Long regarded by travellers as little more than a curiosity, Belarus has suddenly emerged as one of Europe’s ‘it’ destinations. Fuelling that rise are relaxed visa requirements, a sneaky-good art and cafe scene, and hospitable locals. While political dissent remains muted, the country seems to be having fun again.
Minsk is where you must arrive and depart to take advantage of a new 30-day visa-free regime. The capital has a pulsing nightlife, excellent museums and an impressive ensemble of Stalin-era architecture. Minsk has also become a hub for global summits and sporting events such as the 2019 European Games. Elsewhere, the western cities of Brest and Hrodna are Europeanised nooks, while around the Belarusian heartland you’ll turn up ancient castles and national parks where rare zubr (European bison) roam.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Belarus.
During Operation Barbarossa in the early days of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), a small band of soldiers gallantly held off a superior Nazi force at Brest Fortress and became Soviet legends. Today the fortress is a rambling complex of museums and Soviet memorials dedicated to that siege. It occupies a beautiful spot at the confluence of the Bug and Mukhavets rivers, about a 25-minute walk from central vul Savetskaya.
National ParkBelavezhskaya Pushcha National Park
Unesco World Heritage Site Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park is the oldest wildlife refuge in Europe and the pride of Belarus. At the National Park headquarters in Kamyanyuki, 55km north of Brest, you can arrange to tour the park by bus, bicycle or private car, and you can spend the night at one of several comfortable hotels near the park entrance.
National ParkPripyatsky National Park
One of the best-kept secrets in Belarus is this relatively untouched swath of marshes, swampland and floodplains emanating from the Pripyat River, about 250km due south of Minsk. The park headquarters are in the village of Lyaskavichy, in a complex that also includes a nature museum and a hotel. Make all your arrangements here. In late August or early September the whole area gets together for good clean country fun at the Polosye Festival in Lyaskavichy.
Over a causeway leading away from the town with lovely lakes on either side lies this palace-like castle and park complex. Erected by the Radziwill family in 1583, it has been rebuilt and restored often over the centuries and encompasses many styles. In Soviet times it was turned into a sanatorium, but it has been fully restored in recent years and is looking superb.
The 16th-century Mir Castle, reflected magnificently in an adjoining pond, resembles something straight out of Disney. A recent renovation has the place looking simply lovely, with gorgeous grounds and impressively restored interiors that have been converted into a museum with beautifully done displays on the life and times of the Radziwills. Definitely splash out for the audioguide, which offers fascinating descriptions of more than 120 items.
MuseumMuseum of the Great Patriotic War
Housed in a garish new building, Minsk's best museum houses an excellent display detailing Belarus' suffering and heroism during the Nazi occupation. With English explanations throughout, atmospheric dioramas and a range of real tanks, airplanes and artillery from WWII, it's one of the capital's few must-see attractions.
The capital's main thoroughfare impresses with its sheer size. Formerly pr Francyska Skaryny, it runs from what travel writer Colin Thubron dubbed the 'ferroconcrete tundra' of outer Minsk to the modern (read: Soviet) city centre, terminating just northeast of the train station at the stubbornly austere and expansive pl Nezalezhnastsi. The avenue is the world's premier embodiment of the post-WWII Stalinist Empire style, marked by expansive squares, utopian parks and palatial architectural gems like the Central Post Office.
Homel's signature attraction was built by Field Marshal Pyotr Rumyantsev in the late 19th century, soon after Homel became part of the Russian Empire. He couldn't have picked a more beautiful spot, high above the Sozh River in the middle of what today is Belarus' prettiest park. The palace is now a museum containing 19th- and 20th-century antiques and paintings.
MuseumMarc Chagall Art Center
The first museum on every itinerary should be the excellent Chagall Art Center, which was established in 1992 and has about 300 of Chagall's graphic works, mostly bequeathed to the museum by the artist's granddaughters and a German donor, Heinrich Mandel. Less than one-quarter of the collection is on display at any given time.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Belarus.