As you may know, tourism in Belarus is kind of in an embryonic stage.
For some reason we don’t know – but probably related to Belarus being a dictatorial regime – Belarussian authorities have never shown any interest in promoting their country as a tourist destination, and proof of that is that getting a visa has always been a tedious, complicated process.
Things, however, are changing and, since they started to liberalize their visa regime at the beginning of 2019, more travelers are deciding who each and every day decide to discover the wonders of White Russia each and every day.
With more than 11,000 lakes and 40% of its territory composed of misty forest, Belarus is a beautiful country to travel to, home to dreamy castles – some of them part of UNESCO – and a majestic capital named Minsk, besides all its WWII-related history.
Moreover, if you are interested in the history of the Soviet Union, you will have a lot to do in Belarus, because nowhere else is as Soviet, not even Transnistria, as the country is filled with endless memorials and symbols that pay tribute to the former Communist regime.
Having said that, this Belarus travel guide contains tips and everything you need to know to travel to Belarus, from visas to top experiences and much, much more!
I also recommend you read: 7 very weird things to do in Belarus
COVID-19 Travel restrictions for Belarus
Travelers can enter Belarus with either a PCR (72h) or vaccine certificate.
Travel Insurance for Belarus with COVID-19 coverage
IATI Insurance is one of the few providers that offers full Coronavirus coverage, not only when it comes to treatment, but also cancellations costs in case you tested positive before departure.
Moreover, remember that being in possession of travel with insurance is a must for getting visa on arrival.
Readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount.
Visa for traveling to Belarus
Belarus is the only European country that presents certain difficulties when it comes to getting a visa. There are 3 types of tourist visas:
1 – Belarus Visa on arrival (VOA)
Up to 80 nationalities can get a VOA valid for 30 days.
However, keep in mind:
The VOA is only available for those who enter and exit through Minsk International Airport
This means that if you wish to travel to Belarus overland, the VOA won’t be available, so you will have to get it the old-fashioned way, at the embassy which, apparently, is a pain in the ass.
Belarus visa requirements (for VOA)
- Proof of funds and, typically, they require what they call 2 base amounts per day, which is 51BYR (around $20).
- Travel Insurance with a minimum medical coverage of 10,000€. Being in possession of travel with insurance is a must for getting visa on arrival. I strongly recommend IATI Insurance. Readers of this blog can get 5% exclusive discount that you can get through this link.
Sometimes they ask for these things, sometimes they don’t.
They did ask for my travel insurance but didn’t ask for proof of funds.
Can you travel to Belarus with a Russian visa? No, you can’t. This is something they wanted to implement but it’s been on hold for ages.
2 – How to get a tourist visa for Belarus at the embassy
Remember that you should only use this option if:
To give you some idea, what the embassy usually asks for is:
- Passport photo
- Form correctly filled in
- Travel insurance
- Invitation letter
- Hotel booking (and they don’t accept Booking.com confirmations)
Requirements may vary slightly from embassy to embassy, so I recommend you contact your nearest one for more details. On average, the visa costs 60€ and takes 5 working days.
3 – VOA in Brest and Grodno
Brest and Grodno are two border cities with Poland and they have the peculiarity that they can be visited without a visa as long as:
- You travel to Belarus overland through Poland and use their respective border entries
- You don’t leave the respective region. For example, if you travel to Brest from Poland, this visa is only valid for the Brest region, so you can’t visit Minsk or any other place in the country.
- You don’t spend more than 10 days
To get your visa, you will have to fill a form and you can find more details here
Registering in Belarus
Something that sucks about traveling to Belarus is that you need to register at the police every 5 days. This means that, if you plan to spend 30 days in the country, you will have to register 6 times.
It is an old, nonsense, Soviet rule.
The first time you can easily do it through this link, for free, but then you will have to go to the Department of Citizenship and Migration in Minsk – if you are not in Minsk, ask your hotel – and pay the equivalent of 15€.
It’s a tedious, unnecessary process.
Some hotels – just the good ones – can do it for you.
What happens if you don’t register or miss the deadline?
Welcome to my world.
