MOLDOVA TRAVEL GUIDE
Moldova, an Eastern European country and former Soviet republic, has varied terrain including forests, rocky hills and vineyards. Its wine regions include Nistreana, known for reds, and Codru, home to some of the world’s largest cellars. Capital Chișinău has Soviet-style architecture and the National Museum of History, exhibiting art and ethnographic collections that reflect cultural links with neighbouring Romania.
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is as ‘off the beaten track’ as you can get in Europe. Attracting just a fraction of the number of visitors of neighbouring countries, it’s a natural destination for travellers who like to plant the flag and visit lands few others have gone to.
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MOLDOVA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Chişinău
- Currency: Moldovan leu (MDL)
- Area: 33,843 km²
- Population: 3,546 million (2018)
- Language: Romanian (official), Russian, Gagauz (a Turkish dialect)
- Religion: Eastern Orthodox 98%, Jewish 1.5%, Baptist and other 0.5%
- Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)
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MOLDOVA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 7 January, Orthodox Christmas
- 8 March, International Women’s Day
- 1 May, International Solidarity Day of Workers
- 9 May, Victory Day
- 27 August, Independence Day
- 31 August, National Language Day
- 25 December, Western Christmas
Also, Orthodox Easter Monday and Memory/Parents’ Day (the Monday after Orthodox Easter Monday)
BEST TIME TO VISIT MOLDOVA
The best time to visit Moldova is April or May as it's not too hot and the countryside is abound with colour, perfect for walkers and bird watchers. It's not quite as hot as in the height of summer and the countryside is positively booming.
Winters in Moldova tend to be dry which makes ideal weather for wrapping up on city sightseeing tours and seeking out warming bowls of ciorba (soup). The Black Sea has a big part to play in Moldova’s climate helping to create milder winters and longer summers, perfect for grape growing and rich agriculture. The best time to visit Moldova for walking with wildflowers or bird watching is May to June but remember a raincoat as heavy showers can be frequent. Independence Day at the end of August is also worth experiencing, and October finds the countryside alive with colour but, again, don’t forget your mac and brolly.
June - Parks and restaurant terraces fill with students, and the weather is warm.
July - High season hits its peak with hiking, wine tours, and camping in full operation.
October - The 'National Wine Day' festival takes place during the first weekend in October.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN MOLDOVA
The snow sports season in Moldova is from December to February.
HIKING & CYCLING IN MOLDOVA
The best time for outdoor activities in Moldova is from May to September when the weather is moderate.
BEACH OPTIONS IN MOLDOVA
Moldova has no beaches, but you enjoy a swim with the locals at Lacul 'Valea Morilor' on the Chisinau Lake or at the public beach Plaja Centrala Ghidighici.
MOLDOVA TRAVEL COSTS
Moldova is considered the poorest country in Europe and it has one of the lowest cost of living indexes in the world, which although a sad truth, makes it very cheap for long-term, budget travellers. Prices, even in the capital, are extremely reasonable.
On a backpacker budget of $30 USD per day, you’ll get a hostel dorm, cheap local meals, some cooked meals, a few attractions, and public transportation to get around. If you wild camp, you can lower this even more.
On a mid-range budget of about $65 USD per day, you can stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out for all your meals at budget-friendly restaurants, drink a lot more, take some vineyard tours, and visit more museums and attractions.
MOLDOVA TRAVEL TIPS
Moldova is a relatively cheap country, to begin with but, if you’re looking to save some money, here are some added ways to cut your costs:
Take a free walking tour – Chisinau offers a couple of free walking tours led by local guides.
Camp – If you really want to save money in Moldova, wild camping is perfectly legal and safe on public land.
Cook your own meals – Book accommodation that has a kitchen so you can cook your own meals.
Walk everywhere – All of the major cities in Moldova are quite walkable, so skip public transportation.
Enjoy the free spaces – There are plenty of free parks as well as many free hiking trails around the country.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF MOLDOVA
Stroll the surprisingly pleasant streets and parks of the friendly capital Chişinău.
Designate a driver for tours of the world-famous wine cellars at Mileştii Mici and Cricova.
Detox at the fantastic cave monastery, burrowed by 13th-century monks, at Orheiul Vechi.
Go way off the beaten path in the self-styled 'republic' of Transdniestr, a surreal, living homage to the Soviet Union.
Gorge on the many excellent dining options found in Chişinău.
