The Republic of Belarus is not among the most popular tourist locations. It does, however, attract seekers of alternative, non-traditional, or cheap experience. Here are my best tips on what to see and what to buy there.
- Minsk is the capital of Belarus with the population of almost 2 million.
- Citizens of 74 countries can stay up to 30 days visa-free if entering through Minsk National Airport. Full list of countries here.
- The temperature in winter can drop to -30 °C (-22 °F), try to avoid visiting between November and March.
What to see
1) National Theater
With a century of quality opera and ballet production, Belarusian National Academic Theater is a must visit. Ticket prices start at $3.
2) National Circus
Minsk boasts its own Circus building. No need to say that local and international performances adhere to the highest standards.
3) Trinity Suburb (Троицкое Предместье)
Trinity Suburb is Minsk’s old town and the prettiest part of the city. Located on Nemiga river and right next to the city center, it is a perfect place for a walk, lunch or drink.
4) Minsk Zoo
Minsk Zoo has an impressive collection of over 3500 animals in 186 species. Occupying the territory of 42 hectares, the zoo also includes a terrarium, delphinium, aquarium, exotarium, playground and dinopark.
5) Komarovskij Market (Комаровский рынок)
Komarovskij market is more than just a food market, it is surrounded by a big shopping area and restaurants. Just keep in mind that unlike most markets, you won’t be allowed to bargain or pick anything – you’ll be given your fruits and vegetables from behind the counter, and if you argue, there is a good chance you will be yelled at. This is not the case at a supermarket where you often find a better price.
6) Nesvizh Castle
If you are willing to travel outside the capital, there are two UNESCO world heritage sights worth visiting. Nesvizh castle is located 120km south-west of Minsk; it was built in the 16th century by the famous Radziwil dynasty.
7) Mir Castle
Mir Castle is located in Grodno region, it also dates back to the 16th century, and represents Renaissance style fortification.
Where to eat
You are probably interested in trying local cuisine, and will find a lot of cafes and restaurants in Minsk. Most of them are extremely overpriced, so here are my top three recommendations:
What to buy
Minsk is not your typical shopping destination. Things from famous international brands are extremely expensive, and locals are compelled to purchase goods in neighboring Lithuania or Poland. However, there are a few local brands that offer decent quality in good price. Visit one of the main department stores GUM (ГУМ), TSUM (ЦУМ) or Nemiga 3 (Немига 3); all of them have promotional days once or twice a week when everything is at least 22% off – not a small discount at all!
Here are the things worth looking at:
Belarus has two old and well-established chocolate factories: Kommunarka (Коммунарка) and Spartak (Спартак). They both produce high quality chocolate, and the selection is quite unique. My personal favorite – large chocolate coated sweets.
There are several local companies making good quality cosmetic products: BELITA-VITEX (БЕЛИТА – ВИТЭКС), BelKosmex or Vilenta to name a few. Any store and supermarket offers everything you can think of for skin and hair.
3) Yogurts and dairy products
Eastern Europe is rich in dairy products. You will find numerous options from hard to liquid and from sweet to sour to salty. If you are into fermented milk products, you will definitely like ryazhenka (ряженка), and if you are into sweet, try творожок – a type of whipped or mousse yogurt.
4) Hosiery and sleepwear
Clothing in general is quite pricey, a few exceptions being hosiery, underwear and sleepwear from local and foreign brands. Take a look at Conte and Marylin stockings, as well as Serge and Svitanak (Свiтанак) underwear.
5) Linen products
Belarus is famous for its linen production. You will find clothing, towels, tablecloths, bed linen, etc. The price of these products may not be the lowest, but the quality is always great, and the design is very folkloric which makes it a perfect gift option.
6) Toys and children’s products
I came across electronic and battery operated toys for under $10 each. Children’s clothes and shoes are also very reasonably priced.
Again, visit one of the main department stores on a discount day, and you will find something to your taste.