We missed the second registration deadline, after 10 days, so when we came back to Minsk, we went to the immigration office and the only thing that happened was that we had to pay a fine of just 1 base amount (the Soviet concept) for each day we missed the deadline, so 51 rubles (25.5 + 25.5).
But, what happens if you leave the country without registering?
I don’t really know but at the customs, they do ask for it, so you could miss your flight. My advice is that you should register.
Travel Insurance for Belarus
Proper travel insurance is a must-requirement for getting your visa on arrival in Belarus.
I recommend IATI Insurance:
- All types of plans: from families to backpackers, covers senior citizens too
- Good for up to 1-year trips.
- Wide COVID coverage.
- Readers of this blog can get a 5% exclusive discount
How to travel to Belarus
Traveling to Belarus by land
As long as you have a valid visa, you can enter Belarus from the following countries, both by train and bus, but the train will always be more epic.
You can’t travel from Russia to Belarus – It’s a bit weird but apparently, between Russia and Belarus there is a treatment similar to the EU, so there are no borders. Russians and Belarussians can cross it freely but, since there is no passport control, foreigners are not allowed to use it.
Traveling to Belarus by plane
You can fly to Minsk from many European cities but flights are expensive.
Belavia is the airline with the most direct flights. If you can’t get a direct flight, Vilnius is a popular stopover.
I personally flew directly from Odesa in Ukraine and left through Vilnius.
Tourism in Belarus: Top 5 experiences
1 – Visiting Soviet Minsk
The most Soviet city in the world is filled with Stalinist buildings and loads of Communist-related stuff. Read my Minsk guide.
2 – Checking out the Stalin Line
What used to be the border between USSR and Europe is today an epic open-air museum where you can see all types of weapons, tanks, and many other surprises.
3 – Wandering around dreamy Belarussian castles
Belarus is also home to dreamy castles, today UNESCO World Heritage sites.
I recommend you visit Mir and Nesvizh castles.
4 – Learning from all the World War II Heritage
From a village burnt by the Nazis to the defensive line of Brest, Belarus suffered greatly in the German invasion and today, the country is filled with many interesting memorials and museums.
5 – Exploring the endless forest and lakes
40% of Belarus is covered by forest and it is home to more than 11,000 lakes, most of them being concentrated in Braslav.
And don’t forget to read the most bizarre attractions to see in Belarus
Belarus, the last European dictatorship
Belarus is today living the most intense protests in the country’s history. Massive demonstrations against dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who is answering a peaceful movement with repression and more repression.
Probably, a travel blog isn’t the right place to talk about politics, but I also believe that having a little knowledge about the political situation in a certain country will help you understand what’s going on when you travel there.
Not sure if you know that Belarus is considered an authoritarian regime, the last dictatorship in Europe and the country with the most long-lasting President.
No press freedom, fraudulent elections, no real separation of powers and the only European country that keeps the death penalty.
Obviously, Belarus isn’t as repressive as China, Turkmenistan or Eritrea, not even close, but in comparison with Europe, it is, and, because of that, it has been always heavily criticized by the West, especially because Belarus prefers Russia as a partner, and depends on Russia for 20% of its exports, , plus all its natural resources.
A very Soviet former Soviet country
Another fact and, in fact, something that makes visiting Belarus particularly appealing, is that it still is a very Soviet country, more than any other former republic.
Actually, the President grew up in a very rural area of Belarus named Mogilev, so he had a strong Soviet education, the reason why, even now, he is very nostalgic and decorates the country with images of Lenin and hammer & sickle logos.
Besides, the state controls 80% of the country’s production, so you can still find collective farms and there is a strong protectionism that bans the entrance of many foreign companies.
They never really abandoned Communism but, you know what?
I won’t be the person who defends Mr. Lukashenko because he is a dictator, yes, but we also have to accept that he has done great things for the country’s economy: the unemployment rate is very low and the country seems very developed, more than any other Soviet country, including Ukraine, where, despite it being a great country to travel, you see a lot of misery.
Culture, language, and religion
Sometimes, it can prove difficult to find a specific characteristic of Belarussian culture, as today, Belarus is a strange mix of all its respective neighbors, but mainly because Belarusian culture has been oppressed for centuries, from when they were part of Lithuania to the Soviet Union, especially during Stalin’s rule.
