London is the capital of Great Britain, Minsk is the capital of Belarus. While the first phrase is known by literally every student learning English, the second one is not so popular. Which is not a surprise, given the fact Minsk, as well as Belarus itself, for many remains terra incognita.
BelarusFeed picked the most frequently asked questions about Minsk, gathered the relevant facts and seasoned it with travel advice.
Capital of Belarus
Most cities are like people, each with its own personality, face, and history that can either spark a mutual love with a traveler or a strong dislike.
The Belarusian capital is multifaceted, it is both ancient and modern, bustling and quite and there is always a place for great discoveries. Here’s an unexpected one! Did you know that Minsk might not have become the capital of Belarus?
At various times, at least five Belarusian cities were the country’s rightful capitals. But for the wars and numerous land partitions, Polack, Navahrudak, Vilnia (better known as Vilnius), Hrodna and Mahiliow could have easily become the center of the political, economic, scientific and cultural life of Belarus.
Minsk of today may look young and energetic, but don’t be fooled, the city is older than Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and many other European capitals. Destroyed and rebuilt millions of times, it was destined to be reborn, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Okay, sentiments aside, let’s run through the facts. The earliest historical references to Minsk date to 1067, when it was noted as a provincial city developed on Svislač and Nyamiha rivers. For years it has been sprawled wider, developed faster and obviously keeps moving forward.
At present, Minsk is the 11th most populous city in Europe, by January 2018 its population was 1,982,444 and growing. Just recently it outranked Barcelona, Milan, London and Paris in quality of life index. Besides, it is one of the safest, cleanest and cheapest in the world to live in. The city keeps hitting the headlines of international media.
What to do in Minsk?
The most obvious questions bothering almost any foreigner who arrived here are ‘what to do in Minsk?’ and ‘what to see in Minsk?’.
There are so many tourist attractions, must-visit landmarks, sightseeing, attractions options, events, tours and activities, we don’t even know where to start. So it would be wiser to turn to reviews of the travelers.
According to TripAdvisor, Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Museum Strana Mini, National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Isle of Tears and Church of Saints Simon and Helena are in top 5 ‘traveler favorites’ category.
For the first comers, here’s an ultimate guide on how to get to the city, where to stay, eat like a local and shop for souvenirs. It will also guide you to the city’s ancient times, the dark years of WWII, the Soviet era, and modern life.
No matter how you choose to spend your time, whether you go to a classic tour or step out of the well-trodden paths, you’ll be treated to stunning views, friendly locals and the ultimate history lessons.
Transport in Minsk
Suppose, you are a not big fan of walking and prefer the comfort of getting around a new place on wheels. And it’s understandable, bearing in mind how much the city can offer.
This is where a reliable and relatively cheap Minsk transport system is of help. Whether you do it by taxi, bus, trolleybus, tram, metro or your own car – read these FAQs on prices, schedule and attractions along your route.
As to fun ways of exploring the city, hop on №1 and №100 bus routes to have an improvised historic tour around the city center, an audio guide in English included. The price of a regular ticket will make the experience even more enjoyable.
Alternative (summer!) option is a Svislač river canoe tour that passes through various picturesque locations and gives you an absolutely unique perspective of the city. Besides, don’t you want to try the river that gave life to the city?
Shopping in Minsk
No Minsk experience is complete without shopping. Tourists craving for romantics of the Soviet universal stores, unique designer spots, and goods from local producers won’t be disappointed.
Do you want to shop like a local without breaking the bank? Go straight to the iconic GUM, TSUM and Niamiha stores. You won’t find luxury Prada and Louis Vuitton here but souvenirs, Made in Belarus clothes, cosmetics, kitchenware, as well as local food and sweets are here for you.
For a more authentic experience, warm-hearted talks with locals, and even sightseeing – go to the markets. While there are some small food markets here and there, Kamarowka is one of the biggest and the oldest one.
Moreover, it is the only market building in Europe recognized as an architectural and town-planning monument. Fruits and veggies, groceries, dairy, meat and fish and literally anything, including local mozzarella and Parmigiano can be tasted and bought here.
Meanwhile, numerous supermarket chains such as Biggz, Evroopt, Green, Hippo, Korona, Pro store, Rublevski, Sosedi, and others will easily satisfy your daily needs. For detailed info, check out BelarusFeed’s guide to supermarkets, 24/7 stores, local brands and shopping culture.
Wide or narrow, crowded or lonely, grey or full of colors, bearing the names of the former Soviet eminent personalities or contemporaries, every Minsk street has its story, you just have to listen.
One moment, you can walk along empty downtown streets bathing in the shadows of Stalinist Empire architecture. Next thing, you find yourself peering into graffiti on Kastryčnickaja street, hanging out with tipsy youngsters on Zybickaja or having a nice chat with lovely Belarusians on Internacyjanaĺnaja.
While your thirst of adventure and new impressions is satisfied, time to feed your hunger and we got your back here as well. Here’s a modest ranking of the top 10 most gastronomic Minsk streets, where you can eat, drink and probably dance.
That’s why walking along the streets, listening to the sounds of the city, looking at the faces of the passers-by is one of the best ways to feel, understand and embrace the city called Minsk, the capital of Belarus.