Have you ever been to Moldova? Have you even heard about such country? Truth is that not many people heard about Moldova, and even less people have ever been there. The only thing you can hear about it is that it is the poorest country in Europe, people emigrate or sell parts of their bodies for transplantation to get some money for living. There are nearly no guidebooks about Moldova, those available are just a suplement to guidebooks to Ukraine or Romania and rather give you impression that there is nothing to see there. Doesn’t sound very promissing… In fact Moldova is an amazing travel destination!
Moldova, Europe’s least visited country, has been visited by only 94k tourists in 2015. That’s not much comparing to countries like France that has been visited by 85 mln tourists in 2014. You may then think that this country is not interesting. In fact, many tourists will not find it exciting. It is more a country for people who like to enjoy country life, see rural traditions, landscapes, meet new people and wine lovers.
So let’s start with the most important:
How to get to Moldova?
There are many ways you can get there. The easiest is by plane. There is only one international airport in Moldova, in capital Chisnau, that has connections to most European capitals. With change in Warsaw, Frankfurt or Istanbul you can fly there from every corner of the world. If you are a budget tourist, 13 connections offered by Wizzair can help you get there for rather small amout of money. However, we would advise you to get there by bus. Moldova’s charm lies in it’s people, and if you travel by bus you are able to meet many of them and to see landscapes. There are many buses from Kyiv, Chernivtsi, Odessa, Bucharest and other cities in Romania. Odessa also is connected with Chisnau by very comfortable train that runs on Thurdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Once you get there another question could be
Where to stay in Moldova?
Moldova is a small country, most of the interesting thing are located around capital. The best then is to stay in the capital and make day tours to interesting places. There are several hostels in Chisnau, the one we can definitely recommend is Tapok hostel. You can really feel the atmosphere of a hostel there with people form all around the world singing and drinking till late hours in the amazing courtyard.
If you know where to stay in Moldova, the next question should be
What to see?
As mentioned before, Moldova doesn’t offer you places that you must see in your life. It is a place that you should enjoy, where you can chill, drink wine and meet new people. There are however some places you should include in your itinerary:
Chishnau, Moldova’s capita lis a place where you will not see nearly any monuments. You should though stroll along the main street Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfînt, see the main square with Arc the Triumph and Cathedral as well as spend few hours in amazing parks. Two we would recommend you the most are Valea Morilor Park with amazing big lake and Valea Trandafirilor Park, the biggest park in Chishnau, that has 3 lakes and where you can literallly spend whole day.
Eat some traditional food in restaurant La Placinte, visit amazing restaurant Propaganda Cafe. If you would like to eat late, go to Pizza Mania that serves food till 1 am. If you look for a good place for breakfast, Andy’s Pizza is definitely a place you should visit. Don’t forget to visit tourist information center on Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfînt 83 where nice ladies will help you to plan trips to places outside Chisnau.
Getting around Chisnau is very easy as you can walk everywhere. If you’d like to use trolleybuses, they cost 2 leu. You buy ticket inside the vehicle. Public transport works very well, has schedules and maps on every stop.
If is quite normal to buy a bottle of alcohol and drink it on the street while walking. City is very safe and people are really friendly. All of them speak Romanian and Russian, some of them speak also English, but it is not very common.
And how about going somewhere out of Chisinau? First thing you should do is to visit Tourist Information Center located in Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfînt 93. Very nice ladies will be really happy to help you, book you a tour or advise you where to go. Now we come to the question, what to see outside Chisinau?
Orheiul Vechi is from our point of view a must see in Moldova. It is a monastery located on the top of a canyon, including an underground monastery inside the mountain. It might not be really spectacular if you compare it to Grand Canyon in USA, but what makes it really special is that it is not very touristy, you can chat with the monarch there, try some home made food and wine on your way. Down in the canyon there is a village Butuceni where you can see traditional Moldovan village with very nice painted buildings, chat with people who are always interested in chatting with foreigners and ask them for some traditional Moldovan food. Try to go there during festiwals like DescOPERĂ.
