Tourists say that every Belarusian city has its own soul and atmosphere that can be felt and seen in its many subtle nuances. Belarus is among the top ten countries to travel in 2019, according to Lonely Planet.
Notably Belarus attracts tourists with its 30-day visa-free regime, an abundance of cafes and art venues. In Minsk, tourists can enjoy walks in the Old Town, see the amazing town hall and visit the trendy cocktail bars. Also, the American web resource of financial and analytical news The Street put Minsk on the 3rd place in the rating of the cleanest cities in the world. With so much buzz around Belarus, here is our list of top 4 cities you must visit in order to know Belarus better.
1. Minsk – Capital of Belarus
The Belarusian capital is multifaceted, it is both ancient and modern, bustling and quiet and there is space for great discoveries. It may look young and energetic, but don’t be fooled, the city is older than Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and many other European capitals. Destroyed and rebuilt millions of times, it has been like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Recently Minsk outranked Barcelona, Milan, London, and Paris in the quality of life index. Besides, it is one of the safest, cleanest, and cheapest cities in the world to live in. Other flattering titles Minsk got is the top 10 European cities to visit in 2019, as well as one of the world’s best places to experience art and culture.
You never know what is waiting for you around the corner of the architectural monument of the XIX century. It could for example, be a cozy family park, a motley graffiti street, a dozen of extravagant bars. The capital of Belarus is a city with a character and culture of its own, it is hospitable and many-sided. Sometimes Minsk citizens gently call Minsk “the city of the sun”. And only after walking along its streets, you understand why.
Wide or narrow, crowded or lonely, grey or full of colors, bearing the names of the former Soviet eminent personalities or contemporaries. Every Minsk street has its story, you just have to listen. One moment, you can walk along empty downtown streets bathing in the shadows of Stalinist Empire architecture. Next thing, you find yourself peering into graffiti on Kastryčnickaja street, hanging out with tipsy youngsters on Zybickaja, or having a nice chat with lovely Belarusians on Internacyjanaĺnaja.
Victory Square is one of the key landmarks of Minsk. It is an iconic memorial to those who died in WWII in Belarus and to be honest it just looks really cool. In addition, is the Island of Tears, a place of reflection to those who lost their lives in Afghanistan, in a quiet part of Minsk. Pass by the arch-type bridge to reach here. Not far from it is Trinity Hill. The oldest district and one of the most Instagrammable places in the city, it is perfect to watch the sunset or take a walk along with beautiful 19th-century houses overseeing the Svisloch river.
Food and Drinks in Minsk:
In Minsk, there are enough cafes, restaurants, and fast food for all tastes. Do not hesitate to try Belarusian cuisine – local food may surprise you! You can taste it in Vasilki – a chain of cafes that look like rustic huts and offer sorcerers with meat or mushrooms, pancakes with various fillings, boiled and fried dumplings, Belarusian vedaray and machanka with pancakes.
The interior in Kamyanitsa reminds of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania time tavern. One can find Belarusian soups and pork dishes, a wide variety of potato meals, casseroles, pancakes and salads with colorful national titles in the menu. Kuhmistr is famous for Belarusian pickles, alcoholic and non-alcoholic Belarusian homemade beverages in addition to traditional dishes. All dishes are accompanied with stories about their creation.
Another place with local cuisine is Gray located in the 18th century building in the city centre. Each of the ten rooms is decorated in its own style and interprets one of the periods in Belarusian culture. The menu is full of ancient Belarusian recipes and liqueurs with a modern twist.
You can find cheaper Belarusian dishes in Lido. Many Belarusian dishes with the local beer and snacks are served in Rakovsky Brovar. When the weather is warm, one can also enjoy Belarusian meals on the inviting terrace of cafe Gryunvald located in a quiet street in the city’s heart.
Shopping in Minsk:
For traditional souvenirs, drop in at Soviet-legacy department stores like GUM and TSUM, where one can buy virtually anything. One more islet of traditional crafts is Kirmash with two floors of crafts, dolls, pottery, linen and other handmade products from different parts of Belarus. In the other room you can see modern Belarusian art and also buy art books in the bookstore.
For unhacked artisan’s souvenirs, pay a visit to Slavutast gallery in the Trinity suburb. Fridge magnets with the national spirit, glassware, embroidery shirts, straw hats and lapti bast shoes are sold there. One of the most precious gifts you can bring from Belarus is the famous Belarusian linen. Elegant tablecloths, napkins, towels, bed-linen and even clothes are on display in the shops Belaruskiy lyonin Stolitza shopping mall (middle level, right-hand side) and Lyanok near Yakub Kolas Square.
