A city loaded with history and culture, Suceava was the throne of the Medieval Principality of Moldavia until the 1565. You can step inside the churches where the princes were crowned and see the unconquerable fortress they built to repel the Ottomans.
Suceava is also the jumping-off point for trips around the painted monasteries of Bukovina. These are eight UNESCO World Heritage churches with Byzantine architecture and beautiful murals on their outer walls. One is right here in Suceava, while the others will require a drive. But even if you stay put in Suceava there’s lots more to see, like a quaint outdoor village museum opening a window on life in the Bukovina region.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Suceava:
1. Fortress of Suceava
When the threat from the Ottoman Empire grew large in the 14th century, a line of fortresses was built all over Moldavia.
The man behind their construction was Prince Petru II of Moldavia, and the fortress in Suceava was beefed up in the following centuries by his successors.
Stephen III added the moat and the present indomitable defensive walls, which stood up to a barrage by Mehmed the Conqueror in the 15th century.
But the reason the Fortress of Suceava is in a stage of ruin is because it did finally succumb to the Ottomans in 1675 when a garrison of Polish Cossacks was overwhelmed and the complex was promptly blown up.
High on its plateau it endures as a symbol of Moldavian resistance with damaged but menacing walls, and visible remains of the princes’ apartments, storage rooms, a chapel and a great hall for the princely council.
2. Painted Monasteries of Bukovina
A group of Romanian cultural treasures is scattered across the Suceava County.
Most require a drive, but none are more than 60 kilometres away.
What they all share is spellbinding Byzantine architecture and outside walls that are painted with murals that have kept their vitality since the 16th century.
All eight merit your time and can be done on your own steam or on specially arranged tours.
But if you have to pick just one if has to be Voronet Monastery, 30 kilometres to the southwest.
The paintings at this monastery are still vivid and evoke scenes like the Last Judgment and the Ladder of St John, produced in 1547.
3. Muzeul Satului Bucovinean (Bukovina Village Museum)
You can sample village life in the Bukovina region without leaving Suceava at this open-air museum that has scores of real historical buildings.
These have been transplanted from villages around Bukovina and include a wide array of homes in various styles, along with an iron forge, water mill and farms.
Maybe the prettiest sight is a wooden church from the village of Vama, first raised in 1783. Together with a separate belfry, it was brought here in 2001 and fully restored by 2009. That water mill is also a joy, originating at the Humorului Monastery in 1870 and with a fully functioning wheel and grinding mechanism to make wheat and maize flour.
4. Mănăstirea Sfântul Ioan cel Nou (St John The New Monastery)
Part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site, this church is located in the centre of Suceava and from its completion in 1522 until 1677 it was the metropolitan cathedral for the whole of Moldavia.
Crested by a bell-tower with blind semi-circular arches, it was begun by Prince Bogdan III the One-Eyed and then completed by his son Stephen IV. The monastery’s patron is a 14th century Romanian saint whose remains are kept in a gleaming silver reliquary decorated with scenes from his life.
Weather-worn but still visible, murals painted back in 1534 still coat the external walls.
And it won’t take an art historian to decipher the paintings, which portray the Tree of Jesse and the Prodigal Son.
5. Dragomirna Monastery
Built after the painted monasteries, at the beginning of the 17th century, this church 15 kilometres from Suceava has an altogether more severe and warlike aspect.
Embedded in oak and coniferous hills, Dragomirna was built when Ottoman raids were commonplace, which explains its buttresses and high, plain defensive walls with arrow loops at the top.
These are the tallest fortifications in all of the Bukovina region and the church they conceal has Byzantine and Gothic architecture.
The exterior walls have the same blind semi-circular arches as the painted monasteries, while the interior has vaults with rib vaults in the western style.
The frescoes are on the inside here, in the nave and the chancel, while there’s also a museum with splendid Medieval liturgical treasures.
6. Mănăstirea Zamca
Suceava has had an Armenian presence since the Middle Ages after they had been forced to flee their homeland during the Mongol Invasion in the 13th century.
Known for their commercial prowess, in the 14th century Armenians were also offered tax exemptions to encourage them to settle in the Moldavian Principality.
The Armenian monastery on a plateau at the western edge of the city dates from 1606. Within the complex is the original church, two chapels and a bell tower all defended by earthworks and a rectangular system of walls.
The church retains all the regalia of an Armenian place of worship, with textiles bearing the Armenian Cross.
On the nave walls are traces of frescoes and there’s wonderfully intricate stone carving in its doorways.
7. Muzeul de Istorie (Bukovina History Museum)
In a Neoclassical building at Strada Ștefan cel Mare 33, the History Museum opened with a new layout in July 2016. The exhibition concentrates on the time that Suceava was the capital of the Moldavian Principality between 1388 and 1565 when it lost the privilege to the city of Iași.
