Minsk Prospekt Nezavisimosti
Minsk Prospekt Nezavisimosti

Belarus

Belarus is probably the former Soviet republic where least has changed since the end of the Soviet Union. The economy is still very much centralized and the President is usually re-elected with more then 80% of the votes. Comtourist spend a couple of days in Minsk and found that the Belarusian capital is a very relaxed city, with friendly people and an endless list of Soviet highlights. We certainly will go here again to see more of this great country.

"They say that if someone wishes to get to the geographic centre of Europe one just has to buy a ticket to Minsk - capital of the Republic of Belarus. Like many centuries ago, Belarus and its beautiful capital seem to remain the most convenient junction which has for centuries linked the Black and the Baltic Seas and the eastern lands with the western ones."
Belarus, International centre of book culture, Minsk - 2006

Belarus was always high on the Comtourist list of countries we hoped to visit one day. So we knew our planned trip to the Ukraine in the summer of 2006 was and excellent opportunity to stay in Minsk for a couple of days. The main problem was our limited time of three weeks plus the additional expenses that a visit to Belarus would imply. Our wish to visit Belarus prevailed however so we decided to go one way or the other. Belarus has strict Visa procedure similar to Russia, so a visit has to be planned well in advance. An invitation from a hotel or tourist organization is required to obtain a visa. The visa is only valid for the days covered by the invitation so it is not very easy to travel around the country without booking hotels first. We decided to stay in Minsk for three days and from there take a train to Kiev. We really would have liked to stay in Brest as well but chose to go there an other time. We booked the Belarus hotel for three night and flew to Minsk on august the 16th 2006. Minsk turned out to be a great city well worth to spend a view days. Read the Comtourist city guide about Minsk tourism, Stalinist architecture and its many Soviet monuments. You will find more about the country on the Belarus Country profile.

The Belarus Coat of arms hanging above of one of Minsk's main streets

The Belarusian coad of arms

A map of Belarus a land locked country between four countries

Belarus map

Getting there and away

A visa is required to enter Belarus, to get one from the embassy you will need an invitation and hotel vouchers.. These can be obtained via Hotels or travel agency’s. A visa usually cost around €50 and an invitation around €25. Hotels or other accommodation need to be booked for all day’s your visa is valid. There have been cases of people that were not aloud in the country during periods of political unrest but usually there should be no problems entering Belarus with a valid visa.

An invitation is needed before a Belarus visa can be requested

Belarusian Visa

Baggage offloading of a Belavia Tupolev Tu-154 at Minsk airport

GAZ-52 truck and Tupolev 154 on Minsk airport

Belarus by train

Belarus by flight

TEP60 Diesel locomotive Nr. 0052 at Minsk Central Railway Station

Minsk Train station

There are many international trains from and to Minsk. Flying with low budget airlines like Sky Europe or Air Berlin to cities like Krakow, Warsaw, Vilnius or Riga and from there take the train can be a good way top save money. Go to the International ticket office (building on the right of the train station) when you want to buy international tickets in Minsk.

AirBaltic Fokker 50 at with many Il-76 aircraft in the background

airBaltic Fokker 50

A good airline fore reasonable priced flights to Minsk is airBaltic. This low budget airline operates cheap flights from many European cities. There will be a stop in Riga with sometimes an overnight stay when flying Air Baltic. An other option is flying the national airline Belavia. Take a bus service that runs every half hour from the airport to the city.

Day 1: Arrival in Minsk

Arrival on Minsk airport

Landing on an airport of a reclusive communist country is an adventure that Comtourist is all about. Not many things have not changed since the Soviet Union ceased to exist in Belarus. Our experience at Minsk airport could not topple our 2004 arrival at Pyongyang Airport in North Korea but did not disappoint at all. We saw loads of Soviet era aircraft like Il-76, Tu-154 and An-24 when we taxied from the runway to the terminal. Minsk 2 airport, built in 1982 is very much a Soviet style airport with typical communist architecture from the nineteen eighties. We were told not to take photo’s by a security guard almost directly when we entered the terminal. We could not resist filming and shooting photo’s however when we were waiting for passport control. This resulted in our second clash with the state authorities as we were now warned by a security officer in civilian clothes that had been watching us for a while already. The border and customs procedures went very smoothly however and we wee now in Belarus. Minsk 2 airport is located 42km from the capital, we decided to take the bus to town, that runs every half our. We passed the Mound of glory, a monument dedicated to the Belarusian’s that died during World War 2 on our way to the capital.

Five Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft seen from behind at Minsk airport

Ilyushin Il-76

Belavia Tupolev Tu-154 taxiing on Minsk airport in Belarus

Tupolev Tu-154

Inside the Soviet era passengers terminal of Minsk Airport

Inside the terminal

Long waiting times at the customs at Minsk International Airport

Customs procedure

Places to stay: The Belarus Hotel

Our preference for old school Soviet hotels resulted in our choice for Hotel Belarus. The Belarus is state owned and exploited by the national travel company Beltourist. The general rule in ex Soviet Union countries is that the hotels named after the country (Belarus), capital (Minsk) or Moscow are the favourites. Hotel Belarus with 22 floors turned out to be an excellent choice, most of the rooms have not been renovated yet and the swimming pool with social realist fresco’s is truly magnificent. A bonus is the great location of the Hotel near the Svisloch river. During summer time are the river banks the most popular place for the locals to hang out. Cheap beer is sold in tents and boat restaurants serve food. The river banks near the hotel are an excellent place to relax near the hotel after a day of site seeing in Minsk. After checking in we had some beers on the river bank and try to find a good restaurant. After some looking around did we decide to eat at 0,5 u Ratushi at Ulitsa Gertsena witch tuned out to be a good choice. The menu is a mix of international and local food. We decided to take some Manchanka (potato pancakes) and kletsky (potato dumplings stuffed with meat). After dinner we moved to the bar and the place really started to come alive. The place was now packed and a band played some pretty good music. We did have to pay 10 Euro for the band when we paid the bill at the end of the evening!