Because of this, I heard that many Belarussians don’t have a very strong national identity and proof of that is that a significant number would support a potential annexation with Mother Russia.
The Government doesn’t help much either. The President is the most pro-Russian dude ever and I read that, except for a few specific occasions, he never speaks in Belarussian publicly.
However, today, the Belarussian national identity is quickly growing stronger and stronger every day, especially among young Belarussian students, who fight for greater recognition of their culture.
Belarussians are super nice 🙂
By the way, we can’t deny the fact that, in many Eastern European countries, especially Ukraine and Moldova, people look kind of serious at the beginning, sometimes even angry, but it is just the way they are and, when you get to know them, they are very nice.
In Belarus, I was expecting sort of the same thing but everybody I met was very happy and smiley. I was very surprised.
The official language in Belarus is Belarussian, along with Russian.
They are close but different, and I believe they have the same relationship as Spanish with Catalan and Portuguese.
As in their culture, the Belarussian language has also suffered from repression to the extent that Stalin promoted a reform that consisted of removing all those grammatical elements that came from Polish or Lithuanian languages. I don’t know if current Belarussian is still a consequence of that reform.
Most Belarussians belong to the Belarussian Orthodox Church, a union of the Russian Orthodox Church with Belarussian territories.
Food in Belarus
Belarus is a Slavic country and a former USSR republic and as such, their food is quite similar to their neighbors’.
In fact, in my humblest opinion, their typical dishes are not very different from Ukraine’s, as borsch, dranikis, salo and the local version of varenyky will always be on all menus.
In any case, Belarussian cuisine is heavy, good for winter, and potato seems to be the basis of pretty much any meal.
Actually, I read somewhere that Belarus has the highest consumption of potato per capita in the world.
- Borsch – The famous beetroot soup with sour cream and other vegetables and a Soviet Union classic. They claim it comes originally from Ukraine but it was as available in Belarus as there. I remember one day in a local restaurant, a 12-member family was sitting next to us and each one of them was having a bowl of borsch.
- Dranikis – Potato pancakes, they say this is the most traditional dish in the country. Sometimes it comes with bacon, while others it just serves as a side dish.
- Kletksi – In Russia they call them pelmeni, in Ukraine varenyky, in Poland pierogi, and in Belarus kletski. They change their shape and filing but they are all Eastern European dumplings.
On this page, you can see a more detailed description of food in Belarus.
These are the star dishes but they also have other food which has a stronger Polish or Lithuanian influence, like Zhurek, a black bread soup with animal fat and vegetables.
Belarus travel tip: In cities, something you need to know is that for lunch, most restaurants will offer a business lunch deal for 4-6 rubles, but quantities tend to be small.
Belarus travel guide: about money $
In Belarus, they use the Belarussian ruble (BYR) and approximately 1USD = 2.50BYR
If you look on the internet, you will see that the exchange rate they give for 1USD is 25,000BYR, and well, I guess this is the actual exchange rate but recently, the government switched all coins and notes to brand-new ones whose value was divided by 10,000, so all new notes and coins are worth 1, 2, 5, 20, etc.
Belarus is a modern country, so you find ATMs everywhere and credit cards can be used in many places.
Exchanging money is easy as well, you can do it in any bank, but I don’t recall seeing exchange offices as such.
How much does it cost to travel to Belarus?
Visiting Belarus is cheap as per Western Europe standards, but it is more expensive than its cousins Ukraine and Moldova. Some bars and restaurants in Minsk are as expensive as Spain or Italy.
Here the most typical costs:
- Eating in a local restaurant – 10-15 rubles
- 3-course meal in a good restaurant – From 30 rubles
- Espresso – 2-3 rubles
- Regular beer in a normal bar – 2-3 rubles
- Hostel for backpackers – $8-$10
- Double room in a guest house – $20-$25
- Mid-range hotel – From $30-$40
- Minsk Metro – 0.65 rubles
- Train journey from Minsk to Grodno – From 10 rubles
- Marshrutka journey from Minsk to Stalin Line – 4 rubles
Average daily budget for traveling to Belarus
Bear in mind that this is an average/approximation.
