Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova

Travel to the farthest reaches of Europe on this two-week tour, that explores three countries and one breakaway republic. Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova are some of the least known countries on the continent. Once well hidden behind the Iron Curtain they are now released from the Soviet grip and enjoying a cultural resurgence.

Starting in Belarus we explore the striking capital Minsk with its mix of Communist architecture and charming old churches. We then head to the fairy-tale castle at Mir and a homestead where we stay as guests of a local family and experience true Belarusian hospitality.

At Brest, we learn about the tragic history of the country during the Second World War. Then in Belovezhskaya, we explore one of the last primeval forests of Europe.

Leaving Belarus behind we take the overnight train to Kiev and begin exploring Ukraine. In the capital, we visit stunning golden domed monasteries and cathedrals dating back a thousand years, as well as making an excursion to Chernobyl – a sobering experience but fascinating nonetheless.

We continue from here to Lviv – surely one of the most elegant cities in Europe with a wealth of spectacular buildings and monuments. In surrounding villages, we discover striking old castles before heading on to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains, a treasure chest of traditional Hutsul culture, incredible scenery and fascinating wildlife.

Finally, we visit Moldova. This is the smallest country of the trio but distinguished by vast underground wine cellars, ancient monasteries and the unique republic of Transdniestr, a country that doesn’t officially exist.

This is an intriguing region, full of surprises and imbued with a rich heritage that easily rivals better-known parts of Europe. And best of all, it’s well off the tourist map.

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Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova

Highlights

  • Explore the beautiful city of Lviv
  • Visit Chernobyl
  • Stay in the Carpathian Mountains
  • Visit Transdniestr
  • Local homestay in Belarus

Day 1 - Minsk

Arrive in Minsk. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar.

Minsk

Minsk is an old city, founded on the trade routes between the Baltic and the Black Sea, and was once regarded as one of the most attractive cities in the former Soviet Union. The Second World War, however, caused immense damage to the town, almost completely destroying it and unfortunately only a small percentage of the older buildings remain. Following the end of the war it was rebuilt extensively, and today is perhaps one of the best examples of Soviet architecture from the 1950s, a city characterised by grandiose monuments and large public squares, and wide avenues where people sit at pavement cafes.

Minsk offers an almost unique opportunity to see what life may have been like behind the Iron Curtain, and has so far mostly resisted the temptation to succumb to the usual modern homogeneity sweeping the rest of the continent, instead remaining a snapshot of a world that has disappeared elsewhere.

Day 2 - Minsk – Mir – Homestay

This morning we explore some of the capital’s most important sites, including Independence Square with its architecture from the Stalinist period, the ‘Island of Tears’ – a monument to the fallen soldiers in the Soviet war against Afghanistan, and the old town, with its splendid churches. We then drive to the UNESCO listed 16th century fortress at Mir, one of the most striking buildings in all of Belarus, before driving to a homestead in the Brest region, where we spend the night as guests of a local family and can expect to the treated to typical Belarusian hospitality. (BLD)

Mir Fortress

Mir Fortress resembles a fairy-tale, in a dramatic position next to a lake and with white plasterwork providing a striking contrast to its red brick towers and roofs. The fortress was built over several years, beginning in the 16th century, and various additions to it have been made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. It has recently been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in view of its historic significance, and it played a significant part in the Second World War when Russian and German troops fought nearby. The fortress is great fun to explore, full of winding staircases and with great views from its towers over the beautiful surrounding countryside.

Day 3 - Brest

Drive to the historic city of Brest, considered to be the western gateway of the country. Brest played a key role in the Second World War and we explore its impressive fortress, which made a prolonged defence against the Nazis in 1941, among other sites. Overnight Hotel Vesta or similar. (BLD)

Brest

Like much of Belarus, Brest has changed hands many times, formerly being part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as well as Poland at various times in its history. It’s best known for the part it played in World War Two, when a handful of defenders attempted to stop the advance of the German Army in 1941, in the first days of Operation Barbarossa – the stories attached to this led to Brest being given the title of ‘Hero City’ of the Soviet Union. The fortress today is one of the key sites to visit here, but the city also has a number of impressive churches, some dating back to the 16th century, and with its location on the boundaries of the former Soviet Union, it’s perhaps a little more cosmopolitan than most other cities in Belarus.

