Minsk city guide
Minsk city guide

City guide: Mystical Minsk

Comtourist spend three days in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2006, we made a city guide with tips for what to do and where to go, plus an overview of the most interesting Soviet architecture and monuments. Visa procedures for a visit to Belarus are tedious and expensive but a city trip is well worth the effort. Minsk has plenty of historic places, beautiful architecture and places to shop eat and drink.

Minsk won’t be the first pick for many casual travellers when planning a city trip to Eastern Europe. Usually cities like Prague, Budapest, Krakow and Riga top their list, for Comtourist Minsk is an obvious destination however. It’s Stalinist boulevards, Orwellian government buildings, ever present propaganda posters, many Soviet statue’s, monuments and Hotels make it an excellent city to spend a few day’s. Minsk is starting to be a modern city, people are well dressed, restaurants are good, there are many hip bars and the economy seems to be doing reasonably good during our visit. A trip to Brest or Khatyn memorial are a good option for those who spend more then three days in Minsk.

A Minsk outskirt called microraion with concrete Kruchev era flats

A Minsk microraion in familiar concrete style

Thing’s to see and do in Minsk

Monument with the first Russian tank that entered Minsk in 1944

A T-34 tank used as a war memorial

The main attractions of Minsk are it’s magnificent Stalinist architecture and the many Soviet monuments, memorials and statue’s. It will take two or three day’s to explore the city and see the most important architecture, monuments museums and more. There are also a famous opera theatres, a circus, sports games, interesting museums and many bar’s, clubs and restaurants. Shopping in a must in Minsk the Soviet style warehouses sell great folkloric souvenirs and cheap quality products, and some USSR memorabilia as well. Most hotels are giant Soviet style concrete buildings, exactly as it should be. Worth a visit around Minsk are the Mound of Glory (21km), the Khatyn memorial (60km) and fort Brest (350km).

A tourist map with drawn buildings of the Minsk city centre

Tourist map of Minsk

Places to stay: Minsk Hotels

Hotels in Belarus as in most other countries of the former USSR are almost always overpriced. Many hotels are still owned by the state or local government and run as inefficient as they were during Soviet times. Not much has changed on the buildings and rooms since that period as well. The tourist pays the price for this both on his bill and with the lack of service he receives for his money. High prices aren’t good for anyone but the Soviet style buildings, service and rooms is exactly what Comtourist is looking for. Some good hotel choices are Orbita (?40), Planeta (?50) and Yubileinaya (?40). The most luxurious hotel is Hotel Minsk (?110) in the centre of the city. Comtourist’s recommendation however is the famous Belarus hotel (?40), the biggest and most complete hotel.

Hotel Orbita is an other Soviet era hotel in Minsk Belarus

Hotel Orbita

Hotel Yubileinaya is an other Soviet era hotel in Minsk Belarus

Hotel Yubileinaya

Hotel Planeta is an other Soviet era hotel in Minsk Belarus

Hotel Planeta

Comtourist recommendation: The Belarus hotel

In the former USSR and the whole Eastern block hotels were prestige object for the communist rulers and the motto was usually bigger is better. The most prominent hotels were often called after the country or its capital, in Minsk hotel Minsk and Hotel Belarus are the most famous hotels. Hotel Belarus is an excellent example of a giant concrete soviet hotel with 22 floors and 510 rooms. Some (more expensive) floors have been renovated and refurnished but most rooms have not changed since it was build. On all floors there are woman behind a desk keeping the guests key telling what you have done wrong or need to do (in Russian of course). The piece the resistance of the hotel is the swimming pool with beautifully socialist realist fresco on the walls. There is also a gym, a restaurant on the top floor, a billiards room, a club and many more services. A good web site to book a room in the Belarus hotel (and other hotels in Minsk) is www.hotels-minsk.com.

