How to visit Belarus + Belarus itinerary

Why would you visit Belarus? In everyone’s travel life comes a moment, when you stop being interesting in popular destinations. You’re searching for some underrated places, some places where tourism is not even a thing. You want to explore in peace, you want to get in a bit complicated situations just because you’re not on the beaten tourist path. Well, the good news is climbing seven thousand meter peaks is not your only option. You can also visit Belarus. And here is how to do so plus our suggestion for an itinerary in Belarus.

The main reason we visited the country was an English teaching opportunity Bistra decided to take. After that, it was clear that we wanted to explore the country for a few days at least. And it was the special number 75 for us.

Traveling to Belarus, Minsk

Getting to Belarus

By plane to Minsk

There’s one major advantage of flying to Belarus – you can enter the country for up to 30 days visa-free, provided that you arrive at Minsk National Airport. That’s why we chose this option, even though it might be a bit cheaper to travel by land from Bulgaria to Belarus.

There are quite a few airlines that serve the airport in Minsk with easy connections in many major European cities. Sometimes the Belarusian Airline Belavia has some pretty good flight deals.

Vilnius to Minsk

If you have an easy way to reach one of the Baltics’ capitals – Vilnius, then it’s just a 4-5-hour train or 5-6-hour bus journey to Minsk. The irony is that a half-an-hour flight would cover the distance for about the same price (on lucky days). But maybe you want to consider the environmental impact when choosing your means of transportation.

Kiev to Minsk

Riding the 10-ish-hour train from Kyiv to Minsk will be the way I will visit Belarus next time. Both the central train stations are highlights by themselves, plus you get to see plenty of Belarus on the way. The price goes from 10 to 60 euros one-way.

Traveling to Belarus, Minsk

Belarus visa

If you’re a citizen of many countries, you don’t need a tourist visa for Belarus. The visa policy offers visa “exemption” under a regional visa-free provision. This means is that some travelers can enter Belarus without a visa but only if they do so through the Minsk National Airport. The government of Belarus also issues visas on arrival, but you must submit your documentation and request 3 days before arrival. If you need a student or work visa, you have to contact your nearest embassy.

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Check here if Belarus requires a visa for your nationality.

Renting a car in Belarus

Driving in Belarus was safe and easy. Renting a car was easy, too (we used rentalcars.com). The thing was the millage limitation per day, which was 200 km. There was not an option to book it limitless, and you had to pay quite a bit if you exceed it. So we did a lot of math to manage to cover Minsk airport – Minsk – Brest – Belovezhskaya Pushcha – Mir – Nesvizh – Minsk – Minsk airport and not hit the limit (we actually did, but the rent-a-car guy was nice). Distances in Belarus are not tiny and those limits can be very hard when you plan to leave the Minsk area.

Traveling to Belarus, Minsk

Where to stay in Belarus

We want to share the places we stayed during our time in Belarus.

If you want to stay at one of the best places to stay in Minsk, and especially for first-time visitors, we highly recommend Trinity hostel on Trinity hill. They have dorm rooms, as well as private rooms, but you might need to book way in advance, as the place is quite popular with visitors to the city. The hostel organizes tours in Minsk and in Belarus which are great if you don’t have your own transport or want to meet new friends.

If you want a decent apartment in a living neighborhood still close to the center and access to a kitchen, we recommend this apartment at Kozlova street. Especially if you’re staying in Minsk for longer.

If you want a quirky intro to Minsk and Belarus, stay at the traditional Planeta hotel. You’ll get views of the lit-up city and an old-school yet impeccable service. It’s like you traveled back in time but in a good way.

For our night in Brest, we chose Hotel Byg. It has a very quirky interior and serves as the museum of the famous bard Vladimir Vysotsky. The reception offers affordable beers and souvenirs.

Traveling to Belarus, Brest

Things to know about Belarus and Belarusian people

If you’ve decided to visit Belarus, getting to know more about its people and culture will definitely help you understand the country better. And those Belarus fun facts we prepared will probably make you fall in love, instantly!

Belarussians love potatoes!

