Difference between revisions of "Minsk"
Revision as of 20:30, 20 April 2014
Minsk  is the capital and largest city of Belarus. It is situated on the Svislač and Niamiha rivers. From 1919-1991 it was the capital of the Former Byelorussian SSR. It is also the capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
The city was 80% destroyed during World War II and as such was rebuilt in the 1950s to the liking of Stalin. Large Soviet-Bloc style buildings make up a large portion of the city. For this reason Minsk is a wonderful place to visit for those interested in the Soviet Union and are interested in seeing it almost alive.
English is rarely spoken, and tourism is not a priority in Minsk. It would be wise to learn some key phrases in Russian (which is the default language, but Belarusian may also be spoken or understood).
After passing the customs (first comes the Visa Office on the second floor, second - passports control, third - customs control), you will find yourself in one of the dim arrival halls on the ground level. Each of the two halls offers a currency exchange booth (only one of them functions - the one at sector 5-6, 24/7 but with lots of "technical breaks"), a newspaper kiosk sector 5-6, 3rd floor, and lots of private taxi drivers offering their services. ATMs are few and badly marked, but they do help in avoiding the queues at the exchange booths. Car rentals (Sixt and Europcar) are located at the sector 5-6, on the far left. Departure hall on the third floor is more bright and comfortable, with a 24/7 restaurant and few other places to eat (open 9—21), as well as a small souvenir shop, bank and post offices.
Upon departure, you have to go through a security control before you procede to check-in. The area behind the check-in features several duty-free shops and bars. The whole terminal is covered by decent wi-fi from Beletelecom, but you have to purchase an access card (very cheap, though) at their office or at the newspaper kiosk in the departure hall before check-in.
Flight connections to Minsk are still somewhat scarce. Belavia operates regular flights to Moscow (6 times a day), Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad (1-2 flights a day) as well as Tbilisi, Prague, Kiev, Tallinn and Riga. It also has flights to major European airports, but none of these destinations are served on an everyday basis. Alternatively, you can fly to Minsk with Aeroflot (Moscow, twice a day), Lufthansa (Frankfurt, 1-2 times a day), Austrian Airlines (Vienna, twice a day), LOT (Warsaw, once a day), and Aerosvit (Kiev, once a day). Although low-cost airlines do not serve Minsk, most of the available carriers offer cheap tickets every now and then. If you are unable to find a cheap ticket or a suitable connection, consider flying to Vilnius, Moscow, or Warsaw and traveling to Minsk by train. However, the overland travel may require an additional visa and generally causes more bother than the arrival by plane.
Getting to the city
The airport is served by regular bus no. 300э running every 45-60 minutes from/to Centralny bus terminal, next to the main railway station (Minsk Pasažyrski). For the timetable, see the airport website,  or Minsktrans website . At Centralny bus terminal, tickets are sold at the ticket office. At the airport, they can be purchesed from the bus driver (BLR 30,000 as of January 2014, cash only) or ticket machine by the main exit paid by cards. The only bus stop is in front of the arrivals on the ground floor.
In about 30 minutes after leaving the airport, the bus stops at Uručča(Uruchye) subway station. Many passangers leave here to continue by subway and other means of public transport. If travelling to the airport from Uručča(Uruchye), leave the subway station through the front exit, turn right, and find the outermost bus stop. There is a small, well-hidden plate with a timetable.
If you travel to the Aŭtazavod area (Аўтазавод / Автозавод) - Mahilioŭskaja subway station - you may prefer taking bus 173э to Sokal (Сокал / Сокол) suburd and changing for 112с at the same bus stop. Bus 173э, however, has a very enfrequent service - see timetable .
Taxi is the only alternative to the 300e bus option. There is no official taxi service, yet private drivers abound. The ride to the city center should not cost more than €25—30, and bargaining is recommended. If you prefer official service, call a taxi from any company in the city and pay the same price.
To reach the airport by car, leave the city by Niezaliežnasci (Nezavisimosti) Avenue and follow the M2 highway.
The width of the train tracks is different in Poland and in Belarus, so if you choose to arrive by train please be prepared for long wheel changing. However, if you are arriving from say, Kiev, Moscow, or Lviv (Lvov) you need not worry about this. Plus as an added bonus, the prices are substantially cheaper from CIS countries.