The giant Soviet era Belarus Hotel in where we stayed in Minsk

The Belarus hotel

Hotel room with classic Soviet furniture in the Belarus Hotel

Furniture in the room

Minsk Belarus Hotel Swimming pool with fantastic wall fresco

The swimming pool

Museum: The Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic war

In the former Soviet Union World War II is named "The Great Patriotic War", Moscow, Kiev and Minsk all have a large museum dedicated to show the horror of this war. 23 million soviets of which half civilians died during the war, between two and three million Belarusian died. The exhibition of the museum shows a large amount of personal items from soldiers and civilians, photo’s, Marquette’s, art and military equipment. A large section of the museum is devoted to the partisan resistance in Belarus. The most gripping part of the museum however is the holocaust section with a model of Maly Trostenets death camp where 200,000 died. Outside the museum there is a large collection of Soviet tanks, artillery, self propelled guns and much more. There is also a Lisunov Li-2 transport airplane, the Li-2 is a Soviet copy of the famous DC-3. 6,157 Li-2s in various versions have been built at the Chimky and Tashkent plants from 1939 thru 1952.

Tapestry with Lenin in Minsk Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Tapestry with Lenin

Bust of Marshal Zhukov in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Bust of Marshal Zhukov

Stained glass window in the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum

Stained glass window

Bust of a woman in the Belarus Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Bust of a woman

Nazi panzer, displayed in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Model of Nazi panzer

SU-100 tank destroyer in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War

SU-100 self propelled gun

A Soviet World War II Lisunov LI-2 aircraft in Minsk Belarus

Lisunov LI-2 (background)

Three Soviet tanks from World War II , a IS-3, IS-2 and T-34

IS-3, IS-2 and T-34 tanks

Museum: First congress of the Russian social democratic workers party

The site of this museum was the place where the Social Democratic workers party that became the Bolshevik party was founded in 1898. The museum was founded in 1923, the year of the congress’s 25 anniversary celebration. The building was destroyed by the Nazi’s during World War II and rebuild in 1948. During the fifties the building was moved towards the river to its current location to make room for Victory square. The exhibition in the small museum with 3 rooms shows a replica of the room where the congress took place, some photo’s and original documents like the first manifest of the Communist Party. Most interesting are the photo’s of celebrities who visited the museum like Fidel Castro.

First congress of the Social Democratic Workers Party Museum

The museum

Fidel Castro visits the Social Democratic Workers Party Museum

Castro visit

Room where the first congress of the Communist party took place

The room where the congress took place

Curiosity: The home of Lee Harvey Oswald

Unknown to many and a curious historical fact is that Lee Harvey Oswald the alleged assassin of John F. Kennedy lived in Minsk for three years. In 1959 Oswald an ex US marine left the USA for the Soviet Union. His trip was well planned and well prepared, he arrived in Moscow via France, England and Finland. The KGB did not find Oswald very usefully and decided to send him back to the USA. In his hotel he inflicted himself by cutting his wrist, the Russians afraid for a scandal decided to let him stay. He could not stay in Moscow however and was told he had to live in Minsk. Here he got a job with the Horizont radio factory and a nice apartment at kommunisticheskaya street near victory square. In 1961 Oswald met Marina Prusakova, a 19 year old pharmacology student who he married the same year. In June 1962 Oswald, his wife and a new born child left the Soviet Union for the United States. And the rest as they say...... is history!

Minsk apartment were Kennedy assassin Oswald lived three years

Oswald’s apartment on kommunisticheskaya str. nr 4

Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife near the Svislach river in Minsk

Oswald and his wife Marina Prusakova in Minsk

Going out: Eating and drinking in Minsk

There are surprisingly many good restaurants, bar’s and clubs in Minsk. The standard of the food and service in generally good and the prices are fair. Most Minsk restaurants go either for the underground cellar look or the country-home setting look, but almost always with staff in traditional folk costume. There are many restaurants with Belarusian cuisine which is almost the same as the Russian cuisine. There are some typical Belarusian dishes however like Draniki and Manchanka (potato pancakes), kolduni and kletsky (potato dumplings stuffed with meat, mushrooms or cheese). The Comtourist restaurant recommendation is Express Krynista a Soviet style cafeteria with good food.

