Minsk, Belarus - A green, beautiful city untouched by tourism.
A little-known fact about Belarus is that it received 60 – 70% of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. I know that sounds like doom and gloom but it is perfectly safe to visit, especially Minsk which is up North, far away from Pripyat on the southern border of Belarus. The advice I read from the UK Government site was don’t drink Cow’s Milk and don’t drink water from the taps. Pretty much something I never do, no matter what country I am visiting. Do not let this stop you from travelling to Belarus as it is definitely worth a look.
Minsk is a beautiful and green city. It has multiple parks, and everything is immaculately clean and well kept. Minsk is not a big tourist destination and as a result it is quiet and has a very laid-back vibe to it. It is a destination I would highly recommend for couples and solo travellers.
I stayed for three nights. For two of the days of my stay I met up with a Russian friend from Moscow. My friend doubled, not as a tour guide as she had never been to Belarus but as a translator. English is not a widely spoke language and my Belarusian only stretched to rudimentary greetings and pleasantries.
I found the people of Belarus to be very friendly, especially when I attempted the language and the customer Service in restaurants and bars was second to none. When they found out I was from the UK they seemed to make an extra special effort. Don’t let the lack of smiles put you off. My friend from Moscow explained that Slavic people do not smile at people they do not know because it is viewed as being insincere.
When eating and drinking in Minsk you certainly wont break the bank as food and drink is very inexpensive and the local food and beers are delicious. Try the Borscht. Sitting in Gorky Park, under the warm sun, drinking ice cold Kvass (A Slavic drink made from black fermented bread and Sugar. Very delicious), watching the locals go about their every day business was a highlight.
If you like Soviet architecture and iconography, you will love Minsk. From Independence Square to the grand train station. Something to note is that the KGB still exist. The KGB Headquarters is a very large Soviet style structure situated in Minsk. I am afraid I was not able to get any photos of this building otherwise I would have been arrested by the one Police man standing in the middle of the square, watching me like a Hawk.
From the UK the flight took approximately 3.5 hours with a change at Amsterdam. On the flight from Amsterdam to Minsk I never heard one word of English. The safety briefing was in Russian/Belarusian with no English alternative. I also had to fill out a Customs and Immigration form which I handed to Customs, with my Passport when I arrived in Minsk. So, no issues and straight forward, even if you don’t speak Russian.
So,if you want an inexpensive city trip in a beautiful, green, quiet city, full of history and great architecture and is not flooded with tourists I highly recommend Minsk.
Money: Belarusian Rubles - BYR/BYN. Belarus have their own monetary system. The majority of businesses will not except Euros or any other currency other than BYR. Some taxi drivers may accept Euros. Credit cards are accepted in the majority of bars and restaurants.