Train museum BrestBelarus Visa Free
Train Museum in Brest

If you’re a train buff like Rob, then the Brest Railway Museum, located not far from the famous Fortress, is a fun place to visit.  Opened in 2002, this open-air museum is the first of its kind in the country. Stepping onto the grounds feels like stepping back in time.  There are around 60 immaculately maintained exhibits. Most are steam locomotives and vintage passenger cars, all gleaming in the sunlight.

Some of the grander locomotives display portraits of Lenin or Dzerzhinsky on their fronts.  But the real treat for any train enthusiast is the chance to climb aboard some of these trains. You can explore the cabins and see all the intricate details firsthand. It’s a truly unique experience.

Please note that this museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Wednesdays through Sundays it operates from 11:00 to 20:00.

Sovietskaya Street

Sovietskaya Street Brest.
Masha strolling the lovely Sovietskaya Street

Brest’s main pedestrian street, Sovietskaya, is a lovely stroll.  This vibrant street is packed with cafes, restaurants, and shops, making it the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, relax, and people-watch.

During our visit, the street buzzed with activity. As you walk down Sovietskaya, keep an eye out for the quirky sculptures scattered around and the charming gas lamps. Notably, Brest is one of the last European cities to still use gas lamps, and each day a lamplighter, dressed in old-fashioned garb, lights them up around dusk (you can even find a clock on Sovietskaya indicating the time he begins his nightly ritual!).

Another point of interest at the corner of Sovietskaya and Budyonny Streets is the Cinema Belarus building. While it stands out as an interesting example of Soviet architecture, its history is more complex. The cinema was actually built on the site of the former central synagogue.

Brest, like many cities in the region, had a significant Jewish community. However, World War II tragically changed this. The central synagogue was severely damaged during the war, leaving only its round foundation. This foundation served as the base for the round-shaped Cinema Belarus which was built in the 1970s. Sadly, there’s not much of the original foundation visible today, but the building remains a point of historical interest.

Don’t miss the Millennium Monument of Brest either, located at the corner of Sovietskaya and Gogol Streets. Erected in 2009 to celebrate the city’s 1000th anniversary, the monument showcases the history of Brest, featuring important figures who have played a role in shaping the city’s past.

Where to Eat in Brest

Jules Verne: If you want to treat yourself, then Jules Verne is a nice cafe to check out.  Maybe try, a Halibut with Oyster Sauce and Clams for about $12 USD.  Being vegan, I chose 2 side dishes.  One with the grilled vegetables with another side of roasted potatoes.  Both plates did not break the bank at $5 USD for both.

Traktir “U Ozera”: For some good ole Slavic food, this is a down to earth place.  The name directly translates – tractor on the lake.  Our recommendation is to try some pelmeni (dumplings) and or  vareniki (mostly sweet dumplings in the shape of a crescent) here.  The prices for these dishes here average $2 – $3 USD.  Although other dishes can be pricier.

Day 3 – Kosava Palace, Nesvizh Castle and Mir Castle

On our 3rd day, we sampled the delicious and varied breakfast of the Hilton, packed up and met our wonderful guide/driver Andrei.  In retrospect, we should have departed the hotel around 09:00, however we were lazy after the long bus adventure the night before and asked Andrei to pick us up at 10:30.

Kosava Palace

Kosava Palace
Kosava Palace on top of the hill overlooking the countryside.

Our first stop was Kosava Palace, a newly renovated structure set in the Belarusian countryside.  It is a dreamlike structure which has many names – the Puslovsky Palace and also known as Kossovo Castle. Built in the 19th century, it’s a stunning example of Neo-Gothic architecture, and its fairy tale-like appearance has earned it the nickname “knights’ dream.”

The palace wasn’t just beautiful; it was grand. Surrounding it was a magnificent park with over 150 types of exotic plants! A special greenhouse was even built to house the most delicate specimens. The park itself was a masterpiece, with cascading terraces leading down to three man-made lakes and ultimately connecting to the Kosciuszko estate.

Sadly, the Puslovsky family’s ownership wasn’t meant to last. After losing the estate in a gamble, Kosava changed hands several times. The early 20th century saw the palace serving as a district administration office and a beekeeping school.

