Have you ever heard of Belarus? Nestled in northern Europe between Poland and Lithuania, Belarus is an ex-Soviet country that is growing from strength to strength.
The introduction of a five-day visa free period for many nationalities has helped put Belarus on the map, guaranteeing its future as a tourist destination for intrepid backpackers.
If you’re heading to Belarus – most likely you’ll end up in the capital of Minsk to enjoy a cultural, historical and foodie experience. To help you plan your trip, here’s my top five attractions for a northern Europe city trip.
Learn about Minsk’s ex-Soviet history
The capital of Belarus features clean wide streets, majestic fountain filled parks, extravagant statues and a mix of modern, old and Soviet architecture.
The best way to learn about the history of Minsk and Belarus is by taking a free walking tour. Tours run in English and are held once daily, working on a tip basis. Times are dependent on the season.
The walking tour is a great way to learn about Minsk’s history and find the city’s gems.
You’ll visit the Victory monument, Old Town, Opera House, several churches and stroll through the city’s many relaxing parks such as Janki Kupaly.
It’s estimated about 80% of Minsk was destroyed in World War II and much of it was rebuilt from the 1950s onwards. The Opera House was one of the only buildings to survive but it did suffer significant damage. The good news is it was restored to its former glory and is now surrounded by a beautiful park. In the summertime, this park is filled with colourful blooms.
You’ll find lots of Soviet architecture in Minsk such as concrete buildings and wide boulevards – but you’ll also find a small patch of traditional Belarusian buildings in the Old Town. But it’s also not all concrete – the central strip features beautiful buildings along the tree lined boulevards filled with trendy cafes and restaurants.
Get a view of Minsk from the library
A trip to Minsk is not complete without a visit to the Minsk National Library. While opinions differ on the architecture on this building (it has been labelled as one of the ugliest buildings in the world), it is certainly unique.
You can take a lift up to the National Library’s Observation Deck for a view over Minsk for only a few dollars.
Try traditional Belarusian food
Did you know that Belarusians have come up with more than 100 different recipes featuring potato as the main ingredient?
While in Minsk, make sure you try some traditional food. There’s plenty of restaurants serving up local dishes – or you head to the Lido self-service style chain of restaurants. At Lido, each item is individually priced and you can choose what you want to try from a wide selection of Belarusian food such as the famous grated potato pancakes (dranikii) and cold beetroot soup (borshch).
Discover street art and trendy bars
Head to Kastrycnickaja Vul (vul means street in Belarusian) and you’ll discover Minsk’s largest concentration of street art – alongside a handful of trendy bars and cafes.
This is Minsk’s hipster district – and you’re sure to find the perfect spot for a budget-friendly beer or a coffee.
The street art murals have been created by both local Minsk artists and well as Brazilian artists. Pick up a city map and look for a graffiti can to find the street art murals across the city.
Roam the parks
One of the aspects I loved about Minsk was its beautiful parks and the general chilled vibe of the city. You could easily find a quiet park to stroll and take in the flowers, fountains, statues and even a ferris wheel. Do as the locals do and wander the paths through the parks or alongside the river, or sit on a bench with a good book.
Things You Should Know
- To be eligible for the five-day visa free period, you have to fly in and out of the Minsk International Airport. You can fly in and out from anywhere, however the cheapest flight is from Vilnius, Lithuania with Belavia Airlines or Air Baltic and will cost about €35 with a check in bag.
- When checking in for your flight to Belarus, you’ll likely be asked about your departure flight to sure it’s within the visa free period if you are getting a visa on arrival.
- You may be asked for proof of health insurance on arrival into Belarus.
- Belarus has a simple metro system with only two lines – but it’s handy to get across the city. The two lines service a total of 29 stations. You can buy a token for the metro inside the station.
- It’s easy to get from the airport to Minsk city centre. Simply look for the shuttle buses outside arrivals on the left hand side. You can asked to be dropped at the first metro station coming from the airport or the bus station. The trip takes about an hour. You need to pay cash for the trip to the driver. There’s a currency exchange counter inside the airport – Euros or Rubles are best. The shuttle buses run to a loose schedule and leave when they’re full.