Have you booked a flight and suddenly realized you have no idea what to do in Minsk, the capital of oft-overlooked Belarus?
Don’t worry, you not the only one!
I’ll be honest – I knew nothing about Belarus before booking a flight here [besides reading about the president’s “mini-me”] but was very worried after my research. The country is run by “Europe’s last dictator” who has been in complete control for the last 20 years complete with the secret police, political opponents going missing, election fraud… Horrible stuff that shouldn’t be allowed to continue in the 21st century…
That being said, as a tourist, you are not likely to see or be affected by any of this. People in Minsk, including military and police, were kind and super helpful – always willing to deal with my lack of Russian and point me in the right direction!
… You turn left at the hammer and sickle, then right at the Lenin memorial…If you pass the dictators house you’ve gone too far!
I had a week in time-warped Belarus – where apparently no one was told of the USSR collapse. And what a week it was!
Here the secret police are still called KGB, tractor sales are indicators for the success of the economy, and a statue of Lenin still stands outside the Government House Building. Soviet-era monuments and Stalinist architecture were a massive highlight of in Minsk, but I was also interested to see first hand what life is like here in this ah… “unique” country!
Entirely different from other post-Soviet cities like Riga, Tallinn, and Lviv that have embraced tourism and modernity, Minsk seems determined to stay in the past. Along with Chisinau, it is the least touristy city I have been to in Europe, and while seven days might be a bit too long in just the capital, it’s cheap, clean, and has a lot going on if you do your research.
So, is Minsk cheap?
Minsk is worth to visit for its good ‘what you get’ to ‘money you spend’ ratio with prices around the same as Ukraine or Moldova. It’s not expensive, transportation is inexpensive, the food is cheap, and the weather is incredible in the summer, meaning you can enjoy all the green spaces in town. Many of the top attractions and things to do in Minsk are free, as is people watching.
Day trips out of Minsk are also surprisingly affordable, and convenient given Minsk’s location at the geographic and political center of Belarus.
Is Minsk worth visiting?
Minsk is a city with a “soul”, albeit a very different one that places like Porto or Buenos Aires. This meaning that it’s worth visiting to see how the city lives, how and where people go and what they do. The architecture, the variety of cafés, bars, restaurants, museums, public places, monuments, and people coexist in an utterly way. It’s part of what makes Minsk so special.
For history buffs, lovers of the bizarre, and different and those who love to explore away from the typical tourist trail, Minsk is definitely worth visiting. However, it is a destination where you’ll need to make an effort, scratch beneath the surface, and consider how and why things are to make the most of it.
I was not sure if I wanted to promote Minsk given the political situation of Belarus, including growing authoritarianism and repression of human rights. However, I reasoned with myself that the more ‘westerners’ that visit Minsk, the more open the regime will get – or at least the more aware the world will be of what is going on in this often forgotten country.
America has Cuba, Asia has Myanmar, and Europe — Europe has Belarus!
30 Top Things To Do In Minsk: The Time-Warped Capital Of Belarus! 🇧🇾
- 30 Top Things To Do In Minsk: The Time-Warped Capital Of Belarus! 🇧🇾
- #1. People Watch Along Independence Avenue, Minsk’s Main Thoroughfare
- #2. Admire Communist Busts At Zair Azgur Memorial Museum And Workshop
- #3: Learn About Belarus’s Rural Traditions At The Dudutki Museum Of Culture And Life
- #4. Admire The Red Church, The Roman Catholic Center Of Faith In Belarus
- #5. Catch The Metro And Admire The The ‘Palaces Of The People’
- #6. Enjoy A Cheap Night Of Fun And Laughter At The Belarusian State Circus
- #7: Visit The Pride Of Belarus, The Belarusian Automobile Plant
- #8. Get The Belarusian Perspective On History At The Great Patriotic War Museum
- #9. Pay Your Respect At The Afghan War Memorial On Island Of Tears
- #10. Stop By The Changing Of The Guards At The Minsk Eternal Flame
- #11. Have Your Daily Cat Fix At The Bizarre Minsk Cat Café
- #12. Visit The All Saints Church, The Most Beautiful Orthodox Church In Minsk
- #13. Discover The Weird Soviet Sculptures And Their Modern Juxtaposing
- #14. Say Hi To The Statue Of Lenin
- #15. Enjoy A Night Out At The National Academic Bolshoi Opera And Ballet Theatre
- #16. Admire The Plethora Of Soviet Art That Still Dominants The Cityscape
- #17. Take A Day Trip To The Historic City of Brest
- #18. Admire The One-Of-A-Kind National Library Of Belarus
- #19. Stop For A Coffee At The Delightful Cafe Zerno
- #20. Spy On The KGB (In Their Own Building!)
