Belarus Uncovered: 18 Unique Things to do in Minsk
Thanks to Belarus easing up on their visa policies in 2018, tourists are beginning to trickle into the country. Minsk is the required first stop for almost everyone, since land border crossings still aren’t allowed for most passports. Naturally then, you’re curious about things to do in Minsk. I’ll show you the must-see things to do in Minsk and unique places that only locals know about.
Accessible Travel Tip: If you’re a wheelchair user, head over to our sister post on Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Minsk to learn about the many accessible places in Minsk.
A Note on Photography in Belarus
The Belarusian government still has a rather tight hold on the day-to-day lives of Belarusians. A perfect example of this is its photography regulations.
It’s against the law to take photos inside the metro, photos of government buildings, and photos of certain statues- particularly statues of Lenin.
The strict photography laws are perhaps no better showcased than at the Kamaroŭka Market where there’s a sign showing that you can take pictures.
I approached picture taking carefully during my time in Minsk. I only used my phone and kept it out of sight when I wasn’t taking a picture.
To be honest, it wasn’t always obvious where I could and couldn’t take pictures. Upon reflection, this could be because I was looking for signs that said I couldn’t take pictures, when I should have been looking for signs saying that I could take them.
Nonetheless, I never got scolded for taking pictures. However, when I was around government-type buildings, I checked my surroundings first to see if any police were around.
When in doubt, do as the locals do- or better put, what the locals don’t do.
18 Things to do in Minsk
Below is a list of things to do in Minsk based on my nearly two week stay. Minsk is small, so if you’re short on time, you’ll be able to fit in a lot.
1. Kamaroŭka Market
There’s one main market in Minsk and it should be on the top of your list of things to do in the city. For starters, the Soviet architecture around the market is an attraction in and of itself. The market is in a large, saucer-like building. When facing the market and looking down to the left, you’ll see a series of apartment complexes locally referred to as the “corn cob” due to their round shape.
In the large plaza outside of the market, you’ll come across a circle of statues. These statues are a symbol of Belarus’ new identity, after the fall of the Soviet Union. The sculptures are human-sized and are of everyday people and animals; a stark contrast from the towering statues of Lenin.
Indoor vs. outdoor market
The Kamaroŭka Market is divided up into two sections- an indoor area on the left and an outdoor area on the right.
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the indoor market for being only a meat and cheese area. However, make sure to head towards the back because you’ll encounter an array of baked goods. There are also some cafe-style restaurant stands around the perimeter of the indoor market.
The fruit and veggie portion of the market is outside. Within this outdoor market, the area is divided into a larger, certified section where you’ll find the highest quality- and price- of produce. To the left, there’s a small section where local farmers set up shop.
Travel Tip: Bargaining isn’t big in Belarus. So, unless you’re making a large purchase, it’s best to pay the price they tell you.
The downside about the market is that it isn’t in downtown Minsk. From the center, the walk takes about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the metro to the Plošča Jakuba Kolasa Station. From there, it’s a short walk.
2. Drink soda from a Soviet vending machine
Minsk feels like a time capsule, with one of the highest concentrations of Soviet-style architecture remaining in the world. While in Minsk, if you want to get both a glimpse and a taste of the past, look no further than the soda vending machine at the Kamaroŭka Market.
The vending machine is located in the outdoor market, along the wall to the left when you enter from the street.
Look for this:
There are three soda flavors: Tarragon, lemon, and vanilla.
Don’t worry if you can’t read the instructions; the machine is easy to use. Simply put your money in first, then press the button of the soda flavor you want.
The buttons on the left-hand side are for a small cup and the buttons on the right-hand side are for a large cup. There’s also the option to purchase water for .50 Rubles.
The cost for soda ranges from 1 – 1.5 Rubles, depending on the size of the cup and flavor of soda you want.
3. National Library & Observation Deck
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’ve never seen a library like the one in Minsk.
The National Library was built after the Soviet Union, and the Belarusians were undoubtedly aiming to make their mark.
In order to get to the library, you’ll either need to take a taxi or the metro to Uschod Station. From there, walk around the building and admire the rhombicuboctahedron-shaped glass building. The foyer of the library is open to everyone, but to go any further you’ll need a library card.
Aside from the building itself, the other main attraction at the library is the Observation Deck. The entrance to the Observation Deck is located behind the library’s main entrance. The lookout point doesn’t open until noon, so if you get there too early, you can wander around the Dana Mall across the street.
I was surprised to find a long line the day I visited. Since there’s only one elevator that runs about every 10 minutes, be prepared to wait awhile on a clear day, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend.
Travel Tip: The Observation Deck is two stories. If it’s crowded, take the elevator back down from the 23rd floor. Otherwise, you could be waiting awhile for space on the elevator, if you try to get on from the 22nd floor.
