I have always wanted to do a Chernobyl tour, so when I was travelling through the east of Europe I took the opportunity. It is an incredibly unique and unusual place to visit. There is a mix of fascination and morbid curiosity when undertaking a Chernobyl tour from Kiev, at least that’s how it was for me.
With the new Chernobyl HBO miniseries, I am sure people’s curiosity in the area and history of Chernobyl will increase. While all the information is fresh in my mind, I thought it would be a good idea to give people all the information people need to plan their very own cheap Chernobyl tour. I hope to give you all the information I can regarding Chernobyl tour prices, Chernobyl safety and a brief look at the events and aftermath of what occurred there.
Chernobyl tours and all you need to know
Where is Chernobyl?
The Chernobyl exclusion zone is located two hours’ north of Kiev. Your Chernobyl tour will take you through the exclusion zone to the plant itself. The exclusion zones are separated into two areas. There is the 10km zone in which people are not permitted to live and an additional 20km zone which acts as a buffer.
The larger 20km zone was created to account for forest fires, storms etc which may unsettle and move contaminated materials. The 10km zone contains the plant and the most contaminated materials from Chernobyl.
During your Chernobyl tour, you will visit sites in each location. This includes the town of Chernobyl in which people still live, Pripyat, the abandoned town. Different reactor zones and several other areas such as the Chernobyl playground and orphanage.
What happened in Chernobyl?
On 26th of April 1986 reactor no.4 in the Chernobyl plant overheated due to human error and design flaws within the plant. The meltdown resulted in the collapse of the reactor four. Following this, a huge fire and strong winds spread contaminated material across the Ukraine and Belarus and further into western Europe and around the globe.
The slow reaction of Soviet leaders meant that the world did not discover the disaster until a few days later.
In the meantime, soldiers and fireman were tasked with cleaning up the disaster zone. Some 34 people died from the initial incident, but it is believed the total number affected by the clean-up operations number in the thousands.
Chernobyl and the surrounding areas became the most contaminated zones in the world. These will remain unfit for human habitation for at least a couple of thousand years.
In April 2019 a final dome was placed over the reactor. It is hoped this will contain the spread of material for the next few hundred years as the plant is clean of all radioactive materials.
How much do Chernobyl tours cost?
The price of one-day Chernobyl tour ranges from €90 to €150. The difference in price depends on the time of booking and the number of visitors on certain days. I paid €91 but had to wait 3 days otherwise I would have had to pay more.
The price quoted is for the basic single day tour.
Alternative tours include multiday visits and night-time visits. I would guess you will have more time in each location for photographs and you will learn more about the site. But for me one day was enough, I really can’t see a major reason to stay longer.
The one-day Chernobyl tour was enough for me. For those who are very interested in photography or who like to travel at a slower pace then the night and multiday visits to Chernobyl would be worth the extra cost.
When should I do a Chernobyl tour?
The Chernobyl tours take place year-round and can be arranged at any time. Only during adverse weather conditions such as during a forest fire are tours suspended. As I travelled in May the weather was very good, dry and hot. However, our guide said winter is his favourite time to do tours.
This is because the trees and bushes do not obstruct your view. You will get a better view of the abandoned buildings and the starkness of the impact of Chernobyl on the town of Pripyat and surrounding areas.
Also, with the reduced number of tourists, it is possible to view other areas and stay longer at different locations.
As we were a small group though I did not notice the impact of the other groups.
So, when to do a Chernobyl tour all depends on your personal preference, I for one am not a fan of the cold.
May to September would have the best weather in Ukraine but with a reduced view. Winter months may be cold for some people, but you will have better views and an appreciation of the scale of the disaster.
How do I book a Chernobyl tour?
Chernobyl tours from kiev can be booked online in advance of your arrival. If you are not in a rush you can do it through your accommodation or by seeking out a tour company in Kiev.
Booking online in advance will allow you to save money and chose days that suit your trip. This is ideal for those on a tight schedule. Aim to book at least 5 days in advance in order to get the best deal.
Here are a few sites you can use Soviet wonders, Chernobyl tours, and Chernoblywel. As you can see the prices are very similar and many companies offer different tours such as gun shooting or Soviet base tours.
