I had a sneaky feeling Belarus would get a visit on my first European voyage. Fast forward 92 days after entering the EU I found myself entering Belarus overland (at 2am). Luckily I was with a local who could help me out with things to do in Belarus.
One thing I wouldn’t be doing is taking a photo of the back of their leaders, Lukashenka, head. A law breaking activity.
This is my mini guide to Minsk and other bits of banter I come across.
Note: I visited Belarus from Sept. 5th – Sept. 23rd 2015.
- 1 Things To Do In Minsk
- 2 Interesting Things To Do In Belarus (not in Minsk)
- 3 Cultural Things To Do In Minsk
- 4 Where To Eat And Drink In Minsk
- 5 Getting Around Minsk And Belarus
- 6 What I Don’t Like About Belarus
- 7 Backpacker Accommodation In Belarus
- 8 Useful Resources For Travelling Belarus
- 9 Closing Thoughts
Facts About Belarus
- The Republic of Belarus is a land lock country, bordered by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine.
- It’s the last dictatorship in Europe.
- Belarus declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 25th, 1991.
- Minsk is the capital city with ~2,000,000 people (countrywide population of ~9,600,000).
- There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country:
- MIR Castle Complex
- Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park
- Architectural, Residential and Cultural Complex of the Radziwill Family at Nesvizh
- Struve Geodetic Arc
- Ice Hockey is the national sport. They hosted the World Championship in 2014.
Things To Do In Minsk
Minsk is the logical starting point in Belarus. It has a bunch of things you can do on the surface but that doesn’t mean you have explored the city at all, there are 2,000,000 there after all. The main sites to see are:
- Explore National Library of Belarus. It’s definitely worth a visit and is easily accessed via the efficient metro.
- Visit the Alivaria Brewery.
If you drink beer at all in Belarus it won’t take long before you devour a Alivara beer. Taking a quick glance on TripAdvisor I stumbled across the Alivaria Brewery Tour. After sending them an email they quickly said, come along at 6pm but the tour is only in Russian (I’m crazy to agree). At 125,000 it isn’t the cheapest activity in Minsk, but it was cool to see and of course you get a couple beverages at the end. If you are short on time I wouldn’t bother.
- Take In The Church of Saints Simon and Helena.
I was well and truly churched out at this point but it’s worth a quick trip for the snap at the least.
- Admire The KGB Building. My knowledge of the KGB is minimal other than remembering drinking KGB as a young teen (a ready mixed vodka drink). The building itself is impressive and if you’ve any interest in the KGB, check it out.
- Island of Tears. This is in the heart of the tourist district, and can be completed in 20 minutes or so. There is a main monument which has historical significance. There is also a statue of a lad with his penis out. Brides touch him for good luck on their wedding day. Why not?
- Go Round And Round The “Belarus” Eye.
The answer to London’s Eye is very cool for the pretty price of one euro providing you with some awesome city views. Located in Victory park, the park is definitely worth walking through.
- Watch A Game Of Ice Hockey!
The national sport of course. I went to Molodechno to watch a game, but checkout TicketPro.by to see what games are on while you are there. You can buy tickets at the stadium for a few euro. So cheap and who doesn’t want a ‘cultural experience’ right (Read my ice hockey trip report.)
- A walk along the main drags. If you are going to spend a day out and about in Minsk, walk a couple kilometres along the main roads that are so wide you never have to worry about bumping shoulders with anyone, win! You will see some of the modern buildings in Minsk. Even if you don’t know what they are, it’s still cool to check out.
Interesting Things To Do In Belarus (not in Minsk)
- Day Trips To The UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I had great plans to go to MIR Castle and Nesvizh Complex but both failed miserably. Rather than make up stuff about them, I’ll simply send you over to KatieAune.com who mentioned them on her trip.
- Visit Brest.
Brest is a historical town in the south west of Belarus, a few kilometres from the Polish border. Originally I went to use it as a base to visit the Bialowieza Forest but happily conquered all the things to do on TripAdvisor in Brest instead. It isn’t worth visiting the city on its own unless you are crossing the border to Poland but I can’t say anything bad about the city.
- A Day Trip To Zaslauje
You can get here by train within 45 minutes and explore the historic town (a.k.a a satellite city), which is pleasant for couple hours before heading to the lakes 2km NW and exploring the nearby villages packed with Dachas. The church you’ll come across in the town is awesome, as the only building surviving in the original town. You may stumble across some old bunkers from previous wars as well.
Cultural Things To Do In Minsk
I was lucky enough to attend a few events while I was there. Your best bet to find out if any of this stuff is going on when you visit is at (check the resources towards the bottom to find out the latest events in Minsk):
- Tattoo Festival: I hadn’t been to a tattoo festival before. With a 10€ entry fee it probably was the most expensive thing I did in Minsk. And no, I won’t be visiting a tattoo festival anytime time soon.
