Belarus is perfectly positioned to blend the best of European and Slavic culture to create a country that’s unique, inviting and memorable.Located just to the east of Poland, north of Ukraine, and east of Russia, the Independent Republic of Belarus has worked hard to craft its unique cultural identity over the years.
The country’s residents continue to remain proud of their collective history and accomplishments, including having one of the more impressive modern national libraries on the continent.
Belarus also has plenty of natural wonders worth appreciating, including large forests, wetlands, and plenty of amazing scenery to go around.
The country has even earned the nickname “The Lungs of Europe” due to its especially healthy air and abundance of trees in about half of the countryside, which is more appealing than other more dense, polluted European countries and larger cities.
Continue to learn more interesting reasons why it’s time to pay Belarus a visit.
Why You Should Visit Belarus in 2023
Although Belarus truly is beautiful and worth a visit any time of year, there are challenges that must be considered when planning a trip.
The U.S. State Department published an advisory in April encouraging travelers to either stay away, or at least to exercise caution. This is mainly due to the current war between Ukraine and Russia.
Belarus is considered an ally of Russia and leaders have been permitting Russian troop movement through its borders, a decision that has drawn support and opposition domestically and internationally.
Public demonstrations are possible anytime or anywhere, along with military and law enforcement activity on roads or in cities or even forced searches of hotel rooms or traveler’s luggage.
But if you have these warnings in mind and are firmly focused on enjoying a safe travel experience, a Belarus vacation can be wonderful, whether you’re planning to take time to savor the country or spend your time in one area.
It can be an interesting trip to explore the culture, including its focus on environmental and sustainable pursuits. The ‘lungs’ nickname isn’t just a clever marketing slogan: the abundant wetlands store all sort of carbon dioxide, which clean the air well and benefit overall climate change efforts.
It’s also noteworthy that Belarus is also actively taking steps to improve its environment, including working with the United Nations to reduce or repair ground damage from a big national push for peat extraction in the 1960s and 1970s.
Belarussians, especially in bigger cities, may participate in enjoyable cultural and religious festivals throughout the year, such as Maslenitsa Week, a traditional Russian/East Orthodox holiday preceding Lent which involves residents cooking and sharing plenty of pancakes.
The 4 Best Areas in Belarus
Belarus is considered the largest landlocked country in Europe and is roughly the size of Great Britain or the U.S. state of Kansas. The population of about 9 million is spread between larger and smaller cities, and includes six geographic/municipal regions.
Communities worth visiting include:
- Minsk. The capital and largest city includes legendary nightlife, sporting venues, and places of learning.
- Grodno. There’s plenty of history here, including ornate castles and Orthodox churches.
- Gomel. This area has industrial roots as well as distinct parks and impressive architecture.
- Brest. Visitors will experience lush forests, a beautiful city, and a national park jointly managed by adjacent Poland.
Where to Stay in Belarus: Best Areas & Hotels
The larger cities are especially worth visiting, since you’re more likely to find a wider variety of lodging options, which range from independently-owned accommodations, to chain hotels to homes and buildings that have been renovated into bed and breakfasts or inns.
City-based homes and apartments also may provide closer access to tourist activities and attractions. This compares to more rural areas where lodging may be more random and primitive.
There are also reports of contaminated food sources, soil, or groundwater in outlying parts of the countryside due to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.
Each area of the country is also unique in its cultural and religious influences, which could be interesting for those wanting to explore the area, search for their heritage, or want to absorb local traditions.
Like many modern European tourists, Belarus wasn’t on my radar, but when I passed through a few years ago, I was amazed at its architecture, cleanliness, and hospitality, especially in the Minsk area.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition – just as travelers are learning more about this amazing country, they are learning about us.
Nearly 2 million residents live here and participate in everything from fitness to leisure. It’s been awarded the title of one of the world’s most clean cities in 2018, ranking just behind Tokyo and Singapore.
It’s definitely the cultural, municipal and financial hub of the country, with government offices for Belarus and the Minsk government district, as well as the headquarters of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus.
The scenic Svislach River flows through the city, bringing a sense of natural wonder to the surroundings.
Though the city has been around in some form for the last 1,000 years, it was heavily damaged in World War II, followed by a period of Nazi occupation and then being placed into the USSR. Substantial efforts have taken place to rebuild in the last 30 years.
Things to Do
- National Library. It’s called the “Diamond of Knowledge” due to the large, shiny, gem-like façade that looks great in the day and then flashes all sorts of colors at night. It has 23 floors, stands 74 m tall, and has an amazing viewing area on the top floor. It also has an impressive amount of books and other material in its collections, including record albums.
- Victory Square. The largest open-air area in the city includes fountains, sculptures, lawns, and bridges. Similar to Moscow’s Red Square, visitors can learn about military triumphs and see monuments of past battles.
