Archaic Romanian chișla (source of water) and nouă (new)
Another new country in my list! 83 so far in total, and 46th out of 50 that form the European continent at the time of writing this guide. It’s always very exciting coming to places never been before especially if these are a different country, another culture to explore and looking forward to something new. Europe is getting too small and believe it or not, we are starting to run out of destinations. For sure on the main destinations there is pretty much nothing left not visited, but thankfully there are still way many other places… although again, with so many hundreds been, this is slowly becoming a challenge to find a flight or plan a reasonable route to reach these places.
Chisinau, the capital of Moldova is definitely by all means not the usual holiday destination to anyone. The country is one of these “forgotten” for the average traveller, one of the less visited with few venturing coming to discover. To us, however, it was a must in our list for quite some time now, yet not easy to reach until now with more flights available and more flexibility in the times. In any case, talking about flying times… we took off from London minutes before midnight to land in Chisinau right after 05.00am local time the following day, but well, not everything is going to be as easy as a cup of tea.
The country, to the surprise of anyone, is full with beautiful villages, medieval castles, monasteries and amazing nature. It might be small but it offers everything to whoever comes to visit, and won’t disappoint. But before I continue in here, let me tell you that this trip was not just for the sake of reaching its capital city and nothing else, but to also include 2 of the country’s highlights: the world’s largest wine cellar, Mileștii Mici; and the largest cave monastery in Eastern Europe, Tipova. Now with all this in mind, your trip will definitely be truly worth it!.
Chisinau itself is actually very nice and has lots to see bearing in mind its difficult past. Unfortunately the city suffered from a destructive earthquake in November 1940 and not even a year after, the first bombardments during WWII during the Nazi occupation and then the Soviet. This led to the loss of majority of its historical buildings in replacement with the Stalinist style and building of the big communist style blocks so traditional in Eastern Europe which construction slogan was “good, cheaper and built faster”. It is for this that visiting the city can be easily done in a day allowing you plenty of time to also combine your tour with the Mileștii Mici wine cellar which lies just few kilometres in the south.
The city follows pretty much an orthogonal urban grid with broad avenues and big streets, extremely easy to navigate through on foot and so is the traffic in a one-way direction and quite fluid. Everything is based around the Central Park where all the sights are one after another and in the couple of streets parallel in all directions to this square, with the main Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare crossing the entire city from southeast to northwest.
Food-wise talking you’ve come to a great place. Not only is great quality, it is also big portions and inexpensive, almost everywhere you go. However if we could recommend a restaurant that will be, without hesitation, La Placinte. This is actually a chain, with few restaurants around town, serving local traditional food among a wide choice of dishes. Try the vegetarian bean ragout, the dumplings and the smaller variants the pelmeni (to die for), Moldavian pie made with cow and sheep cheese and the mititei, meat rolls made from a mixture of beef, lamb and pork with spices. Enjoy it with a local draft beer and if any space left, order a dessert, however for dessert and coffee I would go somewhere else.
For more information about Chisinau check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Moldova’s currency is the Moldavian Leu (MDL). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Chisinau
- Railway Station Located to the southeast of the city, not far from the centre, was opened in 1871 in neo-Byzantine style. A beautiful sight in its own.
- Constantin Negruzzi Square The major road and streets node at the southeastern-most part of the city, few meters away from the train station square. From here it opens onto the main thoroughfare Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfânt at the west or Bulevardul Dimitrie Cantemir at the east.
- United Nations Square The first major square along Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfânt in the south, with some elegant buildings among large commie blocks.
- Museum of Military History Along Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare at the intersection with Tighina Stradă, few meters onto this street. Great palatial building containing all sorts of Soviet era military vehicles among its collections.
- Ministries and Courts Most of which are located along Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare in generally what are some of the most prominent and beautiful buildings in the city. You will pass through many of them as you head north of the city in this avenue.
- Mihai Eminescu National Theatre Approaching the Central Park and proper historic core of the city. Traditional classic architecture.
- Organ Hall Right in the front of the previous theatre, with the garden in between them both.
- Central Park – Great National Assembly Square The very centre of the city, and largest square completely surrounded by sights everywhere. Lots to mention each of them, so here are the most prominent:
-City Hall Built in Italian Gothic style in 1901, had to be rebuilt after WWII taking as a historical base few old pictures. Located at the southern corner of the square.
-Government House The largest building in the area, one of the finest Soviet style architecture.
-National Palace, National Library and Technical University All three located in the first row behind the Government Palace.
-National Museum of Arts In the next row of buildings behind the others, here are the major and most important museums in Chisinau.
-National Museum of History of Moldova The largest and most complete. Not only for its great collection, but also for the beautiful building’s architecture and its history. Housed in the former Regional Lyceum, it was damaged beyond repair after the 1977 earthquake and rebuilt afterwards retaining the facade, reopening in 1987.
-Central Post Office Across the road from the City Hall, at the very southeast cornet.
-Triumph Arch Constructed in 1841 as the center piece of The Great National Assembly Square. It perfectly aligns with the Cathedral Bell Tower and the Cathedral behind, all three in the same line, the postcard perfect picture.
