How To Visit Chernobyl: The Ultimate Travel Guide

By 7 December 2021 No Comments

Whether you want an eerie glimpse into the end of the world or an old town frozen in time, or simply intrigued by the recent HBO show of the same name, visiting Chernobyl is a unique experience that attracts thousands of curious travellers and dark tourists from around the globe. Read on to know what to expect when planning your visit to Chernobyl.

What is Chernobyl?

can you go to chernobyl-pripyat-ukraine

If you’re like me who’s curious about places of grief and tragedy, aka dark tourism, or into history and science, you’d have probably heard of the Chernobyl Disaster. 

For those who don’t, Chernobyl is the name of the nuclear power plant that exploded near the town of Pripyat in Ukraine, which was then a part of the USSR. 

If you’ve Chernobyl but don’t remember the facts, here’s a gist of what happened:

On 26 April 1986, while conducting tests into the nuclear reactors, the nuclear core melted down and exploded, causing what would be the worst nuclear accident in history. 

Harmful radioactive materials were ejected into the air, and it directly cost the lives of more than 100 people plus tens of thousands more who died from various causes in the coming decades due to the effect of radiation. Imagine the horror and chaos when 68,000 people were evacuated immediately from their homes surrounding Chernobyl and Pripyat City.

The amount of damage, the decontamination, and assistance given to affected people cost USSR USD 68 billion in today’s money. 

Since then, experts have established an exclusion zone of 2600 km2 around the plant because it was harmful to humans. Scientists have aptly named it the zone of alienation. The radiation is said to remain there for thousands of years to come.

What is Chernobyl like right now?

Chernobyl and Pripyat stand like ghost towns nowadays, filled with abandoned buildings, schools, playgrounds, and the iconic amusement park with the infamous Ferris Wheel you so often see in blogs and Instagram posts about Chernobyl.

I can’t help but feel goosebumps thinking about walking through the abandoned villages still filled with 1980’s stuff. It looked like it was straight out of an apocalypse movie. 

Clothes, furniture, and other personal belongings are all strewn in the abandoned city – all of which are radioactive. The residents were given a few hours to take what they can during the evacuation.

The town and surrounding areas are frozen in time, of what the 1986 Soviet Union would look like back in the day. Communist propaganda still decorated the walls, USSR flags hung from the posts, and the clocks froze at 11:55, the time when the electricity went off. 

You can imagine the haste with which they abandoned their belongings with the toys of children abandoned in their rooms or the strewn schoolwork in the old kindergarten. Cars were everywhere too, left behind because of the amount of radiation they had been exposed to. Many of the things left on Chernobyl have absorbed different levels of radiation. 

This truly sounds dangerous. If there’s still radiation in the area, can you go to Chernobyl today?

Is it safe to visit Chernobyl now?

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Chernobyl has been open for tourism since 2011. While radiation still exists in the exclusion zone today, tour guides say that it’s not of the harmful doses as it was before. 

We are exposed to low doses of radiation when we travel on planes for long periods of time or when we undergo X-rays. Similarly, during day tours to the exclusion zone, you’ll only get exposed to tiny amounts of radiation. 

1000 local residents have returned and considered the exclusion zone their home for several years now.

The explosion site’s most hazardous areas, which are immediately around, were initially surrounded by a concrete sarcophagus to contain any more radiation leaks. But because the concrete sarcophagus was never meant to be permanent, they replaced it with the more durable steel encasement in 2016, which promised more permanent protection from radiation leaks. Workers only do their jobs for a short period of time to lessen their exposure.

Also, travellers are required to go through radiation checkpoints after the tour. We were given Geiger counters that measure radiation. A lethal dose of radiation is usually between 300 to 500 Roentgens per hour. 

During the tour, the usual level of radiation you get ranges from 15 to several hundreds of MICRO-Roentgens per hour. The tours are scheduled so that you’ll not be exposed to radiation for a long time.

When visiting Chernobyl, it’s also a must to have a licensed tour guide. Chernobyl tours safety is the government’s priority when it comes to visiting Chernobyl. A knowledgeable tour guide will know the safe places to go to, what not to touch. Plus, you’ll get the added benefit of an insider story regarding the Chernobyl Disaster. 

How can you go to Chernobyl?

There are no direct Chernobyl flights. Chernobyl is 110 km from Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, where the tours usually start. 

To get to Kiev, fly to Boryspil International Airport. Many major cities in Europe fly directly to this airport. From Kiev to Chernobyl is about 2 hours drive.

Trips to Chernobyl are only possible through a guided tour. To enter Chernobyl, Pripyat and other areas that are part of the 30 kilometres exclusion zone, you’ll need a pass that you’ll get from joining a tour. There’s no way to enter the exclusion tour without a guide. 

How much do Chernobyl tours cost?

From Kiev to Chernobyl, the Chernobyl tours cost between USD 100 to USD 500 per person. This depends on the kind of tour you opt for. 

Tour agencies offer scheduled day tours, 1-2 days tours and private tours. Some have even added HBO Chernobyl series set tours. 

A day tour from Kiev to Chernobyl and Pripyat town is usually USD 110. Check Tripadvisor for available trips.

Personally, the 1-day tour is enough to explore Chernobyl. You’ll be able to visit the highlights of the tour and have enough time to take photos.

Chernobyl Tour Agencies and Packages

The only way to get from Kiev to Chernobyl is by booking a tour through one of these agencies, which follow standard guidelines for Chernobyl tours safety. 

When booking for your tour, it’s advisable to apply for a permit at least 10 days before your planned visit, although some tour agencies can offer faster approval. 

Your fee usually includes food, but you should check this with your agency. Otherwise, bring snacks and bottled water.

