Vitebsk

Travel Guide Europe Belarus Vitebsk

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Introduction

Vitebsk is the middle of Vitebsk Oblast in Belarus. Typically assigned a founding date of 974, Vitebsk has long been an important cultural and commercial hub for the numerous occupiers in its long history. It is still an important centre of arts and culture for the Republic of Belarus and is surrounded by stunning countryside.

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Sights and Activities

Vitebsk is often referred to as the "Cultural Capital" of Belarus. It is best known as the birthplace of the Jewish painter Marc Chagall, and his home has been preserved and operates as a museum. It is near the railway station to get in. There is also a museum dedicated to his works that also frequently hosts exhibitions by the city's large modernist/post-modernist/avant garde artist community.

Town Hall (Ratusha). With its renowned clock tower, it is a beautiful piece of 18th century architecture.
St. Barbara's Catholic Church. A Romanesque Revival church.
St. Alexander Nevsky Church (on the River Dvina across ul. Zamkovaya from the Yakub Kolas Theatre). A beautiful example of old wooden style Orthodox churches.
Vitebsk Museum of Art, Lenina 32, ☏ +375 212 36-22-31. The museum is famous for its exhibition of works of Y. Pen, who taught Marc Chagall, and other artists), paintings by the masters of the Vitebsk School of Painting, and temporary exhibits from other museums. (updated May 2019 | edit)
Marc Chagall Art Center, Putna 2, ☏ +375 212 36-03-87. A small museum with some drawings and lithographs by Chagall. On the second floor there are drawings by European avant-garde artists: Juan Miro, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and one work by Pablo Picasso. Call the museum to book a tour in advance.
Tram museum, 5-Frunze street, 7, ☏ +375 212 23-73-45. You must contact the administration in advance: Petr Petrovich Ignatov, deputy head of tram and trolleybus administration of Vitebsk. Alternative phone: +375 29 590-15-42. More than 2000 exhibits on display: documents, car models, photographs and paintings, route maps, diagrams, etc. Free.
There is a museum and a park at Zdravnevo, former residence of a famous Russian painter Ilya Repin not far from Vitebsk. You can get there in ~1 hour by bus 26A from the city -- take off at the station right after the bridge, then walk eastwards about 1.5 km. Bus 26 is also OK, but its terminus is a couple of stations earlier, so you will have to walk some extra 1-2 km.
Church of the Dormition.
Vitebsk is also home to the National Academic Dramatic Theatre named for Yakub Kolas. This company has seen considerable success internationally. It is especially notable for being one of the last two professional theatres in the world performing exclusively in the Belarusian language. Foreign travellers unable to understand Belarusian should not be afraid of attending a performance, however, given that much of the work directed by Artistic Director Vital Barkouski is both visually striking and frequently of such an avant garde nature that they can be appreciated without an understanding of the language. Traditional works with charismatic flair are frequently directed by Yuri Lizianhevich.

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Events and Festivals

The lively International Festival of Arts is held every July in Vitebsk and is devoted to the celebration of Slavic music. The event attracts participants from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Poland, in addition to those from the former states of Yugoslavia. Famous singers from around the region attend and perform Slavic songs, backed by the National Concert Orchestra of Belarus. The most successful country to date is Ukraine, with five wins to its name.

In November, the city holds the International Festival of Modern Choreography, which plays host to dance companies from around the world.

Finally, Vitebsk is the home of the Slaviansky Bazaar, a huge festival of music from across the Slavic-speaking world. It is hosted in a stunning amphitheatre near the center. Other cultural events and activities, such as exhibitions and traditional crafts also play a significant part in the festival, and guest theatre productions are hosted in the Yakub Kolas Theatre.

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Getting There

By Plane

There is a small regional airport near from Vitebsk, but it is not served by any airlines worthy of note for the typical tourist, and you will be able to connect to only larger airports in Belarus and Russia. The best way to reach Vitebsk would be flying to Minsk and taking a 4½-hour train to Vitebsk. Another option would be to fly to Moscow or Saint Petersburg and taking a 9-hour train from there.

While Belarus and Russia formally have no monitored border (you may hop on a train and get from one country to the other), train crews normally check your passport before getting on the train to make sure you possess the visa. Gomel airport in southern Belarus, accepting flights from far abroad, might be a good connection to reach Vitebsk, but you need to verify that before planning your trip.

By Train

Vitebsk sits on the major train route from Minsk, capital of Belarus, to Saint Petersburg, Russia. Moscow is also easily accessible by train. Vitebsk also serves as a regional hub.

By Car

Vitebsk is accessible by major highways.

By Bus

Regular buses travel between Vitebsk and Minsk or Moscow, as well as to numerous other smaller regional towns. Buses to Lithuania and Latvia are also available. "Route buses" or "marshrutka" from Minsk is a good way of transportation: they are fast, convenient and can often can drop you off nearby the hotel or the house in Vitebsk, which you point to. Getting to Riga takes about 11 hours by coach. Getting to Moscow is around 9 hours, Saint Petersburg around 12 hours, Kiev around 9 hours. Getting to places outside Belarus by coach can be time-consuming due to border controls.

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Getting Around

Buses, trolleybuses, and trams all operate in and around the city, and cost in the area of US$0.40 for a single ride. Monthly passes are also available should you have an extended stay. Private buses and "route taxis" also operate throughout the city, for higher rates, but are more likely to have heat, an open seat, and be operating reasonably on time. Taxis are easy to catch from the train station, center of the city, and near the major universities. The price of the taxi to your destination should be agreed in advance, and should typically not exceed US$5. The tourist sights are all within walking distance of one another.

