For years now visiting Chernobyl and the post apocalyptic abandoned soviet town of Pripyat had been a dream. There is something eerily alluring about the idea of a town trapped in time, as the world has moved on this time capsule of the soviet era has been slowly crumbing. Twisting this once idealistic Utopian dream into something from a dystopian nightmare. As we grew more interested in both soviet history and Urban Exploring we looked to the horrific and spine tingling events of Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat as the epitome of exploration. Finally we had the chance to step into this still radiated waste land to make this strange dream a reality taking one of the many Chernobyl tours from Kiev! You might also ask, is it safe to visit Chernobyl and can you visit Chernobyl without a guide? We’ve got all the answers covered as well as our experience.
A background to Chernobyl
On 26 April 1986, at 01:23, reactor four at the Chernobyl power plant suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in its core. Technicians at the plant had begun tests earlier in the evening which got catastrophically got out of hand. It was later found that the plant lacked many of the safety features which would have avoided the accident. Ironically the experiment scheduled was to test a potential safety emergency core cooling feature!
The Chernobyl plant and the reactor exploded in dramatic fashion. The roof of the building was completely blow off and radioactive material was burning at unimaginable temperature. Those materials were pumped high in the atmosphere through the poisonous cloud of smoke billowing out without any kind of containment. The cloud left a trail of fallout all over Europe and its effects were felt as far away as Wales and Iceland. However, the immediate areas such as the town of Pripyat and southern Belarus were most greatly effected.
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Learning more about the moving and heroic events of that terrible day
After the initial incident the Soviet Union kept quiet about the events of that fateful evening. In a move that feels typical of such a secretive regime I wonder how they thought no one would notice! 31 people were killed in the initial blast and clean up efforts, but the death tole from the fall out has estimated to have killed between 10,000–200,000 people mostly as a result of cancer.
As the clean up crews of over 500,000 people from all over the Soviet Union and Europe descended on the stricken Chernobyl power plant there were two main tasks at hand. To smother and contain the escaping radioactive materials inside a hastily constructed sarcophagus and to secure the melting floor from caving into the river below and causing a second much larger explosion that would have rendered most of Europe uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years.
So called liquidators were brought in to do the tasks the ailing machinery and helicopters couldn’t. This included shovelling lumps of highly poisonous material off the roof and into the hole, each man was allowed only a few minutes on the roof before receiving thousands of times the safe does of radiation.
Below the Chernobyl plant molten hot lava was burning through the layers of the floor and inching ever closer to the river below. Miners were drafted in from small towns to dig in extreme temperatures and at high levels of radiation towards the centre of the plant. Their efforts effectively saved Europe from an unimaginable fate. The people that came to the area after the explosion, those who ran in to save Europe from an even bigger disaster and those that treated the highly radioactive patient are true heroes and ones that unfortunately due to the politics of the time have gone largely unthanked.
It was a real highlight of taking one of the Chernobyl tours from Kiev is not just getting to see the place but really learning so much about what happened here that isn’t all that well known! People often ask, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide? Honestly, besides the safety and legality concerns the information you get from the guides is worth it alone, visiting here isn’t just about exploring but learning too!
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Exploring the outskirts of the city
Firstly we ventured to the many memorials set up for those who died here and also the heroes who gave their lives saving even more people. Walking down an alley way which names all the towns and villages that once stood in this area makes you realise just how many people lived in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl. Most of these villages were flattened and only these signs remain as evidence of their existence. The human cost of the disaster wasn’t only health but people lost everything, they left all their belongings behind and a life they had made here and were never allowed to return.
Entering into the forest for the first time down an over grown track our Geiger counters first began to chirp louder and louder. Our guide, Olexandr, told us to carefully point them towards the patches of moss either side of the track.
A chorus of beeps began as our readers shot up from the base levels of around 0.15 to well over 10.00. These hot spots were all around us but still nowhere near the levels of the inner exclusion zone! The zone is unpredictable with patches of radiation jumping up randomly or in areas of concentrated moss or metal. When people often as if you can you visit Chernobyl without a guide the answer is a resounding no! Not only is the area well secured with guards, but the guides know where is safe and where isn’t!
Our first stops that gave us a taste of what was to come included a small wooden medical centre strewn with medication and Lenin inscribed booklets. A real sign of the time warp we had entered into on one of the best Chernobyl tours from Kiev. The next was a children’s nursery that provided us with the first real eerie reminders of the innocent lives effected by this tragedy and how everyday life just came to a stand still. Rusting cots and moldy dolls provided a creepy insight into this lost world!
