Day trip from Minsk to Mir castle and Niasvizh

Belarus is of course more than Minsk. Mir castle and the palace in Niasvizh are two popular attractions. To make it easy, I decided to join an organized tour offered by Viapol Tour Operator. I booked the tour just the day before, so the guiding along the way was only in Russian. At Mir Castle and Niasvizh Palace however, I got English audio guide.

Mir castle in BelarusReflection of Mir castle in Belarus 

The church next to Mir castle in Belarus

The church next to Mir castle.


Mir Castle
was our first stop, about 1,5 hours from Minsk. The castle is idyllically situated by a small lake, and a large bed of red tulips in front makes it look like a beautiful and peaceful place. That was of course not always the case throughout the history. Several sieges took place here, leaving the castle partly damaged many times.

The castle was originally built as a fortress in the end of the 15th century. The 3-meter thick towers were built separately, all meant to be independent towers of defense.
Mir castle in Belarus Mir castle in BelarusWalking through the different parts of the castle, various exhibitions were presented. One of them shows when the area was turned into an isolated Jewish Ghetto during WW2, counting almost 3000 people. Most of them were killed at an early stage, and the 850 surviving moved inside the castle walls. Sadly, 600 of them were taken out to the surrounding woods to be shot in 1942. The remaining Jews managed to escape with local help.

After the Jews fled, the other families in Mir were seeking shelter in the castle, and most of them did not move out until the 1960s.

Mir castle is one of the major tourist attractions in Belarus, and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000.

The inside interior shows the life of the upper class in the earlier days, with the beautiful tiled ovens and adorned roofs, a portrait room and the hunting trophies hanging on the walls. They even had a separate room made just for that. Hunting animals was seen as a way to train for combat…
Inside Mir castle in Belarus Dining room inside Mir castle in Belarus
The huge basement was mainly used as a storage room, big enough to store food and drinks for up to three years in case of a war. In the 17-1800s beer was very popular, and over 20 different types were produced. Vodka was less popular, and actually mainly used as medicine.
Large barrels for beer in the basement of Mir castle in Belarus
Fun fact from the kitchen; the cookbook of course contains recipes, but also instructions how to fire a chef!

Moving on to the historic Niasvizh, we first stopped by the Niasvizh Corpus Christi church with beautiful wall paints inside. A bit of a contrast to the basement where there are 70 coffins. One room with adults and one with children. It felt a little bit creepy to go down there in the dark…

Niasvizh Corpus Christi church, Belarus

Niasvizh Corpus Christi church

Walking along the lake towards the Niasvizh Palace was a much brighter experience. The water was completely calm, reflecting the blue sky dotted by cotton clouds, and the lush green grass and trees. At the end of the path, the Niasvizh Palace rose in front of me, surrounded by a perfectly mirroring moat. In case it is not clear already, I tend to get amazed by reflections in water. This was clearly no exception.
Niasvizh palace in Belarus Niasvizh palace in Belarus2
Crossing the yellow bridge and entering the courtyard was a step back in time. Continuing further into the palace, the different rooms gave insight in the life back in the heydays. Dark red velour curtains in the room with the grand golden ornaments, grandiose furniture and chandeliers, dining room, bedrooms and study rooms. The room with the original pool table from 1896. And the ballroom with the short theater act.
Courtyard of Niasvizh palace in Belarus
The golden room in Niasvizh palace in Belarus Inside Niasvizh palace in Belarus Inside Niasvizh palace in Belarus2 The hunting room in Niasvizh palace in Belarus with the pool table from 1896 Theatre play in Niasvizh palace in Belarus
But it was not always pomp and circumstance. During the war, the palace was used as a German hospital.

It was not a part of the program for the daytrip, but I left the palace a little bit before the group to see a little bit of the city as well. Not far from the lake I found a street with small colorful wooden houses, with white lace curtains in the windows. Most of them also had their own patch of land for growing vegetables. The houses look quite run down, with the paint peeling off, but that only adds to the charm!
Apparently the main square is also supposed to be very nice, but unfortunately I did not find that.

