The capital of Belarus is a big city with 2 million inhabitants and lots of things to see. Everyone is talking about the cleanliness of Minsk. It’s also very green, with many parks around the Svislotch River.
The architecture of the city was greatly affected by the devastating Second World War. In fact, the city was built from scratch after that, with wide streets and Stalin style buildings. If you start your journey from the Central Railway Station, you can make the first part of it on foot. Here is my plan for you.
1) Visit Sts. Simon and Helena Church, or Red Church
The Red Church is a symbol of Minsk. The official name of the church is quite rare and, probably, can’t be found elsewhere in the world: Sts. Simon and Helena Church. It’s because the church was built to commemorate the premature death of two young children, Simon and Helena Wojnilowicz, of a Belarusian aristocratic family. It is known as the ‘Red’ Church because of its red brick walls. This neo-Gothic church was designed by Polish architect Tomasz Pajzderski and consecrated in 1910.
In 1923, almost all of its treasures were expropriated, and the church was finally closed in 1932. Later it housed the BSSR State Polish Theatre, and then it was converted into a cinema studio. In 1990, the Church of Saints Simon and Helena was returned to the Roman Catholic Church. The interior has been fully restored, and it’s now an important centre of religious, cultural and social life in Minsk.
In September 1996 a statue of Archangel Michael killing a dragon was erected in front of the Red Church. The bronze statue is 4.5 meters high; it represents Archangel Michael as a symbol of victory and the glory of Heaven.
After visiting the church, continue your walk.
2) Walk the central part of Nezavisimosti Avenue
Minsk suffered a lot in the Second World War, with 80% of the buildings destroyed. A new city had to be built afterwards. It was rebuilt in grand Stalin’s empire style: wide boulevards are lined with ornate imperial grandeur buildings. Some researchers consider it a variation of art deco. This architectural style was apparently derived from the French empire style of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Begin walking Nezavisimosti Avenue from the Red Church to Pobedy (Victory) Square and see the Government House, City Council, KGB Headquarters, Post Office, ‘GUM’ the department store, Palace of the Republic, House of Officers, and the Residence of the President, among the others.
The main Post Office can be found at the beginning of Nezavisimosti Avenue. Notice the unusual sculptures and the clock on the building.
The secret police in Belarus is still named KGB. The headquarters occupy a very prominent location in the centre of Minsk.
The Trade Unions Palace of Culture is a nicely decorated classical style building from 1954. It now houses two nightclubs.
After seeing all those grand buildings, make your way to the Upper town.
3) Visit the Upper Town
The rich and famous inhabitants of the city had their houses in the Upper town since the middle of the 16th century. It’s the central part of Minsk with so much to see. I’ll just bring a few highlights to your attention.
Minsk City Hall
Minsk City Hall was initially wooden. After the fire in the middle of the 17th century, it was rebuilt in stone and was the symbol of independence. In the middle of the 19th century, the tsar of Russia Nikolay I ordered destroying the building. After the independent Belarusian state was established, the City hall was rebuilt from scratch and opened its doors to visitors in 2004.
Cathedral of the Holy Spirit
It’s one of the most visible churches in Minsk, located in the centre and overlooking the Svisloch River in the historic Upper Town. The Cathedral is the most important Russian Orthodox church in the city. Back in the 17th century, the building served as a Catholic Bernardine monastery. It was closed in 1922, then converted to Orthodoxy, expanded and renovated. Its holiest icon is the image of the Mother of God, said to have been found by Minsk residents in 1500.
Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary
This Jesuit church was built in early18th century. In those times, it was visited by Russian tsars Peter the Great and Nikolay the 2nd, Swedish King Karl XII, and others. In the Soviet times it was closed and after Second World War served as the office of a sport union. In the 1993 it was returned to the Church, and restoration artists of Belarus and Poland brought the former splendour back to the brilliant Baroque style building.
When you cross the bridge over the river, have a look at the Trinity suburband continue to Bolshoi.
4) See the grandeur of Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus
The theatre was designed by architect Iosif Langbard and opened in 1939, its grandiose style inspired by Roman amphitheatres. The building suffered from bombing in the Second World War and was opened again after reconstruction in 1947.
In 2009 the restoration works were completely finished under the guidance of architect Anatoly Shabalin. The new elements include crystal chandeliers of the 1950s style, gypsum details, ceiling paintings, golden stucco work along with red velvet curtains and drapery. The interior features natural stones, marble and granite. Floors are made from nine kinds of granite and adorned by ornaments.
