First timer’s travel guide to Moldova from a local.
Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe, and, frankly, we can’t boast about a huge number of tourists coming here. We don’t have huge palaces and castles, or museums of international significance, but we have something else: nice and cosy places in nature, old monasteries and fortresses, soviet architecture, all kinds of wine and delicious food.
So here is a short travel guide to Moldova for those who will visit it for the first time with useful information on many travel aspects.
If you have any other questions, comment please and I will add them to this guide.
Visa policy of Moldova
If you are a citizen of European countries, former Soviet republics (excluding Turkmenistan), the USA, Canada, Australia, some Latin American and Asian countries, you don’t need a visa to travel to Moldova.
Citizens of all countries on the African continent and the majority of Asian states are required to have a valid visa to enter Moldova. You can see here the list of countries exempt from obtaining a visa and the countries whose citizens need one.
To Moldova by train and plane. And bus 🙂
Moldova is a landlocked country, and there are several ways to get here.
Of course, the most convenient way is by plane. We have our local airline called AirMoldova and it operates direct flights to many European countries. Italy is the most popular destination here, they fly to 5 cities there. Istanbul with Moscow and St Petersburg are other popular destinations. You can check the map of their flights here. Fly One is another local airline, but AirMoldova is my personal preference.
In addition to AirMoldova, many European airlines fly to Chisinau, like Austrian Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, TAROM, LOT Polish Airlines, etc. Wizz Air operates some routes between Chisinau and some European destinations.
If you are in Romania, Ukraine, Russia or Belarus, you can travel to Moldova by train, as we have routes from specific cities. Just keep in mind that it will take quite a lot of time. Check the routes here.
The same is for travel by bus. It is long but much cheaper. We have many routes to the nearby Romania and Ukraine, some routes to Bulgaria, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, Turkey, etc. Just check this link to see the available routes.
The websites of the bus and railway stations allow buying tickets online, but, please, note that this option is absent now because of the coronavirus restrictions.
Languages spoken in Moldova
The official language of Moldova is Moldovan/Romanian. Why two? Because language issues are quite important here, and, while Moldovan and Romanian are almost identical, if you ask people around, the answer will depend on the person. A bit of history to try to explain the situation.
Many centuries ago modern Moldova was a part of the larger Principality of Moldova. In 1812 after a war between the Ottoman and Russian empires the territory between the Prut and Dniester Rivers was ceded to Russia and got the name of Bessarabia. Some parts of Bessarabia became part of Ukraine, and the remaining part became modern-day Moldova. What remained of the Principality of Moldova – after Bessarabia was ceded to Russia – became part of modern Romania.
It means that in both Romania and Moldova people speak pretty much the same language, so the issue whether it is Romanian or Moldovan is more a political one.
Another language spoken in Moldova is Russian, which is quite understandable considering that Moldova had been under the Russian Empire and later Soviet rule. Many speak it or understand to some level, but some people may frown when they hear Russian.
It is a bit hard for me to judge whether there are many people speaking English. I am sure you can meet some young people in the center of Chisinau, but I wouldn’t expect much. Still, I know that foreigners usually manage anyway.
Our currency is Moldovan leu or MDL (the abbreviation of Moldovan leu). Roughly, 1 EUR is 19,5 MDL, and 1 dollar is 17,2 MDL.
Only our currency is accepted in the country, so you can exchange your money at dozens of exchange bureaus around the city. Just be careful as some of them may charge commission. One of the best exchange bureaus in Chisinau is Deghest on 43 Banulescu Bodoni Street.
If you don’t trust exchange bureaus, go to banks, of which we have plenty. Usually they have different rates, so you will have to walk around a bit to find the best ones.
Cash or cards?
I would say, both. There are plenty of places accepting cards like restaurants, shops, supermarkets, but you will need cash to pay for bus tickets, food from markets and kiosks, in some shopping centers and, maybe, museum tickets, as the entrance fees are quite low, around 1 EUR.
When you travel outside Chisinau and any other bigger cities, I would advise to have cash mostly.
Tourist information center
Whether I want it or not, I have to admit that we still have a lot of work to do to create a proper tourist infrastructure. From time to time I hear news about our officials creating maps of tourist landmarks or offering buses to specific places, or some other initiatives, but I don’t see a lot of progress.
You can read countless blog posts by other travellers to get an idea about what Moldova offers, but when in the country, go to the tourist information center on 83 Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard in Chisinau. The center is in the same building as the town hall, so you won’t miss it. You can get maps here and learn about the tourist landmarks of Moldova, and, from what I hear, they can help you with organising tours to wineries. From time to time they offer free walking tours of Chisinau. Just peek in for some useful information 🙂
Places and cities to visit in Moldova
Though we lack many usual tourist attractions, we have plenty of places to visit and things to do. Below is a short list of interesting places in Moldova.