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Discovering the secret soviet nuclear detector in the woods
Another stop be made was the DUGA radar system, otherwise known as “The Russian Woodpecker” or Chernobyl 2. Hidden in a heavily forested area of the exclusion zone and even to this day patrolled by military units it was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the soviet union. Marked off as a children’s camp to deflect any outside interest much speculation to its purpose has arisen over the years.
With its mind numbing taps the Russian Woodpecker produced a noise from behind the iron curtain many thought could be related to mind control tactics, wire tapping or even weather experiments. The frequency would interrupt mainstream broadcasts, radio and commercial aviation communications worldwide but remained unclaimed. However after the fall of the Soviet Union it was revealed the true purpose of this gargantuan steel framed construction was as an early warning system for nuclear attacks. Seeing a sight like this, in an isolated and guarded area is another reason this was one of the best Chernobyl tours from Kiev.
Seeing something so enormous and so connected to the cold war was quite incredible. To think how closely guarded this would have been during the height of the soviet union, and to be stood right below it, was quite mind blowing and pretty cool! If you’re still wondering, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide, then you should realise just how much access you get to the hidden and lesser know spots like this when you’ve got an experienced guide with you!
Venturing into the post apocalyptic abandoned soviet city of Pripyat
This was the main event for us, heading through the third checkpoint and into the city of Pripyat itself, the ghost town that has been frozen in time since its residents were forced to flee 30 years ago! Left to rot, over grown and for nature to slowly take this once bustling city back for itself.
It is shocking even to see what were once main roads and boulevards running through a major city now engulfed by huge trees and undergrowth as well as being inhabited by wild animals such as wolves, boars and horses. Truly surreal and it can’t help but remind us of those scenes in the film “I am Legend”. We had all been asking “is it safe to visit Chernobyl?” on the bus on the drive here but as soon as we saw the fascinating and haunting town we were all just engrossed in the experience.
The gym and swimming pool
One of our first stops once inside the city was the gym and the well known swimming pool. This was one of the first sights that we had on our Chernobyl list and seeing in it person made this already special visit even more amazing. Our first port of call was the old gym, basketball nets still hung above the twisted and warped once polished wooden floor. The large widows that would have contained this place of energy and life now frame the thick over grown forest blurring the lines between inside and outside.
Next it was into the huge cavernous swimming pool, an area of soviet sporting achievements and an imposingly large and crumbling building. This is one of the most well known sites in the city having been featured in a number of video games. Interestingly the Azure Swimming Pool was still used until 1998, mostly by the liquidators, but still shows the same spine chilling level of decay.
The school and gas masks
Heading over to the school we knew this would be one of the most eerie locations on the tour. What is a school, with books, toys and desks without children. The wind whistling down the empty corridors, projects and chalk marks still remaining on the desks and boards, books piled in the corners and soviet propaganda on the walls was so haunting.
Seeing the room with the pile of gas masks was also a chilling sight in itself. Discarded as children left this poisoned environment they once called home. It brings into focus the lives of those who once inhabited this place, the energy and noise that once used to light up this now silent and decaying remnant of a time gone by.
But also it is an opportunity to peer into the secret lives of those beyond the iron curtain, especially the impressionably minds of these young people. To see the places they learned about Soviet society, especially in a city created around the power plant itself and a sense of belonging to a bigger cause.
One of the most radioactive sites in the old city it is not actually officially listed as a location on the tours. Our guide Olexander took us over to this creepy and poignant site on the way out of the city when no guards were present. The reason for the high levels of radiation here are a result of the liquidators being brought here straight from working on the stricken plant. When you ask the question “is it safe to visit Chernobyl?” then maybe the hospital is a prime example of why you need a guide. It might seem like any other building in the complex, but inside lurks the invisible danger that poisoned this city all those years ago.
As we ventured in through the backdoor of the hospital we passed a what seemed like a rag on a counter, non of our group even seemed to notice it. But our guide pointed his geiger counter closer towards it and it shot up to almost 30.00 CPM, this was quite shocking and scary to say the least! This piece of cloth was one part of the Chernobyl liquidators clothing, all of which has been buried in the basement of the hospital! So, after seeing this those questioning “can you visit Chernobyl without a guide?” might want to bear in mind these seemingly innocuous things that can turn out to be a real danger.
Wandering around the abandoned hospital, decaying medicines, rusting theatre equipment and rotting beds really adds to that post apocalyptic feel. Many of these rooms appear as though people have just stopped in their places and left, their ghostly presence some how still remaining in the eerie walls of this place that would have seen all the true horrors of that day. This was the ground zero of treating those effected by the radiation, the place those with massive exposures and injuries came. I can’t even begin to imagine the chaos and drama here on that day.
