Travel to Belarus

Nesvizh palace

In August 2018, I had the idea to take a side trip to Minsk on the way home from Norway. Obviously, I did not take the most direct return route, but I am glad I visited. When I started to plan my travel to Belarus, I contacted my friend Sveta to ask for some recommendations in and around Minsk. She gave me a lot of information about the sights and the food. Thank you Sveta!

During the tour of Mir Castle and Nesvizh Palace, our guide Natalya told us a lot about Belarus history and legends. Every statue had a story. It was fascinating! We three English speakers on the tour were lucky that our group moved quickly and we saw and learned a lot.

As I write this in January 2022, I am feeling lucky to have been able to visit a few years ago. Belarus is not considered safe now with the building military presence of Russia near the borders. The US Department of State has recommended not to travel to Belarus. Hopefully, one day it will be possible again because it is a beautiful country with so much history. The people were warm and helpful, and the food was delicious.

Independence Square, Minsk
Independence Square, Minsk
Sons of the Fatherland monument
Sons of the Fatherland monument
Cool Minsk graffiti
Cool Minsk graffiti

Highlights

  • Independence Square and Avenue
  • Trinity Hill
  • Svislach riverside walk
  • Statue Son of the fatherland on the Isle of tears and Crying Angel statue
  • Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum
  • Belarusian National History and Culture Museum
  • Gorky Park, same name as in Moscow
  • Janki Kupaly Park and Marata Kazieja garden square to see the beautiful National academic Bolshoi opera and ballet theatre
  • Belarusian National Arts Museum
  • Look at the interesting graffiti and street art around Minsk
  • Walk around Vierchni Horad (upper town) with old buildings and churches
  • Minsk cathedral of the Holy Spirit
  • The Cat museum with free tea and candies, and cuddling of some cats
  • Minsk résidence of the Psazdziecki family from the 1700s which is now the art gallery of Mikhail Savitsky
  • Visit the Kristal shop which sells their beer and spirits that are manufactured in the factory nearby
  • Visit Mir Castle and Nesvizh Palace using a bus tour such as ekskursii.by – beautiful places to see and scenery along the way
  • War memorial Khatyn- sad Nazi history but an interesting site to visit. I still remember the sound of bells, which ring every 30 seconds to symbolise the rate at which people died during the war. 
  • The Mound of Glory is a man made monument to soviet soldiers who fought in world war 2

Before you go

  • British & US nationals can enter for 30 days for tourism only by air at Minsk Airport, except if arriving from or traveling onwards to Russia then you need a special visa
  • However, as of January 2022, the US Department of State strongly advises against traveling to Belarus due to increasing Russian military presence at the borders
  • You’ll need to have proof of valid medical insurance before travelling to Belarus
  • It is possible to pay by credit card in most restaurants and for tours. However, you should warn your credit card company so they do not block the charges
  • The language is written in Cyrillic so a translator app like GoogleTranslate is useful. Some people spoke English but less than half at restaurants, cafes, etc
  • The National Theatre of Opera and Ballet and Belarusian State Circus are still closed in August, normally will reopen in September
  • For the cathedrals, it is polite for women to cover their heads
  • MTS is one of the mobile companies that sells pay as you go sim cards. I recommend to get one as they are cheap and make it easier to use maps and Uber
  • GoogleMaps was sometimes accurate, but a number of times the places were not quite at the indicated place so required some searching
  • Check out the art of Israel Basau and Aliaxandr Kanavalau
  • Some of the toilets are squat toilets but they were generally clean
Minsk Metro
Minsk Metro
Mir Castle
Mir Castle
Minsk cathedral of the Holy Spirit
Minsk cathedral of the Holy Spirit

Transport

  • I flew from Bergen to Amsterdam and then on Belavia to Minsk Airport. It was not possible to check in online in advance, but I was able to get the boarding pass in Amsterdam. It was a 2.5 hour flight and they served us a meal. Flying back was funny because the airport staff were not the helpful. Also there was no priority pass for the security and no lounge access with my Air France gold card
  • I walked around Minsk and during the day it felt really safe, with wide pavements
  • Uber works well in Minsk
  • There is also the metro system, which is clean, efficient and cheap
  • For destinations outside of Minsk I recommend small guided tours such as ekskursii.by. On the tours there were more local Belarusian tourist than foreigners. Lunch was included for the full day tour

