Chisinau, the capital of Moldova isn’t the most exciting city you will find in Europe. After my first trip there, I called it the most boring capital in Europe (that was before I visited Podgorica, Montenegro and Andorra la Vella which really are the most boring capitals in Europe)) but I still decided to visit Chisinau again and give it another chance.
While it still isn’t as grand and spectacular as other European metropolises I found Chisinau quite pleasant and enjoyed it so much more. That’s probably because I knew what to expect from my trip to Chisinau and I had the whole list of things to do in Chisinau ready for my Chisinau sightseeing.
If you plan to travel to Chisinau, Moldova I put together this Chisinau guide with all the best Chisinau attractions and travel tips. Hopefully, you will find it useful for your trip to Moldova!
Table of contents
- 1 Where is Chisinau
- 2 Why visit Chisinau, Moldova
- 3 How to get to Chisinau
- 4 How to get around Chisinau
- 5 Where to stay in Chisinau
- 6 Things to do in Chisinau
- 6.1 Visit the beautiful Nativity Cathedral
- 6.2 See the Triumphal arch
- 6.3 Find cool Soviet mosaics
- 6.4 Enjoy the local cafes
- 6.5 Say hello to the greatest Moldovan hero
- 6.6 Enjoy Ștefan cel Mare Central Park
- 6.7 Visit the Jewish Cemetery
- 6.8 See the beautiful train station
- 6.9 Discover amazing brutalist architecture
- 6.10 Get some local goodies at the farmers’ market
- 6.11 Visit other beautiful churches
- 6.12 See impressive government buildings
- 6.13 Find charming old houses
- 6.14 Visit the Historical Museum
- 6.15 Find street art
- 6.16 Walk around the center
- 6.17 See Soviet monuments
- 6.18 Find the abandoned circus
- 6.19 Relax in Valea Morilor Park
- 6.20 Find the tiny statue of Little Prince
- 6.21 Find the Lenin statue
- 6.22 Visit the Eternity Memorial Complex
- 6.23 Get Moldovan souvenirs
- 6.24 Try local food
- 6.25 Go for day trips from Chisinau
- 7 Final thoughts on visiting Chisinau
- 8 Travel Resources
Where is Chisinau
Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe, situated between Romania and Ukraine, near the Black Sea (but with no access). Until 1991 Moldova was part of the Soviet Union.
Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, is located in the central part of the country, 50 km from the border with Romania in the west and 50 km from the border with Ukraine in the east.
Why visit Chisinau, Moldova
Until the beginning of the 19th century, Chisinau was a small, provincial town with only a few thousand inhabitants and the massive development of the city happened only after World War 2. That’s why you won’t find here many grand buildings and monuments like in nearby Odessa or Bucharest.
But Chisinau is still worth visiting. Fans of brutalist and Soviet architecture will definitely appreciate the city as Chisinau is like a Soviet architecture textbook.
But even if you are not into concrete buildings there are many other things to do in Chisinau. It’s a great place to slow down and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere, preferably with a glass of local wine in hand.
You can also use the city as the base for some interesting day trips from Chisinau.
How to get to Chisinau
Although Moldova is the least visited country in Europe it is not too difficult to get to Chisinau.
During my first visit I took the minibus from Chernivtsi, Ukraine – it was a long journey but at least a direct one. The second time I flew directly from Warsaw with LOT Polish Airlines.
There are a few other airlines, including low-cost, that serve Chisinau airport.
Overland you can also travel by train to Romania (Bucharest), Ukraine (Odessa) and Russia as well as by bus to neighboring countries and further.
How to get around Chisinau
The majority of Chisinau attractions are located in the center and you can easily walk everywhere. However, there are a few places a bit away so you need to use public transport to reach them.
Fortunately, in Chisinau it’s super easy – there is a designated person in each bus/trolleybus and you pay the fee directly to that person. In the minibusses (marshrutka) you pay to the driver.
I used the website and app Eway to plan my way around Chisinau.
Where to stay in Chisinau
During my both trips to Chisinau I stayed at the apartments I found on Booking, not too far from the center. They were much more affordable than hotels and better than hostels (but you can find those in Chisinau too). Unfortunately, both are not available on Booking anymore.
By the way, during my second trip, a weird story happened.
I was waiting in front of the block for someone (didn’t know the sex of that person) to come and give me the keys when a woman approached me, asked if I’m waiting for the apartment and then took me to the place. She gave me the keys and didn’t want the payment right away.
At that time I had a few flats booked for my trips so I didn’t figure out it’s not the apartment I booked. After 5 or so minutes my phone rang and a guy asked me where I am as he is waiting for me downstairs.
