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Minsk is the capital and biggest city of Belarus. It is situated on the Svislach and Niamiha rivers. From 1919-1991 it was the capital of the Byelorussian SSR. It is also the administrative centre of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The city was destroyed in 80% during World War II and rebuilt in 1950s to the liking of Joseph Stalin. Large Soviet-Bloc style "palaces" make up a portion of the city centre. For this reason Minsk is a wonderful place to visit for those interested in the Soviet Union who want to see it almost alive. English is rarely spoken and tourism is not a priority in Minsk. It's wise to learn some key phrases in Russian (which is the default language, Belarusian may also be spoken or understood). (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Minsk
- St Mary Magdalene Church (Tsarkva Svyatoi Maryi Magdaleny), vul. Kiseleva 42. It was built in 1847 in the Russian Revival style, with a pointed octagonal bell tower over the entrance.
- Sts Peter & Paul Church, Vulitsa Rakovskaja 4 (Metro: Nemiga). Built in 1613 and restored in 1871, it is the oldest church in Minsk. It is worthwhile to go inside.
- Sts Simon & Helena Church, Vulitsa Sovietskaja 15. The best known Roman Catholic church in the city, commonly known as the Red Church, built between 1908 and 1910 in Romanesque Revival style.
- Belarusian National Arts Museum. Vulitsa Lenina 20. Wednesday to Monday, 11-7 pm. Excellent overview of fine arts in Belarus. Many art description placards in English, unlike most museums in Belarus. 50,000 rubles.
- Belarusian National History Museum, vul. Karla Marksa 12, ☎ + 375 17 327-36-65. 11AM to 7PM (new visitors are not let in after 6:30PM). The collections of the museum include historical documents, military uniforms, musical instruments, old clocks, books, portraits, etc. 30,000 rubles for adults.
- Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum. Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 12. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10AM to 6PM. Several halls with the WWII exhibits on display with no English translation to the inscriptions. 14,000 rubles for normal visitiors, 7,000 for concessions.
- Palats Mastatsva (Art Palace), Vulitsa Kazlova 3. Admission Free. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10AM to 7PM. Several exhibition spaces showing modern art, second hand books and antiques stalls.
- Ў Gallery. Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 37a, contemporary art space, a bar, a bookstore and a souvenir shop with Belarusian design.
- Mastatsky Salon, Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 12. Open Monday to Saturday from 10AM to 8PM. An art gallery with local artists exhibitions and some overpriced souvenirs.
- National Library of Belarus. Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 116. Huge, glass and concrete rhombicuboctahedron houses a collection of over 8 million items. On 22 floors it features conference halls, 20 reading rooms and a Book Museum, on the roof there is an observation deck with good views of the city and surrounding area (accessed from outside via lift, ticket price below €1).
- Former Residence of Lee Harvey Oswald, Vulitsa Kamunistychnaja 4 (the bottom left apartment). Lee arrived in the Soviet Union in December 1959 willing to denounce his US citizenship and was sent to Minsk. He changed his name to Alek and married a native woman, Marina Prusakova, with whom he had a child. The young family left for the United States on June 1, 1962.
- KGB Headquarters, Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 17. This impressive building, on the main street of Minsk has a façade that belies what's found within. It is somehow appropriate that in a country like Belarus, the KGB should be located in a landmark building in the centre of the capital.
You might be willing to hire a private guide when staying in Minsk or another major Belarusian city. Please note that private guides are licensed by the National Tourism Agency - and you can check the list of their names on the official website of the Agency List of private guides in Russian . A licensed guide must always wear a special Badge of a licensed guide in Belarus.
Out of town
- Ozertso - Open Air Museum of Rural Architecture and Life. 4 km west.
- Stalin's Line. 30 km north-west. A reconstructed line of defences on what once was the state border of the USSR.
- Mound of Glory 20 km east. 70m high mound from 1969 commemorating Soviet soldiers who died during WW2.
- Khatyn Memorial Complex. 50 km north. A place where a village, savagely massacred in 1943 by Nazi forces, once stood.
- Minskoe More (Minsk Sea) is an artificial reservoir 5 km north of the city centre. There's a free public beach, and pedal-boat and catamaran rental. Buses leave the central bus station regularly. To get there by car, head north along the P28 and lookout for signs after Ratomka village.
- Minsk ZOO
- Botanical Garden with some 9,000 different species. Opened in 1932.
- Ice skating rink in front of the Palats Respubliki. In winter there are crowds of people ice skating here. It is open from 8AM to 10PM, and a pair of skates should cost 3000-5000 rubles to rent.
- Skiing resorts located at Silichy and Logoisk are the most popular places to have a rest. Located not far from the city they provide wide range of winter activities: skiing, snowboarding, skating, tubing etc.
