A city on the western edge of Belarus
on the River Bug, which forms the border with Poland
(and thus at the same time the border between the European Union and the CIS states). It is an important dark-tourism destination because it is home to the stunning Brest Fortress
– one of the most significant and most visually dramatic WWII
memorials of the former Soviet Union
More background info:
Brest had been part of Poland
until the Soviet Union
occupied parts of eastern Poland, coinciding with Nazi Germany
's invasion of western Poland in September 1939, which marked the beginning of WWII
. This change of hands was thus in line with the Molotov-Ribbentrop-Pact
Then, in the summer of 1941, the Fortress of Brest
was one of the earliest targets when Germany launched its attack on the Soviet Union ("Operation Barbarossa"). Brest Fortress was held for several days, but in the end almost all the defenders perished. Under Nazi
occupation the formerly significant Jewish population of Brest suffered horrifically in the Holocaust
, especially in October 1942 when most inhabitants of the "liquidated" Brest ghetto were executed.
, Brest remained within the Soviet Union
's Belorussian SSR, as part of the agreements reached at the Yalta
conference regarding the future fate of Poland
and the lands acquired by the Soviet Union through the Molotov-Ribbentrop-Pact. As in other such cases, Polish protests against this came to nothing.
Today Brest is the westernmost city of independent Belarus
and probably the most important border-crossing point between the country and the EU, as it is also on the main train line between Moscow
and beyond into the West.
Note: when researching your travel options make sure not to get this Brest confused with the city of the same name in Brittany, France
. Even on the Trip Advisor pages for the Belarusian Brest you get sights listed with French names whose reviewers must clearly have fallen into that trap.
What there is to see:
Let's be honest: for the vast majority of tourists the Fortress
is the only reason for coming here. It is Brest's No. 1 sight by a huge margin.
It was in fact once part of a whole system of fortifications, but most of the others are now abandoned, derelict and overgrown – with the exception of the 5th Fort
, which is also partially commodified for tourist visits. These two places are thus given their own separate chapters here:
In addition to these, Brest has very little to offer. It's a small and very provincial little place, though not unpleasant. Recent efforts have turned the main pedestrianized Sovietskaya Street into the main focus for visitors and local life alike.
To liven things up further, several bronze sculptures have been dotted around the town, including some with even a certain darkish appeal in so much as they involve quite horror-film compatible renditions of vicious bats. Others are more harmless, and some downright bizarre. The best known such sculpture is the “lucky boot” on Sovietskaya Street. Here you can put your foot in (literally) and have your photo taken. It's the done thing here, believe me. It's supposed to bring good luck too, not just a stupid selfie ...
People with a special interest not only in the former USSR
but also in trains can find a railway museum
just east of the entrance to the Brest Fortress complex (and NOT by the train station!) that features Soviet-era steam trains brandishing big bright red Soviet stars and various other engines and carriages. Possibly a trainspotter's delight, but I gave it a miss – beyond just a brief peek over the fence …
Possibly the most typical Soviet relic in Brest is its surviving Lenin statue
on (no surprise!) Lenin
Square in the middle of Lenin Street, which runs parallel to Sovietskaya three blocks to the west.
Another Soviet-themed monument is locally referred to as the Millennium Monument. It sits on the intersection of Sovietskaya and Gogolia Streets and features some pretty cool bas-reliefs of Soviet scenes including (but of course!) cosmonauts in mid-spacewalk and other such glories.
The very biggest and indeed quite impressive public edifice from the Soviet times in Brest is its main train station
. And since most people will probably get to Brest by train, it's a sight that is thrown in automatically anyway, as it were. The building is indeed very grand in that typical show-off Stalinist
style. You can spot various Soviet
symbols like five-pointed stars and hammer-and-sickle emblems and the central hall is certainly something to behold too.
All in all
, Brest's centre offers enough for a little stroll around, but at the end of a day they're just minor additions to the main thing, the Fortress
a good 200 miles (330 km) west of the Berlarusian
, but only just across the border from the small town of Terespol in Poland
, ca. 110 miles (170 km) east of Warsaw
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: relatively easy to get to by train, quite cheap.
