Vitebsk, located in the north-east of the country, near the Russian border, is often overlooked by most visitors to Belarus. Yet, I believe this charming city with its historical buildings, charming pubs and cafés, and laid-back vibe should be on most tourist’s itineraries.
Vitebsk (the fourth largest city in Belarus) is situated just four hours from Minsk via a direct train line. Due to the fact that there are no other cities or tourist sites nearby, most people will not venture out this way. However, if you do, you will be rewarded by some beautiful sites which I have outlined below.
Such is the lack of tourist footfall here, that when we visited in March, we were the only occupants in our entire hostel. Despite this, one of the owners still went hugely out of his way to help us by walking us to the only establishment serving food at 1 a.m. The fact that this turned out to be a deserted, basement strip club just added to our unique visit to this city!
Another story, highlighting the lack of tourists was how the only Irish pub in town was so shocked to meet an actual Irish person that one of the bar staff asked me to record a short video for them, endorsing the pub for a St.Patrick’s Day advertisement!
In between these stories, we enjoyed some lovely coffees and pints the many, charming little pubs and cafés of this city, and also highly enjoyed the beautiful architecture on display. All of this combined, ensured that our journey out to this infrequently touristed city was a highlight of our holiday in Belarus.
Accommodation wise, if you are on a budget, we would highly recommend Hostel X.O. The staff here were exceptionally friendly, really going out of their way to help us. And at €5 per night for a dorm bed, in the middle of the historical centre, you can’t go wrong! If you are looking for something more private, or of higher quality, there are many other options, of course, on Booking.com.
Vitebsk Historical Centre
The historical centre of Vitebsk, on the north side of the Vicba river, contains the most architecturally impressive buildings of the city. These are all a short distance apart, connected by charming pedestrian streets.
Uspensky Cathedral is the most well known building in Vitebsk, situated in a prominent position overlooking the Daugava River. The main cathedral appeared to be closed when we visited, but the interior is apparently quite impressive. If planning to venture inside, remember that these Orthodox cathedrals require you to be conservatively dressed.
Voskresenskaya Church, also located in the historical centre makes for another impressive facade.
Vitebsk Town Hall, built in 1775, is also located in the historical centre. This building is well worth visiting as it contains the regional history museum, as well as a viewing platform from the tower at its centre.
Marc Chagall’s House
Another worthwhile site is the Marc Chagall Museum, situated within the original home of this world famous artist. This tiny home, which he originally grew up in during the late 19th century, has been restored to its original setting. This helps give an insight into Mark Chagall’s background, but also an insight into what life was like for your average citizen in this era. Additionally, much of Chagall’s original artwork is displayed throughout the house, allowing for his work to be viewed in a very intimate setting.
Memorial Complex of the Three Bayonnets
Another special site is this Memorial Complex located on the south side of the Vicba River. In addition to the large monument of the Three Bayonnets, representing the loss of life during the second World War, there are several rusting tanks and helicopters on display.