4. Explore the historical center
Belarus has a history of wars on its land, and as such, the Minsk you’ll see is a new version, a few times over. However, effort has gone into restoring the historical center, which is now a nice area to spend an afternoon and night out on the town.
You’ll see the words “upper town” on maps. This refers to the historical center, although the center spreads down to the river as well.
Notable places of interest in the upper town are Independence Square, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, and City Hall.
You’ll be able to visit the main sites in the upper town within a couple of hours or less, but this is the area in Minsk that you’ll likely find yourself gravitating towards many times over, if you’re staying in the city for a while.
5. Zybitskaya Street
If you’re looking for dining options and nightlife in the heart of historical center, Zybitskaya Street is for you. This is the area below the upper town and is a single road that follows the curvature of the river.
By day, cafes, restaurants, and tourist stands are open. At night, the street comes alive with a bar scene.
However, this area is first and foremost geared towards tourists. If you’re looking for a more local nightlife experience, make sure to read about Kebab Mile in point number eighteen.
When you’re on Zybitskaya Street, make sure to look for the colorful staircase. This is a shortcut between Zybitskaya Street and the upper town.
The mosaics on the staircases reminded me of those in Valparaiso. They can only be seen from the bottom looking up, so if you’re heading down to Zybitskaya Street from the upper town, make sure to take a look behind you.
6. Trinity Suburb
Trinity Suburb is another historical part of Minsk. It’s located on a peninsula, kitty-corner from the main part of the old town. Here, there are some tourist shops and bars with views of the Svisloch River.
From Trinity, you can cross the bridge to the Island of Tears. This is a monument built by families of those who died or disappeared during the war in Afghanistan but also serves as a symbol for Belarusian soldiers in other wars.
The Island of Tears has strict policies, with the entrance being from 9:00am – 9:00pm, no tripods, no professional photography, and no walking in the grass.
You can view the full sign of rules below:
7. Cat Museum
If you’re an animal lover and/or are traveling with kids, the Cat Museum is a fun activity.
Located by the Palace of Republic in the old town, the Cat Museum is both a home for real cats and an art gallery for everything cat related.
The entrance fee is only a few USD, although there are souvenirs for purchase and a cafe to further support the museum, since their mission is to take in homeless cats. You can even adopt a Belarusian kitty, if one tugs at your heartstrings.
When I visited, there were around 15 – 20 cats. The cats have free reign of the museum and petting is allowed.
The museum gives a briefing about how to treat the cats, along with having everyone wash their hands with hand sanitizer before petting them.
There was a bit of a litter box stench at the museum, but other than that it’s a nice 20 – 30 minute stop during your Minsk exploration. The museum is open every day except Mondays.
Bonus: You’re allowed to enter the neighboring Museum of Magic for free, with your entry to the Cat Museum. There’s not a lot to see, but it’s a great place for kids.
8. Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater
If you cross the river from the old town, you’ll soon land upon the beautiful Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre.
The theater has an interesting history, as its original purpose was to be the largest monument of Lenin in the Soviet Union. However, money soon ran short, so only the base of the monument was erected…which just so happened to be the perfect size for a theater.
Shows at the theater are frequent. You can view a list of upcoming shows here.
9. Gorky Park
People have taken notice of Minsk’s parks and eco-friendly efforts, and Gorky Park showcases this perfectly. Built along the banks of the Svisloch River, near the historical center, this park is a popular place for locals, particularly on the weekends.
In addition to the benches and green spaces that you would expect from any park, Gorky Park is equipped with an amusement park (the Ferris wheel is a great option for getting views of downtown Minsk), a planetarium, and food stands.
Locally called Pesochnica, visiting the Sandbox is one of the most unique things to do in Minsk. Formerly a factory yard, the once abandoned area is now the hip place for Minsk youth and the young at heart.
The Sandbox offers food trucks with choices ranging from burgers to waffles to shawarma to smoothies.
There’s no shortage of entertainment at the Sandbox. When I went, an open-air movie was playing in the middle of the day, free for anyone to watch. It’s also common for there to be live musical performances, particularly in the evenings.
Since the Sandbox is an outdoor venue, it only operates from May – September. During this time, it’s open daily from 12:00pm – 11:00pm.
Visiting the Sandbox is a great activity to do in conjunction with a visit to the Kamaroŭka Market, as they’re less than a 10 minute walk from each other.
Don’t be alarmed if you feel like you’re in the wrong place; the entrance isn’t well marked and looks more like abandoned property. This is what you’re looking for:
To help you out, there’s a stand-up comedy hall to the right of the entrance to the Sandbox.
Address: 45, Vulica Kujbyšava
11. Oktyabrskaya (Kastryčnickaja) Street
Continuing with the hipster theme, visiting Oktyabrskaya Street is one of the must-do things in Minsk, if you’re interested in seeing the emerging Minsk culture.
