Let’s say, you’ve been toying with the idea of going to Belarus for a while, and suddenly your trip is not a distant fantasy! You sit down to organize your trip with a head full of questions: how do I reach Belarus and get around the country? Visa or no visa?
Remember the first advice of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic”. And second – keep this article at hand.
Getting into Belarus by air
There are 21 airlines flying to Belarus: Aeroflot, Air China, Air France, airBaltic, Austrian Airlines, Azerbaijan Airlines, Belavia, Czech Airlines, Etihad Airways, Finnair, Iraqi Airways, KLM, LOT, Lufthansa, S7 Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Turkmenistan Airlines, Ukraine International, UTair Aviation, Uzbekistan Airways, Vueling Airlines.
16 of them have their offices in Minsk. Most of the airlines have regular direct flights to a variety of European cities, but there are exceptions – airlines that support one specific flight.
- Azerbaijan Airlines services a regular flight to Baku jointly with Belavia.
- There will be no Finnair flights between Helsinki – Minsk after March 5th 2019
- Iraqi Airways runs seasonal flight between Minsk and Baghdad.
- Turkmenistan Airlines offers flights between Ashgabat and Minsk.
- Utair mostly brings passengers from across Russia, with the most popular flight Minsk – Moscow.
- Uzbekistan Airways launched its one and only flight Tashkent – Minsk several years ago.
According to the statistics from Google Flights there are more than 30 regular direct flights between Minsk and an array of locations across Europe. In many cases – depending on your departure point – a change of plane may be required.
The closest popular destinations for connecting flights are *Vilnius (€65), Warsaw (€63), Kiev (€71) and Riga (€84)* (*prices for a one-way trip current as of February 15, 2019).
If you set your eyes on other destination than Minsk, there are regional airports located in five major Belarusian cities. Sadly, you won’t be able to reach them by plane – as of now, regional airports only offer rare charter flights.
In 2018 tourists had a chance to fly from Mogilev to Hurghada in Egypt, Antalya in Turkey, and Burgas (Bulgaria). From Vitebsk airport, local tourists can reach popular vacation spots in Bulgaria and Turkey, and, strangely enough, Kaliningrad.
Flying to Minsk from Moscow
If you are traveling from Russia, you might find yourself boarding a plane in Moscow. It’s another popular way to fly into Minsk, with Belavia and Aeroflot taking the lead.
There are more than 16 flights per day, every day. They are priced between €35-58 for a one-way trip. Note that you need a Belarusian visa in order to fly from Moscow.
As of February 2019, the agreement between Belarus and Russia that allows traveling into both countries with one visa is still on hold. I heard plenty of stories of reckless backpackers crossing in and out of Belarus by hitching a ride, with only a Russian visa in their passport.
❗Those stories ended well, but I do NOT recommend you to take such risks.
Entering Belarus by train
If you want to cross the border by land, the closest starting point is Vilnius or Warsaw. My absolute favorite is a high-speed train from Vilnius to Minsk. The train leaves from Vilnius Gelezinkelio Stotis and arrives at Minsk Pasažyrski Railway Station.
There are three high-speed trains on weekdays, leaving Vilnius at 6:15, 15:05, 18:30. One more is added on weekends to accommodate tourist traffic. The evening train leaves at 20:15. How will you know this is the train you want? Keep in mind peculiar numbering – № 804Т, № 808Т, № 806Т, № 802Т.
The train makes a short stop at the border and less than three hours later you are at your destination. Early morning train won’t make the stop and is the fastest. You can get the ticket directly at the railway station, or book online using the websites below. A ticket will cost you around €20.
❗Note that the Belarusian visa is required for this journey.
I once had a grotesque experience with one of my couchsurfers, a globe-trotting middle-aged lady from Hong-Kong. She managed to get on the train, but her short adventure ended at the border crossing point Gudogay when it became obvious she had no visa.
You will go through Lithuanian customs before boarding the train in Vilnius, and Belarusians will catch up on the train. The Polish capital offers equally handsome solutions to reach Belarus by train.
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You can take the famous high-speed Strizh train going from Berlin to Moscow. In about 3 hours you will reach Brest and can continue your journey onwards. Strizh trains run two times a week, leaving Berlin on Monday and Saturday and Moscow, on Friday and Sunday.
You can book a ticket up to 60 days prior to the trip, using the official website or other online ticket services (such as mentioned below). The ticket will cost you around €20. More passing trains from Warsaw, Prague, Nice on their way to Moscow offer similar solutions with traveling time between 4-5 hours.
A high-speed train Warsaw – Brest (№128Б) operates daily. The train leaves Warszawa Zachodnia Train Station and arrives at Brest Central Train Station. It will deliver you to the destination in a little over 4 hours.