It had been a long and eventful day, full of impressions. Good thing it is not too much to see on the way back, so I could doze off without feeling too guilty…

 

Minsk by night

Minsk sure has a lively nightlife. By knowing a local, I already had someone screening the places not to go, but more importantly; who know the places to go that are not obvious. There are bars hidden in what looks like government buildings, and also museum look-alike. Alternatively, just in an attic, where we found our favorite.

Cherdak bar first gave me the wrong impression by being a slow, relaxed bar with nice drinks. The two latter applied the following two days as well, but slow certainly was not the case then. The DJ was playing in the corner of the dance floor, and everybody seemed to have a great time!

There are so many places to go, however we were centered around the old town.

Insomnia (Gertsena str 1): In case you wonder; I really love travelling! It goes without saying I instantly felt at home at Insomnia. There were several clocks telling the time at different places all around the world, and the chart above the bar listed names of cocktails as destinations are shown on departure boards at airports. The equality of airports does not stop here; the prices were a bit off as well.

Insomnia bar in Minsk, Belarus

Insomnia bar.

Would you like some vodka on the rocks?

Would you like some vodka on the rocks?…

Cherdak (Zybitskaya Vulitsa 9). Whether you prefer a tasty cocktail sitting in the lounge-like area, dancing or simply hang outside smoking or just talking to people, this is a great place. It is also one of the few bars in Belarus you are not allowed to smoke indoors. And the cocktails makes it even better!

Amazing drink at Cherdak bar in Minsk, Belarus

Amazing drink at Cherdak bar.

Cherdak bar in Minsk, Belarus
We also stopped by a few of the places in the old town, situated close to the riverside in the upper side. However, there are a few nice places at the lower end of the old town to start the evening. I recommend sitting outside if weather permits. My personal favorite spot by the riverside was Starovilenskaja Korchma Restoran (Staravilyenskaya Vulitsa 2).

And last but not least – “The view” (Pobediteley Ave 7A). Enjoy a nice drink with the best view of the city at “The View”. The name kind of give it away…. It is mainly a restaurant and closes at midnight, but it is a great place to start the evening.

A beer with a view! At The View in Minsk, Belarus

A beer with a view! At “The View”.

A great view of Minsk, Belarus seen from The View
Whatever you choose, I am sure you will be positively surprised by the bustling nightlife! Just keep in mind it goes on all through the night.

Hidden bars in Minsk, Belarus

You might not think so, but there are actually bars in both the building to the left, and the one to the far right. Not my favorites, though.

Minsk in Belarus, a pleasant surprise!

Wow! Entering the elevator and starting the way up to amazed me already then! Going up to 28th floor and getting out at the terrace at “The View” was simply stunning! Just forget about going anywhere else for the view. This is it! Sitting by the tall table facing the window, the city was literally at my feet.

Great view of Minsk, Belarus seen from The View

Great view of Minsk seen from “The View”

I do not know where to start… Minsk has surprised me time after time. Or, correction; what I have seen of Belarus in general has. But the latter is a different story…

The Holy Spirit Cathedral is probable what catches your eye first, but there is so much more to it. Minsk is a really clean city, and has lots of parks, a lake, and nice walking paths along the river.

Most of Minsk was destroyed during WW2, but a small part still remain. The houses of the old town are mostly colorful, and the most photogenic part is situated by the lakeside. There are many nice bars and restaurants, with nice patios to enjoy outside on a nice day.

My favorite tip when getting to a new place certainly also apply here; just wander around getting lost. My absolute favorite is to know a local, knowing where to go. I was really lucky to have one in Minsk! But as most travel without knowing the locals that is my bonus trick.