The facade of the theatre is adorned by the sculpture of Apollo and two flying nymphs. In the park in front of the theatre, you can admire a light cascade fountain that resembles the silhouette of the theatre.
If you have more time, you can visit an opera or a ballet performance. The Swan Lake ballet is one of the most popular ones. You have to book tickets a few months in advance. The next part of your visit might require using the convenient and cheap Minsk public transportation.
5) Feed squirrels in Kupala park or watch newlyweds in Loshitsa Park
Minsk is a very green city with a lot of parks. Many of them are located on the banks of the river Svislotch. Which park to visit? The choice is yours and depends on your spare time. If you have little, just take a walk in Janka Kupala Park next to the Bolshoi theatre in the city centre.
For me, the main attraction was the numerous squirrels you can admire there.
If you have more time on your hands, I very much recommend visiting Loshitsa Park. Both parks look very picturesque in autumn.
The Loshitsa Estate in Minsk was built in the 16th century. In late 18th century, Adjutant-General Count Stanislaw Pruszynski remodelled the estate into a large residence that welcomed many outstanding historical figures like the last King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Stanislaw August Poniatowski and Russian Emperor Paul I, among the others. The last owners of the Loshitsa Estate, Eustacjusz Lubanski and his wife Jadwiga, made it even more beautiful. The picturesque park featured exotic plants and the house was transformed into an elegant mansion where the family held theatre and poetry evenings and celebrated folk holidays. Eustacjusz Lubanski left it in 1913, after Jadwiga’s tragic death.Today the Loshitsa estate and park is one of the most beautiful places in Minsk.
One can walk along the old alleys and visit the residence-museum.
It’s a popular place for wedding and art photographers.
Getting there: Loshitsa Park is located 5 kilometres from Central Railway Station. Go to metro station Traktorniy zavod, then tram № 3, 6 or 9, the tram stop you need is called «Микрорайон Серебрянка-3» (Micro rayon Serebrjanka 3).
6) Read books or admire the architecture of the National Library of Belarus
Viktor Kramarenko and Michael Vinogradov designed the 23-storey National Library of Belarus as a gigantic diamond. It’s a symbol of the precious knowledge stored in the books within. It was completed in 2006.
There are different opinions about the architectural value of the building, but it’s worth visiting at least for two reasons. Firstly, it hosts a museum of rare books, e.g. original books of Francysk Skaryna, an outstanding personality in the Belarusian history. His sculpture is placed next to the library building. The exposition hosts 10 originals of the Bibles published in the early 16th century. The second reason for visiting the library is the viewing platform on top of the building offering great views of Minsk.
Getting there: the fastest way is taking the metro to the Vostok station.
7) Visit Minsk arena, the venue of 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship
It is one of Europe’s biggest cultural and sports facilities, a great example of Belarusian contemporary architecture. The multipurpose centre is comprised of the arena, a velodrome, a skating stadium, and a multilevel car park. The official opening ceremony of the venue took place in January 2010 as part of the Second KHL All-Star Game, featuring the teams of Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Yashin. In May 2014 Minsk Arena hosted the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
Various concerts, shows, big exhibitions and forums also take place there. These walls have heard live music of Rammstein, Sting, Joe Cocker, Jennifer Lopez, Depeche Mode, Scorpions, Linkin Park, Elton John, Jose Carreras, and Shakira.
If you have more time, you can continue your journey from Minsk Arena to the recreation area Drozdy to walk in the woods or take a swim in summertime. There are several bicycle and Segway rent facilities in the area and nice bicycle paths.
For swimming in any weather, go to the nearby waterpark “Lebyazhy” on the bank of the reservoir “Drozdy”. The entertainment complex can welcome up to 2 thousand people at a time. It is the first real waterpark in Belarus, the fifth largest by size in Europe. Different forms of entertainment are combined with the latest technology and high-quality service.
Getting there: Minsk Arena is located at 111 Pobeditelei Avenue. The easiest way to get there is by bus No.1 from Central Railway station.
See even more things to do in Minsk advised by Jordan, travel blogger of inspiredbymaps clicking this link.
Use 5 days visa-free opportunity to visit Minsk. Learn more about it clicking this link.
Have you been to Minsk? Share your impressions in a comments section.
- Published by Anita on September 17, 2016
Author: Anita Sāne
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveler, passionate photographer and a mature career woman from Latvia, traveling mostly solo for more than 10 years. She is a skilled travel planner planning and executing her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her also on Instagram and Pinterest.