Divided into nine regions set like spokes on a wheel, Minsk is a modern city of 1.9 million people. To the first-time visitor, the city can seem a little intimidating, particularly when you first step out the front door that exits the cavernous main hall of the recently rebuilt Passenger Rail Station, but for most visitors, the city is relatively easy to understand once you’ve gotten used to it.
Here, we’ll do a brief run around the spokes, or city districts, providing an introductory survey of some of the spots that you’ll want to know about as you explore the Belarusian capital.
This misnamed urban district actually makes up the northwestern slice of the Minsk pie. It encapsulates the environs of the Svislach River, Minsk’s main waterway, upstream of the Praspekt Nyezalyezhnastsi bridge (though it does not quite reach as far as the Minskoye More reservoir, the city’s main recreational waterside escape, which is actually located outside the city).
Because of the river, the district is known for its green spaces, such as the vast Park Pieramohi (and the two adjacent recreation areas: Vostrau Ptushak or Bird Island, and Dreamland Amusement Park), the riverside Yanka Kupala Park, and the Liesapark (Forest Reserve) Navinki. Along thoroughfare Pieramozhtsau Praspekt, you’ll find two major sporting venues, the Palace of Sports (inside the First Ring, or Mashereva Praspekt), and the newer Minsk Arena (near the edge of town). Between the two is the Palace of Independence (just off the Second Ring, or Arlovskaya), which caught world attention during the Minsk peace talks that were arranged to attempt to stop the fighting between Russian-backed militants in the Donbas region of Ukraine, and the central Ukrainian government.
Commercial centers include Niamiha shopping mall (off the Metro stop of the same name) and the vast Zhdanovichi market (off Lyabyazhy commuter train station). Some of its more romantic locations include Trinity Hill, with Minsk’s largest collection of old buildings situated at its base, its nearby Island of Tears (created as a monument to Belarus’ casualties of the Soviet-era Afghanistan War), and the Opera and Ballet Theater at its top (not far from the US Embassy, which is also in this district).
Some of Minsk’s most famous landmarks are situated in this district, mostly in the areas nearest Praspekt Nyezalyezhnstsi, the city’s main thoroughfare: Kastrychnitskaya Ploscha, or October Square, the GUM or State Department Store, and the yellow neo-classical KGB building, headquarters of the state security services (with name unchanged from Soviet times). The headquarters for both of Belarus’ largest religions, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, are both situated near the old Ratusha, or city hall. The Orthodox church is based from the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev is based at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This northern sliver runs beyond the First Ring (Masherava Praspekt) on either side of Maksima Bahdanovicha Street. When the Third Line of the Minsk Metro is completed (the first four stations are scheduled to open in 2017), its northern half will service this corridor, making it much easier for tourists to explore than it is today (June 2015), but there are still a lot of places to see in this area of town.
Its green spaces include the urban recreation zone called Park Druzhby Narodau near Bangalore Square, and the nature reserve set in the middle of the Tsnyanski Reservoir, which stretches out not from the MKAD ring motorway. The latter area will be serviced eventually by Metro Line 3 from its projected terminal station, Zialioni Luh (Green Meadow).
Its main commercial center is the Kamarovka Market, situated about a block off Ploshcha Yakuba Kolasa (or Yakub Kolas Square, named for the poet and writer), which itself is a major urban destination. The Tsum (Central Department Store) and the Philharmonic Hall faces this elongated square on the opposite side from the Komarovka district.
The Savietski District is also the location of the Belarusian National Technical University, the MIT of Belarus, which perches on its border off Praspekt Nyezalyezhnastsi. The district also includes a portion of the Baravaya suburb, right at the start of the M3, the highway that downhill ski enthusiasts attracted to the nearby Logoysk resort will come to know well.
This northeastern corner, named for the International Workers Day holiday, incorporates all of Praspekt Nyezalyezhnastsi further out from the Savietski District – essentially everything beyond the Second Ring (Akademichnaya Street). Some of Minsk’s more famous green spaces are situated in this district, including the Botanical Gardens off Park Chalyuskintsau (or Chelyuskinites Park, renamed from Kamarouski in honor of the crew members of the SS Chelyuskin during its unsuccessful attempt to sail the Northern Maritime Route). The Liesapark Zialiony Luh stretches along the MKAD beltway in this district not far from the Slyapyanskaya Water System, Minsk’s version of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a stretch of urban parks that runs along an old waterway along what was once the city’s edge. Beyond the MKAD, Uruchcha Park and the Museum of Stones beckons the more adventurous, the latter with a replica of Belarus itself demarcated with large stones taken from across the country.
