Where in the world is Minsk? The overlooked city of old and new
Minsk is the capital city of Belarus, the small country that sits between Russia and Poland, and borders the Ukraine. Know that you know where Minsk is I’m hoping to share with you a little bit about it.The city of Minsk, its people, and its structures were almost completely wiped out during World War 2, and those who remained were forced to rebuild. A common misperception, though, is that Minsk continues to be a run-down city, still trying to rebuild from the war. But this could not be any further from the truth. The city of Minsk is clean and safe. Only a few structures remain from pre- World War
The city of Minsk, its people, and its structures were almost completely wiped out during World War 2, and those who remained were forced to rebuild. A common misperception, though, is that Minsk continues to be a run-down city, still trying to rebuild from the war. But this could not be any further from the truth. The city of Minsk is clean and safe. Only a few structures remain from pre- World War II and the rest of the buildings and homes were built no earlier than the 1940s or 1950s. Minsk has a myriad of opportunities for casual and fine dining, entertainment, and culture.
Lack of tourism
Unfortunately, due to the misperceptions about the state of the city, Minsk has not been a well-traveled city. For many years, residents of Minsk did not mind that tourists from the west did not visit, and it was fairly difficult for tourists to get into and navigate around the city. Western travelers could expect to find very few English speakers, as the languages there are Russian and Belarusian. When arriving at the border of Belarus, foreign travelers had to wait in long lines to obtain a visa, and all visitors had to present their visa when asked to do so by police officers around the city.
Changes in tourism policies and attitudes
However, this is no longer the case. Not only have the people of Minsk been found to be friendly and welcoming to tourists, but also Belarus recently changed its visa requirements. Foreign travelers from over 40 countries, including European countries and the USA, can now enter Belarus visa-free for up to 5 days with a valid passport, money, and health insurance that is valid in Belarus. The 5-day visa-free status does not apply to those who are coming or going from Russia. Upon the fifth day, foreign travelers must register with the police department if they plan to remain in the country. Minsk remains one of the least visited capitals of Europe among western tourists. People do not think of Minsk as a vacation spot or a tourist attraction. The hope is that changing the Visa requirements will allow more tourists to enter the country and stimulate the economy.
Minsk residents work hard and are paid very little, and welcoming tourists brings more opportunity for economic growth to the city. Despite the fact that Minsk is a poor city, you would not know that from looking at it. Crime rates are very low, and there is no homeless population or vagrants in the city. Unlike many capital cities, Minsk does not have a “good side” or a “bad side” of town. All areas are equal, and the prices for things are the same anywhere you go in the city. There is a large police officer presence in the city, which can be off-putting to tourists. However, there have been no recent reports of tourists being hassled for visa paperwork as has been reported in the past. Just do not take photographs of police officers or of government buildings. Such photography is a crime punishable by incarceration.
Visual Appeal and Culture
The city of Minsk offers visual appeal, with modernized buildings that, due to the time they were erected, have much Soviet influence. Minsk is a historic city, as World War, I and World War II had significantly affected Belarus. Only a few remnants of history remain, and these are hard to find. Local residents may be able to help to find these remnants. Frequent western visitors to Minsk advise finding local friends before traveling to Minsk and find friends who speak your native language. Without a translator, much of the beauty and charm of the city can be lost.
The cathedrals and the many churches in the city reflect Soviet influence in their architecture and design. Art galleries and restaurants have opened across the city, adding culture and class to the Minsk community. The city reportedly has 16 museums, 11 theaters, and 139 libraries. The National Library of Belarus is located in Minsk and is the largest library in the country, and an important reference and cultural center. Aside from the volumes of important information held in the media inside the building, the actual building itself is quite a sight to see. Like no other structure you have seen before, the National Library has been described by French artist Raphael Zarka as the “Rhombus Sectus”. Public concerts and events are held outside of the Library, and it is the only building in the city with a public observation deck.
Spending less for more
Western tourists will find that purchasing things in Minsk is far less expensive than at home. Shopping for jewelry and fashion are among some of the favorite tourist activities. Tourists should be alert to Minsk’s lack of lodging accommodations in the city. Hotels in the city are overpriced, and there are few to be found. Other options include renting an apartment for a short period of time, which could be less expensive than a hotel, depending on the length of stay.
Come and visit!
Minsk is open for tourists and has a lot to offer to travelers from around the globe. Tourism continues to remain low, which means that culture and tradition remain high. Travelers are advised to keep open minds and to help to preserve and enliven the city of the old and the new.