By Masha Cheriakova
Often I get this question, why Belarus is worth a visit. It is a country ruled by the last dictator in Europe, people protesting and being jailed, frowning shopkeepers and bitter winters. Surely Belarus is not for everyone. Because this is the land of Russian (and few Belarusian) speakers, sweaty trains in the summer, and sometimes too much mayonnaise and potato. BUT, if you are only a slightly adventurous and open to new experiences, then Belarus is the MOST exciting travel destination there is! Here is why:
1. No tourists
Empty beautiful streets in Minsk city centre. Photo by Masha Cheriakova
No masses of tourists piling out of charter buses in the center of Minsk. The foreigners who come are usually seasoned travellers wanting to understand another culture or travellers who know someone in Belarus.
2. See the Remains of the Soviet Union
Socialist wall sculpture, City centre Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Reinier van Oorsouw, 2017
Republican palace, Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Reinier van Oorsouw, 2017
The physical reality of Soviet Union is very much part of everyday life in Belarus. More than 22 Lenin statues are to be admired only in Minsk alone, hammer and sickles to be found on many public buildings and enormous squares showing the socialist past.
3. Modern lifestyle
While McDonald and KFC have found their way into Belarus a while ago, there are many other things that makes Belarus a very modern society: more than 100 coffee companies, a booming IT sector, good Wi-Fi connection in most places, graffiti, top restaurants and hotels. The younger generation speaks moderate English and therefore making it easier for these who travel to Belarus.
Kastrycnickaja street, Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Reinier van Oorsouw, 2017
4. Untouched nature: Wild forest and hundreds of lakes
Nature plays a very important role in the lives of many Belarusians. This is not very strange as 10 minutes away from the big cities you will find beautiful untouched nature where you can swim in a lake (11.000 lakes in Belarus!), also go for walks in the wild forests (covers over one-third of Belarus). Belarusians on a free day gather in the parks to play volleyball or Frisbee and go on walks for fun. Also, one of the most popular summer past-times is berry and mushroom picking.
Volkovysk chalkpits, 270 km away from Minsk. Photo by Artem Dombrovski
Belarusians relaxing on a lake. Photo by Artem Dombrovski
Maybe because foreigners are still a relatively rare sight, Belarusians are impressively hospitable. Whether it is a Belarusian babushka presenting a block of salted pork fat (salo), a Belarusian beating you with birch branches in the banya (Sauna), a Belarusian grandpa who becomes your favorite friend after several drinks or a youngster holding conversation over tea and watermelon, guests are always received with a warm welcome and go home with a filled belly!
An American/French visitor drinking vodka with his favourite Belarusian friend. Photo by Masha Cheriakova
While unrest and extreme of politics are to be found in the neighbouring countries like Russia and Ukraine. Belarus is known for its stability. People know what to expect from the government whether it is good or bad. The Belarusians are a peaceful folk, who appreciate its stability the most. This has to do with their turbulent past, which they happily leave behind them and live in peace.
If you want to discover Belarus and its capital Minsk in a local way check our tours. If you are planning to visit Minsk you can prepare yourself with the first travel guide to Minsk in English ‘Minsk. Belarus. Local Guide’.