If you’ve spent some time in Moldova’s capital, Chişinău, you’re likely ready to explore other areas. A day trip to the Orheiul Vechi Monastery from Chişinău is an excellent option and one of the biggest attractions in Moldova.
I’ll share my experience with you so that you have a feel for how to get to Orheiul Vechi and what to expect.
Accessible Travel Note: Orheiul Vechi is not wheelchair accessible. However, if you’re interested in doing a modified visit, scroll to the bottom of this post.
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I only spoke to one person during my trip to Orheiul Vechi. It was my waiter, whose English was passable for questions related to the restroom and menu (then again, my vegetarian salad came with meat).
While I usually ask the locals lots of questions to get you the most information possible, this post is based entirely on observation.
Best time of year to take a day trip to Orheiul Vechi
Moldova has four seasons and follows similar weather patterns that you would expect from the Northeastern part of the United States.
Therefore, if you’re looking to see Orheiul Vechi when the leaves are changing, aim for September – November. For snow, December – February is your best bet and the time when you’ll likely encounter the least amount of activity.
I traveled on a hot, summer day in June. The fields of corn and other produce growing in the valley set an extra beautiful scene.
Travel Tip: Overtourism isn’t a thing in Moldova, so no need to plan your trip to Orheiul Vechi around the least crowded times.
How To Prepare for your day trip to Orheiul Vechi
If given only two words to describe how to prepare for your trip to Orheiul Vechi, it would be these: bring paper and water.
On the piece of paper, write “Orheiul Vechi.” This way, when the inevitable time comes when you can’t find the right bus in Chişinău, you can point to the name.
As for water, a small store and makeshift outdoor stands were bustling on the summer day that I visited. However, based on the sparse information I found on the internet about Orheiul Vechi, it sounds like you could arrive to everything shut down during the off season. You’ll be in the middle of nowhere and will need to do some walking. Bring water.
Bonus: Carry snacks with you, in case the stands at the entrance to Orheiul Vechi are closed.
How to take a day trip to Orheiul Vechi by bus
You can get to Orheiul Vechi by driving or taxi. However, for me, half the fun was the adventure of traveling by bus.
Nonetheless, if you’re new to taking public transportation in foreign countries, Moldova isn’t the best place to try it. The bus “system” is a mess and you can pretty much count on no one speaking English.
Central Bus Station in Chişinău
Chişinău has a few bus stations. If you arrived to Chişinău by bus, chances are you arrived to the North Bus Station.
While I can’t confirm if buses to Orheiul Vechi leave from other stations, I can tell you without a doubt that you’ll be able to find the right bus at the Central Bus Station. The Central Bus Station is simply outdoor van sprawl on the side streets behind the Piata Centrala Market.
Finding the correct bus to Orheiul Vechi
The good news? Buses are labeled with signs indicating where they’re going.
The signs are in Romanian, which is a Roman language. Therefore, you’ll be able to read them. However, it’s an overwhelming experience and, like me, you’ll likely end up resorting to that piece of paper with “Orheiul Vechi” written on it.
Ideally, you should take a bus to Butuceni. I also read where you can take a bus to Trebujeni, which would then be around a 30 minute walk to Orheiul Vechi.
Since I took the Butuceni bus, I can’t give you any tips for Trebujeni, other than there’s surely a walk involved since the Butuceni bus dropped me off at the entrance of the path to Orheiul Vechi.
The cost was 27 Leu per way, which is less than $2 USD.
My apologies for this part, as I couldn’t manage to gather information on the departure times from Chişinău to Butuceni. My bus left at 10:20am, so based on that alone, perhaps aim to get to the bus station before 10:00am.
That said, I took the last seat on the bus and the bus left shortly afterward. From my understanding, bus drivers sometimes wait for the bus to fill up before taking off. This was not my experience on the return to Chişinău, where the bus departed Butuceni immediately with plenty of empty seats.
While I can’t share departure details to Butuceni, the bus I was on had a sign showing the return times to Chişinău. And, it just so happens that a Trebujeni bus came along while I was waiting to go back to Chişinău. So, I was able to jot down those times as well.
Without further ado, as of June 2019, below are the bus times from Orheiul Vechi:
Butuceni – Chişinău: Departure times from Butuceni
Trebujeni – Chişinău: Departure times from Trebujeni
We’ll get into how long to spend at Orheiul Vechi soon, but on a hot summer day, the 15:00 Trebujeni bus felt like Christmas when I was expecting to wait until 16:10 for the Butuceni bus.
The bus stops in the same place- the Orheiul Vechi parking lot- for pickup and drop off. My 15:00 Trebujeni bus arrived to the parking lot at 15:05, so based on that, you can expect the bus to arrive right around the times shown above.
Time from Chişinău to Orheiul Vechi
The bus ride from Chişinău to Orheiul Vechi will take about an hour. The drive is mostly through the countryside, on bumpy “paved” roads.
While the views are beautiful on either side of the bus, as you approach Orheiul Vechi, you’ll get panoramic views of the complex if you’re sitting on the passenger side.