By far the best and easiest way of getting to Brest is by train from Belarus
's capital city Minsk
. There are regular connections, both on international long-distance trains as well as various regional ones that terminate at Brest. Fares are quite reasonable, at least in regular seating (international sleepers cost more, and the extra perks are quite unnecessary for such a short journey, so better avoid these).
When coming in from the west via Poland
, then of course you have to be on an international train, e.g. from Warsaw
or even further away – there are trains going all the way from Paris
, for instance.
Since Brest Fortress alone takes almost a whole day to see you will need accommodation in Brest. There is one modestly upscale hotel that seems to be favoured by international guests, even though it is by far the most expensive option (with rates well above the 100EUR mark), namely the Hermitage Hotel just east of the 1st of May park. I made do with a somewhat cheaper place that is located very conveniently just south of the rail tracks a short walk across a bridge from the main train station. It's called Molodezhnaya and prices start at a much lower level, but for just a little extra you can get very comfortable rooms here too. There are various other hotels in that category as well as private holiday apartments. There's a surprisingly wide range, in fact, mostly at pretty good prices.
Options for food & drink
are rather limited in Brest, in contrast. There are several eateries along Sovietskaya Street where you can grab a pizza or so. For something a bit better there's the one rather more upscale restaurant called “Jules Verne” on Gogolia Street just two blocks west from the Millennium Monument. Nominally it features even an Indian menu, which I would have welcomed as a refreshing change after a good week of stodgy Eastern European fare when I was there in the summer of 2016. But on that day the Indian chef was on leave, so we were stuck with the traditional options yet again. They were quite good, though.
Getting around within Brest is possible on foot. It's not such a big place, and if you don't mind a bit of a hike, then even all the way out to the fortress can be done on foot too. Alternatively get a taxi – they're quite cheap, but drivers usually won't speak English, so if you don't know any (Bela)Russian then it might be tricky to negotiate a price.
you'll need the best part of a whole day for the Fortress
alone, plus the trip to the 5th Fort
for an hour's or so poking around there, but the rest of Brest won't warrant a much longer stay. So you should arrange a two-night stay and then move on.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Since Brest is on the main East-West rail line through Belarus
, it's fairly easy to get to the capital city Minsk
from here … or the other way round, as the case may be – as it was in mine, when I first went to Minsk and then afterwards slotted in Brest en route west to Poland
is only a few hours away from Brest by train. But note that the train station is also the Belarusian border-crossing checkpoint, so you have to go through passport control and all that before you can board any international trains heading west, and once the train has rolled across the border bridge towards Terespol, the Polish border security staff will board the train for their turn of checks (and given that this is the eastern outer EU border, they are thorough!). All this makes the short journey much more time consuming than it would otherwise have to be.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: As has already been pointed out, Brest really isn't a touristy place at all, but that doesn't mean it's unwelcoming. There's just not a lot else to do and see other than the main attraction (the Fortress).
The main drag for locals and visitors alike is Sovietskaya Street, a fairly pretty, mostly pedestrianized row of refurbished little houses with restaurants, shops and some entertainment establishments, such as a large cinema called Belarus (which is prettily lit up at night by thousands of little moving LED lights – in that style that has become so popular in Eastern countries especially). A peculiarity of Brest is that at dusk, old-fashioned oil-fuelled street lamps are still lit by hand by a person in traditional garb.
Outside Sovietskaya, the streets are less attractive, though you can find the odd beauty spot too, such as the picturesque traditional Orthodox onion-domed church just off the northern (non-pedestrianized) section of Sovietskaya Street, on the corner of Mitskevicha Street. There are a few further churches around the town, but this one is possibly the prettiest.
The rest of the architecture of Brest is a mix of old wooden single-storey houses, some low stone houses, and then Soviet-era blocks of flats and more modern residential developments that are all pretty soulless and same-y. Just to the west of the centre is a small park (called 1st of May). And that's about it.
- Brest 1 - grand train station
- Brest 2 - Soviet star
- Brest 3 - typical church
- Brest 4 - more modern architecture
- Brest 5 - street art
- Brest 6 - boot sculpture - you can put your foot in
- Brest 7 - Soviet cosmonauts celebrated
- Brest 8 - Soviet trains too
- Brest 9 - modernity in Belarusian colours