Traveling in Belarus; Things to See in Minsk

After forking out $225 for a 10 day visa I was determined to give Belarus a serious sightseeing and cultural effort, after all, I certainly paid for it!

Belarus is Russia’s little brother, and of all the former soviet states it’s the one that still maintains the strongest ties to Russia even now. It’s leader, Lukasehnko, has been in charge since ’94 and has done his utmost to alienate himself from the rest of the world thanks to his dubious human rights record.

Minsk Belarus

All that being said, backpacking through Belarus has really surprised me. It’s capital seems to be thriving with wide highways, nice cars, parks everywhere and quite a happening bar scene. The poverty I was expecting to be greeted with has been a lot more subdued, and although my trips further inland did show a different financial reality, all-in-all the country is a lot more developed than my expectations.

 

Backpacking in Minsk has been awesome, not only thanks to my great couchsurfing experience (more on that tomorrow), but also with the sights to be seen, the great food, and the cheap, cheap prices.

 

When you make it to Minsk, give yourself 2 days to explore the city. These are the best things to see in Minsk, Belarus:

 

The State Library:

Strangely missing from my guidebooks was the state library. It’s a huge, modern building built in 2001. The building itself is quite impressive but the real draw is the observation tower on top ($0.50) where you can see the sunset on the sprawling Capital.

 State Library Minsk

 Library Minsk

The Circus:

I already went the circus in Moscow, which was a pretty cool experience even if I do have reservations about the treatment of the animals. If you’re trip doesn’t take you all the way to Russia however, this is the next best thing. Tickets start at $5 and run only on the weekends. Even if you don’t go in, the building itself is nice to look at.

MInsk Circus

Parliament:

If you needed any reminder that Belarus used to be an integral member of the Soviter union, just check out their Parliament, complete with huge Lenin statue outside. In a city where modern buildings are shooting up faster than bamboo, this area is a real call to the past. Blocky, square and very, very Soviet.

Belarus Parliament

Presidential Administration Building:

Where the bigman himself ‘works’. Lukashenko’s office is right downtown, walking distance from everything. I actually saw him in his limo driving out of the building when I was here, pretty cool huh!?

The building is no great sight but it’s an important part of Belarussian culture, whether they like it or not. And when finally our friend Luka is deposed, this place will be world news.

 Presidential Administration building minsk belarus

Island of Courage and Sorrow:

A very small island but one with an exceptionally quirky feature, one which you don’t find listed in the guidebooks! First of all the large monument is an Afghan War Memorial.

The quirkier side of the island comes 20 metres from there, there’s a statue of a Cherubic little boy in all his nude glory. Nothing special there, you might think, seen it all before, adorning buildings all across Europe. In Belarus though, most weddings pay a visit to the island, where everyone strokes the angels penis, especially the bride who upon touching the penis gets photographed 1000 times by the entire wedding party, bringing good luck to the marriage. Right.

This has been done so many times that the boy little fella’s little fella has turned a different colour, thanks to all the attention he gets. Beat that Justin Beiber.

Island of Courage and Sorrow

Island of Courage and Sorrow angel

Said ‘little fella’ with said, erm, ‘little fella’

KGB Building:

Belive it or not, Belarus still has the KGB, no name changes, no modernizing, it remains the gold old KGB. It’s office are slap bang in the city centre so go and take a look, unsurprisingly you can’t get inside though.

 KGB Building minsk

Oktyabrsakaya Square:

The official ‘city centre’. A huge square indicative of the socialist movements from the 20th century, seen across North Korea, Vietnam, Russia and most former Repbulics of the Soviet Union. You can also check out the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (read: beating the Nazis), but be warned, there is ZERO English in the museum, now why did the lonely planet fail to mention that? Hmmmm. 

Oktyabrskaya Square

Victory Monument:

A large column celebrating defeating the Nazis between 1941 and 1945, which is pretty much a recurring theme through all of Belarus! Below the column is an eternal flame.

Victory Monument belarus

Minsk is certainly a city of contrasts, with many of their main sights representing a time when they were under Soviet rule. They bask in their victory over Nazi Germany a lot, but aside from their Soviet sights, the city is buzzing. The people are completely Westernised, more so than eastern Russia, that’s for sure. It’s a great place to backpack in, and I was the only tourist I came across in my entire time in Belarus, which is always a great experience. Happy travels!

12 thoughts on “Traveling in Belarus; Things to See in Minsk

  1. Julie

    Hello,
    I am traveling to Minsk for 3 weeks and I have a few questions.

    What can I do in Minsk?
    where can I rent a bike?
    Can I pay a gym for membership for 3 weeks?
    How do we take trains to Ukraine and Bulgaria?
    I am a pianist, is there aplace where I can rent a piano or go and practice?

    Reply
  2. Andrei Burdenkov

    Just a few small things: the building behind Lenin statue is the Government House that survived the War along with 4 other huge buildings, Parliament is in a different location (both are not to be photographed from close) and the National Library was built between 2002 and 2006, not 2001 hence the lack of info in the guidebook (on top is the observation pad, US2 today, cafe is open until 2230).

    Reply
  3. Igor

    Thank you for a great post for trying to make our country more popular. Unfortunately, not much information about Belarus is available in English and we are trying to fix that through a website called http://www.insidebelarus.com. If you have experiences or photos to share with us, it would be great!

    Reply
  4. Tate

    Never would have thought Belarus would have such infrastructural but then again they have been in isolation since forever lol. That’s quite a fee for a visa and I thought only us Americans got high prices on visas since we make it so hard for others to enter our country, sigh! But it seems the trip was worth it?

    Reply
  5. Erica

    Getting a visa for India for my US passport in Japan was about $200USD too. It’s definitely an incentive to really get yourself out there and exploring!

    That’s so awesome that you went to Belarus! It’s one of those countries that I never really saw as visitable even though I would LOVE to go (mostly due to my lack of language skills); thanks for showing me that it is!

    Reply
  6. Ruth (Tanama Tales)

    The place (and country) looks very contradictory. It tries to be as isolated from the world as possible but all buildings (as seen from your pictures) look modern and well kept. Interesting place to visit. Well, except for the $225 visa. And I thought China and Brazil were charging huge fees.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey ruth, yeah i know – it’s strange right?! It was so interesting, and i guess the positive thing about the visa costs is that you have the country to yourself! really off the beaten path :)

      Reply
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