Your plane landed in Minsk. Well, not exactly
Minsk National Airport is located within 42 kilometers from the city. You will find the bus stop outside arrivals sectors 5-6. Buses № 300Э и 173Э will bring you to the bus terminal “Tsentralnyi” in little over an hour.
The bus terminal occupies a strategic location with a walking distance to Minsk Pasažyrski Railway Station, Lenin Square Metro Station, and praspiekt Niezaliežnasci – a 15 kilometer-long thoroughfare cutting the city in half. The bus schedule is often tied to the flights.
Usually, you will find a bus waiting when you arrive. Note that the buses are often crammed, making a trip something you’d wish to forget as soon as it’s over. You get the ticket directly from the driver and it will cost you BYN 4 (about €2).
Seeking comfort? Then head toward a taxi. Watch out for sly taxi drivers who turn off their meters to startle you with a large bill afterward. An average price for a taxi to any point in Minsk is around BYN 40 (~€17). The story of the Japanese traveler unfairly made to pay BYN 195 (an equivalent of €80) by a taxi driver caused a stir in November last year.
Official airport taxi service has an impressive car park with prices for transfer anywhere in Minsk between BYN 30 – BYN 120 (~€12 – €50) depending on the car and number of people. Book a taxi by phone or online at the website of Minsk National Airport.
The lesser of two evils would be taking a public minibus taxi aka “marshrutka” №1400-ТК, №1430-ТК. With a convenient schedule and only 45 minutes on the road, it will provide a dizzying cultural experience of modern Russian chanson and occasional swearing. The minibus crosses the city making a stop at metro station Urucca and brings you to the bus terminal “Tsentralnyi”.
*As of now, the website has only Russian version. You will have to enter “Минск” in the departure tab and “Нац Аэропорт Минск” in the destination. Use a translation plugin in your browser.
Reaching other destinations in Belarus
- Transregional trains
Ready to explore Belarus beyond Minsk? Bus terminal Tsentralnyi is conveniently located next to Minsk Pasažyrski Railway Station. Walk towards the street running ahead – Babruiskaya, turn left – you will be passing Galileo Mall – and in 5 minutes you will find yourself right at the entrance.
You can buy the tickets online or at the train station. Ticket offices for domestic and international long-distance trains are located to the left from the main entrance. Tickets for suburban trains are sold in the area on the right from the main entrance.
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From Minsk, you can travel by train to every major city in Belarus. For instance, a journey to Vitebsk may cost you €4 – €8 for a place in a sleeper train, taking between 4 and 9 hours to reach the destination depending on the route. The trains running to Brest are priced between €5 and €11.
They will carry you from Minsk to Brest in between 4 and 9 hours depending on the route. For a train journey, make sure you get your tickets in advance, as you won’t buy them on the train. You may or may not always meet a ticket inspector on the train.
If your roads cross, and you reveal the absence of a ticket, you will be fined and promptly showed to the exit. As the time of publication, the amount of fine for a ticketless train trip equals BYN 24,50 (~€10).
Premium service trains are completed with first-class double-bed cabins. More common are carriages with four-bed cabins, widely loved economic class sleepers, and seating coaches. I spent my childhood crossing the vast expanses of the motherland with the tea in a classic podstakannik – or tea glass holder – in my hand, the symbol of a romantic train journey.
Suburban trains leave from Minsk Pasažyrski Railway Station. You can buy the train ticket at the train station just before the train. Beware of the ticket inspector – you can still be fined on a suburban train, although the amount of fine will be smaller, BYN 12,25 (~€5).
There are plenty of places worth checking out in the vicinity of Minsk. Such as Zaslawskaye Reservoir, affectionately nicknamed Minskoe more (i.e. Minsk sea) by the vacation-loving Minskers. It’s great for a swim in the summer, and for a thoughtful walk along the banks at other times of the year.
To go there you can hop on the train going in the direction of Maladzyechna, travel for 5 stops and get off at the stop “Minskoe more”. The ticket costs from BYN 0,62.
Vyazynka in Maladzyechna Region is known as the birthplace of a famous Belarusian poet Yanka Kupala. There you can visit his museum and incidentally get the idea of a peasant household at the end of the 19th century. You will be overtaken by a pastoral landscape with a pond and the river Vyazynka. You will pay BYN 0,84 for the train ride in the direction of Maladzyechna or Gudagay.
Bus terminal Tsentralnyi is built into Galileo Mall, which is in a five-minute walk from Minsk Pasažyrski Railway Station. After passing by the entrance to the shopping mall you will see a huge parking space to your right, filled with buses. Walk a bit further and there you’ll see the entrance to the waiting area and ticket offices.
Normally you can get the ticket from the driver; it works well if you travel to a not too distant location within the Minsk region. Traveling to the cities farther away you may want to buy a ticket in advance, online or at the ticket office there.
