Your comprehensive travel guide to Belarus - All in one place!
Belarus is famous for its unique cultural, architectural, and historical heritage. Many Belarusian towns and cities have preserved ancient temples, cloisters, palaces, castles, and parks that bring history alive. The oldest monuments include the Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk with unique frescos dating back to the 11th century, the Kolozha Church in Grodno (12th century), as well as castles in Nesvizh, Mir, and Krevo. Belarusian church buildings do not only reflect the nation's history but also show tolerance of the Belarusian people through a variety of religions that existed simultaneously in the territory of Belarus. Numerous World War 2 memorials including Brest Fortress, Khatyn Memorial, Mound of Glory, and Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk hold a special place in the Belarusian historical legacy because they commemorate the heroic struggle of Belarusian people against the Nazi invasion.
History and Government
In early times, Belarus was inhabited and ruled over by various people including the Slavs, the Mongols and Lithuania. During the 19th century, various people tried to claim Belarus and it was alternately ruled by Poland and Russia. The latter managed to retain control until WWI when Germany claimed Belarus and in 1921, the country was divided between Poland and Bolshevik Russia which became the USSR the next year. This was a terrible time in their history as the Belarusians in Poland were subjected to mass killing and thousands were executed.
Under soviet rule, Belarus recovered economically and Minsk became one of the industrial hubs of the USSR. But disaster struck in 1986 when the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine melted down and Belarus was harder hit than the Ukraine itself. Around one-fifth of the country was seriously contaminated and people suffer the effects until today.
Nationalist sentiment grew in the following years and the Communist Party issued a declaration of full national independence in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since independence, Belarus has had two presidents—Stanislau Shushkevich, a physicist who followed a centrist path between communism and the Popular Front, and Alexander Lukashenko, who runs the country with an iron hand. Internationally, Lukashenko is considered tyrannical and backward and held responsible for the economic decline of what was once a very promising nation.
Geography and Environment
Belarus, a generally flat country without natural borders, occupies an area of 207,600 square kilometers, or slightly smaller than the state of Kansas. Its neighbors are Russia to the east and northeast, Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, and Ukraine to the south. Belarus's mostly level terrain is broken up by the Belarusian Range, a swath of elevated territory, composed of individual highlands, that runs diagonally through the country from west-southwest to east-northeast. Its highest point is the 346-meter Mount Dzyarzhynskaya, named for Feliks Dzerzhinskiy, head of Russia's security apparatus under Stalin. Northern Belarus has a picturesque, hilly landscape with many lakes and gently sloping ridges created by glacial debris. In the south, about one-third of the republic's territory around the Prypyats' River is taken up by the low-lying swampy plain of the Belarusian Woodland, or Palyessye.
Belarus, a Eurasian country bordered by Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania, has an estimated 2019 population of 9.45 million. This makes Belarus the 95th most populated country in the world. Minsk is the largest city in Belarus and is also its capital. The population of Minsk is 1.8 million people. Ethnic Belarusians constitute approximately 84% of the total population of Belarus. Russians are the next largest ethnic group at 8% of the population, followed by Poles (3%) and Ukrainians (1.5%). While Russian is the official and main language of the country, Belarusian is also widely spoken. Yiddish, Polish, and Ukrainian are also spoken.
Belarus’s rich and complex history has led to a unique and distinct culture that is neither wholly Polish, nor Russian. Theatre, language, dance and literature are developed art forms and make up an important part of the culture. Belarus has four World Heritage Sites, with two of them being shared between Belarus and its neighboring countries.
Government-sponsored annual cultural festivals such as Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk; Minsk Spring; Slavonic Theatrical Meetings; International Jazz Festival; National Harvesting Festival; Arts for Children and Youth; and the National Festival of the Belarusian Song and Poetry provide a platform for performers, musicians, poets and dancers.
Food and Drink
National Belarusian recipes typically use a combination of different types of flour such as oatmeal, pea flour, buckwheat flour, rye flour, etc. The pride of the Belarusian cuisine is its natural bread, for which the dough is prepared with rye flour using a special ferment instead of yeast. To this very day, Belarusian bread is often baked in wood-fired ovens. Nowadays many old recipes are being reintroduced in modern variations. It goes without saying that the actual Belarusian cuisine – like any other national cuisine in this day of globalization – is influenced by general international culinary trends.
Among the traditional beverages, there are various spirits such as krambambulja (a liqueur with honey and spices), chrenovucha (a horseradish liqueur) and of course samogonka (home-distilled vodka).
Culture of festivals is an integral part of the society’s life. It is associated with its social structure, level of development, ideology and so on. In the 1990th political and ideological postulates of the Belarusian State system were changed, cultural bounds extended, and cultural cooperation with the countries of Western Europe became more intense. Thereafter, international festivals take place in Belarus. Festivals became a promising direction in the development of Belarusian State cultural policy. In the framework of the program of small Belarusian towns revival are organized national festivals, Days of Belarusian written language, music festivals in Belarusian towns such as Polotsk, Zaslavl, Nieswizh, Mir, and Turov.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to go to Belarus is from mid-May to mid-September when it’s comfortably warm. June, July and August are peak months for tourists. However, Belarus is hardly Barcelona, so you won’t find crowds, although prices may rise a little. The north and east have a much harsher climate, with the occasional Siberian blast. March and April see a sudden thaw across the country when unpaved roads can transform into thick mud, and there is a rapid shift from snow to sunshine. Autumn is just as brief, as sunny September gives way to cool, wet October. Expect snow by November.
The local currency is the Belarusian ruble and you will find it easy to exchange Euros and dollars. Pound Sterling is not on the radar and hard to exchange. You can, of course, choose to pay by credit and you can use your plastic at ATMs to withdraw cash.
There are two official languages: Russian and Belorussian. They are quite similar, but the majority of people speak Russian.
All foreign citizens spending more than 5 days in Belarus should have official registration. Otherwise, they will get a fine up to 500 € at the border.