What to See in the Cultural Capital of Romania: Iaşi (Iasi)

As I have been exploring Eastern Europe in recent years, I have begun realizing how much I enjoy visiting secondary towns in these countries (Krakow in Poland; Plovdiv in Bulgaria; Braşov in Romania; etc.).  The capital cities are worth seeing but what I loosely refer to as secondary towns hold a charm that is different, perhaps precisely because they don’t carry the weight of being a capital city…  I guess being away from the business of a capital city or a tourist mecca (e.g., London, Rome, Paris) draws me.  I can’t say capital cities are not “real”; I mean, people live there and do the normal things people do.  Is it just that these secondary towns anywhere are more charming because they are not busy trying to be important?   Iasi, or Iaşi in Romanian, Romania afforded me another chance to confirm this preference – here I share the main sights I saw in Iaşi.  Before that, you may be asking:

Why visit Iaşi of all places?

As I planned my visit to Romania and my side trip to neighboring Moldova, Iaşi (pronounced yash) was brought up to my attention as an interesting town from which to leave Romania to enter Moldova.  I was curious as to why it was suggested so I did some research.  I was already going to hit Braşov as the base for my Transylvanian Alps hike so I certainly could see another town.  Well Iaşi is referred to as the cultural capital of Romania and that was all I needed to hear for my curiosity to now require satisfaction!

Sometimes my approach to visit new places is flying by the seat of my pants and I may miss some neat little museum or site of local historical meaning.  But I like exploring, for the most part, without a pre-defined script.  My visit to Iaşi was like that.  I did get a map, I did read what were supposed to be THE main sights to see but, for the rest, I just meandered around town.  And it was very cool to be in a city that most tourists never get to see.  So before I get to what to see in Iaşi, let’s look at how you can get there from Romania’s capital…

Getting to Iaşi from Bucharest

I considered taking a train from Bucharest as it is oftentimes a good way to see the countryside but I had very limited time so I would have only been in Iaşi for an evening.  So I decided to take a very cheap flight to maximize my time in the town.  As with most airports, the domestic flights terminal in Bucharest was much “simpler” than the international flights terminal.  Don’t count on the ATM working on the domestic terminal…  And the airport in Iaşi?  Thanks for asking!!

The airport in Iaşi, Romania

The Iaşi airport – tiny!

The TAROM plane in which I flew from Bucharest to Iasi, Romania

My plane into Iaşi

I landed at around 11 AM which afforded me an entire afternoon of walking around.  I got into a taxi at the airport and $5 later, I was in town.  Though Iaşi is not a large town, it has plenty of monasteries in and near town that could have been great to visit but I decided to focus in the town itself to keep it simpler.

My hotel in Iaşi in Unirea Square

As usual, I used TripAdvisor to find a hotel that sounded well-located and that was well-reviewed by other travelers.  The Traian Hotel sounded perfect:  located in the Unirea (Unity) Square, it was within walking distance of many of the places I sought to visit.

View from the Unirea Hotel at the same-named square in Iasi (Iaşi), Romania

From the top floor bar at the Unirea Hotel, looking at Unirea Square with the Traian Hotel on the right

Interesting architecture of the Unirea Hotel in Iasi (Iaşi), Romania

Interesting architecture of the Unirea Hotel

The Traian Hotel was built in the 1880s by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, a few years before he created the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower!  It has hosted the Romanian government (during WW I), famous people (like Greta Garbo), etc.  It was one of the first buildings in Europe to be molded on a metal frame.  The hotel was pretty inexpensive for an American pocketbook.  The lobby was not much and the spacious room was simple but it offered cable TV, a modern bathroom, and yet decorated to reflect its period/heyday.  It also included a free and very nice buffet breakfast at its restaurant.

Traian Hotel in Iasi (Iaşi), Romania designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame

Traian Hotel in Unirea Square

Room at the Traian Hotel in Iasi (Iaşi), Romania

My room at the Traian

I had read that there was a tourism office right by Unirea Square.  However, it was not on it but on one of the main streets going through it right after it exited the square.  I am glad I persisted in finding it as they were very helpful, providing me with great information not only what to see in the town but also in neighboring regions of Romania and Moldova as well.  I thank the the folks at the Department of Tourist Development of the Iaşi Municipality and Delia for their help with the map and the info!

View from my room at the Traian Hotel in Iasi (Iaşi), Romania

View from my hotel room (could not figure out what this building was)

Old cinema in Unirea Square in Iasi (Iaşi), Romania

Old cinema in Unirea Square (right around the corner to the right is the tourism office)

Walking around beyond the Unirea Square

I walked down to the Palace of Culture, built between 1906-1925, a beautiful piece of neogothical architecture and the image of Iaşi.

Palace of Culture in Iaşi, Romania

Palace of Culture in Iaşi, Romania

The Palace of Culture hosts several museums but I was more interested that day in walking the town, exploring its streets rather than museum-visiting so I walked around and ran into a festival area where the smell of sausages cooking and large tents from Timişoreana beer (Timişoara is a city in western Romania).  The festival was seemingly starting that evening but I took advantage of the setup to have some good and VERY cheap lunch!