From this period you can browse armour, weapons, coins and ceramics.
But throughout 27 rooms there’s also an entire chronology of the region, from Neolithic and Bronze Age statues and earthenware to reconstructions of bourgeois home interiors from the 19th century and shops in the 20th century.
8. Biserica Mirăuți (St George’s Church)
This Orthodox church was founded in 1375 under the orders of the Voivode (Prince) Petru I of Moldavia.
From then up to 1522 it was the coronation church for Moldavia, during which time it was also the metropolitan cathedral.
That status was lost after when the building was sacked, and the newly completed St John the New Monastery took on the role.
A full reconstruction didn’t take place for another 100 years, followed by a more complete renovation at the end of the 19th century.
This is when the current frescoes of saints and bible scenes were painted, while in the floor is a glass panel that lets you peer into the crypt.
9. Hanul Domnesc (Princely Inn)
The oldest secular building in Suceava still standing is this inn that can be traced back to the 1600s.
Hanul Domnesc was originally the property of Miron Barnovschi, the Lord of Moldavia who donated it to be converted into an inn to entertain members of the court, distinguished merchants and foreign dignitaries.
After Moldavia was annexed by the Habsburg Empire in 1775 the building became a hunting lodge for members of the imperial family and the court.
Since the 1980s the inn has contained the Bukovina Ethnography Museum if you still have an appetite for the region’s rural history.
10. Muzeul de Științele Naturi (Museum of Natural Sciences)
Right in the Parcul Central (Central Park) Suceava’s natural history museum opened in 1977 and has exhibitions in a wealth of disciplines, from botany to entomology.
But easily the most accessible displays are the dioramas revealing the natural world in Suceava and Moldavia.
If you’re OK with taxidermies, these include wild boars, deer, wolves and brown bears and have audio devices and screens to go into more depth about the plants and animals displayed.
Another big attraction is the Crystal Hall, which has a superb assortment of quartzes, calcites and fossils.
11. Curtea Domnească (Princely Court)
Amateur archaeologists may have their interest piqued by this site on Bulevardul Ana Ipătescu.
From the 14th to the 17th centuries this was a palace for the Voivodes of Moldavia.
Two of the rulers associated with the building are Stephen III who renovated the court after a fire in the 15th century, and then Vasile Lupu who made it larger in the middle of the 17th century.
But soon after Vasile Lupu’s death the palace was abandoned and was allowed to disintegrate.
More than 350 years later you can piece together the remnants of the palace, tower dwellings, main gate and annexe, all with 14th and 15th-century foundations.
12. Gah Syngogue
Suceava has had a Jewish population since as early as 1473, and at the beginning of the 20th century there were 18 synagogues and smaller Hasidic prayer rooms in the city.
All but one of these were lost during the Second World War and ensuing communist period.
The Gah Synagogue dates back to 1870 and continues to be used for services.
The finest piece of decor is the mural representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
To stay on the Jewish theme, there are two cemeteries in Suceava.
The Old Cemetery is noted for the high degree of workmanship of its tombs and dates from the 1500s, while the New Cemetery has graves from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
13. Planetariul din Suceava (Suceava Planetarium)
Established by the Museum of Bukovina, the city’s planetarium is now operated by the university and is somewhere to bring young astronomers on rainy days.
The main hall has Zeiss ZKP top projector that can show 6,000 stars and has side projectors that can illustrate moving objects like Galileo satellites, the Donati Comet and shooting stars.
On clear nights there are live stargazing shows at the dome atop the building’s tower during which you can looking into Saturn’s rings, see the surface of the moon in detail and observe nebulae.
14. Cacica Salt Mine
For something out of the ordinary head 40 kilometres west to Cacica where Romania’s best salt is mined.
The salt here is re-crystallised from brine and retrieved along tunnels that were first excavated by hand in 1791. There are 8,200 tunnels in all at this gigantic site, some of which are opened up to the public on 2-3-hour tour.
It can be a bit unnerving to know that almost 100 metres below your feet there are miners hard at work.
But things are even weirder when there’s nobody around: You’ll still be able to go down to look around an Orthodox chapel, Roman Catholic chapel, small man-made lake and, most surprising of all, a ballroom with balconies carved right from the salt.
While you’re monastery-hopping around Bukovina you could plan an hour or two at this village.
Marginea has won a reputation for its black clay pottery, and is just a few kilometres northeast of Sucevita Monastery.
The fired clay pottery-making technique is claimed to have been passed down from Geto-Dacian tribes 2,000 years ago.
Marginea was first put on the map for its ceramics in the 16th-century and has bounced back after owning a potter’s wheel became illegal during communist times.
If you’re in luck you’ll get to see Marginea’s potters going about their craft and can also try making a pot with your own hands.