Belarusian people love potatoes! They can literally eat 2 or 3 meals a day, based on potatoes. They joke about that, foreigners joke about that too. They confess it’s their national thing, and they don’t want to change it for anything in the world. If you travel to Belarus, you’ll notice plenty of the national dishes are indeed based on potatoes. Don’t miss trying Draniki or a purer form like mashed potatoes, just enjoy the high quality of the potatoes they grow. After eating potatoes every day for more than three weeks, I can say I haven’t started to hate them. Maybe I’m part Belarusian.

The most common language in Belarus is Russian

The most widely spoken language in Belarus is Russian. At first, I found it confusing – why so few people mastered the Belarusian language. But then I read some articles that explained it all. Historically, most of the time other languages were spoken in the lands of Belarus – languages like Russian and Polish. Belarusian used to be only spoken by the higher society as a demonstration of wealth and status. Nowadays, Belarusian becomes more and more common and people are starting to appreciate the beauty of the language, starting to speak more of it, and you can feel how they’re feeling proud about it. 

Some are actually questioning those who don’t bother to learn more than a few words in Belarusian. In the meantime, Russian is the language that literally everyone in Belarus speaks. 

English is becoming more popular, but don’t expect to get along with everyone. Younger people tend to study English a lot, some places in Minsk offer service in English. It’s better if you get your Russian ready – it will come in handy in Belarus. Or at least learn to read the Cyrillic alphabet.

Belarus, aka The Silicon Valley

Belarus has so many IT companies and professionals that you start to wonder if it is the next big location in IT or what. There’s a joke that every second person in Belarus is a programmer. Obviously, Belarusians are good with maths and computers, but there’s more to this interesting fact about Belarus. 

In Soviet times, Belarus was the IT headquarters of the Soviet Union. They produced a lot of hardware and created software in the area. So Belarus has the full right to claim they have traditions in IT.

Couple travel quotes, royal traditional costumes in Belarus
Traditions of royalties

The service attitude

If you’ve been to Bulgaria, you probably notice those grumpy waiters and bartenders. Sometimes we even think Bulgaria and especially Sofia come first in the bad service attitude when it comes to cafes, restaurants, bars. Well, Belarus tries to fight for that spot. 

Some say that it’s just because Belarusian people are not so open to strangers, so they don’t give away smiles per kilo. Maybe it’s a national trait, maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of the staff is just employed and badly paid so they’re honest and don’t pretend to have the job of their lives.

However, in our communication with Belarusian people outside the services area, we might say that we’ve received a lot of smiles. So I don’t think Belarusians are incapable of being nice to strangers.

Belarusian names

If you stay in Belarus for a while, you’ll notice a lot of people are named Masha, Dasha, Pasha. Belarusians seem not to care about originality when it comes to naming their kids. Looking from the positive perspective, if you forget someone’s name, it’s easy to shout Masha and you have quite the chance to guess it. 

Short names and nicknames are the norms in Belarus, so don’t worry and use them as you please. There’s this nice article about Belarusian names and how frequent each one is.

Belarus is the cleanest country we’ve ever been to!

That came as a huge surprise. Even in crowded areas in the capital, even in smaller towns, and even on the roads in the middle of nowhere – it’s super clean! You can’t just get enough of it! Until visiting Belarus, Bhutan felt like the cleanest place on Earth, but after the hike to Tiger’s Nest, we changed our minds. Now Belarus is the cleanest country on Earth!

The explanation for this is simple – people just don’t throw out their trash everywhere and there are people who clean the streets at night. Plus there aren’t that many tourists to introduce their unhealthy cleanliness habits. It’s so refreshing to witness something like this on our polluted planet. Respect!

Traveling to Belarus, Minsk

Belarus itinerary

Depending on how many days you plan to spend in Belarus, the itinerary would vary. If you have just 2 or 3 days to visit Belarus, we suggest focusing on the capital Minsk and maybe squeezing a day trip to the nearby castles – Mir and Nesvizh, or to Stalin Line. If you have 5 days in Belarus, you can visit Minsk, Mir and Nesvizh, Brest and Brest Fortress, and Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. That was pretty much our itinerary. If you have 7 or more days to visit Belarus, you can venture to other cities like Grodno and Polotsk, and visit Lida Castle and other places of interest.

Minsk

You can easily spend a whole day walking around Minsk and not even visit half of the major landmarks. The capital has spacious boulevards, huge squares, many monuments. On top of that, the Great Patriotic War Museum and the National Library can absorb at least half a day each. Minsk is also a very livable place – you’ll enjoy the many quality coffee shops where you can work and play, as well as the wonderful restaurants and bars that cater to every taste. We wrote a separate article with our favorite things to do in Minsk.

