- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Uplifting religious architecture
The double-towered Holy Spirit Cathedral (pl Svabody) is the Old Town’s most striking landmark, but the ‘Red Church’ (pl Nezalezhnastsi) is perhaps the most eye-catching of Minsk’s religious buildings. This Roman Catholic church has holiness layered into its very foundations: the bricks were brought all the way from Polish pilgrimage site Częstochowa. It was twice repurposed into a cinema but is now the heart of Minsk’s Catholic community. Admirers of the classic onion-domed Orthodox churches should make for the star-spangled Church of St Mary Magdalene (vul Kisyalyova).
Poignantly beautiful memorials
The WWII saw Minsk all but flattened. A succession of previous occupations and other conflicts also scarred the city. Explore Minsk’s dark history through its memorials, often astonishing in design and scale. At the ‘Island of Tears’, statues of mourning women and weeping angels gaze out in remembrance of those lost in the 1979–89 war with Afghanistan. On the riverside near the National Museum of the Great Patriotic War, the silver ‘Road to the Future’ sculpture resembles lightning striking the shore. But the loveliest is surely beneath the eternal flame at Victory Circus: an underground memorial hall is dappled with soft amber light from above.
Sleeping in a converted monastery
No need to take religious vows to bed down in this historic building. Manastyrski Hotel, with elaborate iron chandeliers casting shadows along every corridor, is as atmospheric as it gets. This charming hotel within a converted monastery is right in the middle of Minsk’s Old Town, and retains all the Gothic trimmings of its spiritual past. But instead of rising at dawn and spending your days in sombre contemplation, you can test out the sauna and bar-hop the lively Old Town. Living like a monk never felt so decadent.
A world-class war museum
From the moment you see Belarus’ Museum of the Great Patriotic War, the building alone will intrigue you. A burnished dome seems to emerge from the ground, surrounded by angular mirrored shards. Inside, the museum experience is immersive, with vast dioramas of scorched earth and rubble to evoke wartime Minsk. Stories of partisan soldiers are told in a series of wooden shelters, just like the ones built by forest-dwelling Belarussian soldiers. Biplanes and tanks are amassed in a huge atrium. Between the Molotov cocktails and glaring propaganda posters there’s fascinating detail on the human stories: families torn apart and acts of astonishing bravery that won’t fail to leave you gripped. The Hall of Victory, flooded with light, is a fittingly dramatic finish.
Bird’s-eye views from a space-age library
The 23rd floor of the National Library of Belarus has the best aerial view over the city’s ever-changing skyline. Lines of tower blocks extend into the distance, huge Soviet murals adorn buildings, and a forest of cranes busily shape central Minsk: it’s a captivating view, if not a classically beautiful one. But it’s the library building itself that seizes the imagination. This modernist marvel looks like a cut diamond – if the diamond were rendered in Soviet slate grey and balanced on a mirrored UFO. As an architectural creation, it’s divisive but unforgettable. As a bonus, you’ll find one of the city’s best coffee stops, Graf Café, at the top.