It turned out I was all alone in the wrong apartment! Fortunately, nothing bad happened but it was super weird. So learn from my experience and always double-check the pictures right before arriving to the place.
Anyway, here are some of the recommended places to stay in Chisinau. I’m linking only to the hotels and hostels as the available apartments are changing so quickly, but you can find some on Booking too.
- London Boutique Hotel (9,0/10 on Booking)
- Mon Ami Villa (9,4/10 on Booking)
- Casa Daca Boutique Hotel (9,2/10 on Booking)
- Amazing Ionika Hostel (9,5/10 on Booking)
- and more!
Things to do in Chisinau
Now let’s talk about things to do in Chisinau. For the city that is supposed to have almost no attraction the list I put together is actually pretty long!
Visit the beautiful Nativity Cathedral
The Nativity Cathedral, located in Cathedral Park, doesn’t look all that impressive from the outside. Built in the 1830s in the neoclassical style it has a turbulent history – the cathedral was destroyed during World War 2 and when Moldova was part of the USSR and religious services were prohibited the building was used as the exhibition center.
Today the cathedral stands proudly in the heart of the capital, being in the center of all important events. Be sure to step inside – the interior is stunning, everything you could expect from the Orthodox church in Eastern Europe.
See the Triumphal arch
In the very heart of the city, between the Cathedral and the Government House, you will find the Triumphal arch, one of the most popular Chisinau sights. It was built in 1840 to commemorate the victory of the Russian Empire over the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish war a few years before.
However, the main reason to build the arch was different. After the said war the captured cannons were smelted into the bell that was supposed to be placed in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was too heavy and hence the new Triumphal arch was built.
Today it is one of the most significant sights in the capital of Moldova.
Find cool Soviet mosaics
Chisinau developed rapidly during Soviet times and many of the buildings were built at that time. With Soviet architecture came great Soviet mosaics, real masterpieces of art from that period, usually telling a story of the current achievements and heroes.
You can find many of them still today, they are hidden all over the city and I bet you will randomly stumble across them during your Chisinau sightseeing.
One of the most beautiful mosaics is located next to Hotel Cosmos, showing the rural life in Moldova in 1970s. Another good mosaic I really liked was near the Jewish Cemetery, this one showed music. The concrete flower/fountain at the entrance to the Stefan cel Mare Central Park also hides the mosaic inside.
Enjoy the local cafes
The cafe scene in Chisinau is still developing but there are already some nice places where you can sit down and relax over the cup of coffee.
The most popular is Tucano Coffee – the Moldovan version of Starbucks that you can find also beyond the country and it is really fine. But you can find plenty of other good cafes in the center and the new places are opening up.
In the warm months, you can also find outdoor cafes in the parks – this is the best way to enjoy some people-watching in Chisinau!
Say hello to the greatest Moldovan hero
In the central part of the city, across the street from the Triumphal arch, you can find an unobtrusive monument to the greatest Moldovan hero – Stephen the Great. You may know him from all the Moldovan banknotes.
He was the Prince of Moldova at the end of the 15th century and until today he is considered the best ruler of this land. During his reign, he won 34 out of 36 battles and entrenched the position of Moldova on the map of Europe.
The monument dedicated to this national hero was erected in 1928 at the entrance to the park named after Stephen the Great. During World War 2 the statue was moved to Romania and even if the Soviet authorities decided it should come back to its original place the statue of Stephen the Great returned to the central Chisinau only in 1989 where it stands proudly ever since.
Enjoy Ștefan cel Mare Central Park
Behind the statue of Stephen the Great, you will find the entrance to the central park named after the great ruler. This is the oldest park in the country, previously it was named after Pushkin, and it is such a pleasant place to visit. The park is often called “the Lovers’ Park” since this is a popular meeting place for young couples.
Besides wandering around through the charming lanes in the park you will also find some outdoor cafes, an interesting fountain, monument of Pushkin and many famous Moldovan writers (they have the designated avenue) and more. Fans of exploring abandoned places will be pleased with the old cafe that hasn’t been working for years now. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit it inside but even from the outside, it looks good!
Visit the Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish Cemetery in Chisinau is located a bit away from the center (you need to take the bus and then walk a bit) but it’s worth the trip. Before the war, the city was home to the large Jewish community although the tensions have been present there – in 1903 one of the biggest Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire took place in Chisinau.
The Jewish Cemetery in Chisinau is large (at the end of the 19th century there were around 25,000 graves there) and mostly forgotten. Parts of the graveyard are hidden in the lush vegetation but you can still walk through the main alleys and see some interesting and beautiful graves.
