Moldova is a small land-locked country in Eastern Europe, north of the Balkans, surrounded by Romania to the southwest, across the Prut river, and Ukraine to the northeast.
The capital of Moldova is Chișinău. The local language is Romanian, based on the Latin alphabet, but Russian is widely used. Moldova is a multi-ethnic republic that has suffered from violent ethnic conflict. In 1990 the self-proclaimed Transnistria Republic in eastern Moldova declared independence and a civil war was fought during the first half of 1992. A ceasefire was declared and Transnistria has maintained de facto independence with its own government and currency but is not recognized by any other country. Economic links have been re-established between these two parts of Moldova despite failure in political negotiations. The major religion in Moldova is Orthodox Christian.
Moldova’s population is occupied mainly in food production and processing. Once known as “the garden” of the Soviet Union, Moldova has now lost most of its traditional Russian markets for agricultural products and is exploring new international markets.
Continental cold and snowy winters, mild springs and autumns, and warm to hot summers.
Moldova is essentially landlocked with rolling steppes gradually sloping south towards the Black Sea. It is well endowed with various sedimentary rocks and minerals including sand, gravel, gypsum, and limestone. Natural hazards are relatively few but there are frequent landslides due to extensive soil erosion from poor farming methods. The lowest point is the Dniester River at 2m above mean sea level, while the highest point of Dealul Balanesti is only 430m.
- Chișinău – capital – an administrative municipality (municipiul). A nice city to go and visit for some days, and to walk around in.
- Bălți – merits a visit as well as the capital. Nice pedestrian zone around the central square. Check out the old part of the city.
- Soroca – known as the “Romani (Gypsy) capital of Moldova.” The hill on the west side of town has numerous ornately decorated Roma houses. The city also boasts the Soroca fort built by Stefan cel Mare in 1499. It was an important link in the chain of fortifications which today are located in Moldova and Ukraine along the Nistru river. Hours can be sporadic especially in the winter. On the road into town, 5km to the south of Soroca there is a Monument called “The Candle of Gratitude”. One can reach the 29.5m (98 feet) summit by walking up the 600 stairs.
- Tiraspol – Moldova’s second largest city has a number of museums and a nice park along the Nistru river. Tiraspol is the capital of the break away region of Transnistria.
- Ungheni is also one of the most beautiful cities in Moldova with a lot of nice places to see.
Nationals of all European Union and CIS member states, plus Albania, Andorra, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Georgia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States and the Vatican, in addition to stateless persons and refugees residing in those countries may enter Moldova visa-free for up to 90 days. Citizens of the European Union, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland can enter Moldova using a national ID card in place of a passport.
Nationals of other countries must obtain an electronic visa, or, for stays longer than 90 days, at the nearest Moldovan embassy. Visas are not issued on arrival.
Foreign nationals who require visas, with the exception of Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Uruguay and Venezuela, will be required to provide an invitation letter in order to obtain a visa.
Further information can be found online.
Busiest air connections exist to Bucharest, Istanbul, Moscow, Munich, Timisoara, and Vienna. Prices are relatively high. The cheapest tickets can be bought to Bucharest, Istanbul, Kiev and Moscow. Low-cost airline Wizz Air operates flights to Rome, Milan and Venice, and will commence flights to Bologna and London Luton in Autumn 2015. Moldova has three air companies. It is also possible to get relatively cheap tickets from Munich with Lufthansa/Air Moldova. They were around 160 Euro (return) in May 2016.
Much cheaper than flying, but about twice the cost of the bus (but arguably more comfortable) the overnight train may be considered a valid option. There are daily trains from Romania and Ukraine. The train from Bucharest is about USD40. At the border crossing the cars are lifted individually onto larger gauge wheels to fit Moldovan tracks. Crossing the border from Ukraine is smoother, the track width is similar to Moldovan tracks.
You will have to pay a small (€4 for 7 days) road tax (vignette) at the border.
Headlights are required at all times — but this isn’t consistently enforced.
There are regular buses connecting Chișinău with Bucharest, Kiev and most major Romanian and Ukrainian cities. There are 5 to 6 buses per day to and from Bucharest. Due to a longer stay at the border the trip takes around 10 hours. Be aware that there is a basic toilet at the border, however most coaches do not make any other stops. You will also be able to travel to most European cities by bus with Moldovan bus companies.
Kiev, 2 daily, 250 lei, 12 hours
Moscow, 4 daily, 700 lei, 30 hours
Odessa, 20 daily, 120-150 lei, 5 hours
Sevastopol, daily 430 lei, 18 hours
Brasov, 5 daily 200 lei, 12 hours
Although the country is landlocked, there is a ferry service between Giurgiulesti in Moldova and Istanbul, Turkey, plying the river Danube to reach the Black Sea. They leave Giurgiulesti every Monday and arrive at Istanbul the following Wednesday. It’s not certain if this ferry service is only limited to the high season or not.
