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Grodno

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Grodno (Belarusian: Hrodna, Russian: Grodno) is a city in Belarus, on the Neman River, close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania (about 20 km and 30 km away respectively).

Understand

This is a very pleasant town, with a nice pedestrian area and central square worth a visit, but it may remind you more of western Europe than the former Soviet Union until you get out of the center. There are still some interesting remnants of the Soviet era which might be hard to find elsewhere, such as Lenin statues or some street names.

Get in

Visa free regime

You can get to Grodno and it's surrounding area including popular Augustow Channel without visa for up to 10 days. You have to use some of the local tourist agencies, from which you have to buy some tourist services, at least two per day. Also, you have to buy a travel insurance from the agency, no matter if you already have one. These tourist services include tickets to the castle, museum, ZOO or nightclub. Usually, the tourist agency will allow you to select one such tourist service and force you to buy a second one, which is not very useful and is their source of income. Overall, this should cost about 15€. If you want to stay for more than one day, you have to provide the tourist agency with the details of your accommodation, but staying more than one day is not necessary if you are just looking for a scent of the last dictatorship in Europe.

There are numerous tourist agencies, you can find their extensive list on the Visa Free Regime official website. Belarus Visa Free agency seems to be the most popular, providing the right papers as well as detailed information. However, you have to buy "Taxi ride in Grodno area" for 10€ if buying you visa free access with them.

By plane

On Fridays and Tuesdays, there are flights from Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad to Grodno at 9:10, and Grodno to Kaliningrad at 11:30. Flight duration is around 45 minutes.

By train

The train station at Grodno is where the change of car trucks (wheels and axles) takes place to accommodate different track gauges on east and west routes. It is a place of almost terrifying size, disorder and noise.

Carriages are uncoupled from the others and, in turn, lifted about ten feet as the trucks are changed. This is done without notice and while the operation takes place one has a good view of the acres of rusted, obsolete and unused equipment that litters the area.

Domestic trains from Minsk are daily, departing 4:22PM taking five hours, with several night trains.

There are several international trains from Russia, the one from Moscow is daily and for a 16 h journey. From Saint Petersburg there is up to three departures a week taking 22 h. During summer additional routes are added, Odessa (39 h) via Kiev, Simferopol (37.5 h) and Sochi (62 h). From Poland, you can take train in Białystok. There is two direct trains per day, at 06:50 AM and at 19:02 PM. A ticket is about 20 zlotys.

Cigarette smuggling is very common, and many people will be doing it.

By car

Roads are pretty good, you can easily get here from Minsk, BrestVilnius (Lithuania), Białystok, Warsaw (Poland).

Be aware of borders, and possible waiting in line (especially on the Polish border Kuznica-Bruzgi or, with usually smaller lines, Berestavitsa). Even if there are only a few cars waiting in the line, you might spend there considerable time due to their still surviving Soviet police attitude. To get your stamp, you have to be proactive and decently remind the policeman of your presence.

If coming by car from Poland or Lithuania, be sure to fill customs declaration, even on one day trip using the visa free regime. You can fill the declaration online and just bring a printed copy of it. When coming from Poland, do not use the motorway bypass of Grodno, as some motorway fee is required for this and there are reports of cops checking for these just after the beginning of the bypass neat the Polish border. You can pay the motorway fee at the first petrol station behind the border, but there is no need for it if you are going only to Grodno.

By bus

There are a lot of buses from Minsk (costs around 45,000 BYR for the express route, which takes 4 h) from Vostochnyj Station or from Druzhnaya Station (behind the main train station), few from Brest (the same price), few from Vilnius, one bus from Warsaw (departure around 10-11AM from Warszawa-Stadion station; a few buses from Moscow.

Get around

There are plenty of buses and trolley buses going around town. In the evenings though, they get down to travelling on the outskirts once an hour or two. A ticket for a trip costs 1300 BYR (US$0.20). Buy the tickets from kiosks near the bus stops. If you speak no Russian, just say "Talony," and hold up fingers to indicate how many.

When you get on the bus, find a grey metal device that they have near the windows, put your ticket in and clamp down on it with a little lever next to it. Then, it is validated and if a ticket controller comes in, you will get no fine.

Taxis are cheap and plentiful: taxi trips within the city cost about 50,000 BYR (about 3,60 €).

See

1 Kalozha Church (Sts. Boris and Gleb Church). A 12th-century Orthodox church, one of the few surviving monuments of the Old Rus period in the country.

2 St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. A fine Baroque basilica, once a church of a Jesuit monastery, now the city's Roman Catholic cathedral.

3 Old Hrodna Castle. The present appearance of this royal residence was mostly shaped in 16th century, when it was renovated in Renaissance fashion for King Stephen Bathory. Only a few elements of the previous Gothic castle survive.

4 Fire Tower. The old Fire Tower built at the end of 19th century. Every day at midday a trumpeter dressed in historic costume goes 120 stairs up and plays a tune on the top of the tower. Interestingly, a fresco on the tower has a lady with the face of Mona Lisa.

5 Hrodna Zoo. Hrodna Zoo is next to the railway station. It was the first Belarusian Zoo, opened in 1927. There are over 300 kinds of animals in the Zoo nowadays: predators, small predators, hoofed animals, birds and a terrarium. Total area is 5.35 ha.

6 Great Synagogue.

Do

  • Bike. The relatively flat and beautiful landscape around Grodno present a good place to bike. When planning your biking trip, use OpenStreetMaps based app, such as mapy.cz, as these seem to have the best coverage.