Unfortunately, I was caught by the rain when I visited the cemetery (and had to hide under the roof of one of the graves…) and I eventually didn’t make it to the abandoned synagogue in the corner of the premises. Be sure to see it too, I still regret I didn’t.
See the beautiful train station
Chisinau train station is actually one of the prettiest buildings you will find in the city.
The railway line was opened in Chisinau already in 1871, that’s also when the first train station was built. The current building was finished just after World War Two and it’s a mix of socialist-realist style with the significant influences from Romanian architecture. Recently the building was renovated and it looks just the prettiest.
In front of the train station, you can see the powerful Memorial to Victims of Stalinist Repression. There is also a nice green area with a fountain in the middle.
Discover amazing brutalist architecture
Chisinau is home to some of the best examples of brutalist architecture ever and that’s what I was the most excited about when visiting the capital of Moldova for the second time.
Since the city had to be rebuilt and developed after World War Two most of the city’s skyline was built at that time. You will find there all sorts of brutalist buildings – from the government’s institution to block of flats or random structures like the parking lot.
The most famous are Romanita Collective Housing Tower (the famous block of flats in the round shape), Chisinau City Gates (you will notice them when you enter the city from the airport, this is a very impressive structure however after Belgrade City Gates my expectations were a bit too big) or Hotel Cosmos.
You can learn more about Chisinau brutalism and find the locations of the best Soviet architecture in Chisinau in this post written by my friends Mark and Kirsty (with whom I did some great brutalism in Chisinau sightseeing).
Get some local goodies at the farmers’ market
Farmers’ markets in the former Soviet Union are often the must-visit attractions and Chisinau is no different. The central market is located in the center, next to the bus station, and you will find everything there, literally. Fresh produce, homemade jams, cheese, wine, and more, and a lot of random things – you can buy everything at the market.
The market can be hectic and overwhelming but it is part of the experience. I personally am not a big fan of the markets in Eastern Europe as they are often too much for me but I know so many people who love them. Either way, you should see it yourself!
Visit other beautiful churches
You won’t find all that many churches in the center of Chisinau but there are definitely more religious sights to see than just the Cathedral.
Not far from the main square, at Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, there is the Transfiguration Church from the very end of the 19th century, built as a part of the boy’s gymnasium. During the Soviet times the church was used as the planetarium and returned to its original function only in 1992. This was actually my favorite of Chisinau churches, it is really beautiful.
Other churches worth visiting are Ciuflea Monastery, Saint Panteleimon Church, St. Teodora de la Sihla Church or St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church.
See impressive government buildings
In the center of Chisinau, along Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, you will find plenty of impressive government buildings. Some of them, like the Presidency of the Republic of Moldova or the Parliament building, are actually among the most spectacular buildings you will find in the city! They were built mostly in Soviet times and are great examples of architecture from the period.
Find charming old houses
When you wander around Chisinau look out for charming, old houses, some of them even from the 19th century. There are not that many of them but I bet you will stumble across some good ones. Those that date back to the Russian Empire times represent the typical style for this country, they are low, often with columns and numerous details. Those buildings often remind me of gingerbread houses, they are so cute!
Visit the Historical Museum
The National Museum of History of Moldova, located in the beautiful building in the center of Chisinau, is home to over 250.000 exhibits divided into a few sections: Ancient History and Archaeology, Medieval History, History of Basarabia, Contemporary History, Treasures. This is a great place to learn more about the country and its background as well as see some of the impressive artifacts from Moldova’s past.
In front of the building, you will see the copy of the Capitoline Wolf, one of the five sculptures that were donated by Italy to Romania in the 1920s (others can be found in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara, and Targu Mures). The original one was destroyed during World War 2 and had to be replaced with the one you can currently see, it was donated by Romania in 1990.
Find street art
Chisinau isn’t very big on the street art scene but there are a few nice murals you can admire, like the beautiful flower near the Historic Museum.
For me, however, the most significant mural was the one with Solidarność (Solidarity) – the Polish trade union that was fighting with communism and eventually helped to change the system in Poland and Eastern Europe. The mural was created in 2014, celebrating the 25 years since communism collapsed. Unfortunately, I could see it only from the bus heading to Transnistria – if you go there too you will see the mural still in central Chisinau, on the block on your right.
Walk around the center
The center of Chisinau is a very pleasant place to walk around. Most of the attractions are located along Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard: Opera and Ballet Theater, the town hall, central post office and more.
