Find Hidden Beauty In Moldova’s Capital
1. Valea Morilor Park
Only a ten-minute walk from Chișinău City Centre – yet a world apart – you will find the much loved Valea Morilor Park, easily one of the most beautiful places in Moldova. Perfect for escaping the city and getting a breath of fresh air. You can see plenty of locals running, kayaking, fishing, feeding ducks and just generally hanging out.
The cascading water feature on the hill is the perfect place for a romantic sunset, and during the summer there are plenty of people swimming from the sandy beach (however I cannot vouch for its cleanliness) and even a small amusement park. Be sure to make at least one lap of the lake, and go slow like the locals!
2. Cricova Winery Underground Wine Cellar
Did you know Moldova produced two-thirds of all wine consumed in the Soviet Union? Neither did I – but yes, Moldova has a long history of wine-consumption and production and one of the best places to see this is through a tour of the wine cellars of Cricova. These are the second largest wine cellars in the world (after the Mileștii Mici Winery – coming up soon!).
With a history dating back to the 15th Century, there are over 120 kilometers of caves and tunnels here which is used for wine storage production and sampling. An entire wine city underground, you just have to see this to believe it – We organized a fantastic tour and tasting through a small local company Top Tours Moldova who offered us a great price, over-delivered and customized everything to our interest’s.
Oleg the owner even gave us a mini-city tour on the way and his passion for his town and country is truly infectious. A visit to the Cricova Underground Wine Cellar should be the number one thing every tourist sees in Chișinău!
Oh…and when you’re in the wine storage look out for Putin and Angela Merkel’s private wine collections!
3. Nativity Cathedral Chișinău
The Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity in the heart of Chișinău is the main cathedral of the Moldovan Orthodox Church and was built in neoclassical design in the 1830’s.
Bombed during World War Two and then desecrated by communists, the Nativity Cathedral Chișinău was lovingly restored in 1997 after Soviet restrictions on worship had been lifted and today it is truly the center of faith in Moldova. Pop your head in and you will often see everything from quiet moments of spirituality to full-blown sermons with a live television crew and a crowd packed in tighter than sardines in a can!
4. National Museum of History of Moldova
With over 165,000 items relating to national heritage, the National Museum of History found in the historical center of Chişinău is the premier museum in Moldova which you just have to see. While the entire building could do with a make-over, the exhibits themselves are intriguing, thought-provoking and provide a glimpse into all the important events in Moldova’s history from independence all the way back to ancient times. Their medieval collection is particularly impressive, as is the historic halls and the WW2 diorama.
Whether you’re a giant history buff – or have literally no idea how or why Moldova exists – there is something new for you to discover here at the National Museum of History of Moldova
5. Parliament of the Republic of Moldova
While there are no tours and you’re not allowed inside, you have to see what is most likely the worlds ugliest parliament building – and wander the eerily quiet grounds.
Wondering where all the politicians are?
We were too, and all we saw here was one surprised security guard who could not for the life of himself figure out why a tourist would want to see the parliament here. The building is actually the former meeting place of the Central Committee of the Moldovan branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was badly damaged during riots in 2009.
More interesting after a chat with Moldovan’s about the fractured state of politics here…but then again, where isn’t these days!
6. Tucano Coffee
You are not going to find a Starbucks in Moldova – but the locals don’t seem to care since Tucano Coffee opened it’s doors here in 2011. Inspired by peace, love, and coffee this delightfully hip coffee chain has rapidly spread abroad and can now be found in Romania, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Kyrgyzstan of all places – But no one here will let you forget Chișinău is the original!
A new concept in coffee, you can relax here all day with fast WiFi and laid-back vibes, and be sure to try the cannabis coffee or delicious cheesecakes. Both are worth a visit to Chișinău alone to try!
7. National Museum of Fine Arts Chișinău
Recently renovated, the National Museum of Fine Arts is Chișinău, is one of the best-hidden gems in all of Moldova and you can spend hours wandering the gorgeously white galleries here filled with colorful works spanning all genres and ages.
Even if you are not a big art lover, the interior fit-out here is truly worth seeing and offers a glimpse of things to come in Chișinău where locals are embracing their roots, taking pride in their past and trying to bring something new and invigorating to the local scene.
One of my favorite museums in the world, you really cannot miss the chance to visit their stunning heritage building in Moldova.
8. Traditional Moldovan Food
Moldova’s fertile soil is well known for the quality of grapes it produces, but from the earth here also comes plenty of fruit, vegetables, grain and meat which you can find in most Moldavian national dishes. Heavily influences by Romanian cuisine, with inspiration from Greek, Polish, Ukrainian and Ottoman – it would be a mistake to dismiss Moldovan food out-of-hand.
Ask your waiter for his personal recommendations but you should also look out for mămăligă (a cornmeal / polenta-like accompaniment), brânză (a brined cheese) and ghiveci (a lamb or goat stew). Of course, there is also delicious wine to try, and beer which is traditionally served with a small meat pie.
The chain La Placinte is a great place for good Moldavian food in Chisnau, but we also loved the Propaganda Restaurant and its weird Soviet theme!
