A creepy looking doll in kindergarten, in Chernobyl

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On a sunny day of July 2019 we went on a day trip to Chernobyl.

We went to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We visited several towns, including Chernobyl and Pripyat. We stopped at few monuments. And we also went up close to the Chernobyl reactor 4.

If you’re thinking of doing the same, here is my best tip for you – book your Chernobyl tour in advance. Don’t make the same mistake we made, assuming that it’s gonna be cheaper to do it in Kiev than it is online. It’s not. And it’s more expensive if you book the tour at the very last-minute.

What it’s like to visit Chernobyl in 2019? Can you visit Chernobyl? What are the best options and how much does a Chernobyl day trip costs? Can you visit Chernobyl without a guide? Do people live in Chernobyl? These are just some of the questions you’ll find answers to in this article.

If you simply want to see my photos from Chernobyl then scroll down.

DISCLAIMER: It’s only my opinion, that’s formed after a tour to Chernobyl, after what I’ve been told during the tour by our guide and an online research. Some facts might be wrong. If you think it’s dangerous to visit Chernobyl, don’t do it.

Remember – book your Chernobyl tour at least a few days or even weeks in advance. Or book your Chernobyl tour right now, if you have already booked a flight to Ukraine. So you don’t forget about it.

Chernobyl roadside sign
Entry sign in Chernobyl

Chernobyl: Basic Facts

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is a closed nuclear power plant in Ukraine, a 2-hour drive away from Kiev.

The place is widely known because of a single fact. On April 26, 1986, because of human error an explosion happened there, causing what’s now known as the biggest nuclear plant disaster in history.

The worst part about the accident – because of this explosion large quantities of radioactive materials were dispersed in the atmosphere and surrounding land. To put it simply, a huge area got extremely contaminated and very dangerous for all living creatures.

A corridor of an abandoned kindergarten
Inside an abandoned kindergarten – Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced forever.

Lives of hundreds of thousands changed forever. Many lost their lives.

Towns were completely abandoned. Whole villages were destroyed and buried during the cleanup. Forests were cut clear, wood was buried. Animals were killed to prevent the spread of radioactive materials.

32 years have passed.

A huge cleanup work has been done. Thousands of hundreds workers have been involved. And yet it’s still expected to take around 40 more years to finish the cleanup.

If you would like to learn more about Chernobyl, watch the TV series by HBO.

It’s not a documentary. But it does show what happened there.

What Is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

It’s an area of approximately 1,000 sq mi (2,600 km2) in Ukraine surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

The zone is split into three areas, depending on how high is the radiation level in every one of them.

There are people living in Chernobyl town. These are workers working in the area. Many spend around half of the month in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Chernobyl is the name of both the power plant and also of the town a 20-minute ride away.

The Chernobyl Power Plant is where the accident happened. People are working there nowadays, cleaning up the area. But no one is living there.

In Chernobyl town at the same time there are people living there. These are only workers working in the area, but they are actually living there, spending around half of the month in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

A grocery store (blue building) in Chernobyl town, Ukraine.
A grocery store in Chernobyl town, Ukraine

Chernobyl Travel Tips: How to Visit Chernobyl

Here are our tips on how to visit Chernobyl.

1. Can You Visit Chernobyl?

Can you visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone? Yes, you can.

It’s very easy to arrange a trip to Chernobyl yourself.

Step by step:

  1. Book a flight to Kiev;
  2. Book a hotel or hostel in Kiev;
  3. Book a Chernobyl tour online (a company we went with);
  4. Meet with the group at agreed time and place;
  5. Go on a trip.

Mostly Chernobyl day trips start at around 7-8 AM, and are around 10-12 hours long. In groups there are usually up to 20-30 people.

Mostly tours are available in English, Ukrainian and Russian.

2. What to Bring With You? How to Dress for Chernobyl?

Most importantly – don’t forget  your passport.

Speaking of clothing, the rules are very simple. You can’t go in shorts, flip flops and t-shirt.

Wear long pants, a long-sleeve and closed in shoes.

Car is being checked upon entering the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone check point

3. How Much Does a Trip to Chernobyl Cost?

If you’re going to join a group, it will cost you between 80 to 150 USD. For a regural day trip to Chernobyl.

But that’s not the only option. There are plenty of Chernobyl tours to choose from. You can go on a private tour to Chernobyl and there are also helicopter tours to Chernobyl. The latter will cost you starting from around 1000 USD (for 2 people). If you would like to see more of the area than most, go on a multi-day visit to Chernobyl.

It’s cheaper, if you are a local.

4. What Is the Best Time to Visit Chernobyl?

The best time is spring, summer and early autumn.

