Chisinau is a cool, offbeat city with tons of stuff to do, but it’s easier to explore if you know what you want to see beforehand. The city center is large, and a lot of the best things to do in Chisinau aren’t located in a single area or neighborhood.
Where to Stay in Chisinau, Moldova
Chisinau offers a seriously great bang for your buck when it comes to staying in hotels and hostels here. I’m including a recommendation for hotels and hostels for each of the following budget categories:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $10-15 USD per night for a dorm bed or under $25 for a double.
- Mid-range: Around $35-65 USD per night
- Luxury: Around $100 per night or more
Budget: For a great budget-friendly hostel, you can stay in the dorms at Amazing Ionika Hostel, which has some of the best reviews I’ve ever seen for a hostel. The rooms are clean, funky, and bright, with free wifi and in-room coffee makers. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet elegant stay in Chisinau, pick the four-star Tulip Residence & Spa. This is a Thai-style hotel that has a spa, a Turkish bath, and a swimming pool, so you can really relax when you’re not out exploring Moldova. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
An alternative is the four-star Aria Hotel, which I stayed in for a week. The rooms are luxurious and clean, with stylish bathrooms and super-helpful staff. They helped me arrange private drivers when I needed them, and I really loved making this hotel my home for the week. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: If you want to enjoy your Moldova vacation in true style, you can stay at the five-star Radisson Blu Leogrand Hotel with updated and modern everything. With sleek decor, modern amenities, and an on-site spa and fitness center, it’s a fabulous place to call home for a few days or more. Make sure to check out the hotel’s gorgeous city views. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Still looking? Check out my Chisinau hotel and hostel guide.
The Best Things to Do in Chisinau
Here are the top sites in Chisinau, from the Communist era monuments to the beautiful churches and green parks.
When Moldova was a republic in the Soviet Union, this building was where the Central Committee of the Moldovan Communist Party met. These days, it’s used as the Parliament building for Moldova’s legislature. While I don’t suggest trying to go inside, nearly everyone who comes to Chisinau likes to walk by and see the unique landscaping which spells out the word “Moldova.”
Victory and Eternity Memorial Park Complex
If you love Red tourism and visiting Communist sites, the Chisinau will not disappoint! The most impressive monument from Moldova’s Soviet era is the Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame. You can walk (it’s about twenty minutes from the center of Chisinau) or you can take a taxi out here.
Dedicated to the Moldovans who died fighting to defend the USSR in World War II, the main memorial is five red rifles raised over the Eternal Flame. Guarded by an honor guard, make sure to stay to see the changing of the guard at the top of each hour.
There are additional memorials in the complex that you’ll also want to see, including five social realist relief statues and a memorial to those who died during the war with Transnistria in 1992.
Nativity Cathedral & Cathedral Park
The Nativity Cathedral dates to the early nineteenth century, it was built in the Neoclassical style complete with a colonnade. Today it serves as the most important cathedral in the Moldovan Orthodox Church.
During the Soviet era, the interior was white-washed, and it was damaged during World War II. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the cathedral has been restored and the interior has been decorated with new frescoes.
In the park next to the cathedral is the bell tower, which is a reproduction built in the late nineties since the original was destroyed in the war.
Pro Tip: When enetering Moldovan Orthodox churches, dress modestly. Women should tuck a scarf in their day bag or purse. Some churches will ask you to wear it and cover your head, while others won’t.
Another important site in Cathedral Park is Chisinau’s famous Triumphal Arch, which is also known as the Holy Gates because of its location next to the cathedral. Built to commemorate the Russian’s victory over the Turks in 1812, it was originally supposed to house the bells made from the melted cannons of the defeated Turks. However, they were too heavy for the arch to support. If you want to get further into the history of the Triumphal Arch, check out this interesting essay.
I tend to associate wooden churches with Scandinavia, but the Vikings actually brought these techniques back home after visiting Eastern Europe and seeing the Slavic Orthodox churches made of wood. You can see one of these beautiful old churches right in the heard of Chisinau, the wooden church of the Dormition of Mary of Hirișeni, which has been turned into an ethnographic museum.
