A Visitor’s Guide To Belarus
Belarus is a country that has a long history, but has only recently come back into existence having spent over a hundred and seventy years a part of the Russian Empire and subsequently as a part of the USSR. The terrain of Belarus is among the wildest and most rural in Europe, with around forty per cent of the country covered in unspoiled forests. Having been a part of Russia for so long, the economy is still largely reliant on its larger neighbor, and having been under the control of Alexander Lukashenko since 1994 still shares many traits with the Soviet Union, often being referred to as the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’.
Visitors to the country are advised to avoid any public gatherings or political demonstrations, as these have been known to deteriorate into violence. The US State Department also warns visitors that the security services in Belarus have been known to place visitors under surveillance , and advise people to avoid taking pictures of any military or political sites
Top Sights To See In Belarus
The Historic Center Of Minsk – Located on the banks of the Svislach River, Minsk is the arrival point for most visitors to Belarus, and is famous for its historic churches, with the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit among the oldest and most impressive, dating from the mid seventeenth century.
Mir Castle – A beautiful combination of fortified castle and prestigious palace that was built in the late fifteenth century and has been renovated several times since, this huge building is located on the outskirts of the town of Mir, and is one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park – This is one of the best remaining examples of the ancient forest that once covered much of Europe, and is a great place to visit, with a small museum tracing the forest’s history with a small enclosure with some of the native species on display.
Brest Fortress – This nineteenth century citadel was one of the most important sites in the Second World War’s eastern front where German forces encountered great resistance, and now has a monument that was constructed near the fortress at the end of the war.
St Nicholas’ Monastery – This seventeenth century monastery is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Belarus, with the whitewashed walls contrasting with the black dome, and is situated in a lovely part of the Dnieper Valley near the city of Mogilev.
The Home Of Lee Harvey Oswald – Of particular interest to American visitors to Minsk is this flat where the man who would go on to assassinate President John F Kennedy lived during his defection to the Soviet Union, and was where he lived when he met his wife who was originally from Minsk.
Nesvizh Castle – This sixteenth century castle is located on the outskirts of Minsk, and was the home to the Radziwill family for many centuries, and is particularly notable for the Corpus Christi Church within its walls, and has been captured by Russian forces several times since it was built.
The Marc Chagall Museum – Housed in two locations in the city of Vitebsk, this museum is partly housed in the home where he grew up and in a nearby art center, and looks at the artist’s development from his youth through to his success among the most famous artists of the twentieth century.
The Gomel Palace – This impressive palace is one of the most important buildings in the city of Gomel, and has a wonderful location on the banks of the Sozh River, allowing visitors to explore the gardens and the impressive interior and a church built within the grounds of the palace.
Saint Sophia Cathedral – First built in the eleventh century this Cathedral is considered the mother church of Belarus and is the oldest in the country, and is the site where many members of the Polotsk Royal Family have been buried.
Where To Stay In Belarus
Hotel Olila – Ideally situated near the city center, the rooms in this hotel are luxurious and are very well furnished, and offers visitors access to leisure facilities such as an indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi and sauna.
VIP Rental Apartments – An ideal choice for those who are traveling in Belarus looking for well priced accommodation, these apartments offer visitors comfortable suites with televisions and couches, along with a spacious bedroom and bathroom.
Hotel Yubileiny – One of the best hotels in Minsk for those looking for western standards of luxury, visitors to the hotel can enjoy large rooms with comfortable beds and stylish bathrooms, along with an excellent location that is within walking distance from many of the city’s sights.
Voyage Hotel – A short distance outside the city center, this hotel gives visitors good accommodation at a competitive price, with simple yet pleasant rooms and bathrooms, and within easy access of transport links to the city center.
Rynkauka Tourist Complex – A short distance outside the main urban complex of Brest, this lovely hotel offers visitors comfortable rustic style accommodation with modern features such as televisions and wi-fi internet, with a particularly attractive main dining hall.
Click Apartment – Right at the heart of the city this apartment hotel offers visitors affordable yet comfortable accommodation with a bedroom and lounge area, while the convenient location means the sights of the city are just a short walk away.
Park Hotel Zamkvyj – A stylish and impressive hotel that is ideally located at the heart of the city, visitors can enjoy beautifully decorated rooms and luxury bathrooms, while the grand communal areas of the hotel include a well stocked bar and a games room with full sized snooker table.
Paradise Hotel – The comfortable and pleasantly designed rooms at the hotel are spacious and also available at a competitive price, while visitors are also in the perfect location to explore the best of Gomel’s sights and attractions.
The Cuisine Of Belarus
The cuisine of Belarus is still something that is struggling to develop its individuality, as many of the dishes that are common in the country have been imported from Russia or other parts of the Soviet Union. While meat is quite expensive for most of the people of Belarus, meat is often eaten during holidays or festivals, with pork sausage being one of the most common meat ingredients available. Another common dish is Verascaka, which is a thick meat or sausage gravy which is eaten with a generous helping of savory pancakes, while Kalduny dumplings are also among the most popular dishes in the country.
Currency And Visa
The local currency in the country is the Belarusian Ruble, and it is a currency that has been gradually weakening against the US Dollar over recent years, with visitors now able to get around 9,200 rubles per dollar. It is also worth making sure that you exchange any rubles back into another currency before leaving the country, as it can be often difficult to exchange the rubles once you are outside Belarus.
Visitors from the United States can arrange a short stay visa for up to thirty days for a fee of $75, but for those planning to stay over a month, the single entry visa for up to ninety days costs $160, but does require a letter of invitation from someone within Belarus. While it is possible to get a visa on arrival in Minsk, it is usually wise to arrange the visa in advance, as some tourists have been kept in the airport for very long periods as their visa is approved.