If only I knew before how great Brest, Belarus is, if only I knew about all the cool things to do in Brest I would have been on my way there a long time ago. But I didn’t know, therefore, it has never been on the top of my bucket list, even if this is the closest big city from Warsaw, where I live.
But since it’s so easy to visit Brest visa-free now I finally planned a trip to Brest, and I loved it! OK, this is not the most beautiful and picturesque city you will see in Eastern Europe but there are so much history as well as some interesting museums and sights that you won’t be bored when visiting Brest. And overall it is a very pleasant city to spend a weekend in.
Where is Brest, Belarus?
Did you know that there are two fairly big cities in Europe with the same name – Brest? One is in Brittany, France, on the Atlantic Ocean coast and the other one is in Belarus, and that’s the one we talk about in here. I remember a few years ago the news about a young French guy who wanted to travel to the city in his country but was stopped on the Polish-Belarusian border. So don’t make this mistake and choose right Brest.
Brest, Belarus is located in the western part of the country, 350kms away from Minsk – the capital of Belarus. It is also right on the border between Poland and Belarus and the river Bug that goes through the city separates these two countries. Brest is the 6th biggest and 2nd largest city in Belarus, inhabited by some 350k inhabitants.
How to visit Brest visa-free
There are two ways how you can travel to Brest visa-free. You can include the city on your long trip to Belarus but then you need to fly in and out from Minsk airport. Once you enter and leave the country that way you are allowed to stay in Belarus for 30 days without a visa. You can read more about it here.
But you can also do what I did when visiting Brest: come from Poland overland but visit only Brest region (the other visa-free region is Grodno that you can visit overland from Poland or Lithuania). You only need a passport and special permit that you can quickly and easily obtain online. Citizens of 77 countries are allowed to use this procedure, you can stay in the Brest region for up to 10 days. You can read more information here.
I used the company I found online when googling and everything worked fine. You need to fill the form with all your information from the passport (be careful as they check the data very precisely on the border and you wouldn’t be able to enter Belarus with any typos), days you plan to stay in Brest region, the border crossing point and the accommodation in Brest. You can also choose one attraction that you will get a ticket to (I went to the Railway Museum).
Everything costs 50 PLN / ~$13 / €12 and you get all the documents to your email account a few minutes after the payment. You then need to print everything: the permit, insurance, the voucher for the Brest attraction of your choice and a taxi ride in the city and show it to the border officer. And that’s it. It was a very easy and straightforward procedure.
Crossing the border from Poland to Belarus
With the permit for visa-free travel, you are allowed to use overland border crossing points, both by road and by railway. I took the train from Warsaw to Brest and it was the best decision. The train is cheap and fast, the journey takes only 4 hours (including the border control) and the whole control takes place inside the train.
The one-way ticket from Warsaw to Brest currently costs €13,80. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the ticket online, you need to do it at the tickets office at the station.
First, in Terespol, the Polish border and customs control goes through the train and do the check. Then the train crosses the border but before arriving at the station in Brest it stops again for the Belarusian passport control and customs. Once that’s done the train continues to its destination. During the control, you are not allowed to leave the train.
On the way back the control starts already in Brest. 5 minutes before the departure the train was already locked so keep that in mind and don’t be at the platform in the last moment (which almost happened to me).
I heard so much about the unpleasant border crossing between Poland and Belarus and I remember how unfriendly Polish officers in Terespol were when I was going back from the Hockey Championships in Minsk in 2014. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the case anymore (or maybe I was just lucky). Both the Polish and Belarusian control was pleasant and polite. I was asked a few questions but these were the typical questions you hear on the borders all over the world.
When it comes to the visa-free permit it was checked very precisely, so was the insurance (that was part of the permit) but everything was fine and I was good to enter Brest region without a visa.
Where to stay in Brest, Belarus
Unfortunately, the accommodation in Belarus is more expensive than you might expect. I remember how surprised I was in Minsk and the same happened in Brest. There are numerous apartments available so this is usually your best option for accommodation in Brest but since I was visiting the city for 24 hours only I’ve decided to go for the hotel.
I stayed in Molodezhnaya Hotel which was located just a few steps away from the train station and not too far from the center of the city and all main Brest attractions. I can recommend the place – it wasn’t anything fancy but the room was clean, spacious and the traditional Belarusian breakfast, served in the cafe attached to the hotel, was really good. Click here to see current prices and to book the place.
Other recommended places to stay in Brest:
- Hermitage Hotel (9.3/10 on Booking)
- Gogol Mini Hotel (9.5/10 on Booking)
- Energiya Hotel (8.8/10 on Booking)
- and more
How to get around Brest
While most of the attractions are close to each other in the center the biggest highlight of the city – Brest Fortress is located a bit away, close to the border with Poland.
You might get there by the public transport or taxi (there was a voucher included in my visa-free permit) or you may walk which is what I did as this way I could see a bit of the city too. The fortress is around 3 kms away from the center but the walk is really pleasant, either through the park or along wide avenues.