- #21: Experience Minsk’s Incredible Nightlife On A Pub Crawl
- #22. Admire The Grand Stalinist Architecture Of The Gates Of Minsk
- #23. Wander Around The Old Town Of Minsk
- #24. Check Out The Grand Mir Castle And Nesvizh Complex
- #25: Dine In Medieval Style At Kamyanitsa
- #26: Visit The Stalin Line Museum Complex And Khatyn Memorial Complex
- #27. Attend A Show At The Palace Of The Republic
- #28. Find Your Own Green Space In This City Of Parks And Gardens
- #29: Enjoy Luxe Cocktails At The Ritzy BAR:DOT XX1
- #30: Explore the Modernized Komarovsky Marketplace
- Where To Stay in Minsk
#1. People Watch Along Independence Avenue, Minsk’s Main Thoroughfare
The central avenue of Minsk, this glorious street extends for 15 kilometers (9 miles). It connects five of the most important squares in Minsk: Kalinin Square, Yakub Kolas Square, Victory Square, October Square, and Independence Square and is one of the longest streets in Europe.
Many of the most notable landmarks of Minsk can be found along its length, and for the more active travelers walking its length is an excellent introduction to Minsk. In fact, the architectural ensemble of the avenue in Minsk (most of which was constructed during the 1940s-1950s), is currently being considered for UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The complete collection of post-war Stalinist architecture is unique in the world, owing to the destruction by Germans of Minsk in WW2 and subsequent rebuild. Independence Avenue has such meaning to Minsk; its name has been changed 14 times in modern history.
If you don’t want to walk the entire length, there is a public bus (#100) that covers almost the entire Independence Avenue – or the tourist sightseeing bus. Quintessentially Minsk, you couldn’t miss Independence Avenue even if you tried!
#2. Admire Communist Busts At Zair Azgur Memorial Museum And Workshop
A hidden gem in Minsk missed by so many travelers. The incredible home studio of celebrated Soviet sculptor Zair Azgur which has now been turned into a museum celebrating his life and works.
Zair Azgur was a member of the USSR Academy of Arts who completed sculptures of countless heroes, statesman, generals, soldiers, partisans and civilians during his prolific career.
Truly an extraordinary museum for anyone interested in the Soviet Union or sculpture, what we found most striking was how extensively Azur’s sculptures of Lenin were distributed around the USSR and the world. Tours are given in Russian and occasionally in English, but the Russian guides are happy to let you tag along. It is worth the wait for an English tour; however, as Zair Azgur is a household name in Belarus and his life is incredibly fascinating.
The highlight is a cavernous room where countless sculptures of Stalin, Lenin, and other USSR officials peer down upon you. It is only a room, but what a room it is. The experience of standing here is surreal, to say the least.
#3: Learn About Belarus’s Rural Traditions At The Dudutki Museum Of Culture And Life
Spend the day discovering an authentic Belarusian village where you can learn about the traditions and agriculture of rural Belarus and taste local food products.
Located about 45 kilometers outside of the city in the beautiful Belarusian countryside, you can either hire a car or take an easy day tour to visit the world-class Dudutki Museum Of Culture And Life.
When you arrive, you’ll find a real working mill, a blacksmith, potter, weaving machines, as well as a farmstead with pets and horses. You can watch a potter and blacksmith at work, and learn about the agricultural practices of Belarus before industrialization. Even better, you can opt for tastings of homemade cheese, butter, bread, and homemade vodka – or indulge in a delicious Belarussian national-style lunch or majestic horseback ride.
A great way to familiarize yourself with 19th century Belarus, the Dudutki Ethnological Museum complex is a hidden gem – and not to be underestimated. Even better than the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum Heritage Museum in Helsinki, this impressive recreation of medieval life preserves the memory of the old Belarusian way of life and is best explored with a full guided tour.
#4. Admire The Red Church, The Roman Catholic Center Of Faith In Belarus
Officially known as ‘The Church of Saints Simon and Helena,’ this neo-Romanesque church was designed by Polish architects and completed in 1910.
An unusual sight in ex-Soviet countries where Orthodox Christianity dominates, the Red Church was formed after 2,000 of Minsk’s Roman Catholics petitioned local authorities in 1903 requesting a site for a new church. At the time, Minsk was part of the Minsk Governorate of the Russian Empire, and the request was approved.
In 1921, when Minsk became the capital of the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), the church was sacked by the Red Army and later closed in 1932 when the country was secularized. The Red Church was first used as a theatre then as a cinema (with a brief return to its intended use under the German occupation of WW2).
