If you come to Belarus for more than three days, you’ll probably be wondering what else is there to see apart from Minsk. Although there are plenty of natural wonders in Belarus, there are also a lot of cities to visit for a day trip or a weekend trip. Each of them has its places of interest, picturesque viewpoints, local bars and restaurants. I’m starting the “A day trip from Minsk” series of articles with Grodno – the most western of all the Belarusian towns.
After I've studied geography in the Belarusian school, I can’t imagine presenting a city without mentioning some geographical and historical data. Here’s a short list of important numbers and facts: the city birthday / the first mentioning – 1128; area – 142 square kilometers; population – 375,000. The city is divided into two parts by the river Neman. With most of the places of interest and inter-city transport stations located on one side, it becomes relatively simple to fit all the sightseeing in one day.
There are two principally different ways of getting to Grodno from Minsk. The first option is the night train. It departs late at night. You can either get a sleeping couch and sleep in bearable conditions till around 6 AM, when the train reaches the station, or spend a night of drowsing in a slightly cheaper sitting compartment. In the latter case, the chances are high that your neighbours will try to practice their English telling you about their lives and offering you some home-cooked food like smoked chicken, boiled eggs, pies and salads. If somebody offers you a drink, it’s ok not to accept it, but people will tend to repeat their offer a couple of times throughout the night. Although it might be pretty exhausting before the city tour, it will give you a feeling of how people live in Belarus and might provide you with a local guide or a pen-friend. Also, Grodno is a city where being a little sleepy feels very natural. The second option is the morning bus. Both options cost pretty much the same, depart early, and take about three hours to Grodno. Bus and train stations are located pretty close to each other, and I suggest to headstart your tour from Elizy Ozheshka (a 19th-century Polish poet) Street.
If you’re a bit hungry, there are a couple of fast food points at the train station, so you can grab a snack and a coffee-to-go before getting a proper brunch somewhere in the city centre. Compact cities are making trips very easy-going, as five minutes walking will bring you to the first picturesque place – the Orthodox Sviato-Pokrovsky Cathedral. Take a couple of photos and walk further to enjoy the view of the ivy covering of the Grodno State University. From there, head down the hill into a small park to finish your snack and coffee.
Continue walking down the same street till you reach Lenin’s Square. Be cautious about taking pictures of it. Sometimes local police officers have so few things to do that they entertain themselves by asking tourists to delete their photos of the governmental building, not taking into account that the main reason behind it was to capture the smiling Lenin. The good news is - they have a limited radius of operation, so if you take a selfie from a distance, they won’t bother. Get back to Elizy Ozheshko Street and then turn left to one of the first specially designed pedestrian streets in Belarus - Sovetskaya.
Grodno is located so close to the Polish border not by chance. There were many points in history when it was under the Polish rule, while the rest of Belarus was a part of the Russian Empire. That’s why you can see so many Catholic cathedrals, including St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, or Farny Church. After you enjoy the cosiness of Sovetskaya Street, turn left at the square, and it will be impossible to miss it. One of the highest altars (21 meters) and one of the oldest clocks (since 1725) in Europe are waiting for you inside. The entry is free, but it might be closed during the service.
Upon leaving the Cathedral, turn left and walk along Stefan Batory Street towards a real T-34 tank, turned into a WWII monument. Right behind it, you’ll see one of the main symbols of Grodno – the drama theatre. You can often see it in the list of the Soviet buildings with unusual architecture. Turn right on Davyda Garadzenskaga Street till you reach the castle district.
After checking the castles and taking several panoramic shots of Grodno from the castle walls, go down to the waterfront and walk around 100 meters right before going up a narrow hill (might be safer to take the stairs a little bit further if it’s raining) to the Kalozha church of St. Boris and Gleb. One of the original walls didn’t survive the landslide, and now the church is partly stone, partly wooden. Spend some time researching its outer walls. The scientists have found 40 different types of 800-year-old runes, and they’re still arguing about their meaning.
Walk into Kalozha Park. At the first crossing, you might turn left for a detour to see the Grodno's 850-year-anniversary monument, or skip it and take the first crossing to the right to reach the Choral Synagogue. After checking it out, go down Troitskaya (Trinity) Street, and you’ll end up in a picturesque park known by locals as the “Swiss Valley”.
Congratulations, you’ve reached another end of Eliza Ozheshka street. Enjoy the food in one of the restaurants and bars around, and then walk back to the train or bus station, where a ride to Minsk or another town is waiting for you. Your day trip from Minsk to Grodno is over. I hope you’ve enjoyed it in a relaxed manner! Don’t forget to check out my stories to find your next destination in Belarus.
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