Moldova, a small, land-locked Eastern European country tucked between Ukraine and Romania, is one of Europe’s most overlooked destinations. It sees just over 300,000 visitors each year and is one of the least visited destinations in the world. Compared to European hotspots like Spain and France, which see over 80 million international visitors each year, Moldova is relatively untouched and undiscovered.
Composed of rocky hills, dense forests, and a historic wine region, Moldova is a country that surprises. Sure, if you visit expecting the UNESCO Heritage Sites and epic world wonders of Western Europe you’ll likely be disappointed. However, if you keep an open mind, learn about the country’s history, and get off the beaten path I’m confident you’ll have an amazing (and affordable) trip.
This travel guide to Moldova can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time in this underrated destination.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Moldova
1. Explore Chisinau
2. Check out Bender
3. Sample the wine
4. Tour Tiraspol
5. Explore Transnistria
Other Things to See and Do in Moldova
1. Relax in Naslavcea
Naslavcea village is one of the most picturesque spots in Moldova (the locals call it the “Switzerland of Moldova”). Located in the northernmost part of the country and on the banks of the Dniester River, there are tons of mountainous hiking trails and viewpoints, and caves here. If you want nature, this is the part of the country for you!
2. Explore the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia
The Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia is located in the southern part of Moldova. It declared independence from Moldova in 1991 and is a fascinating place to learn more about the Gagauz people, who make up 70% of the population here. Head for the capital Comrat and visit some of the city’s museums to learn how this region came into its own. The National Gagauz History Museum and the Ethnographic Museum both shed light on the region and culture and how this autonomous territory came to be (it’s currently in a truce with Moldova, though they have warred in the past). They also have some of the oldest (and largest) wineries in all of Moldova.
3. Visit Orheiul Vechi
Located 60km north of Chisinau, this is an archaeological and ecclesiastical complex. Also known as Old Orhei, it’s a cave monastery home to ruins and cave paintings that date back more than 2,000 years. The monastery is still in use and the monks maintain the site as well as the nearby Orthodox church. A bus from Chisinau costs around 145 MDL and takes 1-2 hours. Dress respectfully as this is a place of worship.
4. Tour the National Archaeology & History Museum
Opened in 1983, there are over 263,000 items in this collection. They have a 2,000-year-old fired-clay Sarmatian urn shaped like a ram, an entire floor devoted to the Soviet era, sculptures that date back to 4 BCE (they’re the oldest objects ever found in the Bessarabia region), and weapons and armor that date to the 5th century BCE. Admission is 10 MDL.
5. Wander the open-air market
Piata Central is an open-air market located in the heart of Chisinau. It spans several blocks and you can find pretty much everything here, from fresh produce to clothing to souvenirs and trinkets. Most of the products here are locally produced so look out for things like raw honey, wine, and brandy. Remember, in Moldova prices are always negotiable so don’t be afraid to barter. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 7am-6:30pm.
6. Explore the Bendery Fortress
Built during the Ottoman era, this massive 16th-century fortress had the sole purpose of protecting the area from invading Russian forces. With spectacular views of the Dniestr River, the grounds surrounding the building are just as impressive as the fortress itself. For decades during the occupation by the USSR, the fort was used as a military base and was off-limits to the public. Today, you’re free to walk the ramparts and explore the narrow tunnels of the fort as it’s intact and well maintained. Admission is 25 MDL and tours start at 75 MDL.
7. Find Moldova’s Little Prince statue
The Little Prince is a well-known character from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book Le Petit Prince. The statue can be a little tricky to find thanks to its size (it’s less than 4 inches tall) but it can be found standing on a metal fence in Valea Morilor Park by the lake (it replaces one of the spheres in the fenceposts). The concept behind the artwork is that each of the spheres is a representation of each of the planets in the novel. The Little Prince is standing on top of his home planet of asteroid “B-612.”