Most bus routes within Belarus are operated by the state-owned Minsktrans, however public minibus taxis aka marshrutka are wildly popular. They are considered faster, more flexible than the buses, and have a convenient schedule that promptly reacts to public demand.
Many places of interest in Belarus stand away from the train tracks. Such as Berezina Biosphere Reserve near Domzharytsy. The top-notch nature reserve can be reached by a weekend bus to Vitebsk that leaves at 09:35 or a daily bus leaving at 16:00.
There are more routes depending on your preferred day and time of the trip. Get off at Domzharytsy. You can easily spend there several days exploring multiple walking, cycling, kayaking, or horse riding routes.
Accommodation is available in the form of guest houses priced between BYN 32 (~€13) and BYN 300 (~€123), and a few hotel compounds where you can get a double from BYN 68 (~€28). A one-way bus ride will cost you around BYN 6 (~€3).
Visit Naroch. Depending on the desired day of a journey there are 7 bus routes in the direction of the village of Naroch, located on the banks of similarly-named Naroch lake. National Park Narachanski has a variety of walking and cycling routes.
Many routes are designed for seasoned hikers and may take between one and three days. There are plenty of accommodation options, from Soviet-style Naroch hotel 3* to guest houses in “Nanosy” tourist complex priced between BYN 480 (~€196) – BYN 985 (~€403). The one-way bus ticket will cost you from BYN 10 (~€4).
Driving around Belarus
Driving by car may greatly simplify your journey across the country. However, there are many small details to be considered. To avoid any trouble, please read our FAQ: Entering And Moving Around Belarus By Car.
Useful booking services
- Check the schedule, availability, and book your bus ticket using the website of beltranscom. Despite having a blunt design sending you back to 2000s, it is regularly updated and is a convenient tool in checking information on your bus ride.
Sadly there is only Russian version, so we encourage you to use translation plugins to get about.
- A relatively new service by an international travel holding TTN helps you book every sort of transport, and even book hotels. Use your translation plugin to navigate. Changing your country/language will send to your country’s website that might lack some valuable options. For instance, in the English version, you can only book flights and hotels.
- The official train ticket service is recommended as a last resort when nothing else has worked and you are ready for sophisticated self-imposed torture. Luckily there is an English version and a video demonstration, but it won’t help you.
Planning a one-day adventure
Let’s face it: you know what you can check out in Gomel, Brest, Grodno; and you can’t argue these 7 cosy Belarusian towns are an ideal weekend getaway. Still, there are more unique travel gems you can find in rural Belarus. So where will you go?
Visit Smilavichy, the birthplace of a famous expressionist Chaim Soutine. Located within 45 kilometers from Minsk, the town will offer you a full day of pleasant discoveries wandering along the trails of past. It has a local museum with fine reproductions of Soutine’s artworks and a cosy cafe serving good coffee.
Not so far stands Monyushko-Vankovichy Palace from the 17th century. The town stands away from the train tracks and can be reached only by bus or marshrutka. See the schedules at Yandex Timetable service. You can buy the ticket online or directly from the driver. It will cost you BYN 2, less than €1.
Iwye is another great destination for a one-day trip. 130 kilometers of distance and less than 2 hours until the unofficial “Tatar capital” of Belarus. The biggest Tatar community grew around the oldest preserved wooden mosque in the country. Iwye has long been known as a town of “four confessions”.
A marble-white sculpture of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms next to the Bernardine monastery looks like a miniature copy of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. You can get to Iwye only by bus. There are not as many buses going that way.
The most convenient way would be to plan your trip for Saturday and take 08:20 bus to Lida in Grodno region. You will arrive in Lida at 10:51. You can then hop on the bus Grodno – Smorgon leaving Lida at 11:15. After 50 more minutes on the road, you will finally reach Iwye.
Take the bus back to Lida at 16:55. You bus from Lida to Minsk leaves at 18:20. Be careful as this bus is available from Feb 11 to Dec 6 except Feb 15, 16, 17. Check Lida and Iwye timetables here. An average cost for the ticket Minsk – Lida is BYN 8 (~€3). The ticket Lida – Iwye will cost you about BYN 3 (~€1).
Halshany is a perfect destination for a reckless traveler. The village takes its name after the historical owners of these lands, the princely family Olshanski, and is infamous in connection with one of the most bloodcurdling legends of the 17th century.
During the construction of the monastery one of the walls kept collapsing and no one could explain the mystery, until, one day, someone suggested it needed a sacrifice. A young woman, a builder’s wife, was entombed in the wall, which, reportedly, stopped crashing down.
There is no direct evidence whether it’s true. You can see for yourself by visiting the famous cathedral with the adjoining monastery. Take the weekend bus from Tsentralnyi bus station at 07:40.By 11:10 you are in Halshany. The journey will cost you BYN 8 (~€3).
What can be better than going home after a journey, you ask? A trip to Belarus!
Text by Alesia Ivankova