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Eat

There is not a great deal of fine dining available in Vitebsk, nor a great deal of variety.

Usad'ba. Best regarded restaurant for atmosphere and food quality (but not portion sizes) located in close proximity to city concert hall, and provides a portion of its menu in English. edit
Traktir. Another famous dining venue, yet with arguable quality of food edit
Zolotoy Drakon (The Golden Dragon). A good Chinese restaurant another few short blocks away, which also issues its menu in English. edit
Cafe Teatralnoye (underneath the Yakub Kolas Theatre). It has a fairly extensive menu and reasonably attractive dining area. Closer to midnight, the cafe hosts show-girls performances. edit
Melody, Lenina street, 65 (short stroll from "Ratusha" towards "Philharmonia" and on the right side). A stylish, cosy cafe with live music every weekday. edit

There are numerous other smaller cafes around. Kiosks sell fast foods like hot dogs, "home-style" pizza slices, and 'Tchebureks', a student favorite of meat in fried crust. For some time, there was only one dedicated pizza restaurant, of middling quality but with a wide variety of toppings, sitting near the pedagogical and technological universities on Moskovski Prospekt. A new pizza restaurant, Arena, has opened in the center of the city. It is spotlessly clean, popular with locals and serves decent pizzas, including a vegetarian option. Late night dining is normally available only in dancing clubs.

Belarusian food is normally of the "meat and potatoes" variety. The best known Belarusian dish is "draniki," which are fried potato pancakes, frequently filled with meat, that are best served with sour cream. "Draniki" is a common specialty in Slavic countries like Russia, Ukraine or Poland. "Kotlety" or pork cutlets, are also a regional favorite. Mushrooms from the local forests add a rich flavor to many local dishes, and fresh fish from the regions lakes also make for delicious entrees. Soups are absolutely not to be missed. Salads will typically throw the typical out-of-towner off. Leafy greens are extremely far and few between. Instead, Belarusian salads are normally some combination of rice, mayonnaise, mushrooms, chopped boiled eggs, and other flavorings. The best comparison, in texture and flavor, would be to American potato or chicken salads. The closest to a purely vegan salad to be found would be chopped cucumber and tomatoes in oil. Vitebsk's proximity to Russia has had an impact on the variety of dishes served.

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Drink

The previously mentioned Cafe Teatralnoye, Club Aurora, and the club on the main floor of the Hotel Vitebsk are the most popular places to go for drinking and dancing. There are numerous other smaller cafes, such as Cafe Gulliver behind the Yakub Kolas Theatre, Cafe Aladdin and Cafe Jamaica, where you might grab a quick drink. Cafe "Melody" would be the ideal destination for those seeking serenity and good quality of service and food.

Vodka is normally enjoyed with food, but if you're not hungry, it is customary to at least purchase a soft drink to serve as a chaser. Drinking vodka straight without anything to chase is associated more with drunkards. Apart from certain brandies, you'll pay incredibly high prices for foreign liquors, even those which Westerners might consider ordinary, such as Jack Daniels whiskey or Jose Cuervo tequila. Beer is easy to come by and cheap, though. Better beers available in Vitebsk include own brands of "Nikolayevskoe" and "Dvinskij Brovar". "Baltika", a Russian brand, and Minsk's "Olivariya" brand are the most advertised and easily found.

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Sleep

Hotels in Vitebsk are seriously overpriced, but decent accommodation can nevertheless be found. Foreigners staying in Belarus should know that hotel prices are different for foreigners than they are for CIS citizens.

In "Eridan", 4 stars, US$60-120 a night.
"Luchyosa" is also overpriced but the quality of service is similar to that of in Eridan.
Hotel "Vitebsk" is by the river Dvina and, despite its Soviet entourage, provides guests with all necessary amenities (known up-to-date in Belarus).
Hotel "Vetraz", near the hotel "Luchyosa" on the banks of the Dvina river. The best way to experience the Soviet-style hospitality.

Apart from the hotels mentioned above, there are a number of smaller private hotels spread across the city. Vitebsk Yellow Pages would be the best way to find more opportunities for accommodating yourself in this lovely city.

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Keep Connected

Internet

A lot of places are appointed with WiFi hotspots but you have to buy a card and go through the login routine to get online. There are a few internet cafes in the major cities, but you’re more likely to be able to access the internet from your hotel’s Wi-Fi.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Belarus is: 375. To make international calls from Belarus it is necessary to dial 8, wait for a tone, then dial 10. Calls from Belarus to some countries must be booked through the international operator. Public telephones take cards. Grey booths are for internal calls and blue ones for international calls. Prepaid phone cards are available.

There are 3 major GSM providers in Belarus: MTS, Velcom and Life. All of them offer no-contract GSM SIM-cards and USB modems for Internet access. Cellular communications are very affordable and popular in Belarus. Each of these companies has numerous stores in Minsk, Brest and other regional centres. You will need your passport to purchase a SIM card, but many tariffs are available only to those who are registered with the authorities in Belarus. However, a stamp by your hotel on the back of the immigration card in your passport is sufficient to be registered, and this is routinely done by hotels upon check-in.

Avoid using your home SIM card in your own phone. Switch off data roaming and use only wifi instead.

Post

Belposhta (Belarusian: Белпошта) is the national postal service of Belarus. Services are affordabele but slow: airmail to Western Europe takes a minimum of 10 days. Post offices are generally open between 8:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Friday, but some central offices in major cities keep slightly longer hours. Likewise, in rural small communicaties post offices might not be open every day. If you want to send a package internationally, use companies like DHL, FedEx, TNT or UPS, as they are faster and more reliable.

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This is version 3. Last edited at 9:14 on Nov 26, 19 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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