The Budget Traveller's Guide to Kiev & Chernobyl

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Every week we fill you in with the latest news & money saving tips to enjoy life on a budget!

Guide by Steve Hughes: a keen travel photographer, he has been developing his repertoire for 15 years. His favourite destinations include Vietnam, Russia, Indonesia, India, Ghana and Caucasus and The Ukraine. Now firmly wedded to Canon Full Frame, he still occasionally pines for his Medium Format roll film cameras, but is getting far too old for it. Check out more of his work here.

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Getting to Kiev

Flights

The first thing to consider when booking a holiday to the Ukraine is how to get there in the first place. Ukraine International Airlines run direct flights from Gatwick to Kiev on a daily basis; as do British Airways from Heathrow.

If you book in advance, you can easily find return flights for under £200, which includes baggage allowance in the hold.

Alternatively, budget airline Wizzair flies directly to Kiev Zhulyany airport from London Luton. If booked a few months in advance, you can get return flights to the Ukrainian capital for less than £100. If you want to take luggage (even in the cabin) then you’ll need to pay extra. Find out more about the costs here.

If you live outside of the capital, you can catch a regional flight with Air France or Lufthansa – you’ll have a small stopover en-route, but it can be preferable to the drive to and from London!

If you’re a British citizen, you don’t need a visa to enter the Ukraine.

Transfers

Boryspil International Airport

Ukraine International Airways and British Airways both fly into Boryspil International airport, which is located 36km outside the city centre. The Sky Bus connects the airport to the main railway station (“Pivdenny”) via Kharkivska metro station.

A one way ticket will cost you 50 UAH (approx. £1.60). You can purchase these at the ticket office inside the terminals, or from the driver.

Catching the metro is also very cheap, with a flat rate fare of 2 UAH (approx. 6p) per ride – it doesn’t matter whether you go one stop or 20. It’s worthwhile buying several tokens in one go so that you don’t need to keep topping up.

If you’d prefer to get a taxi instead, then getting an Uber is probably best, as you can type in your destination without having to worry about the language barrier or potentially being overcharged. A taxi to the city centre from Boryspil airport will cost you around 270 UAH (£8.50).

Zhulyany

Zhulyany is the smaller of the two airports, located just 7km away from the city centre. Wizzair flights land here, and many domestic flights depart from this airport.

There are a number of buses and trolleybuses that connect the airport to the city centre, with one way tickets costing between 3-6 UAH (6p – 20p). Find out more information here.

Alternatively, catching an Uber is just as cheap, costing around 95 UAH (£3).

Accommodation in Kiev

Independence Square

Whilst Kiev isn’t the cheapest of places to stay in the Ukraine, you can still find some very good deals. I recommend Hotel Kozatskiy for some good old Soviet nostalgia! Located right in the heart of the city on Maidan Nezeleznosti (Independent Square), it’s a great base for exploring. Plus their balconies give excellent views of the city!

Two nights for a standard double room costs just £62, and that’s including breakfast.

Alternatively, Air BNB is growing in popularity in Kyiv, and if you do a bit of research, you’ll find a nice flat at a very good price. Bonus points if you rent a room and your new Ukrainian friend can give you some tips on where to go!

Things to do in the city

Sightseeing

There are lots of things to do in Kiev – here are my recommendations of places you should definitely visit!

Chernobyl Museum

Located on Khoryv Lane, outside Metro stop ‘Kontraktova Plosha’, the Chernobyl museum does a great job of outlining the facts of what happened following the nuclear explosion in 1986.

Open 10am – 6pm on Monday – Saturday (with the exception of the last Monday of the month), entrance is just 10 UAH (approx. 30p) for adults, or 5 UAH (15p) for children. If you can’t make the day trip to Chernobyl, then we’d recommend visiting the museum to find out more.

Rodina Mat

Rodina Mat

Also referred to as the Motherland Monument (or ‘Brezhnev’s Daughter’ to locals), this war monument celebrates the former USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany.

At 62m high, you can see it from several areas across the city. At the base of the monument is the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. The entry fee is 250 UAH (£7.60), so it’s fairly pricey compared to costs in Kiev; but if you’re into WW2 then it’s money well spent.

Pechersk LavraPechersk LavraPechersk Lavra

Photo sourced from Michele Ursino

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Founded by St Antony in 1051, this is a holy place visited by thousands of pilgrims every year from the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

The Upper Lavra is owned by the government, and home to numerous churches and museums, including the Church of the Assumption. For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the 96m high Great Bell Tower for breath-taking views of Kiev.

The Lower Lavra is where the catacombs lie – home to mummified monks who have been laid to rest!

