One of my new favourite cities is, without doubt, Minsk. I wasn’t sure what I would think of the city when I planned my trip to Belarus but I ended up falling hard for this completely underrated city! Located between Russia to the east, Ukraine to the south, Lithuania to the north and Poland to the west, Belarus is an oft-overlooked country in terms of tourism.
Until the introduction of the visa-free regime in 2016, Belarus was quite a difficult country to visit as pretty much all countries in Europe (excluding Russia and a few other countries, such as Ukraine and Moldova) required a visa to visit the country or transit through. Since 2016, they have introduced a visa-free regime for passport holders from around 80 countries, including all 39 European countries. In 2018, the visa-free period was extended to 30 days, meaning that you can really explore a lot of Belarus now without needing to apply and pay for a visa.
Between 2016 and 2018 there was a 40% increase of inbound tourists to Belarus, presumably thanks to the relaxed visa conditions. However, even with Belarus’ relaxing of visa requirements and their hosting of the European Games in 2019, the country still doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radars.
Here is a selection of my photos that will inspire you to visit Minsk!
Photos To Inspire You To Visit Minsk, Belarus
Minsk’s Beautiful Architecture and Attractions
Also known as the ‘Red Church’, the Church of Saints Simon and Helena is located on Independence Square (plošča Niezaležnasci). According to legend, Alena Vajnilovič – daughter of a Minsk noble – drew a sketch of a church she had seen in a dream. In 1897, Symon (Szymon) Vajnilovič died from scarlet fever and in 1903 Alena (Helena) died from pneumonia. Edward Vajnilovič (Edward Woyniłłowicz) donated funds for the construction of the church in memory of his two children.
Edward Vajnilovič chose the Neo-Romanesque style as a memory of the times when Christianity was not divided into Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The church was designed by Polish architects Tomasz Pajzderski and Władysław Marconi.
The cornerstone was laid in 1905 and the church was completed in 1910. The tower of the church was at that time the highest in the city, and the church itself was the largest temple in Minsk. The church was named and consecrated in memory of Vajnilovič’s two children, Szymon and Helena.
A few minutes walk from Victory Square and you will find the Alexander Nevsky Church. Surrounded by a beautiful park which houses the military cemetery, it’s truly a place where you can feel at peace.
The church was built in 1898 in honour of Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 and has almost entirely maintained its appearance since then. The church is well known for a miracle that happened in the Second World War when Minsk was heavily bombed.
During the bombardment of Minsk, a bomb landed on the Alexander Nevsky Church. The bomb destroyed the dome that it fell through but when it landed (according to legend, in front of the icon of St Nicholas) it didn’t explode.
This small church is definitely worth a visit when you’re in Minsk!
Woah – what on earth is that incredible glass dome?! That, my friends, is the Victory Hall of the Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Yep, the museum’s name is an absolute mouthful for sure. If you’re not sure what the Great Patriotic War is, that would be the Soviet name for World War II (in Belarusian: Вялікая Айчынная вайна).
Located on Pieramožcaŭ Avenue, the Great Patriotic War Museum opened shortly after the liberation of Minsk from the Nazi invaders on 25th October 1944. It was the first World War II museum to open during the course of the war and moved to its current location in 1966.
Have I convinced you to go to Minsk yet? If so, don’t forget to check out my guide to public transport in Minsk!
The museum is a must-do in Belarus and is really eye-opening about what happened in Belarus during the war and post-war years. Belarus suffered a lot – it’s thought that they lost every third resident. More than 2 million people died, including about 50,000 partisans and underground fighters.
Throughout the country, there were 250 death camps, including the infamous Trostenets, one of the largest after Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka. The war museum in Belarus is one of the largest ones in the world, along with Moscow and Kiev.
While Soviet-style architecture might not seem the most beautiful, there are definitely some interesting buildings in Minsk! The building above was actually the Airbnb I stayed in when I was in Minsk – how interesting is this architecture?!
I highly recommend staying in an Airbnb when in Minsk as they are often much cheaper than hotels and it’s a great way to truly experience the city.