Spring is great time to visit Chernobyl, because everything’s blooming and it looks prettier than during the dark days of winter. And the forest hasn’t yet hidden all the abandoned buildings, meaning you can easily spot them.

Summer is great time because of very warm temperatures, blue sky and long hours of daylight. But expect more tourists around you. Also be prepared that it can be very hot on some days.

Go to Chernobyl in early autumn, if you would like to avoid the crowds.

People walking throug the bushes to Pripyat town in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
Walking around in the Pripyat town – The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

5. Can You Visit Chernobyl Without a Guide?

Legally – no.

You must join one of the tour companies organizing Chernobyl excursions.

Illegally – yes. Though, doing it completely on your own could be highly dangerous. That’s why those who are keen on exploring Chernobyl on their own, join stalkers.

6. Is Chernobyl Now Safe?

The town of Chernobyl is relatively safe nowadays.

Workers are living there.

But if we talk about the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as a whole it’s impossible to give a simple answer. First of all, it’s a very big area. Secondly, the radiation levels aren’t evenly spread. In fact, there are places near reactors that are much more safe than areas 10 and 20 miles away.

Right next to the reactor 4 the radiation level is only around twice as high as it is in the center of Kiev.

After the accident it was at least 1 million times higher.

Here is another opinion about safety in Chernobyl.

The town of Chernobyl is relatively safe nowadays.

Are Chernobyl tours safe?

If we believe tour agencies, who are taking people to Chernobyl, yes, they are completely safe.

Because tour guides know the area very well, and tourists are being taken only to safe areas of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. During our Chernobyl visit each one of us were given a personal dosimeter to track the level of radiation we were exposed to during the trip. In several places we had to pass a radiation level control.

7. How Busy Is It There Right Now?

Yes, you will definitely see other tourists there.

But it  doesn’t yet feel too busy. Far from that. At least not on a working day.

It’s a big area after all. During our visit we saw only some 5 or 6 other groups of tourists. Judging by the number of souvenir shops (2 small shops), it’s far away from being a crowded tourist hotspot.

A bus with workers inside
A bus with workers. Right next to the reactors

Our Chernobyl Day Trip (From Kiev)

Initially we weren’t thinking of visiting Chernobyl.

But as we were in Kiev and we had free time, it seemed like an opportunity not to waste. We did a research and booked an excursion.

We chose a group tour with company called Chernobyl Exclusive Tours. Would we go with the same company again? Yes.

Here is how it went.

At 7:30 we met in their office. About an hour later we boarded a van, and our tour started.

Around 30 miles / 48 kilometers before the power plant is the first check point.

Everyone gets off the car. Everyone’s given a personal dosimeter to track the level of radiation you’re exposed to during the trip.

First stop in the zone – Entry sign in Chernobyl.

Chernobyl roadside sign
Entry sign in Chernobyl

We have reached the town of Chernobyl. There is a shop and an ATM. Workers are living here.

Some of us buy water, soft drinks and snacks.

Inside a grocery store in Chernobyl town

There are also memorial signs for all villages that were destroyed after the events of 1986.

Memorial signs

A yellow car in Chernobyl

And not far from the town center – the Monument To Those Who Saved the World.

To people who worked to clean up the mess. To those who made it possible, that it didn’t get even worse, mostly by sacrifing their health and sometimes life. They didn’t have a choice. Most didn’t acknowledge the risks associated with working in the area.

A monument
The Monument To Those Who Saved the World

We turn off the big road and follow a narrow ex-military road.

6 mile / 10 kilometer zone check point. We are entering the dead zone. It’s expected that the area will stay uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years.

Next stop – Duga radar, a Soviet over-the-horizon radar system, once a top-secret place in the whole USSR.

Gates to Duga radar

Abandoned car near Duga radar

The Duga radar
The Duga radar is huge

The Duga radar system

Walking next to the Duga radar

Smoking is prohibited.

We aren’t allowed to wander into the trees.

We walk around the place. Take photos. Take in the enormousness of the radar system.

Our next stop is Kopachi, a village of once around 1000 inhabitants.

Inside the Kopachi kindergarten
Inside the Kopachi kindergarten

The whole village was destroyed. The only structure that’s left – a kindergarten.

We are only a couple of miles / kilometers away from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

A doll in Kopachi kindergarten
A doll in Kopachi kindergarten

A creepy looking doll in kindergarten, in Chernobyl

Going even closer to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Here we are allowed to stay outside only for a little while. But mainly because there isn’t much to see and we are on the road. Not because of radiation level.

Looking at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Looking at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

Now it’s time for a lunch.

We’re stopping at a canteen next to the power plant. The same place where all the workers are having their meals.

Upon entering the canteen building everyone must go through special gates, where the level of radiation is being checked.