Oktyabrskaya Street is a haven for the younger crowd, as it has lots of bars, cafes and street art.
Speaking of street art, make sure to visit the mural made by Ramon Martins. It’s the largest mural in the world painted by a single artist, who happens to be Brazilian.
In fact, Minsk’s Street art culture was inspired by Brazilian artists, who come to Minsk every year for a street art fest. Together with local Belarusians, the artists paint buildings in colorful depictions of both Belarusian and Brazilian culture.
While you’re around Oktyabrskaya Street, make sure to be hungry.
Places like Let it Be and Enzo’s are popular restaurants. Additionally, there’s a vegan fast food restaurant called Monkey Fooood (those four “o”s aren’t a typo!).
If you’re in the clubbing mood, this will be your go-to area. There’s even a gay club, which is currently the only one in Minsk.
12. Museum of the 1st Congress of the RSDLP
It may be a mouthful, but if you’re a history buff, make sure the Museum of the 1st Congress of the RSDLP is on your list of things to do in Minsk.
The museum is located in the house where the Soviet Union was formed. The house is in its original state, as it was protected extra carefully by the Soviets during war.
It’s unlikely that you’ll run into many visitors at the museum, as tourism is still new in Belarus and most locals are trying to move on from their Soviet past.
Make sure to take a close look at the fence around the house, which still has the Soviet symbol of a hammer and sickle.
Travel Tip: The yellow house across from the museum is where Lee Harvey Oswald lived. This man allegedly killed former U.S. president JFK.
13. Take a walking tour
Although tourism is new in Belarus, I was impressed by how many walking tour options there are.
I took two free walking tours during my visit- the standard tour around the historical center and the Alternative Minsk Walking Tour. Both tours had knowledgeable, entertaining guides.
The historical walking tour runs every day of the week, however, the alternative walking tour, and certain other walking tours they have like the Soviet and Jewish walking tours, run on specific days.
The walking tours are hosted through White Wings, which is a travel agency that also offers a number of tours you can pay for.
Remember, if you take a free walking tour, you should give your guide a well-deserved tip for their time.
14. Explore Independence Avenue
Independence Avenue is the vein that runs through downtown Minsk…all 15 kilometers of it.
In true Soviet fashion, the street and sidewalks are uncannily wide, in order to make room for all the Soviet-themed parades they used to have.
On this avenue, you’ll encounter classic Soviet-style architecture. Make sure to visit Independence Square, which is where you can admire more soviet architecture, the Church of Saint Simons and Helena, and a statue of Lenin.
A visit to GUM is one of the things that you absolutely must do while in Minsk. This is a Soviet-era department store that feels like stepping back in time.
You can purchase just about anything at GUM- from old toys to beauty products to car parts. Make sure to walk up the marble staircase that leads to the various floors. You’ll notice the Soviet symbol in the iron design along the staircases.
GUM staff are dressed in Soviet-style outfits. It can almost trick you into thinking that you really have gone back in time…if it weren’t for the pop English music they had playing in the background.
The only part about GUM that I didn’t care for was the high-security presence. I felt very watched, not that this is entirely unique to GUM, since Belarus has a Big Brother feel to it.
Address: 21, Praspiekt Niezaležnasci
Did you know that Belarus produces delicious chocolate?
There are two chocolate companies in Belarus- Spartak and Kommunarka. You’ll find this chocolate at just about any shop and supermarket.
You can get anything from milk chocolate to varying percentages of dark chocolate. These chocolate bars make for excellent souvenirs.
17. Lido Restaurant
If you’re looking to try a variety of Belarusian food and are short on time, Lido Restaurant is your one-stop-shop.
With a beautifully designed traditional interior, this restaurant is cafeteria-style. Simply point to the food you want and they’ll weigh it. The cashier will then tally up the cost when you checkout.
No need to worry about going overboard on costs. You’ll be able to get a full plate for around $5 USD.
One of the best parts about Lido Restaurant, aside from the variety of food, is that all the food is labeled in English.
Vegetarians will also be able to find things to eat. There’s a Lido in the historical center and near the Kamaroŭka Market.
18. Kebab Mile
Let’s continue with the topic of food. There’s a pedestrian street beside the Minsk Market that is locally referred to as the “Kebab Mile.” As its name implies, it’s most known for its kebabs.
Fast food stands on this street are open 24/7. The area becomes especially alive at night, with music and people hanging out in the street. Despite complaints from the neighbors, Kebab Mile continues to be the go-to spot for locals.
Minsk is a unique and still mostly tourist-free capital which will surely continue evolving over the years. I hope this post has given you inspiration for things you can do in Minsk.
Have you been to Minsk or do you have questions about visiting? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.