BONUS: here for a €15 discount off your next stay on Booking.com – valid for the first 5 people only!
The beautiful Holy Spirit Cathedral is located on Plošča Svabody (Freedom Square) and dates back to the 17th century, although the present building was rebuilt after a fire in 1741. It was originally a Catholic Bernadine monastery but by 1860 had become an Orthodox church.
The main legend of this place is about how the icon of the Minsk Mother of God was found in 1500. Prince Vladimir brought the replica of the icon from Korsun in Crimea to Kiev in the 9th century and was kept there until the 15th century. However, during the Tatar invasion in the 15th century, the icon was thrown into the river Dniapro. It then appeared in the Svislač (the river than runs through Minsk) on August 13th, 1500 and was eventually installed in the Holy Spirit Cathedral in 1616.
The National Library of Belarus dates back to 1922 and originally housed 60,000 books. More than 80% of these books were lost during the Second World War, although luckily most of the rare and early printed books had been evacuated.
After the war, the library was rebuilt and redeveloped and started collecting more books. It was renamed in 1992 to the current name and there was a USSR-wide contest for the architectural design of a new building.
The new library was finally opened in 2006 and it weighs a huge 115,000 tonnes (not including the books!). It is in the shape of a rhombicuboctahedron, has 23 floors and can seat 2,000 people as well as 500 in the conference hall.
There is a public observation deck (which I sadly didn’t have time for) on the 23rd floor and a cafe and gallery on the 22nd.
Located on Pieramožcaŭ Avenue (‘Pobediteley’ in Russian or ‘Victors Avenue’) the Soviet-era House of Fashion was marked by a massive Socialist Realist relief entitled ‘Solidarity’. It is now a KFC restaurant which just produces the most incredible juxtaposition.
Another example of interesting (albeit not the MOST beautiful) architecture has to be the parliament building or House of Government. It houses the National Assembly of Belarus and its two chambers, the Council of the Republic and the House of Representatives.
In front of the Government House stands a statue of Vladimir Lenin – yep, that Lenin. They still have the statue since Lenin was the leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and was the first Soviet leader. I’m a little surprised it hasn’t been removed since then (the square used to be known as Lenin Square until it was renamed Independence Square) though.
The National Assembly of Belarus is one of the highest organs of state power in Belarus. The Supreme Council (Council of the Republic) is the continuation of the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR and acts as the functioning parliament for Belarus.
Hotel Belarus is an iconic hotel in Minsk with a unique triangular design housing 484 rooms. A room starts at 91 BYN per night (€40) or you can do what I did and see the impressive view from the roof of the hotel for a budget-friendly 2.5 ruble (about €1).
The hotel is huge, with a panorama restaurant on the 22nd floor and two cafes. There are also two conference halls, a swimming pool (very interesting interior), a water park, a beauty salon, and a pharmacy. Even if you don’t stay, you should definitely make time to visit!
The observation deck at Hotel Belarus was a little different from what I expected – firstly, it seemed like no one else ever really asks to go up there (even though they advertise it on their website there is nothing in the hotel that tells you about it). Secondly, it’s not really an ‘observation deck’ but rather just the roof with lots of pipes and so on. There is a small deck area with a terrace-like area that can be used for dinners or drinks events which looks like it would be a great location!
However, for the price (just over €1), it was well worth it! The journey in the lift from the ground floor to 73m high is an experience in itself as the lift is glass looking outwards so you can watch as you travel upwards. It’s pretty awesome!
The beautiful Victory Park covers a huge total of 200 hectares and the scenic Lake Komsomolskoye is 40 hectares of this. The fountain above (Fountain of Sails) is very impressive and when it’s sunny you can see a rainbow appear in the spray. This fountain is actually the highest and most powerful fountain in Minsk!
There are lots of activities to do in Victory Park and on Lake Komsomolskoye, from cycling around the park to pedal boating on the lake. There are also scenic cruises that depart from the shore near the Fountain of Sails, although I couldn’t find any details for this online!
