The Epic Guide to Chişinău, Moldova
Quick…where’s Moldova? Most people don’t know much, if anything, about Moldova, let alone its capital of Chişinău. Although Moldova has a long way to go with being a tourist attraction, of the places within the country, Chişinău is the most common for people to visit. This post will cover everything you need to know about places to visit in Chişinău and how to get around.
Accessible Travel Note: Scroll to the bottom of this post for notes on wheelchair accessibility in Chişinău.
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It’s an odd looking word, I know. While you’re probably inclined to begin the pronunciation of Chişinău like “chi” as in “chicken,” it’s really like “quiche” in English.
The phonetic spelling is kiʃiˈnəu̯. If you’re like me, this looks more complicated than the word Chişinău itself. In that case, give it a listen on Wiktionary.
Context: My experience in Chişinău
To give you context of my experience in Chişinău, I spent one week there. I traveled alone and stayed at an Airbnb in downtown. My Romanian and Russian skills are non-existent, so English, or more accurately charades, was what I relied on.
As a solo female traveler, I felt sufficiently safe in Chişinău. Aside from some harmless inebriated men on the street, the only times when I felt mildly “unsafe” were from my inability to communicate with the locals.
I did, however, have to be very careful not to get lost, since it would have been difficult to ask for directions. I always carried a piece of paper with my address written on it, just in case.
WiFi in Chişinău
My expectations for infrastructure in Chişinău were low. I was mostly correct in my thinking, except when it came to WiFi. The WiFi strength and availability in Chişinău were nothing short of incredible.
WiFi is everywhere in Chişinău. Parks, shops, street corners, you name it.
The WiFi quality in Chişinău beat that of many places I’ve been to in western Europe. And, being a digital nomad, I’ve got a sold grasp of good WiFi vs. okay WiFi vs. bad WiFi.
So, while the water would go out for hours on a nearly daily basis in my modern Chişinău apartment, and the electricity went out for over 24 hours, knowing that I could get good WiFi anywhere kept me sane.
All about money
When you’re walking around downtown Chişinău, you very well may feel that there are double the number of exchange houses as there are any other business. Needless to say, you’ll be able to exchange just about any currency into the Moldovan Leu (MDL).
Check out XE for up-to-date MDL currency conversions.
Using a credit card in Moldova is like connecting to WiFi. In a world where many countries still frown upon credit card usage, or have a minimum amount you must spend to use a credit card, your Moldovan cashier won’t bat an eyelash when you hand over your plastic.
I found the credit card machines to process payments at an average to fast speed. On only one occasion was I asked to sign the receipt.
How expensive are things in Chişinău?
Moldova is a cheap country to travel in and Chişinău is no exception.
If you order the most expensive thing on the menu at a nice restaurant, you just may get into the low double digits in USD. You can easily order a full meal at a local restaurant for around $3 USD.
I overestimated how much money I needed to exchange during my week in Chişinău. As a result, my Moldovan taxi driver received about a 1,200% tip when he dropped me off at the bus station. I knew the Leu would be useless for me in Ukraine and seeing the expression on his face made my day.
Being American, it seems odd how many European countries treat smoking like it’s still the cool thing to do. In practically any European country, it’s nearly impossible for me to get through an outdoor meal without someone’s smoke blowing into my food.
Not in Moldova.
In 2009, Moldova joined the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This means that you can eat at a restaurant terrace without a trace of an ashtray, take your kids to a playground, and get on public transportation without worrying about smoke wafting into your face.
Water Quality in Chişinău
Water in Chişinău is technically safe to drink. I always check with my Airbnb host about water quality, and in Chişinău I was given the common response of, “it’s safe to drink, but I don’t recommend it.”
Oftentimes, they say this because of taste reasons, in which case I drink the water. However, I had done some research and learned that the water in Chişinău has a high chlorine level.
To make a short story shorter, you’re better off drinking bottled water.
I considered omitting this section on Moldovan behavior since keeping things positive is important to me. However, since I also value transparency, I feel that this section is important for preparing you for what to possibly expect when interacting with locals. That said, when reading this section, please keep in mind that these observations are based on my personal experience after spending only one week in Moldova.
From my research before arriving to Moldova, I found that many were quick to label Moldovans as rude. However, after spending time in Moldova, I couldn’t help but to feel that their “rudeness” stems from sadness.
I was smiled at only twice during my one week stay and that was with me smiling enthusiastically at them first. Based on my observation, it was also rare to see locals smiling at each other. If you accidentally bump into each other, forget it. You’ll likely be chewed out in Romanian or Russian…or both. Then again, when I arrived to Ukraine, my Airbnb host told me that I smile too much and that it was intimidating. So, there’s something to be said about cultural perceptions.
I also found that Moldovans don’t have a sense of personal space, like we do in the U.S. For example, on the bus to Orheiul Vechi, a woman plopped her purse filled with mushrooms on my lap, presumably at the same time she asked me if she could, although I, of course, couldn’t understand her. Similarly, when waiting in lines, I oftentimes felt the person behind me on my heels.
Don’t be alarmed if you’re walking down the street and someone dressed in a passport or other “salesy” attire encourages you to apply for a Romanian passport. It’s totally normal in Moldova.
Romanian passports are Moldovan gold.
Wages and education are better in Romania. If someone studies in Romania, especially if they attend college there, they stand a better chance of a fruitful career since the European Union recognizes Romanian degrees but doesn’t recognize Moldovan degrees.
A high number of Moldovans are of Romanian decent. Nowadays, anyone with grandparents who were born in Romania are automatically eligible to receive a Romanian passport. Hence, lots of passport agencies are found in Chişinău. And, if you look Moldovan enough, like I apparently did, you just may be encouraged to apply for a Romanian passport.
