Minsk

City hall in Minsk

Minsk is the capital and biggest city of Belarus. It is situated on the Svislach and Niamiha rivers. From 1919-1991 it was the capital of the Byelorussian SSR. It is also the administrative centre of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

80% of the city was detroyed during World War II and rebuilt in 1950s to the liking of Joseph Stalin. Large Soviet-Bloc style "palaces" make up a portion of the city centre. For this reason Minsk is a wonderful place to visit for those interested in the Soviet Union who want to see it almost alive.

English is rarely spoken and tourism is not a priority in Minsk. It's wise to learn some key phrases in Russian (which is the default language, Belarusian may also be spoken or understood).

Get in

By plane

Visa on arrival

Travelling by plane is much easier, and some can get a visa upon arrival! Check local embassy websites for details. But beware, getting a visa at the airport is 3 times more expensive than getting it in advance at the Belarusian Embassy in your country or another country. Detailed price-tag is available from the Belarus Foreign Ministry website. Only if there is no such embassy, you will be charged the normal visa fee. If your travel is arranged with a Belarusian Agency, the procedure may be well planned for you - the original of the tourist invitation letter will be delivered to the Minsk Airport Consulate (don't forget to bring one passport size photo!). Sometimes the Consulate people speak several languages.

Flight connections to Minsk are somewhat scarce. Belavia operates regular flights to Moscow (6 times a day), Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad (1-2 flights a day) as well as Tbilisi, Prague, Kiev, and Riga. It also has flights to major European airports, but none of these destinations are served on an everyday basis. Alternatively, you can fly to Minsk with Aeroflot (Moscow, twice a day), Lufthansa (Frankfurt, 1-2 times a day), Austrian Airlines (Vienna, twice a day), LOT (Warsaw, once a day), and Aerosvit (Kiev, once a day). Although low-cost airlines do not serve Minsk, most of the available carriers offer cheap tickets every now and then. If you are unable to find a cheap ticket or a suitable connection, consider flying to Vilnius, Moscow, or Warsaw and traveling to Minsk by train. However, the overland travel may require an additional visa and generally causes more bother than the arrival by plane.

Upon departure, you have to go through a very slow security control before you are allowed to check-in. The area behind the check-in features several duty-free shops and pricey bars with limited choice of snacks. The whole terminal is covered by decent wireless internet from Beletelecom, but you have to purchase an access card (very cheap, though) at their office or at the newspaper kiosk in the departure hall (before check-in).

Getting to the city by public transport is a tough job. The airport is served by regular buses that run every 45–60 minutes from Moskovsky or Vostochny bus terminals. The bus stop is well hidden so that many passengers do not even know about it. In the arrival hall, you won't find a single sign indicating the buses, but don't be confused: the bus stop does exist! It's next to the terminal, close to the exits 3-4, and marked by a small plate with the timetable written in Russian. The buses are punctual, and bring you to the city in 30 min for 5000 rubles. Tickets are purchased from the driver. You can go to any of the bus terminals, but it is advisable to get off at the subway station Uruchye and continue to the city centre by subway (as most people do). On the way back to the airport, leave the subway station through the front exit, turn right, and find the outermost bus stop. There is again a small, well-hidden plate with a timetable. The schedule is also available on-line, (type НАЦ АЭРОПОРТ МИНСК in the search form). Alternatively, travel to Moskovskaya Metro Station, walk forward for 500 meters and turn right to arrive at Moskovsky Bus Station.

Unless you are prepared to a strenuous search for the bus, taxi is the only option. There is no official taxi service, yet private drivers abound. The ride to the city centre shouldn't cost more than €25—30, and bargaining is recommended. If you prefer official service, call a taxi from any company in the city and pay the same price. To reach the airport by car, leave the city by Nezalezhnasti Avenue and follow the M2 highway.

By train

There is at least one daily connection from Berlin, some direct, some with change in i.e. Warsaw. Departures and travel times vary. - From Warsaw, the trip is about 10 hours. There is one train a day that departs from Central (or possibly Gdański) Station around 20:35 and arrives in Minsk around 8:00. - From Vilnius, Lithuania, the fastest train takes about 2.5 hours. The train is pretty cheap: about $10–15 one way. Also quite comfortable. - There are also trains from Prague and other European cities. - From Kiev is always a daily train leaving Tsentralnyi Vokzal (Central Station) at the eponymous metro stop in Kiev. It leaves Kiev at 18:22 and arrives the next morning at around 06:00. A 4 person berth should cost around $47. From Minsk, train #86 leaves at 20:51, and arrives in Kiev the next morning around 09:00. A 4 person berth should cost about $47. - From Moscow an overnight train leaves every day about 23:30 and arrives Minsk about 06:30. No stop at the border for passport checks, so a good nights sleep in the 2 berth cabins. - In the train you will be given a card with two sides to fill out, and the guards at the Belarusian border will take one. You need to keep the other one for your hotel to stamp, and give it back to the guards when you leave the country. There are two stops. You should have your insurance and invitation letter (if you're a tourist) out to show the guards.

By bus

By car

Driving in, while possible, requires knowledge of the border system. This is a border of European Union, so control is very strict. Crossing it can take 2 hours. They may check your bags. Without knowledge of Russian, Belarusian or Polish, this can be very hard. There is a very long line of cars at every border crossing. However, if you have passport, VISA and car registration papers prepared, act honest and helpful and arrives as a tourist in a personal car the border crossing can go very smoothly and be over within 45 minutes.

