A complete tour of Romania should include a visit to Iasi, the historical capital city of the Moldavian region. Though it gets fewer visitors than other cities of the country, we discovered that Iasi is more than meets the eye.
The city has recently experienced a cultural revival, and it offers diverse travel activities for its visitors.
So, in this article, we put together what we believe there are the best things to do in Iasi. And, because the list got a bit too long, this is the first part of this subject.
Feel free to comment and even tell us if there is something we missed mentioning.
How to reach Iasi?
Before anything else, we should see how to reach Iasi.
The city is located in the Eastern part of Romania, in the historical region of Moldavia.
If you travel from Bucharest to Iasi, the best option is to travel by plane as the flight is only 40 minutes long, and the prices are pretty affordable.
Though small, Iasi International Airport also provides direct flight connections to major European cities.
From Bucharest’s Gara de Nord train station, trains leave for Iasi every day. Indeed, the ride lasts 6h-6h30min and a ticket costs around 20 Euros.
Of course, there is also the possibility of taking a bus or renting a car. However, the cost will be higher in this case, and the ride might last longer if you travel during the high season or on official holidays.
A short history of Iasi
The second-largest city of Romania (in terms of population), Iasi is an important center of pilgrimage and culture.
The first historical reference of the city dates from 1408. In the next century, Iasi became the capital of the once Principality of Moldavia.
Since 1859, Iasi became a symbol of national unity after unifying the Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia by electing the same ruler. Iasi shared with Bucharest the status of capital for this young nation until 1862. After this year, as compensation, Iasi became the cultural capital of Romania.
The first university in Romania was founded in Iasi in 1860. Iasi was also the place of publication of the country's first literary magazine.
But its location, far from the main trade routes, led to a lack of investment during the 20th century. In addition, the city was bombed during World War II. During the communist period, many old buildings in the city center and the Jewish quarter were demolished and replaced with blocks of flats.
Nowadays, this unpolished diamond is starting to lose its grey appearance thanks to investments from the European Union and civil society’s active participation. As a result, it became an important IT center, companies such as Amazon establishing a development base here. Moreover, the city is one of Romania’s most influential university centers, students from abroad coming here for studies. As a matter of fact, most international students in the country are in Iasi.
The city also boasts excellent restaurants and lively nightlife.
In addition, the creative young generation has given life to many local start-ups and brands that enjoy success not only in the city but also in the rest of the country. We can conclude there is definitely “a wind of change” blowing in Iasi, making its way among old local traditions and beliefs.
Moldova, a divided land
Prut River flows about 18 km East of Iasi. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the land on the other bank, known as Bessarabia, thus dividing Moldavia in two. After the fall of the USSR, the Romanians hoped that both halves of the territory would be reunited. However, this did not happen. Therefore, Moldavia remained divided into two parts: one included the city of Iasi, on the territory of Romania, and the other part became a different country called "The Republic of Moldova.”
Best things to do in Iasi
Explore the Union Square (Piata Unirii)
For Romanians, Piata Unirii (the Union Square) is significant as this is where the unification of the Romanian provinces Walachia and Moldavia happened in 1859. This event is celebrated every year in the square on January 24th.
Standing in this square, one can quickly notice the transformations that the city has gone through. Below, you'll find some interesting stories about the landmarks of Union Square.
- Hotel Traian
Iasi borrows a little from the Parisian atmosphere, and the most exciting building in the square is Hotel Traian. Scarlat Pastia, a former mayor of Iasi, hires Gustave Eiffel (yes, the one who designed the Eiffel Tower from Paris and the Statue of Liberty from New York) to construct a national theater. The building was erected in French neoclassical style on a metal structure (a novelty, at that time). Unfortunately, the construction costs were too high, so the creditor confiscated the building and transformed it into a hotel to recover the debts.
- Hotel Unirea
Opposite Hotel Traian, you can see an alignment of typical communist blocks built in the 50s and nearby the most notable communist construction, Hotel Unirea.
The hotel is a 13-floor building (predestined number, right?) with a grey concrete facade which could be, at a symbolic level, a slap given to its aristocratic neighbor, Hotel Traian.
In the past years, Hotel Unirea underwent restoration and modernization works. The hotel features a Spa center and also a panoramic restaurant from where visitors can admire the city.
- The Communist pavement
Other exciting features of the square are the pavement mosaics dating from the 1960s. They suggestively illustrate themes of communist propaganda such as industry, peace, agriculture, nature, history, and arts.