During the summer, you can also find lots of ice cream vendors along the shore as well as vendors selling cold drinks.
Epic Street Art in Minsk
Minsk has an incredible amount of street art around the city and one impressive hub of it is located on Oktyabrskaya Ulica (Октябрьская улица, Belarusian: Кастрычніцкая вуліца). One of the biggest murals can be seen on building 19/5 and is by Brazilian artist Ramon Martins.
The mural depicts the endangered animals of Belarus, featuring deer and also bison, the Belarusian symbol, and covers more than 3000 square meters.
Yep – this is still part of the mural! This is the left-hand side of the mural that features some of Belarus’ endangered birds.
The above mural is a beautiful piece by Dante Horoiwa, a self-taught artist born in São Paulo in Brazil. “Cutting the memories” was his mural for ‘Vulica Brasil’, a Brazilian-Belarusian festival held by the Brazilian Embassy in Minsk in 2017.
In the 4th edition of the festival, 6 Brazilian and Belarusian artists painted large scale murals around Minsk. Ramon Martins’ mural on Kastričnitskaya was also painted for Vulica Brasil.
Vulica Brasil 2019 will run from the 29th July to 11th August and the finale of the festival will be celebrated on October Street (Kastričnitskaya/Oktyabrskaya), which will be completely pedestrianized from 10th to 11th August 2019.
Find out more on the Vulica Brasil website (Belarusian only with some Portuguese translation). Under ‘Лакацыі · Locações‘ you can find images and addresses of the murals as well!
Not street art but definitely a fun little location! I spotted this I HEART MINSK sign when heading to my Airbnb from the airport in a taxi and marked down the location for later (conveniently near a restaurant I was going to visit).
The I HEART MINSK sign was installed in 2016 as part of a competition run by БТА Банк (BTA Bank). To enter, people had to take a photo with the sign and post it to Facebook or Instagram with the hashtags #iloveminsk and #btabank.
The competition may have ended more than two years ago but the sign stayed! It now makes for a cute photo location, albeit smack bang in front of a bank. Well, you can’t have everything.
Location: 20-2 V Khoruzhey Street (улица В.Хоружей 20-2)
Delicious Food and Drink in Minsk
Located a short walk from the I HEART MINSK sign, Yellow SLON (Yellow Elephant) is a cute little vegan junk food spot offering well-priced vegan food. The burgers were delicious but the real winner here is their vegan cakes – so good!
A super cute cafe on the popular Zybitskaya, the place with the biggest number of bars, pubs, and cafes per square metre in Minsk. CoffeeBerry is a great spot to grab a coffee in the day and a cocktail at night (plus alcoholic and non-alcoholic coffee cocktails – they’re delicious).
Zybitskaya Street is a perfect spot to sit and people watch, as well as the best street for bars and cafes in Minsk. Definitely worth a visit!
Kolduny (Belarusian: калдуны́) are small dumplings filled with meat, vegetables or other fillings and are one of the national dishes of Belarus. They’re delicious and usually served in butter with a herb sauce and sour cream for dipping – delicious!
The well-known draniki, or potato pancake, is a popular dish in Belarus as well as neighbouring Russia. Some draniki are stuffed with meat or other fillings and others are plain potato pancakes with meat served alongside it (like the one I had at Beetle Juice Cafe on Ulica Kalinina).
Last but by no means least, we have the drinks of Minsk. You will find excellent and well-priced beer, spirits and cocktails throughout the city with many bars located on Oktyabryskaya (Kastryčnitskaya), Internacionalnaya and Zybitskaya streets.
MADMEN.Minsk (where I enjoyed the delicious rum tropical punch above) is excellent, as was Insomnia Bar (Bessonitsa, or Бессонница). Bessonitsa had an amazing selection of cocktails and they started as cheap as 13 ruble (less than €6).
There are so many reasons to visit Minsk and I hope these photos have inspired you to visit Belarus! While still overlooked by many travellers, this country is a hidden gem in Europe.
Have I inspired you to visit Minsk? Let me know in the comments!