A canteen near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
To my right is the canteen, in front of me – the hangar covering the reactor 4

Dining near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

A canteen in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

Lunch at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Our lunch

After the lunch we head even closer to the power plant. To the reactor 4.

This is the actual place of disaster.

Reactor 4 - Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Reactor 4 – Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

32 years ago a huge explosion happened here, causing what later turned out to be the biggest nuclear plant disaster in history.

Currently the Chernobyl reactor 4 is safely covered with a ‘hangar-like’ construction, completed at the end of 2018. It was built elsewhere, because construction right next to the reactor would be far too dangerous and difficult, and then pushed to the site. It’s currenlty the world’s largest movable land-based structure.

Highlight of the Day – A Visit to Pripyat Town

A road sign shortly before the town.

Pripyat road sign

At the time of explosion around 50 000 people lived in the town.

Before the town there is another check point.

At one point we leave the van and walk into the town.

Entering Pripyat

All of the trees you see has grown in the last 30 years. Right after the accident ALL trees were cut and destroyed.

It looks very much like a regular forest/bushes, right?

Well, that’s what I thought, too. Before I noticed that we actually have already entered the town some time ago. It’s just that the nature has taken over the town.

Walking in Pripyat felt a lot like wandering around in the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Trees in Pripyat
See? There is an apartment building.

Bushes in Pripyat

An apartment building in Pripyat

Inside the house in Pripyat

In Pripyat

A cafe in Pripyat

Pripyat sign

Before and after - Pripyat
Before and after – Pripyat

Pripyat river

Looking at Pripyat river

Hotel in Pripyat

Party posters in Pripyat

Party posters of USSR

A ferris wheel that has never been used…

Ferris wheel in Pripyat

Abandoned ferris wheel in Pripyat

A park was about to open in a couple of weeks.

Bumping cars in Pripyat park

Ferris wheel

Apartment buildings that had never been inhabited.

High rise apartment buildings in Pripyat

High rise apartment buildings in Pripyat, Chernobyl

In the distance you can see the Duga radar. It’s that big.

Duga radar in the distance
Duga radar in the distance

And the Reactor 4.

Reactor 4 in the distance
Reactor 4 in the distance
Trees growing in Pripyat
Nature taking over the town

A building in the forest

Reactor 4 as seen from Pripyat

On the roof

Ukraine Travel Tips

Europeans don’t need a visa. If you are a EU citizen, you don’t need a visa to visit Ukraine for up to 90 days within any 180 day period.

Getting around in Kiev is easy. And cheap. There are buses, trolleybuses, minibuses, metro, … and the ticket costs the same for all of them – 8 UAH. There is also Uber in Kiev.

Trains are better than buses. Both for traveling in Kiev and for intercity travel in Ukraine. Tickets for intercity trains can be booked online up to 45 days in advance.

Ukraine is a cheap country for tourists. Like Southeast Asia cheap.

Where to Stay in Kiev

VALUE FOR MONEY – Sunday Apart Hotel

Inexpensive and close to city center.

It’s an apartment hotel a short walk away from the main square – Maidan. Next to the hotel is a metro station. Most of Kiev’s tourist sights are in a walking distance.

Double room starts at 1100 UAH. Check prices and availability.

CHEAP – KashEmir

A cheap hostel outside the city center, where I have also stayed myself.

The hostel is a 10-minute walk away from the nearest metro station. From there you can easily get to the city center. Right next to the hostel there are cafes and super market. Airport bus stop is a 15-minute walk away.

Dorm bed starts at 100 UAH. Check prices and availability.

Should You Go? Is It Worth Visiting Chernobyl?

Yes, if you’re interested in these kind of places, in abandoned towns and buildings.

Yes, if you are interested in Soviet architecture.

Otherwise no.

Have you been to Chernobyl? Did you go on a day trip to Chernobyl? What was your experience?

Book Your Trip Like a PRO

1. Book Your Flight

Find cheap flights using Kiwi.com, Momondo.com. Or subscribe to Dollar Flight Club, if you don’t want to be searching for the flights yourself. Momondo usually is my first choice.

2. Book Your Accommodation

Booking.com, Agoda.com and Airbnb. I use Booking and Agoda at least a dozen times a year, and Airbnb – when looking for a long-term stay. My best tip is to ALWAYS compare the price. Sometimes the same hotel is cheaper on Booking.com, other times – on Agoda. Always compare the price!

3. Buy Your Travel Insurance

World Nomads and SafetyWings are two companies I can recommend. World Nomads offers some extra benefits, that will be important for those doing some higher risk activities, while SafetyWings is significantly cheaper. SafetyWings is only $9.25 / week.