Iaşi (pronounced "yash") is the second largest city in Romania, after Bucharest. It has a population of just under half a million people; swelling greatly when the town's several universities are in session.
It is said that, like Rome, Iasi lies on seven hills. Some of these hills have conspicuous churches perched on top, each of which warrants a different view of the city. Iasi looks green from above in spite of the ubiquitous brick and concrete due to its boulevards and gardens. Ancient churches, old European style houses and communist apartment buildings compete for space in this crowded city, which is constantly expanding into the surrounding villages; The urban rush of communism replaced houses, pigs,chickens and cherry trees with apartment buildings. The land was confiscated from the peasants and they received apartments as compensation in the newly created common living spots. Factories sprung around the intensive urban effort, organized together in the industrial zone, only to be abandoned two generations later with the fall of the regime which gave them and the nation purpose. Like all communities in the former soviet block, Iasi had to reinvent itself in 1989. The children of those who left the countryside to move to the city now strive to build houses on the outskirting villages, although they drive hondas and not horses. They are not peasants. They wear jeans and french perfume, but they plant grapes and onions and have begun to enjoy the freedoms of having a house like their grandparents had but their parents moved away from. In Iasi you will find both simplicity and sophistication, and interminable ironies as the reinvention process progress on its own. There are still peasants selling fresh produce in the markets, but their kids may have cell phones which cost 100$. In Iasi, the landscape changes fast, motivated by psychological and economical turmoil.
Iaşi has a small international airport (code IAS). It is served by several airlines:
flying from Vienna
The airport is about 8km from the city center. The only transportation to the city is by taxi. A metered taxi to the center of Iaşi should cost no more than about RON 15–20; it's not unheard of for them to try and get away with charging upwards of €10. Most city taxis have meters; insist that they use it. The metered rate is 2 RON per kilometre outside city limits and 1.8 RON per kilometre inside them.
If arriving from another country, bear in mind that there are no currency exchange outlets at Iaşi airport. There is an ATM outside the building. Since taxi drivers accept RON, not euro or other currencies, you will need to be able to withdraw money from this ATM or arrive in Iaşi with RON.
It is well connected by train with Bucharest. The train station is quite close to the center, you can go walking.
You can also take direct trains from Budapest, which is well linked to Western Europe.
A train ticket from Iaşi to Bucharest costs around 20 euros when using the most expensive and luxurious option, the inter-city called Sageata Albastra (Blue Arrow).
There are a couple of possibilities to reach Iaşi from all over the country on national roads. Recently these roads have been improved and are not blocked by traffic jams. To reach Iaşi from Bucharest usually takes five to six hours by car. Although the situation has been steadily improving, it is crucial to have a map in order to reach Iasi from Bucharest without having to stop and ask for directions. The locals know which turns to take - there aren't many, but they are not marked with large arrows as they are in the United States.
Romania is criss-crossed by many "mini buses", sometimes called "maxi taxi". They are faster than the trains, and can be taken directly from the international airport in Bucharest.
Iasi is a rather large, densely packed town. You can walk it in a few hours. For the curious visitor, walking is the best way to get around.
taxis are quite popular in Iasi, and have recently switched to universal yellow. In Iasi, locals sometimes take the taxi which they find most appealing, not necessarily the first in line, so if you really like some brand of car you can chose that taxi. This practice is becoming less common, however.
maxi taxis go pretty much everywhere you could go on public transportation. They are privately operated, smaller, usually white micro-buses. They have their endpoint destination written on a paper at the front and they follow a usual route. They do not accept foreign currency, and don't expect the maxi-taxi drivers to speak english well enough to tell you where to get off; you could write your destination on a piece of paper, point and ask.
These methods of transportation were traditionally very important for getting around Iasi, especially during the communist period and afterwards, before cars became commonplace. Buses are often imported from abroad after the respective country upgrades, so you can find a large variety of buses.
If you go in the middle of the trolley buses, you can stand in the circle which turns (trolleys in Romania refer to the buses with two large ams which reach up towards two power lines. Otherwise they look just like a bus, but they are always long and have two halves which can move with respect to each other. Kids enjoy going in the middle, because sometimes it spins and takes you by surprise) If you are lucky, you will see the trolley operator have to get out of the trolley, go out into the street, and put one of the power arms back up to the lines from which it has fallen. This happens fairly rarely, but it's entertaining.
