“I get it, you like Moldova. But, tell me, is It really Worth Visiting Chisinau?”
Before we decided to travel there, I barely knew anything about Moldova, including the fact that Chisinau is the capital city. We arrived by overnight train from Bucharest with a reservation at a hotel for a first two nights followed by an apartment booking for the final five nights. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. After living and working in Budapest and Bucharest, the chance of liking this city that I knew nothing about seemed slim. Of course, knowing Moldova as the most malcontent country had something to do with my low expectations.
Eight days after I arrived at the Chisinau Railway Station, I boarded a flight back to Korea with an utter passion for this country.
Okay, so Moldova is a great country to visit, but how about its capital city, Chisinau? Is it worth visiting Chisinau?
In a short answer, yes, absolutely. But I know you need some explanation. So, here are the long answers.
Chisinau is easy to get to from most of Europe by plane or train. It’s one of the easiest places to visit if you are interested in the legacy of the Soviet Union. Moldova allows most countries to enter without a visa. I had an unforgettable first-hand experience at the Hotel Cosmos on our first night in Chisinau. I was stunned. The hotel wasn’t what I expected. The next morning I understood that it was the Soviet style interior that hadn’t gone away. Along with Hotel Chisinau close by, the Hotel Cosmos is popular for travelers who are looking for Soviet nostalgia (or just need a cheap bed).
The Soviet style architecture is well preserved and you can still feel the lifestyle of the past from the trolley bus, markets, and the way people dressed. Find the Lenin statue at Parcul Valea Morilor and a striking mural inside the Chisinau Bus Terminal.
Walking around the Piata Centrala (Central Market), especially the dairy section, will take you thirty years back.
Moldova is a very religious country. A church or monastery is never far away. Religion is a great window to experience a foreign culture, especially in a place like Moldova where religion plays a major role in society. Most of the population is Eastern Orthodox. In Chisinau, I recommend visiting two places: Nativity Cathedral and St. Theodor Tiron Convent. Services are open to everyone, even if you don’t follow the Orthodox religion. In an Orthodox church, you’ll find icons of Jesus and other Saints instead of statues. People pray in front of the idol, often touching and kissing the idol at the same time. There are no chairs since everyone stands during the service. People here are so devout that priests are often called to bless everything including homes and cars, which I witnessed outside St. Theodor Tiron Convent.
The Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity, more commonly known as the Nativity Cathedral, is the main cathedral of the Moldovan Orthodox Church in Chisinau. During the Communist times, the church was transformed into an exhibition center and its bell tower was destroyed, but it was reversed after the independence.
St. Theodor Tiron Convent, Ciuflea Monastery, is a Moldovan Orthodox monastery. Because of its outlook, it’s commonly called the ‘Blue Monastery’. The main service starts at 9 am on Sunday and it lasts about two hours.
If you are a fan of Pushkin
Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian poet, playwright, and novelist, was exiled from Russia to Chisinau in 1820 after angering the government. During his few years in Chisinau, he wrote two poems that brought him acclaim: The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray.
The Alexander Pushkin House and Museum in Chisinau is an important cultural monument in the city. The museum complex houses his cottage where he spent three years.
Find your parks
Chisinau is one of the greenest European capitals along with Kiev and Oslo. There are many parks in the city that are an important part of local life.
Stephen the Great Central Park (Parcul Ştefan cel Mare), formerly known as Pushkin Park, is the main park in Chisinau. It’s called “The Park of the Lovers” to locals because it’s a popular meeting spot for couples. Stephen the Great Monument is located in front of the gate and you can find a statue of Pushkin and a bust of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu.
Valley of Mills Park (Parcul Valea Morilor) is a popular place for university students and families. The lake in the park is a great place for water sports like rowing.
Also, check out Dendrarium Park and the Botanical Garden.
Wine, wine, wine
New Zealand, Australia, Washington State, Italy, France, Spain, and Chile; these are the places I indulged the best quality wine. I only know enough about wine that I can distinguish what I like or dislike. Traveling to these places definitely trained my taste buds to detect high-quality wine. My training went one step further in Moldova.
Sunny plateaus, plains, and plentiful streams make this fertile land a perfect place for growing grapes. As a national product, wine is what put Moldova on the global map. Winemaking history in Moldova goes back as far as 3,000 BCE. As we say kimchi flows in Korean’s veins, I think the people of Moldova are partially made of wine.
Take a day or two for visiting the source of some of the finest Moldovan wines. There are several wineries near Chisinau you can visit for a tasting. Cricova, best known for sparkling wine and underground city, is only a 20-minute drive away from the city center. Famous for the Guinness Record-holding Milestii Mici (largest wine cellar by a number of bottles) is a 25-minute drive away. Castel Mimi in Bulboaca village is 40km from Chisinau. Et Cetera winery is 130km from the city in Crocmaz village. It’s doable in one day but they also have a guesthouse so you don’t have to restrain yourself during your wine tasting!
Wine tasting in Chisinau is perfect for tasting wine from several different manufacturers and especially from small wineries that don’t have tasting rooms. We discovered some of the best wine at a wine shop called Carpe Diem.
For the days not visiting wineries, find a number of wine shops or the wine section at a local supermarket. Here you can find wines from all different wineries. You can get a bottle of fine wine for under 5 euros (that sells $10+ overseas!).