What to do once you’re in Butuceni
Once you’ve made it to Butuceni, the hard part is over. I was pleasantly surprised by how lively the parking lot of Butuceni was, relatively speaking, as I had pictured me being dropped off in a desolate area. Granted, this was during the summer, so other times of the year are likely quieter.
The bus will drop you off in the parking lot. Here, you’ll find a small convenience store.
There’ll also be some locals selling snacks and trinkets in makeshift stands lining an uphill dirt path. Walk up that path and you’ll soon see the bell tower and orthodox church.
The walk from the parking lot to the church on the far end of the complex takes around 10 – 15 minutes. It’s a short uphill walk at first but flattens out at the top. There isn’t any shade, so come prepared with sun gear.
The bell tower is important because it marks the entrance to what would otherwise be a difficult cave to find. This cave leads down to the underground monastery and is the main reason why people visit Orheiul Vechi.
The bell tower is on a hill. To find the entrance to the cave, head to the lowest side of the bell tower.
An underground staircase leads down to the monastery. It takes a minute to adjust to the darkness, so be careful as you go down the stairs.
Travel Tip: Since this is an Orthodox monastery, women are required to wear something on their head- even a baseball hat will do. Scarves are offered on the railing at the bottom of the staircase and are free to borrow.
The monastery itself is tiny. There’ll be a monk selling candles, as the lighting of candles is an Orthodox tradition. If you walk out on the opposite side of the cave, you’ll come to a cliff without railings. It offers a pretty view of the river and countryside.
Within five minutes or less, you’ll be ready to head back upstairs.
Continue up the hill towards the castle-looking, above ground Orthodox church. I found this church to be more impressive than the cave monastery (then again, I’ve been in the underground salt cathedrals of Colombia and Poland, so the bar is set high).
You can go inside the church but no photos are allowed. Again, women must enter the church with something on their head.
The grounds around the church are beautiful. There’s also a water pump, if you need to refill your water bottle from the local well.
Cost of Orheiul Vechi Monastery visit
I had read that there is a 15 Leu fee at the visitor’s center. However, there was no obvious place to make this payment and no one who spoke English to help out.
With a stroke of luck, a monk was standing with a donation basket on the path between the monastery and church. So, I made a contribution there instead.
While the views from the top of the monastery complex are pretty, admittedly, I enjoyed the cultural adventure of the bus ride and exploring the town of Butuceni more.
There are a few paths from the top of the hill that lead down into Butuceni town. You’ll know the right direction to go…one side has houses and the other side has a river. Choose the house side.
You’ll come across some signs that say “Vila Etnica.” This is a hotel, restaurant and museum all wrapped up into one. I recommend eating at their restaurant, if they happen to be open when you’re there. They offer a menu in English and their homemade honey cake with cherries is to die for!
You can read more about Vila Etnica on their website, although be ready to have Google translate it for you.
Aside from eating at Vila Etnica and exploring its grounds, make sure to take some time to walk down the road that Vila Etnica is on. From there and heading towards Butuceni, you’ll pass by some local houses, gardens, and my favorite, wells.
I came across three wells during my exploration. Take a look:
How long to spend at Orheiul Vechi
You don’t need long if you’re only visiting for the Orheiul Vechi Monastery and Orthodox church. Under an hour will do.
However, if you plan on visiting Butuceni and hit it during a time when the Vila Etnica restaurant is open, you can easily add another 1.5 – 2 hours to your visit.
If you’re going by bus, you’ll have tons of time on your hands because of large gaps between bus schedules. So, if you’re tight on time, you’re better off taking this trip by private vehicle.
Returning to Chişinău by bus
As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to wait for the bus to Chişinău in the same place where you were dropped off.
There were plenty of seats on the bus I took, which came from Trebujeni. Surprisingly, on both bus rides, my bus drivers had a good amount of change for larger bills.
The bus will drop you off at one of the streets around the Piata Centrala Market in Chişinău. Since it wasn’t the exact spot I got on, it took me a minute to get oriented, with the help of the maps.me app on my phone.
Wheelchair accessibility at Orheiul Vechi
The Orheiul Vechi complex itself is not accessible. An uneven dirt path leads up to the complex and there are stairs to get into both the monastery and church.
However, if you go by private vehicle, you can drive up to the back side of the church for views of the valley and the back side of the church. Additionally, your driver can take you through the town so that you can get a glimpse of local life and the wells shown earlier in this post.
If you’re the adventurous type, you can give it a go strolling down the road in Butuceni. It’s a flat, dirt road with few cars.
The Vila Etnica restaurant isn’t accessible nor are any restrooms that I could find. However, you could manage a trip to Orheiul Vechi in three hours or less from Chişinău by private vehicle.
Note: For details on accessibility in Chişinău, head over to our post on The Epic Guide to Chişinău, Moldova.
My experience of taking a day trip to Orheiul Vechi from Chişinău was the perfect mix of sightseeing and adventure. Will you be taking a day trip to Orheiul Vechi? Feel free to send me your questions or comments below. If you’ve already been, please share your experience!
P.S.- If you’ll be spending time in Chişinău, make sure to check out my post on The Epic Guide to Chişinău, Moldova.