Use the capital Chişinău as your base and get to know this friendly and fast-changing town. Make day trips out to the stunning cave monastery at Orheiul Vechi and to one of the local big-name vineyards for a tour and tasting. Spend a night or two in surreal Transdniestr before returning to Chişinău.
Follow the one-week itinerary at a leisurely pace before tacking on a few smaller vineyard tours around Chişinău, purchasing your customs limit, and taking an overnight trip to Soroca to see the impressive fortress on the mighty Dniestr River.
The capital Chişinău is by far Moldova’s largest and liveliest city and its main transport hub. While the city’s origins date back six centuries to 1420, much of Chişinău (pronounced kish-i-now) was levelled in WWII and by a tragic earthquake that struck in 1940. The city was rebuilt in Soviet style from the 1950s onwards, and both the centre and outskirts are dominated by utilitarian high-rise buildings. That said, the centre is surprisingly green and peaceful. There are two large parks, and main avenues cut through groves of old-growth trees that lend a serene element.
Of Moldova's many vineyards, Cricova is arguably the best known. Its underground wine kingdom, 15km north of Chişinău, is one of Europe's biggest. Some 60km of the 120km-long underground limestone tunnels – dating from the 15th century – are lined wall-to-wall with bottles. Legend has it that in 1966 Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin entered the cellars, re-emerging two days later. Russian president Vladimir Putin even celebrated his 50th birthday here.
Similar to Cricova but bigger and possibly more impressive, the wine cellars at Mileştii Mici (20km south of Chişinău near the town of Ialoveni), stretch for 200km. The cellars here hold more than 2 million bottles, which makes this the world's largest wine collection, according to the Guinness World Records.
Occupying a remote, rocky ridge over the Răut River, the open-air Orheiul Vechi Monastery complex includes ruins, fortifications, baths, caves and monasteries, ranging from the earliest days of the Dacian tribes more than 2000 years ago through the Mongol and Tatar invasions of the early Middle Ages and the time of Ştefan cel Mare, and all the way to the modern period. he most impressive sight is arguably the Cave Monastery built inside a cliff overlooking the gently meandering river.
The northern city of Soroca occupies a prominent position on the Dniestr River and as such has played an outsized role in the defence of the Moldavian principality through the ages. The main attraction is the Soroca Fortress, part of a chain of medieval military bastions built by Moldavian princes from the 14th to the 16th centuries to defend the principality's boundaries.
The self-declared republic of Transdniestr (sometimes called Transnistria), a narrow strip of land on the eastern bank of the Dniestr River, might just be one of the strangest places in Eastern Europe. It's a ministate that doesn't officially exist in anyone's eyes but its own. It maintains its functional autonomy with military and economic support from Russia and is recognized only by the three UN non-member states of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Republic of Artsakh.
From the Moldovan perspective, Transdniestr is still officially part of its sovereign territory that was illegally grabbed in the early 1990s - with Russian support. Officials in Transdniestr see it differently and proudly point to the territory having won its 'independence' in a bloody civil war in 1992. A bitter truce has ensued ever since.
These days, a trip to Transdniestr from Moldova is relatively easy and completely safe. Visitors will be stunned by this idiosyncratic region that still fully embraces the iconography of the Soviet period (lots of photo-worthy busts of Lenin are scattered about) as well as having its own currency, police force, army and borders.
Tiraspol is the 'capital' of Transdniestr and also, officially at least, the second-largest city in Moldova. Just don't expect it to be anything like the chaotic Moldovan capital: here time seems to have stood still since the end of the Soviet Union. Eerily quiet streets, flower beds tended with military precision and old-school Soviet everything from street signs to litter-free parks named after communist grandees.
WHAT TO EAT IN MOLDOVA
Moldovan cooking bears a strong resemblance to Romanian food across the border. The emphasis is on traditional recipes and farm-fresh ingredients rather than sophisticated preparation techniques.
Muşchi de vacă/porc/miel - A cutlet of beef/pork/lamb.
Piept de pui - The ubiquitous chicken breast.
Mămăligă - Cornmeal mush with a consistency between porridge and bread that accompanies many dishes.
Brânză - Moldova's most common cheese is a slightly salty-sour sheep's milk product that often comes grated. Put it on mămăligă.
Sarma - Cabbage-wrapped minced meat or pilau rice packages, similar to Turkish dolma or Russian goluptsy.
If you're into wine, look for bottles from quality local wineries like Cricova, Château Vartely, and Purcari, among many others.