Buy

Booze (especially vodka), cigarettes and petrol are the most popular articles to buy among tourist from the west. These are much cheaper than Poland or Lithuania due to the small excise duty. Also other articles are cheaper, but not that remarkably. You can find numerous large wester style shopping malls in Grodno and surrounding area. When buying petrol, there is no need to look for the best price, as these are the same at all petrol stations. Also, you have to bay for you petrol before fueling. If you tank got full before you could spend all the money paid in advance, go back to the petrol station and ask them to get your money back. No language skills need for this, as the petrol station staff will understand what you want.

Be sure not to exceed the import duty. From outside EU (Belarus), you can import only 10 packages of cigarettes, 1 liter of booze and only the petrol that fits into your car tank, no canisters allowed. Of course, you can bring more if you are willing to fill the declarations form and pay some tax. You can see a lot of people smuggling excess amounts of these articles, but this can not be recommended, as the border controls are sometimes quite through.

1 Rynok Korona (Рынок Корона), ulitsa Maksima Gorkogo 91. A huge supermarket in Wallmart style, conveniently located on the way to Lithuania

Eat

Budget

  • 1 Bolshoy Bufet (Big Buffet), Sovetskaya ulitca 18 (On fourth floor off a mall building, on the city main boulevard), ☎ +375(152)77-17-80. 12ː00-23ː00. A popular self-catering restaurant offering European and Belarusian food. Be sure to put the right food on the right plate - watch the other people and do the same.

Mid-range

  • Retro Pizza, 31 Sovetskaya St (Follow the long pedestrian street down from the main square. Near Lenin Square). Good pizzas here. The menu is only in Russian, but some staff speak English, and some dishes (not the pizzas) have pictures to point to.
  • Pizza Kofe, 15 Kirova St, ☎ +375 15 272 2229. Good pizza and poor coffee. 65 000 BYR for medium pizza and 85 000 BYR for big one.

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

A good way to find cheap accommodation is to rent an apartment for a short period. You can find ads in newspaper Iz ruk v ruki or on this website (in Russian)

Budget

Mid-range

  • Hotel ** Semashko, 10, Antonov str. (100 metres up from the bus station). Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. The hotel is very nice, right up to "western" standards. It has air conditioning, and everything is clean and modern. There is a pool in the hotel. The location is very convenient: when you get off the bus, look for where there is lots of traffic, walk up there and cross the road: that is Semashko, about 100 m up. Some of the service was a little bit less than ideal, but nothing is out of the ordinary in this part of the world. About US$83 for a 'superior room'.
  • Neman *** Hotel, 8, Stefana Batoria Str. (Sovetskaya Sq.) (in the heart of the city), ☎ +375 152 79 17 00. The modern hotel has 69 fully equipped rooms: conditioning, 32-inch LCD TV-set and cable TV, modern furniture, orthopedic bed, telephone, bathroom with shower/bathtub, additional black-out curtains, hair-drier, refrigerator, kettle, mini-bar. There are also Wi-Fi and secure parking, restaurant "Neman" and pub. Hotel proposes weekend discounts for staying on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Daily rates: Standard single room - from US$52/€43, Standard double/twin room - from US$75/€58. Breakfast is included in the room rate.
  • Slavia *** Hotel, 1, Molodyezhnaya Str. (close to Sovetskaya Sq.), ☎ +375 152 77 35 35. Mini hotel has 22 comfortable rooms: individual conditioning, LCD TV, telephone, bathroom, mini-bar. Other services: Wi-Fi, secure parking, cafe, in-room dining. Hotel offers 10% discounts for staying on week-end. Rates by request, breakfast included.
  • Tourist *** Hotel, 63, Yanki Kupaly Pr. (behind the Neman river), ☎ +375 0152 56 99 48. 152 of comfortable rooms are well-appointed with TV, telephone, bathroom; classic interiors. Hotel services: High Speed Internet Access, restaurant "Tourist" with European and national cuisine, express-cafe, dental office, solarium, massage room, currency exchange office, hairdresser and a business center.

Splurge

  • Kronon Park ***** Hotel, woodland Pyshki, ☎ +375 152 73 98 00, e-mail: info@kronon.by. All rooms are equipped with telephone, mini-bar, personal safe, LCD/plasma TV, hair-drier,fluffy bathrobe and slippers. High speed Internet access in the lobby. Standard room is from US$135/€103. The price includes breakfast, VAT and all fees. Swimming pool and sauna are free of charge.

Connect

EU citizens be careful, as the free roaming area ends here and instead begins an area with extremely expensive roaming, so it might be better to switch off you mobile connection if you are not planning to buy a local SIM card.

Some restaurants feature free WiFi, but this is not as common as in the EU.

Stay safe

Grodno is a safe city, resembling its Polish counterparts much more than you would probably expect.

Cope

  • 1 Polish Consulate General in Grodno, Budionnego 48A (Near the Railway station), ☎ +375 152 751 590, e-mail: grodno.kg.sekretariat@msz.gov.pl. Mo-Fri 8ː30-16ː30. They might be able to help you if you are an EU citizen and something horrible happens, such as your car dies during a visa-free trip.

Go next

  • Belarus side of Augustow Channel. 30 km away from Grodno, near the Sapotskin village and near the Polish border, you can visit the still functional Augustow Channel, with interesting drawbridges and sailing chambers. In summer, this place gets quite lively, and you can even get here by boat from Poland. From Grodno, you can get here by bike or car.

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