Belarus - The Vast Landlocked Country in Eastern Europe
Belarus is one of the last refuges for rare animal species such as wisents, who live in the wild here. The cathedrals and castles in Minsk and Brest sparkle with medieval charm and say a lot about their open-hearted inhabitants.
Geography - The gate to Russia
Belarus is a landlocked country in the east of Europe. It lies between Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia. In its time of prosperity, Belarus' cities were important junctions on the way to Russia. Today, the country is divided into six regions and the special administrative district of the capital of Minsk in the heart of the country. Minsk is the greatest city and the cultural centre. Other interesting cities are Homel, Vitebsk and Brest at the border of Poland. The climate is temperate but has a noticeable continental character. The summers are relatively dry and there is a lot of snow in winter. Belarus generally has high precipitation throughout the year.
Nature - Hidden landscapes
It is hardly a surprise that Belarus is sparsely populated because almost a third of the country are covered in thick forests. You can even discover untouched primeval forests here. This natural landscape is home to animals which have gone extinct in most other European countries. With a bit of luck, travellers can watch the rare wisents as well as bears, wolves, elks and storks. In the middle of the vast forests, you see more than 10,000 great and small lakes in addition to wide and deep rivers. The landscape is flat to hilly. There are fertile wetland areas with marshes and swamps but also vast plains and the Belarusian Ridge. This mountain chain accommodates the country's highest peak, Mount Dzyarzhynskaya (345 m).
Natural sights - Undisturbed hikes in the wild
Admittedly, Belarus is not the best-known travel destination. The tourism sector has generally been neglected. But if there is something that Belarus can score with, it is its authentic nature. On a hike through the Białowieża National Park, travellers can spot wisents and marvel at the parks giant trees, which are over 500 years old. The national park is part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage. Another popular destination in summer is Lake Narach. With an area of about 80 km², it is the country's largest lake and one of the most frequently visited resorts north of Minsk. The so-called Minsk Sea (Minskaje Mora) is closer to the capital. The reservoir has an area of 30 km² and impresses with its beach, which is 10 kilometres long. A short way behind the border of Lithuania and Latvia, you find the Braslav Lake District. About 30 greater lakes, many rivers and straggling forests invite travellers to exciting hikes through the exciting landscape here.
Culture - A strong nation
Like many other regions in Eastern Europe, the present-day territory of Belarus was probably first settled by Slavic people. Its time of prosperity was the 14th and 15th century. During this time, the Belarusian principalities and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania formed the Union of Lublin - formerly the largest state in Europe. The country suffered low points in World War I and II, during which almost all cities were destroyed. Another blow was the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Due to continuing radioactive precipitation, large areas of Belarus were contaminated. Until 1991, the country was part of the Soviet Union. It is sparsely populated to the present day. Nevertheless, the inhabitants maintain their traditions and history. In addition, they have a great number of cultural assets which are of interest to visitors. State theatres, operas, the Circus and concerts are part of the cultural programme in Belarus.
Cultural sights - Cathedrals, castles and painters
One of the most popular destinations is Mir Castle, which is a World Cultural Heritage site. Most sights are located in the capital of Minsk, which has the nickname "bad weather city". The Belarusians consider this name unjustified and claim that it rains as least as often in the other cities. Even under a blanket of clouds, the magnificent Holy Resurrection Church, the National Opera and Ballet Theatre and the polyhedral National Library are worth seeing. Other highlights are the Yanka Kapala National Academy Theatre, Victory Square and the Palace of the Republic. Besides Minsk, visitors also enjoy visiting the city of Brest, which borders on Poland. Its main attraction is Brest Fortress. It accommodates numerous statues and monuments which remind of the devastating years of the World Wars. The city of Vitebsk is the native city of the painter Marc Chagall and contains his birthplace and an Art Centre. The city hall, the Annunciation Church and the Orthodox cathedral are also worth a visit. In addition, holidaymakers should not miss out on the 254-metre-high TV tower and the old town of Hrodna, Nesvizh Castle or the open-air museum in Polotsk.
Experience - Art handicraft and long party nights
The Belarusian cuisine offers many things which are known from the Russian cuisine. People also prepare and serve the beetroot stew borscht with a blob of sour cream here. One speciality and popular souvenir is the liqueur Belovjeschkaja, which is made of over 100 herbs and is high in alcohol content. If you need another souvenir, you should walk along the great boulevards such as Skarina Prospekt in Minsk. Travellers find several great shopping centres there. Basketry, nice small straw dolls or painted wooden boxes are among the country's most typical products. People who think that there is no party culture in Belarus are definitely wrong. There is over a dozen casinos in Minsk alone. In addition, party-goers can spend the night in bars, night clubs and discos. Since there are not that many tourists in the country, it is a good idea to take a local with you when you go on a pub crawl.
Activities - In the cities and in the country
Popular activities in Belarus are trips into nature and hikes. Travellers can get to know the country's rivers while canoeing or on exciting rafting tours. In addition, many of the rivers are suited for going bathing in summer. The same is true of the lakes. Particularly popular examples are Minsk Sea and the Braslav Lake District. Visitors can do various water sports there in summer. It is also worth one's while to visit the cities to learn about the country's culture.
Belarus is not very well developed for tourists and a trip has to be prepared well. For entering the country, you need a valid visa and visitors who intend to stay in one place for longer than five days have to register at their place of residence. The least complicated way is taking part in group tours organised by a travel operator. The operator takes care of the formalities and makes an interesting journey even more enjoyable.
Even though it is not a typical holiday destination, Belarus makes lovers of nature's hearts leap for joy. The untouched landscapes and rare animal species in the wild make a trip to Eastern Europe an extraordinary experience.