After hunger-strikes in 1990 by two Minsk Catholic activists, the building was returned to the Roman Catholic Church, the interior was fully restored, and the Red Church today is an important center of religious life in Minsk for the revived Belarusian Greek Catholic Church.
There is a lot of history here, though to understand the importance of the relics held within you will need to read Belorussian.
Still, you can admire the marvelous gothic design interior complete with shining stained-glass windows and working organ. Mass is held here if four languages: Belarusian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Latin, and if you respectfully attend one is the best way to experience the magic of this moving site.
#5. Catch The Metro And Admire The The ‘Palaces Of The People’
The Minsk Metro opened in 1984, becoming the ninth metro system in the Soviet Union. From its original eight stations has today grown into two lines with 29 stations, with further expansion planned in the near future.
While the Minsk Metro is a cheap and convenient way to explore the city, its stations (like most of the Soviet metro system) are all vividly decorated and a worthy Minsk attraction in their own right.
Crystal lamps, grand marble walls, details bronze sculptures – the Minsk metro is more than just a simple means of transportation; it is a true ‘Palace of the People’ and a triumph of architecture and art. Many (most notably, Niamiha) manifest Belarusian national motifs while others converge on more Soviet socialist themes.
The original eight stations are the most ‘Soviet’ and impressive, with more recent ones enjoy less interesting / more high-tech designs. No two-metro station here looks the same, and much like the subway art tour in Stockholm, you can plan a route to admire a few of the most impressive.
A few of our favorites are the extravagant white marble columns of Kastryčnickaja station, the folksy Płošča Jakuba Kołasa, and the dark yellow chandeliers of Park Čaliuskincaŭ. Station security can be rather fickle with photography; however – try to be discrete and wait until the platform is empty before taking any photos.
#6. Enjoy A Cheap Night Of Fun And Laughter At The Belarusian State Circus
Circus art in Belarus has a proud history dating back to the late 19th century, as is part of the reason why Minsk was chosen for the site of the first stationary winter circus in the Soviet Union.
The judgment to build this impressive stone circus was made in 1952 and completed in 1958 in a grand Stalinist style. After this, the Belarusian States Circus quickly developed a reputation for its spectacular performances, including everything for water shows to aerial acrobatics, and people came here from across the USSR.
In 2010, the Belarusian State Circus underwent a full-scale renovation to ensure it remained one of Europe’s best arenas. It is still the only circus in the world that is positioned on the central avenue of the country capital. Tickets are very moderately priced, especially given the quality of the entertainment, and make a visit to the Belarusian State Circus one of the best things to do in Minsk at night.
There is excellent choreography, music, lights, colors, and the real feel of a modern circus inside – except for some of the performances still use animals. This has been outlawed in the rest of Europe, and we wish Belarus would follow suit – as the show would be even more incredible without them.
If you decide to go, ticket in advance to avoid disappointment (at either the local ticket office or online) and pay a little extra to get one of the front seats.
#7: Visit The Pride Of Belarus, The Belarusian Automobile Plant
An interesting excursion to the BelAZ Automobile Plant should be high on the agenda for anyone interested in cars, transport or haulage and earthmoving equipment.
Located in Zhodzina, a short trip out of Minsk, BelAZ was one of the largest Commonwealth of Independent States investment projects and produced over 120,000 vehicles for use in the Soviet Union.
On a day tour here, you can familiarize yourself with mining dump trucks and witness the pride of the domestic Belarusian auto industry. During the tour, you will tour one of the assembly departments and witness the creation of the legend of the Belarusian engineering industry. At the technology exhibition site, you can not only make impressive photos in front of the legendary car, but also feel their power, by climbing into the cab.
It’s not only the mammoth dump trucks here, but the extensive territory of the plant that is impressive. You can even spot the BelAZ-75710, the world’s largest dump truck with 450 tons load capacity.
Not your typical tourist attraction for sure, but nothing about Minsk or Belarus is typical…
#8. Get The Belarusian Perspective On History At The Great Patriotic War Museum
The concept of the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum was devised immediately after the end of Nazi occupation in Minsk.
This makes its unique as when the museum opened in 1944, it the first World War II museum to open – before the ware had even finished in the rest of Europe. It relocated to its contemporary location in 1966 and was recently renewed in 2014. Today, one of the must-do things in Minsk is to explore its 24 grand exhibition halls with ten different themes.
It is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest war museums and has an astounding collection of objects housed within. The story of the war is told through multimedia technologies, including a spherical screen, holographic 3D installations, and a fog screen imitating flame – and visiting here like no other WWII museum we have attended before.
There is a particular focus on the Belarusians in the Red Army, local anti-fascist and partisan activity, and the Nazi death camps – of which there were over 250 in Belarus alone.
