You may know it as Belorussia but that’s passé. Instead, refer to this ex-Soviet country as Belarus, a name that rolls off the tongue as easily as it is to visit these days. This authoritarian destination, dubbed “The last dictatorship in Europe” is now opening its doors 26 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain (it fell in 1991) that shrouded it in secrecy and mystery. Belarus is, at last, coming out of the cold.
Five-day Visa-waiver for tourists to Belarus
The visa-waiver program introduced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February 2017 offers visa-free travel for citizens of 80 countries, including the United Kingdom. The visa waiver covers a five-day stay as long as you enter via Minsk National Airport (also known as Minsk-2). This open doors policy for travellers makes entering the country – once a labour of love – into a trouble-free process. In short, Belarus wants to boost tourism.
This landlocked country, at 80,151 square miles (207,591 km²) is the size of two of its neighbours – Lithuania and Latvia. It is also hemmed by three more countries: Poland, Russia and Ukraine. It is a modern country that still has echos of the past evident within its wide streets and in its architecture that rose up in the style of the Stalinist Empire. There’s a good standard of living and a well-thought out infrastructure that means getting around is easy.
There are four national parks Narochansky, Pripyatsky, Belovezhskaya Pushcha and Braslav Lakes, as well as two reserves: Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve and Polesie State Radio ecological Reserve. The 700,000 hectares of forests, swamps and lakes act to purify the air which means you can breathe easy.
Weekenders, city breakers, nature lovers, hikers, anglers and birdwatchers would love it.
Belarus in five days
Belarus is an ideal short break. Spend a day or two in Belarus’ lively capital, Minsk and check out the museums, restaurants and nightlife. But then move on to the fairytale Castles of the famous Radziwill family and the surrounding enchanted forests. Be sure to visit Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park and the Brest Fortress – a place connected with the Second World War.
Incidentally, if you should cross the border from Brest and Grodno, you can stay in these territories for up to 10 days.
Stay in the wilderness and try your hand at home cooking. It’s tremendous value at 77 euros. A room in a hotel in a forest location not too far from the capital would set you back around 33 euros. As would a night spent in the Bialowieza Forest National Park, the most ancient and largest forest in Europe.
What to buy
If you have a sweet tooth consider buying their natural honey, condensed milk, cranberries in sugar, rye beer and chocolate, as well as zephyr – a type of soft confectionary. All of these are popular in Belarus.
The local currency is the Belarusian ruble and you will find it easy to exchange euros and dollars. Pound Sterling is not on the radar and hard to exchange. You can of course chose to pay by credit or debit card and you can use your plastic at ATMs to withdraw cash. TIP: inform your credit card supplier of your trip to Belarus.