Manchanka a traditionally Belarusian meal withy pancakes

Manchanka

Express Krynista the restaurant Comtourist recommends in Minsk

Express Krynista, our pick

Self service in Express Krynista a restaurant from the Soviet days

Express Krynista

Public transport: Tram, metro and trolley busses

Public transport has always been well arranged in the communist world. Metro systems in the main cities were important prestige projects, for the governments. The Moscow metro is the prime example, every station is like a small palace but Minsk also has a view stylish and beautifully decorated stations. Very cheap plastic coins are valid for one ride where ever you go to (like in all ex Soviet metro systems). There is a clock on platform showing when the last metro left the station, usually it only takes half a minute before the next train arrives. The same system can be found in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev and probably in many more cities. Many interesting busses, trams and trolleybus can be seen on the streets of Minsk.

Riga build RVZ-6M2 tram seen Gorky Park in Minsk Belarus

Riga build RVR tram

ZiU-682V trolleybus in seen in the Vostok district of Minsk

Trolleybus

Beautiful decorated Oktyabrskaya Metro station in Minsk

Metro station

Socialist painting above Oktyabrskaya Metro Station entrance

Entrance metro station

Site seeing: Minsk street propaganda

The USSR is gone for more then fifteen years but in many way’s Minsk still feels like a Soviet city. Many Soviet style decorations can be seen on buildings, some are leftovers from the Soviet era but others are clearly more recent. There are many billboards advertising the production power of the country, the fruits of the agriculture or the friendship between the army and the people. These billboards do look more modern then classic soviet propaganda bit the theme’s are still the same as during the Soviet times. In Minsk it is very clear the government used old fashioned propaganda tools to win the support of it’s citizens.

Veteran at state propaganda billboard with the text: For Belarus!

Propaganda

Belarus propaganda with a child giving flowers to a police officer

Propaganda

Belarus state propaganda depicting the Belarus coat of Arms

Propaganda

Belarus state propaganda promoting the MYC Special Forces

Propaganda

Belarus state propaganda promoting the countries progression

Propaganda

Belarus state propaganda promoting the rebirth of the country

City decoration

Belarus state propaganda promoting the rebirth of the country

City decoration

Soviet era mural painting depicting an Cosmonaut in Minsk

City decoration

Belarus state propaganda promoting the rebirth of the country

City decoration

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Belarus in the streets of Minsk

City decoration

Shopping: The warehouses of Minsk

There are many good places to shop in Minsk, most notably the state warehouses like Gum and Tsum. All kind of locally manufactured luxury articles are sold here, famous is the cheap but high quality Milavitsa lingerie. The best shop to hunt for souvenirs is Suvenirnaya Lavka that exists of a lot of separate counters with goods displayed. Here you will find USSR memorabilia, Lada, Wolga and other miniature cars models, Belarus sports gear, watches and much more. Typical and famous souvenir of Belarus are wooden boxes ornamented with geometric patterns composed of multicoloured pieces of straw. A famous local alcoholic drink to take home is Belavezhskaja a bitter herbal drink, good vodka’s are Garodnya and Brest Vodka. Bookshops sell Soviet Union style books glorifying the countries production, farmers, army, history and of course the president. Most stationary shops sell photographs, posters and postcards of president Lukashenko. The giant Komarovsky meat market is an attraction not be missed, during the summer there are also many places where farmers sell their honey.

Souvenir Lavka the best place to buy souvenirs in Minsk

Souvenir Lavka

A traditional Soviet cash register cabin in a Minsk warehouse

Pay here!

The dome shaped Komarovsky Meat Market in Minsk Belarus

Komarovsky meat market

Minsk like other former Soviet capitals has a Gum State Warehouse

Gum state warehouse

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