Booking through your accommodation may allow you to avail of partnerships between the companies. This was the case with my hostel and Soviet wonders. I received a slightly reduce price and could pay through my reception which was great and saved me a bit of time.
This is perfect for those who are not in a rush and have days to spare. As there is quite a bit to do in Kiev also.
Finally walking around Kiev, you are sure to find several tour operators.
Chernobyl tour safety
Once you stick to the rules set aside by your guides, Chernobyl is perfectly safe. Most of the public spaces were decontaminated after the incident including the roads and buildings of Pripyat. Although they contain trace levels of radiation it is not enough to make you sick.
There are also several checkpoints, radiation stations and instruments used by staff throughout the site to check the level of radiation from your visit. So don’t worry you won’t start to glow in the dark.
Most of the potential danger from your Chernobyl tour will come in the form of the buildings you enter. They are old, collapsing and waterlogged so should you enter just watch your step. A rusty radioactive nail is not something you want to be standing on.
But the guides know where to take you and where is safe so your Chernobyl tour safety is always paramount.
My thoughts on the Chernobyl tour
I think any visitor to Kiev should take some time to visit Chernobyl. There is nowhere else like it in the world and it will continue to have a huge impact on Ukraine and the world in a larger sense for many years to come.
Learning about the history of the plant and its effect on the USSR is also incredible. It also gives you a feel of how life was in the former Soviet Union. It is hard to find somewhere so unique and preserved by history.
For those with no interest in history, the crumbling buildings and lack of human disturbance on the area provide for some great photography sessions so there is always that.
In summary, a totally unique time capsule of the Soviet Union it was something I enjoyed.
Things to see and do in Kiev
While my focus for visiting Kiev was to do a Chernobyl tour, I also had the opportunity to visit some other sites around the city that are definitely worth checking out.
- The Iron Maiden and military museums: One of the most prominent sites in the city is the huge iron maiden statue which overlooks Kiev. Built during the Soviet period the shield still bears the hammer and sickle Sigle. There are also quite a few museums dedicated to Ukraine’s armed forces ranging from WW1 to recent day conflicts with Russia.
- Taste some Borsch: A staple dish in this part of Europe borsch soup can come in green and red. The red is more popular and arguably tastier. Most local restaurants will have it on the menu.
- Go to a rave: Something I was disappointed about not experiencing was the nightlife in Kiev, both the weather and trepidation about going solo meant I missed the underground scene which is prevalent in the city. I will return to discover the rave scene another time
- Maidan Nezalezhnosti: Home to some of the grandest buildings in Kiev and the central location for the 2014 revolution. Independence square is a great place to walk around during the day or night. You can learn about the revolution from several plaques that adorn the steps of the square.
- St. Michael church: Probably the most beautifully decorated orthodox church I have come across; the church is just a short walk from independence square and worth a visit. The fluorescent blue exterior and beautifully crafted interior are amazing and great for those interested in photography or art.
Where should I stay in Kiev?
Kiev is a strange place when it comes to hostels. I stayed in a few and while some were ok, many probably shouldn’t be classed as hostels.
There are quite a few with long term residents who I guess find the hotels cheaper. This makes interacting with guests quite difficult. But if you are happy to do thigs solo for a few days then here are a few suggestions.
- Z-hostel: This is definitely a long term kind of place all the guest were Russian and/or Ukrainian so I had zero interactions with anyone during my stay. It is located very close to the central train station which meant jumping on the metro and trains throughout Ukraine was quite easy.
- Kiev central station hostel: This is not actually located close to the central station; however, it is a very nice backpacker hostel with good vibes and cool people whom you can go exploring the city with. I enjoyed my stay here and they have some special deals for soviet tours and Chernobyl tours.
- Dream hostel: I didn’t stay here, although I know a few who did. It is part of a chain so definitely loses some of its characters. People I know who stayed there enjoyed their time and found people to go exploring with so that’s the most important things.
If you can I would suggest reading the reviews of each place to decide where to stay. There are quite a few horror stories, none of which I had thankfully.