Belarus is a lesser-known country situated on the East of Europe, which has many interesting, yet unknown features.
It is not very popular among tourists, as many people simply don’t know about it.
In this article, I will tell you about Belarus, things to do there, and how to have the most authentic cultural experience in the country of lakes. You will also find out why you have never been to the center of Europe.
How to have an authentic cultural experience in Belarus
Information about Belarus You Should Know
Belarus is a land-locked country bordering Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Although, many people think, it is a very small country, the territory of Belarus could altogether fit Switzerland, Netherlands and Hungary.
Its population is about 10 million people, 2 of them live in the capital, Minsk, which is also the most visited city by tourists. The country has its own language, Belarusian, which is not as widely used as Russian, although most of the people know both.
One of the main features of the country is that it is very green and has lots of lakes and rivers. About 40% of the territory is covered with forests, some of which were used to make authentic and unique National parks. There are about 20,000(!) rivers and 11,000 lakes on the territory of the country. So, if you are a nature lover, you have unlimited possibilities in Belarus.
Another interesting, but tragic feature of Belarus is that its location between major nations made it suffer from numerous wars crossing its territory. Belarus was the main eastern frontline during the First and Second World Wars.
The capital of the country, Minsk, was completely destroyed several times. After the Second World War, the local government wanted to rebuild it 30 km away from its initial place, as there was nothing left from the city. Later, they changed their decision, so you can now see almost 1,000-year-old Minsk on the same place.
Another consequence of numerous wars was building of fortifications. Today, you can see many medieval castles, as well as fort churches spread all around the country, while the majority of them is situated on the west.
Belarus has a unique and diverse cuisine. The most popular ingredients are potatoes, vegetables, meat and dairy products. You can try it in many restaurants in any Belarusian city, and even along the highway. So, let’s find out, how to discover the culture of Belarus in the most authentic way!
Beauty of Ancient Cities
Despite the fact that Belarus suffered a lot from wars crossing its territory, several cities preserved their architecture and ancient monuments. Some of the most notable of them are Polotsk, which is also the oldest city in Belarus, Grodno, with its two beautiful castles and numerous churches of different religions, Vitebsk, which is called the “Northern Capital of Renaissance”, and a small town of Nesvizh with a great Palace and park complex.
Polotsk is the oldest city in Belarus, it was first mentioned in chronicles in 862. This city was very important in Belarusian history. It was the first capital of Belarus, it also used to play the main role in religion and trade in the region.
It is still a “mecca” for orthodox Christians, due to the famous St. Sophia Cathedral and St. Euphrosyne convent, which are situated here. Highly recommended is visiting of Local Lore and History Museums in Polotsk.
Did you know that the geographical center of Europe is located in Belarus?
It is situated in Polotsk, where you can even find a monument devoted to it, and get a certificate that you have been in the center of Europe.
The city that preserved the most architectural monuments in Belarus is Grodno. Most of the interesting places to visit can be easily found in the city center. Go to Zamkovaya street to see its two castles, and visit the main city cathedral on the main square.
Apart from its beautiful renaissance architecture, Vitebsk is interesting for its event held every July gathering thousands of tourists. It is called Slavic Bazaar, which is a great place to discover the local culture and crafts.
Relax on the extensive territory of the Nesvizh Palace and park complex. The palace is the most visited one in Belarus. Go inside and see, how the famous Belarusian-Polish noble family of Radzivills used to live in the 18-19th centuries, and listen to the numerous legends about the castle ghosts and treasures hidden under the castle from your tourguide.
Dive into the Rural Life of Belarusians in 19th Century
A few centuries ago, most of the population of Belarus lived in the countryside. The population of the few cities used to consist mostly of Jews, who were primarily engaged in trade, while the native Belarusians were working in agriculture.
One of the best places to feel like a Belarusian village citizen is a place called Strochitsy situated just behind the Minsk ring road. It is an outdoor museum showing the architecture of rural Belarus from the past centuries with old wooden houses and windmills brought from different corners of Belarus.
Another way to be close to the nature and enjoy the Belarusian cultural experience is to rent a farmhouse. Agritourism became very popular in Belarus in the last years. You have a great variety of country houses and holiday homes all around the country. In addition to living like a local, you can try local dishes made using traditional recipes, go hunting or fishing, visit the Belarusian sauna called ‘laznia’, or swim in the nearby lake or river.
Try the Most Popular Activities of Belarusians
Having such beautiful nature, it is no wonder that the locals like to spend time enjoying the tranquility and fresh air. Some of the most popular activities include fishing, hunting, cycling, kayaking, skiing and many others.
Belarus is not a small country, but it is not big either, so it is relatively easy (comparing, for instance, to Ukraine and Russia) to keep track of all the best places to do such kind of activities and make them safe for locals and tourists. Thanks to that, you can find equipped places to go fishing, well-conditioned forests to go hunting, several great ski resorts to go skiing and so on.
Thanks to the low prices, you can also try some adventurous activities that you don’t dare to try in your country. Jumping with a parachute, wakeboarding and rafting are just some of those activities.
Hungry after active recreation? It’s time to grab some delicious Belarusian food.
Try Delicious Local Cuisine
Another thing to do to complete your exploration of the Belarusian culture is to try local cuisine in one of the restaurants in Minsk, or any other city in Belarus.
The main ingredient in Belarusian cuisine is potatoes. There are over 300 Belarusian dishes made of potatoes. The most famous one that you definitely have to try is draniki, grated potato pancakes, sometimes made with meat, cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and served with sour cream. Other famous potato dishes are babka and kolduny.
Belarusian cuisine also includes a variety of soups, meat and dough dishes.
The best places to try Belarusian cuisine in Minsk are restaurants: Kuhmistr, Browar Rakowski, Talaka and some others, most of the best national cuisine restaurants are situated in the city center.
Places to Stay in Belarus
As I already told you, great places to stay in Belarus are farmhouses. But, if you prefer staying in the city with all the needed infrastructure, cafes and shops, you can stay in one of the new hotels in Minsk.
In 2014, the Hockey World Championship was organized in Minsk, so numerous investors and international hotel chains suddenly woke up and started building new hotels to host some part of the visitors.
Some of the best options to stay in Minsk include:
Average price level accommodation options in Minsk are:
Budget options include several cozy hostels in the city center:
The accommodation prices in Minsk are relatively low, so you can afford yourself a higher-class stay than in most of the other European cities.
This is my overview of the best ways to explore the authentic and unique Belarusian culture. There are much more things to do in this country. Find out 50 interesting facts about Belarus and have a nice trip!
Travel tip shared by RomanRoams