The attractions of Belarus are poorly known to the ordinary tourist, yet it is precisely the off-the-beaten-path nature of this unknown nation that makes it unique to those who make it here. Much of the historic legacy was destroyed during World War II or as a result of post-war communist planning, but there is more to see than one would think at first sight. Take, for example, Minsk, the country’s unexpectedly contemporary but staunchly Eastern European capital, which is teeming with nightclubs and trendy restaurants while still serving as a monument to Communist architecture and city growth, having been entirely rebuilt after the war. It is home to the excellent Belarus State Museum, Independence Square (where democratic demonstrations make international headlines every so often), the old KGB Headquarters, and the humble Zaslavsky Jewish Monument. Brest, a border city further to the west, is home to the 19th-century Brest Fortress, the scene of a lengthy and bloody Operation Barbarossa fight and a monument to Soviet resistance against the Germans.
There are four World Heritage Sites to see, but one of them, the Struve Geodetic Arc, which served as the foundation for the first meridian measurement, is nothing more than an inscription. Visitors are particularly interested in the late medieval Mir Castle Complex and the Nesvizh Castle from the same period. They are the finest of the country’s castles, although there are a few more if you look hard enough. The Dudutki Open Air Museum provides a glimpse into 19th-century living. This site, located in the quiet, dusty hamlet of Dudutki, brings ancient skills like carpentry, pottery, handicraft-making, and baking to life in old-style wood-and-hay homes.
The fourth World Heritage Site is one of nature’s wonders. The prehistoric Biaowiea Forest spans both Belarus and Poland, with the Belarus half designated as Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Few international tourists come, although the park is home to European bison, geese, and other animals, as well as a small museum. The Pripyat Reserve and the Braslau Lakes are other excellent choices for a natural experience.