Editor's tips for visitors to Moldova:
Moldova has few tourists and English is not commonly spoken. Moldova is more of a challenge for travellers than most European countries.
You can view the UK Foreign Office's advice for Moldova here(new window). If you are intending to enter overland via Ukraine (bus or train) note in particular how to avoid problems with entry stamps. Those intending to visit breakaway Transnistria should read the relevant advice.
You should check your own Government's travel advice for entry requirements.
Where to stay:
The year before my trip, there were just 20,000 visitors to Moldova (for ALL purposes). Choice of accommodation is similarly small.
Chisinau, offers a reasonable choice. Vilages, vinyards etc are accessible, as is Tiraspol (Transnistria) 40 miles/65km away and doable by bus.
Low number of visitors = low number of hotel reviews. As well as comparing prices, our Chisinau Hotel Search also pools reviews from the major booking sites like Booking.com, Hotels.Com & Expedia.
Accommodation elsewhere is limited. My guide informed me there were 2 hotels in Tiraspol (2nd largest city), neither recommended. She pointed one out; occupying 2 floors of a building, half had been converted to offices due to lack of demand.
If you wish to stay in a quiet village where the water supply is a well, there may be a few bookable homestays (see below). Alternatively someone running your accommodation in Chisinau may have a relative or friend who can put you up.
Opting for a Homestay or a Hostel:
Hostel booking sites now include homestays & hostels in Moldova.
I stayed with an English speaking host in Chisinau who offered extra support (guide, translator, driver etc). Moldova is cheap, so even on my tight budget I made use of these services.
I recommend you choose somewhere offering a similar service; particularly if your plans include visiting Transnistria. My host has moved to the UK, but other Chisinau homestays and hostels offer this type of service (click on individual properties to see what is offered - and check reviews as well).
"Svetlana's flat" appears to offer the sort of accommodation and service I would choose and she has good reviews. Her flat is in a residential area of Chisinau, if you want somewhere in the city centre check the maps on the Hostel Booking site and book accordingly.
Taxis are cheap; on arriving or leaving Chisinau use one (or use your hosts collection service) to take you to/from your accommodation:
- Some visitors report difficulty in finding their accommodation in Chisinau;
- Mini-buses can be very crowded, as I discovered - trying to get from the back of the bus to the exit with a backpack and day bag is no fun and does not make you very popular. Public transport is very cheap so use it during your stay - it's part of the experience.
For Homestays and Hostels we recommend Hostelbookers:It doesn't charge you a booking fee; so it is usually cheaper than its competitors. More Hostels and Homestays in Moldova - when we checked it listed 29 Chisinau "Hostels", Hostelworld 16, and others less. Customer Reviews are scarce (small & new market) - but Hostelbookers provides more reviews than its competitors. We affiliate with Hostelbookers because it came top of our sister sites review of 7 major hostel booking sites.
Prices, Currency, Problems with ATMs and other money matters+ display this section
Currency (MLD) Leu, plural LEI. 14 Apr 11: [ $1 = 11.5 MLD ][ £1 = 19 MLD ].
The latest exchange rate is available from our Currency Convertor (travel tools page)
Moldova is cheap: meals, taxis, guides, translators, buses, trains should all be easily affordable.
Public transport: Chisinau buses/minibuses less than of US 35¢ equivalent
Taxis: within Chisinau about £1.75 equivalent (agree your fare in advance).
Rail - in 2006 my fare from Chisinau to Odessa, Ukraine was 33 Lei/£1.80 (wooden slatted seats, and heavily overcrowded by the end of the journey) - but see rail transport below.
The picture is of the video carriage before departure from Chisinau - you have to pay more for this - I didn't use it and don't know if it is any less crowded than the rest of the train as it approaches Odessa.
I spent a year "travelling the world" in 2005/6 on a budget of £10,000/$15,000 for everything including flights/transport - but in Moldova I was able to afford a personal guide to take me to Transnistria, dine out on red caviar etc.
Moldova is a cash economy, other methods of payment are not widely used.
There are few ATMs outside Chisinau
Don't assume you will be able to withdraw money from ATMs; I've recently seen blogs where people have reported that their cards were not accepted or even retained by cash points.
According to the FCO (travel advice top right of this page) this is because few ATMs accept the "new" chip and pin cards (none outside Chisinau). If you are from the UK, Ireland, ANZ or Canada you might have problems. Very few US cards are chip and pin.
Credit Cards: - are not widely accepted. Few banks in Chisinau accept credit cards, and they do not open weekends.
Chisinau Airport has 5(?) banks and states "All convertible currency and bank cards (Visa, Maestro, MasterCard, Cirrus, Euro card) are accepted".
Traveller's Cheques: dont bother.
You can exchange currency at hotels or bureaux de change. See "General - Money" under our detailed travel advice (top right of page, select Moldova from drop down list)
The UK Foreign Office advise that:
- the most widely accepted foreign currencies are the Euro and US Dollar.
- they recommend that you carry some Euro cash.
- Euro notes may not be accepted unlees they are in perfect condition.
- Pound Sterling is not always easy to exchange edit: but see Chisinau Airport's statement above.
