After five years of living abroad every return to my hometown turns into an authentic time-trip, a trip into the past. Brest is now for me the city that brings back a myriad of memories and sentiments, it acquired a particular nostalgic charm becoming, in a certain way, the city where love lives, love to my family and friends I left there. Now that I think of it, I realize that love always lived in Brest and now, from quite a long distance, I can see it better.
This way or another, Brest was, is and will be a city to visit, to experience and to enjoy. And I am ready to share with you my top ten places to see for those who happen or decide to drop in.
- Sovetskaya Street
This street is one of the city’s symbols. Some years ago it underwent a radical refurbishment becoming pedestrian: a promenade as well as an attractive target for shopaholics and foodies.
Sovetskaya Street hosts Brest’s biggest cinema Bolshoi, one of the most recent and also most impressive monuments dedicated to the Millennial Anniversary of the city’s foundation in 1019, numerous shopping galleries, stores, offices, restaurants and, not less importantly, lanterns.
My suggestion: The lanterns adorning and illuminating the street are both modern and old-fashioned kerosene ones. The latter are lit up by a person called the Lanternlighter every single day at sunset. The exact time of the ceremony in the Lantern Alley that attracts dozens of locals and tourists is indicated by the clock situated at the crossroads of Sovetskaya Street and Masherov Prospect. When in Brest you can’t but assist.
Some more lanterns, this time modern and donated to the city by its biggest enterprises, can be found in Gogol Street that crosses Sovetskaya right in the middle.
It is one of the most special places in Brest. The fortress is an open-air memorial to its heroic defenders who sacrificed their lives at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War when the USSR was unexpectedly attacked of the Nazi troops on June 22nd 1941.
The complex embraces a large territory and counts numerous defensive constructions situated at a certain distance one from the other. Two museums tell the story of the fortress’ construction, its heroic role in the Second World War and the destiny of the memorial after its end.
Moreover, the fortress boasts some amazing landscapes able to enchant any visitor both in summer and in winter. So do not miss your chance to breathe in the spiritual and natural calm of this place.
My suggestion: On the territory of the fortress you can also find the archeological museum Berestye set on the excavated ruins of the oldest wooden settlement ever discovered in the area that dates back to the 14th century and tells the story of the medieval East Slavic way of life, household habits, religious and cultural customs and traditions. The place is a time machine, so take a ride.
3. Park of May 1st
It is a perfect place for those looking for some relax and fresh air in the city centre and those intent to go for a walk or/and have fun. It has numerous attractions, an open-air summer amphitheatre for concerts and an artificial lake. And it is here where you can still see people playing chess or dancing to an accordion on long summer evenings, such a nostalgic view from the city’s Soviet past.
My suggestion: You can’t but taste some genuine Belarusian cuisine in the restaurant «Трактир “У озера”», or the Traktir “U Ozera”, overlooking the lake. They also produce their own very strong fruit- and berry-flavoured liquors, just stunning!
- Brest orthodox churches
Brest has many amazingly beautiful orthodox churches absolutely worth a visit: St. Nicholas Church just around the corner from Sovetskaya Street, the Church of the Saint Mary of Tikhvin that has a form of Noah’s ark and is situated across the street from the Rowing Channel’s beach, the Church of the Resurrection in the Vostok district and St. Simeon Cathedral adjacent to the old town.
My suggestion: Don’t forget to visit the splendid St. Nicholas Cathedral situated on the territory of the fortress. Under the Bolsheviks it was converted into a club to be, many years later, restored in its original religious function and unique beauty.
- Two-storey old town
Brest managed to preserve part of its historical identity thanks to the historical two-storey buildings of its old town. They contribute to the city’s authentic charm enabling its residents and visitors to travel back in time to what the city used to be before the war and before it started to develop vertically. Looking through the windows of these old houses is like looking into the eyes of the old Brest.
My suggestion: If you happen to be in Brest in September do not miss the International Theatre Festival “Belaya Vezha” (White Tower), while in January book a ticket to attend one of the performances of the international classical music festival January Music Nights both taking place at the Academic Drama Theatre situated in the old part of the city.
- Mukhovets river embankment
This is one of the places so dear to myself as far as it reminds me of the times when my granny used to take me and my sister to the river to feed swans and ducks during cold winters in which the biggest part of the water surface was covered by a thick crust of ice.
