Minsk is often overlooked by travellers, but they are missing a hidden gem of a destination. It is not only museums and monuments, it is also skiing, skating and superb nightlife. Minsk, the capital of Belarus, is situated on the border of the EU, but it feels very different with its own history and its strong Russian influence. Since February 2017, citizens of 80 countries are allowed visa-free travel to Belarus for five days. But you may find you need more days to see everything.
History and military enthusiasts will be excited about Minsk. It has numerous monuments to World War II. The city houses the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum, which has original tanks and planes in its yard. Art lovers are also not forgotten in Minsk, where Marc Chagall lived. The Belarusian National Arts Museum has over 27,000 works of art, including some paintings by renowned Russian artist Ilya Repin.
If you want something more active, you can head to the city's own ski resort, Silichy, which is only 30 kilometres from the centre. If you prefer to watch sport, you should go to an ice hockey match; it's Belarus's national sport. You'll be sure to see an exciting game, and after, head out on the town as Minsk has a great and varied nightlife, with many different clubs, restaurants and bars to suit all tastes. You should try the local beer and vodka.
If all this excitement gets too much and you need some calm reflection, go to the Convent of the Holy Martyr Grand Princess Elizabeth. This Russian Orthodox Convent is a peaceful oasis just outside of Minsk, where you can visit the churches and even buy some local honey.
No-one is sure when Minsk was founded, but the first references to it are made in 1067. In the 13th century, it became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a large medieval kingdom, which stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In 1793, it was annexed by the Russian Empire, later becoming part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Since then, Belarus has been a proud independent European country.
Things to Do
There is something for everyone in Minsk. From skiing to sightseeing, clubbing to churches. You may need some Russian skills or help from a friend to be able to get the most from your visit. Here are a few ideas of things to do during your visit:
Learn about the City's role in World War II
Over 90% of Minsk was destroyed by the Second World War and it left a lasting impact on the local population. There are numerous monuments to the victims of the War and the sacrifices people made. One of the main sights is the Great Patriotic War Museum, which has numerous exhibits from the war. This museum opened its doors as early as October 1944. [http://war.museum.by/en]
Admire the Art
The Belarusian National Arts Museum is a must for any aspiring artist. It has over 27,000 works of art. The museum was established in 1939. It houses works from artists such as Ivan Aivazovsky, Ilya Repin and Thomas Heeremans. It also has some works from Marc Chagall, who spent his early life in Belarus. [http://www.artmuseum.by/eng/main].
Enter a convent
The Convent of Holy Martyr Grand Princess Elizabeth is named after Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She was killed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. This convent, which is situated on the outskirts of the city, is a quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle. Travellers here can see the various churches, an icon museum and a workshop where old icons are restored to their former glory.
Take to the slopes
Skiers can hit the slopes only 30 kilometres from the city. Silichy Ski Resort was opened in 2005. It has over 2.5 kilometres of pistes and has four chairlifts to the peaks. Don't worry about bringing your ski equipment as you can hire it on site. [http://silichy.by/] .
Watch an Ice Hockey Match
Ice hockey is the national sport of Belarus and is very popular. Belarus hosted the World Ice Hockey Championships in 2014 and has some excellent stadiums to watch the games. Minsk has two ice hockey teams: HC Dinamo Minsk and DC Yunost Minsk.
Calendar of Events
Minsk has numerous events throughout the year, many of which bring the local people onto the streets to watch the parades and shows.
Independence Day. Independence Day celebrates the liberation of Belarus in July after the Second World War. There is a military parade through the city, in which over 3,500 soldiers take part. The parade is very popular with over 350,000 spectators watching the parade.
Minsk Street Theater Forum. This is an annual event which local theatre companies, as well as troupes from Russia and Ukraine, come and perform their shows on the streets of the city. There are shows every day, come rain or shine. Everything from comedy to drama to tragedy.
Victory Day. The memory of the Second World War is never far away and this day commemorates the victory of the Soviet forces and the sacrifices they made. There is a large military parade through the city. Local people also visit the local cemeteries and monuments to lay flowers to their fallen relatives. Victory Day is held annually on 9th May. It is a public holiday in Belarus that day, so you may find the shops and museums closed.
International Friendship Marathon. This unusual marathon is run from Druskininkai in Lithuania to Grodno in Belarus. There are not many marathons you can take part in and claim to have run in two countries. Runners from all over Europe come to compete in this race, whose aim is to promote peace between the two countries. The twenty-six miles covers forest, city and countryside. It is run annually in July. [https://www.facebook.com/events/1057231094310689/]