Of course, the gem of the region is the National Library of Belarus, built off of Uschod Metro Station near the edge of the city. This 72-meter (236-foot) tall “rhombicuboctahedron” structure made of glass opened in 2006, and it boasts the capacity to seat 2000 readers at any given time (in a typical day, it is visited by more than 2,200 people). It holds more than 8.6 million volumes that range from general humanities to Belarusian history and culture. This includes the largest collection of Belarusian-language materials in the world, and the third largest collection of Russian-language books behind that held by the Russian State Library in Moscow and the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. The statue of Francysk Skaryna, the book printer said responsible for the development of written Belarusian, standing outside the front entrance is certainly an appropriate adornment.
One of the main shopping venues in this district is the Alyaksandrau Pasazh, located near Maskouskaya Metro Station, which houses a number of high-end shops, including the original Mothercare outlet for Minsk. At Uruchcha Metro Station, though, are several newer informal outlets that mostly seem to be geared toward suburban commuters who park their vehicles nearby and use the Metro to get around town during the day.
Other interesting sites include the Children’s Railroad at Park Chalyuskintsau, a scale model train that is serviced by children who are more or less going through what appears to be a very early apprenticeship for work on the regular Belarusian Railway system, and the studios for Belarusfilm, which are located not far from Maskouskaya Metro Station.
This easternmost district faces the exact opposite direction from where most of the World War II partisan action took place, but it was still named in honor of these agents of guerilla warfare that left the Nazi rearguard feeling so ill-at-ease. This district serves as a buffer from the tourist-visible reaches along the Maskouskaya Metro Line (Line 1) and the industrial district that is the Zavodski District. Indeed, a lot of Minsk’s industrial capacity actually sits in Partyzanski District, including the Minsk Tractor Works, The Minsk Automatic Line Plant, and the Minsk Motor Plant, all of which sit adjacent to each other along the Zavodski District line.
There aren’t a lot of green areas in this section of town. The two main areas include the Children’s Railway, which leaves Park Chalyuskintsau for the green space along the edge of the Sliapianka neighborhood, and Gorky Park. In Minsk, “Park Horkaga”, as it is called by locals, is actually the main children’s park in Minsk. Riverboats paddle along the Svislach along this stretch, vendors sell balloons of every shape and size, and a huge Ferris wheel towers over not only the other rides, but just about everything at the top of the park’s main hill.
Probably the main attraction associated with the district is right at its very edge, Ploshcha Pieramohi. This is the site of the obelisk where soldiers maintain a watch on the eternal flame set up in memory of those Belarusians who died liberating the country in World War II. It’s not that uncommon to find the square closed down for a state visit to the monument by some foreign dignitary. It’s certainly a place worth visiting for any foreign tourist, if only to pay respects to those who fought to rid the world of Nazism.
This southeastern corner was originally set up to contain most of the large-scale factories that were built after the Germans were evicted from the city in World War II. Its main feature, the Minsk Avtozavod, or Minsk automotive plant, dominates the center of the region, which stretches out beyond the MKAD.
Its main options for green spaces include the urban “Park 50-Hoddzia Kastrychnika”, or 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park, set up for the daytime recreation of workers at the nearby plants in both Partyzanski and Zavodski districts. Around the same time that this park was opened, the Minsk Zoo situated southwest of the auto plant adjacent to Park 900-Hoddzia Minska (or 900 Years of Minsk Park), was organized by a group of the plant’s more ambitious automotive workers, and is today a leading family attraction for Minsk. Further out, the remains of the Maly Trostenets death camp provides reflective solace for those who are adventurous enough to travel beyond the MKAD motorway.
Sporting venues have been placed in this area of Minsk since the 1960s, when Traktar Stadium (originally the “Stadium of the VSS Red Banner”) was developed at the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park as a backup football venue for Dinamo Stadium in the center of the city. However, the main sporting attraction of the Zavodski District was developed for the 2014 Ice Hockey championships – the Chyzhouka Arena at the 900 Years of Minsk Park. This 9,500-person venue can host both indoor sports and concerts.