- Nesvizh Radziwill Castle. This impressive structure is an hour outside of the city but is still considered part of the Minsk district. The architecturally-interesting castle was built in the 1190s and stands 183 m tall. It was a symbol of the Radziwill family dynasty which ruled the region until World War II.
- Old Town. The historic center of Minsk, known as the Trinity Suburb, has restaurants, cafes, and shops, and is worth seeing. Much of the original Old Town was destroyed, but great effort was put into the rebuilding efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to make the place look as authentic as possible to the 17th and 18th century styles.
Where to Eat
- Kamyanitsa. This restaurant features local delicacies like barbecue beef, crepes, and honey cakes. It also specializes in draniki, which is a fried potato pancake stuffed with treats like eggs, applesauce, and onions.
- Pena Dney. This restaurant was first conceived in the pages of French author Boris Vian’s book “Pena Dney” in the 1940s. But the establishment with odd visual perspective, surreal menu items, and eclectic decor was turned into reality. Guests can receive unusual but still tasty dining combos.
- Charlie Restaurant and Bar. Though there’s a focus on formality and elegance in the décor, prices are affordable, and the staff always makes sure to be friendly. Plus, it offers an extensive wine and liquor list.
- Owino. The Mediterranean/Eastern European bistro emphasizes quality food as well as a large wine selection, including an interesting automatic ordering system where you can make a choice right from your table with a card.
Grodno is a favorite Belarus border town with close ties to neighboring Poland and Lithuania. Over the centuries, it has been part of both of these countries as well as Ukraine, as maps and territories changed.
It first attracted notice in the 12th century as a small fortress and trading post on the Gorodyna River, and was occasionally sacked or passed through by everyone from the Turks and French to the Crusaders to the Nazis.
It has a history as a place of industry as well as learning, having a distinguished medical school and home to Yanka Kapala State University. Visitors enjoy seeing the range of architectural styles in the buildings, including two castles.
Things to Do
- Botanical Gardens. Work began in the 1770s on this elaborate park that includes a wide assortment of plants and open space. It’s named after Jean Emmanuel Gillibert, a French physician and botanist who helped select and arrange the appropriate plants. Today, it’s still a central place for the Grodno community to visit, with trails, statues, benches, and small bridges.
- Grodno Zoo. Built in 1927, the zoo offers a peaceful and affordable area for visitors to walk around and see a variety of regional animals as well as interesting ones from around the world. It includes a petting area with foxes. The country’s first zoo houses several European bison, which is the official animal of Belarus. Much of it was damaged during World War II but city leaders rebuilt and acquired new animals, including an elephant.
- Sovetskaya Street. This main road through the historic part of the city works well as a walking tour, as well as a place to stop for a bit of shopping or food. There is also a selection of cafes and restaurants along the way.
- Fire Museum. Learn how the community has responded to notable and routine fires over the years, with photos of more recent ones. The location includes a 3-story watchtower that has been used for centuries to spot blazes. There’s also a large mural showing different types of firefighting equipment over the generations.
Where to Eat
- Beer Restaurant Neman. This cellar location under the Neman Hotel has the appearance of a European pub but also includes a complete kitchen. Diners can come by for lunch, dinner, or late evening meals. Reports say it can get crowded when there’s a significant sporting event taking place in town or on television.
- Kronon. The Kronon Park Hotel offers guests and other travelers a classy place for lunch or dinner. One interesting design touch is a series of birdcages in the restaurant area that include assortments of birds known for pleasant sounds, such as canaries.
- Gastrobar Houdini. Fine drinks and fine food come together in this pleasing place. It has a bit of a theater/nightclub feel, with dark upholstery, black lights, and bright posters on the dark walls.
- Zamok Zevany. A variety of Russian food specialties can be enjoyed here, including cooked beef, mulled wine, and solyanka, a popular stew made with cured meats plus olives and pickles. There’s also plenty of ice cream.
Also called Homel or Homyel, Gomel offers plenty to enjoy. The greater Gomel Oblast region in the southeast of Belarus is one of the older settlements and includes the ancestral lands of the Dregovichi and Radimichi tribes.
It was also one of the area’s first Jewish communities in the Middle Ages, and remained a popular settlement until World War II.
Gomel is the second-largest city in Belarus, with about 1.3 million residents, including about 1 million in the city boundaries and the remaining on the outskirts.
It’s also the country’s largest industrial area, creating everything from oil to steel to paper pulp. It also has a thriving agricultural industry, including condensed milk, flax, and potatoes.
It has recently became the location of the Radioecological Reserve, a scientific program which is studying radiation from Chernobyl.
The city also has an emphasis on sports and fitness, and includes world-class competition and training areas for ice sports, water sports, equestrian sports, along with a ski hill, and general recreation amenities.
Things to Do
- Vetka. This tiny city outside of Gomel was settled by members of a particular religion – “The Old Believers” — in the 1600s as a place to practice their faith in private. It has now evolved into a historical enclave with shops and a variety of galleries and museums, such as the Museum of Fine Arts.