There is almost always a daily train leaving from Lichtenberg station. It leaves at 13:49 and arrives the next morning at 9:30 or so. Note: This is the train en route to Russia.
There is always a daily train leaving Tsentralnyi Vokzal (Central Station) station (at the eponymous metro stop in Kiev). It leaves Kiev at 18:22 and arrives the next morning at around 06:00. A 4 person berth should cost around 47 USD.
From Minsk, train #86 leaves at 20:51, and arrives in Kiev the next morning at around 09:00. A 4 person berth should cost about 47 USD.
The trip is about 10 hours. There is one train a day that departs from Central Station at 20:35 which arrives in Minsk around 8:00.
From Vilnius, Lithuania, the train takes about 2.5-3 hours. You will be given a card with two sides to fill out, and the guards at the Belarussian border keep one. You need to keep the other one for your hotel to stamp, and give it back to the guards when you leave Minsk. There are two stops. You should have your insurance and invitation letter (if you're a tourist) out to show the guards. The train from Vilnius is pretty cheap: around €15-20 one way if bought in Lithuania. Also quite comfortable. Check schedules at 
There are also trains from Prague and other European cities.
Overnight train leaves Moscow about 23:30 and arrives Minsk about 06:30. No stop at the border for passport checks, so a good nights sleep in the 2 berth cabins.
There are several bus routes from Vilnius central bus station to "Aŭtavakzal Uschodni" ("Avtovokzal Vostochny") bus station in Minsk. The Minsk bus station is not very close to downtown, however you can have a taxi ride with 30 000 rubles (less than €4). The bus also drops passengers off outside the railway station (look out for two Stalinist towers) in the centre of Minsk before proceeding to the Uschodni (Eastern) station. The bus service takes up to 5 hours and costs around 36 litas (be prepared to spend more than 1.5 hours at the border). Due to the bad quality of the train service, bus ride should be preferred.
Driving in, while possible, requires knowledge of the border system. This is a border of the European Union, so control is very strict. Crossing it can take 2 hours. They may check your bags. Without knowledge of Russian, Belarusian or Polish, this can be very hard. There is a very long line of cars at every border crossing. However, if you have passport, VISA and car registration papers prepared, act honest and helpful and arrive as a tourist in a personal car, the border crossing can go very smoothly and be over within 45 minutes.
Use of two state languages, Belarusian and Russian, across the transport system in Minsk may pose inconvenience for visitors. Effectively, the same stop, station, street or square may be known and referred to by two names, in Belarusian and Russian. For example, one of the metro interchange stations is known to the Russian-speaking majority as Площадь Октябрьская (Oktiabrskaya Sq.), but maps and announcements in metro refer to it in Belarusian as Плошча Кастрычніцкая (Kastryčnickaja Sq.). As of 2013, transliteration of geographical names (streets, stations etc.) into Latin alphabet is done from Belarusian according to the new system . Learn it as it is used across Minsk metro and on many other signs already. Elsewhere, you will see plenty of examples of the geographical names transliterated from Russian, e.g. Loshytsa, rather than Belarusian Lošyca.
Get around by using bus, tram, Metro (subway) or rent a car. All are cheap and reliable. The subway is noted for being clean and safe. All public transport in Minsk operates about 5.30am to 00.30am; taxis are 24/7 naturally.
A panoramic English-language map of the centre of Minsk that shows every building individually is widely available from bookshops and kiosks. It also has a conventional map showing more of Minsk and some tourist information. It is worth buying a copy as early on in your visit as you can because it makes getting around on foot easy and fun.
Bus, trolleybus, tram
Timetable (in Russian)
The subway, Minsk Metro, is the most reliable transport system around Minsk. Additionally, each subway station is decorated uniquely and the oldest stations of the red, Maskoŭskaja line, are listed architectural landmarks. For instance, the station at Kastryčnickaja Plošča (Kastryčnickaja Square) is decorated in the theme of the Communist Revolution. The station at Plošča Pieramohi (Pieramohi Square) is decorated in a victory theme, and the Plošča Lienina (Lienin Square) station includes a bust of Lenin and a host of hammer and sickle reliefs. Plošča Jakuba Kolasa (Jakub Kolas Sq) renderes Belarusian folk themes in ceramics beautifully all over its station.
