Have you ever been to a country that speaks Romanian, eats Romanian food and has similar traditions? Nope, it’s not Romania, it’s the Republic of Moldova. Yep – you read that right.
Our travels brought us to Chisinau – the least visited European capital. Chisinau is a city off the tourist beaten path. Read in this article about our experience in this young nation’s capital and our recommendations on what to visit and where to eat.
- Travel To and Around Chisinau
- Where to Stay in Chisinau
- Things to do in Chisinau
- Herta House
- Presidential Palace
- Parliament of Moldova
- National Opera and Ballet Theatre and Square
- “Stefan cel Mare” Statue
- Government House of Moldova
- Triumphal Arch
- Nativity Cathedral and Cathedral Park
- Chisinau City Hall
- Mihai Eminescu Square
- Ciuflea Monastery
- Valea Morilor Park
- Lenin Memorial
- The National History Museum
- Other Museums to Visit
- Eternity Memorial Complex
- Visit a Winery
- Other things to do
- Food and Drinks Highlights
- Final Thoughts
Chisinau pronounced KEE-shee-NOW is the capital of the Republic of Moldova. Situated on the river Bac, it was originally founded in the 15th century as a small town around a monastery.
Back then it was part of the Principality of Moldova, a medieval state encompassing the Romanian province of Moldova and nowadays the Republic of Moldova.
The city changed hands several times amongst Russian and Romanian control over the years. As the city became the regional capital for the newly formed province, it also become a trading hub and economic centre.
Walking through the streets of Chisinau one can notice also a notable Slavic minority in the form of Russian and Ukrainian ethnics amongst others.
During the Russian control, the Republic of Moldova was submitted to a heavy russification process with various peoples from across the empire and later on from other Soviet Republics were offered the opportunity to relocate to Moldova and call themselves Moldovans.
Moreover, as Chisinau was part of the U.S.S.R., one can notice a heavy soviet influence in terms of architecture and city layout.
Word of advice, if you have an E.U. issued SIM card, as Moldova isn’t in the E.U., you may want to buy a local SIM card to make sure you get the most out of your journey as the European roaming regulations don’t apply here.
The local currency is Moldovan Lei, not to be confused with Romanian Lei. In truth, most merchants will accept any currency. In Chisinau there are plenty of currency exchange bureaus with fairly competitive rates.
We suggest you exchange your currency in Moldova. Rates can vary but for the most part the rates are good regardless.
Travel To and Around Chisinau
Chisinau International Airport (KIV) is Moldova’s main international airport, located 13 km southeast of the centre of Chisinau, the capital city. The city itself is also accessible by land transport such as car and train services from either Ukraine or Romania.
There are a few options to fly into Chisinau however, on this occasion we chose to take a stopover flight to Bucharest and then proceed to Chisinau. You can read more about our stopover experience at the Romanian seaside here.
Flight prices overall seem considerably pricier than other destinations (with similar distances) for either flag carriers or even low cost options.
If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.
Also, if you are considering taking a taxi from the airport to your accommodation or wherever, you can use Uber/FreeNow style apps however, you will have to download local equivalents such as Yandex Go (Moldova) or itaxi amongst others.
Our advice is don’t link your debit/credit card and choose “Cash” as a payment method. Taxi drivers in Chisinau are sneaky.
We had 5 journeys and on all journeys the driver tried to take us on a longer ride or went on the wrong lane and then simply waited “strategically” in traffic.
On 2 occasions the drivers turned the app on before us boarding and didn’t even turn it off until I called them 5-10 minutes after the journey ended. One of them didn’t even bother with the actual amount shown, he just asked us what he wanted us to pay thinking we wouldn’t cross reference the app.
Try to confirm the itinerary with the driver before they start the journey.
Alternatively, public transport is fairly frequent and very cheap. One ticket equates to one journey. So boarding a new bus means you need to buy a new ticket.
Bus conductors will come and sell you tickets if you don’t have one. Sometimes they also can accept debit/credit cards although we didn’t benefit from this option.
Where to Stay in Chisinau
In general, there are plenty of hotels and accommodation options, however, we would recommend staying somewhere central as you can get around quite easily. We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. Use the widget below to find the best accommodation in Chisinau for your specific dates.
