Romania's fourth-largest city is a cultural delight. Bubbling with youthful energy, full of beautiful churches, bars, and restaurants, Iasi is a laid-back destination that's always a joy to visit.
Iasi's standout building is obvious: the Palace of Culture is a neo-Gothic treat and also home to four excellent museums: the Ethnographic Museum, the History Museum, the Art Museum, and the Science and Technical Museum.
Iasi's nickname is well earned. Everywhere you turn there are beautiful churches, including the Moldavian Metropolitan Cathedral, Golia Monastery, and the stunning Church of the Three Hierarchs.
One of the best things about Iasi is its green spaces. Whether you head to the botanical gardens (where there are 800 rose varieties) or Copou Park, there's no shortage of wonderful picnic spots.
Iasi once had a thriving Jewish community, and there are plenty of reminders, including the 17th-century Great Synagogue and Mountain Hill's Jewish Cemetery, along with an excellent Jewish Museum.
Iasi is packed with second-hand stores selling everything from vintage clothing to Communist-era memorabilia and antique tennis rackets. You never know what you might find.
Definitely the city's premier attraction, Iasi's Palace of Culture was built in the early 20th century, and for decades served as the main law court in town. However, more recently, the Palace has been converted into a massive arts complex which serves as the focal point for Romania's Moldavian community. The Art Museum on the Palace's first floor is the centerpiece, with masterpieces by big names like Caravaggio and Veronese, but don't overlook the History Museum, with its 70,000 year-old mammoth skull.
On a slightly smaller scale than the Palace of Culture, Golia is a sublime religious center at the heart of Iasi. It was built in the 16th and 17th centuries when Iasi served as the capital of an independent Moldavia, and must have cut a dash for visitors, with its soaring walls and turrets. Nowadays, it's well worth visiting for architecture buffs, but even more so for the views from the 30 meter tall Golia tower, and for the centuries-old frescoes which adorn the interior.
One of the city's proudest creations, Iasi's Botanical Gardens can be found a few miles north of the center in the leafy Copou neighborhood, and it's definitely worth making the journey from downtown if you get the chance. Opened in 1856, it's the largest garden of its kind in Romania, sprawling over 80 hectares that are filled with Romanian species, rose beds, greenhouses, orchids, and even some fearsome carnivorous tropical species. Apart from the rich collections, its lawns and lake make the gardens one of the most serene spots in town to relax and enjoy a picnic, too.
The seat of Iasi's orthodox bishopric, the Moldavian Metropolitan Cathedral is not quite what you'd expect from a church in the east. Although it has the usual cupolas (domes), the church was designed in a hybrid style, borrowing elements from Italian renaissance architects, resulting in a visually harmonious, original fusion. While you can tour the interior and see the sublime murals and statues, expect big crowds (and a vibrant atmosphere) in October when St Parascheva's relics come to town, bringing with them hordes of pilgrims.
A gorgeous 18th century building, the Roznovanu Palace has transitioned seamlessly from being a home to gilded aristocrats (and even the Romanian royal family for a brief period in 1892), to functioning as Iasi's city hall. And what a civic edifice it is. With its golden railings, interior painted ceilings and walls covered in silk drapes, it presents a cornucopia of visual delights, and visitors are always welcome.
Late spring and early summer is a great time to visit. It's before the intense heat of mid summer and the roses are in bloom. June also sees Iasi's Afterhills music and arts festival roll into town - with dance, art, and plenty of music.
Iasi International Airport (IAS) offers a range of European connections. From there you can take bus number 50 (RON2) or a taxi for around RON20.
The train from Bucharest to Iasi takes around 90 minutes and costs about RON20.
From Bucharest, take the E85 northbound, then switch to the E58. In all, it takes around 4-5 hours.
Massaro and Samson run buses run from Bucharest, while you can also take buses from the Moldovan capital Chisinau straight into central Iasi.
Standout hotels in Iasi include the 5-star Pleiada Boutique Hotel and the luxurious Unirea Hotel and Spa.
Piata Unirii - the hub of Iasi's shopping, Piara Unirii is the city's main square and also home to a number of leading local hotels.
Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt - running south from Piata Unirii, Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt is the main street in Iasi, and is home to the Cathedral and great eateries like La Baza and Taverna Music-Pub.
Tudor Vladimirescu - the main student district, Tudor Vladimirescu is unsurprisingly strong on nightlife too. It also hosts restaurants like Pizza Pazzo, as well as attractive parklands along the banks of the Bahlui River.
Buses in Iasi are a reliable and cheap way to get around, costing RON2 for a single ticket.
Expect taxis to charge around RON2 for the flag drop, then a further RON3 per mile after that.
Rental companies in Iasi include Nova and Green Rent a Car, and prices per day can dip to RON30.
City center malls like Hala Centrala are great places to shop for clothing or local foods, while alternatives include Era Pacurari in the far west of the city and Iulius Mall near the university.
Supermarkets include Profi, Auchan, and Kaufland, where 12 eggs will come to around RON6.50.
Iasi is experiencing something of a gourmet food boom right now, with options for everyone's palate. Check out Cuib, where raw and vegan food is on the agenda, La Castel, where there's a strong French influence and Buena Vista - an intriguing Romanian/Latin American fusion. Meals should cost around RON40.