What comes to mind when you think Minsk, Belarus? A city somewhere in the Eastern Europe, once part of the Soviet Union and perhaps still part of Russia?
You might be partly right as well as wrong. For centuries Belarus has been ruled under regional powers, including Poland, Lithuania and Russia. The country finally became independent in 1990, with two official languages: Belarusian and Russian.
Our friendly nomad was courageous enough to jump through all the hoops to get his visa, hop on the plane and discover mysterious city of Minsk.
Here are our 11 epic must see and do activities for Minsk.
1. Opera and ballet
Are you a theatre goer? Even if not we suggest you spend a night with the ballet or enjoying an opera. The first performances took place here in 1933 and during the war this magnificent building was used as a stable for German horses, partly destroyed and rebuilt again. You can enjoy such world famous pieces as: Carmen, Swan lake, Boris Godunow, Othello, Don Carlo. (Tip: get your tickets early, like really early, at least few weeks before, since it is a popular venue! You can book here: http://www.kvitki.by/en/filter/29 and, by the way, prices start from around a few euros). After wandering marble halls, with shining chandeliers, marveling at golden paintwork and enjoying the sincere devotion of the musicians of the orchestra, our nomad left inspired and enriched!
Image credit: Jim Aspinall, Australia
2. Wander Troitskoye Predmestie (Settlement of Trinity)
This is a small district, considered an old part of the city. The place was first mentioned in the 12th century, but most of the buildings date from the 19th. We particularly like to wander narrow cobblestone streets, taking a look in the windows of little book and souvenir shops. Stop for a cup of herbal tea and a traditional lunch in one of the well hidden cafes with wooden stairs and little courtyards (Address:Старавіленская карчма, 2, Staravilyenskaya street, Чайное состояние, 9, Maksima Bahdanovicha street). While sipping your drink, gazing at nearby river you may find your place of peace…
3. Hit … the library!
If you ask locals what is the most famous building in Minsk, the answer will be – the library! It is a modern 72 metres high building of a rhombicuboctahedron shape (what does it even mean? You will have to see fpr yourself!). It contains the largest collection of printed, audio and visual materials in Belarus – about 8 million individual items! Take an elevator to the 22nd floor to be amazed by the spectacular view of the city. We enjoyed freshly pressed grapefruit juice at the cafe up top.
Image credit: Daar Ja
4. Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Lifestyle
Карчма была перевезена с деревни Хвоева, Несвижского района ( построена в нач. 19 века). Мы сохранили дух начала прошлого века, отдохните от городской суеты в настоящей Карчме🏚🍻☕️☀️🌲🎒 #карчма #история #выезднаярегистрация #свадьба #кафеминска #минск #летнеекафе #беларускаякарчма #белорусскаякарчма #музейархитектурыибыта
Choose a sunny day and head to this open-air museum! Situated 4 km away from Minsk it can be easily reached by bus or taxi (never more than EUR 3 – 5). Occupying 151 hectares it represents three regions of Belarus: “Central Belarus”, “The Lakeland” and “The Dnieper region”. Simply, you will see the reconstruction of life of Belarusian people from the end of 19th – beginning of the 20th century. Walk around, explore old wooden houses and enjoy simple food at the authentic local restaurant. You can even take a guided tour in English to learn more about folk architecture, rural life and handicrafts. At this stage of your journey you may feel as if you are coming one of the Belarusian folk!
5. Central Botanical Garden
If you feel like having some serenity, then this spot is for you. The history of the garden goes from 1932 and the vast collection of plants include species form North America, Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasuses, Far East and Siberia. The garden is a favorite place of loving couples, lonely dreamers and photographers. Take a book, some food from the local shop and a blanket – the day may easily slip away from you here!
6. Losycki park
If big green areas are your thing, then you will love our next suggestion!
Enter Losycki park.
The history of this park goes to the 16th century. The last owner of the park – Eustache Luban was famous for conducting unique experiments in cross-fertilising a variety of plants, which he ordered from all over the world. Thanks to him today we can find all of magnolia, Siberian fir, Crimean mountain pine and Manchurian walnut in one place – something truly unusual for Belarus!