What to see in Minsk? I will let the photos speak for me…

Holy Spirit Cathedral

Holy Spirit Cathedral

The area around Holy Spirit Cathedral Minsk, Belarus

Behind the Holy Spirit Cathedral

Behind the Holy Spirit Cathedral

Minsk, Belarus
Old Town in Minsk, Belarus Old Town in Minsk, Belarus

Old Town in Minsk, Belarus

Old Town in Minsk

Old Town in Minsk, Belarus

The Km 0 mark is situated at the October Square in front of the Palace of Republic

October Square

The Km0 mark is situated at the October Square in front of the Palace of Republic

The Km 0 mark

October Square in Minsk, Belarus

Victory Square in Minsk

Victory Square

Names of the fallen under Victory Square in Minsk

Under Victory Square, honoring the fallen in the war.

The Circus in Minsk

The Circus

National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus

National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus.

A walk in one of the parks in Minsk, Belarus

A walk in one of the parks in Minsk.

A nice walk along the river in Minsk, Belarus

A nice walk along the river.

Fountain of Independence and the Church of Saints Simon and Helena in Minsk, Belarus

Fountain of Independence and the Church of Saints Simon and Helena

Fountain of Independence in Minsk, Belarus

Independence Square, Minsk, Belarus

Independence Square

When I visited it was also the “Victory Day”, so there was a huge military parade celebrating 70 years since WW2 ended.
“Victory Day” in Minsk. There was a huge military parade celebrating 70 years since WW2 ended “Victory Day” in Minsk. A huge military parade celebrating 70 years since WW2 ended Celebrating Victory Day 70 years after

Getting to Belarus

Panorama view of the old part of Minsk in Belarus

Panorama view of the old part of Minsk in Belarus.

Belarus was mentally added to my Bucket List a few years ago. I was just killing time, looking at a map for new destinations to dream about.  Minsk is not too far from Vilnius and Wizzair has really cheap flights to there from Bergen, so that was the route I chose.

Do I need visa to go to Belarus?
First things first; Yes*, most nationalities need a visa. If your country does not have an embassy or consulate of Belarus, you qualify to arrange the visa on arrival at Minsk International airport. However, the price is then higher (for me 90€, compared to 60€) than if you arrange it before. Check your details for visa to Belarus.

After comparing back and forth quite a bit, I ended up arranging it before, even though using Visasupport AS had its additional cost as well.

*New rules from 12 January 2017 allow visa free entry for citizens of 80 countries for stays up to 5 days, so check the rules for your country. However, you then must enter and exit at Minsk International Airport Terminal 2. 

Transport between Vilnius and Minsk:
Arriving at Vilnius Airport I found a mini bus right to the left when I exited, that took me to the bus station for 1 Euro. I had actually bought a bus ticket with the Wizzair bus when I booked the flight, but as I did not instantly see it outside, I went for the other option. It was anyway cheaper, so I would choose this option next time. Or, maybe even the train, as it is right next to the bus station.

Since I was not sure if the flight would be on schedule, and also how long the transfer from the airport to the bus station would be, I did not dare to book the bus ticket from Vilnius to Minsk in advance. In hindsight, I would though. The bus from the airport to the bus station took only 10 minutes. For me it was not a problem buying the ticket when I arrived, but it can actually be sold out, so at least check regularly the availability online. And, if you have a long enough time lap to be sure to make it, why not book and get done with it? That is slightly cheaper too.

The bus from Vilnius to Minsk operated by TOKS was nice and comfortable. However, I would recommend taking the train by Belarusian Railway instead if it fits your schedule. Not only is it a faster route in general, but the passport control is done while the train is actually moving, making it more predictable as well. Taking the bus we actually had to check all our bags as well at the border. It goes without saying that the train was my choice getting back to Vilnius.

Accommodation:
As I have a Belarusian friend, I stayed over at his place, but there are several hotels in Minsk, such as Hotel Belarus or Manastyrski Hotel, situated in an old monastery. A number of apartments are also listed at Airbnb.

If you are new to Airbnb you can sign up using this link, and get $25 off on your first booking.

The train station in Minsk, Belarus

The train station in Minsk.

The train from the train station in Minsk to Vilnius

The train from Minsk to Vilnius