Travel to Moldova : top activities and sightseeing
Authenticity? Gastronomy? Wines? Nature? Discover the multitude of activities that Moldova offers, get ready for a cheap and intense holiday!
For the ones who have not heard of this country before, don’t worry, there is no shame in that! Especially if you are not particularly gifted when it comes to geography! Moldova is a rather young country, 26 years old to be exact, that rose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This region that once belonged to Romania, having fertile soils and well known for its viticulture, has represented an interest for the Russians who have transformed it in their wine cellar. Numerous Russians have decided to settle in Moldova back then. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the country had gone through a civil war that led to its independence in 1991. Nowadays the country is still mainly rural, there are few industries and it is considered the poorest country in Europe.
The official language is Romanian (70%) but take into account Russian speakers (30%) and everybody speaks well both languages more or less. Moldovans speak very little English but the country has a strong diaspora of numerous young people who have lived and worked abroad and therefore speak English. Tourism is rather underdeveloped in Moldova despite its activities and attractions that are well worth a visit. Moldova is one of the most authentic countries that I have visited so far. There are very few tourist traps, very few infrastructures dedicated exclusively to tourists but a good hotel network and no groups of tourists that take selfies in front of each monument.
So why would you visit Moldova then? Well, you should go if you want to experience something authentic, see beautiful landscapes that you won’t find everywhere on social media, and interact with the locals with whom you will have a great deal of fun! Moreover, what other country can say that it has on its territory a country not recognized by the UN (Transnistria that is), a land recognized as the gypsy capital (Soroca), a biodiversity and a natural richness that comprise more parks than movie theaters.
What is there to do in Moldova?
For visits all year long:
Trips to the wine cellars and local wine tastings (Cricova / Milestii Mici / Comrat / Vartely / Purcari)
Wine is the symbol of Moldova and its great richness. Wine grapes are so big and sunbathed, that this land could produce enough wine to fill up the largest wine cellar in the world. There is even a celebration day for this divine drink, the Wine Day on the 7th October! A popular Moldovan saying is that in order to make a woman more beautiful, one must drink wine. Each wine has its specialty. On location you can visit the fabrication process as well as the cellars themselves. The 2 largest cellars Milestii Mici and Cricova can be visited by car (or minibus) and the 2 producers have English guides. The visit lasts around 1h/1h30 and you can ask for a wine tasting session at the end of the tour.
Relax in one of the parks in Chisinau
Chisinau is considered a green city. Numerous large parks transform this city into a very agreeable and quite romantic spot. Walk along the lake, eat a natural ice-cream while reading a good book on a bench while your kids are fooling around on the sports machines; the parks in Chisinau are all unique. Our top 3:
The Valley of Roses Park (Valea Trandafirilor Park)
The Botanical Garden (Gradina Botanica)
The Riscani Park (Parcul Rîşcani – Ciocana)
These parks are very pleasant, both in winter and during summertime. It’s possible to rent bicycles and bike through the parks. You could try to cycle in the city but there are very few bike lanes so this particular activity is still rather dangerous, although possible. We have traveled through Vietnam by bike and I feel that danger wise the 2 are fairly similar.
Moldova has a multitude of birds, magpies, red gorges and a whole bunch of other species (that I am unfortunately not familiar with). You can see them a little bit everywhere, but it would be considerably easier to see them by getting out of the city and go more towards the countryside. The National Codru Park is a perfect spot to take in the wildlife. But not only, have a look below!
Wild Natural areas
If you are interested in nature, you are going to fall in love with Moldova due to its numerous green and recreational areas. Here are our top picks to visit outside Chisinau:
Natural area of Tipova: very beautiful place where a monastery has been dug into the rocks
Rezervaţia Naturală Feteşti & Cariera Fetești: small green area with a limestone quarry
Naslavcea : natural space along the Dniepr river in the North of the country
the Old Orhei (Orheiul Vechi) : a unique natural and historical complex in the open air. A place to visit especially for its typical village and its beautiful monastery
Codri National park (and the only one)
Vadul Lui Voda (a beautiful beach by a lake where you can relax) and a green area
Monasteries and manor houses
Incredible monasteries are to be found across Moldova. Magnificent Orthodox vestiges with their golden interiors are well worth a visit!
