Let’s face it, Belarus has never been known as a top tourist destination. But the country’s vibrant cities, beautiful countryside, and unique history are quickly changing minds and transforming it into one of Europe’s hot spots. From exploring the cultural hub of Minsk to visiting the laid back rural villages and national parks, there’s always something exciting to do in Belarus. Whether you're into dancing in nightclubs, visiting museums, or hiking through the forest, Belarus is a country with something for everyone.
Start by walking down the central Independence Avenue, where you’ll find all of the museums, theaters, and cultural centers that line the street. Once there, you won’t be able to ignore the massive KGB headquarters that watches over it all. You’ll also get to see the stunning Red Church, known formally as the Church of Saints Simon and Helena. Minsk is also full of high-end shops, fun cafés, and hip nightclubs, so head to the old industrial area to see where the younger generation hangs out.
A short drive from Minsk, Mir Castle is a 16th-century marvel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll through the grounds, enjoy a picnic, and take in the Disney-esque beauty. Although the castle is busier during the weekends, that's also when classical music is played throughout the courtyard. The music is patriotic and it makes for a very unique Belarusian experience. There’s not much other than the castle in the area, so it makes for the perfect day trip while you’re staying in Minsk.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nyasvizh Castle is a must-see destination. Plan to spend an entire day touring the castle and exploring the beautiful surrounding area. Make sure you plan way ahead of your visit by sending an email requesting an English speaking tour guide. Like Mir Castle, Nyasvizh was built in the 16th century, but it has a completely different feel to it. Nyasvizh is a larger, more imposing building, and many of the 30 rooms that make up the castle are decorated with impressive hunting trophies. Tour the castle and then rent a bike and explore the nearby park. If you come during the summer months, it’s the perfect place to relax after a few days in Minsk.
While Minsk is a bustling Soviet-style industrial city, Brest is Belarus’s quaint little cosmopolitan hub that seems more European than it’s larger counterpart. While in Brest, visit the Brest Fortress and Hero Monument. The Brest Fortress is where a small band of Belarusian soldiers managed to successfully hold off a much larger Nazi force. Naturally, it’s a place of great historical importance and national pride. The Fortress is set against the beautiful Bug and Mukhavets rivers, and there are plenty of statues and monuments to discover in the area. The world-famous Hero Monument is among them, and the brutalist concrete statue is as beautiful and eye-catching as it is haunting and ominous.
The Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park and Forest is the last of its kind. The park is made up of the largest primeval forest on the planet and it’s the oldest nature reserve in Europe. Belarusians are extremely proud of it, and it’s a must-see while you’re in the country. You can tour the park by bus, car, or bike, and there are plenty of places to stay in the area. Although deer, wolves, badgers, elk, and wild horses call the park home, it’s best known for its 300 strong population of European bison, known as zibr.
You’ll find the historic city of Vitsebsk near Minsk and the Russian border. This city offers a fascinating insight into Belarus’ past, as it was one of the few places where the Russian Empire allowed Jewish people to settle and live. The city is still an important Jewish cultural hub, and it’s best known for being the place where Marc Chagall grew up and studied. The Vitsebsk Art Museum is a must while you’re in the city. The museum is full of 19th-century art, including work done by Chagall’s teacher, Yudel Pen. There are also plenty of pieces by Russian masters as well as a selection of work by local artists.
Start in the Chagall Art Center, a beautiful building set against the Daugava River. The center has a rotating exhibition of over 300 pieces by Chagall plus a downstairs gallery for temporary exhibitions. After the Art Center, cross the river and walk 20 minutes to the Chagall House Museum. The museum is where the artist lived until 1910, and the house has luckily been untouched by war or time. You can get an English tour of the house, but you should definitely schedule ahead so you’re not disappointed!
Apart from Minsk and Brest, Gomel is a Belarusian city that’s definitely worth a visit. Although the Gomel region was devastated by the Chernobyl disaster, the city itself was mostly spared and is safe to visit. While you’re in the area, check out Gomel Park. The park runs along the Sozh River and includes a 19th-century cathedral, a palace, a small amusement park, and a beautiful winter garden. There are also plenty of cafés to stop in when you need to recharge with a tasty coffee and some potato pancakes. Before you leave, don’t forget to climb the park’s watchtower, which gives you a stunning panoramic view of the city.
A visit to the memorial site of Khatyn is necessary to fully understand the country’s history and violent past. Khatyn was once a small community just north of Minsk. During WWII, the Nazis burned the entire village to the ground, killing everyone except one man named Kaminsky. Take a day trip to the memorial site to learn more about the Belarusian victims of the Nazi invasion. Unfortunately, there are only Russian tours available, but you can still get a lot from the experience by visiting the memorials and seeing the art and photography exhibits.
Just south of Minsk and along the Pripyat River lies the relatively unknown Pripyatsky National Park. The pristine park is made up of wetlands, swamps, and plains. Simply put, it’s one of the area’s best-kept secrets. The park is every nature lover’s paradise, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors, do some bird watching, go boating, or relax with a fishing pole and some vodka. Get a hotel in the nearby village of Lyaskavichy and spend a few days exploring what’s known in Belarus as the “lungs of Europe.”