- Palace of the Rumyantsevs and Paskeviches. This ornate structure on the Sozh River has been a home for government figures and royalty since the 1770s. It’s also the building seen on the 20-ruble bill. Visitors can tour the inside and outside and enjoy the impressive architecture.
- Gomel Palace and Park. The central part of the complex includes a river, a castle, a trail system, and plenty of trees. It’s a tranquil spot that is great for visitors as well as locals to congregate in. The grounds include various gazebos, sculptures, themed gardens and benches, plus an observation tower.
- Regional Museum of Military Glory. This museum opened in 2004 on the 60th anniversary of the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation. Visitors can learn about various battles and wars throughout the country’s history, as well as see weapons, uniforms, and equipment used by soldiers in many eras, from the 13th century to modern day. Military-themed artwork is on display, as well as coins, stamps, and other multimedia materials.
Where to Eat
- Befana. Both Eastern European and Slavic tall tales warn children about the Befana, a terrifying witch. This restaurant shows there’s nothing to fear from fine local food and Italian cuisine, although the witch’s image can still be seen in the restaurant logo. Each dish is paired with an Italian cocktail. The food is designed to look good and taste good for diners, whether they’re local, travelers, or enjoying a romantic evening.
- Stary Cas. The Soviet era may not be celebrated by many anymore, but this restaurant does try to focus lightly on the nostalgia of that time, including a menu that offers typical Russian and Belarussian food like borscht, which is beet soup, and pelmeni, which are dumplings. There’s also smoking and non-smoking sections, an amenity that’s actually rare to find in today’s world but was common in the 20th century.
- Syabry. Plenty of Eastern European dishes and drinks are offered on this restaurant’s menu. Diners arriving for lunch or dinner can sit inside in a cozy space or outside on the terrace. Menu specialties include machanka, which is a popular pork stew, which can be paired with kvas, a favorite Slavic liquor drink.
Brest is a center of industry and the western gateway to Belarus. While it does have elements of modern cities, it also has an abundance of forest land and wetlands in this region.
It also is one of the country’s prominent food producers. Its history goes back just over 1,000 years – it marked this milestone in 2019.
Two of the more historically significant events of the 20th century took place here: the first in 1918 when Russia and the Central Powers signed a treaty ending Russia’s role in World War I.
The second was in 1991, when the Soviet Union officially dissolved and returned independence to Belarus and a dozen other surrounding republics. These states then joined together to create the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Modern visitors can enjoy urban activities like nightclubs and museums, or head into nature and check out all sorts of local parks and more than a dozen natural reserves. Belovezhskaya Puscha National Park is one of the more prominent ones.
Things to Do
- The Struve Geodetic Arc. Belarus is part of an international mapping project that helps triangulate the shape of the world. In the 1850s, points were laid out in a line spanning 10 countries and nearly 3,000 km. There are five in Belarus, and one of the key ones is in Brest.
- Hero Fortress. This sturdy structure was built in the 1830s, and continued to be used for defense by whomever was inside. Its strength allowed the Nazis to resist a frontal attack in 1944, which actually led to the Allies developing new siege strategies. Today, the complex is a museum and memorial, and includes a large sculpture of a soldier’s head plus other sculptures and inscriptions.
- Brest Railway Station. Although much of the Soviet-style architecture focused on function first and paid no heed to aesthetics, this elegant station was able to mostly stay intact. It was created in the 1880s as a way station between Moscow and Warsaw, Poland, and was met with approval from Russian Emperor Alexander III. The Belarus station was declared one of the most beautiful in Europe, and also was the first to use electric lights. Though it was damaged in World War I and World War II, most of its elegance has been restored and it’s still impressive to visit or travel through.
- Lights Alley. Part of downtown Brest includes a short street that includes a variety of life-size sculptures of people made out of functional streetlamps. It’s fun and whimsical and can be a great opportunity for photos in the daytime or evening.
Where to Eat
- Jules Verne. Named in honor of the early science-fiction writer, this place offers diners “fusion style” cuisine, blending Eastern, Central, and Western European ingredients. There’s also some Indian elements in the menu and vegetarian options.
- The Hermitage. This restaurant in The Hermitage Hotel offers diners a good blend of regional and international delicacies, including potato pancakes. There is also an extensive liquor selection.
- Dom Fani Braverman. At this formal restaurant decorated in the French style, diners can find a wide blend of standard Eastern European items, but they can also be enhanced, such as adding fresh salmon to the potato pancakes, or cream to the steak tartar.
So Where Should You Stay in Belarus?
|💃 Best Area for Nightlife||Minsk|
|🛍️ Best Shopping||Grodno|
|🏰 Best Area for Museums||Gomel|
|🥾 Best Area for Walking||Brest|
There’s plenty to love about Belarus, whether it’s getting out in nature or enjoying a part of the world that hasn’t received a lot of tourists historically.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today to experience all that Belarus has to offer. Happy travels!