A phenomenal museum in a sparkling setting, the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum even has guided audio tours in English to make the most of the site. There is a huge amount to see, from full-size planes and imposing tanks to guns, medals, letters, and other assorted items. You should allow two hours at a bare minimum, though for history buffs, you could very easily spend a whole day.
#9. Pay Your Respect At The Afghan War Memorial On Island Of Tears
A small footbridge from the Minsk Old Town leads you to the Island of Tears, a memorial established in 1988 to memorialize Belarusian soldiers who lost their lives during the disastrous 9-year war the Soviet Union waged in Afghanistan.
On the island, there is a haunting chapel with statues of mourning mothers, sisters, and widows along with a fountain where the water is the tears of a crying angel. If you look, the angel is shiniest in one place. This is because of a Belarusian tradition where newlyweds attend war memorials on their wedding day – and a modern custom that suggests if a bride gropes the poor angel’s privates, she’ll be assured plenty of children.
The monument was raised in 1985, while the war was still ongoing, but only officially opened after the war ended. It has come to be a symbol of sorrow to all dead Belarusian warriors throughout history, and unlike the other Soviet war monuments in Minsk, the Isle of Tears has a deep feeling of sorrow. Here you can contemplate how meaningless war can be, and at what cost it comes at.
It’s a very beautiful memorial, made all the more moving by its arresting location in the river Svislach.
#10. Stop By The Changing Of The Guards At The Minsk Eternal Flame
Belarus suffered profoundly under the Nazi occupation of WW2 when over a quarter of its population (over two million) died, and hundreds of villages were destroyed. Minsk was the major center of the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation, and as such, Minsk was later recognized as a Hero City by the Soviet Union. The
The World War Two Victory Monument in Minsk commemorated this role with a towering obelisk with stunning heroic scenes of cast iron, an eternal flame, and granite blocks marking the other 11 Soviet hero cities. The four bronze wreaths which lay around the column signify the four fronts on which soldiers gave their lives fighting to liberate Belarus from German invaders.
There is also a passage below the road and column with plaques marking the names of soldiers and a golden-lit wreath. Visit just before noon so you can witness the changing of the guard display, or at night when the eternal flame is not visible.
#11. Have Your Daily Cat Fix At The Bizarre Minsk Cat Café
One of the more unusual things to do in Minsk has to be to visit the newly opened Minsk Cat Cafe / Museum (locally known as котокафе в минске)!
A craze that started in with animal cafes in Taipei and has since swept the globe from Auckland to Hong Kong, Mexico to Montreal – Minsk is now getting in on the trend with one of the cheapest cat’s cafes in the world!
At this centrally located feline-themed museum found near the Metro station “Oktyabrskaya” you’ll find eclectic art displays, board games, and plenty of chances to interact with the resident cats. Their interest in you is by no means guaranteed (they are cats after all); the staff are extremely friendly and will give you information about each cat and their personalities.
The cats are all up for free adoption, should you be moving to Minsk and looking for a new pet.
#12. Visit The All Saints Church, The Most Beautiful Orthodox Church In Minsk
A modern construct building in 1991, this stunning orthodox temple is the highest cathedral in the Commonwealth of Independent States at 74 meters.
The All Saints’ Church is instantly recognizable thanks to its gold decorated spires and rooftops built in memory of innocent victims. Inside, it is just as sumptuous with extravagant altars, paintings, and a vast crypt, which holds three unknown soldiers from the three major wars in recent Byelorussians history (the War of 1812, World War I and World War II).
A bit of a prestigious project, but none the less very impressive.
#13. Discover The Weird Soviet Sculptures And Their Modern Juxtaposing
The imposing Stalinist architecture of Minsk may be one of the top reasons to visit Minsk, but the city’s abundant monuments, statue’s and memorials are no less impressive.
As one of the Soviet Union’s twelve Hero cities, an honorary title awarded for Minsk’s role during The Great Patriotic War, the Soviets erected prominent monuments to venerate the city’s resistance against the invading Germans.
Many of these Soviet sculptures praise poets, musicians, writers, and politicians, but the most intriguing are typically those associated with the Great Patriotic War. You’ll find many works of this social realist era dotted around Minsk – in fact; it would be hard to miss most of them. However, a few are so remarkable you should place them on your list of things to do in Minsk and seek them out.
These are the Grand World War II victory column, the Obelisk to Hero City Minsk, and the confronting Island of tears (Afghanistan memorial).
#14. Say Hi To The Statue Of Lenin
Yes, while the demolition of monuments to Vladimir Lenin became widespread during the fall of the Soviet Union, here is Belarus a statue to him still occupies pride of place outside
the Minsk Government House.