On this occasion, we found prices to be higher than what you’d potentially expect to pay. We decided to reserve a flat through Airbnb as the prices were much more down to Earth which worked out at 1/3 of the price per night per hotel room.
Sure, like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Chisinau
First and foremost as a tourist you might have been doing some research about Chisinau beforehand especially if you’re heading that way, which is why you’re probably reading this article.
Whilst other sources do mention that the city has very little to offer, we think otherwise.
You could say most attractions are conveniently situated mostly on the same boulevard which is “Stefan cel Mare si Sfant”. Below we will cover most points of interest you should consider in Chisinau, from north to south.
One thing you might find a little bit odd is that in the immediate vicinity of most points of interest, you can find run down buildings. It’s a bit like having some shambles next to the Eiffel Tower.
This house used to be the old house of a former mayor in Chisinau which later has been converted to what it is nowadays the art museum.
We were slightly confused as the building looked run down and closed although it seemed to have been recently renovated. Nonetheless, it’s still worth a photo.
The building was originally built to be the new Supreme Soviet (Parliament), after the independence from the U.S.S.R. it became the Presidential Palace. It looks very similar, at least in architecture, to the Bulgarian Presidential Palace.
Unlike the Presidential Palace in Bucharest, you can only visit this official residence once a year during the Open Day.
Parliament of Moldova
Opposite the Presidential Palace you can also notice the Parliament of Moldova. The architecture is soviet style and is typical for former communist countries.
We didn’t think too much about the buildings but like we said they are conveniently placed on the boulevard.
National Opera and Ballet Theatre and Square
This square was a nice addition with 2 fountains and a fairly interesting big bench meant to attract photo opportunities.
What can I say, finally a bench for me.
“Stefan cel Mare” Statue
This is a statue commemorating the great leader the medieval Moldovan Principality had. It’s said that for every battle he won against the Turks, he would build a monastery. Hence he was stylised as “Saint” as well and was given sainthood.
Nearby is also the park with the same name. We actually found the park, and all parks in Chisinau in all fairness to be a very nice place to have a stroll and observe the serene and calm ambiance.
Government House of Moldova
Again, fairly similar to the Moldovan Parliament, it offers a cold soviet architecture and is situated in the Great National Assembly Square. It presides over the boulevard and overseas the Arch of Triumph and the Nativity Cathedral.
For sure a good place to be for a few good photos and perhaps the highlight so far.
It was built in 1840 and is 13 metres hight. A white stone arch with a clock commemorating the Russo-Turkish War.
In the middle of the arch, people can pass through, you will also see the Moldovan flag on the inside. Down the stairs you already enter the Cathedral Park.
Nativity Cathedral and Cathedral Park
Now this is a really nice park with plenty of willow trees and green spaces. In the middle of the park one can observe the white Nativity Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity is the main cathedral of the Moldovan Orthodox Church in Central Chișinau. It was commissioned by the governor of New Russia, Prince Mikhail Vorontsov, and Metropolitan Gavril Bănulescu-Bodoni in 1830.
Inside the cathedral one can notice typical Orthodox motifs with very impressive holy paintings.
We really enjoyed taking a stroll through the park as well. We actually sat down at one of the outdoors coffee shops and enjoyed and nice hot cup of cappuccino. Yum!
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Chisinau City Hall
Originally built to house the city Duma (council) in 1901, it later became the City Hall. It offers an interesting style architecture and is fairly unique looking. Definitely worth stopping to take a photo.
Mihai Eminescu Square
This square houses the National Theatre and the Organ Hall which is a concert hall. Both buildings stand very impressive over the square and the location does make for a good stop for a coffee or tea break.
During Soviet times the Nativity Cathedral was used as an exhibition hall and hence the main church of Chisinau was moved to the Ciuflea Monastery.
During that time it became a cathedral, following the independence from the Soviet Union it became once again a monastery.
The monastery is a work of art. Blue like the sky with some really impressive architecture on the outside. The building on the inside has 1 main altar and 2 side ones which are beautifully crafted.