Accommodation

  • At the time I was booking a hotel, my friend recommended a site called hotel.by so I ended up using that site instead of my usual Booking.com. You can also book directly through the hotel
  • I stayed at the Willing Hotel in Minsk, which is very central, comfortable, clean, and friendly. The reception staff were helpful and kind.
  • It is listed as a 3-star hotel and I would say it was comparable or even better than a western European 3-star hotel
  • There is parking for those who need it
  • In general, breakfast was not included in the rates. I preferred that since I was happy to try the local bakeries in the city
Statue of the only adult survivor of the Khatyn massacre, Yuzif Kaminsky, holding his dead son
Statue of the only adult survivor of the Khatyn massacre, Yuzif Kaminsky, holding his dead son
The Mound of Glory- monument to soviet soldiers who fought in world war 2
The Mound of Glory- monument to soviet soldiers who fought in world war 2
Nesvizh Palace
Nesvizh Palace

Currency

The currency in Belarus is the Belarusian ruble. As of January 2022, one British pound is equal to 3.5 rubles

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

Belarus ruble
Belarus ruble
Grunvald Cafe draniki (pancakes) baked with the meat in a bowl
Grunvald Cafe draniki (pancakes) baked with the meat in a bowl
Kvass fermented drink
Kvass fermented drink- worth trying once!
Kamyanitsa Pickled herring and soured cream
Kamyanitsa Pickled herring and soured cream
Grunvald- beet and sour cream soup with roasted potatoes
Grunvald- beet and sour cream soup with roasted potatoes
Machanka pork stew with bacon in cream sauce and served with pancakes at Kamyanitsa
Machanka pork stew with bacon in cream sauce served with pancakes at Kamyanitsa
Cocktail at the Tiki Bar
Cocktail at the Tiki Bar- variation of a julep cocktail called Taho julep at N’a Plyazhe

Food

My first meal was at Grunvald cafe for dinner, recommended by Sveta. The setting is very traditional and relaxed. The beet soup was tasty with shredded beets, soured cream and eggs. The roasted potatoes were on the side and I could only eat half of them because it was too much. The draniki (pancakes) were delicious and hot, baked with the meat in a bowl. I tried Belarusian wine and it was okay but quite sweet. The waiter did try to warn me!

I had lunch at Korchma restaurant on Trinity hill with a beautiful view of the river. I ordered grandmother’s soup with beef and sauerkraut, then draniki with pork mince and white gravy (called kolduny instead of draniki when they are stuffed with meat). The menu was in English and the girl serving spoke some English too. The music in the background was a Paula Abdul album!

Try the kapiroski cocktail at Pinky Bandinsky bar. And outdoor cocktails at Tiki Bar, very chilled and good for people-watching.

Definitely visit the famous sweets shop Lakomka, and taste the zefir, chocolate covered marshmallows. There are many unusual candies.

My last big meal was at restaurant Kamyanitsa recommended by the first guide. It’s very cute and looks like a cave inside. I started with pickled herring served with crispy brown bread, soured cream, pickles and onions. The machanka pork stew was cooked with bacon in cream sauce and served with pancakes. Heavy but delicious!

Karchma grandmother’s soup with beef and sauerkraut
Korchma grandmother’s soup with beef and sauerkraut
Beer and cherry wine from the Kristal shop
Beer and cherry wine from the Kristal shop
Kolduny with white gravy at Karchma
Kolduny with white gravy at Korchma

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No, not to visit the city of Minsk. However, to see some of the sights further out I would recommended a tour bus for the transport and some interesting information.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: About half of people I met in Minsk spoke some English, sometimes limited. I recommend to have a translator app to hand.

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes it felt very safe walking around Minsk during the day. In the evening I used Ubers, which were not expensive and felt safer for me. Other people were walking around, so the streets did not look empty

Q: How easy is it to send postcards? Eventually, I found the post office, but it was not quite where it was meant to be on GoogleMaps. Then it was easy to buy postcards and stamps.

A: See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

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