They are still in the process of moving houses and other buildings to the park, but eventually, it will be similar to Bucharest’s (awesome) Village Museum.
Chisinau Water Tower
The late nineteenth-century landmark used to be one of two water towers in the city, but it’s the only one which survived several twentieth-century earthquakes. You can visit the exhibits here on different aspects of the city’s history, but the highlight is to take the elevator to the top for beautiful panoramic views.
Ştefan cel Mare Central Park
This beautiful park (formerly named Pushkin Park) is a popular spot for locals to meet up, earning it the nickname the “the park of the lovers.” It’s also a great spot for backpackers to come and hang out for a bit since the park has free wifi. If you love fountains, you definitely need to come by, since the park has four, as well as pavilions, places for children to play, and a merry-go-round.
Pushkin House Museum
If you’re a fan of Russian literature, you no doubt have read Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which he wrote in this house while in exile in Chisinau. He worked prolifically while in Chisinau, so while it’s his most famous its only one of many works that he wrote while here. Since Pushkin is one of my favorite writers, the museum was the highlight of my time in the city.
We still, alas, cannot forestall it-
This dreadful ailment’s heavy toll;
The spleen is what the English call it,
We call it simply, Russian soul.
St. Theodor Tiron Convent (Manastirea Ciuflea)
This gorgeous monastery in Chisinau might be the city’s loveliest. Built by one Ciufli brother in honor of the other, you can find both Anastasie and Teodor Ciufli buried in the church’s south wing. It served as the main Orthodox church in Chisinau during the Soviet Union, and it was only turned into a monastery in 2002.
Stephen the Great Monument
Located in Ştefan cel Mare Central Park, Stephen the Great (Ştefan cel Mare in Romanian) is a Romanian national hero and medieval ruler who controlled parts of modern-day Romanian and Moldova. When Romania took control of Moldova in the early twentieth century, they replaced the statue of the Russian Czar, Alexander II, with Stephen the Great to celebrate Moldova’s ethnic Romanian roots and to emphasize the two nations mutual past.
National Museum of History of Moldova
The country’s main history and archaeology museum, it covers the country’s history in-depth, including the Soviet period. Highlights include their collection of historical weapons and photographs. The schedule changes seasonally, so check their website for the best times to visit.
Chisinau Botanical Garden
I actually skipped the Botanical Gardens when I was in Chisinau, but after going to the ones in Belgrade, I vow never to skip a botanical museum again. Because THEY ARE AWESOME. The Chisinau gardens are large, with tons of great opportunities for photography and to relax in nature. Check their website for the best times to visit and public transportation information.
Chisinau City Gates
These twin Soviet-era skyscrapers were built in 1987. It’s hard to miss them when coming to the city if you know what you’re looking for. They’re one of my favorite Chisinau photo spots.
Wine & Cognac Tasting
When you come to Moldova, you need to experience Moldova’s wine and cognac scene. A visit to a winery or to the cognac distilleries in Transnistria are both popular day Chisinau day trips, but if you don’t have time you can still experience a wine tasting or a cognac tasting while in the city.
Located near the Parliament Building, Transfiguration Church was built at the beginning of the twentieth century. During the Soviet era Space Race, it was used as a planetarium because of the round shape of the dome. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the church was restored and is open to the public.
Chisinau Railway Station
If you’re in Chisinau to explore the Communist sites, then you have to come down to the Chisinau Railway Station. This Soviet train station was built in 1948 during the Stalinist era. Even if you’re not taking a train here, take a few minutes to wander around and photograph the architecture.
Chisinau State Circus
Abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union, this beautiful social realist building has been restored and reopened in 2014. You can come by and see the architecture and reliefs, or you can buy a ticket to a performance here. (I suggest skipping anything with live animals).
Central Market (Piata Centrala)
I loooooove markets in post-Communist countries. After living near one in Sofia for a few years, I still cannot get enough of them. Whether it’s exploring the Dry Bridge Market in Tbilisi or the Zeleni Venac in Bucharest, I’m 10000% percent obsessed.
