Things to see and do in Belarus
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Attractions in Belarus
The village of Zhirovichy, 190km (119 miles) from Minsk, is renowned for the beautiful 15th century Monastery of the Assumption. Part of the monastery complex is a convent and a theological seminary.
For an insight into the way Minsk once looked, the suburb of Troitskoye Predmestye should not be missed. 19th century houses with colourful facades line the streets and there are plenty of excellent examples of baroque architecture, such as the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul and the Maryinsky Cathedral, which has been rebuilt to its original shape.
The centre of Christianity during the time of Rus (the first Russian state) lay in the Slavic town of Polotsk. Polotsk is the oldest of the Belarusian cities, founded in 862. An excellent example of architecture of the period is the 11th-century Church of St Sophia. Worth a visit are the two castles nearby. There is also a 12th-century convent, St Ephrosinia of Polotsk, and a 16th- to 17th-century Epiphany Monastery.
Not far from Raubichi (10km/6 miles) is the idyllic Minsk Lake, dotted with numerous islets and surrounded by dense pines. It is beautiful all year round; however it's at its best during the summer months – when it is possible to swim and partake in other water sports on the lake.
Grodno is the fifth-largest city of Belarus. Close to both Lithuania and Poland it has for hundreds of years been a strategic border town, particularly relevant during WWII. The major sites are in the Old Town centre, where the Kalozh-Church and the Old Castle (both from the 11th century) can be found. Dotted with lavish baroque architecture – the Cathedral of St Francis Xavier is probably the highlight – Grodna is well worth a visit.
In 1943 the entire population of Khatyn village was massacred by a Nazi battalion, consisting of mostly Ukrainian collaborators. Khatyn has become a symbol of a number of mass killings that took place during the war, and the memorial now in place is a sobering yet suitable tribute to the one in four Belarusians that died in the war. Over the past fifty years visitors to the site have included Richard Nixon and Fidal Castro.
Minsk, the capital of Belarus, situated 340km (213 miles) northeast of Warsaw and 120km (75 miles) southeast of Vilnius, was first mentioned in 1067, but little of the old city now survives except a few 17th-century buildings. The city grew to be an important axis of communication and suffered badly during WWII. Modern Minsk is symmetrically designed with wide embankments flanking the Svisloch River.
About 22km (14 miles) from the capital is the picturesque village of Raubichi, which an interesting ethnographic museum housed in a disused church. However the main draw nowadays is not the village but the Olympic standard sports complex close by. It is home to a specialized educational and sports institution where winter sports athletes are trained. It is possible to join guided tours of the complex and hotel accommodation is available in this beautiful setting.
120km (75 miles) from Minsk is the small town of Mir where one can see the Jewish Cemetery and the 15th-century Mir Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby, historic Nesvizh still retains its old buildings. The former residence of the Radzivill family is one of the most attractive palaces in the country. It is surrounded by a large park with numerous lakes and elaborate gardens. Only a short walk away is the imposing Catholic church designed by the 16th-century Italian architect Bernardoni.
Belarus in the 13th century was the nucleus of the great principality of Lithuania and its capital was Novogrudok, featuring a 14th-century castle, Lida, where Adam Mitskevich, the great Belarusian poet, was born.
Pinsk is 300km (186 miles) south of Minsk and is the second-largest city in the Brest region. It has an abundance of historical, architectural and cultural monuments. The city and its environs are also renowned for both their natural beauty and as the centre of the Belarusian Polesye, a low-lying land of waters and mists.
The onion-shaped domes of Russian Orthodox churches dominate the landscape throughout the country, but especially around the towns of Logoysk, Krasnoe and Molodechno.
The cultural scene in Minsk is surprisingly diverse, with the Belarusian Ballet and good museums such as the National Museum of Belarusian History and Culture, the National Arts Museum, the Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War and the Museum of Old Belarusian Culture. Other interesting museums deal with the major Belarusian writers, Kolas, Kupala, Bogdanovich and Brovka. Icons form a large part of the National Gallery. Museums generally open Tues-Sun 1000-1900.
Museum of Folk Architecture
The Museum of Folk Architecture is situated in Ozerto, 15km (10 miles) southwest of Minsk), and features original pieces of century-old buildings from different regions in Belarus. This huge open air museum covers some 151 hectares with exhibits from Belarus and further afield.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park
In the countryside surrounding Brest, time appears to have stood still for centuries; 500-year-old trees can be found in the state national park, Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Wild European (Belovezhskaya) bison roam the area. The park contains 60 types of animal and 900 types of plants.
Sports enthusiasts can enjoy excellent cross-country skiing in the Raubichy Olympic Sports Complex, 22km (14 miles) from Minsk, while for lovers of mountain skiing, there are two modern resorts (Logoysk and Silichy) situated 30km (19 miles) from Minsk. Skating is also a popular activity.
Vitebsk, situated 270km (169 miles) from Minsk is the birthplace of the painter Marc Chagall. There is a cultural centre named after him, and his family house has been turned into a museum. One of Belarus' oldest buildings, the Annunciation Church, can also be found here. It dates back to the 12th century.
For tourists seeking political history, the village of Viskouli is where leaders of Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine signed the famous agreement stipulating the final disintegration of the USSR.
Dudutki Museum of Material Culture
The Dudutki Museum of Material Culture is to be found 40km (25 miles) from the capital city and is the only private museum in Belarus showing traditional crafts and ways of life. It provides a real insight to Belarusian traditions over the years.
One of the highlights of Brest is a tour of its fortress, which was used to repel the German forces during WWII. Inside, a museum chronicles its history back to the 13th century. This history is further illustrated by a fascinating selection of exhibits in the Museum of History and Archaeology. Alternatively, Brest has a famous puppet theatre that is worth seeing and visitors should not miss out on the elegant design of the Belaya Vezha (White Tower), also known as the famous Kamenets Tower, that was built in the 13th century.
Braslav Lake District
The Braslav Lake District situated in the north and northeast of the country, near the borders of Lithuania and Latvia, is ideal for boating holidays. Several of the 30 lakes, situated in an atmospheric forest, are connected by canals. Accommodation in the area is usually in small dachas along the lakeshore.
Belavezha Woodis one of the last sites where rare animals such as bison, bears and wolves can still be seen living in their natural habitat. Long scenic hiking trails are scattered throughout the Nature Reserve of Berezinsky, stretching from the source of the Berezina to Palik Lake. Primeval forests, marshland, deep rivers and a rich fauna and flora dominate this unique region, hence its UNESCO listing as a protected biosphere. This reserve historically provided a great trade route known as the way 'from the Varangians to the Greeks', connecting the Baltic and the Black Sea countries.