Chernobyl trips are usually offered in 1-day tours or 2 to 3-day tours. 1-day tours typically start at 7:30 am and end between 7 to 9 pm. 4 hours of the tour is spent travelling from Kiev to Chernobyl. The 1-day pass already allows you to see so much of Chernobyl and Pripyat. 

For multi-day tours, you’ll have the option to stay for the night at selected hotels right on Chernobyl, where you’ll follow strict rules and regulations. 

Private tours are great for those who want flexibility in their tours. Chernobyl is a photography haven, so you might want to get private tours if you’re into that.

Chernobyl Tours Safety

Going to Chernobyl can be dangerous. However, safety guidelines must be followed by all travellers. Chernobyl is still radioactive to this day, but the levels are on the safe levels.

You’ll be given a device that checks the amount of radiation in your body. The dangerous level is at 300-500 roentgen, while the usual radiation you’ll be exposed to can be as little as 15 microroentgens. In my case, it was only about 50 microroentgens.

Having said that, there are many places in Chernobyl and the surrounding area that have a high concentration of radiation. You’ll constantly hear your tour guide say avoid the forest or any vegetation that may have trapped the radioactive particles. Cars and other exposed structures are also high on radiation, like the famous Ferris Wheel in the amusement park. 

In addition to the radiation hazard, most of the buildings have withered away and are unstable. Tours have stopped going inside many buildings because of the threat of collapse. There are also many broken glasses and sharp objects strewn everywhere. 

So when touring Chernobyl, make sure to listen to your guide at all times.

What you’ll see when you visit Chernobyl

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1. Dytiatky

All tours pass through Dytiatky police and the dosimeter/ Geiger counter checkpoint. This is where you’ll have your briefing about the Exclusion Area. Here, they’ll talk about the problems in Chernobyl and the projects they are making to move forward from the disaster. This usually lasts about 30 minutes.

2. Chernobyl

After passing through the checkpoint, next is to visit Chernobyl. You’ll be taken to the 10-kilometre exclusion zone, which includes going through Chernobyl Town then to the Memorial of The Man Who Saved The World. 

Then, your guide will take you to the Chernobyl Reactor 4, where you’ll see the reactor sarcophagus and a model of the damaged reactor. 

Next is a visit to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, where you’ll have a chance to take photos from a shelter outside. Special tours offer visits to the inside of the power plant to see the main control rooms.

3. Duga Radar: The Rusian Woodpecker

Duga Radar, also known as the Russian Woodpecker, is a giant structure made of metal posts and cables within Chernobyl that used to be an over the horizon radar or OTH, which was part of a missile defence system of the USSR from 1976 to 1989. This particular radar in Chernobyl was used to spy on the USA before the accident.

4. Kopachi

Kopachi used to be a bustling village near Chernobyl before the disaster of 1986. Now, the village is almost buried in dirt after it was demolished. It was so heavily contaminated that the people had to be evacuated quickly. Then, the whole village was torn down, leaving only the rundown kindergarten and the war memorial standing today. There are plenty of radioactive hotspots in the kindergarten that are a bit higher than in other areas in Chernobyl.

The kindergarten in Kopachi is filled with toys, kids shoes, school work, books, small beds and many others. Never touch anything in the Kindergarten as they are contaminated. 

5. Pripyat

Pripyat was a city built for the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Then its heyday, the city was home to 49,000 people, primarily young men who worked for the plant in its heyday. It had one hospital and one school.

One of the most iconic stops you’ll see when you visit Chernobyl is the Ferris Wheel in the Pripyat Amusement Park. The Ferris Wheel was never used, and it stood as a witness to the Chernobyl Disaster.

The Chernobyl tours cost also includes a visit to the Pripyat Stadium, the Swimming Pool, and the Polissya Hotel.

6. Palace of Culture in Pripyat

The Palace of Culture in Pripyat is a big centre that used to house cinemas, restaurants, dancing halls, and other spaces for social activities. But just like many other abandoned buildings in Chernobyl, the Palace of Culture is in ruins, filled with objects left behind by their owners in a hurry to save themselves.

7. Visit a resettler

Chernobyl tours also include a visit to the only self-settler Rozaliya Ivaniva in the village of Zalissya. The village is filled with decaying structures. Rozaliya is one of the 1000 residents who’ve returned to the exclusion zone. It’s possible to meet with them and talk about their experiences living on the site.

8. Lunch or Dinner at Chernobyl Canteen

The tours usually offer lunch or dinner at the Chernobyl State Canteen. Eating there is guaranteed safe. Their ecologically safe food is made outside of the zone. This is also where the workers of Chernobyl eat. You can order food in advance on the websites of Chernobyl tours.

How to visit Chernobyl safely and easily

Chernobyl attracts tourists from around the globe because of its uniqueness, the history and controversy behind it, and the scenes that could easily be mistaken for a set in an apocalypse movie, only it was true, though. The residents who evacuated probably thought that the world was truly ending.

Luckily, the radiation has gotten on to safe levels, and it’s now possible to visit the famous site. Chernobyl trips are now frequent and affordable. Chernobyl tours cost reasonable, and Chernobyl tours safety is a priority of the operators. 

I hope that this guide on how to visit Chernobyl is helpful for planning your visit.

Isabel Leong

Isabel Leong

An explorer at heart, the world is Isabel's playground. She enjoys seizing every moment exploring every hideout and doing the unimaginable, like bungee jumping in Phuket and couchsurfing in Europe. If she had wings, she’d definitely be soaring right now. Also a fitness trainer, if she’s not at the gym, you can find her doing yoga or rock climbing! Read more about her on belaroundtheworld.com/about.