You can easily spend at least half a day at Pechersk Lavra, and it’s well worth checking out. Please note that women must wear headscarves and skirts that are below the knee. Men are forbidden from wearing hats and shorts.

Hydropark

I love this manmade beach on the banks of the Dneiper river! Catch the metro out to Hydropark with the locals in the summer if you’re after some relaxation (just beware of the water – it’s freezing!)

There are numerous bars and restaurants on the island – some of which I’ll mention later – as well as parks for children (and big kids). There are several hotels round here, and it’s a nice place to stay if you don’t want to be based right in the heart of the city.

Saint Sophia CathedralSaint Sophie Cathedral

Photo sourced from Jennifer Boyer

Saint Sophia Cathedral

Situated just a ten minute walk from Independent Square is Kiev’s grandest piece of architecture. Inside, the mosaics and frescoes date back to the eleventh century – worth a visit inside, but if you’re short on time, at least get a picture of the outside!

National Opera House

Whether or not you like the theatre, you should still visit the Opera House – it’s just around the corner from Saint Sophia cathedral, so you’ve got no excuse!

It’s had a very colour history – from catching fire in 1896, to being where Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin was assassinated in 1911, it’s seen a lot of things.

You can check out shows and upcoming prices here.

The Metro

I think the Metro is definitely worth a mention – and as the city is so big, you’ll probably need to use it at some point to get around anyway!

There are three metro lines with 52 stations – and most of the main attractions lie on line one.

Travelling on the metro is ridiculously cheap – just buy the tokens from the ticket offices inside the stations (it’s worthwhile bulk buying these so you don’t have to queue up every time you want to travel). A token costs just 2 UAH (6p), and that covers you for one ride – it doesn’t matter whether you go one stop or ten.

The metro closes at midnight so if you plan on having a night out, you’ll need to get a taxi back instead.

The Metro itself is very typically Soviet – opulent and grand (check out Kreshchatyk and Teatralna stations). If you visit the Pechersk Lavra, you’ll need to get off at Arsenalna metro station, which is the deepest station in the world at 105.5 metres. The escalator trip takes almost five minutes – if you’re at all unsure about heights, then don’t look down!

Food and drink

Ukrainian food

For food, I like heading down the winding Andriivs’kyi descent into Podil, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Kiev. It’s home to plenty of restaurants with menus translated in to English, offering food from all over the USSR. Mimino in particular is one place worth trying – it serves traditional Georgian food such as Khachapuri and Mtsvadi, all at reasonable prices.

Alternatively, if you love BBQs then Hydropark is definitely the place to be. There are lots of Shashlik (Russian BBQ) stands serving delicious skewers of meat for a few dollars. Located on an island, you can find nice sandy beaches – think of the area as a sort of Ukrainian Brighton beach!

For traditional Ukrainian food, check out Harbuzyk by Kontraktova Ploscha metro station – where nearly every dish is made from pumpkin. Wash it down with vodka or alternatively, try the birch tree sap on offer!

Once you’ve stocked up on some food, it’s time to carry on the night with some drinks. Kreschatik Street is the place to be – there are lots of bars open until the early hours of the morning, and it becomes sort of a carnival with all of the partygoers! Numerous options line the street, just take a seat wherever you like. For a more local experience, head to Independence Square, buy a few cold beers from the kiosks and do some people watching.

Chernobyl

Background

No trip to Kiev is complete without a visit to Chernobyl. On the 26th April 1986, a nuclear explosion and fire at the Cherbobyl Plant near Pripyat, sent out radioactive smoke into the atmosphere.

The day after, the town of Pripyat was evacuated; and by mid-May, 116,000 people from towns and villages within a 30km radius had also left. Even so, the nuclear explosion caused devastating effects including deaths, defects and illnesses even to this day.

Tour operators

Several companies in Kiev organise trips to Chernobyl – we recommend Solo East. You ideally need to prepare your trip before you fly out to the Ukraine, as you need to have the necessary paperwork. Just scan your passport and send it to Solo East and they’ll sort out the formalities.

Don’t forget to bring your passport with you on the trip as it’ll be checked multiple times. Another important thing to mention is that you need to be fully covered for the trip. Rules may relax slightly once you’ve passed the second border control, but radiation is still there so you need to be careful.

Solo East’s day trips cost from $89 (approx. £72) including insurance, and pick you up outside Kozatskiy Hotel at 8am. The journey takes two hours so sit back, relax, and bring some snacks to pass the time! You’ll get to watch a film explaining the disaster so you’re fully up to speed.

Things to see in Chernobyl

At the first border control, you’ll have to get out of the bus as your passport is checked against all of the paperwork Solo East have sorted out.

The trip through the outer zone takes about 15 minutes, where you stop at an even stricter border control. Along the way, you’ll get to see an abandoned orphanage. The guide will tell you a story, and then you get to roam around the eerie building by yourself for a while.