Buying Lei abroad: I obtained Lei from a Cambio (Bureau de Change) in neighbouring Bucharest without problem. Non-neighbouring countries: you will probably have to order in advance. The MLD is not usually advertised so some FX dealers may try to rip you off. Shop round for the best rate.
Getting there - Rail:+ display this section
Chisinau's Railway Station is small and not very busy, but it is one of the prettiest and well maintained I have seen.
Inside it has nice touches, like fish tanks, that add to its modern, clean, airy atmosphere.
As part of the former USSR, its railway runs on a wider gauge than the rest of Europe.
During your journey to/from Bucharest your carriage (with you in it) will be lifted off its bogeys (wheels)and placed on a new set of the required gauge (width) for the rest of the journey.
Things to know:
There have been recent disputes which have affected rail travel to Moldova. The daily service to/from Bucharest was temporarily reduced to every other day, but is now back to daily. The service to Odessa was suspended for 4 years but apparently reopened in October 2010, currently you can also travel to Kiev, Minsk, Saint Petersburg and Moscow (journey time 22 hours).
If you travel IN to Moldova through break-away Transnistria (e.g. rail from Odessa) you will not receive an entry stamp - this can cause problems (use our travel advice by country drop down menu at top of page for more info). Travel TO Odessa is not a problem (but see comments below).
Bucharest - overnight: Journey time 13 hours. If you are travelling alone with valuables like a laptop consider booking a 1st class sleeper (they are cheap - around £38 / $60) - these are 2 berth so you may still end sharing. Booking a ticket in advance at the International Ticket Office (Casse International) is straight forward.
From what I have read the fare to Odessa is now 53MLD ($5) if bought 24 hours in advance (buying at Chisinau station is straight forward). The journey takes about 5 hours; and if the service is the same as in 2005, you will sit on wooden slat seats, and as the carriage fills up towards Odessa you will find someone sitting on your lap!
The Odessa line is newly reopened and Governments may have cracked down on corruption; but in 2006 "border guards" at Transnistria used to "tax" tourists (and from what I could see locals as well). From talking to other people I met on my travels the going rate seemed to be $40.
Apart from one Japanese couple (with "no English") I don't know anyone else who successfully avoided it. If you want to try, this is what will happen: you will be taken to the end of the carriage to discuss, if this doesn't persuade you, you will then be taken off the train to the "head" guard's office. If the head guard doesn't speak good English one of the 3 guards with him will. You will argue you don't need a visa, entry stamp etc but in the end (as I know from experience)you will pay, or miss the train.
Moldova cannot currently be included as a leg on your Eurrail or Interrail pass. This isn't really a problem - rail travel in Moldova is cheap, and you should use your Europe pass in countries where it will save you most money.
Flights and Chisinau Airport:+ display this section
When writing, there were direct flights to Moldova from: Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Cyprus, & Israel. You can use our flight search engines to list and compare prices from nearly 700 airlines and bookers for both direct & indirect flights - click through to the relevant airlines website to book.
If you are in Romania consider a first class sleeper on the Bucharest to Chisinau train instead (see above). It will be considerably cheaper, you will arrive in Chisinau itself, you can sleep overnight, and experience a novel journey where enroute your carriage is hoisted onto wider gauge wheels for the wider Soviet track used in Moldova.
Chisinau Airport is 13 km (20 minutes) from the city center.
Transport from airport to Chisinau:"A" Express Bus Service; hours: 06.35 -18.55; every 30 min
Shuttle Bus No. 165; route Ismail St. - Airport; 06.00-21.30 every 15 min
Taxi Service No. 1470; office Airport Arrival Hall, Tel.(+373 22) 1470, 24 Hours
Rates from Airport to Chisinau about 55MDL - 75MDL (confirm your fare in advance).
Airport facilities: include banks, 24 Hour Bistro, childrens play area, left luggage, duty-free shops and free WIFI.
Guidebooks:+ display this section
Europe: From personal experience I recommend Lonely Planet's "Europe on a Shoestring" for independent travelers who are touring Europe. It now includes a section on Moldova (Rough Guide's equivalent does not).
Europe on a Shoestring covers Iceland in the north west right through to Ukraine and Turkey in the south east. It also includes Russia (Moscow & St Petersburg) but a specific guide for Russia may be advisable.
Covering the "whole of Europe", it is a thick guidebook; but is probably the perfect compromise of size, weight and detail.
A Kindle version is also available at Amazon which will save you space and weight (but it is more likely to be stolen, or fail when you need it!).
Moldova specific: Check these Romania and Moldova pages at Amazon.com and take your pick. Unfortunately, many of the guides are outdated. I usually like Lonely Planet but, when I checked, the latest Romania and Moldova edition had a publication date of 2007.
Tip when buying any guidebook: Regulations and situations are always changing, so ensure you buy the latest edition (and also check the latest online travel advice).
In bookshops: ensure the guide you've picked off the shelf is not an old edition - shops do continue to sell them. Online stores (including Amazon): may sell both new and old editions and it is very easy to buy the wrong one (use the sort facility to list by publication date). Travel sites (like ours) may link to an edition that is subsequently superseded - so always check if Amazon indicates there is a later edition.
International Dialling Code: 373
Weather forecast, current time and time difference by city, current Moldovan Lei exchange rate can all be accessed via our Travel Tools.
Author: Andy W+ Last updated: 14 March 2012