In 1986, the world held its breath as a nuclear reactor melted down at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in what’s now thought to be the worst nuclear disaster in history.
Today, 35 years later, Chernobyl and the nearby town of Pripyat, attract thousands of tourists from all over the world.
But what are they touring, exactly? What is there to see and do in Pripyat?
Touring Chernobyl: How to Visit Pripyat
To visit Chernobyl, you’ll need access to the Exclusion Zone.
The Exclusion Zone is an an area of about 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 sq mi) in Ukraine that surrounds the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Can you visit Chernobyl without a guide?
You can only enter the exclusion zone with a licensed guide, meaning you’ll need to take one of the Chernobyl tours available.
You can get tours that range from one day, two days or three days.
The one days tours last about 12 hours, with four hours in transit from nearby Kiev. If you’re in a rush, the one day tours are a great way to get in and out quickly and they’re also your most affordable tour option.
You can also get private Chernobyl tours, which are especially good for photography as they let you take your time to take photos.
While it is possible to visit the area, there are areas in the exclusion zone that are still highly dangerous. A guide can help keep you safe and away from dangerous areas and situations. English guides are plentiful, and while tours include transportation, it’s important to know that you’ll need to go through multiple checkpoints while visiting.
So, what is there to see on a tour of Chernobyl?
Chernobyl is located around 62 miles, or 100 km, from Kiev, Ukraine. It’s about a two hour shuttle ride.
Chernobyl itself is home to the power plant, but the exclusion zone includes a large forest and other towns.
There are plenty of places to visit in the Chernobyl township, from an eerie abandoned kindergarten to forests surrounding the power plant itself.
Pripyat (which is also known as Pryp’yat’ or Prypyat) is a ghost city near the Ukraine–Belarus border. The town of Pripyat is about two kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (ChNPP).
When the Chernobyl disaster occurred, the town of Pripyat was home to around 49,000 people. It was evacuated after the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April, 1986 and many of its residents have never set foot in the town since.
While you can’t get too close to the plant or stay too long, there’s a lot to see in the town of Pripyat itself.
For instance, the Pripyat amusement park was set to have its grand opening on May 1st, 1986, less than a week before the explosion. However, it was never officially opened, and to this day it remains a symbol of the disaster in nearby Chernobyl.
There are three abandoned swimming pools in Pripyat, while the Swimming Pool Azure or Lazurny is the most well-known of these.
When’s the best time to visit Chernobyl?
You can visit Chernobyl any time of year.
The clearest weather is in the summer from June to August, but it can be hot, with temperatures often hovering near 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Summer’s also the busiest season with tons of visitors and more expensive accommodations.
Fall and Spring are good times to visit, but the weather can be more variable.
Chernobyl is quietest in the winter, and the snow and gloom make for eerie and atmospheric photos however it can get cool with daytime highs around 0 C° (40 F°) and nights around -7 C° (20 F°).
Can you visit the Chernobyl Elephant’s Foot?
The Elephant’s Foot is a nickname for a large column formed underneath the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Its made of corium and other materials, and looks like black glass and bark.
Its wrinkly surface looks a lot like an elephant’s foot, thus the name. The Elephant’s Foot is in a maintenance corridor near the remains of the Chernobyl Reactor No. 4.
Because it’s still highly radioactive, it’s unfortunately not possible to walk up and see the Elephant’s Foot up close.
How safe is a Chernobyl tour?
Licensed Chernobyl tour operators have to follow strict guidelines set out by the governing body. The level of radiation in most areas tour operators are allowed to take you are minimal (less than you get in an airplane and 300x less than a typical xray) and most tours give you a respirator (though they’re not really needed) as well as your own Geiger-Muller dosimeter (Geiger counter) to make sure you stay within safe limits.
Where to stay on a Chernobyl stay?
While there are plenty of places to stay near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the best hotels will be in Kiev proper. Most people who choose to stay for a one day tour will often stay in Kiev and have their tour operator pick them up directly from their hotel.
While it can make for a longer tour day, Kiev has a huge selection of great hotels to choose from.
If you’re planning a multiple day tour, oftentimes the tour operators will include accommodations or direct you to the hotels they often deal with. You’re best bet if you’re unsure is to talk to your tour operator before booking any tours to make sure your hotel will work for them and for you.
Are Chernobyl tours cancelled?
As of the time of writing this article, tours to Pripyat and Chernobyl are running, but check tour operators directly, as this can change.
In 2020, forest fires near Chernobyl damaged some of the tourist attractions however it didn’t damage the Main Reactor No. 4 so tours can still run.