-Nativity Cathedral The main church for the city and monument number one. Its bell tower, separated from the main body, was recently reconstructed following the original designs.
-Alexandru Diordiță Street Behind the cathedral, this avenue cuts perpendicular to all the other streets and avenues, and it’s location of some of the major world chain hotels.
-National Opera and Ballet Built in 1957 in pure Soviet style lines, very elegant and advance for the era which even today still looks modern, even it had to be rebuilt in 1980.
-Cathedral of the Divine Providence Across the road from the National Opera (Maria Cebotari Street), built between 1840 and 1843 in classical style.
-Former Presidential Palace Closed since the civil unrest of 2009 and fenced out.
-Monument to Stephen III of Moldova In the entrance corner to the park of the same name. He is the monarch hero who in the 15th century resisted the Turkish advances.
-Ştefan cel Mare City Park With many monuments along the landscaped paths such as A.Pushkin the great Russian poet and many busts of Moldavian and Romanian poets.
-Patria Cinema At the northern corner of the park, one of the survivors of the many such large classic cinemas that once were in the city.
-Parliament This huge building is easy to spot, just after the cinema, and opposite the former President’s Palace.
-President’s Palace In the row of buildings behind the park, of very small proportions compared to the former closed down one.
-Republic’s Palace Another of the gems for the Soviet architectural style lovers.
- National Arts Museum Continuing along the Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare towards the northern end of the city.
- Ministry of Agriculture Opposite the Arts Museum it’s worth to mention here for its huge size, and because it can make anyone’s collection of Soviet style buildings the centrepiece.
- Transfiguration of the Savior Church Russian Orthodox, across from the Ministry of Agriculture.
- Technical University Building One of the last large palatial buildings along this boulevard. From here if you take any street heading west you will reach the large Botanical Garden.
- Valea Morilor Park and Lake At the west of the city, easy and nice way to reach is along the Sfatul Tarii Street off Bulevardul Ştefan cel Mare, and all the way to its end. Over here apart from the park and lake you will find historic sites such as:
-National Council Building Home in 1917-1918 of the National Assembly of the Bessarabia guberniya (province) of the Russian Empire, and then of the independent Moldavian Democratic Republic, which proclaimed union with Romania in 1918. Sfatul Tarii Street ends right at the back of this building.
-Landscaped Fountain Leading from the National Council towards the lake.
-Embassy of the USA Where one of its buildings is a traditional palace.
-Academy of the Arts and Music Overlooking the park, built in the 19th century in the classical style.
- Eternal Memorial At the southwest area of the city, farther from the city centre and just behind of the main cemetery lays the memorial to the fallen on WWII with the eternal flame.
- Mileștii Mici Wine Cellar You do not need to be a wine lover to admire this place. Say this way, where else can you be in the world’s largest wine cellar? Then you have the answer. It is on the southwest of the city, few kilometres from the centre. You can get there by bus or much faster if you have a rental car.
- Tipova Monastery Located 100 kilometres to the north of Chisinau, on the right bank of the river Dniester, it is one of the oldest monasteries in Moldova, where not only the 16th/17th century churches stand, but also the famous carved rock monasteries dating from the 12th century. Be ready to hike down towards the river to access these rock monasteries.
The airport is very modern, recently revamped, and with an ongoing growth with more and more airlines and destinations served. It is located to the east of the city, and you have 2 options to reach downtown. The cheapest and hassle free is to take minibus N165 which goes via Botanica to the very centre, Izmail street, for a cost of 3 MDL. Your second option is a taxi, option that will set you in between 80 to 120 MDL. It might sound a lot but we are talking of approximately £4.5. The bus is peanuts! £0.12 pence.
Overland by railway or buses is possible from neighboring countries, especially Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Poland, but be prepared for long journeys and border crossings.
Within the city, although it is an overall medium size and distances could be long east to west, the central part which is the old town where majority of the sights are is perfectly visited entirely on foot. It might be the case that your hotel is on the newer districts around the city’s main core, in which case there is a good network and fleet of public buses everywhere, or a longer walk along the broad avenues, legacy from the Soviet times and filled with such traditional communist blocks that characterise any Eastern European city and somehow, very strongly in the case of Chisinau.
While there is a good choice of hotels of any kind, this is not as large as any other city of similar size. Also, even though there are many of the main world’s hotel chains, not all are yet in the city but instead plenty of local smaller hotels and family run bed & breakfast.
Finding a good place to stay was not difficult, but bear in mind the main hotels are quite pricey. When planning where to stay, try to look for something walking distance to the Central Park area and the streets nearby. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Klassik Hotel in Kogalniceanu Street number 6. A small boutique 4* property in the south of the city less than 5 minutes’ walk from Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare, hence near the city centre. Location was spot on, and so was the overall feedback. From the nice and friendly staff, very comfy bed, medium size well cared and quiet bedroom; to the nice breakfast and their small indoor pool and steam room. They have another outdoor pool which for sure will add a great comfort to anyone staying during the summer months. Also good to us was their free private car park since we had a rental car. From the many hotels we checked before making a decision, this is definitely the best choice and best value for money for what you get extra. Highly recommended to anyone.
Album for the city of Chisinau
Album for the Monastery of Tipova