It reminded us quite a lot of the Blue Church in Bratislava with similar nuances of blue and fairly vivid colours.
Inside there are biblical depictions that showcase true craftmanship which make one loose themselves in these paintings.
Valea Morilor Park
The park hosts a beautiful staircase with fountains called Fountains Staircase. It does look quite unique and makes one feel they are in a royal garden.
Tranquil, leafy park on a lake, with walking paths and a small amusement park. The park also hosts on one of the shores of its lake a beach with actual golden fine sand. I guess if you can’t go to the beach, the beach comes to you.
We took an aqua bike on the lake and had a good 30 min of fun. Note to oneself, don’t eat lunch and then go on an aqua bike.
Having finished with the park, head over to the Lenin Memorial. Not so much impressive however, it’s very interesting especially if you’re fascinated by soviet memorabilia.
Remember that Moldova still has a Communist Party and hence communist symbols and doctrines have continued even after the Soviet independence.
The National History Museum
Originally built as a lyceum, this then later became what it is today. The museum is structured into many scientific sections: Ancient History and Archaeology, Medieval History, History of Basarabia, Contemporary History, Treasures.
The museum highlights artefacts that showcase a common heritage with Romania and the wider Romanian space as well as items from Soviet and Russian imperial rule.
One thing we found very interesting is that whilst the objects are described i.e. this is a fountain pen, there aren’t any descriptions to explain the background behind those objects.
So some background knowledge beforehand is needed to fully appreciate the museum and its artefacts.
The museum also showcases a scene from the retreat of the Germans in the World War II. The scene comes to life once the museum curator turns on the sound.
Whether you are into history or not, we still think it’s worth visiting this museum as we were simply impressed by the stunning interior design.
Other Museums to Visit
There are a number of interesting museums to visit. Unfortunately our full day in Chisinau was on a national holiday, so all museums were closed and we only had time to visit one museum during our stay.
We were interested in visiting the Museum of Chisinau, the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History and the Village Museum. Perhaps we will visit these during a future trip.
Eternity Memorial Complex
In Soviet times the complex was known as the Victory Memorial. The monument was made on May 9, 1975 in honour of the Soviet soldiers who died in the Great Patriotic War. In the centre stands the eternal flame.
The monument was restored on August 24, 2006, marking the 62nd anniversary of the Second Jassy–Kishinev Offensive. Right next to the monument you’ll also notice a cemetery. Perhaps don’t visit the place at night!
You’ll also see many families with their kids having a day out in the park and enjoying the sun.
It’s a little bit out of the way but could be a good place where you wrap up your day as the premises is open 24/7. This is exactly what we did, sat down and some of the locals even came to talk to us which we found very nice.
Visit a Winery
During our trip we had the choice to visit a local winery. Considering Moldova’s long standing tradition in producing wine, there are a few estates that have opened up in a museum style to showcase wine making methods but also their cellars filled with this sweet elixir.
It boasts 120 kilometres (75 mi) of labyrinthine roadways, versus Milesti Mici’s 200 kilometres (120 mi). Nonetheless, these cellars would make Dionysus himself come down from the Heavens and sample some Moldovan wine.
Tunnels have existed under Cricova since the 15th century, when limestone was dug out to help build Chisinau. They were converted into an underground wine emporium in the 1950s.
Other things to do
If you want to explore more of Chisinau and Moldova, here are some other suggestions about things to do.
Food and Drinks Highlights
If you’ve ever been to Romania, you’ll notice many similarities in terms of cuisine. Both share many culinary elements. Anything from mamaliga to mititei, they have them all.
Similar to the Romanian province of Moldova, you will also find many pies. They can be savoury or sweet. The dough can be filo pastry or a light dough that wraps the filling.
They are typically done either on the pan or in the oven. They range from butter cheese fillings all the way to more traditional ones with white cheese and parsley or dill filling.
Another thing to consider is rabbit dishes which seem to top the menus in Chisinau. We also sampled a few rabbit dishes and although none came any close to my mother in law’s rabbit stews, they were pretty good.
You might also see a dish called “ciulama”. This is a bechamel style sauce served over a choice of meats or mushrooms almost like a stew. A dish you can find in Romania and Moldova alike.
