I recently returned from a long weekend in Minsk, it was my second visit to this still rather unknown city. The capital of Belarus is a bit of the blank spot on the European tourism map and it doesn’t seem like many people travel there (or visit Belarus really). I haven’t seen any other tourists during my trip to Minsk but it was the beginning of March so the timing might not have been the best.
While there are not too many things to do in Minsk the city is definitely worth your time and will keep you busy for a day or two (I spent three days in Minsk and still haven’t seen everything I wanted to). With the recently introduced visa-free procedure, I guess it’s a matter of time Minsk tourism will develop and the city becomes more and more popular among curious tourists who are tired with well-known destinations.
I put together this Minsk guide with the overview of what to see and do in Minsk as well as some tips to help you plan your trip to Minsk, Belarus.
Minsk travel tips
Before I start telling you properly about what to do in Minsk here is a bunch of Minsk travel tips that you might find useful.
Best time to visit Minsk
I can certainly tell you when it’s not the best time to visit Minsk and that’s winter.
My recent trip there was at the beginning of March and the weather was so-so. While it was sunny on one day, two others welcomed me with either a blizzard or heavy rains. Not to mention the cold and strong winds. It was still doable to do some Minsk sightseeing but I can’t say it was always a pleasant experience.
If you go to Minsk in winter pack some warm clothes and don’t forget gloves – they were life-saving really!
On the contrary, my first Minsk trip happened in mid-May and it was really good: warm, sunny, green. A perfect springtime!
If I can recommend the best time to visit Minsk I would say from early May till late September – your chances for the best weather are the best then and you can enjoy numerous outdoor activities.
Is Minsk safe?
If you are asking yourself “is Minsk safe?” I can assure you that yes, it is. In fact, it’s one of the safest capitals in Europe. While the petty crime, of course, happens here, like everywhere else, it’s not on such a big scale. You should use the typical precautions, be careful in the crowded spaces like in the metro, but using common sense will be enough to keep you safe and sound. Minsk is a safe city!
How many days in Minsk
I think you should spend at least 2 days in Minsk. That should give you enough time to see some of the biggest Minsk attractions as well as get a feel of the city, enjoy its cafe scene or alternative culture hubs and wander around parks. Minsk is a very pleasant city to be in!
How to get to Minsk
The best way to get to Minsk is flying and that’s what I recommend doing as this way you can visit Belarus visa-free. There are numerous airlines offering cheap flights to Minsk.
I flew with LOT Polish Airlines from Warsaw, the flight is a bit under one hour and I paid around $100 / €90 for the return ticket. Other airlines serving Minsk airport are Air Baltic, Austrian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, UIA, Etihad and of course Belavia – the national carrier of Belarus.
You can also come to Minsk by train or bus from neighboring countries, including Poland and Lithuania, but entering the country through the land border requires a visa. It’s not very expensive, €25 for Polish citizens, but it requires some paperwork and time so why bother.
In 2017 Belarus changed its visa procedure and now you can visit the country without a visa for up to 30 days. The only requirement is to fly in and out of Minsk airport (so you can’t fly to Minsk and then take the train back to Poland, for example), afterwards you are free to travel all over the country.
To enter Belarus you need to have the insurance that covers €10.000 of medical costs – if you don’t have a policy already you can get one at Minsk airport, before the passport control – there is a stand on the left side. For the 4 days insurance I paid €4, you can see all the prices here.
My passport was checked in-depth, like nowhere before. Not only it was browsed through a few times, but the officer also used a magnifying glass to inspect it closer. I was asked only how long I intend to stay in Belarus but wasn’t told to show the return ticket. The whole procedure took maybe 10 minutes, with waiting in two lines, getting the insurance and then going through the passport control.
You can read more about visa-free travel to Belarus at the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
How to get from Minsk airport to the city
There are a couple of buses and minibusses traveling between the airport and the city (Central Bus Station, next to the main train station and metro station Ploshcha Lenina). They depart every 20-30 minutes in each direction. It takes around 40-60 minutes for the journey and the ticket costs 4 BYN ($1,90 / €1,67).
I took the minibus that went through Mahilyowskaya metro station (the first/last station on the red line) while on the way back I took a regular bus that went through Uruchcha metro station (the first/last stop on the blue line). The tickets can be bought from the driver.
At the airport, the bus stop is located on the left side when you leave the terminal. At the central bus station, the airport buses depart from platform no. 2.
Where to stay in Minsk
Unfortunately, there are still not that many affordable accommodation options in Minsk, especially when you travel with a friend and you need a place to stay with two beds.
During my recent trip to Minsk, together with my Paulina, we stayed at Hotel Minsk (8,6/10 on Booking), right at the corner of Independence Square and Independence Avenue. We wanted to be near a metro station for efficient getting around the city and this was one of the best options we could find. For 4 nights we paid $230 / €205 for the double room, breakfast was not included. I can definitely recommend Hotel Minsk, it’s very good, with clean and spacious rooms and the location is the best you can ask for. Click here to see current deals and book the place.
Other places to stay in Minsk worth considering:
Money in Belarus
The official currency is Belarusian ruble (BYN). At the time of writing this article (end of March 2019), 1 ruble is $0,47 and €0,42. You can easily take money from ATMs (I used one at the airport), pay by card (did that in the hotel) or exchange money in numerous exchange points all over the city.
The exchange rate is similar everywhere, we used the point in Hotel Minsk where we stayed, it’s located a few steps up on the left side when entering the hotel. The most popular currencies to exchange are US dollars, Euro and Russian rubles.
Speaking of money, Minsk is a very affordable city. The major cost is accommodation, everything else has very decent prices and visiting Minsk won’t drain your wallet.
How to get around Minsk
Minsk is a huge city and the best way to get around is by metro (it is not as grand as Moscow metro stations but it has its moments). The token for a single ride costs 0,65 BYN only ($0,30 / €0,27) and can take you to most of Minsk attractions. There is a ticket office at every station so you don’t need to buy more tokens in advance, you can pay before each ride.
I also walked a lot in Minsk but don’t get yourself fooled, if you are on the Independence Avenue 11 and want to get to number 49 don’t expect a short walk – it’s around 3 km distance!
Language in Minsk
If you know Russian – you are all good to go as, together with Belarussian (which is slightly different), this is a default language in Belarus. But even if you don’t know the local language you will still be fine and can get around with English easily. Many of the young people can speak excellent English, there are also signs or menus in restaurants in English.
I would only recommend you learning a Cyryllic alphabeth before you go – it makes everything so much easier!
Things to do in Minsk
So now, that we are done with the practical side of Minsk travel guide, let’s talk about things to do in Minsk. There might not seem to be a lot of exciting Minsk sights at first but once you start to dig in it turns out there is plenty to see and do in Minsk! Bonus points if you like the architecture of the (mid)20th century, then you will fall head over heels in love with Minsk!
At the end of this article, you will find a map with all the mentioned attractions and activities, you can download it to your phone and use when you travel to Minsk!
Admire Minsk Soviet architecture
I could write about each of the interesting buildings separately but then this list of what to see in Minsk would have 50 or more positions, not 11. So let’s say the absolute no 1 Minsk highlights is the amazing Soviet architecture – even if you are not too much of a fan of this style you will surely appreciate it.
It might not look like this but the city was first mentioned in the year 1067 and over the centuries was part of the Kievan Rus, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth or Russian Empire. After WWII Minsk and the territory of Belarus became part of the Soviet Union and eventually regained its independence.
During WWII Minsk was among the most damaged places in Europe, some 80-90% of the city was in pieces. There were two ways to repair the city: either rebuilt it the way it used to be (like it happened in Warsaw, Poland) or create a completely new space – and that’s how Minsk got its spectacular, grand Soviet architecture.
To see some of the best examples you need to walk down Independence Avenue – a real showcase of the city. You will see some of the best buildings here, including Belarusian Government Building, Main Post Office, KGB Headquarters, Victory Square or the National Library, just to name few. You can find even more great architecture gems beyond the main avenue: National Theater, blacks of flats in the shape of corn or a spectacular Soviet bas-relief above the KFC restaurant.
I had problems with finding the address of some of the less known buildings so I marked them all on the map for you. This way you won’t waste precious minutes searching online for Minsk Soviet architecture and just set off to admire it.
Ride Minsk metro
The popular belief says that metro stations in post-Soviet countries are spectacular and Moscow metro, Tashkent (Uzbekistan) or Kharkiv (Ukraine) seem to prove that. Well, the metro in Minsk isn’t that grand but it definitely has its moments.
Some of the prettiest stations to visit are Ploshcha Lenina (with a massive statue of sickle and hammer), Kastrychnitskaya, Ploshcha Pyeramohi or Ploshcha Yakuba Kolasa.
I heard so many times that it is forbidden to take pictures in Minsk metro but I took my fair share of them, twice on different station there was a guard walking past me and clearly seeing what I’m doing and no one said a thing to me. I don’t know if I was lucky or if things slackened off recently.
When entering Nyamiha station you can see a memorial to the Nyamiha stampede. In that very place, on May 30th, 1999, 54 people were killed and several hundred injured when the sudden thunderstorm rolled over the city. Locals, many of which were teenagers attending a rock concert nearby, wanted to hide on the metro station but the stairs became too slippery, the panic arose and people were trampling each other. Up to this day, this is among the most tragic events in the modern history of Minsk.
Find as many sickles and hammers as possible (and other Soviet remnants)
You might have heard that Belarus is “the last dictatorship in Europe” or “the last bastion of communism”. Actually, that’s mostly what we hear about Belarus really. Well, I must disappoint you, when you visit Belarus everything is normal, just like in any other country.
There is just one thing that catches everyone’s attention and that’s sickle and hammer, many of them. The most popular is of course at the platform of Ploshcha Lenina metro station but you can find so many more of them around the city.
Few of the locations I remember being at the building of the Main Post Office, at the entrance and platform of Kastrychnitskaya metro station, at the Victory Monument, GUM store’s facade or Minsk Gates.
Together with Paulina, we had a competition, who will spot more sickles and hammers. I won but only by a mere one or two. But it was such a fun game!
Speaking of Soviet remnants, you should also acknowledge there are a couple of Lenin statues all over the city. The most famous one is standing proudly on the Independence Square, guarding the building of Belarusian Government. It is said that you cannot take pictures of this statue but during my two visits in Minsk no one really minded me and my camera (although there were guards around, one even started walking towards me but he was so slow I could nonchalantly walk away).
Other significant monuments to Lenin are located at the exit from the metro station Ploshcha Lenina and at Kastrychnitskaya street, surrounded by street art and hip bars and cafes.
One place I didn’t manage to visit because it was closed on Sunday and Monday when I was planning to go, was Zair Azgur Memorial Studio. Zair Azgur was among the most known local artists in the Soviet times and the small museum located in his former house shows some of the best works he created.
You will find a lot of sculptures here, including numerous Lenins, Stalins, Marx and their fellows. Learning about Zair Azgur reminded me a bit about Zurab Tsereteli (the artists who created the Chronicle of Georgia monument in Tbilisi) and not visiting this museum is one of my biggest regrets from the trip to Minsk.
Visit small but cute Minsk old town
As mentioned above, Minsk has a long and turbulent history and most of its old buildings are long gone. There is, however, a small part of the city that serves as Minsk Old Town. It’s located between the Republic Palace and Svislach river. You can find here the town hall as well as a few old churches and museums. The area is alive until late hours, especially in the summertime. The Old Town might be tiny but it is really charming.
Few steps further, across the river, you can find the Trinity Suburb with pretty pastel houses and cobbled streets. What you can see now was actually restored in the 1980s but it is still a pleasant place to stroll and enjoy.
You can visit the Old Town as well as other Minsk attractions with a guide – click here for more details, price and to book the tour.
Shop in the coolest places
In a true post-Soviet manner, Minsk is home to an impressive GUM store (GUM stands for “main department store” in Russian). It was founded in 1951 and is one of the oldest and largest department stores in the city. On three floors you can find just about everything: cosmetics, clothes, household items, fabrics, souvenirs (like tractor fridge magnets!)… you name it.
But unlike the modern department stores, here many of the items are hidden in the glass case or behind the counter and you need to ask a shopping assistant to hand you what you like. This place is a great reminder of how shopping used to be 30 and more years ago.
Even if you don’t plan to do any shopping (but remember, tractor magnets!) it is still worth to stop by at GUM. The interior is really beautiful, in the grand Soviet style. The knowledgeable eye might spot some sickles and hammers here too.
From the left staircase at the top floor, you can admire a nice view of Independence Avenue, it’s actually of the best panoramas of this street you can find.
As you probably know Eastern Europe is known for its great bazaars where you can buy some delicious homemade products and numerous other things. Minsk, of course, has such a market too – Kamaroŭski market. In the big hall under the roof, you can shop for the best Belarussian goodies and more. Again, even if you don’t intend to buy anything it is worth to visit the place, just to see how it is and feel the atmosphere.
And if you are looking for some unique and modern souvenirs the best place to find them is at Kastrychnitskaya street, in Vyaliki Dzyakui.
Enjoy the amazing cafe scene
One of the things I enjoy in the Eastern European cities is the new wave of cool cafes popping up around each corner (I’m talking about you Kiev or Tbilisi). Fortunately, Minsk is no exception here.
Since the weather wasn’t all that much on my side during the recent trip I could visit a few cool and hip cafes and I can vouch for each of them, they didn’t disappoint! My favorite ones were:
- Why Knot?
- Union Coffee
But there are so many more cafes in Minsk you should try to stop at. Too bad I didn’t have time to check them all!
Fall in love with Minsk street art
One thing that surprised me a lot in Minsk was the exceptionally good street art scene. To be honest I didn’t expect to see so many great murals around.
When I visited Minsk for the first time in May 2014 I could see only neat streets without a single trace of the street art and now so many walls are home to really good art. While you can find it in the center, even hidden in the yards along the main avenue, the biggest accumulation of murals can be found at Kastrychnitskaya street. Many of them refer to Belarus – there are bison (beautiful animals living in Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park) or folk motives and musical instruments. You can see here both local and international artists.
See where local young generation hangs out
Speaking of Kastrychnitskaya street – you should definitely include visiting this area in your Minsk itinerary. Forget the grand architecture and neat corner of the center of the city. Kastrychnitskaya street is like a completely different world, although technically it is still center of Minsk, rather close to the Independence Avenue. The former industrial area was transformed into the cultural hub and creative center of the center and one of the favorite Minsk nightlife spots.
You should come here not only for great street art but also visit some cool cafes and bars as well as interesting events. I was there on Monday, in the early afternoon, when the weather was rather awful (which was a good excuse to get a yummy cheesecake at Enzo) but I still loved the place. I can only imagine how great it must be in the warm, summer evenings.
Try some local food
To be honest I’m not a big fan of the food in Belarus but that’s mostly because it’s nothing special for me, the local dishes are similar to those we eat in Poland. But the Belarussian cuisine is good and hearty, will keep you full for big part of the day.
I can only recommend vegetarian dishes as that’s what I ate. If you want to try the best of the local cuisine you should go for draniki (potato pancakes), regular pancakes with fillings or the soup (vegetable or mushroom).
The best place to try the local food is, just like in Russia, at stolovaya – sort if a canteen where all the food is already prepared and you just tell/point to the lady behind the counter what you would like to eat.
The most popular one, both among locals and tourists, is Lido. It’s a chain restaurant, two of the most convenient locations are at 49 Independence Avenue, next to the Ploshcha Yakuba Kolasa metro station, and 5 Niamiha str. neat Nyamiha metro station. The available food is described both in Russian and English, which is very convenient when you don’t speak the language.
If you are looking for a nice place that serves breakfast I can recommend you two: Milano Cafe at Valadarskaha 19 (a bit pricey but good) and Coffeevarium at Miasnikova 29 (we actually went there twice, it was that good and affordable).
There is one more place that is worth mentioning, perfect for the quick bite – Centralny Univiersam Snack-bar at Independence Avenue. But the food isn’t the main reason why you should stop here, it’s the interior. The place looks is just stunning with chandeliers and marble columns, it could as well be a fancy restaurant and not a fast food bar where you can also get some alcohol to go with your food, even at 10 AM (true story).
Enjoy amazing green spaces in the city
As a perfect Soviet city, Minsk was designed to a good living space so besides wide streets you can also find numerous green spaces all over the place. These green oases are a real bliss, especially in the warm days when you seek asylum in the shadow.
But no matter what time of the year Minsk parks are just pleasant to walk around and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the most popular ones, located in the center, include Park Pieramohi, Yanka Kupala Park or Gorky Park.
Go for a day trip to Mir and Nesvizh Castles
Unfortunately, there are not too many possible day trips from Minsk and the most popular choice are Mir and Nesvizh castles. I haven’t been there myself (yet) but my friend Ewa was and that’s what she said about these places:
There are many reasons to plan one day out of Minsk, visiting two of the most beautiful castles in Belarus, since they are located not very far from the capital city.
The majestic Nesvizh castle, one of the Belarussian UNESCO World Heritage sites, built at the end of the 17th century, is situated in a beautiful, spacious park and features a large collection of the Radziwiłł family fortune and assets.
Located nearby the Mir castle, also on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is approximately one century older than Nesvizh and looks much more fortified. It has a very interesting history, being owned by many different families, and during the WWII it briefly served as a Jewish ghetto. Both castles are interesting not only to history amateurs and offer a nice break from the capital city hustle.
It is not really possible to visit the castles independently as a day trip from Minsk. Your best option is the organized tour – click here to see the details and book the tour.
Is Minsk worth visiting?
The capital of Belarus might not be the most beautiful city you will see or the most interesting one. It definitely is not charming and you will not see twisting lanes and cute houses. But it is definitely worth to visit Minsk!
This is one of the most unusual cities, a masterpiece of Soviet architecture with modern and hipster add-ons. There is no other place where Lenin’s bust stands next to the beautiful mural, where on the wall above a cool coffee stand you can see the sickle and hammer painted or where KFC has a massive and magnificent Soviet-times bas-relief on the facade of the restaurant.
I’m already checking flights to go back to Minsk and spend some more time there (after all I still have places I need to visit!) and I definitely recommend you doing the same!
Map of Minsk
Below you can find the map with all the places to visit in Minsk I’ve mentioned in the post, and more! You can download it to your phone and use it offline with maps.me app. Just click on the three dots in the left upper corner, download .kml file, send to your email address and open on the phone in maps.me. And enjoy the map when visiting Minsk!
If I haven’t convinced you yet to visit Minsk here are few more pictures to inspire you to travel to Minsk.
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