The majority of things to do in Moldova are centered around the country’s rural areas and wine regions, although its cities have sites of historical importance and a few good museums. The main attractions are the rugged, forested countryside itself, perfect for hiking and walking, and the many monastaries spread across the land. Lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and many other natural wonders give great opportunities for viewing wildlife, birds and indigenous fauna.

If you’re planning to travel off the beaten path – and most of Moldova outside the cities is off that track – getting a guide is the best idea unless you happen to be fluent in Russian or Romanian, the two main languages here. Most travel agencies in the capital can provide this service and you’ll learn far more about this unusual destination if you’re accompanied by a local. One don’t-miss spot is the local market, both for unique, authentic souvenirs and for people-watching.

Although tourism in Moldova is in its infancy, there’s a lot to see and do, both in the official and unofficial areas of the country, beginning with an orientation session in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau. It’s an interesting city, with pretty Cathedral Park home to the Cathedral of the Nativity and six more parks ornamented with lakes, monuments and woodlands. As well as the three main museums, the city offers the Pushkin Museum in the house occupied by Pushkin during his exile from Russia and a military museum crammed with Soviet-era munitions including a MIG fighter jet and tanks. Tours are offered by Moldova Travel and WHL Travel.

Arranging a visit to fascinating, communist Transnistria is somewhat of a chore unless you take an organized tour which deals with officialdom, bribes and random searches by the Russian or Ukrainian military. Transnistrian Tours is a pioneer in making a visit here a delight rather than a hassle, focusing on the tiny region’s culture and history, arranging accommodation in apartments and peasant homes and coping with language difficulties. Exploring Transnistria has to be one of the most unique experiences in Europe and takes in monuments to Lenin, charming villages, Soviet-style architecture, and the region’s rich history.

Another way to get an overview of this remote world is provided by Soleil Tours, a Chisinau-based company offering excursions and multi-day tours to the many ancient monestaries in Moldova, the Soroca Fortress, and the massive, ancient complex of Old Orhei, inhabited for 2,000 years by a ruined Mongol city. Much of the activity centers around walking, with comfortable shoes an essential, and one of the most appealing destinations is the pilgrimage center of Saharna for its footprint of the Virgin Mary.

Guided outdoor activities in Moldova include biking and kayaking, as well as hiking, with one of the country’s most unusual geographic features is the One Hundred Knolls, set 125 m from Chisinau. There are actually 350 knolls, the remnants of a now exposed sea displaying formerly underwater coral reefs and other ancient seabed formations. Explore Moldova offers guided treks around this unique landscape, as well as visits to the ancient beech forest of Plaiul Fagului.

The Roma "capital" in Moldova is set on a hill in the city of Soroca, and the neighborhood is crammed with extravagant, glittering villas in true Roma style, topped by the residence of the Gypsy King, who not only rules the settlement, but all 30,000 Soviet Union Romany people, a position he inherited from his father. Private Guides offers interesting visits to Soroca Castle and the Gypsy Hill.