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Minsk is one of the most intriguing cities you are ever likely to visit. It remains, almost proudly, a Soviet capital right down to its KGB building. It’s also a city of reinvention - Minsk has been rebuilt several times, most recently after the Second World War when the Nazis reduced the city to rubble. Along the huge Francysk Skaryna, you will find major pieces of architecture including the Main Post Office and the GUM department store. Nearby (on October Square) head to the haunting Museum of the Great Patriotic War. The Svisloch River divides the city. Walking along its banks is quite beautiful in the summer, particularly if you start your walk from the Old Town. The city has a fascinating past and a lot of strange footnotes from history have been written here. Lee Harvey Oswald, the man responsible for assassinating JFK, defected to Russia and lived in Minsk. The apartment where he lived on Ploscha Peramohi still stands. As you will quickly find, Minsk invites curiosity.
With its grand boulevards and big squares, Minsk is all about monumental excess, but its Old Town is tiny and not particularly old at all - most of the city had been rebuilt following the demolition in WWII. The best place to start exploring Minsk is at the Independence Square with its statue of Lenin and the Belorussian University building. Some of the best views over the city unfold from atop the futuristic structure of Belarus' National Library.
The restaurant scene in Minsk is slowly changing. Old, formal restaurants are being usurped by a new breed of dynamic Western European-style eateries. The local cuisine, rich in baked meat, mushrooms, soups and heavy sauces, is making a comeback, too. Local favourites worth trying include "hribnoy sup" (mushroom and barley soup), "kolduni" (stuffed meat dumplings) and "golubtsy" (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice). Many of the best restaurants are located near the Grand Opera. Several restaurants offer performances to accompany your meal.
The cafe scene in Minsk is pleasantly varied and boasts an ever-increasing number of hip coffee shops and stylish brunch spots reminiscent of those dotting most European capitals. The city centre contains a wide range of spots from Viennese-style cafes to self-service eateries serving affordable local specialties, some still preserving a distinctive Soviet feel.
There’s no real part of town where you can head to just for bars alone so you need to spread your net wide. Good local beers include Krinitsa and Lidskoe, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Belarusian vodka is some of the finest in the world. Minsk offers nightlife that you are unlikely to ever forget. Planning is everything when going for a night out in Minsk, especially considering the size of the city.
Francysk Skaryna is Minsk’s main shopping drag. Apart from the quintessential painted wood souvenirs, Belarus is famous throughout the former Soviet-bloc for its ladies lingerie brand Milavitsa. Other products to look out for include Belarusian vodka, which is well-regarded both locally and internationally. An unusual local edible to try is the "salo" - cured animal fat to be consumed on its own or paired with dark bread (a large assortment can be found at the central food market, Kamarovsky).
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