Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe; boarded by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Minsk is the capital and most populous city. 40% of Belarus’ area is forest. Belarus declared its Independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union was dissolved. Prior to that, Belarus was part of the Soviet Union and was known as Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. During WWII, Belarus lost about quarter of its population and half of its economic resources.
I have a serious interest in former Soviet Union countries; I visited many of them and found a deep connection with their culture. They are exotic and mysterious as they were behind iron curtain for many years but they recently started to open up and show the world a lot of their inner beauty. In the last few years, I am glad that I discovered so many fascinating things about a culture which I didn’t know much about in the past.
Belarusian people have their own national culture but they also have a lot in common with their Russian and Ukrainian brothers; they were living in the same country/empire for many years so they have a common history, traditions, habits and they all communicate using Russian language. Belarus was the 9th former USSR country I visited (I have visited 2 more former USSR countries later after this trip) and I truly found the city of Minsk interesting and worth visiting.
Minsk is a very clean and organized city. In fact, it’s one of world’s cleanest cities. People I met and interacted with in Minsk were extremely polite, considerate and respectful. Minsk is a very affordable city to visit and a very safe city to travel to.
Belarus is generally a country that is out of comfort zone of an ordinary traveller so expect to put some extra effort to get there and to understand how things work there. It is still a developed and modern nation though but there are a few things there which are slightly different and you need to have such expectations before you head there.
In the past, holders of EU and North American passports needed a visa to enter Belarus and they had to apply for an expensive visa in advance. Thankfully, the procedure has become a bit simplified as citizens of these countries don’t need to apply for a visa in advance to visit Belarus anymore. However, the only way to get a 30 days visa free travel to Belarus is to land and leave from Minsk International airport providing that visitors don’t fly from or to Russia. For more information about the visa free entry to Belarus, click here.
I flew from Dusseldorf, Germany through Warsaw, Poland with Polish Lot Airlines. Once I landed, and before proceeding to passport control window, I had to buy an mandatory health insurance. When I bought it, I only needed to declare number of days I am planning to spend in Belarus, they did the calculation for me and then paid using a credit card (you can pay by cash). The approximate cost of the mandatory health insurance was around 1 Euro per day.
After collecting the medical insurance, I simply headed to passport control window. Expect the passport control officer to examine your passport thoroughly and to ask you some questions. My officer was friendly and he smiled when I said Hello in Russian language. He reminded me that I need to be registered if I am willing to stay in the country for more than 5 days. If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel will perform the registration for you so you don’t have to worry about it. If you are staying in an Airbnb apartment, the landlord must do it for you but some landlords aren’t familiar with the process so if you are staying in Belarus for more than 5 days, make sure to inform your landlord about it before you book your apartment. Furthermore, I believe that there’s a way to register online so you don’t need the landlord for that but check the government site for registration and double check. Anyhow, for more information about registration, click here .
Planning a trip to Minsk isn’t complicated yet it’s not a very simple process, especially if you are not used to all the visa and registration hassle. However, in my opinion, this shouldn’t stop you from visiting this great country. It is still worth it to visit Belarus.
Best time to visit
Without any doubt, it’s the summer! I visited Minsk in June, 2019 and the weather was incredibly perfect. It was a bit hot though (Temperature was above 30 degrees) but that was definitely better than below zero temperature in the winter. Minsk is still not as touristic as many other European cities so even visiting it in the summer doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be packed with tourists.
Getting to the city centre
If you land in Minsk airport (I assume you will land in Minsk airport unless you already have a Belarusian visa or you enjoy a visa free entry to Belarus), you will need about 45 minutes to reach the city centre by taxi and that would cost you around 15 USD. I recommend using Yandex taxi app, it’s very reliable and affordable. Minsk airport is located a bit outside the city so it’s not a short ride to the city centre. There is a cheaper way to get to the city centre which is bus (there is a bus every half an hour) and it costs around 2 USD and journey takes about an hour. You can buy a ticket from a kiosk; English language option is available and it accepts credit cards. Speaking of credit cards, I visited Belarus 3 times (twice in Minsk and once in Brest) and never needed to use any cash as credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, even at the metro, you just tap your credit card at the gate and that’s it.
Museum Strana Mini (Miniatures)
I had dinner in a great Georgian restaurant right after I have landed and next morning, the first place I wanted to visit in Minsk was this awesome miniatures museum. I booked a guided tour with a knowledgeable and friendly guide. I learned so many things about the country during my visit. The museum has more than 20 miniatures of major attractions in Belarus and that visit to the museum encouraged me to learn more about the history of other cities such as Brest which I visited later in February 2020. Museum ticket costs around 6.7 USD and a guided tour is for about 4 USD extra. It was worth it and I highly recommend it.
