Minsk is the capital city of Belarus which is part of Europe but not the European Union. In fact Belarus is more Russian than European. Things to do in Minsk include;
- Minsk City Gates
- Victory square
- KGB headquarters
- Palace of the Republic
- Red Church of Minsk
- Isle of Tears and Minsk Old Town
- Holy Spirit Church
Train from Vilnius to Minsk
There are regular trains from Vilnius to Minsk which take around 3 hours. These trains are modern but fill up quickly. For this reason I recommend you buy your ticket a few hours or even a day in advance. If you take the overland train from Vilnius to Minsk you must buy a Belarus visa in advance. As a result, a Vilnius to Minsk day trip needs to be organised well in advance.
Check out the train schedule to help plan your trip. Lastly, it’s possible to visit Minsk without a visa but you must fly in and out of Minsk airport.
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. Similarly to the gates of Odessa, these make a grand entrance to the city.
The main square of Minsk is called Victory Square. It celebrates the victory during World War II. In fact, there is a Victory Square underground which has a memorial to the fallen Soviet soldiers throughout the war. In addition, there’s an eternal flame in front of the obelisk. Did you know there’s a similar eternal flame in Sofia, Bulgaria as well as Sarajevo, Bosnia.
When you visit the former Soviet Union, you must visit the KGB Headquarters. You cannot enter but it’s permitted to take photos outside. Opposite the KGB headquarters is a fairly priced, Belarusian restaurant called Vasilki (Васильки). You must try the draniki, machanka and dumplings. Lastly, there’s a local drink made from rye bread called kvas.
GUM Department Store
The original Ushanka hat I am wearing is from the GUM department store. For just €10, this will make a wonderful gift or souvenir of Belarus. At the GUM department store are several floors full of Belarusian products as well as clothes and souvenirs.
Palace of the Republic and Km 0
In the center of Minsk is a km 0 marker. When you see this marker you know you are in the exact center spot of Minsk. The center of Minsk is located on Kastrycnickaja Square adjacent to the Palace of the Republic. Finally, the majestic Palace of the Republic building is a government building used for important meetings.
Red Church of Minsk
The red church of Minsk is officially known as Church of Saints Simon and Helena. Its architectural style in Romanesque and it was built a the start of the 20th century. Due to its bright red color it’s considered a top Instagram spot in Minsk. Did you know there is an equally Instagram worthy blue church in Bratislava, Slovakia?
The Minsk Circus building dates back to the 19th century and it was the first stationary circus in the Soviet Union. The building was destroyed during World War II but has since been rebuilt. Today stands a very picturesque circular building which is still used as a circus venue. For this reason, check the schedule to see what’s on when you visit.
Independence Square was known as Lenin Square during the Soviet era. As a matter of fact it’s one of the largest squares in Europe. It’s a very picturesque square which is surrounded by impressive Soviet era buildings. Furthermore, there’s an underground shopping mall beneath it.
Island of Tears and Minsk Old Town
The Island of Tears is connected to Minsk old town by a small footbridge. This small island is a war memorial dedicated to all the Belarusian soldiers who died during the 9 year soviet war in Afghanistan. It’s worth noting that from this small Island you can admire wonderful views of old town as well as the Palace of Sports. Another must see area is Minsk old town (Troitskoye Predmestie) which is full of historic buildings as well as bars and restaurants.
Holy Spirit Church and Cathedral
In the center of Minsk is the picturesque Holy Spirit Church and Holy Spirit Cathedral complex. I recommend you walk around this complex as it’s extremely picturesque.
Day Trip to Mir Castle UNESCO Site
If you have extra time in Belarus I recommend a day trip to 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.
How to get from Minsk to Vilnius
The train to Vilnius leaves from the right hand side of the train station therefore you don’t need to go in the station, unless of course you need to buy a ticket. A ticket is around 14 euros and the trip takes less than 3 hours. When you get to the Belarus / Lithuania border, the Belarusian officials will get on the train and check your documents before you can leave. Then on arriving in Vilnius, your documents will be checked in the train station, Lithuania is an EU and Schengen country.