Day 4 - Belovezhskaya National Park

Head out of Brest to Belovezhskaya National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last remnants of primeval forest in Europe. Spend time exploring this unique landscape and getting to grips with the vast Belarusian countryside, before returning to Brest for the night. Overnight Hotel Vesta or similar. (BLD)

Belovezhskaya National Park

Belovezhskaya is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest which once spread across the European plains – some of the trees here are believed to be over 600 years old. The forest was once a home and playground of Polish princes and Russian tsars, who spent much time here resting and hunting. Wildlife here is rich and diverse – the reserve is home to around 200 species of birds, including corncrake, eagle owl, white stork, along with 60 species of mammal, including wild boar, wild horses, elk, deer and perhaps most famously, bison, one of the symbols of the country.

Day 5 - Njasvizh - Minsk

Drive to the historic settlement of Njasvizh with its collection of 16th century buildings, before returning to Minsk to board the overnight train to Kiev. (BL)


Day 6 - Kiev

Arrive in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Explore the key sites of the city including the impressive St Sophia Cathedral and monastery, the splendid 18th century Baroque church of St Andrew, and the historic ‘Golden Gates’ of Kiev. In the afternoon we visit the golden-domed Lavra monastery complex, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and containing numerous churches and museums – a cultural treasure of the country. Overnight Ukraina Hotel or similar. (D)

Kiev

Kiev is one of Europe’s most attractive cities, but also one of its least known capitals, a legacy of its previous position hidden behind the Iron Curtain, which meant that few from ‘the west’ were aware of the treasures that it holds. The basis of the Russian state during the period of Kievan Rus, the city has a colourful history and in the 13th century was almost destroyed by Mongol invaders, then later was ruled by Poland and Lithuania at different times before falling under the rule of Russia in the 18th century, now centred around St Petersburg.

As you might expect for a city with a history stretching back more than a thousand years, Kiev is home to some stunning monuments, including a wide array of churches and monasteries which testify to the deep religious sentiment of the country – the best being the complex at Lavra with its green and gold domes, and the 11th century Cathedral of St Sophia. There are also a number of good museums, impressive 18th and 19th century buildings and the imposing post-war architecture of the Kreschatyk Boulevard. Kiev easily has enough to keep the curious visitor occupied for days, and is a real pleasure to explore.

Day 7 - Chernobyl - Lviv

A full day excursion to Chernobyl. We explore the ghost town of Pripyat, left abandoned by its inhabitants after the nuclear disaster and a rather eerie reminder of the event. We also visit the area around the reactor, learning about the tragic events that took place here. Later return to Kiev and board the train to Lviv, arriving in the evening. (BL)

Please note that if you would prefer not to visit Chernobyl we can arrange an alternative excursion for you.

Chernobyl

The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, when in April 1986 parts of the reactor exploded sending radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. After a delay of 36 hours, the area surrounding the plant was evacuated although it took more than two weeks to completely extinguish the blaze, during which time a number of firemen were exposed to fatal doses of radiation. Initially, the Soviet authorities tried to keep the accident hidden from the rest of the world, until scientists in Sweden identified a radioactive cloud in the atmosphere, and the Ukrainian public were only notified some time after the event.

Visiting the site is safe – there are strict limits on how close you can approach the reactor and how long you can stay there, to ensure that you are not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Exploring Chernobyl is one of the more unusual experiences that Europe can offer – the area is frozen in time and offers a glimpse of the Soviet Union as well as an eerie apocalyptic landscape that reminds us of the potential risks of the nuclear age.