2. The Heroic City of Brest
Brest is one of the five most ancient towns in the country. In 2019 it celebrates its millennium. Here are the top sightseeing attractions of Brest.
The Brest Fortress
It is the undisputed number one in the list of Brest’s main attractions. This 19th-century defensive complex is a key symbol of Soviet resistance in World War II and the place where fascist Germany attacked the USSR in 1941.
“I’m dying, but not giving up. Farewell, Motherland.” This is the inscription made by one of the soldiers on the walls of the fortress during the last days of resistance. More than 2,000 Soviet soldiers died here. It’s a significant place, a sacred place for every Belarusian.
The main entrance to the fortress is a huge concrete five-pointed star. Down the alley, you can reach the square where the main attractions of the fortress are located. One of them is the Monument of Courage. On its reverse side, you will see the reliefs, which depict the real events of the fortress defense. Nearby there are – a 100-meter-high obelisk and eternal fire. Another iconic sculpture is called “Thirst”. Interestingly this memorial complex was erected exclusively with the help of citizens who made voluntary donations.
Brest Train Station
Built-in the late 19th century, it was one of the most beautiful in the Russian Empire. However, the building changed in Soviet times, with a pointed spire and a Soviet star being placed over the facade.
Visit the Museum of steam locomotives located near the main entrance to the Brest Fortress. There are more than 60 trains from different periods collected in an open area of 29,000 sq m. Almost all trains still operate and some of them are even used in movies.
Sovetskaya Street in Brest
This is the most important and the most beautiful one in Brest. Called Belarusian Broadway by locals, walk along with it and you will find various cafes, souvenir shops, bars and cinemas. Besides, it is one of the few places in the city where some historical buildings were preserved. Just look at the facades, roofs, and evening lights!
At the beginning of the street, St. Nicholas Church is located. Originally, made of wood it burned down during the fire in 1895. The construction of a new stone temple in the Russian-Byzantine architectural style was completed in 1904. The church looks especially beautiful with backlighting at night.
The monument to mark the 1000th anniversary of Brest is at the intersection of Sovetskaya and Gogol streets. The 15-meter-high monument was installed 10 years before the actual date. Important historical images and figures stand under the veil of the guardian angel.
If you are a wildlife lover, you should drop in the Winter Garde, which is at the beginning of the street. It’s a greenhouse-like area with its own microclimate and diverse species of tropical birds and fish. It includes three expositions – a zone of tropics, subtropics, and finally, a desert.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha – National Park
Located 100 kilometers from Brest this one of the oldest relict forests in Europe. The national park is one of the four objects of UNESCO’s cultural heritage in Belarus. It spreads over 153,000 hectares on the border between Poland and Belarus. This protected area is the homeland of Belarusian Santa Claus also known as Ded Moroz.
More than 1,000 plant species, including rare and endangered, grow in Pushcha. There are 59 species of mammals, including the most famous – Belarusian zubrs. Just 20 kilometers from Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a small town Kamenets. The main historical attraction is the 13th century watchtower Belaya Vezha. Although Belaya Vezha literally means White Tower in Belarusian, it has been brick-red through the ages, never white. Its name presumably derives from the tower’s proximity to the Belavezhskaya Pushcha Forest. Inside the tower there is a museum, where one can learn the history of a town and buy some souvenirs.
3. Majestic City of Gomel
Gomel never fails to surprise a visit any time of the year, regardless of what activities one is looking for. Here are some interesting things to do that guarantee an unforgettable weekend in the city.
Start walking slowly along Lenin Avenue that leads straight to Homiel Palace & Park Ensemble. The Palace of Rumiancavy-Paskievicy has enough attractions to keep you busy the whole day. This is the largest museum in the city with artifacts of former Russian military commanders, politicians, and emperors.
Don’t forget to explore the surroundings. First, go down to the Swan Pond to watch white and rare black swans from an exquisite ancient bridge. Don’t miss the bronze monument of Fyodor Paskevich, Russian lieutenant-general accompanied by his hunting dogs Marko and Lord. There was a rumor that Paskevich loved dogs more than humans.
On the horizon are the remnants of the first industrial enterprises of Gomel. The pipe of the former sugar factory has been turned into a watchtower with a stunning view of the city. The other building now works as a winter garden with exotic plants and animals.
Go down to the waterfront to walk along the river to the pier. This is the place where motor ships depart and ride along picturesque banks in the warmer months. Next head down Sovetskaya Street to the Gomel State Circus. The futuristic building resembles a flying saucer. Visiting the city in the summer? Watch a street concert at a nearby fountain moreover, don’t forget to take a selfie with a statue of the famous Soviet clown Karandash.