- Minsk City Day:
This is a day to celebrate the city each year (each Belarus city gets a day every year). I hung around the Rio De Minsk area, ate some food, listened to music, people watched, saw some street art. Great day.
Where To Eat And Drink In Minsk
- Zombie Bar (Z Bar):
Zombie Bar is awesome. You walk down the stairs and into a very dimly lit room with zombie like artwork on the walls. If possible walk straight past the bar to the comfortable bean bags and order the vegan burrito. Nom! Beers are cheap too though people can smoke inside which makes it nasty at times
- Kamjanica: This was a crazy little medieval we visited for a beer before heading home. If you’re into medieval stuff at all, check it out with decorations around the rooms and the staff in costume. She’s a fun wee gimmick but ultimately not a priority on your list of things to do in Belarus. What wasn’t fun is waiting 20 minutes for your change after paying the bill!
- Zhili-Bili (sounds like Hill Billy!): This bar was random. Went along two nights and both times Futurama episodes were on (repeating the same show). The vibe is wicked though given it’s near the Universities. The beer is cheap starting from 1€ for 500ml and you should definitely get a pizza when you go – amazing. Despite being a place for students, it is civil and you can talk to people across the table without the need to yell.
- London Cafe. Known as one of the few vegetarian/ vegan-friendly joints in the city drapping massive Union Jack flag on its wall. I have to say, it disappointed me with the veg/vegan options. There were hardly any. The beer is good though and if you’re travelling solo it’s a good bet you can meet an expat there.
- CANDY! Across the road from London Cafe, is a sweets (lolly) shop (not London). You will see the pink sign triggering images of candy in your mind. BUYER BEWARE: you might come out a kilogram or so heavier.
- Belarusian Supermarkets. Belarus is not the most vegan friendly place in the world. Thanks to insanely cheap prices at supermarkets for staple foods (and Anna being a choice cook) you should prep some meals yourself.
Prices in euros:
- less than 1€
- cucumbers less than 1€/kg
- tomatoes less than 1€/kg
- rolls for 0.25€
- quality bottles of beer around 0.75€ each
- chocolate bars less than 1€
- bread cheap as
- and all other snacks were pretty much 1€ max.
- Raw Cafe.
Now that I mention vegan food. A good vegan place to eat is called Monkey Food. At time of writing, they had no fixed location but you can find them at events around the city.
- Bonus: These vegan snack bars were 0.25€ each, and so good. Everyone should eat them. Try all the different coloured flavours too (I think the chocolate coating one is the best).
- Cyrillic Guide: The quickest path to start learning the language. If you can read the four words below, you are well on track to remembering the different rules from the guide.
The following includes most of the places I visited during my stay in Minsk:
Getting Around Minsk And Belarus
Wow, you have no shortages of transport options in Minsk. Buses, trolleys, trams, subway/metro, trains and route taxis are the six different forms of public transport.
All tickets (except route taxis) are 4500 BYR for a one way fare. On the metro you will need to purchase a ticket but the rest you can get away without paying/validating your ticket. If you’re caught, the fine is 90,000 BYR (€5), so it’s up to you. I prefer paying. The self monitoring system etc. on buses relies on honesty which should be encouraged everywhere. Honestly, I paid for maybe half of my bus rides due to the inconvenience of buying at ticket.
If you’re going outside of the city, trains and buses are you best options. Head on down to the station (bus and train are next to each other), buy a ticket and away you go.
What I Don’t Like About Belarus
September is towards the ‘end of tourist season’ but crikey it is frustrating trying to go to an attraction only to find out it’s closed when you arrive. Even after checking the website for opening days and hours etc. In Minsk, this happened at the Aqua Park, the Theme Park and a Museum. Niggly.
The lack of confidence in their English. Many of the people I interacted with weren’t confident in their English despite the school system introducing them to the language at a young age. The cause wasn’t helped by me sure. It takes two to tango, but there could’ve been some nicer interactions.
Backpacker Accommodation In Belarus
I was fortunate enough to stay with my friend Anna in Minsk for the first 11 days of my trip to Belarus. The rest of my time was spent at Hostel Revolution (Minsk) – review here, Good Morning Hostel (Brest) and Dream Hostel (Brest). Given the lack of hostel options in Belarus, I can definitely recommend all three options for the budget travellers (8€/night).
Useful Resources For Travelling Belarus
When people have asked me what Belarus is like, the easiest way to describe it is: Moscow’s slightly younger brother, without all the people. Moscow is certainly a lot larger (comparing the metro maps will confirm that), however the rest of the country felt similar. It is easy to get around and other than being flat, you can find everything you want from a land locked country. If you’re pondering what to do in Belarus, there is’t a whole lot of info available online but one you get there, you’ll be quietly surprised! Visit Belarus!