Top Sites In Chisinau. How do you define off-the-beaten path? I spent two days exploring the streets of Moldova’s capitol, Chisinau, and I saw zero tourists. I would define that as off-the beaten path. And that is a shame. Chisinau is an extremely pleasant and walkable European city. An added bonus, the Moldovan Leu has lost approximately 30% of its value compared to the US dollar over the last year making the city very affordable.
Moldova was formally part of the Soviet Union until it declared its independence in 1991. It is a landlocked country bordered by Romania on the west and Ukraine on the east (others would also say bordered by Transnistria on the east). Moldova is considered the poorest country in Europe. Prior to its inclusion in the USSR, Moldova had been a pawn of the Ottoman and Russian Empires. Recent political turmoil is rocking Moldova as it was discovered $1 billion was stolen from the largest bank under control of a Moldovan oligarch.
So what are the top sites to see in Chisinau? Focus on the main thoroughfare of Chisinau, Stefan cel Mare Boulevard. Many sites are located on this strip, including restaurants, bars and cafes. Enjoy the city, relax and sip a coffee or a glass of wine.
Stefan Cel Mare
Moldova’s national hero is Stefan Cel Mare. He is a 15th century prince who was famed for his resistance to the Ottoman Empire. He was victorious in 46 out of 48 battles. Stefan Cel Mare is a ubiquitous figure in Moldova; whether you see him on their currency, read about him in their literature, or view his statue at the entrance of the park named after him.
Diagonally across from Stefan Cel Mare Park is the Cathedral Park. The Cathedral Park (central Park) is the home to two other Moldovan landmarks. In the center of the park is the Nativity Cathedral. This Orthodox Cathedral dates back to the 1830s. The Bell Tower was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1997.
On the edge of the park is the Moldovan Arc de Triomphe which dates back to the 1840s. It commemorates the Russian victory over the Ottoman Empire. During my visit, the Moldovan flag was fluttering from the arch
Across the wide street from the arch is the Soviet-style Government House where the Cabinet meets. I witnessed a large government protest that was centered in front of this building.
Parliament Building and Presidential Palace
Further down Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard is the Parliament Building and the Presidential Tower. The Parliament in Moldova has 101 members who are elected every 4 years. The parliament elects a president who functions as a head of state. The prime minister then appoints a prime minister, who functions as the head of government.
The Presidential Palace looks like a cheesy hotel from Atlantic City. Today, it is surrounded by a barrier and it is no longer functioning. It has been closed since the 2009 Twitter Revolution, where Moldovans rose in protest against perceived fraud in the parliamentarian elections. During the protest, the Presidential Palace was damaged and has not been repaired since.
Chisinau Railway Station
A perfectly preserved Soviet train station is well worth the visit. Stroll through the station and appreciate the Soviet art and symbolism. In front of the station is a monument built to the Stalin’s victims.
Grigory Ivanovich Kotovsky
On the way to the train station, you might pass the mounted Grigory Ivanovich Kotovsky statue. He was instrumental in establishing Moldova as part of the Soviet Union in 1924. He was an adventurist; participating in the Russian civil war, a Soviet General, and even a gangster and bank robber. He was killed unceremoniously by his friend in1925 for cheating with his wife.
Piata Centrala is similar to an open-air village market, just one street away from Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard. Watch the locals barter; items range from fresh fruits to clothes. A highlight for me was the fresh, homemade donuts that only cost 15 cents each. Tough if you are on a diet.
St. Theotokos Church
St. Theotokos Church dates back to 1802. This church is nestled between apartment buildings in a residential area of Chisinau. The Armenian community dates back hundreds of years in Moldova with a reputation as a merchant class.
St. Theodor Tiron Convent
This robin-egg, Orthodox monastery is located near the Chisinau Hotel perpendicular to Stefan Cel Mare Park. This monastery dates to 1858. Enjoy the sun sparkle of its golden onion domes at sunset.
Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame
This was my favorite site to visit in Chisinau, located a 20 minute walk from the center of the city. For those who have visited other ex-Soviet countries, you will be familiar with this type of landmark. The Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame is an expansive, well-kept area that honors those who were lost during the Great War (WWII).
Five, symbolic reddish-brown rifles, each representing one year of the war, form an arc over the eternal flame. The flame is guarded by an honor guard. There is a brief changing of the guard ceremony at the top of the hour, including goose-stepping and bayonets.
Five large reliefs in a similar color to the main memorial, border the park, each one depicting a year of the war in a Soviet style. Marble slabs with names sketched in, rest in front of the reliefs, honoring the Moldovan soldiers who fell in battle.
A smaller memorial near the flame, highlight a group of Moldovan soldiers who were awarded the highest honors. These soldiers were awarded with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. A monolith is centered in the memorial, graced with a Soviet star.
A WWII cemetery stands on the far side of the park. The graves are etched in Cyrillic.
Also, located within the park is the Monument to Victims of the war with breakaway region of Transnistria. The monument is dedicated to all victims regardless of what side their loyalties lay. The conflict which ended in 1992, saw nearly 300 deaths and 3,500 injured.
This monument marks the Soviet Union’s liberation of Moldova during WWII from the Nazis in 1944. The monument is located in front of the Chisinau Hotel.
Where To Stay
I stayed at the Chisinau Hotel. The hotel felt like a time warp to the Soviet 1970s. The hotel appears not to have been updated since then. Surprisingly the staff was both pleasant and helpful. A maid presented me with a bag of grapes from her dacha. The hotel is centrally located. Walking fifteen minutes, in a straight shot down Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, you will arrive at the Arch. The final selling point were the $30 rooms. Please avoid the café to the right of the hotel; awful food and expensive prices.
Where To Eat
This place does not scream Moldovan cuisine but regardless I ended up eating here for five meals in three days. I consumed an excessive amount of hummous, fattoush salad, and chicken schwarma. The prices and service were great. It is located on Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard behind an Andy’s Pizza.
So check out these top sites in Chisinau!