Check out this video on Youtube of someone exploring the basement before it was filled with sand, crazy!
The amusement park and ferris wheel
Now came what we had been waiting for, the most recognisable remnant of this city of children: The amusement park. What a stark reminder of the everyday lives of those who lived here, the thousands of children that characterised this young working city. Famously the amusement park was due to open the day after the catastrophic events at Chernobyl, but instead has forever stood silent, decorations still waiting for an opening day that never came.
A symbol of the Chernobyl disaster it has also featured prominently in video games and media which has added to its legend. Abandoned amusement parks also seem to be amongst the most chilling and eerie. Places intended to be the centre of life and fun swing and creak with the lingering spirits of the ghosty presence of what might have been. This site is also one of the most highly radioactive if you wander off the concrete and onto the irradiated moss that surrounds this strange and unwilling monument.
Other additional locations
Alongside the more well known sites in the city we also called in at some lesser known locations. Supermarkets strewn with shopping trolleys and decaying stock, somehow seeing such everyday locations turning into these creepy dystopian scenes makes it all feel more real.
The once pristine and idyllic cafes by the dockside continue the nightmare theme, half sunken boats and poisonous apples grown like the forbidden fruit in this garden of eden for the urban explorer! Skeletal like high rise blocks peer above the forests that are reclaiming the once well kept city, Cyrillic lettering, hammer and sickles and red stars precariously hang to these once proud buildings.
Is it safe to visit Chernobyl: Seeing the fateful Chernobyl power plant itself
One of the most spine tingling visits was to the Chernobyl power plant itself and the famous sarcophagus of the destroyed reactor 4. We were only allowed to spend around 5 minutes so close to the epicentre of the contamination as the levels of radiation here were predictably higher than anywhere else. The original concrete sarcophagus built in haste 30 years ago is crumbling and has noticeable holes leaching out more radioactive materials. We did wonder “is it safe to visit Chernobyl” and be so close to the power plant itself. But one of the real benefits of going on such as well organised tour is that they have answers to all these questions. They did indeed time our visit here and told us when it was time to go.
To see the power plant that caused all this devastation up close was a surreal experience to say the least. The place that left this ground inhabitable for 25,000 years was here in front of our eyes. But even more strange was the amount of workers who should only be working 2 hours a day two week on and two off, instead they pull 12 hours shifts building the new sarcophagus.
We were pretty lucky too to see the original sarcophagus as it’s recently been covered with the new one which is estimated to last 100 years before it needs replacing again! So if you do have any questions like, is it safe to visit Chernobyl, then it’s even safer now with the plant totally covered.
Nearby was another strange experience. We were directed over to the reactors cooling pools to see the catfish. I wasn’t sure what to expect heading over the old railway bridge and did wonder why we made this extra stop. But seeing these fish at over 6ft long was pretty mind boggling! Now they bring you here to show you the effects the disaster had on these fish, but it’s not entirely what it seems! The fish aren’t actually huge due to the radiation itself, but rather because this waterway is blocked off from the rest of the supply and so there are no natural predators and they have their pick of the food!
An unforgettable day in this urbex paradise
Whenever I come to realising such a huge dream I am always filled with mixed emotions, often nerves overcome my excitement in the initial phase because I am so keen for them to live up to my huge expectations! I was wondered if we would get to see all the locations we had dreamt of, we were still asking “is it safe to visit Chernobyl” and worrying if the paperwork would come through to get us into the zone?
But I needn’t have worried! Despite the awful weather we had, which our guide told us actually made the radiation levels lower, the day has to be one of the most epic, moving and surreal we ever experienced! Seeing the swimming pool, the gas masks, the archaic soviet propaganda, empty school desks, eerie rusting hospital beds and of course the haunting ferris wheel that never operated. Then there was the strange experience of seeing the power plant itself and the surprises along the way such as the nursery as well as DUGA! What a day and what an exploration!
How to visit Chernobyl yourself
There are many companies offering different types of trip. We decided to go with the company Chernobyl.welcome, they offered the most intensive day trip which covered both the popular sites, the off the beaten track locations, the plant itself as well as providing 2 meals, transport and a souvenir t-shirt!
We opted for the one day trip given our now shorter timescale (see our passage through Warsaw!) but they do also offer 2 day tours as well as private tours. What we loved was how they took our safety seriously but yet they didn’t baby us. We were allowed to explore each location with quite a lot of freedom and even headed into places that were off the usual itinerary such as the hospital, they also made sure to point out areas of interest, told us stories and also steered us away from dangerous areas. Next time we will de doing the 2 day tour for sure!