Places like Cuba and Hanoi still prominently display Lenin statues in places, but in the ex-Soviet Union countries, this remains exceptional unusual.
There are still over 30 statues of Lenin proudly displayed around Belarus, while (by contrast) the only two remaining Lenin statues in Ukraine are in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Outside of Russia, only the unrecognized state of Transnistria still has multiple statues of Lenin standing – a testament to the spirit of the USSR, which remains alive in Belarus. Maybe someday they will realize it too should go, but for now, the Lenin Monument at Independence Square in Minsk still stands.
Regardless of your political stance, you cannot but feel the weight of history as you stand in front of this grand monument to one of the men who changed the course of the 20th century.
The square itself is one of the biggest squares in Europe, and the Government House (built in 1934) is one of the few buildings that survived WW2 in Minsk. It is one of the highest organs of state power in Belarus, hosting the Supreme Council (a continuation of the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR), making the statue of Lenin here even more poignant.
#15. Enjoy A Night Out At The National Academic Bolshoi Opera And Ballet Theatre
For a night of refined art and culture, this landmark establishment is the place to go. Opened in 1933, this grand building was enlarged and enriched after WW2 and saw many Socialist realist operas by Belarusian composers take to the stage. One of the most famous, Dmitry Smolsky’s The Grey Legend, is still in the company’s repertoire today.
Well-regarded still as one of the world’s most extraordinary opera houses, tickets for both opera and ballet performances are exceptionally affordable – and if there is an event on while you are visiting Minsk, you should not miss the opportunity to attend.
The inside of the opera is even more luxurious, and the friendly staff, professional actors, including both national and foreign stars and world-class orchestra, ensure you will not be disappointed. With the rise of tourism in Minsk, the theater has even before more friendly to foreign English-speaking visitors – though getting a ticket might still require some translation assistance.
The grand building was completely renovated in 2009, with sculptures added around the theatre, the audience space enlarged, and lighting and motion equipment installed. Their repertoire is quite extensive – though the Nutcracker and Swan Lake is always a firm favorite.
If you have the choice, a ballet is recommended over an opera only as the Belorussian ballet company is one of the foremost companies in the world and tours internationally.
#16. Admire The Plethora Of Soviet Art That Still Dominants The Cityscape
Minsk today might be slowly modernizing and shedding its Soviet-past, (including a new Belarusian-Brazilian Festival Of Urban Artto brighten up dreary buildings) – but you don’t have to look far to find dramatic signs of the Soviet past here.
The Soviet artistic heritage is revealed not only in wide boulevards and gray apartment blocks but also in immense murals and mosaics that embellish many spots around the city. Dubbed ‘Soviet Nonconformist Art’ and prevalent throughout the USSR from 1953 to 1986, no other city has as many monumental works of art intact and preserved today.
One of the most iconic is the “Storming of the Winter Palace” mosaic, produced by Alexander Kishchenko and found outside the Maladziožnaja metro station.
Other incredible Soviet mosaic’s worth hunting down include the “Runners” artwork on the walls of the National Olympic Reserve School on vulica Filimonova, the “Lenin” mosaic close to the Alesya Factory on vulica Staravilenskaja and the “Guerilla Belarus” mosaic, at Partizanskiy Prospekt 81 on the exterior of the Tourist Hotel restaurant.
Each is a manifestation of the USSR’s spirit and now stand as snapshots in time, even as the world around rapidly changes.
#17. Take A Day Trip To The Historic City of Brest
Depart from Minsk for the day and explore the city of Brest and its main attraction, the Brest Fortress.
The fortress was one of the first to take on an enemy strike by German troops, beginning the Great Patriotic War. On this day tour, you’ll learn about the fortress’s valiant defense that led to it being conferred the title Hero Fortress and sees the great memorial installed on the ruins of the fortress.
Afterward, take some time to experience the ambiance of the city center and the famous Sovetskaya Street, wander around the splendid Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and admire St. Nicholas’ church.
Before heading back, you’ll also visit the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park – the largest forest of Europe. Here there is the chance to see noble bison, elegant deer, cautious lynx, as well as the famed long-eared eagle owl.
While Brest has enough attractions to warrant an overnight stay, it is not well connected by air, so this day tour is a great way to explore it from Minsk with minimal effort.
#18. Admire The One-Of-A-Kind National Library Of Belarus
We have visited many incredible libraries around the world from the majestic Real Gabinete Portuese de Leritura in Rio de Janeiro to the hipster haven of [email protected] in Singapore. Still, none of them is even remotely as outlandish as the rhombicuboctahedron architecture of the National Library Of Belarus.