Is it safe to travel in Belarus?
Visiting Belarus is as safe as in any other European country, perhaps even safer.
In Minsk at least, everything is so clean and civilized and I don’t recall seeing any antisocial behavior, something very common in any European capital.
What you do need to keep in mind is that Belarus is heavily militarized and you see soldiers everywhere, so be careful when taking pictures.
On the other hand, remember that KGB is still a thing in Belarus – in Minsk you can see the building from outside – and its core function hasn’t changed much since the fall of the USSR, meaning that they are almost as repressive as they used to be, with the tiny difference that today they control the internet as well, so I recommend you always connect with a VPN when you visit Belarus.
Accommodation in Belarus
Finding accommodation in Belarus isn’t a problem.
For backpackers, you can find several hostel options in Minsk, Grodno, and Brest.
In the rest of the cities, there are no hostels but guesthouses and economical hostels cost around $20-$25 for a double room and tend to be pretty good.
We always tried to rent full apartments.
You can find all options on Booking.
How to move around Belarus: transportation
Traveling by public transportation in Belarus is great.
How to travel around Belarus on a Soviet train
From Uzbekistan to Belarus, the Soviet train experience is the same, same train, same system. From Minsk’s station, you can take a train to practically any city, but if your final destination is a village, you may have to take a bus after.
Furthermore, it is very cheap. One train ticket (economical class) from Minsk to Brest costs 13BYR, around $5, for more than 300km.
Belarus travel tip: You can check timings and book your tickets on this page.
How to travel around Belarus by marshrutka
Marshrutka means mini-bus in Russian, something like that, and it is the common way to move around in all Soviet republics. Usually, they tend to be old and pretty packed but in Belarus, they are brand-new and some of them even have Wi-Fi.
It is slightly more expensive than the train but still cheap. We paid 15 rubles (around $7) for the journey between Brest and Grodno, around 250km.
Internet in Belarus
Did you know that Belarus is an important IT hub in the region?
They actually have what is known as High-Tech-Park, a version of Silicon Valley.
Anyways, this might be the reason why the internet in Minsk is so fast, one of the fastest connections in the continent, and in the rest of the country, it is pretty good.
Almost all cafés have good Wi-Fi and, as for mobile internet, I bought a SIM card at MTS, the mobile company that has an egg as a logo. I think I paid around $10 for a SIM card filled with enough data for 2 weeks.
Best books for backpacking in Belarus
Belarus travel guide by Bradt
A super guide, the one I personally bought. Bradt has the most insightful guides and they always focus on off the beaten track countries.
Eastern Europe travel guide by Lonely Planet (2019)
Otherwise, if you are traveling all around the region, you could also get the generic Eastern Europe guide, which includes one chapter about tourism in Belarus.
I also recommend Svetlana Alexiévich
Belarussian writer and Nobel Prize winner. Her books talk about the Soviet Union, but they always have a special focus on Belarussian people. These are the ones I read:
Voices of Chernobyl – Human stories that explain the consequences of Chernobyl.
Boys in Zinc – A book that compiles testimonies from people who were somehow related to the Afghan-Soviet war, from soldiers to prostitutes and mothers of deceased soldiers.
Get a KINDLE! – Buying a Kindle has been one of my best recent acquisitions.
Best time to visit Belarus
Visiting Belarus in winter
As you may imagine, the whole country is frozen but, if you don’t mind traveling with snow and your only objective is visiting Minsk and any other cities, it should be all right.
Visiting Belarus in summer
It can get hot but nothing extreme. Best time to explore its nature, especially Braslav Lakes.
Visiting Belarus in spring and autumn
For me, autumn is the best season, especially because of the autumn colors, but spring should be good as well.
I traveled to Belarus during the first 2 weeks of November. We had some gray days, but most days were sunny and the forest was at its best.
More helpful information to visit Belarus
All guides and articles for traveling in Belarus destination
Travel guides to former Soviet countries
If you found this Belarus travel guide useful and have any comment/suggestion, kindly leave a comment, thanks!