When in Chisinau, head to the Central Market. You’ll find everything for sale from honey to brandy to an entire hall of cheese. Bring cash, prepare to haggle, and don’t go home empty handed!
Alley of Classics
Another important spot in Ştefan cel Mare Central Park, the Alley of Classics features statues of important Romanian and Moldovan literary figures.
Moldova National Opera and Ballet
I didn’t get to see a performance while I was in town, but I did get to walk by and appreciate the social realist artwork on the building. However, I love to see operas and ballets while I travel (I recently got to see the Sofia Opera perform Carmen), so I highly recommend checking to see if you can watch a performance while in town.
To get tickets, check their online calendar for upcoming performances that overlap with your time in the city. Tickets are reasonably priced (typically between 50-200 leu or less than $15 for the best seats), and you can buy them online and in English, Russian, or Romanian.
Sciusev House Museum
The home of the architect Alexei Sciusev, the Sciusev House Museum is now a Moldovan national heritage site. His most famous achievements are building Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kazan Railway Station in Moscow. The museum only offers tours in Romanian and Russian, so skip the tour and just peruse the artifacts on display.
How to Get Around Chisinau
I relied mainly on hiring drivers through my hotel when I go on day trips from Chisinau, and taxis and walking whenever I am in the city.
To get from the Chisinau airport to your accommodations, I would suggest either ordering a taxi from the taxi stand in the airport (don’t negotiate directly with a taxi driver, always order them through the stand) or arranging an airport transfer ahead of time. The cost of a taxi is 100 leu (about $6 USD). Confirm the price with the stand and again with the driver before you leave to avoid a taxi scam.
If you aren’t comfortable with starting your trip to Chisinau by getting a taxi (or you know you’ll be arriving late at night or early in the morning), you can pre-book an airport transfer directly to your hotel. Check the prices and availability of Chisinau airport transfers.
There is also a public transportation option. You can take the Express “A” bus from the airport to downtown Chisinau. The cost is 3 leu (about twenty cents USD). This route runs from 7 am until 7 pm.
You can also take one of the minibusses. Route 165 goes from the airport to downtown Chisinau. The difference between the public bus and the minibus is that the minibus (marshrutka) only stops when asked. Neither buses have specialized luggage storage, so you’ll need to keep your bags with you.
5 Things to Pack for a Trip to Chisinau
Planning a trip to Moldova? I have an entire Moldova packing list, but make sure you don’t forget these important items:
- Lonely Planet Romania & Moldova I find it’s actually really hard to find hard copy travel guides on the road, so if you love having a paper guidebook you need to buy it ahead of time. This guide also comes in a Kindle version for those who don’t want to carry the physical copy with them.
- A Backup Charging Bank so you can keep your phone (and thus phone camera) charged while you’re out sightseeing.
- A copy of Eugene Onegin so you can read it in the city (or even in the house) where it was written. Get this dual English/Russian version if you want to practice your Russian!
- A Primary SD Card and a Spare SD Card because it would be torture to run out of memory and miss out on your photos opportunities (especially because I’ve had a few SD cards fail on me).
- Travel Insurance Policy information, because things happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging out in cities where tourists can be the victims of pickpockets.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.
Pro Tip: Combining a trip to Moldova with Ukraine and want to visit Chernobyl? Make sure you follow the packing guidelines for Touring Chernobyl and Pripyat.
More Moldova Travel Resources
Headed to Chisinau? Here is my list of what to pack for Moldova before you go, and make sure to check out my recommendations for the best things to do in Chisinau and the best Chisinau photography spots.
Trying to figure out where to stay? Here is my guide to the best Chisinau hotels and hostels.
Many travelers choose to pair a trip to Moldova with a trip to either Ukraine or Romania.
If you’re also headed to Ukraine, check out my posts for going on a Chernobyl tour, pictures of what Chernobyl looks like today, my guide to what to pack for Ukraine, and my interview about what exactly happened at Chernobyl.