The biggest library in Belarus, the national library houses over 10 million books, including the largest collection of Belarusian printed materials in the world. And the third-largest collection of books in Russian. Most tourists come here not for the books but for the hyper-modern architecture with eight triangular and eighteen square faces.
Opened in 2006, the National Library is one of Minsk’s top city attractions, rising 76 meters and surrounded by a small park on the river bank. There is a public observation deck inside on the 23rd floor, along with a cafe and a gallery on the 22nd floor.
The panoramic views from the top are some of the best in Minsk, but you should also try to visit the building at night when the library is lit up in a kaleidoscopic light show, which changes based on the season.
While you need to be a member to enter the reading rooms, you can step inside to admire the patriotic paintings and the lavish space dedicated to literature and learning. An extraordinary symbol of intellectual life in Minsk – and one that is easy to visit, located only 200 meters from the Uschod metro station.
#19. Stop For A Coffee At The Delightful Cafe Zerno
While Minsk has yet to develop a café scene as captivating as Auckland or Vienna , there is still nothing quite like finding a quiet café while traveling and people watching for a few hours. In Minsk, our favorite place to do this was Café Zerno, a modern spot not far from the city center with friendly English-speaking staff and indoor and outdoor seating.
In the summer, there is nothing better than sitting under the shady trees outside sipping a lavender latte while the breeze keeps you cool. There are also small meals and cabinet food to snack on – including a divine vegan chocolate raspberry cake.
Cafe Zerno attracts a very creative atmosphere with throngs of artsy people coming throughout the day. Even better? There is plentiful power outlets and free WIFI should you need to catch up on a little work, do some more Minks research, or charge your phone.
#20. Spy On The KGB (In Their Own Building!)
The State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus is the national intelligence agency of Belarus, and one of the few intelligence agencies that kept the Russian name “KGB” after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Well, technically, it is the KDB rather than KGB when written in Belarusian – but it still shows just how time-warped and bizarre Minsk is.
You can still find their ‘not-so-secret’ headquarters in the north-west corner of Independence Square – though one suspects this is done on purpose, to remind the populace of the power and influence this organization still controls.
More than just a quirk of history, the KGB in Belarus is formally controlled by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and is accused by human rights organizations, the United States, and the European Union of being involved in secret police activities and human rights abuses. While they are unlucky to bother any tourists, it is important to recognize the very real oppression citizens of Belarus live with.
Look out for the ominous, yellow neo-classical building which takes up an entire city block– just don’t get caught taking any photos. Across the street, there is a small park with a bust of the infamous Felix Dzerzhinsky, who was born in Belarus and founded the Cheka – the original Bolshevik intelligence police and pre-KGB establishment of the Soviet Union.
#21: Experience Minsk’s Incredible Nightlife On A Pub Crawl
Minsk’s nightlife scene is a big part of the appeal for many travelers – if only because it is so different and unique. This, however, can make it a bit difficult for independent travelers to explore – so one interesting solution is to head out of a guided Minsk pub crawl.
This way, you get to visit different bars and clubs across Minsk, get to know visitors and locals – and be sure you won’t get into too much trouble. The tour of the bar scene is led by an English- and Russian-speaking guide and tuns every Friday and Saturday evening starting at 8:30 PM. You’ll enjoy a free welcome shot at each bar, see how Minsk likes to party, and get to make new friends.
Each route is planned to visit the most interesting events in the city with parties, concerts, or dancing on the bar. All venues are positioned within a 5- to 10-minute walk of each other in central Minsk, so you won’t end up too far from where you started!
#22. Admire The Grand Stalinist Architecture Of The Gates Of Minsk
Located at the Railway Station Square are landmark Gates of the City of Minsk, these two symmetrical high towers rise 11 stories into the sky and greet travelers who arrive in Minsk by train. Stalinist Architecture is typically known for its grandeur, extravagance, and even arrogance, and the Gates of the City of Minsk is no exception.
Their iconic Stalin classicism (Empire style) style combines details of baroque, late classicism, and art deco – and is instantly recognizable.
Constructed as part of the redevelopment of the railway station in 1952, the gates were used as apartments to house local railway workers during Soviet times. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Minsk Gates now house stores and shops – including a KFC – though the upper floors still house residential apartments.
Still, this doesn’t detract significantly from the beauty of the building – and the iconic Minsk Gates remains a symbol for the city which every visitor should be sure to stop off at. The Evening views are particularly impressive when the projected lighting only adds to the imposing feelings of the constructs.
#23. Wander Around The Old Town Of Minsk
One of the last traces of what Minsk looked like before communism, the Old Town is a delightful (if small) space to explore on a sunny afternoon.
