out of the belief in the creative capacity of the new generation of Central & Eastern Europe entrepreneurs. Its aim is to support the ecosystem by pooling together major stakeholders, from universities to private companies and local government.”
  • Risky Business – “This pre-seed fund focused on early-stage startups provides funding up to €100k, plus acceleration support. The first acceleration fund in Romania, it was created by 30+ of the most prominent and forward thinking business people in Transylvania.”
  • Transylvania Angel Network – “A new initiative created to bring together business angels who are interested in angel investing and mentoring tech startups.”
  • Culturepreneurs – |An annual program devoted to cultural industries by supporting job creation in this sector and the promotion of cultural and creative products. Culturepreneurs supports the creation and the development of startups in design, film, music, crafts, and media.”

Real estate

Investing in Cluj-Napoca’s real estate is a powerful bet on the future of the city. Currently, Cluj-Napoca has the highest price per square meter in the country: EUR 1.887 (according to imobiliare.ro), with a difference of around EUR 500 between downtown and the neighbourhoods. The price has more than doubled since a historic low in 2014, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Leisure

Going out: restaurants

The central area, in and around the Old City, there are plenty of shops, as well as restaurants and cafes. Among the most famous restaurants, we have:

  • Romanian Traditional & New Romanian: Boema House, Livada, Roata, Maimuta Plangatoare, La Cina, Valachia
  • Fine Dining: Baracca, Semplice Gourmet, Fragment, Kupaj Gourmet Tapas, Cabinet de Vin & Cocotte
  • Indian food: Gandhi, IndiGo
  • Chinese food: Shanghai, Shenyang

Going out: cafes

Cluj has a strong coffee culture, where organic or single origin coffees and teas that can be sampled in places such as:

  • Meron
  • Papillon
  • L’Atelier
  • Mozart
  • Form

Going out: pubs & clubs

The city’s reputation as a party scene is well deserved, partially based on its large percentage of students who live in the city. Some of Cluj’s most famous bars and clubs:

  • Piezisa street bars and club (in the student area): Booha Bar, Studio 26, Blend, Gap
  • Downtown (Old City Center): Londoner Pub, Shto, Enigma, Hemingway, Bruno, Klausen, Insomnia, Che Guevara Social Pub, Jaxx American Restaurant, Joben Bistro
  • Others: Form Space, Club NOA, Club Midi

Festivals

There are of course 2 major music festivals of international renown that take place in the Cluj area:

  • Untold, an electronic music festival that takes place inside the city (multiple locations), usually in July. It’s main stage is in the Cluj Arena, with many smaller stages all across the city. Launched in 2015, it has become the largest festival in Romania and one of the largest and most popular in Eastern Europe, with big names on stage every year from electro, R&B, rap and other genres.
  • Electric Castle, an alternative music festival which takes place in Bontida (about 40 kilometers from Cluj), near the ruins of the Banffy Castle. Its first edition was in 2013 and it attracts crowds from all over the world.

Transylvania International Film Festival - or better known as TIFF - is the most famous film festival in Romania. From their website:

Founded in 2002, in the town of Cluj-Napoca, Transilvania IFF has grown rapidly to become the most important film-related event in Romania and one of the most spectacular annual events in the region. Transilvania IFF’s main goal is the promotion of cinematic art by presenting some of the most innovative and spectacular films of the moment that feature both originality and independence of expression, that reflect unusual cinematic language forms or focus on current trends in youth culture. Dedicated to 1st and 2nd time directors, the Official Competition focuses on discovering new voices.

Visiting

Cluj - the city - offers many fun activities to do and sights to behold. Among the most popular:

  • Climbing up Cetatuia Hill for a view of the city
  • Visiting the Astronomical Observatory for a view of the stars
  • Museum: Zoology, Transylvanian History, Transylvanian Ethnography, Ratiu Center for Democracy
  • Architecture: Banffy Palace, Szeki Palace, Saint Michael’s church
  • Hungarian Theater
  • Botanical garden

Cluj - the county - also has its own share of amazing things to visit:

  • Cheile Turzii Gorge
  • Tarnita lake
  • Hoia Baciu forest
  • Bridal Veil Falls
  • Fantanele lake
  • Gherla and Turda synagogues
  • Banffy Castle in Bontita
  • Adrenalin Park
  • Baisoara ski resort

Download the complete Tech Lifestyle In Romania Whitepaper see tech jobs in Cluj-Napoca. . 

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