The name of the city probably has its origin in the name of a boyar family called Botaş, whose name can be found in old records from the time of Prince Stephen the Great (late 15th century) as one of the most important families of Moldavia, records which trace it back to the 11th century.
The oldest item (to be dated precisely) found in the area is an Armenian tombstone dated 1350. The first mention of Botoşani in writing is the Chronicles of Moldavia by Grigore Ureche, which records a devastating invasion of the Tatars on November 28, 1493. The city was initially a market town, being placed at the juncture of several commercial roads; in the 16th century, it already had "the biggest and the oldest fair of Moldavia".
Large communities of Jewish and Armenian traders were present in this city starting with the 17th century. Jews constituted the majority of population throughout the 19th century.
It is also the location of A.T. Laurian National College, one of Romania's oldest (founded 1859) and most prestigious pre-university educational institutions.
Boasting a rich cultural life, the town of Botoşani has long produced major personalities in the sciences and culture. Botoşani natives like Mihai Eminescu, Nicolae Iorga, Georgeta Damian and Octav Onicescu have become major figures in diverse disciplines, and many have distinct claims to relevance not just within Romania, but on a worldwide level.
Ceomac Cantemir House (historic monument dating from 1800), today the headquarters of the "Ştefan Luchian" foundation;
"Nicolae Iorga" Memorial House, situated in one of the houses where great historian Nicolae Iorga passed his childhood. Two sections of the house hold a photodocumentary exposition and an exhibition of Iorga's first editions. Another section holds a regularly updated library of history. The Iorga family's salon boasts an interior dating from the final decades of the 19th century;
- "Octav Onicescu" Memorial Museum, realized in October 1995, houses the furniture that once belonged to mathematician and philosopher Octav Onicescu, in addition to his manuscripts, writings, diplomas, the books from his personal library, family photos, and decorations, offering an intimate portrait of a Romanian polymath;
- County Museum (Ethnographic section), housed in a fine example of late-18th-century architecture that once served as the house of Manolache Iorga, grandfather of the great historian Nicolae Iorga. Open to the public since 1989, the museum displays the most important elements of the area's rural culture; artifacts of the principal occupations (farming, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, and beekeeping), traditional crafts (spinning, embroidery, furriery, pottery), traditional costumes, and other customs and traditions specific to the Botoşani region.
- County Museum (Historical and Archaeological section), housed in a historic monument dating from 1913, presents in its 17 rooms the story of Botoşani's evolution from prehistory to the present. Exhibits include the first dawning of civilization in the region, the paleolithic era, the neolithic era (with Cucuteni ceramics), and the Bronze and Iron Ages. More notable displays include weapons of sharpened stone and bone, decorated pottery, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, seals belonging to the lords of Moldavia, and historic jewelry. The museum also includes artifacts from the oldest human habitation found in southeastern Europe, discovered in Ripiceni and partially reconstructed at the museum.
- "Ştefan Luchian" Art Galleries, the fine-arts section of the County Museum, pays tribute to Botoşani's rich artistic heritage, including the paintings of Ştefan Luchian, Octav Băncilă, and many contemporary artists; the works of many renowned illustrators, foremost among them Ligia Macovei, the most celebrated illustrator of the poems of Eminescu; the sculptures of Iulia Onila and Dan Covătaru; and the tapestries of Cela Neamţu, Aspazia Burduja, and Ileana Balotă;
- "Mihai Eminescu" State Theatre; the building was opened in 1914, partially destroyed by the bombings of 1944, and restored in 1958 and again in the 1990s. The theatre hosts a team of actors whose remarkable evolution was crowned by their winning of the Grand Prize at the International Theatre Festival in 2001 at Piatra Neamţ. The Grand Hall of the theatre also hosts numerous other cultural activities, of which the most notable are the concerts of the Botoşani State Philharmonic.
- "Vasilache" Puppet Theatre; home to a troupe of puppeteers appreciated not only in Romania but also abroad, as evidenced by their win at the International Puppet Festival in Silistra, June 2001. Every two years the theatre organizes the International Gala of Puppet Theatre, which brings to Botoşani the most prestigious names in puppet theatre, from Romania and abroad;
- Botoşani State Philharmonic, who generally perform in a 19th-century neoclassical building known as Vila Ventura, are renowned all over the county, its artists often finding themselves invited on a permanent basis to participate in concerts throughout Romania and abroad. The Philharmonic is the principal organizer of the series of tributes to George Enescu, tributes which benefit each year from the presence of the great personalities of Romanian art and culture;
- "Rapsozii Botoşanilor" Ensemble, a long-standing folkloric orchestra with a history stretching back for decades, presents a multitude of folkloric songs from Moldavia and the rest of Romania under the direction of its renowned leader, Maestro Ioan Cobâlă. The ensemble has long been associated with the greatest names in Moldavian folklore, such as Sofia Vicoveanca, Laura Lavric, and Daniela Condurache, and continues to nurture the next generation of folkloric talent. The artists of the ensemble are recognized nationally and internationally by virtue of their television appearances and their winning of numerous prizes;
- "Mihai Eminescu" County Library, housed in a building known as the "Casa Moscovici," a late-19th-century structure that combines French and German architectural elements in a unique synthesis. The library contains a collection of around 380,000 volumes;
- The Old Centre is the oldest part of the city from an architectural standpoint, bringing together a large number of commercial buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
A series of historic churches built by the Lords of Moldavia :
- Uspenia Church - founded by Elena Rareş, wife of the lord Petru Rareş, in 1552; the site of the christening of Mihai Eminescu.
- "Sfântu Gheorghe" Church - founded by Elena Rareş in 1551.
- "Sfântu Nicolae" Church (Popăuţi) - founded by Lord Ştefan cel Mare in 1496; the interior decorations date from the 15th century. The monastery itself is surrounded by walls, giving it the appearance of a small citadel.
Botoşani boasts many other constructions of special architectural value, among them: the Antipa House, from the end of the 19th century; the Bolfosu House, from the beginning of the 19th century; the Silion House, dating from 1900; and the City Hall, built at the end of the 18th century in an eclectic style with German influences.
- Botosánka is a dance of the Csángós.
- State Jewish Theater (Romania)