Hi! Welcome to Complete City Guides!
My name is Patrick, I'm originally from Sydney (Australia) but grew up in England (my second home) - and I love exploring cities (and writing about it!)
I work online in marketing, which gives me the opportunity to travel around the world full time.
So while I am away, I keep this blog updated with full travel info. I tend to stay in a city for a few months at a time, to really get to know it - then I write guides on it.
Welcome to our guide to Minsk, Belarus! This page will give you a complete overview of everything you need to know about travelling to Minsk, including what to see and do in Minsk, and how to enter the country of Belarus visa-free. Last updated: 2018.
Minsk City Guide Table of Contents
If you are from one of the 80 countries and want to make use of the visa free travel, there are 3 important things you need to know:
The airport is quite modern, and the whole process at border control was very easy to do.
There are two mobile phone operators that have booths in the airport. I highly recommend you get a data sim card. It is really cheap - it works out at a few pounds or a few euros for many gb of data. You just need to provide your passport when buying the sim card.
The airport is 42 km away from the city center. You have a few options:
Get a bus. Number 300 bus from the airport to Minsk city center goes every 40 minutes, and the journey takes around 60 minutes. It is the cheapest, but also slowest. The final stop is around 100 meters from the train station. It costs 4 Belarusian rubles, or around 2 euros.
Taxi. There will be old men outside the airport trying to get you in their taxi. I didn't get a single taxi while I was in minsk, but I heard that they charge around 20-30 euros.
The third, and in my opinion the best option right now is Uber. The airport has wifi, and as I previously said I recommend you get a sim card !!!!!. Your uber account will work in Minsk, so book an uber and wait 10 minutes for one to pick you up. This also avoids any language issues, as you can just set the drop off point to your hotel or apartment. The cost was 30 BYN (10 GBP, 12 EUR or 14 USD).
The currency in Belarus is the Belarusian Ruble. At the end of 2017, 1 BYN is around 0.37 GBP, 0.42 EUR, 0.50 USD.
Exchanging money before you arrive in Belarus is a bit hard - not many currency exchanges have Belarusian Rubles. However at the airport there are money exchange points and cash points. Plus, if you use Uber you won't need any cash until after you check in at your hotel.
Once you arrive in Minsk you can easily exchange from currencies like Euro or US Dollar to their local currency.
Prices are very cheap in Belarus. The only time I thought anything was expensive was when buying souvenir gifts at the airport, which were around 6 euros.
One thing to be aware of is that a lot of websites and forum posts about Minsk use the old Belarusian currency. The currency currency in use is known as the "Third Ruble", and was introduced at an exchange rate of 1 new Belarusian Ruble was equal to 10,000 of the old Ruble. So if you see an old forum post talk about prices and start to wonder why it is so expensive, remember to consider they might be talking about the old currency.
If you are visiting from Western Europe or USA you won't find things expensive in Minsk.
There were a few smaller things I missed in the previous list, like a few small parks or statues. But if you slowly walk between everything on that list, get dinner out, have a drink in pubs during the day you can spread everything out over two days.
I arrived on a Wednesday, and left on Saturday. It was just about right. I didn't go out drinking in the evenings, so you could add a day if you expect to be hungover one day. There isn't too much to do, so you don't need to use up all of the 5 days of your 5 day visa free travel.
Minsk is super safe! There are quite a lot of police, which is a good sign in terms of your safety.
There is no rubbish on the streets, there are big teams of people cleaning up parks and the roads.
I didn't see any homeless people, no beggars.
You don't really see other tourists in Minsk. There are quite a lot of big groups of Chinese tourists, but apart from them I didn't see any other tourists. Apart from at the airport I didn't hear English being spoken at all.
I didn't have a problem. Some things are in English, but most aren't. However I didn't really have any problems as I had everything planned out on my phone with directions and details. It probably helped that I used uber to get between places, so never had to deal with a taxi driver.
One thing to note is that shop staff seem rude - but I think it is just how the country is. They aren't being rude when they don't smile in shops. I've noticed the same in other Eastern Europen cities before.
I found staff at my hotel and plane really friendly.
The biggest problem I had was in Burger King where every single item on the menu was in Crylic letters so I had to point out what I wanted.
Use it! I keep mentioning it, but it is really cheap. You can take a 10-20 minute uber and it cost only 1 or 2 pounds or euros. It is really cheap at the moment in the city.
I did however notice that the quality of Uber is a bit poorer than in other cities - all the ubers that I took were dirty, the cars were older than Uber cars in other cities. One had a problem with a seat belt in the back seat. However, these were tiny problems.
Ok, so you can take photos of buildings, but it is illegal to take photos of government buildings.
Minsk doesn't get many tourists. You won't see many signs in English, and you won't see tour guides trying to get your attention. However it does have some big landmarks that are worth checking out.
Starting a bit away from the city center is the train station and the Gates of Minsk. The Gates of The City Of Minsk have a very soviet look to them - apart from the big KFC signs on them now.
A 5 or 10 minute walk from the Gates of Minsk is Independence Square (or also known as Lenin Square). It is where you can find the semi-famous huge statue of Lenin. The square is one of the biggest in Europe - it is huge. You can also find the Fountain of Independence here. Minsk loves fountains, there are lots dotted around the city, however they only work during summer months.
