Minsk, White Russia's surpriseWilson Jone ▼ | August 6, 2016
Minsk really is a city like no other. Name an occasion or a historical event, the chance is Minsk has a huge monument built to celebrate it. It has spacious avenues, lush green parks, it is clean beyond belief, and has some really impressive restaurants and always crowded nightclubs.
Eastern Europe Feel the charm of a bygone Soviet era in the capital of Belarus
As other cities under the Soviet boot, Minsk doesn't have a few sculptures here and there - it has monuments. Think about Paris where every church looks like Notre Dame, "bigger than life," and you'll get the picture of buildings in Minsk. On its Independence Square, known as Lenin Square before 1991, you could put a small town without a problem. The home of the Church of Saints Simon and Helena, universities, grand central post office and the Minsk Executive Committee, it also has a huge shopping center - underground.
Church of Saints Simon and Helena, one of the few buildings that survived war times, was finished in 1908-1910 by a wealthy family as a memory of the death of their two young children. The church with red-brick towers - also known as the Red Church - was a church, then a cinema and then a film studio then a church again. Another spectacular building is the National Library of Belarus. With 74 meters, an open air observation, and a stunning led display that shines at night, this wonder makes your life richer when you visit it.
Victory Square, located in the center of Minsk, at the intersection of Independence Avenue and the streets Zakharova, can't be missed: It has a granite obelisk 38 meters high with three-meter image of the Order of Victory. The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus is in a park in the Trinity Banlieu. An example of the pre-war Soviet constructivism, it is the status of an architectural monument of national importance where you can see more than 240 performances a year.
The first thing you will notice when you get in Minsk is that there's no a single graffiti, no litter, and no cigarette butts. The city is clean and exceptionally green filled with countless parks. Central Botanical Garden of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus - yes, every name here has to be long and wide - is a nice place for those who seek calmness. You'll have to buy a ticket but iris blooming in May is something well worth to be seen. When you're tired there's a small cafe and the park is not far from metro station.
And when you see the metro you'll think you're in Moscow. Big, clean, typical Soviet architecture with every station with its own design, it is a very convenient way to go around the town. And it's cheap. With it you can go to the center where you will find Zero Kilometre, a small monument with distance to other cities, situated at charming Kastrychnickaya Square. The square itself has a beautiful atmosphere, great architecture and it is close to a lot of shops.
Minsk is a city of contrasts, with many reminders of time when it was under Soviet rule but aside from that, the city is full of life and in a cultural way you will feel you are in a Western European country. However, it would be wise to buy a good map or take a local to show you around because the knowledge of Russian or Belarusian is essential if you want to ask something. But for one thing you don't have to ask: Casinos. Minsk has so many casinos, it's wonder they don't call it Las Vegas of Europe.
Talking about nightlife, Minsk can offer whatever you want: From small - and good! - pizza places, to unbelievable loud music clubs, to free concerts on the open. You shouldn't miss a circus performance! Circus was, during the Soviet era, lifted to an artistic form to be equal to ballet, and it's really something special. If you want to take a real good look at the city, move your feet to the Hotel Belarus where you can enjoy a view of the entire city from the top floor restaurant. ■