- In Chisinau: the Nativity Cathedral (Catedrala Nasterea Domnului) and the St. Theodore Cathedral (Catedrala Episcopala St. Teodor Tiron) and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior (Biserica Schimbarea la Fata a Mantuitorului)
- Saharna Monastery
- Rudi Monastery
- Curchi Monastery
- Tipova Monastery
- Conacul Manuc Bei
Capriana Monastery (Mănăstirea Căpriana)
There is obviously an abundance of markets in Chisinau and in the neighboring cities. But if you like the noisy, animated type of markets, you will adore the ones in Chisinau. The Central Bazar is just incredible in terms of finding fresh products, knitted hats or the best fruit and vegetables. It’s quite an experience to try for the more adventurous types!!
Fishing in a sustainable manner in a lake
In the winter just like during summertime you can fish in Moldova. Moldovans are very keen on this national “sport”. Specially designated areas are arranged for this purpose: numerous lakes like the Ghidighici Lake (where there is a naturally high density of fish) exist and you can also fish in certain spots if you pay the lake guardian a sum of money. During winter make sure that you have tools to dig a hole through the ice. The fish that you are going to catch will most likely be carp, the most common type of fish in Moldova.
Enjoy a SPA treatment
Another popular activity especially in winter but always pleasant in summer. Aquaterra is a very good SPA but very expensive compared to local prices. The Sauna Premier is a really nice SPA, privatizable, lot cheaper than Aquaterra and 100% eastern European look and feel! You go, pay access on time and enjoy the facilities in private. There are also many spa facilities in town at hotels such as Club Royal Park or Radisson Blu hotel.
During winter in Moldova :
During winter the temperatures go often below zero, although due to the climate change the weather has been getting milder. So although it is indeed a whole lot more pleasant to come here during summer, don’t overlook the particular charm that the cold season has. Layer up and appreciate the splendid snow and the frozen lakes where you can engage in unique activities!
Ice skating on frozen lakes
You will find opportunities to ice skate in the city and its surroundings. However, you should go for the lakes outside of the city with denser and more solid ice such as the Ghidighici Lake. Of course there is the alternative of ice skating rings downtown, especially around the Stefan Cel Mare monument, but also close to the Atrium commercial centre.
Jumping in a freezing lake
Another very local and typical activity is taking a dip in a frozen lake. I didn’t have the courage but my future mother in law did it! It’s incredible to jump in a freezing lake when there are -10 degrees outside! Tempting no? But it’s definitely an item for my bucket list. I have been training myself psychologically ever since.
During summer in Moldova :
It’s unbearably hot, on average 32 degrees. And it’s hot during the evenings too. Therefore jumping in the water and walking around the cooling parks are very much appreciated during summertime!
These 3 activities are very popular in Moldova and you will be able to practice them as soon as the good weather is on. Local agencies can speak a bit of English and can direct you towards the best spots.
Taking a dip in a river or a lake
There is no seaside in Moldova, but the country makes up for it with its many lakes where you can swim. The water of the lakes is relatively clean, frequently renewed from Dniepr. You can also swim in the Dniepr at the Vadul lui Voda or in activity centers such as Green Park that offer you possibilities to relax and enjoy the day. There are small stands where you can get ice-cream or a good glass of Kvas which is a very typical Moldovan drink that contains a small alcohol percentage (the home made version contains between 0.2% and 2% alcohol).
Barbecues in the park and on the river banks
Are you a fan of barbecues? I am a vegetarian and that is not particularly practical in Moldova as there are very few vegetarian dishes, just like in the majority of the countries in Eastern Europe, therefore we try to eat mostly chicken that is locally raised in a farm nearby. The “chachlik” barbecue (as it is called in Russian) is an experience in itself and you can treat it in a sustainable manner by trying to replace as much as possible the red meat with vegetables and chicken. You can rent small cottages for the day where you will find sockets to plug in a radio, a table with chairs and even refrigerators to stock the meat and beers. And there is obviously also a grill where you can prepare your food. These houses that are equipped to make a “chachlik” barbecue can be found pretty much everywhere around the lakes and in the parks.
Public and private swimming pools
Another activity that you can do when it’s way too hot to go for a stroll, is going to the swimming pool. If you are staying in a hotel, it will for sure have one. But for those staying in apartments and hostels, it’s possible to go to a public swimming pool like the one next to the Megalopolis commercial center, or to a private swimming pool – they can be rented by the hour or for half a day. It’s a pretty great idea if you just want to enjoy some downtime. Here is a list of all swimming pools in Chisinau.
Translation & Copy Editing by Liana Marinoiu