BELARUS TRAVEL GUIDE
If exploration and exotic harmonise with your tastes, then Belarus is a good getaway for you. It is definitely not a country tailor-made for the international tourist - yet. Still making its own way out of the Soviet era, it can’t be troubled with bettering telephone and bank facilities just yet. If you can be patient with services in Belarus, you sure won’t be short-changed for beauty or adventure.
Outside the monumental Stalinist capital of Minsk, Belarus offers a simple yet pleasing landscape of cornflower fields, thick forests, and picturesque villages. The country also offers two excellent national parks and is home to Europe’s largest mammal, the zoobr (or European bison). While you will always be subject to curiosity, travellers will also be on the receiving end of warm hospitality and genuine welcome.
Do You Need a VISA to Visit
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BELARUS QUICK FACTS
Currency: Belarusian ruble (BYB/BYR/BYN)
Population: 9,485 million (2018)
Language: Belarusian, Russian (both official)
Religion: Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim) 20%
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
NOTE THAT - Apart from a few exempt countries, visa-free entry only applies to visitors entering and leaving through the border checkpoint at Minsk National Airport, and does not apply to travellers entering or exiting by train, bus, or car, or entering by plane at a different airport than Minsk. An up-to-date list of visa-exempt countries and territories can be found on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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BELARUS PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
7 January, Orthodox Christmas
8 March, Women’s Day
1 May, Labor Day
9 May, Victory Day
3 July, Independence Day
2 November, Remembrance Day
7 November, October Revolution Day
Also, Ancestors Veneration Day (Radunitsa) on the ninth day after Eastern Orthodox Easter.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BELARUS
Belarus has a mix of temperate-continental climate with strikingly diverse weather conditions through the four seasons. Unlike other European countries, Belarus has long summers and winters. The summers are excellent for travelling thanks to the long sunny hours, but they are also the wettest months of the year. With many historical sites spread across cities and towns, summer is the best time to visit but Spring is the driest season of all. The whole country of Belarus experiences snowfall during the winters.
The peak season is during summer which attracts 50% of the yearly tourists to the country. However, Belarus is great to visit during spring and autumn because of the pleasant climatic conditions and fewer number of tourists - as well as the wallet-friendly prices!
June to August - Come to Belarus to escape the crowds elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Early July - On 6 July watch the locals celebrate Kupalye, a fortune-telling festival with pagan roots.
Mid-July - Join in Vitsebsk’s superb Slavyansky Bazaar festival and celebrate all things Slavic.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN BELARUS
The snow sports season in Belarus starts in December and lasts until the end of March and sometimes even into April.
HIKING & CYCLING IN BELARUS
The best time for outdoor activities in Belarus is from May to September, although you might get a few rain showers over the summer months.
BEACH OPTIONS IN BELARUS
Although Belarus does not have a coastline, you can try visiting one of the many lake "beaches" during the summer months if you're desperate for a swim!
BELARUS TRAVEL COSTS
If you are backpacking Belarus, expect to spend about $25-35 USD per day. This budget will cover staying in a hostel dorm or a shared Airbnb accommodation, eating cheap food at local restaurants, cooking some of your meals, visiting a few attractions, and using local transportation to get around.
A mid-range budget of about $40-90 USD per day will get you a budget hotel or private Airbnb room, more (and nicer) restaurant meals, see attractions and take some guided tours, and opt for more comfortable transportation between cities.
BELARUS TRAVEL TIPS
Belarus is not a large country, and a traveller can reach from one side of its border to the other in less than a day.
Travelling by train around the country will get you to a lot of desired destinations relatively cheaply and quickly (make sure that you book an express train). Also, you will get a chance to capture a glimpse of Belarusian nature, as the forests and plains often start right on the edges of the cities. Inter-city buses are cheap, relatively comfortable, and relatively punctual but may be more expensive and less comfortable than trains. Bus schedules can be found here.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF BELARUS
Get under the skin of Minsk, the showpiece of Stalinist architecture and a friendly, accessible city.
Spot a European bison, a brown bear, or a wolf at Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park.
Stroll through the mellow pedestrian streets of cosmopolitan Brest to the epic WWII memorial that is Brest Fortress.
Discover the childhood home of painter Marc Chagall in Vitsebsk.
See the fairy-tale 16th-century castle that presides over the tranquil town of Mir.
Explore one of the few historical complexes to have survived WWII at Nyasvizh, at the gloriously restored Radziwill Palace Fortress.
Minsk, the capital of Belarus will almost certainly surprise you and is, despite its thoroughly dreary-sounding name, a progressive and modern place quite at odds with its own reputation. Fashionable cafes, impressive restaurants, and crowded nightclubs vie for your attention, while sushi bars and art galleries have taken up residence in a city centre once totally remodeled to the tastes of Stalin. Despite the strong police presence and obedient citizenry, Minsk is a thoroughly pleasant place that's not hard to become fond of. Razed to the ground in WWII, Minsk has almost no buildings remaining from the pre-war years, and there are relatively few traditional sights in the city, save two excellent museums.
The magical old buildings of Nyasvizh make it a great place to get in touch with Belarus' past – one that elsewhere has all too often been destroyed as the military campaigns of WWII flattened the country. This quiet but green and attractive town 120km southwest of Minsk is one of the oldest in the country, dating from the 13th century.
The charming small town of Mir, 85km southwest of Minsk, is dominated by the impossibly romantic 16th-century castle that overlooks a small lake at one end of the town. It was once owned by the powerful Radziwill princes and has been under Unesco protection since 1994.
The prosperous and cosmopolitan border town of Brest looks far more to the neighbouring EU than to Minsk. It has plenty of charm and has performed a massive DIY job on itself over the past few years in preparation for its millennial celebrations in 2019. Very little remains of Brest Fortress – what's left is a Soviet WWII memorial to the devastating month-long battle that resulted when German troops launched a surprise attack in 1941.
60km north of Brest, Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park is the oldest wildlife refuge in Europe and is the pride of Belarus. (Half the park's territory lies in Poland, where it's called Białowieża National Park). Some 1300 sq km of primeval forest survives here - all that remains of a canopy that eight centuries ago covered northern Europe. The area is most celebrated for its 300 or so European bison, the continent's largest land mammal. This free-range zoobr – slightly smaller than their American cousins – were driven to near extinction in 1919. It's entirely possible o see the national park without taking a guided tour, although if you don't speak Russian you may miss some interesting commentary on trips through the woods and in the museum. From Brest take one of the six daily marshrutky (buses) to Kamyanyuki and walk from the village to the clearly visible reserve buildings. Once there you can walk around the park yourself, or even better, hire a bike from the museum.
WHAT TO EAT IN BELARUS
Modern Belarusian cookery is based on old national traditions, which have undergone a long historical evolution. But the main methods of traditional Belarusian cuisine are carefully kept by the people. Common in Belarusian cuisine were dishes from potato which is called among people "the second bread". Belarusian cuisine rarely differs from Russian cuisine, although there are a few uniquely Belarusian dishes.
Belavezhskaya - A bitter herbal alcoholic drink.
Draniki - Potato pancakes usually served with sour cream (smetana).
Khaladnik - A local variation on cold borsch, a soup made from beetroot and garnished with sour cream, chopped up hard-boiled eggs and potatoes.
Kindziuk - A pig-stomach sausage filled with minced pork, herbs, and spices.
Kletsky - Dumplings stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, or potato.
Kolduni - Potato dumplings stuffed with meat.
Kvas - A mildly alcoholic drink made from black or rye bread and commonly sold on the streets in Belarus.
Manchanka - Pancakes served with a meaty gravy.