Stalin Line Complex

The Historical and Cultural Complex Stalin Line was founded to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet People’s Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The structures in the complex were a part of the defense system created at the beginning of the 1930s along the western border of the Soviet Union. This system is unofficially called the Stalin Line.

The complex is located on the outskirts of Minsk, you can get there by car or public transport. A highlight of any visit is riding a military vehicle – e.g. T-55 tank. You have to book this experience in advance.

Mir Castle

Mir Castle was built in Polish Gothic style. It has a citadel and 5 towers, a cellar, an Italian garden, and an artificial lake. The UNESCO World Heritage site is a blend of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance architecture. You can admire a demonstration of different battle techniques in the courtyard, and if you’re brave enough – join to play with some weapons used centuries ago.

Nesvizh Castle

Nesvizh Castle was built as a residential castle and is a mix of many styles – Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Neo-gothic, Modernism. It has landscaped gardens and ornamental lakes and is considered the most beautiful castle in Belarus. You can rent a medieval outfit and do a photoshoot in the castle courtyard to complete the atmosphere of old times.

As Nesvizh and Mir castles are close to each other, it makes sense to visit them together – as a day trip from Minsk or on your way from Minsk to Brest.

Muziejny Komplieks Dudutki

Dudutki is a museum complex of ancient crafts and technology. You take an open-air journey to the world of ancient life and professions, tasting original dishes and experiencing life as it used to be.

Lida Castle

Lida Castle was built on sand but it obviously resisted any conditions for 7 centuries. If you’re in the region of Grodno, make sure to visit the castle. In summer you can witness knights’ tournaments and in winter you can go ice-skating in its inner yard converted to an ice rink.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park

Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is one of the last primeval forests left in Europe and home to many different species including the European bison. Actually, it is the last natural home to the European bison and that’s just one reason to visit it. You can go hiking, cycling, and walking on the footpaths, and it’s a fun experience for all ages of travelers. The park has some cafes, hotels, and road infrastructure so it’s accessible for a wider range of visitors.

Brest Fortress

Brest Fortress or as it was later named Hero Fortress served as the defense of the frontier stronghold during the first week of the German-Soviet War of 1941-1945. The fortress was not rebuilt at the end of the war but instead became a shrine to the terrible and heroic events that took place there. The entry of the fortress represents a huge star cut into a concrete block. As you walk up to the center of the fortress you see “Thirst” – a large monument depicting an injured soldier trying to get some water from the river. The monument reflects the bravery of the last remaining soldiers who defended the fortress for many days without food or water. Even if you’re not a history buff we recommend visiting this landmark revealing terrible and heroic moments of Belarusian history.

Brest

Brest is a pure example of the magic of traveling. Every evening around sunset, the main pedestrian Savetskaya street gets lit! There is a lamplighter who goes to each of the 17 kerosene street lamps, climbs a ladder, and manually lights the lamp. This is one of the most fascinating human phenomena that holds the spirit of tradition and attracts smiling observers from the city, as well as visitors from other places.

We even managed to take a photo with Victor (the person who lights the lamps every evening for the last several years) and rubbed the buttons of his old-style jacket (making a wish, they say it comes true). If you want to observe this amazing process, you can check the lighting time for the current day on the special street clock at the beginning of the street. Don’t go to Brest without getting lit!

Grodno

If you want to experience more of a western-European city vibe with yet some Soviet monuments, head to Grodno. You can cycle the city and enjoy its landmarks. Visitors from the nearby countries of Lithuania and Poland head to Grodno to shop for booze, petrol, and cigarettes.

Polotsk

The oldest city in Belarus has seen a lot: invasions from Vikings, occupations by crusaders, Ivan the Terrible of Moscow, Napoleonic War battles. Polotsk became the center of Christianity during the first Russian state of Rus and nowadays you can admire many religious buildings, e.g. Catherdral of Saint Sofia, Saint Ephrosinia Convent, Epiphany Monastery.

We hope we inspired you to visit Belarus and discover the special places and moments on your Belarus itinerary that would make you enjoy the country, its people, and its amazing off-the-beaten-path vibe!

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