9. Mileștii Mici Winery And Under Ground Wine Cellar
The biggest wine cellars in the world, and the biggest wine collection in the world – If you are a true wine fan you really can’t go past a visit to Mileștii Mici Winery. We had a truly surreal experience here of driving through underground caves, but I have to say it is just not as well done as Cricova…
Though this could be entirely down to the guide. If you have the time it is really worth going both, especially in the summer when the outside wine fountain is working – but if you’re short on time Cricova is your best bet. In saying that, Mileștii Mici did give much more wine during the tasting, and had some very, very cool hidden rooms to explore…
10. Soviet Architecture in Chișinău
Yes, Chișinău on the surface is a truly ugly city for the most part – but for those of us not used to living amongst Soviet architecture there truly are some gems to be found here as most of the city was rebuilt entirely after WW2 in Soviet-style.
Just wandering around the streets of Chișinău can lead you to stumble upon a great many gems so keep an eye out, but if you have the time I highly recommend going on a Free Walking Tour of Chișinău to get an idea of the city and it’s history or following this highly-detailed step-by-step soviet-era walking tour of Chișinău which takes approximately 4 hours.
And I don’t care what the local says, you just cannot miss the Chișinău Circus building which is truly one-of-a-kind!
11. Chișinău Water Tower
The Chișinău Water Tower is a stand-out monument in the city and is kind of hard to miss. Home to the History Museum of Chișinău (which is not at all worth seeing if you cannot read Romanian), the real reason to visit the Chișinău Water Tower is actually for the stunning view out over the city and lake – and is especially romantic at sunset.
There is an elevator for most of the journey to the top and a nice art-gallery to look at if you are waiting for a break in the weather. The building was actually part of Chișinău original water supply system and was one of the few historical buildings faithfully restored after the 1940 earthquake.
12. Chișinău Nightlife
One of the biggest surprises I found in Chișinău was the thriving nightlife scene and most clubs and bars were conveniently located where we stayed making it all the more appealing to pop out for a quick drink…or two!
With low alcohol prices and plenty of venues to choose from Chișinău nightlife offers something for everyone with sophisticated wine bars like Invino Enoteca and Carpe Diem Wine
13. Triumphal Arch Chișinău
Probably the most iconic symbol of Chişinău, no list of things to do in Chişinău would be complete without a visit to the Triumphal Arch – though it’s position on the main boulevard would make it rather hard to miss!
Built-in 1840 to commemorate the victory of the Russian Empire over the Ottoman Empire, it was fully restored during communist times and serves as a reminder for the foreign interests that have frequently gone to war over Moldova – and the continuing struggle to forge a national identity distinct from that of both Romania and Russia.
And of course, it does make a beautiful photo as well!
14. Day Trips From Chișinău
While Chișinău has plenty of things to do, you would be remiss not to take advantage of the small size of Moldova and the array of day trips that can easily be completed using Chișinău as a base.
While Cricova and Mileștii Mici Winery are of course probably the most famous day trips from Chișinău, there are actually plenty more I would have loved to have gone on – but sadly there is not that much information online.
I am inspired to head back as soon as possible to Moldova and have a few trips in mind including visiting the medieval town of Orheiul Vechi, the Rudi Monastery and nearby Struve Geodetic Arc location in Moldova and the tentative UNESCO Site Curchi Monastery.
Or if you are a real Sovietophile why not take a trip to the breakaway region of Tiraspol and Transnistria?
There are also plenty of other vineyards and smaller towns such as Soroca, a city filled with rich history and culture, so you are unlikely to run out of things to do in Chișinău even with a week or more on your hands!
How To Get To Chișinău Moldova
By Plane: Chişinău International Airport is your best bet and is served by a growing number of legacy and low-cost carriers. Have a look here for the best prices and destination from across Europe (or you might even consider coming on FlyDubai from the United Arab Emirates!).
From the airport you should pay no more that 120 MDL for a taxi to the centre, but you might want to ask help from your hotel in Chişinău in organizing as many people report that taxi’s here often try to find extra reasons to charge tourists more. If you really on a budget you can take the Chişinău Airport Bus № 165 to Izmail street in the city centre.
By Train: Chişinău Central Railway Station has connections through to many cities in Ukraine and Russia, but can be rather slow (and buses often take half the time – especially to nearer cities such as Odessa. The best route for travelers is the overnight train daily leaving Bucharest Romania which offers comfortable shared sleeper cabins.
By Bus: If you are coming or going to Bucharest, Odessa, Iasi, Chernivtsi, and Lviv then buses might be the best and cheapest option, departing frequently both day-and-night. From the Chişinău Bus Stations you can also get to Bender and Tiraspol in Transnistria, but it is not recommended to go by yourself unless you speak Russian and really know what you are doing.
So there you have it! 15 things to do in Chișinău to see the hidden beauty of Europe’s ugliest capital. Don’t let first impressions scare you off – Beneath the surface, Chișinău has as much going on as any Eastern Europe City, you just have to look a bit harder. Slowly but surely, this city is waking up to its tourist potential and in the next few years I can imagine more and more ‘hip & cool’ cafes, restaurants, and hotels opening up… and prices skyrocketing.
Summer or winter, foodie or culture vulture – now is the time to be heading to Chișinău for a completely different experience, where you have to search to find beauty and are rewarded with experiences and discoveries that are unique to you. I know I’ll be back soon, and can’t wait to see what Chișinău has in store for me next.