I spent 4 days in Minsk in October, 2015 and had a fun time. There are very few detailed “Minsk Guides” or blog posts online, so I’ll do my best to give you a complete overview of the city and provide recommendations for culture, attractions, food, things to do, nightlife and more.
Everything you read is based off my own personal experiences.
Before I begin this post, I’d like to share with you about how much of a hassle it was to get a Visa to Belarus…
It took me 3 different attempts at the Belarusian Embassy in 2 different countries (Latvia and Lithuania) until I was finally accepted. I had to pay 120 euros for an “express visa” which was supposed to take 24 hours but took 4 days, and my visa was only valid for 4 days.
If you are planning to apply for a visa to Belarus in a neighboring country, then DO NOT do it at the Embassy in Lithuania and do it at the one in Latvia because it’s much easier. The people in the Vilnius embassy were extremely rude and offensive to me, mostly because I have a USA passport (Americans are not easily welcomed into Belarus). If you need extra help or advice on getting a Belarus Visa, then please contact me.
So, I finally got the visa, and I embarked on a 3 hour train journey from Vilnius, Lithuania to Minsk, Belarus.
I’m currently writing this blog post from a coffee shop in Minsk, on my final day in the country. What a random and interesting journey it has been in my 72nd country. I’m excited to share my experiences with you.
First thing to know about Belarus is that it is the least touristy country in Europe (by a long shot). Very few people in my network of friends & travelers has ever been there before (I even asked on my Instagram). Throughout my 4 days in Minsk, I came across 2 tourists/English speakers and I’m glad I know basic Russian because otherwise it would’ve been difficult to get around.
Speaking of Russia, the country of Belarus has kept very close ties with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to this day, Russia still basically rules Belarus. I have never been to Russia before, but I’ve been told that it’s virtually the same culture as Belarus.
In all honestly, I must admit that Belarus was a lot better than I was expecting. I don’t know why I had such a bad image in my head – probably because of my visa troubles or the fact that nobody has anything positive to say about this place…
But I’m here to tell you that Minsk is unexpectedly cool. I’m not saying it’s amazing by any means, but it sure as hell went above and beyond my expectations.
The streets are clean, the buildings are modern, and the people are friendlier than most other Eastern European countries (not to mention how beautiful they are as well). The city is surprisingly well-kept, with numerous parks, squares, and monuments all over the place. I didn’t see an poverty on the streets, and most of the cars on the streets were luxurious.
What about the prices?
You wouldn’t believe how cheap it is here. The money is super inflated (20,000 Belarusian Rubles = $1 USD). There are no coins, so some smaller bills are literally worth 1 penny. My wallet has never been felt so thick before!
When I exchanged 100 Euros at a bank, I was handed a MASSIVE stack of bills that equaled more than 2 million Rubles. This ‘monopoly money’ confused me every time I made a purchase. For example, when I tried to buy yogurt which was 80,000 ($4), I gave the guy a 100,000 bill ($5) and he gave me back about 30 bills that were individually worth pennies.
Something like this:
The public transportation is dirt cheap and efficient. There is an underground metro system that takes you anywhere in the city for about 15 cents.
Alright, let’s get into some quick facts:
- Language: Russian
- Currency: Belarusian Rubles ($1 = 20,000 Rubles)
- Population: 2 million
- The earliest historical references to Minsk date to the 11th century (1067), when it was noted as a provincial city within the principality of Polots.
- From 1919 to 1991, after the Russian Revolution, Minsk was the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union.
- The capital is the largest exporter and accounts for 40 percent of the country’s foreign trade. The main export items are tractors, trucks, machine tools.
- Minsk is located at the intersection of the cross-European communication corridors. The capital effects about 30 percent of railway passenger traffic, 20 percent of trucking traffic and 40 percent of export traffic.
- Minsk Botanical Garden is the 3rd largest in Europe, after the Royal Botanic Garden Kew in London, and park in Madrid. The Area of Botanical Garden is 96 hectares.