You can get to Orheiul Vechi by mini bus from Chisnau, there are 4 of them per day at 8:35, 10:20, 13:15 and 15:00 from Gara Centrala bus station in the center of capital. Bus back you can find at 8:00, 10:00, 12:00, 15:00 and 16:10. You can also go to the Tourist Information Center in Chisinau and ask the ladies there, maybe there will be other solution to get there.
Transdnistria, they unrecognised state in the east of Moldova that separated after short war in 1990 is a place where extreme travellers would love to go. So far the „country” has been recognised only by other unrecognised states like South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Transdnistria functions as an independent country: to enter it you need to get a permission (for free) that will allow you to stay there for 10h. You easily get it at the border after showing your passport. Inside expect a lot of military guys, but in fact it is very safe there. It has a weird feeling that you travel back in time to USSR. You will find there a lot of symbols of hammer and sickle and statues of Lenin. In fact Transdnistria is the last country in the world that still has hammer and sickle on its flag.
When you arrive to train station in Tiraspol, the capital, first thing you should do is to exchange your money. The transdnistrian rouble is the offical currency and in Juny 2018 the exchange rate was more or less 1:1 with Moldovan leu. That happened after the devaluation in 2017, when it was woth nearly 2 times more. Be careful not to exchange too much, as these money are worthless outside the „country”. Our advise will be to exchange 15-20$ for one day stay. That will enable you to buy some souvenirs, eat breakfast (coffee plus something to eat), drink a lot of kvas on the street (kvas is a traditional non-alcoholic drink in the eastern european countries that is sold on the streets), eat lunch in a fancy restaurant, buy several bottles of alcohol made in transdnistria (wine, gin, beer) and keep 40 roubles for bus back to Chisinau.
The thing you must be aware is that in Transdnistria your mobile phone will not be working. They use different network (instead of GSM they use CDMA) that your phone will not be able to decode. Another thing you must be aware is that your bank card will not work there. As it is unrecognised currency Visa or Mastercard cannot exchange transdnistrian roubles into dollars or euro.
So what to see in Tiraspol? Well, there aren’t any monuments there in a historic sense. The city has however enough attractions to keep you busy for these few hours you can spend there. Definitely you should see the statue of Lenin in front of the building of government. On the other side of the street you will find the Memorial of the Great Partiotic War. A bit further there is a monument of Suvorov, the founder of the city. Just in front of it you will find a bridge over the river. If you visit Tiraspol in summer it is worth crossing to relax on the city beaches. Going further along the street you will find embassies of Abkhazia and South Osetia and Constitutional Court. Going about 5-7 minutes more you will get to Dom Sovietow, the city hall and theatre.
Before geting back make sure to visit one of the Kvint magazines to buy some ridiculously cheap local alcohol.
How to get there? It is easier than you think. From Central Bus Station in Chisinau there are buses every 20 minutes. The same with buses back. The last one departs about 6 pm.
When you are in Transdnistria you should book a Free Walking Tour organised by Anton. He is a great guide and speaks great English. Not only this, he also makes amazing handmade souvenirs from Transdnistria! He will explain you everything about Transdnistria and show amazing places! You can find him here
Cricova few kilometers north from Chisinau you will find one of the biggest wine cellars in the world. There about 200 km of cellars which you visit travelling by special cars. The trip costs about 490 leu, which is about 28$. It might sound expensive for Moldova, but you will really enjoy the trip. The cellars are not very old, they were build in 1950s. During the trip you will see how they look like, how they produce the wine there, you will visit Cinema with an interesting movie about wine making, you will see bottles of wine that belong to Angela Merkel, John Kerry, Vladimir Putin, Alexandr Lukashenko and many others. At the end you will taste wine and, trust me on this, you will not drink only 4 glasses but much much more. It is definitely a place worth visit!
How to get there? Every 20 minutes there is a city bus number 2 going there from crossroad of
Is Moldova a must see country? Not really. Is it wort visiting? Definitely yes. If you are type of tourist who enjoy exploring some not well known sites and chat with people you will definitely enjoy being there!