With its picturesque 55 meter (180 ft) clock tower, which offers great views over the city, Iași’s majestic Palace of Culture is the city’s main landmark. Built in Gothic revival style between 1906 and 1925, it features 298 rooms and hosts four major museums, all worthy of a visit. The History Museum of Moldova has a great display beautiful ceramics, such as enigmatic figures from the Cucuteni culture and bowls painted in earthly tones. History buffs will also appreciate the museum’s extensive collection of Dacian, Sarmatian and Roman artefacts, as well as a 70,000-year-old mammoth skull. Iași’s Art Museum, the oldest and largest in the country, has an impressive painting collection by Romanian and international artists, while the Moldova Ethnographic Museum gives visitors a glimpse into how the lives of the inhabitants of the area evolved over the centuries. The Stefan Procopiu Museum of Science and Technology should not be missed either, as it has an impressive crystallography section.
Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre
Dating from 1896, The Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre is the country’s oldest, and according to many, also the most beautiful. Its elegant and richly adorned interior, a blend of Baroque and Rococo styles, features a ceiling painted by Viennese painter Alexander Goltz decorated with nymphs and cupids. The curtain, also painted, shows an allegory of the three stages of life as well as an allegory of the Romanian Unification.
The 1418 electric lights and a huge chandelier with more than 100 Venetian crystal lamps, add a touch of elegance to the main auditorium.
Gheorghe Asachi Library
The Gheorghe Asachi Library is part of Romania’s first university, the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University. After it was nominated among the most beautiful libraries in the world by an internet poll, the library of the Technical University of Iași quickly became an internet sensation, taking everyone, except the locals, by surprise. They took pride in it since it was built, back in the 19th century. It was designed by Swiss architect Louis Blanc, starting from sketches by Petru Poni, a professor at the University of Iași and Minister of Public Education at the time. The library, which owns in excess of one million volumes, is open to visitors Monday to Friday. The paintings on the walls of the Hall of the Lost Steps, by famed Romanian painter Sabin Balașa, are also not to be missed.
Due to its significant elevation, the Elisabeta Esplanade offers great views over the city. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, it facilitated pedestrian transit in the area connecting the Iași Central Station, Copou Hill and the city centre. Interestingly, before the esplanade was built, the area, which was rich in clay, provided local potters in the nearby potters’ neighbourhood with the best material.
Moldavian Metropolitan Cathedral
Once called ‘the city of a hundred churches,’ Iași is home to several churches and monasteries that are still important religious and cultural centres. The Moldavian Metropolitan Cathedral, built between 1833 and 1839, was designed by Alexandru Orăscu, who also designed the University of Bucharest. The interior, painted by one of the most important Romanian painters, Gheorghe Tattarescu, the co-founder of the National School of Fine Arts of Bucharest.
The cathedral is one of the most important destinations for pilgrims, who flock to the city every October to honour the relics of Saint Parascheva, the patron saint of Moldova.
Three Holy Hierarchs Monastery
Considered one of the city’s most beautiful churches, it is covered in exquisite stone pattern work that seamlessly blends Georgian, Turkish and Armenian motifs. Due to the originality of the stone lacery, with over 30 non repeating decorative motifs, the monastery was included on the tentative UNESCO world heritage sites.
It was built between 1637 and 1637 by Prince Vasile Lupu and later restored, at beginning 20th century. The church contains the tomb of its founder as well as that of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the first ruler of the Romanian Principalities.
The Great Synagogue
Located in the city centre, this 17th century synagogue is the oldest in Romania. At the time it was built, religious buildings that did not pertain to the Christian Orthodox religion were not allowed to be taller than the Metropolitan Cathedral. That is why, it is believed the building was placed deeper underground so as to comply with the rule. Currently, the Great Synagogue is the only one still serving the city’s Jewish population, once very numerous. Service is held several times a week, provided that in attendance there are at least 10 men every time.
Iași Botanical Gardens
The Iași Botanical Gardens are both the oldest and the largest in Romania, covering 100 hectares. Located very close to the city centre, they provide a great retreat spot on hot summer days, thanks to the over 20 kilometres of lanes, extensive gardens and lake. The rose garden, in particular, includes over 600 varieties, making it the most valuable collection in the country.
With its old linden trees, Copou Park has a special place in the city’s collective memory. Allegedly, this is where Romania’s favourite poet, Mihai Eminescu, spent his afternoons under a tree writing his most famous poems.
The linden tree known as ‘Eminescu’s linden tree’ still stands tall, near the Obelisk of Lions, considered the oldest monument in modern Romania. The park also has a bust of Mihai Eminescu nearby.
Vânători-Neamț Natural Park
The Vânători-Neamț Natural Park is one of the few places in Europe where you can see the continent’s heaviest wild land animal, the European bison (Bison bonasus). Part of a re-wilding project, the 11.500 hectare reservation is home to a large population of bison, some living in a restricted area, and several in the wild forests.
For the region of Moldavia, the head of the auroch (a now extinct type of large, wild cattle) is a heraldic symbol, also found on its coat of arms. Although bison are not related, the locals treasure this gentle herbivorous animal nonetheless.