For a long time, Belarus was one of the most difficult countries to visit. Even more so for curious Americans! Once requiring an arduous and expensive visa dance, with a lot of steps, and a high level of rejections. Belarus would complete my visit of every country in Europe! For years, I had the energy, but didn’t have the time for this dance. In 2015 the country began to show tiny signs of opening up. I was curious, and waited patiently.
Finally, a “loophole” opened up in 2017, granting visa free entry for 5 days for citizens of 50+ countries at the Minsk National airport. A month later, we booked our tickets!
Belarus is one of the last remaining bastions of the USSR, and remnants of this close relationship are visible everywhere. The uniqueness of the Soviet influence was part of the draw for me to visit. Few places offer a glimpse into life in the former Soviet Union. Transnistria in Moldova is one of them. The signs of capitalism’s full steam charge is apparent in the rest of Europe, but Minsk offers something very different. The pristine, clean, and well organized city is largely free of flashy advertisements. The police presence is strong, and for better or worse, everyone obediently follows the rules to a T.
No one dares to cross a street before traffic signals give permission. Once I wasn’t paying attention and almost crossed; the crowd of 20 waiting at the curb collectively let out a hushed gasp. I stepped back onto the sidewalk. The city feels safe, and is largely free of crime. It also feels as though someone is always watching. Curiosities aside, the capital is beautiful, easily walk-able, and incredibly affordable! We ate dinner at one of the top restaurants in town for less than $10, for two!
Since overland border crossing wasn’t possible at the time of publication, flights were the only option. Most visitors will likely need to connect from a larger European hub. We flew on the national carrier, Belavia, from Poland to Minsk. On the return leg, we connected in Prague. Overall it was fairly simple and the service was fine, albeit there weren’t a lot of options.
Brando’s Top 5 suggestions for visiting Belarus:
Minsk has alot to offer! Museums aren’t 100% our thing. Fortunately, architecture, food, and exploring are! We felt incredibly safe everywhere we went. Make sure to check out Trinity Hill, PR Nezalezhnastsi, Pl Svabody, the KGB HQ, the SS Peter and Paul Church, the Tsentralny Skver, Oktyabryskaya Pl…and at least a visit to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, the National History Museum and the Stalin Line Museum (even if you don’t go inside.)
2)Eat! Quality, authentic, cheap Belarusian food is easy to find in Minsk. Make sure to enjoy the local adult beverages, too. Suggestions: eat at Restaurant Vasiliki!
We didn’t have a bad meal in Minsk, and we rarely paid more than $7 drinks included. Do your research beforehand, and ask a local! We suggest Vasiliki for quality food, an enjoyable atmosphere, and great prices. We ate multiple dinners here, and enjoyed every meal!
3) Be a cultured adult and watch the ballet or an opera at the National Theatre! Our tickets were $7 each.
We bought our tickets at the Minsk Opera box office on the same day, but I would suggest trying earlier. There are different levels, but most tickets are super cheap, at less than $20
This beautifully restored castle was one of the highlights of our trip! You can even spend the night in the Palace! We really enjoyed wandering around the town, and having a drink overlooking the lake. Transport to Nezvizh is easy from Minsk. Buy your tickets at the bus station adjacent to the main train station. The day we visited had 4 or 5 busses a day, the early buses leaving at 7:50am and 10:30. The last return bus was around 6pm. A one way fare was less than $5. When we arrived in Nezvizh we bought our return ticket for Minsk. Super easy. We walked through the town to visit the castle and churches.
5)Take the train! Spend a day in Brest.
Brest with its fortress, and Memorial complex make for an interesting day trip! Its easy to reach on a comfortable train from Minsk’s main train station. Please see our write-up here.