Minsk, Chisinau or Tiraspol might not sound as alluring as Paris, Venice or Edinburgh, but those who have visited would argue that visiting these European cities are just as rewarding to visit. They won’t knock your socks off. However, the absence of mass tourism allows you to have a genuine travel experience, see real local culture and avoid a manufactured cultural experience.
Can’t pick between all the European destination options in your list? Opt for these three least visited European cities for your next trip:
Americans and most European citizens can visit Belarus visa-free for five days if they fly in and out of Minsk National Airport. Since the implementation of the visa-free travel program, Minsk, the largest city and capital of Belarus, had about 150,000 visitors in 2017. And the number is increasing.
Minsk is inexpensive and remains somewhat a mystery. Here’s why you should visit Minsk:
1. Shop in Gum, a Soviet-style departmental store. You’ll see female shop assistants wearing khaki uniform and beautiful staircases and columns.
2. Check out Soviet-style architecture including Lenin’s statue.
3. See the geometric-shaped National Library with eight million books. Go to the cafe on the 22nd floor for coffee and view of Minsk.
4. Eat the best potato pancakes (draniki) in the world – Belarus national dish.
5. Visit Mir Castle and Niasvizh Castle – both castles located about an hour drive from Minsk date back to the 16th century and are UNESCO-world heritage sites.
There is no direct flight from the US to Minsk. To get to Minsk, you can fly from Istanbul, Warsaw, or Vienna.
Chisinau is not particularly exciting or beautiful. Tourism in Chisanau is a work in progress which adds to the charm of this unknown capital and largest city in Moldova. Americans, Europeans, and most travelers don’t need a visa to visit Moldova. Moldova is yet to succumb to mass tourism.
Chisinau, the gateway is connected by trains and buses from major European cities. Chisinau Airport is served by over ten airlines.
Besides offering fantastic value, here’s why you should visit:
1. Stay at an authentic Soviet-style hotel that is still frozen in time like Hotel Cosmos. Hopefully, it will still stay the same for those who long to experience a piece of Soviet history.
2. See the light streaming through the stained glass windows at Nativity Cathedral.
3. Drink Moldovan wine – they are of high-quality and cheap.
4. Visit two of the world’s largest underground wine cellars – Cricova and Milestii Mici. Winemaking in Moldova dates back to 3000 BCE. To get to the underground wine cellar with 1.5 million bottles of wine stored, the driver will have to drive into the underground tunnel passing by the wine barrels, a small waterfall, and narrow passageways. An on-premise guide must accompany this tour.
A visit to Transnistria’s capital Tiraspol is like going back to an old Soviet state. Tiraspol is safe, clean, and the locals look genuinely happy and friendly. It’s not a city for sightseeing, and it can be categorized as one of the most off-the-beaten-path destinations in the world.
Not many people have heard of Transnistria. It’s a self-proclaimed country and part of Moldova until September 2, 1990. Officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, Transnistria has its currency (rubles), Soviet-style code of arms, national anthem, and president. And did you know that Transnistrian stamps are only usable within Transnistria? If you want to send a postcard from Tranistria to another country, you would need to buy Moldovan stamps.
Here’s why you should visit Tiraspol:
1. See hammer and sickle coat of arms everywhere.
2. Photograph Lenin’s monument in front of the Supreme Soviet Building and bust of Lenin at City Hall.
3. Visit a Soviet-style bookstore for Soviet memorabilia and Russian books.
4. Check out buildings from the Soviet era and old Soviet cars.
5. Try delicious Ukrainian food in Kumanek, Tiraspol’s top restaurant.
Overall, you’ll get an authentic experience of a place that is stuck in a bygone era.
Transnistria is sandwiched between Moldova to the west and Ukraine to the east. Tiraspol is about 50 miles from Chisinau and 62 miles from Odessa. The country doesn’t have an airport, so taking a flight to Tiraspol will not be possible.