Under the square is a big shopping mall, however both times I went there I found it quite empty. However there are more modern and bigger shopping malls that were much busier.
Another famous landmark, which is on one of the edges of Independence Square is the Red Church (or the "Church of Saints Simon and Helena" as it is properly named). It was designed by Polish architects. The church is named after the children of the man who financed the construction of the church, back in 1910.
Independence Avenue (Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci) is the main street of Minsk. It runs for 15 km. If you visit Minsk you will definitely walk or drive along this road. Several landmarks, including Independence Square are situated on this road.
After the end of the Soviet Union, most countries got rid of their KGB, or at least renamed it. However Belarus is often called the "Dictatorship of Europe", and what would a dictatorship be like without a secret intelligence agency like the KGB? The KGB is still alive and running in Belarus.
You can find the main KGB HQ building on Independence Avenue. There isn't much to see there, but it is a huge building and you can't miss it.
Opposite the building is a small park with a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky. He founded the Cheka, which was the predecessor to the KGB.
The GUM is also on the Independence Avenue. It is a huge building that was built in the early 1950s, and it definitely still has a Soviet vibe about it. It is a huge department store, and they seem to sell almost anything there. You can also get some souvenirs there, and you can find a cafe inside it. Check it out, even if you don't want to buy anything just go have a quick wander.
October Square is right in the middle of Minsk. In fact there is even a small granite pyramid in the middle of it, which indicates the exact center of the city.
Something interesting to know about October Square is that when they were excavating the ground under it, for the metro, they apparently found several skeletons belonging to mammoths.
The square is surrounded by the Palace of Culture of Trade Unions and Minsk Palace of Republic.
Close to October Square is a monument to solidiers, in the form of a tank. It is next to the Army Palace. There isn't much else to see here, but if you want to see a big tank then take the short detour from October Square and see it.
Gorky Park is a huge park, that has a big ferris wheel in it. You can apparently get some great views of the city in the ferris wheel, however it only runs during the summer. The park has a huge soviet style entrance, and a few statues inside it.
Victory Square is one of the key landmarks in Minsk. Like many other landmarks, again it is located on the Independence Avenue.
It is a tradition for locals to get their photo taken here on their wedding day.
In the middle of the square is a huge 40 meter obelisk, which is a memorial to those who died in WWII.
In 1961 they added the 'eternal flame', which runs 24/7.
Lee Harvey Oswald, John F Kennedy's killer once lived in Minsk. He defected to the soviet union in 1959, and lived in Minsk until the middle of 1962 when he returned to the USA.
You can find the building that he lived in, however there is nothing really there. You can't visit it, someone lives there. It is a bit of a mystery why this is on page 2 of Trip Advisor's top things to do in Minsk.
This is the main cathedral in Minsk. It is huge, white, and situated in a nice area that you should check out and go for a wander in. The area has a different feel than the rest of the city.
The Island of Tears is a tiny island that is accessible over a small bridge. In the middle of the island is a memorial commemorating Soviet soldiers from Belarus that died during their war with Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989.
There is a fountain on the island with an angel that cries tear drops. But the main attraction on the small island is a tall chapel, with statues of sad and crying women.
The 'The National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus', to give you its full name, is a big building in a nice park on the edge of the city center. It dates back to 1933. It is in a nice area, with a nice park surrounding it.
5,000 Jewish men, women and children were brought to this place and were killed on March 2nd 1942. This is a memorial to those people. It shows a line of people in a queue heading down a slope, towards their death.
This is the only thing that felt like a proper tourist attraction. It is huge, nicely laid out and worth a visit even if museums or WWII is not your kind of thing.
They have a huge collection of vehicles, tanks, guns and everything else you can think of from WWII. There are also some interesting statues, including of course Stalin.
It costs 7 Belarusian Rubles to enter, and an extra 1.5 to take photos or videos. So the total cost is around 8.5 Rubles (8 GBP, 3.60 EUR, 4 USD). It is worth the price. You will be there 2 or 3 hours.
Another huge obelisk, this one commemorates the fact that Minsk was declared a Hero City in 1978. A Hero City is a soviet title that was awarded to cities that showed heroism during WWII.
It measures in at 38 meters. It is right in the front of the WWII museum, and next to Victory park.
Victory park is the biggest park in Minsk, and if you have time you should come check it out. It was meant to open to the public on June 22 1941, but it was that day that the Nazis decided to attack the Soviets.
There are lots of memorials, mostly to those who died in WWII. It is also close the bird island, where you can find lots of birds.
This is the second thing that feels like a proper tourist attraction. This isn't on the map, as it is 7km from the center of minsk. Everything else on this list could be walked between. However you will have to order an uber here.
You will pass the national library when going from the airport to the city center. So you could always check out of your hotel on your final day, get an uber here, stay here for 30-60 minute then get another uber or taxi to the airport. Of course, you have to hope your phone's internet still works. I didn't find that they spoke much English here.
The actual attraction isn't the Library. But the viewing platform on the top of it.
It costs 3 Belarusian ruble, or 1.50 USD, 1.25 Euro, or just over 1 British pound.
You get some great views of the city. When I was there a few small Belarusian groups came to the viewing platform, but they stayed only a few minutes then went back down. 1 !! signs about go round the back
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