Minsk is a city that has been relatively untouched by tourism. You won’t find masses of crowds here, lots of well named international brands (except the three McDonalds) or cameras clicking away at the attractions. But it is a city worth visiting; if only to see a place where communism has left its mark on the architecture and people.
Acquiring a visa:
If you’re from the United Kingdom you will need a visa to visit Belarus. Please check for your own country.
Step by step
1. A completed visa application form http://www.mfa.gov.by/docs/visa_forms/english.pdf
2. A passport size photograph
3. An invitation letter (this can be acquired from your hostel or hotel for around $25 or you can use a tourist company but they generally offer a service of invitation letter and accommodation or invitation letter and airport transfer which is double the cost)
4. Copy of your Medical Insurance policy
5. Proof of paid consular fee (print out of screenshot of payment)
In general, you can apply by post or by person to the Embassy of Belarus in your own country. If you don’t have one in your country, you can apply for a Belarussian express-visa at the Consular point at the National Airport Minsk-2 if you arrive by plane with the above-mentioned documents but the cost of this is much higher.
A helpful website to visit http://uk.mfa.gov.by/en/consular_issues/visas/
N.B: this information is only for people with a British Passport. You must check for your own country if it differs from this- Information correct for 2016
Things to do and see:
Island of Tears
Victory Square- access through metro underground passage
Walk through Victory Park
Independence Square and fountain of independence- there’s also a shopping mall underground (access through the metro)
Minsk is city that can be visited at any time of year but the best times are summer and winter. In summer the parks are busy with locals and most people are out and about. In winter snow generally covers the ground from late November to December which is a beautiful time to see the city- despite the below freezing temperatures.
Most people will also suggest heading further afield than Minsk to places like Mir where there is a castle, or Gomel Palace in Gomel and if you’re only visiting Belarus on your trip then this is good advice. But if you are travelling for a while, I would suggest saving your money for another country on your journey as the towns and cities in Belarus are quite small.
If you fear language barriers, then Minsk is where you will face this fear head on. The sign posts and street names are in Cyrillic and most people speak Russian here. In the two weeks I spent in Minsk (one week would have been enough) I only found 7 people who could speak English (three on my first night whilst walking around the streets lost, two who worked at the hostel, one in the queue at the pharmacist who helped to translate my medical needs (tonsillitis and swollen glands are not welcome when travelling) and the last one in the queue at the currency exchange who helped to translate my financial needs) - You’re basically illiterate unless you can read Cyrillic and speak Russian.
The people in Minsk are generally quite friendly but don’t expect them to smile at you in the streets, hold doors open for you or even thank you for holding the door open for them, it’s just not common culture here. Nevertheless, interact and get to know them, hand gestures are not only amusing to you but they also appreciate you trying especially if you’ve managed to learn the basic words in Russian (yes, no, hello and thank you). You will even meet some who will try to find common ground with you and name things from your own country.
Minsk truly is a special place and although it took me four days to warm to it, I will genuinely miss it.