There is a special tram that goes up and down Copou hill. It is older and it's a different style from the normal trams, resembling the San Francisco ones somewhat.
The main reason to go in public transportation is to witness regular people going about their business. Everyone goes on the public transportation. This is a good place to see beggars performing. If you're on a bus, it's fairly likely that some group of little kids will get on and start singing. They are usually gypsies singing traditional romanian songs, and some of them are rather gifted. They want you to give them money, of course.
Iasi is a small city, however. You could use the public transport to go around, but most of the interesting parts of the city are in the center, so you can go walking. You need the bus if you want to go outside the city to see something or because you found an accommodation there.
The Communist buildings
National Theatre "Vasile Alecsandri", with an exceptional interior designed by one of the most popular architects from Vienna at the beginning of the 19th century.
Palace of Culture The Palace of Culture is one of those giant obvious monuments that the locals take for granted but which is striking to visitors. It houses several infrequently visited museums, including a musical instrument museum and a "village" museum with ethnic outfits. Currently closed for restauration.
Bulevardul Stefan Cel Mare (si Sfint) (Steven the Great ((and the Holy)) Boulevard) Along it you will find the Metropolitan Church, the Trei Ierarhi Church, the Palace of Culture and the National Theatre. If you go on this boulevard in the winter, you will find an impressive set of light decorations. During the weekends, the boulevard is closed to traffic and contains rollerbladers, bikers and strollarounders. On Sundays, the National Theatre park fills up with icons and naive paintings,which one can buy for rather small prices.
Bulevardul Copou (Copou Boulevard) Copou is a large hill in Iasi, which contains a university, a botanical garden and many old, fancy houses. Rose bushes line its sides, and there are many parks and old trees scattered between the buildings. It's a popular place to go for a walk, and for locals it is considered the rich area. Head onto the side streets for the quietest, serenest part of Iasi
Copou Park This tame, bench and rosebush laden park is a popular destination for youth in heat and the contemplative elderly. It's a pretty park, and you should not put your feet on the benches (you might get fined). There are several large bushes through which you can walk, and an extremely old linden tree held up by metal bars. Linden trees are well appreciated in Iasi, and this particular tree is the most famous because the beloved romanian poet Mihai Eminescu allegedly wrote poems in its inspirational shade. In front of this linden tree, there are two large patches of bright blue forget-me-not flowers.
Botanical Garden The botanical garden is high up on Copou hill, and it's a popular summer getaway. In the fall, the walnut trees drop walnuts which you can eat, and some people go to the garden to find these.
Sala Pasilor Pierduti (The Hall of the Lost Steps) The Al. I. Cuza university in Copou houses an exquisite hallway, in which you can get lost in poetic reverie. The hallway is empty, long and narrow, and its walls are covered with large paintings that allude to T.S.Eliot's Wasteland and have an intensely epic, allegorical and dreamy character. A lonely guardwatch protects the hallway, and the door is heavy, with small windows that let the light trickle in through dust. It is a lonely place, yet while school is in season it is tread by thousands of steps every day, which only make it lonelier. You might also want to explore the rest of the building. A piece of advice: freeing your mind from the confines of Euclidean geometry won't make it any easier to find your way through the place, but you will feel less frustrated when you find out you've changed floors just by crossing a seemingly level hallway. The classrooms use both the Arab and the Roman numbering system, which makes it hell when you're late for an exam, and learned men all agree that the third floor dissapears during full moon. You have been warned.
It is said that if you throw a rock in Iasi, you will break a church window. Despite the fact that Communism outlawed religion, Iasi is replete with churches and monasteries. Many of them are beautiful. The majority are of Eastern Orthodox denomination, however, they are richly decorated and sometimes surrounded by lush gardens. As you walk by, imagine the churches a hundred years ago as the centers of farming, peasant communities; the fruit bearing trees and domains around the church supported the clergy and nuns. In Iasi, the priests knock on every door at least once a year to sanctify your apartment for the new year in exchange for money. It is considered inappropriate not to open the door. When you enter a church, you can make the cross symbol on the doorstep; remove your hat, and don't wear any short skirts. On Sunday, sermon is sometimes held outside the church, broadcast by a loudspeaker, because inside there are few or no chairs. If you are extremely lucky, you will visit a church on the day of its 100 year anniversary. This is the only day in which women are allowed in the altar; Don't worry if you don't speak romanian, you won't have to say anything. There are no easy ways of finding out when these anniversaries occur, so if you really want to do this look up the dates when churches were first built.