Short history of Brest, Belarus
Even though Brest, Belarus looks like a fairly new city, built in the 20th century, its history is much longer. The city was first mentioned in 1019 (when I visited Brest there were celebrations commemorating the 1000th birthday of the city), it is one of the oldest cities in the area.
Over the centuries of turbulent history, Brest was part of Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russian Empire, Second Polish Republic, USSR and eventually independent Belarus. Brest and especially its fortress played a very important role during World War 2. This was also the 5th biggest city that Poland lost after WW2 (after Lviv, Vilnius, Stanislawow – now Ivano-Frankivsk, and Grodno).
Brest attractions – what to see in Brest
Brest fortress was built in the early 19th century. For the strategic purposes, the star-shaped structure was created around the River Bug (these days it divides Poland and Belarus) and Mukhavets. The main part – the Citadel – is located on the island between these two rivers.
On June 22nd, 1941 German Wehrmacht attacked Brest Fortress and eventually captured it 7 days later. This very event was the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the code name used by Nazis for their attack on Soviet Union.
After World War 2 Brest Fortress was renovated and a few monuments were built inside, including the main reason why I wanted to visit Brest in the first place – the huge concrete “Valour” sculpture.
To get to the main area you need to go through the gate that is shaped as the huge star. When you get through it you can hear different sounds: the heartbeat of the soldier defending the fortress, falling bombs or announcements in Russian “attention, attention, this is Moscow speaking”. This can really move you back in time to the battle in this very place and you almost can feel its vibe.
Brest Fortress is huge but not overwhelming (except “Valour” sculpture). You can spend hours exploring the place with all the corners, gates and museums. Parts of the fortress, especially next to the rivers, look even pristine and definitely not like the military area.
The main part of the Citadel focuses around Valour that dominates the place and makes an incredible impression with his glare. I just couldn’t take my eyes out of him, this was one of the most impressive Soviet art masterpieces I’ve seen (just like Mother Motherland in Kyiv, Ukraine). Around “Valour” you can see the eternal flame and rows of names of the soldiers who died defending the fortress.
The tall spike standing next to the sculpture can be seen even from beyond Brest (and Belarus) and is the symbol of the bravery of the nation. The Valour is so impressive you might not notice its tiny details like a sickle and hammer in the upper right corner. Be sure to take a look in the back too to see graven scenes of the fight.
Just behind the Valour, you can find an old Orthodox church. It might not look so special from the outside but it’s incredible inside. The bare brick walls, numerous icons hanging around and a massive decorated chandelier are really impressive, you would never expect such a beauty when looking at the building. This church was one of my biggest surprises in Brest really!
The fortress is one of the main reasons to visit Brest and it really is beyond impressive! But the city has actually many more attractions that made me enjoy Brest so much more than I expected.
Brest Railway Museum
Located not too far from Brest Fortress, the Railway Museum was a real gem for the railway nerd like me (you might or might now but all my life I’ve been surrounded by trains, my parents work for the railway and for 11 years now I’ve been doing the same).
The museum was opened in 2002 and is the first open-air railway museum in Belarus, with around 60 units, mostly old steam locomotives or retro passengers cars. They were all really taken care of, almost shining in the sun. Some of the fanciest locomotives had pictures of Lenin or Dzerzhynsky displayed proudly in the front.
But the best thing about the museum was that you could actually go inside some of the locomotives and see all the interior details. This was such a cool place to visit and I’m sure not only railway geeks like me would enjoy it!
Museum of Confiscated Art
This one another one of my highlights in Brest and one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited. The museum was open in 1989, still during the Soviet Union times, and shows over 300 pieces that have been confiscated from smugglers at Brest border (that back then was still a border of USSR).
The range of exhibits is impressive. You can admire here icons from the 16th century, beautiful paintings, antique furniture, and more. I was especially impressed with the whole antique furniture set that was declared as powder milk, it was beautiful and of a decent size.
During my visit in the Museum of Confiscated Art there were no other people around so the nice ladies who look after the exhibition were entertaining me with the stories of the more precious items in the collection, that made my visit there even better.
The main pedestrian street of Brest – Sovetskaya – is one of the most pleasant pedestrian areas I’ve seen in Eastern Europe. It’s such a vibrant place, full of cafes, restaurants, and shops. Most likely that’s where you will end up having lunch or just hanging out in the cafe, watching people around.
In the summertime, when I visited, the street was busy with strolling people and finding a free table on Saturday early evening was a challenge (but not impossible).
When walking down Sovetskaya street don’t miss numerous quirky sculptures around as well as gas lamps. Brest is one of the last cities in Europe that still uses gas lamps and each day a lamplighter in the old-fashioned outfit lights them on around the dusk time (you can find a clock on Sovetskaya indicating the time he starts his work on that day).
Another interesting building you can find on the corner of Sovetskaya and Budzionaha streets is Cinema Belarus. Now it looks like an interesting example of Soviet architecture but you should know that it was built in the place where the central synagogue used to stand.
Brest, like numerous other cities in the area, had a big Jewish community but this has changed after World War 2. The central synagogue was badly destroyed during the war and only its round foundation was left – based on it the cinema was built in the 1970s hence its round shape. Unfortunately, you can’t see much of the original foundation but this is still an interesting building to see.