However, World War I and World War II brought devastation. During WWI, the palace was looted, and its valuables were stolen and taken abroad. World War II inflicted even greater damage. A fire raged through the palace in 1944, destroying the interior decorations and leaving only the magnificent walls standing.

Despite its troubled past, Kosava Palace remains an interesting landmark. Local legends even add to its mystique. Stories abound of the owners keeping a lion as a guard, roaming the corridors at night to protect the place.

Nesvizh Castle

Nesvizh Castle Belarus visa free
Nesvizh Castle is one of the most beautiful in Belarus

Driving further north, we got to Nesvizh Castle.  Nesvizh Castle was built in the 16th century and is a UNESC World Heritage site.  It was the home of the powerful Radziwiłł family. It wasn’t just a residence, but also a strategically important fortress and a center of culture and politics. The castle witnessed many historical events and became a symbol of Belarusian identity, especially during the Soviet era.

The Nesvizh castle is an example of Renaissance architecture with a mix of styles. Its grandeur is evident in the decorated facade, elegant towers, and beautiful gardens. Inside, the castle are lavish halls with frescoes, luxurious furniture, and a vast art collection. Visitors can explore various rooms, including a grand ballroom, a golden hall, and a well-stocked library.

The beauty extends beyond the castle walls. Meticulously landscaped gardens with vibrant flowers, water features, and hedges surround the castle. The vast parkland offers a peaceful escape with lush greenery, walking paths, and picnic spots.

Like many old castles, Nesvizh has its share of secrets and legends. One story involves the “Lady,” a ghost said to haunt the building’s many halls. The castle also has hidden underground passages used as escape routes and for secret meetings.

Mir Castle

Mir Castle
Mir Castle

The Mir Castle Complex (a UNESCO World Hertiage Site) is one of the most striking fortifications in the country.  The castle has a unique blend of architectural styles which include Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance.   Built in the 16th century, the castle began as a Gothic fortress under Duke Ilinich. Later, in the 1560s, the Radziwiłł family acquired the castle and transformed it into a Renaissance masterpiece.

During their ownership, the Radziwiłłs added a three-story palace with lavish rooms, fortified the castle with earth walls and a moat, and created beautiful gardens on the grounds. An Italian garden graced the north side, while an artificial lake added tranquility to the south.

The castle faced hardships during the Napoleonic Wars, suffering significant damage. However, it found new life in the late 19th century when the Svyatopolk-Mirsky family purchased it and began restoration efforts.

After extensive restorations, the castle reopened to the public in 2010.  Further refurbishment efforts are ongoing to preserve the Italian Renaissance Park, English Park, pond, and the Svyatopolk-Mirsky Castle itself.

After sampling some very late lunch in the parking lot cafes of Mir Castle (there are quite a few of them), we departed heading to our apartment in Grodno where we decided to spend 3 nights.

PRO TIP:  If you are short on time and need to pick only 2 of the 3 castles, we would recommend choosing Nesvizh and Mir.  If you can only visit one, then choose Mir Castle.

Day 4 – Grodno

Old Castle Grodno
The Old Castle with the river view.

Our apartment in Grodno (where we spent 3 nights) was through the site.  The apartment was truly luxurious and central –  we cannot recommend this organization enough!  Honestly we did not want to leave after 3 nights here.

For our first day in Grodno we decided to visit the Old and New Castles of Grodno,  and stroll Sovietskaya Street – a walking open air museum of the city.

Old Castle Grodno

Old Castle Grodno
The Old Castle purched on the river was one of our favorite places in the whole country.

The Old Castle of Grodno is a historical complex that tells the story of how a fortification like this castle gets built over centuries. Its origins date back to the 11th century, when a wooden fortress stood guard. After a fire ravaged the structure in the late 14th century, Grand Duke Vytautas the Great rebuilt it in Gothic style, adding five imposing towers. This “Upper Castle” later became known as the Old Castle.

The castle’s strategic location atop a steep hill overlooking the Neman River added to its defensive prowess. The formidable walls stretched nearly 300 meters long, with an average thickness of 3 meters, making it a powerful stronghold.

During the 16th century, the Old Castle witnessed a period of grandeur as it served as the residence of King Stefan Batory. However, the tides turned during the Northern War in the early 18th century. Swedish forces inflicted significant damage to the castle, leaving only remnants standing.