Trei Ierarhi Church This church is completely covered in carvings. The church was once covered in gold, which was burned away to be stolen. Trei Ierarhi is frequently under construction. The atmosphere inside is musky and friendly, typical of East Orthodox churches. It contains several chandeliers with decorative ostrich eggs.
Metropolitan Church Be careful not to wear short skirts in this chuuch. The elderly are quite protective of in-church propriety. If you go in the summer, you'll enjoy vast rose bushes all around the grounds of the church. If you're thirsty, there is a water fountain at one end of the courtyard. There are always beggers at the entrance of this church, which is one of the most profitable for beggers in Iasi. Locally, this church is called "Metropolia". Metropolia contains the remains of "Saint Paraschiva", an important local saint. If you like chaos and celebrations, go to Iasi from 12-16 of October of any year. The city floods with peasants and religious pilgrims from Romania and abroad. The city completely changes during this period, and the Stefan cel Mare boulevard is almost impossible to walk through.
Golia Monastery This monastery is surrounded with thick fat walls and has a prominent tower; you can climb to the summit; It is located in "Targul Cucului" = "the Coockoo's market", which is right in the middle of the city in a very busy intersection. The constrasting serenity within the walls is almost unbelievable.
Rich Gypsy Houses The term rich gypsy may seem an oxymoron, and perhaps for this reason the few opulent gypsy mansions are worth seeking out. Unfortunately, they are not on maps. However, there are several on a street going from the main train station towards the smaller train station (Nicolina). There is a street which follows the railroad tracks very closely. Walk on this street, and you will see at least one such house. Gypsy houses are striking in contrast with Romanian houses. They are covered in sparkly, glittery materials. Their walls might be completely covered in metal, and have metal decorations which have questionable aesthetic but much cultural value. If you see a shiny metal house, it's a gypsy house.
Extremely poor gypsy/romanian housing areas There are still pigs in Iasi, though not as many as in Bucharest area. There are also chickens and cultivated vegetables, sometimes extremely close to downtown. If you really want to find them, you could break onto the roof of a communist building and look in every direction. Pick out the greenest looking hill (these houses have plants) and walk there. Alternatively, you can go south of the Tatarasi neighborhood.
Abandoned summer theatre Sandwiched between the Children's theater, the Palace of Culture and the Strand lie the ruins of a poetic outdoor theater; The fences and gates are not difficult to bypass, and beyond them you will find a small kingdom ruled by stray dogs; The place radiates from the past, glowing with white benches and dirt; it is covered in leaves, surrounded by trees, and sheltered from unruly eyes;
Releu - an ancient sea bed "Releu" refers to a large antenna in general, but in Iasi there is a particular one which you'll be directed to if you ask locals. The Releu is a popular picnic spot, and offers a gorgeous view of the city. It is located in a strange area, which is half village half French Riviera; This means that peasants, cows, chickens and dogs still live here, but that some of the properties are being bought by rich Europeans and converted into villas. The two ways to get to the Releu are by maxi-taxi and by taxi. The taxi or maxi-taxi will leave you at the edge of the street, and you'll probably feel like you're in full blown countryside. Look for the giant antenna, and go to its base. You'll have to walk on dirt roads, but it's pretty. From the antenna, look around, and you should be able to find a crevasse (it's really rather large, like a semicircular cut in the hillside). You can see some caverns dug into the side of the hill. Go down into the semicircular cut (it's an easy walk) and go up to the wall. You can see many shells and remains of a calcarous ancient sea bed which used to cover the entire area. If you're adventurous, you can find caves in the area, some of which are quite large. There are ancient legends that tell of the locals running away from invaders in these caves and sheltering their riches. Most of the locals believe the caves to be fictitious, but they do really exist.