8. Relax in the oldest park of Moldova
Stefan cel Mare Central Park (Stephen the Great Central Park) is the oldest park in Moldova. The park is a perfect example of landscape gardening from the 19th century. There’s a huge central fountain surrounded by flowers and manicured shrubs and the walkways are lined by trees. Spanning 17 acres, the park has monuments and sculptures dedicated to important figures in Moldova’s history, such as poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin and Prince Stephen the Great. There is also a monument and mass grave for Soviet soldiers who died during World War II.
9. See Soroca Fortress
This fortress was one of the many strongholds of Stephen the Great in 1499. Located in the present-day city of Soroca, it was used to defend the region from the Ottomans, and later from the Russians in the 18th century. The castle has a distinctly Western European design, which has left historians to believe that architects and engineers from the west were brought to the region to help with its design and construction. Built in a circle, the castle has four massive stone towers and curved walls to better resist projectiles. There’s a spacious central courtyard and numerous loopholes for firing weapons. The walls are 3 meters (10ft) thick and here are several areas for artillery. It’s currently closed for renovations.
10. Visit the Army Museum
Located in the capital, this museum has a sobering and insightful exhibition on Soviet repression during the occupation. It illuminates the forced famines, deportations, and slave labor used by the regime. There are videos, photos, dioramas, and newspaper articles that bring the era to life. Most of it isn’t in English, however, it nevertheless offers insight into just how horrific conditions were under the USSR. Admission is 10 MDL.
11. See the Triumphal Arch
Known as the Holy Gate, the Triumphal Arch is a monument in the center of Chisinau. Dating back to the 1840s, it commemorates Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War (1828–29). Standing 13 meters (43ft) tall, it’s sort of like a mini Arc de Triomphe.
Moldova Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostel dorms are your cheapest option in Moldova, starting around 150 MDL per night for a 10-20 bed dorm. Free Wi-Fi and kitchens are pretty standard and a few hostels also include free breakfast. There aren’t a lot of options here when it comes to hostels so be sure to book early.
Budget hotels start around 600 MDL per night. Expect your accommodation to be comfortable but a little outdated in its decor. TV, coffee/tea, and free breakfast are all pretty standard.
Airbnb is really only available in Chisinau and Tiraspol, although there are a few places in Balti. Private rooms start at 600 MDL per night but average 800-1,000 MDL. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay a minimum of 1,300 MDL per night (though it’s more likely to be 2,000 MDL or more unless you book early).
For anyone traveling with a tent, wild camping is free and safe on public land. Just use common sense and avoid staying too close to someone’s house, pick up all your trash, and leave everything as you found it.
For a basic plot at a campground without electricity, expect to pay around 200 MDL. There are only a handful of sites around the country, however, making wild camping the easier (and cheaper) option.
Food – Influenced by Russian, Romanian, and Turkish cuisine, in Moldova the portions are large and the food is incredibly affordable. Beef, pork, potatoes, and cabbage are the most common staples here. Mamaliga (a cornmeal porridge), ghiveci (lamb/goat stew), and branza (brined cheese) are just some of the popular local offerings.
For an inexpensive meal of local cuisine, expect to pay at least 100 MDL.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) can only be found in the capital. A combo meal costs 90 MDL. Sandwiches cost around 60 MDL. Pizza can be found in a few of the larger cities for as little as 90-100 MDL for a medium. Asian food (such as Chinese or Thai) can only be found in the capital. Expect to pay around 80-110 MDL for a meal.
A three-course meal at a restaurant serving traditional cuisine costs 225 MDL. If you’re on the go, try placinte, a cheese-filled pastry that can be found at bakeries and cafes around the country.
Expect to pay between 20-40 MDL for a beer at the bar or cappuccino at a cafe. A bottle of wine costs just 70 MDL.
If you are planning to cook your own food, a week’s worth of groceries costs between 415-500 MDL for staples like meat, pasta, rice, and seasonal produce.
Activities – Vineyard tours cost 175-350 MDL while most museums and attractions cost less than 100 MDL. While there are not a ton of paid tours and attractions here, what is available is generally quite budget-friendly. Hiking and camping are free.
Backpacking Moldova Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 600 MDL per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook a few meals and eat a few meals out, limit your drinking, take public transportation to get around, and do mostly free activities like hiking. If you camp, you can cut this down to around 450 MDL.
