Belarus is sandwiched between Poland and Russia itself and that location tells you a lot about what to expect when visiting. There is a lot of natural beauty within its borders and the cities are just as stuffed with history. Modernization and Westernization are underway, but at a slower pace than many nearby countries. Many Soviet-era symbols and buildings are still very visible and visa requirements are complicated and taken seriously.

What To Do

Minsk is the capital and largest city and it was mostly destroyed during World War II so most of the current architecture is 1950s Soviet-style block buildings. In many ways it feels like the USSR is still running things, which can be fascinating to see up close. Just as with the rest of the country, English is not widely spoken at all so without knowledge of Russian or a similar language this can be a difficult city to visit.

Hrodna is a picturesque town near the Polish border. Since it was taken over so quickly during World War II it was spared the massive bombing that other cities received and is therefore mostly intact. This is probably the best place in Belarus to see pre-Soviet life as ancient churches and a palace are still complete and available for visits.

Getting There

Trains from Berlin and other nearby cities arrive in Minsk on a daily basis, but the journeys are notoriously slow, partly due to the fact that trains must switch to trucks with different wheel widths as they go from the West toward Russia. You can book a flight into National Airport Minsk (code: MSQ), but flights tend to be very expensive. It’s cheaper to fly into Vilnius, Lithuania (code: VNO) and take a 4-hour train ride to Minsk.

Where To Stay

There isn’t much tourist infrastructure in Belarus at this point. There is a hostel in Minsk and hopefully more on the way as the country lightens up.