Get around

Central part of Minsk is easily manageable on foot. A hand-drawn panoramic English-language map of the centre which shows every building individually is available from bookshops and kiosks. It also has a conventional map showing more of Minsk and some tourist information. It is worth buying a copy as early on in your visit as you can because it makes getting around on foot easy and fun.

Minsk metro

Public transportation which consists of buses, trams and subway is cheap and reliable. The subway (Minsk Metro) is noted for being clean and safe. Additionally, each subway station is decorated uniquely. For instance, the station at Oktober square is decorated in the theme of the Communist Revolution. The station at Victory square is decorated in a victory theme, and the Lenin Station includes a bust of Lenin and a host of hammer and sickle reliefs.

The subway is the most reliable transport system in Minsk. It consists of two lines crossing at the very city centre, the red line runs from the northeast to the southwest (currently being expanded with three more stations) while the blue line runs from the west to the southeast. Trains depart every 3 min and are almost never late. You can buy tokens at a window inside the station. One ride costs 3700 rubles (as of March 2014), but if you speak no Russian, just give 7400 rubles and stick 2 fingers up. Make sure you hold on because it goes very fast. For those staying a week or longer, a 10-day or a 14-day pass may be a good option.

Taxis are cheap as well. You will notice 70 000 rubles will already be on the meter. Like Russia there are no taxi ranks although you can usually find them outside the train station and can order one from the airport. You can get a local English-speaking taxi driver by phoning +375 297 777 313 (current in 2012).

See

St.Elizabeth monastery
Independence square

Churches

Museums

Other interesting places

You might be willing to hire a private guide when staying in Minsk or another major Belarusian city. Please note that private guides are licensed by the National Tourism Agency - and you can check the list of their names on the official website of the Agency List of private guides in Russian . A licensed guide must always wear a special Badge of a licensed guide in Belarus.

Out of town

Inside one of the houses in Open Air Museum of Rural Architecture and Life

Do

Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
Grand Opera Theatre

Buy

Local goods are usually rather good quality, and there are several things that are worth buying. Some wool and linen clothes - you can get very good stuff for little money. Linen in all forms is a special bargain.

Women's housery Milavitsa, is widely known across former USSR. It's good quality, and cheap as well.

Various types of cosmetics - firstly brand-name, are called "O2".

Vodka produced by Brest spirit factory easily outperforms Stolichnaya, Absolut or Smirnoff. Generally, the Minsk Airport has a very reliable duty-free shop with rich choice of fragrances, spirits and souvenirs. There is no sense to get international brands- usually it costs 20-50% more than European average.

Shopping Centres

Other shops

Eat

Advice for Vegetarians & Vegans

Meat is always on the menu. It isn't considered a meal if meat isn't a part of it but, because of love of the potato, you should be able to get vegetarian side dishes. Sometimes borsch is made with only potato and beetroot, but be aware that it is sometimes cooked with meat. Some golubsty are only stuffed with rice. If you're a vegan you will have a very hard time trying to adequately feed yourself; buying fresh produce at the numerous markets might be your best bet. Often it can be a lot easier to try and find an Indian restaurant. Pizza restaurants usually have a meat-free pizza on the menu.

Belarusian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of Eastern Europe but particularly Russian and Ukrainian. Generally it features heavy-fat potato dishes, mushrooms, soups and baked meat. - The quality of Western European cuisine (Italian, French...) is not amazing. The average level of cafes and restaurants is low but there are several good places in the centre. The price of a meal at these places should cost between 20,000 and 40,000 rubles.

Drink

Cafes

Sleep

Please note that a foreign guest must get registered with the local police department - Department for Citizenship and Migration within 5 business days. Most hotels process the registration automatically upon check-in while many apartment rentals might be reluctant to provide registration. Check if the rental service offers registration service and at what price.

Budget

Mid-range

On the web you can find a lot of cheap offers to rent a flat. Average price is about 50 USD for the night. There is also a good rental service provided by . They rent rooms in good quality in the center of Minsk. They also provide assistance for visas. - You might receive a call to your hotel room late at night offering a "massage". To avoid being woken up it is worth unplugging your phone.

Hotel Belarus

Splurge

Hotel Europa

Stay safe

Minsk is a very safe and clean city, especially compared to neighbouring capital cities like Kiev or Moscow. Unlike most Central and Eastern European cities, there are very few homeless and drunkards wandering the streets. Although locals might insist otherwise, Minsk is a city where you really must go out of your way to find trouble, even at night. If you are in need of assistance, there is a strong police presence in the downtown area. However, their ability to speak English is in most cases severely limited.

Be careful when photographing government buildings and the Lenin monument at Independence Square. While you might be observed and kindly ushered away from the monument, photographing government buildings can lead to trouble with authorities or even arrest. Be mindful of what you are photographing.

While not seen as frequently as in Kiev, be aware of cars or delivery trucks moving on sidewalks. In some areas of Minsk parking is limited forcing drivers to maneuver and park their vehicles on pedestrian lanes.

Cope

Embassies

Go next

You may rent a car to travel around the country. Rates depend on period of hire and start from $20 US a day. There are offices of Europcar, Avis, SIXT and other rental companies.

Regional trains are also cheap. A trip from Minsk to Gomel (5h) with a cabin for 4 cost 20000 BYR and the train is almost never full.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, February 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.