The most reliable and extensive domestic transport is bus – you will get to most parts of the country.
Chisinau is the main transportation hub for the country. The three bus stations serve every city and town in Moldova. The fastest form of transport are small minibuses which seat around 15 people. Larger buses are also used and are marginally safer, because they travel at slower speeds.
In Chișinău there is a state run trolleybus system which includes many new vehicles. Fare is currently 2 Lei (~0.1 €), a conductress collects fares and issues tickets. There is also a ‘bus service which operates with fewer routes.
Minibuses (rutierele in Moldovan Romanian; marshrutki in Russian) are available in most cities. They are privately operated and are called by requesting the vehicle to stop, however can often be very crowded. Drivers should be paid on boarding (currently 3 Lei (~0.15 €) in Chișinău), however some insist on sitting down first and by passing the money to the person in front of them to pass to the driver, so don’t be alarmed if random people behind you start handing you money.
The state language of Moldova is Romanian, which was officially referred to as Moldovan until December 2013. Russian is also widely spoken in the country, both as a first and second language. French, and to a lesser extent English, are popular foreign languages taught at most schools in Moldova.
There are several museums in downtown Chisinau, including the museum of Archeology and Ethnography, the museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of Fine Arts.
Moldova is famous for its wines. With top rate wines at inexpensive prices relative to other countries, it is Moldova’s main tourism draw.
Milestii Mici – With over 200km (125 miles) of underground roadways, Milestii Mici is registered in the Guinness World Records as the biggest wine collection in the world. It may be easer to book a tour through a travel agency as one must provide a car for the tour. +373 22 382 333.
Cricova – Moldova’s second largest wine cellar has over 120km (75 miles) of underground roadways. Only a 15 minutes drive from Chisinau, it is a favorite of tourists. +373 22-277 378.
Purcari – One of the oldest wineries in Moldova, Purcari wine has been drunk by Russian Emperor Nicolai II, the English King George V and Queen Victoria. It is especially famous for Negru de Purcari. +373 22 29 59 11.
Capriana monastery – One of Moldova’s most prominent monasteries only 40km (25 miles) from Chisinau. Buses run hourly in the morning from Calea Ieşilor in the Sculeni part of Chişinău.
Bender (or Tighina in Romanian) – Another fortification is The Fortress of Bender, however it is being used as a military training ground and is off limits. The best views are from the bridge going towards Tiraspol.
Orheiul Vechi – Moldova’s best known sight is a 13th century Cave Monastery located about a half hour drive from Chisinau. Just up the road is a tourist centre with a small museum, restaurant and hotel. Call ahead to make sure it’s open at +373 235 34 242. One public bus leaves from the Chisinau central bus station everyday at 10:20, but the return bus does not come until 04:00. In the vicinity are huge cliffs that contain another six complexes of interlocking caves. It is highly advised to not explore them without the help of an experienced guide. The remains of a Turkish bath house is also just off the river.
Moldova’s rolling hills and picturesque landscape, with woodlands, vineyards, villages, and farms, are ideal for biking. Visit monasteries, wineries, and nature reserves.
Additionally, each year in September, Chisinau organizes a Velo Hora – a massive public bike ride. The ride starts at the Great National Assembly Square Streets and then proceeds around the city on closed off streets. The event attracts thousands of people who come out to cycle through the city and enjoy the sights and sounds of Chisinau. For information visit the website – www.velohora.md.
Moldova has several caves that are possible to explore – the “Cave of Surprises” near Criuleni, about 50 km from Chisinau, and the Emil Racovita Cave near Criva village, about 265 km from Chisinau in the Briceni district. Visitors are advised to bring their own gear. Hiking:
Moldova’s rolling hills and picturesque landscape, with woodlands, vineyards, villages, and farms, are great for hiking. Hike to Moldova’s highest point (428 meters above sea level). Climb among the “100 Hills”. Visit waterfalls, forests, monasteries, and more.
Horseback riding is possible at the Sparta Equestrian Club in Budesti village just outside of Chisinau. For information visit the website – www.sparta-club.md – or call (+373) (0)79 254 684.
It is also possible at the At-Prolin horse farm in Ceadir-Lunga, Gagauzia. The farm breeds Orlov Trotter horses. Every year on May 6, the farm celebrates the Hederlez holiday honoring Saint George with competitions and games. For information contact Constantin Keles at (+373) (0)68 105 777.