Do you believe in ghosts?! This park has a story to tell. Jadwiga Luban, who was married to Eustache Luban, many many years her senior, apparently fell in love with a charming gentleman. Unfortunately, rumors of the affair started to spread (some said she got pregnant), and poor Jadwiga decided to drown herself at night in the nearby river. Being deeply devastated by her death, Eustache planted an apricot tree at exact spot where she was found. Ever since, people have claimed to see a ghost of a young lady wandering the shady alleys of the park when the tree is blossoming…
The park has another unique feature: about 10,000 years ago the last glacier melted here. Therefore, in the park there are more than 32 kinds of soil and more than 400 different species (from trees to insects and birds).
Image credit: posmotrim.by
7. Belarusian National Arts Museum
In the very center of Minsk you will find a two-storey building with several columns – a perfect example of “triumphal” architecture. The museum has the largest collection of Belarusian and foreign art in Belarus. It is a must see if you are an arty person!
The museum collection has over 30,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and porcelain pieces. You will find Belarusian Art from the 12th to the 20th Century, Russian Art from the 18th to the 20th Century, Western European Art from the 16th to the 20th Century and Oriental Art from the 15th to the 20th Century.
Astute nomads will notice that Mark Chagall’s works are missing. For the rest of us, Chagall is a world famous Belarusian artist, who is considered as an embarrassment by the locals. Despite this, still worth visiting!
Make sure to check their website: www.artmuseum.by, often the museum offers ongoing exhibitions from Russian institutions or private collections.
Image credit: Pinfectionist
8. Great Patriotic War Museum
Today the museum is one of the most famous war museums in the world, along with others in Moscow, Kiev and New Orleans.
Belarus was in the epicenter of the Second World War, losing about 3 million citizens to the conflict. It is no wonder the Government pays so much attention to preserving the history of this devastating time, even including an obligatory course on Great Patriotic War in the school curriculum.
What you will find? 24 exhibition halls with more than 142,000 items. Among them: collections of drawings, flags of military units, personal belongings, military vehicles, small arms and artillery weapons. The newly opened in 2014 building looks like a salute: 11 sparkling rays made of stainless steel to symbolize the Great Victory and at the same time 1,100 tragic days and nights of Minsk’s occupation.
We loved the interactive displays of the museum: a special spherical screen, 3D installation, a custom fog screen, imitation flames and simulated guns!
Image credit: Baltictours.com
9. Church of Saints Simon and Helena
One of the first buildings you will notice at Independence square will be a tall, redbrick Roman Catholic church. The construction of the church was finished by 1910 according to the project of a Polish architectures Tomas Pajzderski and Wladislaw Marconi. The church has seen several closings and reopenings during its history. In 1932 it was closed by the Soviet authorities and transformed in a theatre, and later into a cinema. During the Second World War, the German administration opened it again. Nowadays the church is the center of religious, cultural and social life of the city. If you happen to pass by, you may enjoy the tranquility inside or even listen to a mass held in the Belarusian, Lithuanian, Polish and Latin languages. The Church has it’s own library and a shop.
10. The View
After spending a day walking through the city, its parks and galleries you will be ready for a gastronomic experience!
This time Nomad suggests the View, restaurant the name of which speaks for itself. Cituated on the 28th floor of one of the business buildings it offers a great view of the city, the river and historical center. Add to this – the highest restaurant in Belarus! Not only it is situated high, but also has high (according to numerous reviews on the internet) standards with regard to service and food. You will enjoy European and signature cuisine. Has a wide range of wines and beers.
In summer time offers an open terrace, special view is included!
Image credit: Minsk Herald
11. Gallery “Ў”
The last in our list, but not the least.
Locals adore this gallery slash bar slash bookshop! And they do have their reasons for it.
The Ў has an atmosphere of free culture, where everyone can learn about modern trends, participate in workshops, and listen to lectures of famous art critics. This small building lost in the city center unites gallery space, hand-made and design accessories shop, a bookshop and a cafe. The gallery offers free Belarusian language courses for anyone who is interested.
Creating conditions for “an analytical environment”, the gallery was almost shut down by the state authorities.
While it is still open we highly recommend to visit. Most likely you will find yourself with several arty postcards and handmade bookmarks, as souvenirs for your friends, as well as a glass of wine (for you!).
Tired after your day in Minsk? We recommend the Revolucion Hostel, a nice hostel with a super central location and excellent ratings. The staff are friendly, responsive and can help you out in English.
What are your friendly tips? Don’t be shy. Let us know by leaving a comment below.