Explore abandoned Communist Factories
Go swim in the locals' dippin' spots In the summer, Iasi experiences extreme droughts and relentless heat, so the locals escape to swimming holes. The most popular one was the "Strand", which was an outdoor swimming pool in the middle of the city. The pool has been relocated as a big real estate project called Palas started to be built in the area. Some people also swim in the Ciric and Venetia lakes and river which lie north of the city. These are lakes, not swimming pools; there is no lifeguard, but there also are no rules. check the bottom depth before taking a plunge. Also, the water is full of strange microorganisms and who knows what else...the local kids seem to be all right, but two-headed fish have been seen in the Ciric lake more than once. You can also swim in the botanical garden, in the pool at the bottom of the hill.
Visit the Coca Cola bottling plant The Coca Cola bottling plant lies at an extremity of Iasi, and is surrounded by relicts of the Industrial Zone; If you can, schedule a tour and you will not be disappointed; You might have to be persuasive and figure out loopholes, but ten years ago the plant allowed school children to visit en masse, and they had a room equipped for the purpose of coca cola indoctrination; Coca Cola, like many other western products, went from a trickle to an effluvium, inundating all aspects of post communist society. You can buy coca cola everywhere, although it tastes different from the American variety.
Visit ANY power plant you are allowed to Admission has been denied, but the situation changes frequently. If you're lucky, you could visit the clothing and shoe-making factory (at the Tesatura intersection, next to Podu Ros towards the industrial zone), the sewage treatment plant, the bread and pasta factory (the pasta more or less drips from a balcony onto an assembly line below).
Iaşi is famous for its nightlife. If you go towards the University you will find a lot of students wondering around or having a beer.
Most popular discos and clubs are full until morning during during University periods. Check out the discos "Faraon", "Byblos" and "Viper" even though there are much more that are popular.
If you are looking for something to read, there are two bookstores in Piata Unirii, in the center. Junimea has several books in French, while Libreria Humanitas has some books in English. It has its own website too: http://librariilehumanitas.ro.
Go to the Mall! (which is close to Podu Ros, along the Bahlui river). This mall is rather elegant, and houses several eateries which are european-priced and far from traditional romanian food, but if you're out to spend money this is as good a place as any;
the Bazar! This is a purchasing junkyard, curiously popular with the locals. Most of the stuff sold here is reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and is probably produced in the same Chinese factories. The Bazar is underneath the land bridge which connects Podu Ros to Nicolina. You can find jeans, sneakers, plastic toys and trinkets of all varieties here.
Pizza Pazzo, Bd. Tudor Vladimirescu, Nice atmosphere and Italian cuisine located in the student district of Tudor Vladimirescu. Reservation might be necessary as the place is vivid and full of customers almost every evening. Occasionally you might get lucky to try their lasagna, although a parmigiana plate is also a good choice beside pizza. Serve with draught beer and be there with friends.
Phenicia, Str. Sulfinei, nr. 13, Lebanese restaurant with moderate prices. This would be the place you'd want to make a nice impression by getting out to an exotic cuisine, though Lebanese might not be that rich in options.
Cucina Casalinga, Costache Negri nr.60, Italian restaurant with very good pastas and pizzas, located behind Moldova Mall shopping center. Prices are mid-range to splurge. No credit cards.
Aad's Place , Bd Carol 48, Restaurant and fast food with Dutch specific, located in the Super Copou complex close to M. Eminescu Park. They serve good Dutch pancakes either salted or sweet and are non-smokers friendly.
Belvedere, Sos. Bucium 103A, Small cozy restaurant with a lovely terrace on the exit to Vaslui. Food is good and prices are budget to mid-range. Occasionally you will be disappointed that the kitchen is closed. No credit cards.
Restaurant Bar Baron - Str. Sfantu Lazar 52. It's beyond the Culture Palace. You have to walk for a while, but the pub is very nice and they serve good beer and good food for reasonable prices. You may want to give this place a miss unless you want to be in the company of some very dodgy local characters. There are plenty of decent nosheries in the center of the town, no need to stray this far for utterly forgettable food and bad company.
