The Eastern European country of Belarus was once part of the Soviet Union, and continues to retain much of its communist heritage, including an underdeveloped economy and poorly developed tourist infrastructure. The country also offers unique travel experiences to remote villages, large forests and Soviet-era towns and cities which still display Lenin statues and hammer and sickly symbols.
Belarus, bordering Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine, has a long and turbulent history as part of various states, such as the Grand Duchy of Latvia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Imperial Russia. Thus, the country boasts impressive historic sites which are connected with diverse cultures and epochs, such as the 15th-century Mir Castle, situated close to Minsk, a masterpiece of architecture that has been completely restored. Nyasvizh, once the property of the Radziwill family, is a complex of unusual beauty, surrounded by a park. Both places are listed as UNESCO Heritage sites.
Minsk, the capital city of Belarus, is one of the most often visited cities, home to such impressive sites as St Mary Magdalene’s Orthodox Church, St Peter and Paul Church and the National Museum. Another attraction includes Minskoe More, a large artificial lake which covers 5km of Minsk’s centre. Most of the architecture of Minsk dates from the 1950s, during the late era of Stalin’s rule.
Other impressive cities in Belarus include Brest, located on the western border, which showcases the ruins of a 19th-century fortress. The countryside also features the village of Dudutki, located near Minsk, where a popular open-air museum displays historic architecture, mills, handcrafts and artwork, as well as specialities of local cuisine.
Belarus comprises marshy lowlands, lakes and rivers, especially in the southwest. A large part of the country’s territory is also covered with forest, including the primeval Belavezha Forest, the largest forest in the Central European Lowland, which borders Poland. This forest is inhabited by bison, Europe’s largest animal, as well as wolves, lynx and otters. Polesie, one of the largest European swamp areas in rural southwest Belarus, is sprinkled with lakes and a few hard-to-reach holiday destinations, such as the town of Pinsk.
In 1991, after the collapse of Soviet communism, Belarus became an independent state but still maintained close political and economic relations with Russia. The political regime of the country is still described as authoritarian, with much bureaucracy and bribery, and a lack of democracy and free media. The international airport in Minsk provides direct flights from some European capitals, and train connections from many of the larger European cities are available as well.