Located in the heart of Europe, Belarus is a living museum to Soviet Communism. Deeply embedded in the past, Belarus offers a rare insight into a bygone world.
With much of Belarus' architectural history flattened by the Nazis during WWII, the country's cities, including its capital Minsk, are testament to post-war Soviet urban planning. However relics of its ancient past remain. Onion-domed churches are scattered across the landscape, the most of impressive of which can be found in Grodno. The medieval castle at Mir and the 17th-century fortress at Brest are also not to be missed.
Outside the cities, the natural beauty of Belarus is truly impressive. Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park's primeval forest is home to wild boar, bison and red deer, while at the vast Braslau Lakes there are over 189 species of birds.
If you have room, pack a few rolls of toilet paper. Apart from hotel rooms, you will be lucky to find any, including in restaurants and bars. Also, try to learn a few Russian words, which will endear you to the locals.
The spring and summer months (March - September) are the best times to visit Belarus. Spring is warm with an abundance of new vegetation and flora while summer is surprisingly hot, with long days and balmy nights.
The harvest period around October sees mild weather but the winter months (mid November - February) are bitingly cold, with temperatures averaging -7ºC and consistent snowfall.
Minsk International Airport (MSQ), 40km from Minsk.
Domestic flights are infrequent and not useful for travellers.
Trains between major cities are frequent and cheap, but also slow. Buses are usually quicker and cheaper, but also less comfortable. In rural areas buses (or minibuses) may be the only option.
You can hire a car at Minsk International airport. Roads can be bad and there is also some reckless driving, so keep your wits about you. Military checkpoints are also commonplace, so have your papers to hand.
Hotel accommodation in Belarus in not cheap and prices are sometimes inflated for tourists. It is easy to find top end hotels, with prices to match. Cheaper hotel are usually located at the city outskirts.
Private apartments are also available to rent in the bigger cities and towns. They are often more competitive and also have the option to self cater. Accommodation in lodges and tents is available in Belarus National Parks.
Belarus in not famous for its cuisine, which is often considered to be dull and bland. Because of its Soviet history, you are more likely to be served Russian dishes rather than traditional Belarusian fare.
The staple diet is based on potatoes: a favourite dish being draniki. Thick potato pancakes fried with mushrooms and served with sour cream. Another popular dish is borsch beetroot soup with meat, vegetables, potatoes and mushrooms.
Vodka is the drink of choice for most occasions and Baltika is the most common beer brand. Do not drink the tap water.
No specific vaccinations are required for Belarus. Radiation is still present following the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but related health problems are very small. To be safe, do not drink local water, dairy products, mushrooms or fruits in and around the clearly marked exclusion areas.
There is very little crime due to the strong police presence; however, it is best to avoid walking alone at night. If driving, park your car in a well-lit public area.
Prostitutes operate in a number of hotel lobbies. Women travelling alone should exercise caution and have their hotel key and keep proof of identity with them.
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