Restaurant Monte Carlo - Fd. Codrescu 5, near the Al. I. Cuza University. A quiet, not very well-known restaurant with a lovely ambiance, serving both international and traditional food for reasonable prices.
Sage is a place you don't want to miss. It is located in the old "Mihai Eminescu Library" building and it has lots of tea sortiments from all over the world. There's also newspapers and books you can read, a piano and social games that you can borrow for free. The personnel also speaks english and, when the owner is in, people have been known to get freebies. Very nice atmosphere.
Hand is a 19th century house converted into an intimate, rock-oriented bar. Head from Piata Unirii to the railway station, following the tramway tracks (take the left turn when they bifurcate) and you'll soon find it.
Clubul Presei (The Press Club) is situated in the basement of the Gulliver Block (first tall building on the Stefan cel Mare boulevard starting from Piata Unirii), on the side opposite to the main street. Look for the yellow door with the ramp leading to it. Though not exactly a metal bar, it's a meeting point for metalheads and other alternative types, since it serves some of the best mulled wine in Iasi. You might want to stick to the small serving, though. It can make you much tipsier than you'd think. If you want to play it safe, go for their special, brandy-and-whipped cream hot chocolate. Oh, and try to avoid the toilets. If you've lived in, or traveled extensively through Eastern Europe you've seen much worse, but there's still no need to subject yourself to that mess.
Hotel Turistic Casa Bucovineana ** - Str. Cuza Voda 30. Tel./Fax 0232 222913, website http://www.casabucovineana.ro. It's a cheap hostel, compared to the standards of Iaşi. A single room is 70 RON/night while a double room is 100 RON/night, all with a shared toilet. The place is not very nice, you can also feel the vibrations of the tram passing on the main street, but you are in the very center of the city and in each room you have TV and a DVD player.
Hotel Sport - Str. Sf. Lazar 76. Double room with shower 101 RON/night, no singles. A bit dodgy, but not altogether dismal. TV in each room. Located up a little allyway next to the Sala Polivalenta sport complex, take bus number 41 or 28 and get off at Sala Sporturilor.
Grand Hotel TRAIAN Unirii Square. This is "the" posh hotel in town. It is located in a recently refurbished building of XIX th century, an architectural masterpiece of French architect Gustave Eiffel that was inaugurated in 1882 as the "Traian Grand" Hotel. Prices are moderate compared to the luxury you get, ranging from 130 euro for a double to 350 euro for the royal apartment. http://www.grandhoteltraian.ro/
Hotel Astoria - Str. Lapusneanu 1, next to Piata Uniri. The mid-range business replica of Traian. One double room is 250 RON/night.
Pickpockets are a problem in Iasi. Pickpockets don't advertise their strategies, but you should keep your money in a travel pouch tied around your neck and on the inside of a shirt if you want to be confident of its safety. Pickpockets are mainly around the main train station area, and target mostly people with lots of luggage, especially when trams/busses are full.
The best strategy is to always check for suspicious groups of persons around you, and to just move if you see them surrounding you. Don't argue with them or start a fight if you find them with a hand in your pocket. Don't call someone out on their pickpocketing; chances are that you will not get the crowd rallied in your favor, and might cause an unnecessary aggravation for yourself. Simply leave.
Do not go to the train station area at night if you want to avoid visible hints of prostitution.
Beggars can be persistent; Remember, just because someone is begging doesn't necessarily mean they are truthfully poor or as disabled as they appear. Judge for yourself. If a gipsy approaches you trying to read your palm, guess your fate in a shell etc, don't be surprised if you encounter hostility. Don't worry, you will probably not be attacked.
Try to travel in the well lit areas at night, which allow you plenty of mobility . Iasi is a lot cleaner and feels a lot safer now than it did ten years ago, as if the questionable nightlife has become muted.
Don't antagonize the packs of dogs. If you are being followed by dogs, don't be aggressive; they're probably doing their own thing; however, if you find yourself threatened, do not run away. yell, throw rocks, try to kick etc; don't take away their food.
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Colin Jensen, Cristina Domnisoru, Peter Fitzgerald, Alexandru Rugina and Alessio Damato, Wikitravel user(s) Tatatabot, Morph and Hypatia
This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at View full credits