The best things to do in Iasi: Romania’s Eastern Beauty
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. 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?
I came to Iasi with little expectations, but found a young and lively student city full of beautiful churches, interesting museums, nice architecture and great places to eat.
It turned out that there were a lot of things to do in Iasi. This should not have been a surprise as Iasi is the second largest city in Romania. In 2018 it became the Historical capital of Romania and some consider it the cultural capital too.
Being home to the oldest university and oldest national theatre in the country it has always been an important centre of academic and cultural progress in Romania. Iasi’s architecture from different time periods reflects the rich history of the city. There is a curious mix of different styles from medieval churches, to elegant neoclassical and baroque buildings as well as the communist era brutalist buildings.
Iasi’s communist past
Iasi is a small, but nice city that developed during the communist regime. Caecescu confiscated all the farms in the region 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.
Now don’t expect a grim looking Soviet city. If you are interested in communist history and brutalist architecture, the city has lots to offer, but it is nowadays also a student city with a young and trendy atmosphere.
As mentioned before, Iasi has a long history of being the academic and cultural center in Eastern Romania long before Caecescu made it into an industrial production center. Most monasteries in the city were built in the 15th century and the university already opened its doors in 1860.
Iasi is also a very green city full of parks and with the oldest botanical garden too. It is a very pleasant city to wander around in with plenty of places to relax and lots of trendy cafes for a small break.
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. It was 2001 when Romania wasn’t yet part of the European Union.
The euro didn’t even exist yet. 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 several days for my pictures to be ready.
Coming back to Romania after so many 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. It’s a country of progress that has seen incredible development in the last decades.
Luckily, Romania is still among the cheapest countries in Europe to visit and a city trip to Iasi can be very cheap
The best things to do in Iasi
1. Palace of Culture
The palace of culture is a must among things to do in Iasi. The Neo Gothic style building is one of the oldest and most important buildings in the city.
Romania’s first king started the construction in 1906, but couldn’t finish it because of the first World War. What was to become the princely palace became the palace of justice and administration untill 1955.
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 medieval 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 inside 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. Stefan el mare street
The small pedestrian street that runs from the Palace of culture to the Metropolitan church is only 1 kilometer, but holds some of the finest architectural buildings in the city.
Don’t miss the Stefan el mare statue and the Iasi city hall. The numerous shops here are a great place to buy souvenirs.
4. Three holy hierarchs monastery
One of the oldest churches on the Stefan el mare boulevard is the three holy hierarchs monastery. Another beauty with intricate patterns on the outside and stunning frescoes on the inside.
5. 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.
6. Piata Unirii
Iasi’s Union square is the main gathering place for families hanging out or for protests against the government.
Because of the large sized communist era Unirea hotel, the square has a Soviet feel to it. It is not necessarily the most beautiful place in Iasi, but worth a quick look.
7. 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.
8. Copou street
The long and busy Copou street runs from the old center to the outskirts of the city. This is where you will find most of the university buildings. The university of Iasi was founded in 1860 and the architecture of the different faculties along Copou street is quite nice.
9. Copou Park
The Copou park has a long history and opened its doors already in 1834 as one of the first public gardens in Romania.
Ever since it has been a popular place that is symbolic to the city. It’s a peaceful and quiet place and it’s easy to spend a leisurely afternoon strolling around here.
10. Botanical gardens
Shortly after the Copou Park the city began the development of a botanical garden. Nowadays it is maintained by the Iasi university and it remains the oldest and largest botanical garden in Romania.
The gardens are quite large and extend over the Copou hill, although parts of it are not as well maintained as the main areas. Near the entrance you will find the beautiful rose gardens and the green houses with lots of tropical plants.
11. Nicolina & The industrial zone
If like me, you are interested in Romania’s communist 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
12. 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.
13. 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.
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.
Iasi Travel tips
The best places to eat in Iasi
Mamma Mia: Mamma Mia was one of my 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.
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