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Visiting the town of Iași – a weekend in the heart of Moldova

Upon returning from Bessarabia, we spent two days in Iași, the unofficial capital of the Romanian Moldova. As we had already visited  Ion Creanga’s childhood house on our way east, this time we wanted to walk around the city, not that we weren’t here before, but when we visited in the past, we were always on the run.

In Iași we stayed in the city center, in a nice apartment found on Booking.com. The central area of the city has several pedestrian streets, many beautiful buildings and old refurbished churches. The center has been renovated quite well in recent years and is now a good place for tourists, with terraces, shops, parks and points of interest everywhere.

In order to visit most of the city in a short time, we made a 2-day itinerary from north to south, from the Agronomy area to the bank of the Bahlui River, along Ștefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) and Carol I boulevards. On these and several adjacent streets from the center are most of the tourist attractions.

Although the distance is not short, it is worth taking a long walk around here, even divided over several days. This itinerary can also be done in reverse, but it’s easier to go down the Copou Hill than to climb it.

We went up the hill on a public bus and then started walking around the upper area of the city. The surroundings here are beautiful, with many green parks, wide spaces for pedestrians and cyclists, rich houses (some of them are really old with remarkable architecture) and nice views of parts of the city from some high spots. It looks a bit like Aviatorilor Boulevard in Bucharest, but with specific Moldovan elements.

A little higher up from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine is the house where Romanian writer Mihail Sadoveanu lived. We have not entered it this time, but from a past experience we can only recommend it to those passionate about literature. It has a rather communist style that reflects the political affiliation of the writer.

Further down, on the street behind the main building of the University of Agricultural Sciences, is the Botanical Garden of Iasi, one of the largest and most beautiful in the country. It’s only partially renovated, but it’s worth to wander on its long alleys and paths for a couple of hours.

We visited before the botanical gardens in Cluj, Timisoara, Jibou and Constanta. Although we maintain the opinion that the one in Salaj County is the most beautiful in the country, this one in Iasi is second in our preferences and definitely has the widest surface.

The entrance to the garden is on the top of a hill and the visitors can descend on several trails to a lake, behind which is a small forest and green fields. Basically, the botanical park is fenced only on one side, the other side losing itself in the fields.

In the landscaped area we recommend the greenhouses, the rosary, the Japanese garden and the botanical museum. It’s nice to walk around here for hours, among countless kinds of flowers, plants and lizards, tall trees and ducks by the water.

A special feature of this botanical garden is a subsection dedicated to the visually impaired, with aromatic plants and explanatory plaques written in the Braille alphabet.

After a few hours in this beautiful garden we got hungry, so we made a short stop at a terrace in the Exhibition Park (Parcul Expozitiei), where we had a traditional Romanian lunch, then continued walking downhill, admiring the Palace of the Army in our way.

After a short walk, we arrived in Copou Park, where we rested for a few minutes by Eminescu’s linden tree – the one from which a sprout was taken and planted in Vienna.

Continuing our journey, we reached the beautiful building of the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University.

We didn’t go to the University Museum, but we saw the historical lantern from the former lighting system of the city, which has now become a reference point in the city. There are several interesting places in the area (Costin Catargiu House, Gheorghe Topirceanu Memorial House, Poni-Cernătescu Memorial Museum, Nicolae Gane Museum, Romanian Literature Museum) – which the curious visitor can visit at will.

In the nearby Mihail Kogalniceanu’s villa, we entered in the past and can say that it is a nice place to visit for those passionate about history. In addition, the mansion has a superb design typical for that period. Nearby is the house where Ion Creanga stayed in Iasi, which we already visited on our way to the Republic of Moldova.

Further down, after the Central University Library and the Voivodeship Park (Parcul Voievozilor), crossing the passage in Mihai Eminescu Square, we reached the city center. On the left side, after the Students Culture House (Casa de Cultura a Studentilor) and the Independence Square, both displaying the socialist realism style, we could admire the gate of Saint Spiridon’s Church, a wonderful but very degraded building that we hope will be renovated soon.

Then, we arrived in the United Nations Square, behind which is the beautiful building of the University of Medicine. Further ahead, there is the Natural History Museum and then the Golia Monastery, with a high tower from where the entire city can be admired.