Moldova’s Wine Festival is a great time to visit to experience the ever-growing wine culture. This event includes the parade of winemakers, the Fair of Wine, public and professional wine tastings. Nearly 100 wineries, thousands of visitors, including tourists from all around the world gather on this day in the central square of Chisinau.
Life of the locals
Visiting markets is one of my favorite things to do while visiting a foreign country. It’s the best place to witness the real life of the local people. I feel at home at traditional markets because I grew up near a market and used to go shopping there every day with my mom and grandmother. It’s a Portkey to my childhood.
Head to Chisinau’s Central Market (Piata Centrala) to experience local life. When I opened the door to the dairy section of the market, I was immediately transported back to the past. All the vendors with their old style scales, aprons, and hand-churned butter, I could believe that I was in the 1980s. If only I could speak Romanian or Russian, I would have explored the market the whole day.
Moldova, which used to be called the ‘Garden of the Soviet Union’, produces great quality fruits and vegetables. This is probably the cheapest and best quality produce I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world.
On the weekends, head down to the Railway Station for the Flea Market. This is the place to come to get some Soviet memorabilia as well as everything from second-hand clothing to fur hats and hand-knitted socks and everything in between. Stephen (who is a collector of Soviet memorabilia) scored some amazing postcards, old money, and pins, and I got some natural wool for knitting. The market stretches for a few blocks around the Railway Station.
Chisinau has well-developed public transportation because that’s the only way to travel for most of the people. The trolley bus costs 2 lei ($0.10). The routes are extensive. We took a taxi to the airport (12km from the city) which cost us only 80 lei ($4).
Chisinau is also a good place to travel to neighboring European cities like Bucharest and Kiev via overnight train.
Day trip around the country
A couple days is enough to see most of the attractions in the city. But don’t worry, there are plenty of options for day trips around Chisinau.
Soroca has been known as a tourist attraction for a long time. Visitors come to see the old believers in Pocrovca, the Roma population on the Gypsy Hill, and the Castle. In Old Orhei (Orheiul Vechi) you can visit the working cave monastery (St. Maria Dormata) in the Open Air Museum Complex.
In summer, you can visit the last working colhoz in Moldova, a type of a state-run farm in Gaguaz. It’s the leading producer of fruits and vegetables in southern Moldova.
Of course, there’s also Transnistria, the self-proclaimed repun eastern Moldova.
A perfect home for digital nomads
For a short five days, Chisinau was a home for our digital nomading around Europe after Budapest and Bucharest. We enjoyed our time in those cities for different reasons and surprisingly Chisinau presented great reasons why it’s a great remote home for digital nomads.
Cheap cost of living
Chisinau is the cheapest European city I’ve ever lived and worked. We rented a three-room apartment for $10 per day near the downtown. A bottle of mid-range wine costs 3-5 US Dollars. The trolley bus is $0.10 one way. Twenty dollars is enough for a nice dinner at a restaurant and you can eat a nice lunch at a local restaurant (like La Placinte) for $5. A cup of coffee is less than $2 and fresh fruits and vegetables are very affordable.
Fast and reliable internet
No matter how great it is, we can’t live and work without the internet. Don’t worry, Chisinau is very well connected. In fact, the Internet in Moldova is one of the fastest and cheapest in the world. It was definitely faster than most of the places in western Europe.
Moldova is a home to Tucano Coffee, a popular coffee shop chain that has spread to Romania, and even the UAE. There are several coffee shops in town that are good for a remote workplace. Most of the restaurants and coffee shops have reliable internet.
Surprise! There’s a power outlet in the park
Find a power plug behind the bench at the St. Stephen the Great Park. Could it be any better?
Q. Where to stay in Chisinau?
For a cheap bed, check out Hotel Chisinau and the Hotel Cosmos. If you want a newer and more modern hotel, Best Western Flowers Hotel is a good option. If you are planning to stay longer than a few days and want to live like a local, rent an apartment (click here to save $40).
Q. How much do things cost?
Placinte (a popular Moldovan fry-bread): 7-10 lei at a street cart/ 30-50 lei at a restaurant
Coffee: 15 – 40 lei at a coffee shop
Trolleybus: 2 lei one way
Taxi: 80-100 lei to the airport (one way)
Hotel: check out Chisinau’s hotel link for the price
Q. Where and what to eat in Chisinau?
For traditional Moldovan food, find La Placinte. There are many branches in the city. It’s the best place to eat the most common Moldovan food for a cheap price. It’s one of the most loved restaurants by locals. La Placinte is big and pleasant, and a good place to work as well. There are La Placinte branches in Bucharest, but it’s much better in Chisinau. There is also La Taifas, which looks like a touristy restaurant but actually serves some delicious local food.
Restaurant Caravan serves Uzbek and Turkish cuisine. Andy’s Pizza is also a popular local chain for European foods.
Q. How to get around?
In the city, Trolleybuses have extensive routes. If you need to go somewhere that’s not on the route, a taxi is always a good option. To travel around the city, you would have to rent a car or arrange a trip with a local tour provider. Take a look at some of the tours and contact the tour company for a private tour itinerary. To Transnistria, it’s not recommended to travel alone if you don’t speak Russian.
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