Belarusian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of Eastern Europe but particularly Russian and Ukrainian. Generally it features heavy-fat potato dishes, mushrooms, soups and baked meat.
The quality of Western European cuisine (Italian, French...) is not amazing. The average level of cafes and restaurants is low but there are several good places in the centre. The price of a meal at these places should cost between 20,000 and 40,000 rubles.
- Beze, Praspekt Nezalezhnasti. Viennese style café with a great bakery and light snacks.
- Freskee Cafe, Nezalezhnasti pr. 18. Café with a large choice of main dishes.
- McDonald's (corner of Pr. Nezalezhnasti and Vul. Lenina and several other locations). In most cities, McDonald's doesn't deserve or require a special listing. Minsk, however, is the capital of a country often described as having forgotten about the end of the Soviet Union. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the two prominent McDonald's restaurants in downtown Minsk are clear signs that Belarus has in fact changed a lot since the end of the cold war. Food is the same as in McDonald's restaurants around the world.
- Dzhomalungma, Vulitsa Gikalo 17. Huge menu with an array of cuisines: Nepalese, Tibetan, Sushi & Indian. Vegetarians and vegans should also be able to find something here. Mains from BR8,000 to BR30,000.
- Grand Cafe, Vulitsa Lenina 2, ☎ +375 44 7031111. 12-12. A high end restaurant on Lenin Street. Try the roasted duck or salmon with asparagus. They offer a no smoking section, menu's in English and most of the servers speak good English, too. Making a reservation is recommended, especially on weekends.
- Gourman (Гурман), ul. Kommunisticheskaya 7 (close to Grand Opera Theater). Styled as an Italian trattoria, the place serves Belarusian and European cuisine. English menu available.
- Kuchmistr (Кухмістр), Karla Marksa 40, ☎ +375 17 327-48-48. Belarusian and Lithuanian cuisine.
- Taj, Vulitsa Romanovskaya Sloboda 26. North Indian restaurant. There should be an English menu available. Vegetarian dishes start from around BR60,000 and mains from BR120,000. Open Noon-Midnight. Indian dance group on weekends.
- National Food, Trinity Suburb. Not the restaurant's real name but this place has "National Food" on the front in big English letters so should be easy to find. It has a large menu of traditional food available in English, including a couple of vegetarian options. Mains BR20,000 to BR30,000. The food really sticks to your ribs. They also sell honey-flavoured kvass.
- Vasil'ki (Васильки), 16 Nezalezhnasti Av., ☎ (029) 706-44-52. 8–23. Bucolic style and good local fare. They also serve decent breakfasts. More restaurants of the same name can be found at 37 Yakuba Kolasa St. (metro station Akademiya Nauk) and 89 Nezalezhnasti Av. (metro station Park Chelyuskintsev).
- London, Pr. Nezalezhnasti (close to KGB headquarters, on the other side of the street). This friendly little café, in the shadow of the KGB headquarters, offers a wide range of teas, free wi-fi, seating outdoors (with heaters) and a small cozy room upstairs where it's possible to sit and talk in a relatively private setting.
- Golden Coffee, Pr. Nezalezhnasti 18, ☎ +375 17 237 41 87. 7a - 2a. This cafe is on the main strip and one of the few that has both an outside and inside patio. And it is THE place to see and be seen. The food is exquisite and they provide free wifi (till 6PM when it automatically goes off for some reason). Also two other locations.
Local goods are usually bad quality, but there are several things that are worth buying. Some wool and linen clothes - you can get very good stuff for little money. Linen in all forms is a special bargain.
Women's housery Milavitsa, is widely known across former USSR. It's good quality, and cheap as well.
Various types of cosmetics - firstly brand-name, are called "O2".
Vodka produced by Brest spirit factory easily outperforms Stolichnaya, Absolut or Smirnoff. Generally, the Minsk Airport has a very reliable duty free shop with rich choice of fragrances, spirits and souvenirs. There is no sense to get international brands- usually it costs 20-50% more than European average.
There are several shopping centres (and new are being built everyday), most centrally located is Stolitsa below Nezalezhnasti pl. From the Soviet times come the department stores with everything on sale like GUM (Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 23, built in the 50s, Socialist Realist classic) or TSUM (Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 54).
- Podzemka, Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 43. An underground bookshop-cum-art gallery.
- Suvenirnaja Lavka, Vulitsa Maxima Bahdanovicha 9. A souvenir type shop with straw crafts, wooden boxes, embroidered linen & Belarusian alcohol.
- Tsentralnaja Kniharnya (Central Bookshop), Praspekt Nezalezhnasti 19. The largest bookshop in the city, some English language novels, guidebooks and stationary. Also posters of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Minsk on Wikivoyage.