Are you looking for a new destination to add to your bucket list?
Consider Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Hidden in Eastern Europe, away from the crowded European cities, Minsk is low-key, clean, and green. Now, with the introduction of the 30-day visa-free stay, Minsk is no longer unreachable. It’s only one flight away from Vilnius, Istanbul, Paris, Warsaw, and Amsterdam.
Here’s a list of things to see in Minsk in 3 days, including day trips:
Almost all historic buildings in Minsk were destroyed during World War II, and what you see today are mainly buildings constructed during the Soviet-era, making Minsk one of the most Soviet-style cities in the former USSR. Along Nezavisimosti Avenue, see these majestic buildings impressively adorned with elaborate archways, obelisks, Soviet heroic sculptures, and columns.
Stalin built Nezavisimosti Avenue (Independence Avenue), the wide boulevard in the center of Minsk, to impress the world. It’s worth visiting and seeing:
- Church of Saints Simon and Helena – also known as the Red Church built between 1905-1910
- The Central Post Office
- KGB Headquarters
- GUM Department Store – a store frozen in time that has stained glass windows and majestic looking stairs in the middle of the store on each floor
- Labor Union Palace of Culture
- Minsk Victory Square (ploshchad Pobedy) – built in 1954 with an obelisk
- Government House – Lenin monument
Upper Town (Trinity Suburb)
This was the old town of Minsk where the rich lived in colorful wooden houses along the Svisloch River. A devastating fire in 1809 gutted almost all the wooden homes, and subsequently, some were replaced with new stone buildings. The misfortune happened again in World War II when the entire neighborhood was in destruction. The good news is most of the buildings are reconstructed, and a few that survived were restored.
One excellent example of a reconstructed building is the City Hall, built from scratch and opened to visitors in 2004. The 1809 fire destroyed the original wooden structure, and the replacement was utterly ruined during WWII.
Other notable buildings in Upper Town are Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary and The Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater. The theater was built in the 1930s and one of the few buildings restored by Stalin after World War II in 1947.
Island of Tears
A footbridge from Upper Town will lead you to the Island of Tears, a tiny island on Svisloch River. It’s a memorial built in 1988 to commemorate Belarusian who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan in the 70s. See the monument with giant statues of mothers, sisters, wives in somber expressions, and the most striking sculpture in the middle of the island of weeping angel.
While at the Island of Tears, check out Korchma Starovilenskaya for good Belarusian food and good river view.
National Library of Belarus
This massive diamond-shaped library designed by Viktor Kramarenko and Michael Vinogradov was completed in 2006. It has 22-stories with over eight million books and an observation deck on top of the building that offers views of the city.
The library is illuminated at night and it looks like a glowing orb from afar. Next to the library is a modern shopping mall, known as Dana Mall, and is one of the largest malls in Minsk.
Belarusians love ice hockey, and almost every kid in town plays it. One of the best venues to watch an ice hockey game is at Minsk Arena, Belarus’ main cultural and sports centers in Minsk.
If there are no games or concerts, you can join a guided tour of Minsk Arena.
Soviet artwork on buildings and war memorabilia around the city
Two easy to get to Soviet-style artwork on buildings are:
- The 60s “Solidarity” bas-relief sculpture at the entrance of KFC on Pieramožcaŭ (Victors) Avenue.
- The murals above the entrance of Kastrucnickaya Metro Station
- The Soviet T-34/85 tank in October Square
You may want to have dinner at U Franziska located just a few minutes from October Square. Try traditional Belarusian dishes and horseradish-flavored vodka at U Franziska.
Mir Castle and Nesvizh Palace
Take a day trip to Mir Castle and Nesvizh Palace, two UNESCO listed sites in Belarus that are located less than an hour’s drive from Minsk.
Prince Yuri Ilyinich started building gothic-style Mir Castle, surrounded by thick brick walls with slits, towers, a rampart, a moat, and a drawbridge in the 1520s. When the wealthy Radziwill family took over, Mikolay Radziwill completed the three-story castle in Renaissance-style in 1568. He added an Italian and an artificial lake in the compound. Today the castle belongs to the Belarusian government, and guided tours are available daily.
Nesvich Palace’s foundation stone was laid in 1584 and rebuilt many times. The Radziwill family owned the palace in the mid-16th century before Russian forces seized it in 1772. It went back to the Radziwills again in the 19th century, and the family had to give it up in World War II to the Red Army.
Restoration was done from 2004 to 2012, and today you’ll find a mix of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Neo-gothic, modernism styles in the palace.
For dinner stop by Ember VII Heaven on the 7th floor of Double Tree by Hilton Minsk. The restaurant offers views, live music and a relaxing dining experience.