You also shouldn’t miss the Millennium Monument of Brest, at the corner of Sovetskaya and Gogol streets. It was erected in 2009 to commemorate the millennium of the city and shows the history of Brest, including the major figures who played an important role in the city’s past.
My map was full of pins with numerous cafes and restaurants located on Sovetskaya. Eventually, I ended up for dinner in La Kave and it was a very good choice, even if random. The restaurant has a big variety of local dishes, including some vegetarian options (it’s not always so easy to find those in Belarus).
I’m not a big fan of Belarusian cuisine, probably because it’s too similar to Polish that I know very well, but the food here was delicious! That’s where I ate one of the best cold beetroot soup of my life, the potato pancakes were very good too. The prices were fine, not crazy cheap (like often in Ukraine) but still decent for the good food, big portions and the location in the heart of the city.
On the next day, I stopped for a coffee and dessert at Times Cafe, also at Sovetskaya street, and again it was a good choice. The terrace had a bit of a vintage look, with a white tablecloth, flowers, and wooden chairs. I really enjoyed sitting there in the beautiful summer weather and watching life on the pedestrian street.
This was actually one of my favorite moments when visiting Brest. But then the syrniki I ordered came and I focused on food. I’m really surprised that syrniki are not that popular outside Ukraine, Russia and Belarus as this dessert, made mostly of cottage cheese, is just the best!
Brest, like many other Eastern European cities, has some really amazing green spaces.
The 1st of May park, on the way from the Lenin Square to the Brest Fortress, is such a pleasant area, with a pond in the middle. Since I was there on the 1st of June, the Children’s Day, the park was busy with kids of all age who enjoyed numerous attractions organized for their holiday.
Another nice area is at the end of Sovetskaya street, next to Mukhavets river. An embankment is a perfect place for a nice stroll. Apparently that’s where you can also take a cruise on the river but during my visit, I couldn’t see any ferries there.
I really enjoyed the small park at Praspekt Masherava, halfway between the fortress and the center, with the monument to the Soviet border control officers. But of course, the most impressive green space in Brest is the fortress.
Belarus is one of the very few countries where Soviet remnants are still present. You can find a lot of sickle and hammers around but the most important is always the statue of Lenin, standing proudly on one of the main squares in the city. And Brest is no exception here.
You can find Lenin’s statue and Lenin Square, on the corner of Lenin street and Pushkin street (that later turns into Engel street). Lenin looks more or less the same on all the sculptures and the one from Brest will not surprise you in any way.
The market place
I must confess I have a thing for post-Soviet markets, but only when they are in nice buildings. Places like Zhytnyi Rynok in Kyiv, the market in Ivano-Frankivsk, Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent or Zelenyy Bazar in Almaty make my heart beat faster.
When I saw on the map that the market in Brest has a round building I headed there right away. It doesn’t look very impressive from the outside but I was lucky it was opened on Sunday. It was one of the “wow” moment I had (albeit the small one) since I didn’t expect to find such a unique place.
What makes the market in Brest special is the rooftop that looks like it’s made of wood. It’s really beautiful!
If you are looking for some good local food this is the place to get it. As a person who doesn’t eat meat I’m rather sensitive to its smell yet I could smell nothing there. All the other goodies like vegetables, fruits or dairy products looked so good and must have been very fresh!
If you want to try kvass – a popular Eastern European fermented drink made from rye bread – you can do it here. Of course, you can easily get kvass in the bottle in every shop in Belarus but here you can buy it the old-fashioned way, pumped directly from the water cart.
The railway station
Last but not least – Brest railway station is one of the best examples of impressive railway stations from the times of the Russian Empire. It was opened in 1886, in the presence of Emperor Alexander III. Even if you have your ticket for the journey you still should go inside the main hall to see how stunning it is with numerous details, columns, and chandeliers.
The interior of Brest central station reminded me a bit of Moscow metro stations – a similar splendor, although on a smaller scale.
Map of Brest
I prepared a map of things to do in Brest, so you can download it, upload to your phone and use offline during your trip. Open the map in the Google Maps, then click in the upper right menu and download the .kml file.
Is it worth to visit Brest, Belarus?
Yes, definitely! I didn’t know what to expect from Brest, the only thing I knew about the city was the fortress and even then I didn’t imagine how huge and impressive it is. But besides its main attraction, Brest turned out to be a really pleasant city to visit.
Like in other places in Belarus it was spotless like no other place and numerous green areas, no matter what size, were taken care of.
I visited Brest over the weekend, at the beginning of June when the day was warm and long (the sunset was at 10 pm). No one was in a hurry, locals were out enjoying the beautiful day and the atmosphere was vibrant.
Even if Brest is not a classical beauty I really enjoyed my time there a lot and I would gladly return there one day.
If you like Eastern European charm and would like to visit a place that for some reason doesn’t get all the hype that it deserves – Brest is your answer! Traveling to Brest is so much easier than you might think!
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