But one of my favorite things to do in Chisinau to wander around the backstreets and see what I can find there (and there is always something interesting: cafes, houses, details etc). The streets are often lined with trees, giving a much-needed shadow on a hot, summer day, and walking around there is a real pleasure.
See Soviet monuments
Besides the Soviet architecture, you can also find some interesting Soviet monuments around Chisinau. The best ones are Fighter for Soviet power, Monument to Komsomol or Monument to the Liberation.
Find the abandoned circus
In the Soviet Union times, the circus was one of the best entertainment and therefore most of the bigger cities had its own circus arena. Chisinau was no different.
The Chisinau State Circus is located not far away from the center and once it was one of the most impressive buildings in the city, with the capacity of almost 2,000 seats. Unfortunately, the circus didn’t make it through the transformation period and it was closed in 2004.
When I visited the venue in 2015 there were some works going on but today (five years later) the circus is still mostly closed. I was trying to sneak in and talk my way into the circus but with no luck, unfortunately. If you have a chance to visit the building inside you should do it, it looks pretty great on the pictures!
Relax in Valea Morilor Park
Valea Morilor Park, with a big lake in the middle, is one of the most popular places where locals hang out and relax. It kind of feels like you are in the countryside, even if it is not far from the city center. You can do some outdoor activities there, like cycling, skating or walking, or simply enjoy the small beach.
The best way to get to the park is walking from the center – this way you will descend to the lake through the beautiful cascade steps.
Find the tiny statue of Little Prince
In Valea Morilor Park you can find a tiny statue of Little Prince. And by tiny I mean really tiny, only 11 centimeters high – this is actually the smallest public statue in Moldova!
It’s very easy to miss it, Little Prince is located on the metal fence surrounding the lake in the park – when you walk from the cascade steps it is more or less halfway to the beach. This is such a cute little addition to the already pleasant park.
Find the Lenin statue
Hidden in the premises of Chisinau Expo there is an interesting statue of Lenin, accompanied by (I believe) Karl Marx and Georgi Dimitrov (the first communist leader in Bulgaria). This is one of the very few remaining public statues of Lenin in Europe (I guess you can see some other only in Belarus and in Chernobyl).
While you are there take a look at the Expo premises too, the area is partly abandoned and you can find some interesting things there, like the old bas-relief or some street art.
Visit the Eternity Memorial Complex
The Eternity Memorial Complex commemorate soldiers who died in World War 2 (known as the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union). The central part of the memorial is the pyramid that is made of five giant riffles. In the middle, there is an eternal flame guarded by the Moldovan Army – the guards change every hour so try to be there to see this spectacle.
Get Moldovan souvenirs
If you wish to buy some local souvenirs the best way to do it is at the small souvenirs market at Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, between the National Theater and the Organ Hall. You can get here not only the typical things like magnets or key chains but also traditional clothes, baskets and more.
For local food go to the central market. And don’t forget about the Moldovan wine, it’s amazing!
Try local food
To be honest Moldovan food isn’t exceptional but thanks to the fresh produce it is very tasty. You can try it in some of the restaurants serving Moldovan food, the most popular one being La Placinte. It’s a chain restaurant with affordable prices, you can find it in numerous locations across Chisinau.
Some of the local dishes you should try include mămăligă (a cornmeal mush or porridge), sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), sour soups, or grilled meats.
Go for day trips from Chisinau
Chisinau can be a great base for day trips. You can easily go by public transport to Transnistria – the breakaway territory that officially is part of Moldova. Frequent minibusses depart from the main bus station (next to the central market) to Tiraspol via Bendery – I’ve been to both cities (two different trips) and can definitely recommend them. You can read more about my trip to Tiraspol here.
Another popular place to visit is the Orheiul Vechi complex with the monastery located on the cliff and the archeological site.
From Chisinau, you can also easily go to Cricova – the most popular wine cellar in Moldova and the largest one in the world (the corridors are around 120 km in total and create a real underground town). Some of the most famous people in the world keep their wines there, you can see the wine collection of Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin or John Kerry. Other wine cellars can be also visited as a day trip from Chisinau but Cricova is a real highlight of the country.
Final thoughts on visiting Chisinau
After visiting Chisinau for the second time (and enjoying it) I saw how unprepared I went for my first trip, I had no idea what to expect from the city and hence I didn’t like it all that much. But Chisinau is pretty good actually, although I can imagine this is not the city for each taste.
As you can see there are not all that many amazing attractions in Chisinau but plenty of things to do to keep you busy for a day or two. If you like Soviet architecture you will need more time for Chisinau, otherwise, one day for the city itself should be enough.
If you plan a trip to Eastern Europe be sure to visit Chisinau, you might actually be surprised!
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