- There are over a hundred big and small fountains in Minsk
Culture and People
As mentioned earlier, Belarus has very close ties with Russia. The “Treaty of Equal Rights of Citizens between Belarus and Russia” was signed in December 1998, covering employment and access to medical care and education.
The language in Belarus is Russian (There is a Belarusian language, but it’s hardly spoken), and the streets are saturated with Soviet monuments and messages, just like this massive Lenin statue that you see here in this photo.
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in charge since the Collapse of the Soviet Union, and he’s best friends with Putin of Russia.
To my knowledge, traveling in Belarus is very similar to traveling in Russia. If you know anything about Russian people or Russian culture, then consider it the similar for Belarus.
I found most people in Minsk to be friendly – much friendlier than people in Latvia and Lithuania.
And even despite the fact that nobody really speaks English, it was easy to make friends when I was out at the bars – and people seemed interested to get to know me.
What To Do?
There’s isn’t a whole lot of fun things to do around Minsk. You can pretty much all of the touristy things in a half day.
But here’s my list of the top 5 Things to do around the city:
1. Church of Saint Simon and Helena – The most impressive Church in Minsk and one of the only surviving buildings after the city was completely destroyed in WWII. The red color of this Church can be seen from a mile away.
2. KGB Headquarters – Yes, there is a KGB headquarters building in Minsk and it’s located in the prominent center of the city. The KGB = secret police. If you see an entire block occupied by a yellow neoclassical building that looks over Indpendence Avenue, that’s the KGB.
3. Island of Tears – There is an entire island called the “Island of Tears” with a significant monument on it. The memorial commemorates Soviet Soldiers from Belarus who died during the decade-long war with Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. The centerpiece is a chapel, with haunting figures of grieving mothers and sisters on the outside. The monument is really strange and off-putting, but definitely sends a strong message.
4. Independence Street – The main boulevard in Minsk is worth walking down. There are many important and historic buildings side by side that show off Belarus’s history, as well as plenty of restaurants, bars and shops. There are many Soviet monuments in Independence Square, like a massive Lenin statue, and it make you feel like you’re in Russia.
5. Victory Park –There are a few notable parks around Minsk, but Victory Park was my favorite to hang out at. It offers beautiful nature and a quiet escape from the busy city center of Minsk. I visited here in autumn, and the leaves on the trees were absolutely beautiful!
Belarusian food is nothing special.
It’s pretty much the same as any other Eastern and Northern European country, except the food here is more plain and boring…
Expect to see lots of meat (beef, pork, chicken) and various vegetables and potatoes. Also in the winter, it’s common to see hearty soup with more meat and more vegetables.
At this point, after spending the last 2 months in Eastern Europe, I am sick of eating “meat and potatoes” — so I ate at McDonald’s twice in Minsk (my 34 country at McDonald’s) and I got this taco burger that I’ve never seen before!!!
The McDonald’s in Minsk were extra fancy and extra crowded. I waited in line for 20 minutes inside, and after I picked up my food, I couldn’t find a table because it was so crowded..
If there’s one thing that I love most about Minsk, it was the nightlife. This city comes alive at night, and it was really fun!
As you might imagine, the people here love to drink Vodka. At the super market, you can find bottles for less than $3 (and it’s not that shitty cheap Vodka that you will find in the states). But even aside from Vodka, cheap and tasty beer can be found anywhere for about $1-2 per glass.
The streets in Minsk are lined with fun bars, lounges and clubs – filled with a young and sexy crowd of partygoers (especially in Old Town). The music was my kind of style – a mix of deep house and electronic dance music hits, and almost every venue stays open all night long.
Most of the clubs are high end and expensive, but my favorite place was called Africa Club. It’s a student’s club with 3 bars inside, a chill-out area and a big dance floor. The entrance fee is $10 but it’s worth it.
Some fun bars to check out are Coyote Bar, Bar 13 and Blackhall Bar.
I enjoyed my time in Minsk and it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting . If the visa was easier to get, then I’d probably come back to visit another time.
I hope you enjoyed my guide to Minsk and please comment below if you have any questions or thoughts, and I’ll get back to you!
Thanks for reading 🙂