Days 8-9 - Lviv

Explore Lviv, one of Europe’s most attractive cities and another of Ukraine’s UNESCO listed sites. Today we explore its varied attractions including the old town with its Baroque church and Armenian Cathedral, the Opera House and the High Castle with superb views over the city. Overnight Hotel Reikartz or similar. (BD)

Lviv

A charming city packed full of exquisite architecture, Lviv has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site – not just parts of it, but the entire city, which gives you an idea of why many people consider this the highlight of their visit to Ukraine. Its beautiful buildings borrow styles from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque movements, and are numerous – of course one can find many churches and cathedrals but also striking theatres and opera houses, grand public parks, synagogues and palaces, many decorated in graceful pastel colours. The city was spared the worst excesses of the Second World War and as such is far better preserved than many in the region – a snapshot of the glory days of Ukraine a couple of centuries ago.

Day 10 - Carpathian Mountains

Drive to Verkhovyna in the Carpathian Mountains and home to the Hutsul people, Ukraine’s most traditional ethnic group. We take a short walk in the mountains, explore the village and visit a small museum to learn more about Hutsul culture. We spend tonight in a village guesthouse. (BD)

Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathian Mountains stretch across a wide part of Eastern Europe, encompassing parts of Romania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Serbia. Rich in wildlife they are home to some of Europe’s last remaining populations of large mammals, with bears, wolves and lynx to be found prowling through the forests. The birdlife here is equally spectacular, with raptors such as eagles a frequent sighting. This is one of the most pristine environments to be found on the continent and excellent walking country, with superb views to be had from every angle and the possibility of seeing wildlife adding further excitement.

Hutsul people

The Hutsuls are a mountain-dwelling people, known within Ukraine for adhering to their traditional customs and dress, which consists of red jackets and trousers or skirts – although not as prevalent as it once was, it’s not too difficult to find people in some of the more remote villages wearing it. They have their own dialect, very different from Ukrainian, and their culture is very much centred around the world in which they live, a world of mountains and forests where nature is far more dominant than modernity.

Day 11 - Chernivtsi

Drive to Chernivtsi, in the foothills of the Carpathians. We explore the diverse collection of monuments and buildings to be found here – this is a fascinating city with grandiose theatres, elegant churches and a rather different feel to the rest of the country. Overnight Georg Palace Hotel or similar. (B)

Chernivtsi

The town of Chernivtsi is the capital of the Bucovina region, a town imbued with many different ethnic influences from Russia to Romania to Poland. Dominated by spectacular architecture and with an attractive setting surrounded by mountains it is one of Ukraine’s more interesting towns and together with the city of Lviv, is seen as a cultural centre of Ukraine as well as a great focus for architecture and education.

Historically it has been dubbed ‘Little Vienna’ and ‘Jerusalem upon the Prut’. A mark of its status is that Chernivtsi is currently twinned with seven other cities around the world. Key sites to visit include the Armenian Church, the former residence of the Bukovinan and Dalmatian bishops and the Kobylyanska Theatre, all of which were constructed in the late 19th / early 20th century and rank among Ukraine’s most impressive buildings.

Day 12 - Chisinau

We bid farewell to Ukraine and drive to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BD)

Chisinau

Pretty Chisinau is characterised by tree-lined avenues, whitewashed buildings and imposing civic monuments and as the capital is the economic centre of Moldova. Founded in the 15th century it has been ruled by Russians and Ottomans, located at an awkward point between the two giant empires, and became the capital of the province of Bessarabia in the 19th century. It suffered much during the Second World War and much of what you will see has been rebuilt, on a typical Soviet grid system of streets. It contains one of the highest proportions of green spaces within any major European city, with many parks and lakes within its boundaries.