On a mid-range budget of about 1,400 MDL per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for all your meals at cheap restaurants, enjoy a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like visiting museums or taking a wine tour.
On a “luxury” budget of 2,750 MDL per day or more, you can eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car to get around, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Prices are in MDL.
Moldova Travel Guide: Money-Saving 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 costs:
- Take a free walking tour – Chisinau and Tiraspol both have free walking tours led by local guides. They’re a good way to get introduced to the city and its history and culture. Check freetour.com for options. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
- Wild 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. Buying groceries may not be as glamorous as going out to eat, but it does save you money.
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfing is a great way to not only save money but you get to meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the country and its people. There aren’t a ton of hosts here, though you can likely find one in the capital if you look in advance.
- Walk everywhere – All of the major cities in Moldova are quite walkable, so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra lei. Skip the taxis too!
- Enjoy the free spaces – There are plenty of free parks as well as many free hiking trails around the country. Save your budget and enjoy the outdoors!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where To Stay in Moldova
In general hostels are few and far between in Moldova. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Chisinau and Tiraspol:
How to Get Around Moldova
Bus – Chisinau has three bus stations that link every city and region in the country. Departures don’t necessarily occur on time and the roads can be a little bumpy. Minibusses (usually with 15 or so seats) are the fastest way to get around, although larger coach buses are a little safer since they generally travel at slower speeds.
The two-hour journey from Chisinau to Tiraspol costs from 20 MDL. You can reach pretty much any city in the country from the capital for under 150 MDL.
Trains – Trains in Moldova are reliable and safe, albeit a little outdated (they are mostly older Soviet-era trains). While buses run more often and are more affordable for domestic travel, trains are a good choice for anyone looking to travel to nearby countries.
The overnight train to Bucharest, Romania takes 9 hours and costs 250 MDL. The 15-hour journey to Kyiv, Ukraine costs 610 MDL. Cabins with beds (and bedding) are available for longer journeys.
Air – There are no domestic flights within Moldova.
Taxis – Taxis start at 25 MDL plus 5 MDL for each kilometer. They add up so skip them if you can!
Car – Car rentals can be as low as 450 MDL per day for a multi-day rental. You need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), as well as proper insurance, as the roads here are far from ideal.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Moldova is common. Many locals do it and you won’t have to wait long for a ride. As in most destinations, having a sign helps (as does looking presentable). HitchWiki is the best website for additional hitchhiking info and tips.
When to Go to Moldova
If you’re planning to hike and get out into nature, April-May or September-October are the best times to visit as everything is either in bloom or the leaves are changing color. Autumn is also when the vineyards harvest their grapes.
The high season is July and August. This is the most popular time to visit. During these months the temperatures rise and there are slightly more tourists around. Expect daily highs between 17-27°C (63-81°F).
Winter is from November to March and temperatures drop to -4°C (23°F). Almost no tourists visit during the winter (the Soviet cities look particularly grim in the grey winter weather). I’d skip a winter visit if you can avoid it.
How to Stay Safe in Moldova
Scams and pick-pocketing are common in the cities, especially around high-traffic areas in Chisinau such as bus stations. If someone strikes up a conversation with you trying to sell something or if young children approach you, be on alert — their accomplice is likely reaching for your wallet while you’re distracted.
ATM scams are also common. Whenever possible avoid using ATMs on the street to withdraw money. Only use ATMs within banks to be safe.
Crimes of opportunity are the most common danger here so as long as you keep your valuables out of sight you likely won’t have any trouble. This applies to crowded buses and trains too.
If you rent a car, make sure you leave no valuables in it overnight. Break-ins are rare but they can occur so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re worried about getting ripped off, you can read about common travel scams to avoid right here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 903 for an ambulance and 902 for police.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they know where you are.
If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Moldova! Don’t mess around here.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Moldova Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- HostelPass – This new card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and glad it finallt exists.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- Eurail – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, a free checked bag.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
Moldova Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Moldova Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Europe and continue planning your trip: