Minsk is a great city to spend a few days and has an excellent system of public transport for getting around. Compared to many European capitals, Minsk is not that expensive and is also not packed with tourists so I definitely recommend a visit to this interesting city.
The city has a population of just under two million and is the largest city in Belarus. It is home to the country’s main airport (Minsk National Airport) as well as the national war museum and national art museum and lots, lots more.
Getting around Minsk is not difficult once you have figured out the different forms of transport (although I still haven’t quite solved marshrutkas… they’re confusing) but it can be a little overwhelming at first for a tourist! Most things are also in Cyrillic only (yay for the metro being in English as well) so I hope you find this guide to public transport in Minsk handy during your stay in Belarus.
Find a guide to taxis and Minsk’s Uber at the end of this article!
Fun facts about Minsk
Before we get into all the information about public transport (which isn’t necessarily the most exciting thing ever), here are some fun facts about the capital of Belarus.
They still have the KGB
Yep, you read that right. Belarus still has the KGB and their headquarters is located smack bang in central Minsk, ironically located on Independence Avenue. It’s actually a pretty impressive building, built in a neo-classical style and it’s also very yellow. Officially the ‘State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus’ or ‘Комитет государственной безопасности’ (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti), it’s one of only three intelligence agencies that kept the name ‘KGB’ (the others being Transnistria and South Ossetia).
The KGB in Belarus has been accused of secret police activities and human rights abuses and the agency has played a large role in political repression (e.g. crackdowns on peaceful protests). However, much has improved since 2016 when Belarus-European Union relations started to get better.
Just be aware that when in Minsk, you are not supposed to take pictures of the KGB Headquarters! It is, in theory, illegal (as is the photography of most government buildings there) so I would generally recommend against it. You know, just in case.
Minsk is home to one of Europe’s longest streets
The main street in Minsk is Independence Avenue (Russian: Prospekt Nesavizimosti, Belarusian: Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci), a 15km long street that crosses Minsk. Many of the main tourist attractions and important locations in the city are locations on or very near Independence Avenue and you can take bus number 100 down the entire avenue!
I have actually been trying to research the longest street in Europe… there are many claims that this record goes to Piotrkowska Street in Łódź, Poland but since that’s only 4.2km then is Independence Avenue the longest? There are also Avinguda Diagonal in Barcelona (11km), Calle de Alcalá in Madrid (10.5km) and Soborny Avenue in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine (11km) so, currently, it seems that Minsk’s Independence Avenue beats them all.
Attractions along Independence Avenue include the Church of Saints Simon and Helena, the KGB Headquarters, Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Gorky Park, Victory Square and the National Library of Belarus.
The city of 100 fountains
Or, more accurately, more than one hundred fountains! There are lots of beautiful fountains throughout the city – some of my favourites are the fountain at the National Opera & Ballet Theatre, the one at Independence Square (which has 700 jets!) and the Garland Fountain in Janka Kupala Park.
Public transport in Minsk
Minsk is the only city in Belarus with a metro system, a result of the requirement for a former USSR state to have more than 1 million inhabitants before they could build a metro system. The construction of the metro system started in 1977 and there are now two lines that look a little like an ‘X’ (okay, a lot like an X).
There is also a third metro line that is being built and due to be completed at some point in 2019/2010.
The metro is the simplest mode of public transport in Minsk and it’s pretty hard to get lost at any point. The only possible confusion comes from the fact that some metro station names are in Russian and some in Belarusian. You may be wondering why… and the answer is I have absolutely not a clue either. If anyone knows, please tell me in the comments. PLEASE.
Metro travel is paid for either with these little red tokens (‘zheton’) or with a smart card that you can preload for metro travel only or for public transport throughout Minsk. Each token costs 0.65 ruble and you can buy a few at once from one of the ticket kiosks by the metro stations – I bought ten from the kiosk by the main station.
I never bought a smartcard when I was there (although in retrospect this would probably have been a good idea!) but as far as I am aware you can buy them from the kiosks as well. You will save money with the smartcard as if you buy 10 trips to load onto your card, it only costs 6.17 ruble rather than 6.50 as it would if you bought individual tokens. There is a 2 ruble deposit for the smart card that you get back when you return the card at the end of your trip (or if not, you get a cool souvenir).
Smartcards can be loaded with different ‘timing’ options as well as a different quantity of journeys. Options include the 10 or 20 journey options as well as unlimited metro travel for 10 days, 15 days and 1 month. There is also a more ‘tourist friendly’ option that is for 2 or 3 days and includes metro and other forms of public transport.
Aside from the metro, you can also use buses, trolleybuses, trams, ‘express’ buses and the city trains. The buses, trolleybuses and trams are pretty self-explanatory and a really easy way of getting around the city. Express buses are denoted with the letter “Э” (e.g. 115-э) and are the fastest (there is an express airport bus, as an example) – they are a bit more expensive than a regular bus so you have to have a different ticket to travel on them.
The city train is an urban line that connects Minsk central with Ždanovičy and Minsk Sea (not actually a sea, rather an artificial reservoir, but a very popular place to head to). I never used the city train or the express bus during my 5 days in Minsk but it depends entirely on what you are planning to see!
The final public transport option is the ‘marshrutka’ or routed taxi that resembles a minibus. These confused the heck out of me when I first arrived in Minsk as I hadn’t realised that they are privately owned or how I should hail them or, once on board, ask to get off…
Fun anecdote: I took a marshrutka to get to the war museum – it started well since it stopped at the stop (perfect), I got on, offered the bus driver a ticket (nope, he shook his head and said something to me in Russian, turns out it’s a separate charge so luckily I had 1,5 ruble in change), and then expected the minibus to stop at the next stop so I could get off. Nope, turns out you have to tell them you want to stop. I ended up having to walk back for 20 minutes because I didn’t know how to actually GET OFF the bus. So that was fun.
The list of tariffs and fares is only available in Russian so I have translated the most likely options:
- 1 day ticket (На 1 сутки: автобус, троллейбус, трамвай) with unlimited travel on bus, trolleybus and tram: 2,97 ruble
- 2 day ticket (На 2 суток: автобус, троллейбус, трамвай) with unlimited travel on bus, trolleybus and tram: 5,24 ruble
- 3 day ticket (На 3 суток автобус, троллейбус, трамвай) with unlimited travel on bus, trolleybus and tram: 7,22 ruble
- 10 journey ticket for metro (10 поездок срок действия: метро): 6,17 ruble
- 10 journey ticket for bus, trolleybus and tram (10 поездок срок действия: в автобусе-троллейбусе-трамвае: 5,70 ruble
- 20 journey ticket for metro (20 поездок срок действия: метро): 12,09 ruble
- 20 journey ticket for bus, trolleybus and tram (20 поездок срок действия: в автобусе-троллейбусе-трамвае: 11,16 ruble
- 3 day ticket (3 суток: автобус – троллейбус – трамвай – метро – городские линии, + автобус “экспресс”) including unlimited travel on bus, trolleybus, tram, metro, city line and express bus: 10,57 ruble
- 5 day ticket (5 суток: автобус – троллейбус – трамвай – метро – городские линии, + автобус “экспресс”) including unlimited travel on bus, trolleybus, tram, metro, city line and express bus: 13,44 ruble
- 10-day ticket including unlimited travel on four types of transport, ‘автобус – троллейбус – трамвай – метро’ (bus, trolleybus, tram and metro), excluding express bus: 17.41 ruble
Public transport apps
The best public transport app for Minsk is definitely Yandex Transport, which displays live arrival/departure times and even has live tracking of most public transport (from what I can tell it’s all buses and trams but not the marshrutkas).
It is much more reliable than Google Maps – I was initially using Google Maps but the times were always completely off and it didn’t always seem to calculate that there was a metro route option.
Download Yandex Transport from their website here. You will need an internet connection to use the app (I will cover all about getting a local SIM card later!) but there are some offline options if need be.
Confusing location names in Minsk
The majority of stations/place names are pretty simple (aside from making sure you’re looking either at the Russian OR the Belarusian, as they are not necessarily the same) but there are a few that can catch you out.
Maskoŭskaja Station vs. Maskoŭskaja Street: the station is located to the northeast of the city but the street is situated in a totally different part (near Institut Kultury Station) and is actually where my first Airbnb was. Yep, I thought this station would be near me and initially wondered why it never turned up as a transport route… until I checked the location of the station!
Mahiloŭskaja Station vs. Mahiloŭskaja Street is the same story. The street is near Institut Kultury station (again) and Mahiloŭskaja metro station located in the southeast of the city
Płošča Lenina Station (Lenin Square) exists as a station… but not as a square. Lenin Square is actually located at Płošča Niezaležnasci (Independence Square). The square was called Lenin Square during the time of the Byelorussian SSR but the name was changed after Belarus declared independence. However, the station kept its original name and didn’t change!
Kastryčnickaja Station vs Октябрьская (Oktyabrskaya) Station is one that kept catching me out. A lot of locals will translate the name to ‘October Square’ when they say the name of the square where the station is (it’s the direct translation of Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad) but the name seems very different in Belarusian (the ‘main’ name of the station) as Kastryčnickaja. They both mean ‘October’ (Belarusian: Kastryčnik and Russian: Oktyabrya) but I hadn’t put this together as Kastryčnickaja is very different to ‘October’. Oh, and Google Maps didn’t recognise the location of ‘October Square’ if I just typed that in. *sigh*
Taxis and Uber in Minsk
Another incredibly easy way to travel around Minsk is by taxi. You can’t use Uber in Minsk anymore as you get an error message saying you need to update your app – this is absolutely fine! Uber Belarus merged with Yandex Taxi (Яндекс.Такси) so you will need the Yandex app to be able to book a taxi/Uber.
I used the taxi app to travel to and from the airport as my Airbnb wasn’t located close to the airport drop off point and I didn’t have the energy/motivation to figure out the public transport with all my luggage. My Airport – City and City – Airport fares ranged between 32 rubles (€14) and 37 rubles (€16) so it’s very cheap for a fairly long journey (about 45 minutes).
Most of the drivers will probably not speak English (or at least not very much), but the app has an incredibly useful chat function that translates what you type (in English or your language) to Russian for your driver and vice versa. This came in incredibly handy when my driver was waiting at the wrong side of my building and I needed him to come to another entrance since I had all my luggage. I think Uber needs to get this function…
Overall, Minsk is a pretty simple city to get around! The metro is the easiest to use and, in my opinion, the marshrutkas are the most confusing (since it’s a different price, not included in any other public transport tickets, are hailed in a different way and don’t automatically stop at each stop).
The metro is well worth a visit even if you don’t actually need to travel anywhere with it since many of the stations are seriously beautiful! While photography in the station used to be illegal, it is legal now (although some people do give you odd/confused looks – a lot of locals don’t think they’re photogenic).
I hope this guide helps you with getting around Minsk during your trip – let me know if there are any other tips that you think I may have missed!
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