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Belarus may seem like an unlikely destination for travellers due to its isolation and its apparent refusal to integrate with the rest of Europe. However, it is this ‘unspoilt’ view that makes it so appealing. Wind your way through remote villages, lush forests and the cosmopolitan cities of Minsk, Vitebsk and Brest for a look at this unique Eastern European nation which is nearly devoid of advertising.
The driving conditions in Belarus can be somewhat unpredictable. While the ‘A-class’ highways generally range from average to good, the ‘B-class’ roads can vary greatly and are sometimes impassable during winter. When travelling in rural areas at night, drivers should be careful of unlit vehicles pulled by ponies.
Driving licences: driving here requires a valid UK driver’s licence in addition to an International Driving Permit.
Which side does Belarus drive on: the right.
Motorways: 60mph (100kph)
Open roads: 55mph (90kph)
Built-up areas: 35mph (60kph)
Visiting motorists who have been licensed less than two years should not exceed 44mph (70kph)
Alcohol limits: Belarus has a zero-tolerance policy. This means that drivers are expected to maintain a 0.00 per cent alcohol level when operating a vehicle, compared with the UK limit of 0.08 per cent. Failure to comply can result in stiff penalties.
Driving age: 18 years; usually 21 years for car hire.
Seatbelts: compulsory for all passengers seated in the front seat, if fitted. Children under the age of 12 may not travel in the front seat of the vehicle and must be properly restrained.
Mobile phones and GPS: drivers are not permitted to talk on hand-held mobile phones while operating a vehicle. Using GPS is allowed; however, English speakers may struggle to identify Belarusian locations with such a navigation unit.
Cost of fuel in Belarus: cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: most major credit cards are accepted at large petrol stations and car hire suppliers. Cardholders should notify their card supplier of their travel plans prior to travel.
Insurance: third-party insurance is included with car hire, while excess insurance is also available.
Traffic and parking: parking is easy to find outside of cities, but parking in Minsk is limited, with many drivers leaving their vehicles on sidewalks. Traffic in urban areas can become congested at peak times.
There are regular trains running between Minsk and nearly every major capital in Europe including Berlin (fare: around £55), Kiev (fare: around £30) and Vilnius (fare: around £10). Most major Belarusian cities can also be reached by express train, with the service from Minsk to Gomel costing around £15. Minsk has a metro with trains departing every three minutes, with single fares from as little as £0.10.
Taxis in Minsk and other cities are easily identified by their black and white squares and taxi signs on the roofs of the car. Most taxis use a meter; however, if a driver does not have a taxi meter or is unwilling to use one, it is best to negotiate the price before starting your journey. The starting fare is around £1, with prices increasing by £0.25 per kilometre travelled.
Buses arrive in Minsk from all over Europe, and there are three international bus stations here: Central Bus Station, located next to the Central Rail Terminal, Vostochnaya (Eastern) and Moskovskaya (Moscow) Bus Stations. Moskovskaya Bus Station is the main station, with routes to and from Europe and Russia as well as suburban buses. Buses are also an excellent and convenient way of travelling around cities such as Minsk.
Belarus is land-locked; however, it shares many rivers with neighbouring countries, making it possible for travellers to access select Latvian and Polish locations via river-boat.
Minsk International Airport is the main entry point into the country and receives flights from London-Gatwick. The 25 mile journey west from the airport to the capital can be done by bus (fare: around £0.40) or taxi (fare: up to £30). Train and car travel are preferred over domestic flights but small airports exist at Gomel, Hrodna and Mogilev offering domestic flights.
Those visiting Belarus will encounter quaint villages populated with warm and friendly people. When in the capital city of Minsk, tourists should pay a visit to Victory Square in the centre of the city. The square’s key attraction is the obelisk, constructed in 1954 to honour the Soviet Army soldiers who perished in the WWII fight against Germany when they invaded.
Brest, near the border with Poland, is known for its architecture including the 14th century Fortress of Brest. In the southeastern city of Gomel, travellers will find Gomel Palace and Park. This monument consists of the Paskevich Family Palace and chapel, St Peter Cathedral, the Duke Rumyantsev, St Paulus Cathedral and the park, which features more than 40 species of trees that cannot be found anywhere else in the country.
Mir Castle is a perfect example of central European castles, with its square structure and four towers for defence. What makes this castle in western Belarus especially unique is its blend of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles; construction on it began in the Gothic style and was completed in the Renaissance style.
June and July offer the most in the way of sun in Belarus. During these summer months, the temperatures normally go as high as 20ºC and on a whole, typically do not rise above 25ºC. Though temperatures remain warm into September, there is an increase in rainfall towards the end of the summer months. December to March provides the most snowfall, with temperatures dropping well below 0ºC.