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Minsk is a the capital city of Belarus, which is located in Europe but not in the European Union, in fact Belarus has closer ties to Russia than Europe.  In Minsk tourists can visit the following points of interest;

  • Minsk city gates
  • Victory square
  • Palace of the republic
  • KGB headquarters
  • Church of Saints Simon and Helena
  • Isle of tears
  • Troitskoye predmestie
  • Holy spirit church
Vilnius to Minsk direct train

Train from Vilnius to Minsk, 3 hours, €15

It is possible to fly directly to Minsk, Belarus but I decided to take a low cost airline to Vilnius, which cost about €10 euros from the UK, then take a 3 hour train ride to Minsk for €15.  To get from the UK (or anywhere in Western Europe) to Belarus for €25 is pretty much as cheap as you’ll find anywhere.  You can compare flights to Vilnius or direct to Minsk with Skyscanner.

To enter Belarus you will most likely need a visa.  I would recommend you apply for the visa in your home country before setting off on you travels.

In the application form you have to indicate:

  • Where you’ll be staying
  • How long you’ll be staying
  • How and when you will enter and leave the country
  • Your travel insurance information (World Nomads is good value travel insurance)
  • Provide a letter of invitation (Revolucion Hostel can help with this)
  • For a tourist visa you must also pay €60/$65 by wire transfer to the Embassies bank.

Every country has a similar procedure, you can visit the UKUSA embassy pages or search for your countries application procedure.  It is a lot of hassle to get the visa, but if you want to visit Belarus, then you have to do it!  If you are planning a European vacation I would recommend you go to Belarus first, as most of the other European countries do not require a visa, or you can travel freely on a Schengen visa.  Going to Belarus first means that you can get the only part of your trip that you’ll need to precisely plan out of the way.

The gates of Minsk

Minsk City Gates

If you do arrive in Minsk by train, the first thing you’ll likely see are the Minsk City Gates, and they are very impressive structures.  When I saw these I felt the hassle of getting the visa was worth it.

Victory Square Minsk

Victory Square, Minsk

In Minsk, there’s a great walk you can take from Victory Square, taking Independence ave towards Lenin Square.  On this walk you’ll see;

  • Victory square
  • Minsk circus
  • GUM department store
  • Palace of the republic
  • Km 0 of Minsk
  • KGB headquarters
  • Lenin square
  • Church of Saints Simon and Helena

And with a detour at Lenin Square you can easily go see the Minsk City Gates if you didn’t arrive by train.

KGB Headquarters, Minsk

KGB Headquarters, Minsk

Opposite the KGB headquarters is a fairly priced, Belorussian restaurant called Vasilki (Васильки).  You must try the draniki, machanka and dumplings, there is also a local drink made from rye bread called kvas.  The Ushanka hat I am wearing, I bought in the GUM department store for just €10.

Island of Tears, Minsk

Island of Tears, Minsk

Another must see area is Minsk old town (Troitskoye Predmestie).  The Island of tears is connected to the old town by a small footbridge.  This small island is a war memorial dedicated to all the Belorussian soldiers who died during the 9 year soviet war in Afghanistan.  It is worth noting that from this small Island you can get some great pictures of old town and also the Palace of sports.  In between Minsk old town and km 0 of Minsk you can find;

  • Minsk opera and ballet theater
  • Holy spirit church
  • Holy spirit cathedral
  • Several bars and restaurants

If I had more time in Belarus I would have visited the Mir Castle complex, which is a 1-2 hour drive outside the city.  Mir Castle has recently been restored and is a UNESCO world heritage site.  You can take a bus from the eastern bus terminal which passes by the castle.

Train from Minsk to Vilnius

Train from Minsk to Vilnius, €14, 3 hours.

The train to Vilnius leaves from the right hand side of the train station, you don’t need to go in the station, as you walk to it go to the right hand side.  When you get to the Belarus / Lithuania border, the Belorussian officials will get on the train and check your documents before you can leave.  You need to have your exit form stamped by the hotel you stayed at, the same hotel you wrote on the form.  Then on arriving in Vilnius, your documents will be checked in the train station, Lithuania is a EU and Schengen country.

Vilnius to Riga