My suggestion: The river embankment confines with a sequence of boulevards starting with that dedicated to the famous Ukrainian poet and writer Taras Shevchenko and followed by Boulevard of Cosmonauts named after Petr Klimuk, the first Belarusian astronaut to perform a space travel, who was, by the way, born in Kamaroŭka in Brest region. Both boulevards are beautifully adorned with flowers and trees that bloom throughout spring and summer months making a walk here extremely pleasant.
- Sports locations
Brest can boast an impressive number of sports locations. So if you choose to observe your training schedule also on vacation, there’s nothing better than a jogging session along the city’s Rowing Channel. The fans of football, baseball or handball can attend one of the numerous matches regularly held in the city while in winter it is possible to opt for indoor swimming at the Palace of Water Sports or skating at the Palace of Winter Sports placed next to each other.
My suggestion: In summer have a bike ride along the Rowing Channel or play a beach volley match on the neighbouring beach. Don’t forget your suntan, though!
- Lenin Square and the USSR architectural heritage
The city of Brest still preserves a visible imprint of the Soviet epoch which is strongly manifested through the art of sculpture and architecture of the time with the famous Lenin Square being one of its most symbolic examples.
My suggestion: Visit the elegant Catholic church situated in the square. Its simple form and immaculate white colour render it one of the most elegant buildings in the city and so much in the stylistic contrast with the Soviet surroundings.
- Central Railway Station
If you plan to send a postcard to your friends and family from Brest, one of those to choose from will certainly reflect the image many travellers see as the first one when coming to Belarus and see as the last one when living the country – Brest’s Central Railway Station.
Brest, being a border city, took much of its fame, prosperity and even tragedy from this fact. And this Brest’s important crossroads position is strongly associated with the Station that smells coffee, smoke and sounds trains, greetings and farewells. No place is more romantic and has a bigger adventurous spirit. No place in the whole city resembles the city in question and expresses its essence more and better than this one.
My suggestion: Climb the pedestrian bridge that crosses the rail and admire the amazing view of the station from above. Be careful, though, in winter the bridge is often assailed by rough ice-cold winds.
- Residential areas
You saw no Brest if you saw none of its residential areas. Looking similar to their cousins placed all over the ex-Soviet Union Republics, they are the perfect manifestation of the sign of the time showing off both their evident aging and the undeniable tie to the everlasting past.
When darkness descends early in winter, the residential areas illuminate thousands of their windows gazing into the night with their numerous hues and human stories.
My suggestion: Visit the neighbourhood called Kovaleva where I spent my childhood. It is wet and grey when it rains with strong winds walking along its streets and between the houses, but when summer comes it gets illuminated by some special evening light that I noticed in no other place.
Some more tips:
- If it is your first time in Brest, in Belarus or in any of the post-Soviet countries and you are not particularly fluent in Russian, I suggest you to rely on a trusted private guide to help you plan your visit carefully, to show you not only the best of the city but also to make the best out of the time at your disposal.
As a suggestion, you could try to contact Olga Malafeecheva. You can find her contacts and some reviews in English regarding her activity here.
- If you have enough time to dedicate a day to a trip outside the city, you could visit the National Park of Belovezhskaya Pusha, the home to many rare and unique animal and plant species. If you are a nature lover, this is definitely a place for you. For a truly authentic experience you could choose to spend more time in the whereabouts of the Pusha and stay at one of traditional wooden Belarusian village houses. Some of them are immersed into the wild giving you a chance to enjoy the picturesque and quite local landscapes.As an example, you could refer to the location called Agrousadba Belovezhskaya Svetlitsa.
- And one more thing: recently some great changes have been introduced to the legislation regarding visa-free entrance to Belarus and, in particular, the cities of Grodno and Brest and their surrounding areas. You can find more information on the subject here.
Obviously, I have much more to tell you about Brest, more suggestions to give you on how to arrange your stay and more curiosities to share with you to inspire you to take this trip. But we’ll touch upon them some other time, I promise.
In 2019 my hometown, the beautiful Brest that is not in France, celebrates 1000 years of life and history, the heritage of culture, traditions and the spirit of a town born at the crossroads and on the border, the factors that modelled its destiny and its modern aspect.
Brest is an absolutely charming place, so don’t waste your time to fall in love with it and discover this still somehow exotic travel destination.
Photos and title credit: Machs Gut (c)