Other dishes include dumplings with various fillings, very much similar to the pierogi you can find in Krakow as we note here.
One thing we also noticed about these pies and pastries is that they are fully loaded. Unlike other pastries we’ve had that tend to have some filling sprinkled in the pie itself, these ones make one ask: “May I have some pie with my cheese, please?”.
It’s worth also exploring local wines, as they are fairly popular. However, we didn’t believe it till we tried it, the brandy there is top notch.
Watch out Hennessey and Courvoisier – these guys know their stuff! We suggest you try “Speranta”, an amber brandy that’s easy to drink and overall enjoyable.
Fun fact, in Moldova, people don’t drink wine at weddings, they often drink brandy! Now that’s some serious drinking.
One word of advice is that we found table service in Moldova to be a bit similar to the Bulgarian one to say the least. Often dishes are sent to the table in the order the kitchen does them. Don’t be surprised if you get your dessert before your savoury pie.
We also found Western interpretations of dishes to be slightly off. I ordered an egg Benedict at a highly revered and central Parisian inspired restaurant and it came with a bland bechamel sauce. Yes…
We also found on all occasions that the waiters forgot about our orders, asking us whether we want anything else whereas we still had 1/2 order still not delivered.
Below are some of the places we went to:
This is a fairly popular chain of restaurants. It’s part of the same chain with “Andy’s” which offers international options only.
“La Placinte” offers traditional food with anything from cold meats to, of course as the name suggests “placinte” – pies.
Overall the food was good and felt fresh. We had 2 pies, one with white cheese filling and the other with butter cheese.
We also tried some sausages and I had the mititei. Interestingly enough, here in Chisinau the mititei are served with a garlic tomato sauce and not mustard as they are typically served in Romania.
For desserts, we had papanasi, a personal favourite and was pleasantly surprised to see it on the menu. These papanasi are slightly different than the ones you might’ve seen us eat before.
They are almost like little croquettes, not so fluffy, but similar recipe and taste.
Vatra Neamului is a fairly large traditional restaurant. Don’t be fooled by the outside regular looking building.
This restaurant has ample space and also some very intriguing dining areas creating almost séparés. The restaurant also hosts outside seating in their backyard terrace.
The food was good, overall, not great, which was surprising considering the great reviews. Portions were fairly large and leaves one full without question.
I had a mix grill consisting of mititei, a meatball made of lamb and sheep awful and was supposed to have some local sausages but they didn’t have them in stock. This was served with a mamaliga with braised bacon inside.
Hristina chose the roasted rabbit, overall was tasty and well cooked, though it felt a bit dry, and the potatoes were also fairly good. Nothing to write home about.
“Acasa La Mama”
“Acasa La Mama” is another good choice for traditional cuisine. Again, same as the previous restaurant, quite a good selection of local food.
We also sampled some house wine, which was very close to a pinot noir. It was overall good and worked well with my rabbit and mamaliga side.
Hristina had a salad with a butter cheese filling pie. All very good of course.
We wrote earlier how generous pastries in Moldova are. We think we found the holly grail of pastries here. Granier is a pastry shop located on the “Stefan cel Mare si Sfant” boulevard. A good stop on your way to or from Ciuflea Monastery.
Pastries are what they should be here. Crisp, generous and overflowing with filling. They don’t offer too many traditional options but the ones they have are perfectly executed.
You will also find French style pastries as well as various sandwich options.
We took a selections of pastries with white cheese and sour cherries fillings. They were amazing to say the least.
Chisinau, the capital of the Moldovan Republic is overall a good destination for anyone looking to visit things off the beaten path. Wanderlusters, you might feel at home here!
It’s a good choice for families, solo travellers and couples. We think Chisinau is great for visiting if you’re interested in Romanian/Russian history or if you are simply looking for something different.
We felt safe and not at all in harms way by any stretch of the imagination.
Whilst there were a few hiccups this mustn’t deter you from visiting this place. We suggest you combine your trip with another local or regional visit to make it more worthwhile.
The high air fares and hotel costs can be prohibitive and can make it less attractive if looking to visit Chisinau alone.
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