Belarusian state museum of the history of the great patriotic war
This museum is not only a must visit if you are in Minsk but it’s also one of the best WWII museums I have ever seen in my entire life. As I mentioned above, Belarus lost quarter of its population in the 2nd World War and the entire Soviet Union lost nearly 27 Million people. That’s one of the reasons why former USSR countries call it “The Great Patriotic War”. There are endless stories about that war, not only in Belarus but in all countries which were affected by it. The building is impressive and it’s one of the very few buildings where I spotted a Soviet flag still waving on top of it. I believe that the nation of Belarus has a peace and consolation with its Soviet past and of course, they will never ever forget those who lost their lives while defending their motherland. I admire such great values and I have a huge respect towards it.
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to history and war. Therefore, I will just leave you with the photos below:
Minsk Botanical Garden
I wasn’t planning to visit Minsk Botanical Garden but my beloved friend recommended it so we ended up going there and it was a great idea! Countless number of exotic plants and flowers from all over the world and the place is very quiet and peaceful! It was a little bit hot that day and I admit that I was complaining about the heat a bit but we still enjoyed it a lot. It was a very beautiful day. Once again, a photo can say a thousand of words:
National Library of Belarus is an “interesting” looking building that was built in 2006. Some people find it “ugly” but I guess I like the design. Unfortunately, I realized that I didn’t take any photo of the building from outside but if you want to see how it looks like, simply click here.
The view of Minsk suburbs from the observation deck on top of the building is beautiful and worth seeing. There’s also a little cafe next to the observation deck where we had a delicious dessert and Belarusian bottled ice tea (it was tasty). This huge library is less than 8 minutes walk from Uschod subway station.
During my stay in Minsk, there was a football game in the European Championship qualifying between Belarus vs Northern Ireland. It was an opportunity for me to visit a charming looking arena and was also a chance to board the Belarusian train and to be somewhere outside the city. Borisov Arena is the home stadium of Belarusian team BATE Borisov; they played in Champions League several times and they even managed to blow a huge surprise once by beating FC Bayern Munich 3:1. It’s an interesting looking arena and it was a cool game to watch. Belarus lost the game 0:1. Trip from Minsk central station to Borisov takes around an hour.
Food in Minsk
Food in Minsk was a great surprise! Prior to my visit, I had no clue about Belarusian cuisine; I only knew that Belarusian people are obsessed with potatoes. Well, that turned out to be true but there are also many other tasty and interesting dishes. On top of that, Belarusian people are incredibly friendly so expect to be well fed if someone invites you to their home and expect to gain some weight too 🙂
I tried many dishes and they were all delicious but if you are in Minsk, you must try Draniki (potato pancakes). I got addicted to pancakes and was having them everyday for breakfast.
Extra thing to do
I visited Minsk again in the winter and had the opportunity to spend a day in a spa called Riviera. It was one of the most relaxing days in my whole life. There are more than 12 different types of Saunas there; Finnish, Russian, Belarusian, Himalayan, etc … in addition to different swimming pools and baths. It is absolutely worth it to spend the entire day there when you are in Minsk. I highly recommend it.
Minsk is a great city and is definitely worth visiting for a few days. Remember, it was extremely difficult to travel to Belarus in the past unless you arrange for a visa in advance but that makes it a very exotic destination. It is an ideal destination if you are fed up with other touristic cities in Europe or if you are interested in Soviet history and the culture of Belarus and former USSR.
If you live in Europe, you can fly to Minsk cheaply with AirBaltic or with one of the major European Airlines (Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, Turkish Airlines) in addition to Belavia (Belarusian Airlines – I really like them), or even Ukraine International. If you live in the Middle East, I guess Turkish Airlines is your best bet. If you live in North America, probably Lot Polish Airlines is your best option. Anyhow, click here if you are looking for good deals via Skyscanner.
The city is affordable; public transportation is very cheap (metro ticket costs 0.35 USD) and taxi is also cheap. For a reliable taxi app, use Yandex taxi and avoid hailing for a taxi in the street as you might be charged extra, especially if you don’t speak Russian fluently. I found Minsk affordable but it’s definitely not as cheap as Moldova, Georgia, or even Ukraine and of course, prices in restaurants, cafes, and bars are very high for local people who live and work there.
About language, it’s true that many people don’t speak English there but most of young people do or at least they try their best to communicate with visitors. There are English menus in many restaurants and cafes; most of cafes and restaurants I visited had English menus but not all of them do. It’s a good idea to learn some Russian phrases and to learn how to read Cyrillic alphabets.
The architecture is mainly Soviet as the city was re-built after WWII so expect to see lots of Soviet style apartment buildings and very wide avenues. Yet, it’s very clean, organized, and everything there is functioning very well.
Minsk is a nice city but I admit that it lacks the charm which many capitals in Europe have. It is not a cosy city at all yet it’s a great city to visit that is full of interesting history, good value for money, beautiful nature, spotless clean, safe, and most importantly, it’s full of polite and friendly people.
During my stay, I stayed in an Airbnb apartment. I recommend using Airbnb in Minsk but before you go ahead and book, read the reviews carefully and make sure the place has excellent ratings. Luckily, the apartment I stayed at in Minsk was fantastic.
So book a flight to Minsk now and explore its beauty and mystery before it becomes more touristic and less real.