Check them out here:
Just make sure to book at least a couple of weeks before you intend to visit as your name must be on the list to enter the site.
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Is It safe to visit Chernobyl?
The question most people ask is usually surrounding safety. But after doing quite some research and speaking to the people at Chernobyl.Welcome all our fears were alleviated. Before our visit we were sure to ask whether is it safe to visit Chernobyl and we were given a detailed response.
Most of the Chernobyl exclusion zone is actually not much higher than the levels in Kiev itself at around 0.15, bear in mind that 15.00 is considered dangerous and only over the course of a few hours. Most of the levels we saw were between 3.00 and 5.00 with hotspots up to 10.00. The government monitors the levels of radiation within the zone and there are clear areas where it is unsafe to visit. These are updated with the guides regularly and they make sure to keep you well away. So when considering if is it safe to visit Chernobyl it really comes down to being sure to pay attention to the guide and doing as they say.
Spending a few hours in the Chernobyl zone you are exposed to less radiation than on a transatlantic flight! Your levels are also measured upon leaving all the check points to make sure you are still at safe levels. We had always wanted to visit the area but in the past we did wonder if is it safe to visit Chernobyl and had considered maybe visiting when we were older! But in reality the exposure levels are pretty low all things considering and a visit of a few hours isn’t a concern.
This is also why it is imperative to visit with a guide, even for the hardened urban explorers as there are many additional dangers, plus, they know were all the best sites are!! It’s pretty reasonably priced too to take one of the Chernobyl tours from Kiev. When you ask your self “is it safe to visit Chernobyl?” you probably only think about the radiation, another consideration is that you’re exploring derelict building left to crumble for 30 years. Some are unstable and just another reason you should even consider if you can you visit Chernobyl without a guide!
How to take one of the epic Chernobyl tours from Kiev, prices and advice!
Can you visit Chernobyl without a guide?
The short answer is no! It’s true some people have managed to sneak in and I understand why they have wanted to do that. We are urban explorers ourselves and everywhere else we’ve visited we’ve made our own way in and explored at our leisure.
But this isn’t just another abandoned hospital or school, this is an entire city and one still effected by the radiation that made the people leave in the first place! Explorers should know firstly that these buildings are dangerous even without the effects of radiation, 30 year old decaying structures can give way or have unstable floors and ceilings. So when wondering, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide, just bear in mind that they know the safe areas of each building as well as the state or repair of many of the buildings too.
Second consideration when you ask, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide, is of course the radiation! The fallout isn’t cut and dry and there are hotspots all over the city in various locations for various reasons. Some are due to moss or natural growth as soil soaks up radiation. Some are the result of pieces of clothing or an usually sheltered area. The guide know where is safe and where isn’t and advice you accordingly!
Another question comes down to legality, the whole 30km exclusion zone is patrolled by the army and requires your name to be on a pre approved list as well as your passport to get in! Sneaking in can result in some major legal trouble in a region not know for its leniency!
Most people ask, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide, because they want freedom to explore and we get that. But its a large and dangerous area! The guides too are not babysitters and we had a lot of freedom to explore and bend the rules slightly too. It’s not a strict tour and you really have the benefit of actually seeing all these spread out sites that would be otherwise hard to find.
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Tips for visiting:
Book with a reputable company and start making enquiries before you travel. Most tours need to be booked around 2 weeks before so you can get clearance to be on their lists.
Wear sensible shoes and clothing: We visited in the summer and it was wet!! So be prepared for any weather! Also be aware that the buildings are unstable with loose ground and glass in many places. Wear decent shoes and cover as much of your skin as you can to minimise contamination!
Tripods and photography: Officially tripods are not supposed to be allowed because they touch the ground and on this occasion we didn’t take one, but we do plan on doing when we return. I’ve seen many people take them and have no problems so it’s hit and miss. I would say to bring one along anyway and you will most likely be allowed to bring it in!
Don’t collect, steal or touch anything! It goes without saying that you shouldn’t steal from anywhere but here it’s even more important. Firstly to preserve the unique time capsule that is Pripyat but also because of contamination worries. Being exposed for a short time is ok but taking something out with you is pretty dangerous and also illegal! You should also avoid touching anything if possible but the odd thing here and there is ok!
Prices for Chernobyl tours from Kiev :
With Chernobyl Wel.com the prices are as follows:
1 day tour: 119 Euro PP (Inc Lunch, transport, permits)
2 day tour: 279 Euro PP (Inc Hotel, Food, transport, permits)
Book Chernobyl tours from Kiev here:
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Disclaimer: This post was in partnership Chernobyl Wel.come. As always, all opinions are our own!
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