Places to visit in Chişinău
Now that you have an idea of what to expect culturally, let’s cover the places to visit in Chişinău.
1. Valea Morilor Park
Do as I didn’t and make sure that seeing Valea Morilor Park is one of the first things on your list of places to visit in Chişinău.
The park offers a much needed nature retreat away from the busy sidewalks and cement buildings of downtown. There’s a sidewalk that borders a small lake. Here, you’ll find locals walking their dogs and babies lined up in strollers at nearly every bench (during the summer, at least).
There’s a beach at the far end of the lake that you can walk to. However, if you arrived in your swimsuit, you may change your mind when you see the greenish-brown water. Kayakers and fishermen can also be seen at the lake, but no amount of money could get me to eat fish from there.
Aside from enjoying the park by land, make sure to take some time to explore the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the park. Huge houses and manicured lawns can make you forget that you’re in Chişinău.
2. Visit a Winery
Moldova is known for its wine. In fact, Moldova produced the majority of wine for the Soviet Union.
Nowadays, winery visits are a popular thing to do for those visiting Moldova. The very best option is the Cricova Winery. This winery is located in Cricova, which is a mere 15 km from Chişinău.
The Cricova wine cellar was initially created in the 15th century when limestone was extracted to build Chişinău. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the tunnels were turned into a wine cellar.
3. Take a free walking tour
Free walking tours are the thing to do in Europe these days, and Moldova has taken notice. Nonetheless, due to how few tourists pass through the country, there’s only one free walking tour per week in Chişinău.
The free English Walking Tour of Chişinău takes place every Saturday at 10:00am. Tours are pretty much guaranteed to run during the months of March – October. However, from November – February, changes or cancellations are possible, depending on the weather. You can check English Walking Tour of Chişinău’s Facebook page for the latest information on whether or not the tour will run.
In addition to the standard walking tour, there’s also a free Jewish Cemetery Walking Tour. The tour is held every Wednesday at 11:00am.
Remember, although walking tours are free, make sure to tip your guide. They’re taking time out of their day to show you their city.
4. The Arch of Triumph
The Arch of Triumph is a popular attraction in Moldova. The arch is located on Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard, which is the wide, main street running through Chişinău.
You won’t even need a minute to stare at the arch, but that’s okay, since there are other nearby sites to steal your attention. Namely, Cathedral Park.
The Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity is an orthodox church that sits behind the Arch of Triumph. Feel free to enter, if it’s open. Women- you’ll need to wear something on your head.
There’s also a nice park there with some benches and small coffee stands.
5. Piata Centrala Market
If you love authentic markets, Piata Centrala is one of the places you must visit in Chişinău. Loud, sprawling, tons of smells, and without any real structure, the Piata Centrala Market is an eyeful.
Because Piata Centrala is so big, you can get to it from a variety of directions. However, the most common way is to head down Strada Tighina, which intersects with the main Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard.
No need to worry about running into gimmicky tourist souvenirs. You’ll find nothing but the most authentic Moldovan foods, household items, and clothing here. Expect to do a lot of pointing and feeling like you got a bargain at whatever price they give you, since things are so cheap for Western standards.
Lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) for you, if you’ll be taking a local bus elsewhere in Moldova, the outdoor “bus station” sprawl meets with the Piata Centrala Market sprawl.
6. Tucano Cafe & Andy’s Pizza
It may seem strange to list two restaurants on a list of places to visit in Chişinău. However, Moldova has a growing cafe and gastronomy culture. My go-to restaurants during my stay were Tucano Coffee and Andy’s Pizza.
Let’s first talk about Tucano.
Tucano is like the Starbucks of Moldova, but with a more boutique feel and some seriously delicious food and unique coffee flavors (don’t hate me, Starbucks lovers!). They have options for vegetarians, vegans and marijuana lovers. You read that right- cannabis coffee is a thing at Tucano.
As expected from Moldova, Tucano has great WiFi and offers plenty of comfy seating of your choosing- booths, nooks, regular tables, etc. There are a few different Tucano coffee shops in Chişinău and you can view the list here.
Whereas Tucano is great if you’re in the mood for a cafe culture, Andy’s Pizza is an excellent choice if you’re in the mood for a bigger meal. Although they do sell pizza, Andy’s Pizza offers a large menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert options.
I love Andy’s Pizza for two reasons. First, because they offer a set lunch menu during the week. For just a few dollars, you get a three-course meal and an appetizer. The downside? Meals are meat-based. So, being the vegetarian I am, I choose from one of the veggie options on their regular menu.
The other reason I love Andy’s Pizza is because of the ambiance. From the outside, the building looks like nothing but a regular, chain restaurant. Walk inside, and tasteful, boutique decor will greet you.
Andy’s Pizza is a chain and is everywhere in Chişinău. It’s even common to encounter multiple Andy’s Pizza’s on the same road.
Wheelchair Accessibility in Chişinău
Chişinău is not overly wheelchair friendly. However, the downtown area is quite flat and has wide sidewalks.
The city’s attempts at accessibility are evident by means of ramps of varying design and ease of use.
Take a look:
Some places of notable accessibility are Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard and Valea Morilor Park. However, stray off from the main roads, and you’ll encounter plenty of uneven sidewalk.
I didn’t notice any accessible public restrooms, so you’ll likely have to rely on your hotel room. Speaking of which, the Radisson offers accessible rooms.
Moldova may not be at the top of the average tourist’s list, but I hope that this post helped to give you a feel for some of the places to visit in Chişinău. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section, whether it be with a question or knowledge you’d like to share from your own experience in Chişinău.
P.S.- Are you looking to take a day trip from Chişinău? Check out my post on a Day Trip to Orheiul Vechi: A Complete Guide.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.