I never heard of Iasi before, let alone knew anything about things to do in Iasi. It was only because of my desire to visit Transnistria that Iasi came into the picture. With a good deal from Wizz Air it was the cheapest way to fly into the region.
Located in the north eastern part of Romania, the region bordering Moldova sees few visitors. Travel guides give little information about the city and therefore I wasn’t at all prepared for the amount of things to do in Iasi. I only planned 1 day in this city and I soon realized my misstake that this was not enough.
Iasi is a small, but nice city that is the product of the communist regime. Farms were confiscated and peasants were given appartments in newly built Soviet flats. Industrial zones were created and flourished. But 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.
The development of Travel
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. The Palas Mall in Iasi is proof of Romania’s incredible development in the last decades.
Travel guide to the best things to do in Iasi
Palace of Culture
The palace of culture is one of the oldest and most important buildings in Iasi. Romania’s first king started the construction in 1906, but it was only finished in 1925 after the first World War. 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
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.
Three holy hierarchs monastery
From the Saint Nicholas church you can walk down the Bulevard of Stefan del Mare. Here you find another beauty with intricate patterns on the outside. The inside of the three holy hierarchs monastery is equally stunning.
The metropolitan church
The metropolitan church is the largest church in Romania. It’s very active 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.
The Golia monastery
The Golia monastery is a peaceful and serene place. The interior frescoes and the rose gardens definetly makes it worth a visit. It is a pleasant 15 minute walk from the Metropolitan church.
Copou Park & Botanical Gardens
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.
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 brutalist buildings and Iasi’s suburbs are full of the typical communist appartment buildings.
The suburb Nicolina was built next to the Industrial zone that was the heart of Iasi’s thriving industry during communism. However, most factories shut down when communism ended 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.
Beyond Iasi: the painted monasteries in Bucovina
Iasi is only 3 hours from Suceava. The gateway to the painted monasteries in Bucovina, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the highlights in Romania. If you have your own transport it is a long but rewarding daytrip from Iasi.
Places to sleep in Iasi
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.
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.
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.
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 Iasi with several European cities. With Wizz Air there are some great deals.
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. There are also frequent departures to Chisinau in Moldova. The main bus station is in front of the train station.