The Metro consists of two lines crossing at the very city centre, the red line runs (known as Maskoŭskaja) from the northeast to the southwest, while the blue line (Aŭtazavodskaja) runs from the the west to the southeast. All the stations have numbers (for example the interchange stations, Kastryčnickaja i Kupalaŭskaja, are 116 and 216) - in addition to their proper names - for easier reference, they are listed on all new metro maps; however, it is a very recent innovation and the majority of locals are not aware of that yet. Use stations' proper names if speaking to locals. Train depart every 3 min at rush hour and are almost never late. You can buy tokens at a window inside the station. One ride costs BLR3000 (as of January 2014) , but if you speak no Belarusian or Russian, just give some money and say: Metro. For those staying for a week or longer, a 10-day or a 14-day pass may be a good option.
You may also rent a car to travel around the country. Rates depend on period of hire and start from $20 US a day. There are offices of Europcar, Avis, SIXT and other rental companies.
Regional trains from Central Station are also cheap. A trip from Minsk to Gomel (5 h) with a cabin for 4 cost 20000 rubles and almost never full.
Museums and galleries
Churches and temples
Linen goods, woven and embroided, are typical presents Belarusians take abroad. They can be purchased in specialist shops and any large department store. Souvenirs made of straw, wood, leather are traditional to Belarus too (not Russian Matryoshka, though). Womens housery Milavitsa is widely known across former USSR. Belarusian vodka isn't as well marketed as Russian or Polish, but can easily compete with those on quality and is traditional to Belarus too; look for well-designed bottles and packaging and the price can generally be a reliable guide to its quality. Another authentic Belarusian alcoholic drink is krambambulia - a slightly sweet herbal infusion. The Minsk Airport has reliable duty free shops with Belarusian alcohol, chocolate and souvenirs.
Belarusian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of Eastern Europe but particularly Russian and Ukrainian. Generally it features heavy-fat potato dishes, mushrooms, soups and baked meat.
The quality of Western European cuisine (Italian, French...) is not amazing. The average level of cafes and restaurants is low but there are several good places in the center of the city. The price of a meal at these places should cost between 20,000 and 40,000 rubles. The list of the restaurants -> 
A typical drink is "Kefir", which is a sort of sour milk, similar to yogurt.
"Krambambulia" is a traditional medieval alcohol drink which you can buy in most stores or order in a restaurant. It's a pretty strong drink but its taste is much softer than vodka.
Please note that a foreign guest must get registered with the local police department - Department for Citizenship and Migration within 5 business days. This means that you can arrive in Belarus on Tuesday and leave on Sunday without the registration stamp. Most hotels process the registration automatically upon check-in while many apartment rentals might be reluctant to provide registration. Check if the rental service offers registration service and at what price.
*Marx hostel.Address: 8-99 Karla Marksa str., Minsk, Belarus Phones: +375 29 - 577 41 51
+375 29 - 184 40 50
e-mail: [email protected] How to find us: If you are going from the railroad station: go by Kirava str. than turn left on Valadarskaha str. till you reach K. Marksa str. From Kupalaŭskaja subway station: just go down by K. Marksa str. untill building #8. Remember: entrance to our hostel is from the side of building closer to building #10. Outside door code: 3+8. http://marx-h.com/Contacts.html Cheap,quiet,central location.
On the web you can find a lot of cheap offers to rent a flat. Average price is about 50 USD for the night. There is also a good rental service provided by  . They rent rooms in good quality in the center of Minsk. They also provide assistance for Visas.
You might receive a call to your hotel room late at night offering a "massage". To avoid being woken up it is worth unplugging your phone.
Minsk is a very safe and clean city especially compared to neighbouring capital cities like Kiev or Moscow. Unlike most Central and Eastern European cities, there are very few homeless and drunkards wandering the streets. Although locals might insist otherwise, Minsk is a city where you really must go out of your way to find trouble, even at night. If you are in need of assistance, there is a strong police presence in the city centre. However, their ability to speak English in most cases will be severely limited.
Be careful when photographing government buildings and the monument to Lenin at Independence Square. While you might be observed and kindly ushered away from the monument, photographing government buildings can lead to trouble with authorities and even arrest. Be mindful of what you are photographing.
While not seen as frequently as in Kiev, be aware of cars or delivery trucks moving on sidewalks. In some areas of Minsk parking is limited forcing drivers to manoeuvre and park their vehicles onto pedestrian lanes.