Gomel Cultural Immersion
If you have a keen interest in history and local lore, head to Pushkina Street. The guides of the Museum of Criminal Science (Pushkina St 1) will tell you about terrorizing local gangs of the freewheeling 1990s. In case World War II stories are more appealing to you, go to the Museum of Military Glory (Pushkina St 32).
You will also find the so-called ‘hunting lodge’ here, which houses the Museum of History of Gomel. To top your historical route with a true gem, get back to the river and go to the oldest building of the city — Old Believer Church of Illya. The wooden structure was erected without a single nail in 1773-1774. Finish your day by dropping in one of many restaurants or resto-bars on buzzing Sovetskaya street.
Gomel Food and Drinks
There are many cozy places with delicious cuisine in Gomel, but we picked a couple of truly conceptual spots. Go to the Budma tavern (Pryvakzalnaja St 3a), they serve at least ten types of draniki, not to mention kolduny, babka, fries, and potato wedges that will prove Belarus still has a lot to surprise you.
And on Krestyanskaya Street, 14 there is a real-time machine – the Staroye Vremya restaurant (the Old Times). Tiny details, be it a sign above the entrance or the toilet soapbox, hints at the bygone Soviet era. The menu is also authentic. Take, for instance, the ‘Khrushchevsky’ salad named after the famous Soviet statesman.
4. Royal Grodno
One of the country’s most ancient and beautiful cities, it has its doors opened for tourists from all over the world.
A splendid view of Grodno opens from Kalozha church of Sts. Boris and Gleb. An impressive relic of ancient Black Ruthenian architecture, with the Neman river cutting the city in half. Patchwork wooden and brick houses creep up the hill. It’s hard to believe that less than a century ago the area was the “New World”, designated exclusively for the rich. Grodno screams more mind-boggling toponyms, such as the “Swiss Valley“, a scenic park with rolling hills, dating back to the 18th century.
Start your city tour walking along the cobbled Sovetskaya Street, considered to be the visiting card of Grodno. It’s a nice place with European style 3-4 story buildings and a flair of old times. The street is pedestrian with quite a few places to eat out and shop. In summer it becomes the favorite place to chill out for locals who enjoy street musicians and dancers.
Some exotic bars here might surprise you. For example, the Coffee House of Hon Peek is a place with a piece of history to its name. Cuba bar and Kronon restaurant are also popular with locals.
Finally, you can go to Augustow Canal. It’s a hydraulic engineering installation from the 19th century. There are only two other canals like this in the world, one in the UK and the other in Sweden. It’s a great place for outdoor activities in summer and enjoying nature at any time. The canal crosses two landscape reserves. If you prefer to stay in town, the Grodno Zoo and Gilbert’s Central Park are perfect options for connecting with nature.
Grodno Churches & Castle
It would be unforgivable to visit Grodno and not go on a tour of the local churches and castles. Grodno is the capital of Belarusian Catholicism. It’s an outstanding example is St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, or Farny Church, with its 21-meter carved altar, and one of the oldest tower clocks in Europe. Moreover, the interior of the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. Continue your tour with a visit to the unique 12th century Kolozhskaya church. Admire the monumentality of the Lutheran church that regularly hosts organ concerts with European musicians.
The exploration of Grodno would be incomplete without the Great Choral Synagogue. The dilapidated building was restored by local businessmen. The synagogue’s prayer hall impresses with its scale and rich stucco molding. You can also take a stroll around the Grodno castle. Enjoy imposing views of the Neman river opening from its walls and see the location of the first settlements. The city actually has two castles – the Old and the New. You can learn more history at a local museum and buy nice souvenirs there.
Some are quite unique! Did you know that are only ten iron museums in the world, and one of them is in Grodno? It’s possible to see the evolution of ironworks from the first steampunk units to works of art from modern days. Another curious local sight is the Watchtower of the fire department and Fire Museum. The tower built at the beginning of the 20th century is the only example of such architecture in Belarus. Get there by noon to see a fireman Vasily who rises up to the tower and plays the trumpet exactly at 11.58 a.m. Some of the hallmarks of the museum’s collection include the diarama of the blazing city and a portrait of a girl with an enigmatic smile, called the local Mona Lisa, on the wall of the fire station.
Janush Parulis Museum of Life and History of Grodno is a wonderland of heaps of assorted artifacts. For instance from books and paintings to handmade guitars, tobacco stuffing machines from the 19th century, a collection of sleds, and whatnot. Literally, name anything, it’s there.
When visiting the cultural capital of Belarus, take some time to visit its theatres. There are two theatres in Grodno – the drama theatre and the puppet theatre. And it’s really hard to choose! You can also see plays by Shakespeare, Goethe’s Faust, and Russian classics in the very original productions at the local puppet theatre.