Day 13 - Chisinau - Cricova

Spend the morning exploring Chisinau, one of Europe’s greenest cities. We visit some of its key monuments including the St Teodora church, the Arch of Triumph and its collection of striking 19th century buildings. Just outside of the capital lie the vast wine cellars of Cricova, around 80 metres underground and consisting of tunnels that stretch for more than 120 kilometres. Explore this unusual site with opportunities for wine tasting at the end. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 14 - Orheiul Vechi

Visit the monastery complex of Orheiul Vechi, one of Moldova’s most important historic sites and dating back to the 13th century. Afterwards, we head to a nearby farm to enjoy some traditional Moldovan hospitality, with traditional food and wine. Return to Chisinau in the evening. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BL)

Orheiul Vechi

The Orheiul Vechi Monastery complex is carved into a cliff and dates back to the 13th century, although it has only recently come back into use after being abandoned in the 18th century. It contains a chapel and a sleeping area for monks, and the cliff-side is dotted with small caves and places of worship, dug over thousands of years by ancient Dacian tribes.

Day 15 - Transdniestr

Cross the border into the breakaway republic of Transdniestr, one of Europe’s oddest entities and something of a throwback to the days of the Soviets. We explore the ‘capital’ Tiraspol with its stark monuments and also visit the town of Tighina, once an important trading centre and with an impressive 16th century fortress to explore. Return to Chisinau for the evening. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BL)

Transdniestr

Transdniestr, or Transnistria, is a European oddity – a tiny breakaway state within Moldova between the River Dniestr and the Ukrainian border that is unrecognised by other nations but to all effects and purposes functions as a completely separate country, with its own government and army. Once part of the Soviet Union along with the rest of Moldova, when the Cold War ended, its population decided to declare independence, sparking a war with Moldova.

Things are peaceful now but the two states eye each other cautiously from across the border. Ethnically it has far more ties with Russia and you will hear Russian being spoken here – part of the basis for its claims of sovereign status is that while the rest of Moldova was ceded to Turkey following the Russo-Turkish conflicts of the 18th century, Transdniestr remained Russian, hence they cannot be considered to be the same country.

The capital Tiraspol is a rather odd but intriguing place where the Soviet Union doesn’t seem to have quite died and is fascinating to explore for an insight into what life was once like behind the Iron Curtain.

Day 16 - Chisinau

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Optional pre-tour extension to Kaliningrad

Day 1 - Kaliningrad

Arrive in Kaliningrad and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight tourist class hotel.

Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad is another of those oddities left over by the break up of the Soviet Union. Still a part of Russia, it is separated from the motherland and sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. Once the Prussian city of Konigsberg, it was founded on the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights and was ruled by various states and empires during its history.

Prior to World War Two the territory belonged to Germany, and was extensively bombed during that time – most Germans fled with the arrival of the Red Army and in 1945 it was reclaimed by Russia, who had ‘owned’ it in previous centuries. It was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 in honour of Mikhail Kalinin, one of Stalin’s Politburo. Kaliningrad is the only Russian Baltic Sea port that is ice-free all year round and hence plays an important role in maintenance of the Baltic Fleet.

Kaliningrad’s most famous citizen was the philosopher Immanuel Kant – his tomb is located in the cathedral, one of the main sights of the city. The city centre is particularly green and leafy, making it a pleasant place to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere of a place that is not quite Russian, but not quite European either. The prettier parts of the city are the German quarters, rather than the sometime drab architecture of the Soviet buildings.

Day 2 - Kaliningrad

Spend today exploring the city and learning about its history. Visit the Gothic cathedral, dating back to the 14th century and home to the tomb of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, as well as the old Stock Exchange on the banks of the river, the state theatre and the quiet and green streets of old Konigsberg. Overnight tourist class hotel. (B)


Day 3 - Curonian Spit

Travel out of the city to one of Europe’s most unique areas, the Curonian Spit. Explore this area of wooded sand dunes, now a national park and important for wildlife. We also visit the ‘Dancing Forest’, an unusual collection of pine trees that have grown in circles and spirals, and whose shape is a mystery. Return to Kaliningrad for the evening. Overnight tourist class hotel. (B)

Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is an outstanding example of a sand dune landscape and is under constant threat from natural forces (wind and tide). After disastrous human interventions that menaced its survival, the Spit was reclaimed by massive protection and stabilisation works begun in the 19th century and still continuing to the present day.