Ready to see the town after a good night of sleep in the Hotel

Hotel Belarus

People relaxing on the Svisloch Riverbank near Hotel Belarus

Svisloch Riverbank near the hotel

Bar 0,5 u Ratushi is an excellent restaurant in the city centre

0,5 u Ratushi

Day 2 Minsk: Walking Frantsisk Skorina Avenue

Minsk’s main attraction is the famous classical Stalinist architecture in the city centre. The capital of Belarus was totally destroyed by the Germans in Word War 2 and rebuild as a communist showpiece by the Soviets after the war. The centre point of these highlight of communist architecture can all be found around Frantsisk Skorina Avenue. Mink’s 5km long main street starts at Independence square (Ploshchad Nezavisimosti) and ends in the Vostok district. Halfway are October Square (Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad), Victory square (Pobedy Ploshchad) and Yakub Kolas Square. We decided to spend our first day in Minsk by walking Frantsisk Skorina Avenue and see what we would find on our way.

Pobedy Ploshchad

Belarus House of Parliament with a Lenin statue in Minsk

House of parliament with Lenin statue

The Minsk City Council building on the Independence Square

The city council

Pobedy Ploshchad (Independence square) is a good point to start a tour over Frantsisk Skorina Avenue (Prospekt Nezavisimosti). Highlight on the square are the City Council, Belarus State University and House of Parliament with a Lenin statue in front. This large map of the centre of Minsk shows the most important part of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue.

Start of Skorina Avenue

Buying Lukashenko stamps in the Main Post Office in Minsk

The post office

Felix Dzerzhinsky bust near the Belarus KGB headquarters

Felix Dzerzhinsky bust

Decorated Gum warehouse on Frantsisk Skorina Avenue in Minsk

Gum warehouse

Entrance of Oktoberskaya Metro Station with Soviet decoration

Metro entrance

Frantsisk Skorina Avenue starts at the south site of Independence square. Every building on this part of the street is a masterpiece of socialist architecture. Highlights at the beginning of Minsk main street are the Post Office where we bought some stamps and the chique Hotel Minsk. Next up was the KGB headquarters very prominent placed on the main Avenue. Opposite the KGB building is a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB, taken down in Moscow but still standing in Belarus. We passed the famous GUM state warehouse where we would do some shopping later. The entrance of Oktoberskaya Metro station is beautiful decorated with a classic social realist fresco. Here the first part of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue ends at October Square.

October Square

The post Soviet Union Palace of the Republic on October Square

The House of government

Entering the Central house of Officers in Minsk with a soldier

House of officers

A Soviet T-34 tank as Word War II memorial in Minsk Belarus

T-34 ww2 Memorial

October square is the next part of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue. At the west site we have a look at monumental House of Government, the Trade Unions Palace of Culture and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War that we would visit later. At the other site of the road we walk up to the House of Officers (former Red Army House) a classic Soviet building with a cross marking the entrance. A familiar monument seen in many communist countries made of the first T-34 to enter the city in 1943, placed on a sloping pedestal flanks the officers house. Near the house of officers and T-34 monument we saw an other classic Soviet government building. We had some problems making photographs of the building because there were trees in front of it. We tried to get a good picture from all angles until a soldier walked out of the building to reprimand us. We had to delete al photo’s we took and our names were noted. This building turned out to be the Residence of the President of Belarus, fortunately we did manage to keep some photo’s, find one on the Minsk architecture page.

Victory Square

The Word War II Victory Column on Victory Square in Minsk

The victory column

The Soviet Gold star medal for the Soviet Hero City of Minsk

Decorations

Beautiful Stalinist neo classical architecture on Victory square

Residential building

First congress of the Social Democratic Workers Party Museum

Party museum

Victory square ends the central part of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue. In the middle of the square stands the Victory column, a monument commemorating the Soviet victory over the Nazi’s in the great patriotic war. A subway takes us to the centre of the square with the column, eternal flame and stone’s for the twelve Soviet hero cities. Around the square are some beautiful decorated social realist residential buildings. After we looked around on the square we visited the First congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party Museum. A friendly lady gave us a tour in Russian trough the green wooden barrack. Opposite the museum did we try to find the house where Harvey Lee Oswald (Kennedy’s alleged assassin) lived. The house cannot be visited and there is no sign that shows the house but we did manage to find it.

Express Krynista

On Frantsisk Skorina Prospekt building blocks have a number

Prospekt Nezavisimosti

One of the three pieces of the Yakub Kolas memorial in Minsk

Detail of the Yakub Kolas memorial

Enjoying classic Soviet kantina style food at Express Krynistal

Dinner at Express Krynista

We concluded our walk over Frantsisk Skorina Avenue by walking from Victory square to the Vostok District a typical Soviet suburb. This is quit a long walk but certainly worth while on this part of Minsk’s main street we saw many interesting things. Main sites are the statue’s of Yakub Kolas and Mikhail Kalinin, October Cinema, Tjum warehouse and the Soviet high-rise buildings of the Vostok district. After walking for a day gassing at Stalinist architecture and monuments we took the metro back to the main part of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue and have dinner at Express Krynista. This Soviet style restaurant is excellent for tourist as you can see all the cheap and tasty food displayed.

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