This southern district, named for Vladimir Lenin, stretches southward from Praspekt Nyezalyezhnastsi, following the Svislach River down toward the southern edge of town. Its green spaces include, beyond the ancient Alyaksandrawski Garden in front of the President’s office building, the vast Lohytski Park, the Srebrany Loh, and Park Serebranski (Silver Park), all along the river’s edge, along with Hrekavay Park, set across the Chyzhowskaye Reservoir from the zoo and the Chyzhouka Arena. The district contains Minsk’s original main sporting venue, Dinamo Stadium, as well as the restaurants, museums, and clubs of Karl Marx Street, at one time the main expatriate hangout of Minsk.
Some of the main industries represented in the district include the Kryshtal Plant, which produces premium vodka and other hard alcohol offerings, and the Minsk Motovelazavod, the plant that assembles the M1NSK and Neval brands of motorcycle. Originally built from machinery and plans taken from Germany as war reparations, this private enterprise turns out 6.5 million motorbikes a year.
This southern slice of the Minsk pie, named for the October Revolution in which the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, runs from the Passenger Rail Station in the north to the Kurasoushchyna suburb along the southern MKAD motorway. It includes the Minsk-1 Airport grounds, and green space at the Kurasoushchyna Park and White Dacha Park.
Dana Holdings is currently developing the Minsk World project at Minsk-1, the city’s original airfield, which promises to provide 20,000 residential units and 120,000 square meters of shopping in a mall considered comparable to Westfield in London’s White City. The site, which will be connected to the southern half of Metro Line 3, currently under construction, is also being considered for use as a World Trade Center for Belarus.
Line 3 will eventually connect most of the district’s eastern half to the Metro system. Its terminus is projected to be at a stop named “Slutski Hastinets”, situated about where the Korona hypermarket is located on Kizhavatava and Karzhanyevskaha streets, adjacent to Arbita Stadium (the district’s main sports facility).
Of course, the main feature of this district today is the Passenger Rail Station, which provides the entry point for most Minsk visitors. Not only do train travelers disembark for the city at this location, but so do air travelers who take the new shuttle from the airport. Additionally, below the Galileo Shopping Center next door, bus passengers arrive at the city’s central station. This concentration of traveler arrivals adds purpose to the two neo-classical buildings facing the train station across Pryvakzalnaya Ploshcha, designated as “the Gates of Minsk.”
This southwestern part of Minsk, named for the Russian capital, is in the part of Minsk that faces away from its namesake. It is centered by Praspekt Dzyarzhynskaha, which connects to the main highway between the Belarusian capital and Brest, on the Polish border. However, with the recent completion of the Maskouskaya Metro Line (Line 1) to its terminal stop at Malinauka, this is a fast-growing area of Minsk.
Most stops on the Metro have a small shopping center or major store that anchors a commercial district. Malinauka has the ProStore hypermarket, while Michalova has a mall that includes a couple of bike shops and sporting goods stores. However, the main shopping center within the district is located off the Lenin Square station below Independence Square (Ploshcha Nyezalyeznastsi) – the Stolitsa Mall. When it was opened, the Stolitsa was a unique shopping experience in Minsk. Since then, plenty of other malls have opened up, but this still provides a number of useful shopping options located not that far away from the Passenger Rail Station.
Maskouski District has a number of interesting tourist sites, including the Church of Sts. Simon and Helena (the “Red Church”) and the Museum of the History of Belarusian Cinema, both situated off Independence Square. Further out, green spaces line the streamways that feed into the Loshytsa River, which flows down to the Svislach at the city’s southern border. Mikhail Paulav Park is probably the most prominent of these green spaces within the district.
This western district, named for Mikhail Frunze, a close associate of Vladimir Lenin and early Red Army military leader, covers a wide expanse that is centered on Prytytskaha Street. Some of the most important green spaces in the district include Hugo Chavez Park, Tivoli Park, and Dzivivelka Park. The route along Prytytskaha Street was recently opened for service by the Minsk Metro’s Avtozavodskaya Line (Line 2), which terminates at Kamiennaya Horka (Stone Mountain) station.
As with the newer sections of Line 1, the Minsk Metro has spawned new commercial centers. Kamiennaya Horka has both an Almy Supermarket and a Materik outlet, a sort of local version of Home Depot that encourages its shoppers to get into DIY (do it yourself) home improvement. Kuntsaushchyna Station has, in addition to the normal array of mercantile options, Re:Public, one of several major nightspots in the city that features both DJs and live music acts.
Beyond the MKAD motorway, two small sections of the district jut into the surrounding wilderness. The bigger of the two is the Combined Heat and Power Plant No. 4 for Minsk, which provides both heat and electricity to the Belarusian capital.
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