Last week, I was in the Belarusian capital of Minsk for work, and although 90% of my time was spent at a hotel conference center, I did manage to see a few sights and get a general impression of the city. I can even make a recommendation or two.
One of the first things you notice about Minsk is how exceptionally clean it is. It is also a very walkable city, and although I did not have a chance to try it, the city’s metro system is supposed to be first-rate. The locals tend to be friendly and helpful, and I was also told (anecdotally) that they are generally honest. One of my colleagues lost a valuable pearl necklace and it turned up at the hotel’s lost-and-found rather than in a pawn shop, so that’s a good sign. It’s not all places that you might expect that to happen.
I had a chance to walk around one evening after work and found myself admiring the buildings quite a bit. While the architecture is generally done in the monumental socialist realist style, it has more charm than you might imagine. (The photo above is of the Palace of the Republic, which stands on Oktyabrskaya square. It is used for concerts, as well as conferences and political meetings.)
With more than 80% of Minsk destroyed during World War II, it is the perfect place to go if you want to see architecture from the Stalinist era – being that there are very few buildings that date back earlier than the 1950s, with the best Soviet architects completely rebuilding the city during that period. Some have even described Minsk as “a perfect Soviet city.”
It is also home to some beautiful Orthodox churches.
The highlight of my time in Minsk was a concert at the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre. It is an impressive building, and the performance inside was unforgettable – some of the most talented ballet dancers and opera singers I have ever seen.
Also, interestingly, the décor lining the walls inside the opera house featured hammers and sickles from the Soviet era.
This is actually a common sight around Minsk, where you will see many relics from the days of communism, including a statue of Lenin. While many former Soviet countries have tried to shed that image (including, for example, Ukraine, which in 2015 officially prohibited communist symbols in the country), Belarus is one of the few places where you can still see these symbols proudly on display.
So, if you are nostalgic, curious, or simply have an appreciation for history, it is certainly a place worth visiting.