Returning at the roundabout by the statues of the Romanian rulers, we turned right this time and descended again towards the river bank. On Alexandru Lapusneanu Street we found many shopping venues and restaurants. A stop should be made at the Union Museum, the nineteenth century building being the residence of ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Ferdinand.

Further, our steps lead us to Unirii Square, the soul of the city, from where the central boulevard of Iasi starts, the main promenade area for locals and visitors alike.

Religious people will find here numerous places of worship, the city of Iasi being a champion when it comes to churches. The most famous ones are the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Our Lady Queen Cathedral and the Three Holy Hierarchs Monastery. All were recently renovated and are good examples of the old Romanian-style beautiful architecture.

In Union Square we also met hundreds of friendly pigeons who enjoyed the crumbs received from the passers-by and posed for the amateur photographers.

In addition to brand stores, cafes and institutions, we found a good relaxation place in Junimea Park, took photos of the beautiful building of the Iasi National Theater and walked along the souvenir and food booths of street vendors. Various events are often organized here, we had the opportunity to watch an open-air theatre representation in the evening.

At the end of the road is the Dosoftei House, a small museum with an interesting collection of old literature, even from the time of the chroniclers, but it was closed for renovation when we visited the city. Ahead is the Palace Square, with the equestrian statue of Stephen the Great and a small park next to it, with a church (Saint Nicholas the Prince) built during the ruler’s period, that is, more than half a millennium ago.

From here you can see the panorama of the town’s iconic building, the symbol of Iasi and one of the most beautiful buildings in Romania – the Palace of Culture. It was built a century ago in place of the former medieval palace, some of its ruins being still preserved here. It was originally intended as a palace of justice, but now it has become home to the National Museum Complex of Moldova.

Here you can visit the History Museum of Moldova, the Ethnographic Museum of Moldova, the Museum of Art, the Museum of Science and Technology. We have entered these museums and were impressed by the exhibits, they are among the most complete and well-stocked galleries in our country. You can buy a single ticket that grants entry to all of them.

From old and ingenious mechanisms to paintings of the great Romanian artists, from Moldovan peasants’ popular objects to ancestral vestiges and unique documents from Romanian history, all are gathered in the rooms of this neo-gothic building.

Up in the tower of the Palace we had the opportunity to see something amazing: a huge mechanical clock with three faces, decorated with small stained glass windows representing the twelve zodiac signs. A guide explains the operation of the watch, and at fixed hours the whole process can be seen through the transparent surrounding walls – how its metal entrails are activated to sing the Hora Unirii (Union dance) song with the help of the 8 tuned bells. Climbing the stairs, we reached the top windows from where we could see all the splendor of the center of Iaşi.

After visiting the palace we reached a modern area built in recent years. Here is the Palas Mall, the public garden with the same name, and several concrete and glass office buildings. The space looks surprisingly good, being one of the most “Western” urban design samples we have seen in our country. People who come here for shopping, eating or watch a movie, as well as to work in the business area, can relax in a “German-style” park. We liked it a lot here, even though we heard some bad opinions about this place from locals.

Our itinerary ends with more parks: the one by the Sports Hall, the Red Bridge (Podu Roş) and the green space on the Polytechnic campus. The Lipovean Church, with its typical Russian features, such as the golden domes, should not be missed. Then, we finally got to the river, and this is where the apartment buildings from the Ceausescu era begin. But a walk along Bahlui River can be nice nevertheless. The water level is low most of the time and the street parallel to the water course is heavily circulated…

Besides this almost straight line itinerary, we passed through some interesting places, such as the Elena Doamna and Grigore Ghica parks (where we found a nice pub with rock music and the Municipal Museum), Saint Friday Square (Piata Sfanta Vineri) where we appreciated the design of the underground passage and the Armenian Church (again, a specific and beautiful style).

We will definitely return to Iasi because there are still some places we didn’t manage to visit. The city is surprisingly touristy, and if you haven’t been here yet, you have to visit at least once, especially now that it has flight connections with several big cities in Romania and Europe. We returned home to Cluj by train, and this gave us the opportunity to admire the Oriental Carpathians and other beauties of our homeland for about 10 hours.

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