This post is a travelguide with the best things to do in Iasi. A small town in the eastern part of Romania near the border with Moldova.
I never heard of Iasi before, let alone knew anything about things to do in Iasi. However, it was the cheapest way to fly into the region. My lonely planet was brief and neither was there a lot of information on the internet about things to do in Iasi.
Why visit Iasi in Romania?
Located in the north eastern part of Romania, the region bordering Moldova sees few visitors. I came with little expectations, but found a young and lively student city full of beautiful churches, interesting museums and great places to eat.
With the amount of things to do in Iasi I soon realized my misstake that I only planned one day in this city. Although it is possible to see everything in a day I would have liked a bit more time to fully appreciate Iasi
Iasi’s communist past
Iasi is a small, but nice city that is the product of the communist regime. During Caecescu farms were confiscated and peasants were given appartments in newly built Soviet flats. Industrial zones were created and Iasi flourished. However, as soon as the regime fell most factories were abandoned.
Nowadays, Iasi is a student city with a young and trendy atmosphere. The mix of Soviet architecture, old medieval churches and green parks make it definetly worth a visit and not less interesting than other cities in Romania.
Progress in Iasi Romania
On a personal note my visit to Iasi also showed me how much Romania progressed and how much travel has changed in general. Romania was my first trip abroad without my parents. 18 years ago it wasn’t yet part of the European Union and in fact, the Euro did not even exist.
I had to change Dutch guilders into German marks that I had to change in Romanian lei. Travelling by train was still the cheapest way to go, even though you had to cross no less than 4 borders with corrupt border guards.
Without internet I waved my parents goodbye at the train station and promised them I would make one costly phonecall. To my friends I would send postcards that would likely arrive long after I was already back in the Netherlands. There I had to bring my films to the local photoshop and eagerly wait for my pictures.
Coming back to Romania after 18 years things couldn’t have been more different. Not only can I enter the country without a single passport control, I also have immediate access to my pictures that I can share instantly with my family back home.
Romania itself has also changed tremendously and is no longer the impoverished country with a dark past. The European Union has been kind to Romania and the Palas Mall in Iasi is proof of Romania’s incredible development in the last decades.
The best things to do in Iasi
1. Palace of Culture
The palace of culture is a must among things to do in Iasi. It is one of the oldest and most important buildings in the city. Romania’s first king started the construction in 1906. In recent years it has been renovated and now houses four museums. The History museum, the Ethnographic Museum, The Science museum and the Art museum
2. Saint Nicholas church
From all the things to do in Iasi, I was most impressed by the beautiful churches. Even though religion was frowned upon during communism, Iasi remains replete with churches and monasteries. Most of them are orthodox and have beautiful decorations and lush gardens.
Right in front of the palace of culture you have the Saint nicholas church. The smallest, but also the oldest religious building in Iasi.
3. Three holy hierarchs monastery
From the Saint Nicholas church you can walk down the Bulevard of Stefan del Mare. Here you find the three holy hierarchs monastery. Another beauty with intricate patterns on the outside and stunning frescoes on the inside.
4. The metropolitan church
The metropolitan church is the largest church in Romania. Personally, I didn’t think it was as beautiful as some of the other religious places in Iasi, but it had the most visitors.
It’s an active church and you will see prayers and chants happening any time of the day. Pilgrims stand in line to bless the remains of the local Saint Paraschiva. While the other churches show the historic significance of Iasi’s religious past, this church reflects modern religious life.
5. The Golia monastery
The Golia monastery is a peaceful and serene place in the middle of the city. The interior frescoes and the rose gardens definetly makes it worth a visit. It is a pleasant 15 minute walk from the Metropolitan church. In my opinion this was the most beautiful religious building in Iasi and a must visit.
6. Copou Park & Botanical Gardens
A visit to Copou park and the Botanical gardens is the best thing to do in Iasi for nature lovers. You can either walk or take a tram down the Bulevard Copou to visit the botanical gardens and the nearby Copou park. It’s easy to spend a leisurely afternoon strolling around here.
7. Nicolina & The industrial zone
If like me, you are interested in Romania’s Soviet past, Iasi delivers without doubt. Throughout the city you will find some interesting Soviet buildings and Iasi’s suburbs are full of the typical communist flats.
The suburb of Nicolina was built next to the Industrial zone that was the heart of Iasi’s thriving industry during communism. However, most factories shut down and are left abandoned in an industrial wasteland.
For now, it is still possible to go there and explore, but its not sure for how long. With support of the European Union there are plans to clean it up and give it a new destination.
The best things to do near Iasi
1. The painted monasteries in Bucovina
Iasi is only 3 hours from Suceava. Suceava is the gateway to the painted monasteries in Bucovina. A UNESCO world heritage site and one of the highlights in Romania.
The monasteries are rather isolated and surrounded by the beautiful countryside that allows you to see rural Romania at its best.
Unfortunately this also means that the monasteries are difficult to get to by public transport. With your own car it will be a long but rewarding daytrip from either Iasi or Suceava.
2. Chisinau Moldova
Iasi is near the border with Moldova. It will be a long day trip from Iasi, but it is possible to visit Chisinau. The capital of Moldova is worth a visit, especially if you have an interest in Soviet history.
Read more about Chisinau in my post on Top things to do in Chisinau: exploring Soviet europe.
The best hotels in Iasi
1. Bicycle Hostel
Iasi has a great hostel. The bicycle hostel is in a quiet neighbourhood, but in walking distance of the train station and the centre. It was clean and trendy with everything we needed for a great price.
2. Hotel Moldova
Hotel Moldova is not cheap, but it is right in the centre next to the palace of culture. Even if you are not staying here it is worth a quick look. It’s a typical hotel from the communist era and the brutalist design is impressive.
Nowadays these old hotels have a hard time finding enough clients, but they used to be the centre of entertainment during communism. Every city had a state-run hotel with a bar.
You can read more about communist era hotels in this blogpost on the weird, wacky and wonderworld of communist-era hotels from Radio Liberty.
3. Hotel Unirea
Another communist era hotel in Iasi is Hotel Unirea. It is now a four star hotel and spa with beautiful views over Iasi from its top floor. Again it is not necessarily the best place to stay, but more interesting for its past.
The best places to eat in Iasi
Mamma Mia was one of our favourite restaurants in Iasi for its extensive menu with Romanian food. Prices are reasonable and in summer their large terrace is a great place to join the locals.
How to get to Iasi
Iasi is easy to reach. First of all Iasi has an airport that connects the region with several European cities. Some budget airlines have great deals available.
Second, there are reliable trains to Bucharest and other cities. Daily trains go all the way to Budapest in Hungary and Chisinau in Moldova
From Iasi’s bus station there are buses that go all over Romania and nearby Moldova. The main bus station is in front of the train station.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.