Kayaking is possible on the Nistru River where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature on this peacefully flowing river. Natural beaches and islands create opportunities to rest or play along the way. For those who are interested in active time spending more information you can find here: www.facebook.com/outdoormoldova or direct number (+373) (0)797 40 980. Kayak tours are organised almost every week.
Local wine is of superb quality and cheap in comparison to other countries, but for political reasons, mostly unknown in Western Europe.
Chisinau is a good place for gourmands. There are a lot of good places to eat all over Chisinau.
Cheap, tasty food that is very popular with the locals is served in most places. For better service and more diverse food, there are a lot of small restaurants and cafés. Good restaurants have prices comparable to those elsewhere in Europe. For a quick lunch, fast food and pizza shops are recommended; these can be found at nearly every corner. For groceries, there are small shops all over. Some are even right in front of apartment blocks just a few steps away from the entrances. For harder-to-find items, go to the supermarkets. For fresh fruits and vegetables, markets are a great place to shop. Most of the products are local, but there are a lot of sellers who to sell imported stuff, mostly oranges, bananas and other tropical fruits/vegetables. Meat and meat products are best purchased from supermarkets or shops. The quality is much better than from the market, and the prices aren’t much higher.
Moldova has a long local wines tradition. Especially the reds are popular throughout the country. Most Moldovan villagers grow their own grapes and press their own wine, and many standard rural households will press thousands of litres per year.
Accommodations in Chisinau are surprisingly expensive and there is no shortage of €100 a night options. Most hotel prices are listed in euros but some are listed in dollars.
Hostelling is still in its infancy in Moldova. Most are relatively small and prices range from $10-20.
Many people in Chisinau rent out apartments. The location and quality can vary. Many are also not very modern. It is advised to use a booking company as it may be hard to find people who speak English. Price $20-50.
Budget options are few and very basic. $30-50.
For a city of Chisinau’s size there are unexpectedly few options in this range. The most known is the Best Western Plus Flowers Hotel. $80-120.
Accommodation outside Chisinau is concentrated around major touristic regions like Orhei Vechi, Saharna and Tipova. Small family-owned inns are locally known as “touristic pensions”. Most are priced lower than hotels and offer accommodation, meals and activities. A few of the better known places are Agropensiunea Butuceni and Vila Roz near Orhei Vechi; Hanul lui Hanganu near Tipova and Saharna. USD30-50
Security issues should not be underestimated by first time travellers to Moldova. Take into serious consideration the notices regularly published by the U.S. Government State Department. Travellers to Moldova for business or romance should be aware of the potential risk of scam, above all if first contacts were made on Internet – particularly International Financial Scams and Russian Internet dating schemes.
The break-away region Transnistria has proclaimed itself a republic but lacks diplomatic recognition. Consequently, travellers lack consular support in case of emergency. Corrupt policemen may give you trouble, and may give excuses such as not having a ‘visa’.
If you do visit Transnistria, as a foreign citizen, you should register with the Militia upon arrival. It can become difficult trying to leave if you have not done this. Give your name to the representative of your country in Chisinau and tell them what date you travel to and from Transnistria.
If you persist and do travel to Transnistria, you will travel right into the age and time of the old Soviet Union. However it is wise to get a reliable guide to show you around. Once you are ‘in’, you’ll find the population very friendly and helpful. Especially in remote areas where no stranger has been for ages, people will open up a museum for you even if it is their day off. Also, you can expect a lengthy meal to be offered to you just in your honour. Don’t drink too much alcohol at such occasions since they will offer you more than you can handle.
Conservative dress must be worn at religious sites. Shorts are forbidden and women must cover their heads inside the monasteries and churches.
While bribery and police corruption are still problems in Moldova, the situation is improving. It is still advised that tourists have the number of their embassy and the contact information of where they are staying. Travellers are also required to have their passports on them at all times.
Alcohol consumption can also be a problem. Moldova’s per capita alcohol consumption rate is among of the world’s largest. Running into drunks especially at night is common. Most are friendly; they often come off as aggressive and will invade your personal space. This can be scary the first couple of times. Politely walking away normally works.
When visiting Moldova, be careful when referring the locals as Romanians as not all Moldovans identify themselves as such. Study your host first: some Moldovans identify as Moldovan, some as Romanian, and some even as Russian. This also applies to the language issue as well, although the larger part of Moldovans do refer to it as Romanian in everyday speech.
Also be careful when talking about Moldova to the Romanians in Romania. Many Romanians view Moldova as Romanian.
Useful free resources for travel information in Moldova are the non profit information pages at www.moldovaholiday.travel.