The Spit is a peninsula that separates the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon for 98 km from the Kaliningrad Peninsula to the town of Klaipeda. The Curonian Spit is home to the highest moving sand dunes in Europe, with an average height of 35 metres but sometimes reaching 60 metres. Several different ecosystems exist here, from its outer beaches to dune ridges, wetlands, meadows, and forests. Its location means it is frequently visited by migratory waterfowl. Between 10 and 20 million birds fly over the feature during spring and autumn migrations, and many pause to rest or breed there.

Day 4 - Svetlogorsk – Yantarny

Visit the town of Svetlogorsk, with tree-lined streets and pretty wooden houses. We explore the town including its 19th century water tower and Catholic church as well as the unusual Art Nouveau bathhouse. From here we continue to Yantarny, site of the world’s only amber mine, still in use, before returning to Kaliningrad. Overnight tourist class hotel. (B)


Day 5 - Kaliningrad

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Optional post-tour extension to Odessa

Day 1 - Odessa

Drive to Odessa, arriving in the afternoon. We then explore the city with its splendid examples of architecture including the 19th century Opera House, the Potemkin Stairs and the five domed Uspensky Cathedral, among other sites. Overnight Uno Design Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 2 - Odessa

A morning trip to the Odessa Catacombs, a series of underground tunnels created during the mining of material to build the city and with over 2,500km of caves. During the Second World War, they were used as a base for the partisan resistance against the Nazis. Free afternoon to explore at your leisure. Overnight Uno Design Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 3 - Odessa

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere. Please note that the single supplement does not include nights on the train or at the homestay in Disna.

  • Guides

    You will have different guides in the different countries that you visit, and the train journeys will be unaccompanied – the guides will assist you in getting on the trains.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most nationalities will require a visa to enter Belarus, but not for Ukraine or Moldova (providing you don’t stay more than 90 days). The Belarus visa will require an invitation and vouchers before you can apply – we can provide these for you.

Australian and New Zealanders will require a visa for Ukraine which needs to be obtained in advance. You cannot get a Ukraine visa on arrival via land. Contact your nearest embassy for the correct advice on how to apply.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

You should ensure that your passport has at least six months’ validity after the end date of your trip. We also strongly recommend that your passport has a minimum of two blank pages next to each other – on the rare occasion it may lead to problems with visas and immigration authorities if it does not.

If your flights involve a connection in Russia you must check with your airline whether you need a Russian visa. On the occasion travellers have been refused boarding for flights that connect in Russia, even if not entering Russia itself.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. However, there are no compulsory vaccinations needed to enter either country. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

It is a condition of entry into Belarus that you have medical insurance.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

All three countries have different currencies. In Belarus it is the Belarusian ruble, in Ukraine it is the hryvnia, and in Moldova it is the leu. We recommend taking either US dollars or Euros to exchange – these should be unmarked and with issue dates after 2006, otherwise they may be difficult to exchange.

Changing money is fairly simple – many hotels will offer this service and there are also banks and exchange bureaus in larger towns. Your guide will be able to advise of the best option. In the capital cities and larger towns there are also ATMs which accept foreign cards, although don’t count on these always working. Credit cards are not used as widely here as they are in other European countries, so you should only think of this as a back up rather than the main source of obtaining money.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any parts of Belarus, Ukraine or Moldova.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
06 June 2020
Price (PP) -
£2,675
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
12 September 2020
Price (PP) -
£2,675
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
05 June 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,725
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
11 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,725
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available