Despite the destruction, the Old Castle persevered. Today, visitors can explore the surviving elements, including the Palace, defensive wall fragments, the prince’s quarters, the bridge, and the overall castle site. In 1925, a museum dedicated to history and archaeology was established within the castle walls, further enriching the experience for visitors.

New Castle Grodno

New Castle Grodno
The New Castle, labeled, museum.

The Old Castle of Grodno wasn’t the only royal residence in town. The Great Northern War in the early 18th century left it in ruins. Faced with a damaged castle, instead of repairing it, a new project began – the New Castle.

Construction started in the early 1700s and took a significant 50 years to complete, with project finally being completed in 1789. This grand new palace served a dual purpose: it housed the Polish General Sejm (parliament) and provided a residence for Polish kings.

However, Grodno’s fate changed at the end of the 18th century. The city became part of the Russian Empire. Before World War I, a new vision emerged. Emperor Nicholas II decreed Grodno’s transformation into a powerful fortress. This involved the construction of several forts and fortifications around the city. The New Castle wasn’t spared this change. Its royal past was put aside as it was adapted for military use, becoming barracks.

Sadly, World War II brought further devastation. The New Castle suffered destruction during the conflict. When the complex was restored in the mid-20th century, its former grandeur was lost. The Soviet influence was evident in the architectural style, with buildings taking on some features of the Soviet Empire. Even the main tower’s spire was redesigned, topped with a symbolic five-pointed star.

The New Castle of Grodno’s story reflects the city’s own tumultuous history. It began as a royal residence, transitioned to a military site, and ultimately underwent a transformation that reflected the changing political landscape.

Sovietskaya Street Grodno

Sovietskaya Street Grodno
Sovietskaya Street, a cobblestone pedestrian street filled with cafes, shops and restaurants.

Sovietskaya Street, also sometimes referred to as Sovetskaya pedestrian street or Sovetskaya walking street, is a vibrant pedestrian zone in the heart of Grodno. Considered the city’s “most beautiful walking street”, it’s a popular destination for both locals and tourists.  However, the only tourists that we got to see were us!

This charming car-free zone has a rich history. While the street’s name translates to “Soviet,” its origins date back much further. The area was once the center of Grodno’s marketplace, and the street itself has undergone various transformations throughout the centuries.

Today, Sovietskaya Street is a feast for the senses. Lined with colorful buildings in a variety of architectural styles, it offers a glimpse into Grodno’s architectural heritage. Strolling down the street, we met a lot of local artisans selling their handmade goods.  There are also shops selling souvenirs and local crafts, cafes with inviting outdoor seating, and street performers adding to the lively atmosphere. In addition, there are well-preserved historical buildings lining the street for added charm.

Beyond the shops and cafes, Sovietskaya Street offers a tranquil escape. Lush greenery and strategically placed benches create a relaxing environment, perfect for people-watching or simply enjoying a break. A public square with the iconic “I love you, Belarus!” sign provides another opportunity to soak in the atmosphere.

Where to Eat in Grodno

Wild Mushrooms
Buying some wild mushrooms foraged by a Belarusian lady – just outside of the Central Market you can buy many foraged berries and mushrooms.

Doppio (Kofeynya Doppio) is a great central  place to grab a coffee (and yes they have oat, almond and soy milk) and some lunch.  The atmosphere is super relaxed and the restaurant has vegan and vegetarian options.  Their vegan deserts are amazing and even impressed Rob.

Restaurant Bakst is an upscale restaurant with many options of seafood, steaks and chicken.  Main dishes are around $10 – $12 USD.  For vegans and vegetarians there is the staple grilled vegetables and potatoes for around $5 USD for both.

Houdini is a funky gastropub with fusion seafood.  Try the Salmon Tartare with Avocado or Poke with tuna, salmon and shrimp.  Each dish was about $7 USD.  There are also meat dishes: Steak and Potatoes and fowl dishes: Teriyaki Duck Leg with cranberry sauce.  Each dish is under $10 USD.

Day 5 – Grodno

During our second day in Grodno we continued to explore the following areas:

Kolozha Church

Kolozha Church Grodno
The ancient Kolozha Church in Grodno

The Kolozha Church (also known as St. Boris and Gleb Church) is the oldest building in the city and one of the rarest examples of Black Ruthenian architecture. Built before 1183, the church is famous for its colorful, decorative stones and unique design. Despite its age, the church is still in use today and is a significant cultural landmark for Grodno.