Sausage and Timisoreana beer in Iaşi, Romania


I visited churches and monasteries and that will be the subject of another post.  Besides those impressive places, I also walked past the imposing School of Medicine and Pharmacy and other university buildings (it is a university town after all).  The National Theater was also a beautiful structure (wished I had gone inside).  Here are those buildings and a couple of other neat sights around town.

University building in Iasi, Romania

Interesting architecture in a university building (note the construction; it seems the EU is pumping good money for improvements in infrastructure in Romania)

School of Medicine and Pharmacy from the Unirea Hotel in Iasi, Romania

School of Medicine and Pharmacy from the Unirea Hotel

National Theater in Iasi, Romania

National Theater

National Theater in Iasi, Romania

National Theater detail – dig the “mask” at the top

Movie theater, or cinema, in Iasi, Romania

Tram in Iasi, Romania

Iaşi was definitely different than Bucharest and even Braşov (which is not a capital city and of which I will write later).  Perhaps being further away from the capital of modern Romania and closer to Moldova and the Ukraine gives it an influence lacking south of the Carpathians (where Bucharest is).  It did not feel a rushed place. And it did not seem to have a café culture as other European towns have like Paris, Rome, etc.  or even Bucharest with Old Town or Braşov with all the cafés around the town center.  I cannot say it was incredibly beautiful like Salzburg, Krakow or others.  However, Iaşi felt more accessible and “real”.  It also allowed me to -yet again- experience how non-capital, non-touristy cities offer the visitor a different experience – and it was certainly worth it.  Hope you get to visit and see the sights in Iaşi.

Pin this to your must-see travel board!

what to see in iasi, cultural capital Romania, Romania, Iasi, must-see Romania

Photo of the Week – The Mountains of Utah

Ah, this picture really makes me long for winter (or a trip to the southern hemisphere where IT IS winter!).  Taken many years ago while I skied awesome Alta, I long to return to those wonderful slopes and setting.  I need to ski next year as I missed this season and I also have Europe in my sights for a ski trip…

Are you a ski fan?  What is your favorite place to ski?  Where do you want to go ski?

Alta, Utah, ski, mountains, vista, photography, freedom, sports, outdoors, photo

The Charming Town of Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro was an almost accidental destination for me.  The anchor destination for the trip was Italy but my wanderlust wanted me to go further to new places (even though Pompeii was new to me).  So I added Croatia by visiting the gem of the AdriaticDubrovnik.  But then I found out about day trips to Mostar (in Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Montenegro.  It didn’t take much for me to say “sold!”  Kotor was a very picturesque and “alive” town with its cafés and old architecture.

Café scene in old town Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Part of the café scene

Kotor sits between the bay of the same and the mountain of St. John which was fortified as early as the 6th century.  This town has passed from empire to empire from Roman times, Byzantine times, Republic of Venice’s time, Hapsburg times, Bulgarian times, Ottoman times and Yugoslav times among others (even if not all those officially had the name “empire”…).  You get the picture of the changes this places must have gone through over two millenia!

Sea Gate in Kotor, Montenegro part of the fortifications city wall Canon EOS Rebel

The Sea Gate which dates from the 16th century

Madonna with Child in the Sea Gate of Kotor Montenegro carving Canon EOS Rebel architecture detail

Madonna with Child in the Sea Gate

fortification wall tower Kotor Montenegro St. John history Canon EOS Rebel

Fortifications consist of large walls interspersed with towers along the water and up the mountain

Its architecture, heavily influenced by the Venetian style, contributed to it being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site which seconds my recommendation that this is a place that ought to be checked out – the trip to reach it is both, worth effort AND beautiful as Kotor Bay is a unique setting – in and of itself worth seeing in person.

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel balcony

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro tower Canon EOS Rebel

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro street Canon EOS Rebel

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Churches in Kotor

Kotor has quite a few churches from different times – 11 if I counted correctly on the tourist map for this town of around 13,000 inhabitants.

St. Tryphon's Cathedral in Kotor, Montenegro - crucifix, museum Canon EOS Rebel

Crucifix in the small gallery on the second level of St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

St. Tryphon's Cathedral - alter and crucifix in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Altar and crucifix in St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in front of St. Lucas in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church (facing St. Lucas Church) in Kotor, Montenegro

Church of St. Lucas in Kotor, Montenegro Romanesque architecture photo Canon EOS Rebel

12th century Church of St. Lucas – Romanesque style

Getting lost in Kotor -and is true in many places – is a neat way to see this town and, trust me, you won’t be lost for too long as you are bound by the mountain, the moat or the Sea Gate!

Photo of the Week – ilivetotravel on the French Riviera

This photo of the shoreline of Nice, France is from a LONG time ago – when I was very fortunate to be on 2-week business trips to the French Riviera.  It has been on my mind lately that I need to write about my trips there from those times.  It all starts with a picture!

Nice, France, French Riviera, tourist, travel, model, photography, tourism

Enjoying beautiful weather in Nice, France!!

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