So, enjoying a stroll around Unirii Square is one of the Best things to do in Iasi.
2. Visit The House of the Museums
A few minutes’ walk from Unirii Square, there is the brand new House of the Museums (“Casa Muzeelor”), inaugurated in the summer of 2021. As the name suggests, this place brings under the same roof five museums that propose a modernist approach to the topics presented: The Pogrom Museum in Iași, the Museum of the Jewish Theaters in Romania, the Museum of Poetry, the Museum of Childhood under Communism.
The Pogrom Museum in Iasi has probably the most significant impact on visitors. This museum is closely related to the over 100-year old building in which it was arranged. Initially owned by Jewish, then used as a literary editorial office and printing house, it was turned in the 1930s into headquarters of the County Inspectorate of Gendarmerie and Police. Unfortunately, this is where 13000 Jews (out of the back then 35000 Jews inhabitants of Iasi) were massacred during the Iași Pogrom of June 1941.
Visitors can see the hologram of one of the survivors of those times, Iancu Țucărman, as well as photos, documents, and artifacts.
For more information, access the museum’s website here.
3. Iasi, the city of 100 churches
Iasi is also known as “The city of 100 churches”. With its 84 Orthodox churches, 25 Catholic and Neo-Protestant Churches, 2 Synagogues, and 1 Mosque, Iasi boasts the most significant number of worship places in the country.
All these are true architectural masterpieces and will offer their visitors a better understanding of the importance of faith for the city’s inhabitants and the history of Iasi.
We will mention only a few of the Orthodox Churches you can visit in Iasi:
- The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is located on the Stefan cel Mare Boulevard. You cannot miss it. It is a huge neo-classical building that boasts beautiful frescoes, and it is home to the holy relics of Saint Parascheva, the protector Saint of Moldavia. Have a walk in the courtyard, look at the believers, admire the paintings of the church, watch the religious service and orthodox rituals. Do not forget to check the new Underground Metropolitan Museum.
- Golia Monastery - appears as a solid medieval fortress, with walls and towers for defense, with large metal and wooden gates. The over 350-year-old church is a combination of Baroque and Byzantine styles. Its entrance tower (29m) called Golia Tower is one of the main attractions of Iasi and can be visited. After climbing 120 steps, you can enjoy the panoramic view over the city of Iasi. In 2012, the conservation of the Monastery received the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award.
- The Three Hierarchs Monastery - located on the same boulevard, is one of the highlights of Iasi. It boasts impressive and somewhat unusual decorations for an Orthodox worship place on the exterior walls. Enjoy a peaceful walk in the green gardens, admire the carved motifs on the walls and admire the colorful frescoes of the church.
4. Visit "Vasile Alecsandri" Theater
Vasile Alecsandri National Theater is one of the most beautiful ones in Romania. BBC included it on the list of Seven theatres that take your breath away.
It was built in 1896 in Neo-Classic architectural style and designed by the Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. The Great Hall boasts impressive Baroque and Rococo decorations and paintings, and it is a real treat to take a pic of this enchanting place. Unfortunately, the visiting hours are not very flexible, and you need to make a reservation in advance, by phone. Locals hope for this thing to change and to ease the access of travelers inside the theater.
5. Visit the Palace of Culture
Lastly, “la crème de la crème” of Iasi is the Palace of Culture, by far one of the most beautiful and imposing tourist attractions in the country.
Its construction lasted almost 20 years, and the architecture is in a brilliant Gothic style. Both the interior and exterior of the Palace are richly decorated. The building served as Administrative and Justice Palace until 1955. Today, there are four museums, each one with a separate entrance fee. On the ground floor, the History Museum of Moldavia focuses on archeological elements. On the first floor, there are the Museum of the Moldavian Ethnography and the Museum of Art. And let's not forget about the Museum of Science and Technology.
But, the main attraction of the Palace is the Voivodes’ Room decorated with portraits of remarkable rulers of the country.
Also, travelers can climb the Clock Tower of the Palace to observe the clock mechanism and admire the panoramic view. For the Clock Tower, one needs to buy a separate ticket and book the visit at the information desk. The tours to the Clock Tower start 15 minutes before the exact hours.
So, we reached the end of Part 1 of "Best Things to do in Iasi." We hope you liked it. Stay tuned for Part 2.
In the meantime, you can browse our travel blog for other topics about places to see or experiences to try during your trip to Romania or Eastern Europe.