The Great Synagogue

Balarus visa free, great synagogue
The Great Synagogue of Grodno has a pure white interior.

The Great Synagogue, also known as Bolshaya Sinagoga, stands as a powerful symbol of Grodno’s past religious diversity. Built between 1902 and 1905, the Moorish-style building has a stunning interior. Imagine a vast, airy space bathed in pure white – a striking contrast to the synagogue’s ornate exterior.

Today, the synagogue houses a small museum dedicated to the Jewish history of Grodno, offering visitors a glimpse into the vibrant community that once thrived here.

Park Zhilibera

Located in the heart of Grodno, Park Zhilibera offers a mix of greenery and entertainment. Featuring a central Soviet War memorial, the park serves as a place for quiet reflection. But it’s not all solemnity! Park Zhilibera also comes alive with fun fairs and markets, providing a lively atmosphere.

The park’s charm extends to its riverside location, creating a peaceful environment perfect for a leisurely stroll.  Several cafes and cozy bars with inviting beer gardens dot the landscape, making it a great spot to relax and socialize.

Holy Intercession Cathedral

Holy Intercession Cathedral Grodno
Holy Intercession Cathedral

The Holy Intercession Cathedral is a unique landmark that has stood strong through difficult times. Built in the early 1900s, it honors the memory of soldiers and officers lost in the Russo-Japanese War. Despite facing challenges during the German occupation and Soviet era, the cathedral has remained a functioning place of worship.

Architecturally, the Holy Intercession Cathedral is a beauty. Its “pseudo-Russian” style features detailed entrance portals and windows, creating a visually striking design.

Kalozski Park

Kaložski Park, is a haven for those seeking peace and natural beauty. This serene green space provides a welcome escape from the city’s bustle. Stroll along the park’s paths and immerse yourself in its tranquility, or take a leisurely bike ride while enjoying the fresh air.

History buffs will appreciate the presence of centuries-old churches and monuments scattered throughout the park. These landmarks add a layer of cultural significance to your visit and provide picturesque backdrops for photography enthusiasts.

The park is particularly charming due to its well-maintained grounds and scenic location. Lush greenery and the proximity to nearby rivers create a picturesque setting that is perfect for relaxation. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to unwind or a historical site to explore, Kaložski Park offers a delightful experience for visitors of all interests.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral
St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. Take a look at the 2 angels next to the crosses in the 2 front towers of the cathedral.

The St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, is a magnificent landmark with a rich history. Originally built as a Jesuit church between 1678 and 1703, it wasn’t just a place of worship but also a center of education and culture. The impressive structure was designed in the Baroque architectural style, known for its grandeur and intricate details.  We were lucky to watch a wedding in this cathedral during our visit.

The cathedral’s history reflects the changing times of Grodno. It served as the main church for the city and even the residence of the Bishop in the 18th century. However, during the Soviet era, the church was closed for religious services and repurposed as a museum. Despite this period of secular use, the church persevered and was eventually returned to the Catholic Church in 1988.

Today, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral stands tall as a functioning cathedral and a significant historical landmark. Visitors can marvel at its imposing facade adorned with two elegant towers. Stepping inside reveals an interior showcasing the opulence of Baroque design.

The Prison Next to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral

Belarus visa free political prisonersA demonstration in Vilnius to support the release of the Belarusian political prisoners.

The St. Francis Xavier Cathedral stands in a powerful contrast to its neighbor – a large, white-walled prison.  The prison, currently houses 74 political prisoners, making up about 5% of the country’s total.

When you are near the cathedral, look up.  There are 2 angels “standing” next to the crosses on top of the 2 towers of the church.  For some of the political prisoners these angels are the only glimpse of the free world that they can see.

Lyamus House

Lyamus House
The Lyamus House is the oldest wooden structure in the country and was built without a single nail.

Lyamus House holds the title of the oldest surviving wooden building in the country. Construction is believed to have been completed in 1630, making it a true architectural marvel. This two-story house is unique for its use of traditional techniques – built entirely without nails!

