If you think of Minsk as an undeveloped, boringly-gray and unattractive former Soviet city, you couldn’t be more wrong! While the Second World War had had a devastating effect on the Belarussian capital, leaving only a tenth of the city standing, a well-planned restoration and a good amount of the best that the Soviet architecture can offer resulted in a creation of a stunning Eastern European capital. Today, Minsk is a fast-developing and ever-growing metropolis and certainly one of the most underrated European capitals. Although populated by two million people, Minsk is the cleanest capital we have ever come across. According to an urban legend, any kind of wall graffiti is removed in a matter of hours.
Visiting Belarus requires some planning beforehand, as you (most likely) need to apply for an entry visa. And even though exploring Minsk and Belarus is more than worth the paperwork, “Europe’s last dictatorship” still remains the least visited country in Europe.
To help you start planning your trip to Belarus, here is the best of Minsk:
GATES OF MINSK
For the majority of travelers, this majestic two-towered building is the first sight they come across when arriving in Minsk. The Gates of Minsk were built after the Second World War in the classical Soviet style and are one of the most recognizable buildings in Belarus. Each of the towers displays sculptures of a worker, soldier, farmer and engineer, representing the foundation of Belarusian people. Adding to the greatness of this “post-war icon” is the clock on the left tower, which happens to be the biggest clock in the country and was brought from Germany as a war trophy.
CHURCH OF SAINTS SIMON AND HELENA
When walking down the largest square in Europe, Independence Square, it’s hard not to notice the only red-brick building among other white and gray ones. Church of Saints Simon and Helena is a Roman Catholic Church, build by ethnic Poles in Belarus. During the Soviet era, this neo-Romanesque church was, among many others, secularized and transformed into a theater and cinema. Take a minute or two to admire a biblical statue of Saint Michael slaying a dragon placed in front of the church. Nowadays a popular meeting point for the locals, the Red Church also hosts traditional Roman Catholic weddings in this predominantly Orthodox country.
ISLAND OF TEARS
This unique monument is dedicated to more than 700 Belarusian soldiers who died in the Soviet-Afghan war. Inside a small chapel surrounded by bronze sculptures of mourning mothers, you can admire carved names of all fallen sons. The island is surrounded by winding Svisloch River and is accessible via small bridge from Trinity district, the oldest district in the city.
NATIONAL OPERA AND BALLET OF BELARUS
Surrounded by a peaceful green park, the Opera and Ballet Theatre is a formidable building worth visiting. Built more than 80 years ago in a typical Soviet Constructivism style, the building showcases the importance of opera and ballet in that era. While you’re there, spare some time to admire the trees in the park; some of them are as formidable as the Opera itself.
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF BELARUS
Library in a shape of a diamond, you say? Also called Diamond of Knowledge and Belarusian Diamond, this architectural masterpiece is one of those buildings you either love or hate. Either way, it offers the perfect observation deck to really take it all in and admire Minsk in all its glory – highly recommended at sundown!