Cities to visit in Moldova
- Balti, the Northern capital of Moldova.
- Orhei with the famous Orheiland amusement park.
- Soroca with its fortress and gypsy town.
- Transnistria with Tiraspol and Bender for a fortress and Soviet architecture.
- Gagauzia with Comrat and Ciadir-Lunga with their own culture, food and wine.
Fortresses in Moldova
- Soroca Fortress
- Bender Fortress
Monasteries to visit in Moldova
- Noul Neamţ
- Rock Monastery in Old Orhei
- Beleu Lake
- Codru Reserve
- Padurea Domneasca Reserve
- Old Orhei (Orheul Vechi) where the Raut River creates a stunning bend
- Limestone hills in Edinet District
- Any place at the Prut and Dniester Rivers
Other places of interest in Moldova
- Manuc Bey Mansion in Hincesti
- Soldanesti nuclear shelter
How to move around Moldova
There are some things to consider when it comes to travelling in Moldova. If you plan to visit major cities only (the ones I mention above) you can use our interurban buses. We have plenty of them and they drive to almost all towns in the country. For routes, schedules and prices check this website. You can buy tickets online here as well.
I assume you will have Chisinau as a base, and what you have to consider is that we have many bus stations in the city. For example, as a rule (but not always), buses depart from Gara de Nord, or Northern station, to the destinations in the north of the country. Gara Centrala or central station is for places in the center of Moldova, and Gara Sud-Vest or South-Western station is for the south of the country. So when you book your tickets click the blue i button to see the route. As a rule, the buses stop in the villages on the way to their final destination, but you will have to notify the driver.
If you want to see some other places I mentioned above, like some monasteries and natural wonders, I guess a car would be better. So, if you can, better rent one. Thus you won’t have to search for buses going there, as in many cases there won’t be any. And it is much more comfortable 🙂
Another way would be to find a local tourist agency, usually they organise 1-day tours, to monasteries and wineries mostly.
Hitchhiking works as well, just take general precautions. Sometimes drivers even wait at the bus stations looking for passengers.
Of course, you can book a taxi as well, but, despite them being cheaper in Moldova than, say, in Europe, you may end up paying quite some money. Anyway, it is worth calling them and asking.
Did you know that Moldova is one of the twenty biggest wine producers in the world? I think that considering the size of our territory we have quite many wine-producing centers 🙂 They are mostly located in the center and south of the country, but the most famous ones, like Milestii Mici and Cricova, are relatively close to Chisinau.
In Moldova you can taste any kinds of wine possible: red, white, rose, sparkling (champagne), young and old. And brandy, it is called divin in Moldovan/Romanian. We have Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Aligote, Saperavi, Pinot Noir, Rkatsiteli and less known to international visitors local varieties like Fetească Neagră, Fetească Albă, Fetească Regală and Rară Neagră. There is wine to satisfy any taste 🙂
As we are proud of our wine, every year we celebrate it during the so-called Wine Day. In Chisinau it takes place in the beginning of October, and, a bit later, in Gagauzia as well.
You can buy wine in any supermarket, prices vary greatly, so just walk around. Keep in mind that it is illegal to sell alcoholic drinks after 10 PM in Moldova.
Wineries to visit
- Castel Mimi
- Chateau Vartely
- Milestii Mici
- Vinuri de Comrat
- Et Cetera
Our cuisine is quite hearty: we have a lot of meat dishes, roasted and fried, for example, sausages like mici and mititei, frigarui (barbecue), friptura (a kind of stew).
We love soups, I think our preference goes to borscht (though it’s not a Moldovan invention) and zeama (soup with home-made noodles and chicken stock). We add a liquid to soups that makes them sour and more delicious, in my opinion 🙂
Placintas and invirtitas are popular foods. It is pastry with different fillings like cottage, cow or sheep cheese, pumpkin, cabbages, potatoes, meat sometimes, but my favorite ones are with sour cherry.
We are proud of our sarmale: it is rice with meat wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves. Quite often the same filling goes to stuff bell peppers as well.
Mamaliga is another specialty. It is a kind of porridge made of corn flour and is usually served with cheese and tocana (roasted or fried meat).
And we love pickles! The vegetables we pickle depend on the region of the country, usually it is tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, eggplants. In some places people pickle apples and watermelon.
We adopted many Slavic and, naturally, Soviet dishes, in addition to the borscht above, like meat jelly (racituri), smetannik cake, vinegret, olivier and herring salads, etc.
For dessert have our cake Cusma lui Guguta, baba neagra and baba alba, or plums stuffed with walnuts.
That’s all for now 🙂 Do you have any questions?
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