Technically the old town is not even that old, having been rebuilt in the 1980’s – but wandering around here, you can get an idea for what Minsk looks like prior to a succession of occupations and conflicts which left it deeply scarred.
Located on the eastern side of the Svislach River, and known locally as Troitskoe Predmestiye, or “Trinity Suburb,” the Minsk Old Town has a collection of colorful (reconstructed) 17th and 18th-century buildings which house cute cafés with small terraces and touristy souvenir shops.
It is all ultra-clean and has an artificial feeling to it, but it is also one of the few areas in Minsk free from modern architecture. This was once the non-aristocratic part of Minsk, housing factory workers, and peasants – so the recreation has been a little imaginative – but the windy, cobblestone streets and a nice diversion from the noise of the modern city.
Some highlights include the Maxim Bogdanovich Literary Museum, the beautiful Barzha floating restaurant, and the double-towered Holy Spirit Cathedral.
#24. Check Out The Grand Mir Castle And Nesvizh Complex
Icons of Belarus, these two UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located near each other and best visited on a day trip from Minsk. This is European grandeur up the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in Belarus, and are jaw-dropping as Corvin Castle in Romania or Schloss Benrath in Düsseldorf.
Begin your day with pickup at your accommodation in Minsk, then drive through pictorial landscapes on your way to two modest towns, Mir and Nesvizh. Both medieval castles were built in the 16th century, and the owners of the castles were the wealthy Radziwill Family, the richest family in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Mir is a majestic defensive castle and was painstakingly reconstructed between 1983 and 2010.
Today, this five-tower gothic castle is a real gem of Belarus with much mystery, history, and legends. The Nesvizh castle is also a magnificent palace with fortifications. It was the residence of the Radziwill family until 1939 and was also restored between 2002 and 2011.
It’s hard to overstate just how awe-inspiring both these sites are, and even if you only have three days in Minsk, you should make an effort to visit. It is technically possible to visit each by public transport, but it is not easy, and you’ll need to do each on a separate trip.
Instead, you should take an affordable private tour, which allows you to stop off as you wish in the Belarusian countryside life and make stops for local products like milk, honey, and cottage cheese.
Either way, everyone who visits Belarus should get acquainted with the Grand Mir Castle And Nesvizh Complex masterpieces.
#25: Dine In Medieval Style At Kamyanitsa
One of the best restaurants in Minsk, the Kamyanitsa Restaurant prepares food based on the original recipes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
From the moment you step through the doors of Kamyanitsa, you’ll instantly find yourself transported back in time with a fun dining experience soaked with medieval hospitality and classy decor. In what would surely be a very kitschy experience in any other country, Kamyanitsa manages to execute flawlessly – and is frequented by more locals than tourists. It is up there with the restaurants of Lviv as our favorite dining spot in Eastern Europe.
The attention to detail in history recipes, the massive wooden chairs, the stain-glassed windows, and excellent service all ensure you feel like royalty.
If you want to indulge in traditional Belarusian cuisine like fresh homemade bread, cold “kvas”, draniki with pork and mushrooms, tongue with cucumbers and horseradish, and many other hearty dishes – this is the best place in Minsk to go. There is even live music with traditional instruments and traditional dancing most evenings. You might even learn some Belarusian folk dances!
#26: Visit The Stalin Line Museum Complex And Khatyn Memorial Complex
While there is so much to see within the city itself, Minsk’s central location lends itself to many easy and exciting day trips, and one of the best has to be to the Stalin Line Museum Complex and Khatyn Memorial Complex.
The Stalin Line is an unofficial name referring to a defensive line that was mounted by the Soviets along their new western border in the 1930s that stretched from the Karelian Isthmus near Finland to the Black Sea. However, it was dropped by 1940 for a more west frontier in light of an expanding USSR. When Germany attacked in 1941, the new line was not yet ready, and the old Stalin line was no longer in use, leaving the Soviet Union exposed.
Today, this section of the Stalin Line is one of Belarus’s top tourist attractions. It is open to the public as an elaborate defense museum separated into several sections that comprise restored bunkers with authentic interiors, demonstration areas with military vehicles (mostly post WWII) and equipment, and a reenactment battlefield. Visitors who are intent on racing around in a war machine can even try out some, including the tank!
Nearby, the Khatyn Memorial Complex was constructed to remind the rest of the world about the repulsive crimes that the Nazis perpetrated all over Belarus and in Europe and to educate future generations. On a day trip to this site, you’ll see the eternal flame of Khatyn and hear the sound of the bells of the memorial commemorate the victims of WWII.
