Written by Zoe Stephens
Belarus isn’t the first country that comes to mind (if at all) when you’re thinking about planning your next trip. It probably hit its peak of Google searches in the 90s when the American sitcom Friends aired an episode where Pheobe’s relationship becomes forever doomed as her boyfriend is sent off into the middle of nowhere, Minsk. For some, Belarus and its capital evoke grey skies and far-flung Soviet gloom. But for the majority (who have actually heard of it), it’s a struggle even naming a single sight in Minsk, let alone Belarus itself.
“The country has been described among other things as the last holdout of the Cold War and Europe’s ‘only Soviet State’”
For over 100 years, Belarus was under Russian rule, followed by seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR. Belarus then gained independence in 1991. in 1999, Belarus and Russia signed a two-state union treaty aiming to expand politics and economics. However, Belarus’ economy is currently largely dependent on Russia.
Why Should You Visit?
#1 Off the beaten track
Tell your friends that you’re off for a trip to Belarus on holiday, and they might smile and say ‘oh, how lovely’, before doing a casual Google search whilst you’re not looking. They then may retract their previous statement.
Belarus only sees a mere 100,000 tourists per year, whilst a number of people that leave the country on holiday annually is over 12 million. This could be due to the arduous visa application and requirements or the apparent underdeveloped service industry. The country is trying to attract visitors, but… It’s not quite there yet.
However! Since the country is desperate to get more tourism, the government have put a lot of money into developing the big cities and country. Long gone are the days of painfully trying to find decent accommodation or activities to do. It’s now a perfect time to visit this up and coming country whilst it’s still relatively tourist-free and untouched.
Apart from that, it’s also pretty fun to confuse and astound your mates, especially if they’re Friends fans. (In fact, maybe Friends alone is another reason why you should go?!)
Sip your way around this vibrant city, full of interesting architecture, religious statues, and memorials.
If you’re a fan of vodka or craft beer, weirdly enough, Minsk won’t disappoint! It also has a pretty decent nightlife. So whilst it won’t be at the top of every stag party’s list, you’ll still be able to achieve a morbid hangover the next day. Especially if you try out the innocent looking Minsk Kristall vodka and the not-so-innocent local Balsam.
For those beer nerds, Minsk has an arrange of light and dark brews with hoppy German/Belgian flavors running through them. Many bars and restaurants also come with a live band or entertainment!
As well as unique architecture, Minsk is home to Belarus’ national library which definitely shouldn’t be left off your ‘to visit’ list whilst in the city. The peculiar building itself is worth a look, and inside you’ll find an array of art exhibitions. There is also an observation deck. The best time to visit is at night when there are lots of lights around and on this beautiful tower.
Food in Belarus is not for the weak hearted, and you may come back with a few extra pounds (weight, not cash, unfortunately). You’re not going to want to wear anything tight for before your big Belarusian feast!
Meat is big here. As are carbs. Typical Belarusian staples include pancakes dipped in pork broth, meaty soup, dumplings… However, the West is once again showing its influence with the influx in popularity of French Cafes and Italian pizzerias, particularly in the big cities.
Very nice restored and renovated 17-18 centuries castle in the heart of Belarus! The best place to see in summer-autumn. It’s not far from Minsk and you could easily come there by car or by public transport. There is a museum inside, places to eat or you can enjoy a picnic. Sometimes they do festivals and reconstruction shows.
The best thing about this is that the castle actually doubles up as a hotel… So, ever fancied sleeping in a castle for the night? The place is ancient, charming, nicely furnished and quite comfortable. The experience alone is amazing, definitely worth a visit if for this grand aspect alone!
Rich in history, this castle is not to be missed. Go on a guided tour lasting an hour around the castle interior, or you can just walk around in the big park or rent a small boat and enjoy a small romantic boat trip. There are also bikes available to rent!
The exterior may not be incredibly charming on first glance, but take a look inside and it is worth the trip. The rooms have been very well restored, and all staff are very friendly.
Nature nerds, this one’s for you. Belarus has many national parks that are more like a vast expanse of wilderness, home to European bison, wild boar and elk. One of the most beautiful and romantic areas is Narach National Park. Head over here to check out the largest and deepest lake in the country. Mind you don’t get lost though, this reserve spans over an impressive 94,000ha, 37,900 of which are forest. Here you can also find the biggest expanse of pine trees. Cool..!
Young Pioneer Tours
Read enough about Belarus to be convinced? Or need to see it for yourself to believe it? YPT offer an extensive 8 day, 7 night stay with their Back in the USSR tour. You’ll be exploring some of the must-see and dos in Belarus, as well as some exclusive off the beaten track-esque activities.
Visit Stalin Line, a huge open-air museum of military technics, including tanks, rockets, artillery, cars, helicopters, aircrafts, bunkers, and much more. Also on the itinerary is the village of Khatyn, a breathtaking complex of monuments devoted to the village whose 156 inhabitants were massacred in 1943.
Of course, the vibrant capital of Minsk isn’t left out here either! It will be explored on a driving tour, beginning with visits to the Former Residence of Lee Harvey Oswald, the Belarus National Museum of History and Culture, the House of the 1st Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Liberal Party, and the famous KGB Building.
Having visited the country 3 years in a row, you can rest assured you’ll be in the safe hands of the guides who are experts in the country and Soviet culture.