The local guide to the capital of Belarus
Minsk is a fascinating city of two million people that still retains the intoxicating spirit of the USSR along its wide boulevards, the products of post-war Soviet planning on a grand scale. It’s the capital of a country where Lenin still stands in the centre of towns and cities and where most industries are still run by the state. It’s surrounded by ancient forests where bison can be found and collective farms where the annual autumn harvest still makes national news headlines.
But life is changing and Minsk is slowly becoming a modern European city. The choice of bars and restaurants increases by the week, there’s now a real choice of accommodation and construction sites are scattered across the city as it experiences a building boom not seen since the post-war years.
Not many tourists come to Minsk but that’s why I think you should. It’s a place where you can really immerse yourself in the every day world of the Belarusian people without falling into any tourists traps. And the people themselves are amongst the friendliest and most tolerant that you’ll ever meet. Of course, you probably won’t think that when you first arrive. Life is tough and nobody is paid to smile so your first impressions will probably be that they’re all a miserable lot. But use the listings section on this site, join in with local life and your perceptions will quickly change.
If the city is low on tourists it’s partly because there aren’t many tourist attractions. To a certain extent the city as a whole is the attraction, a giant Soviet theme park full of Stalinist architecture, Soviet chic and monuments to its tragic history. I hope you’ll find that the real beauty of Minsk is to be found in the experience itself.
Minsk is a walking city, a place full of curiosities waiting to be discovered. The lack of too many must-see focal points gives you the freedom to wander its streets, take in the atmosphere and enjoy Minsk for what it is; a slightly chaotic but overall peaceful city that on first impressions may be a little bit daunting but ultimately is utterly rewarding.
You will see that much of the city has changed little since the fall of the USSR. You will also notice that it won’t stay like that for too much longer. There are ambitious plans for office blocks, hypermarkets, hotels and new apartments. So the best time to visit is now.
One thing that won’t change is the amount of open space in the city centre. Minsk is full of parks that offer a retreat from urban life. There are many places where you can forget that you are actually in Europe’s 13th largest city. Walk away from Nemiga down Prospekt Pobeditelely and there are only two roads to cross that will hinder your progress from the city centre into open countryside some 5 kilometres away. And you can complete most of the journey on grass.
If you only go to one museum then make sure it’s The Museum of the Great Patriotic War. It will give you a greater understanding of the history of the city and it explains in graphic terms exactly why there is a pre-occupation with memorials to the war across not just Minsk but the entire country.
Few buildings survived the war but among them were Orthodox and Catholic churches. As if to compensate, some older buildings have been given grand makeovers to restore them to their pre-war pomp. Others, namely the Hotel Europe and the Town Hall on Ploshad Svobodi, have recently been built from scratch in the same style and on the same sites as the original buildings that were destroyed many decades ago.
And when you have been to Minsk please share your experiences with me. I’d welcome any feedback about the information on this site as well as your own reviews of the city’s shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. Please feel free to contact me.
If you want to know a bit more about Belarus then another Nigel has recently written a Belarus guide book for Bradt Guides. It’s a cracking read and you can buy it here … http://www.bradt-travelguides.com/details.asp?prodid=186
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