Located less than an hour’s drive from Minsk, both are a must for history buffs who want to learn about Soviet war history and honor the victims of WWII.
#27. Attend A Show At The Palace Of The Republic
Yet another imposing Soviet-style building in the very center of Minsk, but one that you can gain access to with conventions, concerts and symphony orchestras taking place here. Construction began on the monstrosity in 1985 but came to a halt during the fall of the Soviet Union – and only became fully operational in 2001.
The fact that it was completed in the classic Soviet “mausoleum” architecture style a decade after Belarussian independence speaks to the mindset of President Alexander Lukashenko of keeping on as if things never changed. There is even a luxury bunker shelter and a tunnel to the President’s Administration under the building.
Upcoming events are listed online in English and reasonably affordable. The Presidential Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus, in particular, is worth planning a night out around. The seats of the Grand Hall are comfortable, the acoustics are excellent, and the atmosphere is all very sophisticated.
The Palace of the Republic also houses an art gallery, a small hairdressing salon, a gym, and an Italian restaurant. If you can’t get inside, it is also worth admiring at night – when the impressive architecture takes on an almost spooky atmosphere.
#28. Find Your Own Green Space In This City Of Parks And Gardens
Minsk is a very green city, despite what its first impression by lead you to believe. And so, one of the best things to do in Minsk on a sunny day is to grab a book and explore its many pockets of quiet nature and solitude.
Just take a look at any map to find the nearest to you, or hunt out a few of the stateliest. Gorky Park is one of the oldest in the city, citing along the bank of the Svislach Ricer with an observatory, Ferris wheel, and abundance of fulfilled attractions. There are also three cafes and an abundance of sublime people watching.
For a more tranquil spot, you could try the expansive wooded Pobyedy (Victory) Park with its huge lake, nature trails, and picturesque vistas. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic or an early morning stroll. Other noteworthy spots include the central Botanical Gardens (with paid entrance), Yanka Kupala Park, or the Alexandrovsky Public Garden.
#29: Enjoy Luxe Cocktails At The Ritzy BAR:DOT XX1
A high-end cocktail spot in Minsk located in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Minsk and perfect for a nightcap or celebration.
If you are looking to class it up a little, you can’t go wrong with a perfectly made Moscow mules with panoramic views over the city center and old town. The drinks are strong here, and the bartenders know exactly how to make them. There is also a very stylish interior, an Asian-fusion focused menu, designer desserts, and live music on Fridays.
Best visited at night, where the views are mesmerizing, though, like many nightlife spots in Minsk, ladies of the night frequent here – so do be careful.
#30: Explore the Modernized Komarovsky Marketplace
The biggest and most vibrant market in Belarus. Located in a vast covered hall, the Komarovsky Marketplace has been completely updated recently – and so has lost a little of its old-world appeal.
Still, this is the best place to look into authentic Belarusian life – just now with refrigerators and smiles. If you are staying self-catered or in an holiday rental in Minsk, you can pick up fresh produce, spices, dairy products, and meat for later use – or just wander around indulge in some fantastic people watching. The prices are low by international standard, but a little high compared to other spots in Minsk – but the equally tends to be much better as well.
You could also try the very unique Dynamo Stadium market in Minsk with everything for shoes and clothing to saucepans and pot plants – or any number of smaller, local markets. As in all crowded places in Minsk, watch for people out to relieve you of your wallet.
Where To Stay in Minsk
When planning a trip to Minsk – location is vital, and of course, if you need Belarus visa support (even for the Belarus visa on arrival), you are going to need to check if your Minsk hotel visa support is going to work.
You generally do this after booking, and if they cannot offer it, there are also Belarus travel agencies offering visa support services (or you can cancel most Booking.com reservations free-of-charge).
Hotels in Minsk Belarus prices vary significantly, so here are three great options for you to consider with a great location, prices, reviews, and amenities. We also have a complete guide of where to stay in Minsk should you need more information.
LUXURY DoubleTree by Hilton Minsk
One of the best hotels in Minsk city center and only 600m from the Holy Spirit Cathedral. DoubleTree offers city and river view rooms, a fine-dining restaurant, and a fitness center. For those wanting to pamper themselves a bit.
MID-RANGE Renaissance Minsk Hotel
Central located in the Moskovsky District, the Minsk Hotel renaissance is a good middle-range hotel for food, living like a local in Minsk and sight-seeing. Plenty of amenities and don’t forget to ask about their Belarus Visa Support.
BUDGET Aqua-Minsk Hotel
An affordable accommodation option in Minsk offering single and twin rooms at low prices with included breakfast. Attached to the Lebyazhy Waterpark guests also enjoy free access to one of the zones in Water Park