Vitebsk: The Most Charismatic City in Eastern Belarus

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Vitebsk was not actually a city I chose to go to.  To get to Belarus, my boyfriend and I had to go through a tour agency to obtain our letters of invitation into the country.  They also assist you in planning your stay in the country.  When I told Tatyana, our tour agent, that we had planned to go to Minsk and Gomel… I think she probably laughed.  Gomel, Belarus is the country’s second largest city and lies near and within the Belarusian Chernobyl zone.  I also heard that no one travels there (curiosity often gets the best of me).  I remember getting an email back from her asking what I wanted to do in Gomel and I responded with, “Check it out and go to bars”.  I only threw the ‘bars’ in there to give a little validation for our reason of traveling there.  And she basically responded with, “I think Vitebsk will be more your scene and you can thank me later for it”.  We knew we wanted to head east in Belarus and not west to Grodno or Brest, so we obliged and listened to her advice and planned our trip to Vitebsk.

That could not have been a better decision.  I don’t know what Gomel had in store for us, but I know that it would not have beat the time we had in Vitebsk.  This city has a charm and magnetism that I have rarely felt in previous travels.

When we arrived in Vitebsk, I pulled my usual of having nothing planned except knowing the name of the hotel we were staying at.  I always refuse to take taxis because I like to save my money and use it on other things.  We arrived at the train station and had absolutely no idea where to go.  And there is less English floating around Vitebsk than there was in Minsk.  And no one spoke English in Minsk.

We wandered around for a little bit and finally started to try to ask locals at a tram stop where Hotel Luchesa was.  They all felt incredibly bad for not being able to give us a direct answer.  Aside from needing to know where the hotel was, they looked even more puzzled about why an American and a Norwegian were traveling in their city.  Two young guys were finally able to give us hand signals that they would take us there.  We waited for twenty minutes and then hopped on one tram with them.  We got off ten minutes later and hopped on another tram with them.  This took us directly to our hotel.  We tried to give them some money for their generosity and taking the time out of their evening to show us to our hotel and they refused it.  Friendly and helpful locals always make your first impression of a place so positive.

The next morning we were curious to see what Vitebsk had in store for us.  We began walking into the city (the hotel lies a little outside of the main center) and were just amazed at how picturesque and stunning it was.  There were several bars and restaurants around the Old Town and we couldn’t wait to get some food.  We went in to one and when Andre and I began speaking English with each other, an old friend we had met at a bar in Minsk came up to us from another room as she heard our voices.  Yuliya, who is originally from Vitebsk but lives in Minsk and looks like a blonde Angelina Jolie, took us to meet her mom and daughter and then helped us identify some good dishes on the menu and even placed the order for us.  Seeing that Vitebsk is four hours from Minsk, it was a great surprise to run into her and get another chance to connect with her while in Belarus.

After our meal, we wandered around, hopped in and out of bars, and watched the most awe-inspiring of sunsets.  And I probably said at least thirty times, “I love this city!” to Andre.

Day-drinking and vodka with the locals eventually took its toll and we missed out on seeing the rest of the city and had to head back to the hotel.  The next morning was spent trying to find a way out of Vitebsk and back to Minsk as we had accommodation arrangements already solidified in the capital, so we saw no more of Vitebsk, unfortunately.  While I definitely overstayed my welcome in Minsk, I would like to think that I saw hardly anything in Vitebsk and need to plan another trip back there in the near future.

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16 Comments
  • Katie
    Posted at 09:44h, 26 April Reply

    Ahhhh, so jealous! Wish I would have made I there while I was in Belarus! Looks adorable!

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:11h, 28 April Reply

      it really was such a cute and quaint city! sad i missed grodno, but glad i got to discover this little gem.

  • Travel Tag Roundup 4/26: Full Moon London - Travel Freak
    Posted at 10:29h, 26 April Reply

    […] @mstarr1188 – And finally, here’s a post about a city in Belarus. Because it’s Friday, and why […]

  • Satu VW
    Posted at 02:39h, 27 April Reply

    Beautiful! All these posts make me want to head East again….

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:17h, 28 April Reply

      do it :) especially belarus (if you have the desire) before it changes too much. it is so unique the way it sits now.

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    Posted at 18:54h, 27 April Reply

    What gorgeous photos!!! Such a colorful place!

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:17h, 28 April Reply

      it most definitely was andi!

  • Alex @ ifs ands & butts
    Posted at 11:16h, 28 April Reply

    Fantastic! What an adventure – day drinking vodka would probably put an end to me, too.

  • Erika
    Posted at 16:38h, 28 April Reply

    Wow, your photos are really charming! And the no English thing is awesome… I mean, even though it IS helpful and I do appreciate that so many people speak it, I can imagine that it feels like you’re REALLY in a different place when other people can’t — and that sounds adventurous and fun in a sense!

    @ not having plans: ahhh sounds like how I travel haha!
    @ friendly and helpful locals: that’s like the OPPOSITE of france. which is why a lot of people detest paris as tourists… because the locals are (in general) not as helpful… at least initially. they’re kinda jaded that their city’s run over with people. i’m sure if there were less people, they’d be nicer. ANYWAY, you’re right — the first people are kind of what color your experience of a place — glad they were so nice!

  • Kelly S.
    Posted at 05:25h, 29 April Reply

    When did you go? It looks really cold and snowy. Brrr. Exactly how I would picture Belarus, even in July. Post Soviet/Cold/Snowy. But oh so beautiful.

  • Dallas
    Posted at 14:22h, 29 April Reply

    Friendly locals are the best surprise. BEAUTIFUL photos! I’ve been thinking I need to venture more East. Belarus looks stunning.

  • Julika
    Posted at 11:26h, 02 May Reply

    I must admit — I have never heard of this city before reading your post, but it looks really beautiful! The architecture — especially the churches — looks so gorgeous! Thank you for making me curious about yet another country that hasn’t been on my travel radar until now!

  • Silvia
    Posted at 16:33h, 15 December Reply

    Added to the top of my bucket list (for reals). Fantastic post and trip!

  • Mila
    Posted at 20:25h, 02 March Reply

    I was born in Vitebsk, felt homesick today and goggled Vitebsk and got to this page. Such a warm and tasteful comment about my city! Thank you, I was enjoying pictures as much as every word from your post. Hopefully, I will be able to go back home this summer and see my amazing Vitebsk with my own eyes. :-)

    • Megan
      Posted at 16:13h, 03 March Reply

      comments like this actually make me so thankful to have this little corner of the web.

      i really hope you get back to see where you’re originally from this summer. it is spectacular and you should be very proud :)

  • Returning to Minsk (thanks to the IIHF World Hockey Championships)
    Posted at 09:39h, 18 August Reply

    […] Vitebsk:  The Most Charismatic City in Eastern Belarus […]

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