While visiting the Lyamus house, you’ll also notice interesting architectural details like the loggia on the second floor and the small gallery on the first, showing how the rooms would have looked in the past.   The property was originally located on the grounds of the Brigitte Monastery where it remains today.  In effect, the Monastery had to buy their own property back from the government, rescuing the beautiful grounds (where they also keep a small vegetable garden).

Day 6 –  Lida

LIda Castle
Lida’s Castle as seen from the lake of the castle. The Hotel Lida is seen just to the right of the castle.

It was difficult to leave our gorgeous apartment in Grodno.  Our driver picked us up at 12:00 and we were whisked off to Lida where we were dropped off at the Lida Hotel (one of only 2 hotels in the city).  There isn’t that much to do in this city, so we were happy to be located next to the Lida Castle.

Lida Castle

Lida Castle
Lida Castle inside the main courtyard.

Lida Castle, has a rich history dating back to the early 14th century. Built by Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania, it served as a crucial part of the country’s defensive chain against the Teutonic Knights. The castle’s strategic location at the confluence of the Lida and Kamenka rivers further enhanced its defensive capabilities.

Constructed from boulder walls that were later faced with red brick, Lida Castle stands as a testament to medieval engineering.  The castle witnessed many historical events throughout the centuries. It was besieged, ravaged by fire, and even used as a courthouse at various points in time.

Despite facing significant damage, Lida Castle has persevered. Today, the castle complex includes the main castle building, two towers, and the surrounding grounds. While some of the original structures are no longer standing, the remaining parts have been restored. Visitors can explore the castle walls and towers, and even participate in interactive experiences that bring the medieval era to life.

One of these historical re-enactments is the 15th century wedding of Sophia of Halshany and King Jagiello.  King Jagiello, a widower with no sons, was already 73 when he met the Halshany daughters during a visit. According to legend, he was captivated by the younger Sophia, hoping she would give him an heir.

After swift negotiations, the king married the 16-year-old princess. While the official wedding ceremony was held in Novogrudok, the newlyweds stopped at Lida Castle on their way to Krakow for the coronation.

The re-enactment at Lida Castle brings this historical event to life.   Interestingly, history records do show that Queen Sophia indeed gave birth to three sons, securing the future of that dynasty.

Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Lida Castle isn’t the only historic landmark in town. Right next door, on Grunwald Street, visitors can find the oldest church in the city – the  Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

This church’s history is a story of perseverance. Chronicles tell of the first church being built in 1388 only to be destroyed by crusaders. Several attempts to rebuild with wood followed, but these churches also succumbed to fire. Finally, in 1765-1770, a more permanent solution emerged – a stone Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The architect was Johann Christoph Glaubitz, a renowned figure who played a key role in shaping the Vilna Baroque style. The original design had a three-aisled basilica layout with two matching bell towers. Sadly, these towers were lost to fires during wars, and the brick fence surrounding the church also fell victim to time.

Despite these setbacks, the church persevered. Visitors today can still marvel at the beautifully frescoed vaults and walls. Stepping inside reveals an interior adorned with ornamental molding and Rococo sculptures, adding to the church’s grandeur.

A particularly significant treasure within the church is the icon of the Mother of God with the Child. This revered piece is believed to have been brought to Lida by Franciscan missionaries back in the 14th century, further solidifying this church’s long and rich history.

Lida Main Park

Lida Main Park
Lida’s main park with the monument of eternal flame in the background.

Oddly, the main park in the city of Lida does not have a name – it is just called Park.  This green space was my favorite place in the city to stroll and unwind.  There are many cute walking bridges over the Lidzeyuka River here, where couples leave heart shaped locks to commemorate their relationships.

There are also fountains, monuments and the eternal flame along with the Lida City Palace of Culture bordering the property.

Where to Eat in Lida

This city is quite small – one can legitimately call Lida a town.  Therefore there aren’t too many places to eat.   Here are some suggestions:

Brew pub – Lidskaje Piva is a typical brew pub.  The thing to eat here is the Golenka (chicken leg) with roasted potatoes.  If you are vegan, then the potatoes will have to do.  There is also cold beer and other beverages here.

PizzBurg is a modern cafe serving pizza and very large burgers which you can either eat with plastic gloves (which are offered) or with a fork and a knife.  If you don’t like your burger smothered in sauce, then we suggest you ask for the sauce to be on the side.  A huge grilled chicken burger is about $3 USD and a beer around $1.50 USD.

Wrap Up