The current national tourism development program for 2011-2015 is focused on the development of marketing, infrastructure, and the personnel policy. The program also provides for an action plan to gear up for the IIHF World Championship which is scheduled to take place in Belarus in spring 2014. A modern hotel network will be created in Minsk by then. The Belarusian capital has invited investors to build hotels at 28 sites.
Belarus is currently implementing a number of programs to create a modern tourism infrastructure in regions. These are, first of all, programs of socio-economic development and rational use of natural resources in Pripyat Polesie for 2010-2015, the Lake Naroch region development program till 2015. There are plans to promote tourism and recreation in Braslav District using the example of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in the Belarusian part of the Augustow Canal, and in Mstislavl town and the district.
Funds of the central state budget and oblast budgets are used to restore monuments belonging to the historical and cultural heritage of the country. In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved the program Castles of Belarus. The program envisages the restoration of 38 castles and palaces.
Belarus draws special attention to agritourism and ecotourism. Presidential Decree No. 371 “Concerning measures of state support to promote tourism in the Republic of Belarus” and Decree No. 372 “Concerning measures to develop agritourism and ecotourism in the Republic of Belarus” aim to create favorable conditions for tourism development in the country.
Belarusian specialists work out green routes,along natural green corridors, river valleys, historical trading routes, and old railways. Among them are the tour across Lepel District, Vitebsk Oblast titled as “In the Land of Water Lilies and Gray Boulders”, tours on the rivers Grivda, Shchara, and Neman “Water Routes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania”, and others.
Green routes development in Belarus contributes to preserving natural landscapes and cultural heritage, improving ecotourism, and popularizing environmentally-friendly transport. All people willing to develop ecotourism can submit their proposals. Owners of farmsteads will take part in special educational seminars.
Today tourism education is very popular in Belarus. There are 20 specialized universities and 8 colleges. Every year more than 2,100 people are admitted to these institutions.
Recreation for Every Taste
Nowadays all kinds of recreation are available in Belarus. There are no snow-covered mountains and warm seas with sandy beaches in Belarus. However, one can swim in clear lakes in summer and ski in winter. Various knight tournaments, folk holidays, sport competitions, and festivals are held the whole year round. There are many theaters, museums, and excursions.
The Belarusian tourism infrastructure includes comfortable hotels, restaurants serving Belarusian cuisine, secure and quick transport, souvenir shops. Belarus has worked out a system of online booking which helps tourists reserve rooms in the majority of Belarusian hotels.
Belarus’ tourism potential consists in natural diversity and beauty, unique historical and cultural heritage. There are over 15,000 objects of historical, cultural, architectural value in Belarus. There are also a lot of places connected with the names of famous historical and cultural figures.
Amateurs of ecotourism have a unique opportunity to enjoy pristine nature. Many natural objects of the country are unparalleled in Europe. These include, first of all, the Lake Naroch National Park, Pripyat National Park, Braslav Lakes National Park, Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve, wildlife preserves Naliboki Forest and Blue Lakes, and many other ones.
Belarus draws special attention to agritourism and ecotourism. More than 2,000 farmsteads are available for tourists. They are absolutely unique. In some of them travelers will be offered a house with a fireplace, billiards, and a sauna; in others, a small room in the house and a basin with well water outside. Some things will remain unvarying at all times: splendid food and a lot of entertainment.
Recuperation tourism is gaining popularity, too. There are over 475 health resorts in Belarus. All recuperation facilities are located in zones with a special microclimate; many have their own mineral springs and mud baths. Foreigners are lured by professionalism of Belarusian doctors, cutting-edge medical equipment, and a high quality of medical services.
Many people prefer religious tourism. Because of the historical past Belarus is home to many religious denominations: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other ones. Foreigners come to Belarus to kneel before wonder-working icons and imperishable relics of Belarusian saints, such as St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk, St. Sophia of Slutsk. Replicas of the Turin Shroud are preserved in Sts. Simon and Helen Cathedral and St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
Military history tourism has come into fashion recently. Travelers from around the world come to Belarus to visit historical places. There are many fortified castles and temples, monuments and memorials commemorating famous battles, military and local lore museums in Belarus.
Many foreigners travel to Belarus to visit various international cultural and sport events. Among them are the international arts festival Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk, the international theater festival Belaya Vezha in Brest, and many more. In 2010 Belarus played host to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest which was among the most significant events in the cultural life of the country. Currently Belarus is gearing up for the IIHF World Championship which will take place in Minsk in 2014.
Belarus participates in a number of transboundary projects, including the Unknown Europe project in Grodno Oblast, the Euroregion Poozerye and Bella Dvina projects in Vitebsk Oblast. These programs promote the efficient use of historical and cultural heritage and the unique natural potential.
Places of Interest in Belarus
Belarus starts with the capital city. Minsk has almost thousand-year history. During the Great Patriotic War Minsk was destroyed by more than 80%. That is why very few ancient buildings have survived in the city. However, Minsk can be proud of wide avenues and streets, spacious squares, diverse architectural ensembles, verdurous boulevards and parks. The Belarusian capital offers over 40 pedestrian and bus tourist routes introducing tourists to historical and cultural heritage, museums, theaters, exhibition halls, and other facilities.
The Mir Castle Complex (Mir Castle) is an outstanding specimen of the 16th century fortification art. It is included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Following restoration works, Mir Castle opened its doors to visitors in December 2010.
The Nesvizh palace and park complex is a unique monument of architecture and landscape design of the 16th-18th centuries. It is closely connected with the Radziwills family history. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In June 2011 Nesvizh Castle opened its doors to visitors following intensive restoration works.
The Augustow Canal is a hydraulic engineering specimen of the early 19th century. It connected the Vistula River and the Neman River. Numerous international cultural and sport events, national and regional contests, tourist gatherings take place at the canal. Tourists can go for kayak, canoe, motorboat trips along the Augustow Canal.
The memorial complex Khatyn is one of the most impressive monuments to the victims of World War II. It is located at a distance of 54km from Minsk. Khatyn is a former Belarusian village destroyed by fascist invaders during the Great Patriotic War. Today’s Khatyn complex is one of the most revered places in Belarus. The memorial complex has its own museum and a photo exhibition.
The Brest Fortress memorial is a specimen of the 19th century fortification art. It is a 30-minute walk from Brest’s downtown. The fortress is a symbol of Soviet resistance in World War II. On 22 June 1941 the fortress garrison repelled the first attacks of Nazi invaders. The besieged fortress managed to hold the line for over a month. It was awarded the Hero Fortress title in the wake of World War II for outstanding courage displayed by Soviet soldiers when they fought against fascist troops.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha is one of the major tourist attractions of Belarus. It is the biggest forest in Central Europe famous for its oak trees, which are over 500 years old. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is also home to numerous bird and animal species, including Europe’s largest population of rare bison. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Braslav Lakes National Park is located in Vitebsk Oblast. The park includes the most beautiful glacial lakes in Belarus. The lakes are the habitat of rare birds and animals included in the Belarus Red Book of Endangered Species. There are a lot of tourist camps in the region.
The Marc Chagall Museum in Vitebsk is one of the most popular museums in Belarus. Marc Chagall is a world-famous Belarusian surrealist painter. Marc Chagall’s creative phenomenon arouses particular interest in people both in Belarus and abroad. The museum’s exposition comprises more than 300 original works of art, including lithographies, xylographs, gravures, aquatints, and illustrations for the poem Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. Reproductions of Chagall’s most famous canvases are also displayed at the museum.