Having left Russia after the World Cup, I needed to arrive in Minsk via a third party country as flights from Russia usually land in a domestic airport where you can’t receive your visa on arrival. With that in mind I flew from Moscow to Vilnius, Lithuania (previous blog here) for 6 hours where I met an old friend for lunch and flew direct to Minsk in the evening.
Tourist Visa Process:
I arrived at 7pm in the evening after very dodgy landing and proceeded to immigration. As an EU member, the first step to entering Belarus is to purchase insurance in the immigration lounge when you arrive. They do also accept third party insurance but I’m not sure how stringent they are on this. I thought it best to buy the local insurance as it only cost €4 for 3 days. Once I purchased, I made my way to immigration, which was actually very easy. You need to present your passport, insurance and proof of exit within 5 days.
Once through I followed signs to the official taxi of the airport, which is located in the terminal building. They charge a flat rate of about $15 to the city centre, which is excellent considering it, is about 40 km away. After an interesting drive through the country fields and eventually into the city I arrived in the main street Nezavisimosti and called my AirBnb host who met me and let me into the place. By far the best place I’ve stayed in Eastern Europe and quite cheap too. If visiting bear in mind locals have very little English and Wi-Fi is only accessible in public if you have a local number or functioning international SIM that can receive texts.
I dumped my bags, had a shower and headed out for a gander around the city. I was super impressed how clean and spacious the city is. I had food in a café and then walked up and down the main street and to Lenin Square as the sun set taking in all the impressive architecture from the Soviet era. I was fairly wrecked after a full day of travelling, so made my way to a local 24 hour store which was rammed with locals buying booze and bought some water and headed back to the apartment for an earlyish night. I was also a bit freaked by the fact that the KBG headquarters was located right across the road, but managed to get some rest!
I was up early on Saturday, took a shower and headed out to discover the city in the daytime. The city itself is walkable but do have your feet will be sore after! I began on Independence Street and main roundabout for some pics and took the underpass to Gorky Park, which is a large park in the city centre with amusement rides throughout. I headed up on the Ferris Wheel for a birds eye view of the city, which is cheap too. Once back down, I continued to stroll through the city, and made my way to the Old Town which is absolutely beautiful with lots of live music and impressive churches. It also has abundant restaurants and is the main nightlife area.
After 3 hours of walking I stopped in for some lunch at a local burger place. When serving my burger the waiter handed me some latex black gloves and I thought I was done for! I looked around to see the locals eating their burgers with black gloves on, so joined in with the crew! I continued walking around the river and up by Tear Island before grabbing some local beer in the early evening sun in the Old Town while watching some of the World Cup on TV. I googled my way to a local Irish bar but got lost on the way and not one person knew where the place was or didn’t have good English. So I had to admit defeat and return to the ranch.
I headed out for some local food in the old town and a couple more beers (I was at my wits end with beers after the World Cup in Russia) before walking back to the apartment and packing, as my flight was 7am the next morning with a stopover in Ukraine. Very early start! My seamless plan to order an Uber (recommended by locals) once I woke up fell to pieces when the apartment’s Wi-Fi crashed and I had to go out into the street at 4am and haggled with locals (little English) over the 40km drive. I managed to get an OK price from one but, albeit still overpaying, and made it to the airport in plenty of time. I even had to pay him with a mix and match of local currency, Euro and Dollars. But I was on my way!
Minsk itself is a very beautiful city with a complex and interesting history. With the current visa on arrival in place it is a great time to take advantage of cheap flights and visit. Also keep in mind it is still quite an autocratic state, so don’t be taking the mickey too much!