Holiday season is in full swing and you are probably trying to figure out where to go next. If you are not a fan of the summer all-inclusive resorts or busy streets of classic Bucket List destinations, we’ve got a perfect place for you. Minsk, the mysterious capital of Belarus, still remains one of the undiscovered and underrated destination of Eastern Europe. The city evokes the Soviet gloom but the soviet character may actually be one of the main reasons why you should travel to Minsk.
How to get to Minsk
There are many ways to travel to Minsk. If you have some spare time to arrange a visa, hop on a train from Baltic States or from Poland; the train journey is an adventure on its own. However, the best way to get there is to fly: there are direct flights from London with Belavia, the national carrier of Belarus. You can also fly indirect with LOT, Air Baltic, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and KLM/AF. The advantage of getting there by air is the new VISA FREE RULE that allows foreign citizens of 74 countries to enter Belarus for up to 30 days through the State border checkpoint “Minsk National Airport”. It is important to remember this does not apply though if you are flying from Russia.
Is Minsk safe?
It seems that all travellers to Eastern European countries tend to worry about their safety. To be fair, it is understandable as we always fear what we don’t know and the more East we go, the harder the accent becomes. But in reality, Minsk is one of the safest destinations you can travel to! Main attractions are mostly located in the city centre and you don't need to wander into residential areas. All major streets are wide and illuminated when it gets darker. So, even at night, you can feel safe in the capital of Belarus. And really you will not find friendliest locals anywhere else!
You should use the typical precautions, be careful in the crowded spaces (metro, shopping centres), but using common sense will be enough to keep you safe.
Where to stay in Minsk
As the city is getting more and more popular to visit, there is a great choice of hotels. But the best place for a short break should be the 3-star Monastyrski Hotel. This charming hotel, located within a converted monastery is as atmospheric as it gets. No need to retire to your room for an evening of solitude though; the hotel is right in the middle of the Old Town and very close to some of the best bars and cafes.
The Soviet Minsk
About 80% of Minks was destroyed during WWII, The city was rebuild as a completely new space –that’s how Minsk got its spectacular, grand Soviet architecture. To see the best examples of the Soviet past, take a walk along the Independence Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare; here you’ll see Belarusian Government Building with Lenin Statue in front of it, Victory Square, KGB Headquarters or Main Post Office as well as the real gem, the National Library, voted officially as the “ugliest” building in the world. As an architectural creation, it’s divisive but unforgettable, with its weird rhombicuboctahedron structure sitting on top (if you will not be amazed by its architecture, you will at least master a word rhombicuboctahedron).
Government Building and Lenin Statue
You will see more great architectural gems beyond the main avenue: the National Theatre, tall blocks of flats or the mighty Soviet bas-relief above the KFC restaurant. You can engage in a game of who can spot more hammers and sickles; as Minsk is still called the last bastion of communism, you can be sure to find quite a few.
Explore Minsk’s dark history through its astounding memorials. Visit the Victory Monument and look out for the changing of the guards at its Eternal Flame…Understand history from a different perspective at the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum and pay your respect to the soldiers who perished in the nine-year conflict involving Soviet forces in Afghanistan at the Afghan War Memorial On Island Of Tears.
As any self-respecting Soviet cities, Minsk is home to the impressive GUM department store (GUM stands for “main department store” in Russian). The Minsk GUM was founded in 1951 and is one of the oldest and largest in the city. Here, you can literally find just about everything but, unlike in the modern shopping centre, many of the items are hidden in the glass case or behind the counter…you will need to get out your phrase book out to speak to the shopping assistant. Even if you do not plan to buy anything (although I can guarantee you can get some fantastic souvenirs here as well!), pop in just for a short time to admire the three floors of the Grand Soviet style and for one of the best panoramas of the Independence Avenue.
Find your green space...if you've got time
Minsk is not only concrete! If you are seeking asylum from the hustle and bustle of the city, head to one of many parks or gardens. Some of the most popular ones, located in the centre, include Park Pieramohi, Yanka Kupala Park or Gorky Park.
Wander around the Old Town
The Minsk Old Town might be small but it is really charming. You can find here the town hall as well as a few old churches and museums. The area is alive until late hours, in Summer and in Winter alike. Wander around the Trinity Suburb, an old picturesque part of Minsk located on the bank of the Svisloch River. Its cosy little streets and houses, with tile roofs and delicate colours, have become a symbol of Minsk. Many buildings located in Trinity Suburb house museums, antique shops, souvenir stores, cafes, restaurants and art galleries.
Minsk is home to a delicious rustic Belarusian cuisine.
Lido, a typical traditional Belarusian restaurant in the style of a canteen, has been famous for generations as a friendly and cheap eatery. You can try the cold beetroot soup, cutlets and, of course, the potato pancakes, famous draniki. Talaka, an eclectic cellar restaurant with a hunting theme offers magnificent food and unusual atmosphere. Tables are made from old beds and carriages and the food – tasty local cuisine. Another one to try would the unique Grai café with hearty soups, pork cutlets, large chicken dishes and yes! Draniki!
For lunch, pop in to Depo, the cosy café in Kastryčnickaja street for some pancakes with goat cheese, salmon and arugula and the most picturesque views of Minsk.
Day trip to Mir and Nesvizh Castles
The imposing Nesvizh castle, one of the Belarussian UNESCO World Heritage sites, built at the end of the 17th century, is situated in a beautiful park and features a large collection of the Radziwiłł family fortune and assets. The nearby Mir castle, also on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is one century older and looks much more fortified. It has a very interesting history, being owned by many different families, and during the WWII it briefly served as a Jewish ghetto. Both castles are fascinating not only for history buffs and offer a nice break from the hustle of the Belarusian Capital.
Visit Minsk and the castles of Mir and Nesvizh with the Weekend city break visa free. If you’ve got more time, let us tailor make a luxury stay, Military tour, Pilgrimage route or a fantastic active kayaking holiday (Belarus is home to over 20000 rivers!).