Transnistria is breakaway region of Moldova and de-facto state only officially recognized by three other breakaway nations (Abkhazia, the Republic of Artsakh and South Ossetia) and unofficially by Russia through diplomatic relations. What’s so unique about Transnistria is that the country gained independence in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union. They fought an independence war with Moldova, and while Moldova joined the world order as an officially recognized independent state, Transnistria remained a communist dictatorship. Prior to Moscow’s fall, all of these regions were apart of the Soviet Union, and while the “evil empire” is no more, Transnistria is the last remaining relic of an era long gone. Transnistria is still a Soviet-style communist state isolated from the rest of the world in Eastern Europe.
With a description like that, you can clearly see why I wanted to go. Traveling to Transnistria was like going back in time to a place where the Soviet Union never collapsed. Life as everyone knew it continued on. From the border guards wearing hammer and sickle regalia armed with AK-47s to the Khrushchyovka low-cost Soviet-style apartment buildings, I am so glad I was able to explore this strange land by visiting the capital, Tiraspol.
Transnistria rarely sees foreign tourists, but in recent years the border situation has improved dramatically with infrequent reports of hold ups or bribes. In my personal experience, I had absolutely no issues visiting; however, I could have just gotten lucky. Before going, I would definitly suggest reading more on border procedures that I won’t cover in detail. But before I mention how to get there, I want to talk about the most interesting things to do in Transnistria.
Getting Some Transnistrian Currency
Your first stop should be to grab some Transnistrian currency from any of the multiple money exchanges all around town. Transnistria has its very own currency! How often can you claim to have some money to a country that technically doesn’t exist? Furthermore if you want to buy anything in Transnistria (besides the bus ticket home) you will need their local currency.
De Wollant Park
De Wollant Park is a nice place to walk around and enjoy a sunny afternoon in Transnistria. This is also the best place to people watch and observe locals going about their lives in a Soviet dictatorship.
My personal suggestion to save time is to ask the marshrutka driver to drop you off before the train/bus station so that way you can walk right down to De Wollant Park and the river front area along the Dniester river. This way you can walk through the city on your way back to the bus station and not have to double back.
Monument to Suvorov
Across the street from De Wollant park is the massive Monument to Suvorov – the Russian general who founded Tiraspol in in 1792 after the sixth Russo-Turkish War incorporating Tiraspol into the Russian Empire.
I Love Tiraspol Sign
Don’t forget to get a picture with the “Я люблю Тирасполь” sign! Its just across the street from the Suvorov monument. You can’t miss it. The majority of the sights, shops, and restaurants in Tiraspol are along the “25th of October” Avenue running through town. After enjoying the park, the best route would be to continue up this street towards the next sight.
House of Soviets
While there isn’t much to do at this creepy building, no visit is complete without a picture of Lenin’s bust.
Corner of Karl Marx Street and Lenin Street
Perhaps one of the most unique and least known “attractions” in Tiraspol is the most Soviet street corner in existence. There are in fact two streets in Tiraspol called Karl Marx St. and Lenin St. – and of course they meet together for a fun picture on the corner of Karl Marx and Lenin.
Before I actually reached this intersection, I wanted to take a photo of just Karl Marx street when I was a few blocks away from Lenin. I saw a sign on a nice looking building and went to take the photo. Little did I know that I was actually talking a photo of a police station! Within seconds two guards jumped out and started yelling at me to delete my photo. I quickly pressed delete and showed them I had nothing else. After verifying, they let me go, but man was that scary!
Finally on the way out, don’t miss Kirov Park. There isn’t much there, but the traditional Russian Orthodox Church is quite beautiful.
Getting to Tiraspol
As I said earlier, I had no issues visiting Transnistria. I was staying in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, so from my hostel I made my way to the Central Bus Station which also happens to be located right next to the central bazaar. Around the back of the new modern looking building, there was a ticket window selling tickets to Tiraspol. Marshrutkas (Russian-style vans) leave very often so as soon as I purchased my ticket, I was directed into one nearly ready to go. There are marshrutka as this bus station going all over Moldova, but its easiest to just find the ticket window. People generally buy tickets at the cashier rather than on board in Moldova though not always.
From Chisinau, the ride was about an hour and a half, and as I mentioned before, I asked the driver to let me off earlier so I didn’t have to double track from the bus station to see the city. When I was finished sightseeing, I went to the main bus/train station and bought a return ticket using Moldovan Lei – you can also use Transnistrian ruble.
Despite horror stories, crossing the border was a breeze for me. When our marshrutka got to the border, those with foreign passports (which was essentially me and a few Ukrainians) had to get off and step into the check point office. Within a few minutes of looking at my passport, I was issued an entry permit printed out like a receipt from a computer on a small piece of paper. It is extremely important that you get this paper before you enter as you will need it to exit. You can only stay in Transnistria for 10 hours unless you have a hotel reservation. They will ask you this at the border and if not issue you a temporary entry permit. This entry permit notes the time you came in and time you must leave. There isn’t 10 hours of things to do in Tiraspol so its ideally a day trip unless you plan to visit some other smaller cities as well.
On the way back out, a soldier got on our van and asked to see everyone’s passport. When he saw mine, he verified that the details matched my entry permit and let us on our way.