Radiation warning

Chernobyl warning signMake sure you’re very careful – there are clear markers instructing where you can and can’t go. Remember that they’re there for a reason.

Put your Geiger counter across that line and it’ll go off the scale.


The only way to describe this place is eerie. You can really tell that everyone just up and left, leaving their belongings behind.

Next up is the second border point, where the highest amount of radiation is. You’ll go through the same checks as before, but you and your belongings will be searched to ensure you haven’t picked up anything on the way.

Once you’re through, you’ll make quite a few stops – but even the roads of Chernobyl have sights of their own. This rather impressive town sign leads to the village graveyard. Each sign comes from a village that was evacuated and never returned to.

The abandoned school features three floors of total gloom. It’s incredibly evident that people just walked out and left – notebooks are still on the desks, and there are even coats on pegs.

After this, you can head over to perhaps the most famous place of the disaster zone and the ‘iconic’ Chernobyl shot: the funfair. It was due to be opened for the first time on 1st May 1986 ready for May Day celebrations but tragically, those celebrations never happened.

Opposite this is the abandoned gymnasium with a swimming pool, basketball court, football ground and running track. The swimming pool was in use up to ten years after the nuclear explosion – the workers involved in the clean-up kept it running so they could relax during their time off!

After lunch, you’ll head over to the reactor where the disaster took place. Situated by the water, there are huge catfish in the water – beware; with their predators dead they basically rule the roost! When we went, the reactor was about to be shut in the new shield which should preserve it for centuries.

On the way back to the border, you stumble across a so-called “secret”: just an abandoned Cold War radar base tucked in the middle of nowhere!

And that’s the end of the Chernobyl tour! You’ll get another radiation check on the way out before the drive back to Kiev, getting back to Independent Square at around 7.30pm – just in time for a shot of vodka and a night out with the locals!

Exploring the Ukraine further

Odessa

If you’re looking to extend your time in the Ukraine, then I’d recommend catching the overnight train to the seaside city of Odessa. Prices start from £10 in a 4 bed compartment. The train might be rickety, but you can’t beat waking up and watching the sun rise over the beach, before grabbing a coffee and cake from one of the cafes on the main boulevard!

Sightseeing

This seaside city is the third largest city in the country, home to almost one million people, and you can easily spend a good couple of days exploring it. Here are some of my recommendations…

Photo sourced from Good Free Photos

Odessa Opera House

Just like Kiev’s Opera House, the building has been destroyed by fire a fair few times since it was first opened in 1810, but it’s just as opulent as the outside as it is on the inside.

If you’d like to catch a ballet or an opera, then you can find out more about purchasing tickets here. There’s a strict dress code, so make sure you dress up smart!

Potemkin stairsPotemkin stairs

Photo sources from Good Free Photos

Potemkin Stairs

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Odessa, it would be a shame not to see it. The steps connect the city to the Black Sea – it looks like a long way to the top, but they’re not too difficult to climb!

Catacombs

Did you know that Odessa has the largest network of catacombs in the world? At 1,550 miles, it’s almost five times the size of Paris’!

If you want to visit, you’ll need to pre-book a guide. Both Odessa Walks and Tours by Locals

offer tours – you’ll need to get in touch with them for the prices.

Arcadia Beach

Arcadia beach is about 5 miles south of Odessa city centre, and it’s the most popular beach in the area.

There’s lots of hotels, bars and restaurants to visit here – it’s very touristy (especially in the summer), but it’s a great place if you want to party with the locals!

Vulkovo

Vulkovo

Otherwise known as the Venice of the Ukraine, this sleepy town is based on winding canals with gangplanks replacing paths.

Helen Kr is a great Odessa guide – she drove us to Vulkovo and we visited her family’s home for a traditional meal. She can be reached on +380 93596 4799 / www.odessa-travel.com). She is based in Odessa. Such a good way to end the holiday!

Vulkovo canals

Overall impression of the Ukraine

It’s one of my favourite countries in the world, and I’ve been there at least a dozen times. It’s incredibly cheap once you’re there too – just keep a look out for flights and book a few months in advance to get the best deals.

If you’re into history, ex-communism or want a city break with a difference, then visiting Kiev (or indeed the whole of The Ukraine) is definitely for you. With hordes of tourists still yet to descend on the country, the time to go is now.

The Money Shop £200 Challenge

Travelling doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can visit lots of foreign cities on a budget. Don’t believe us? The Money Shop £200 Challenge proves this.

Some of our favourite travel bloggers have been beating the challenge in many popular European cities. Find out more about the challenge, how they got on, and how you can take on your very own challenge here!

If you're going on holiday, don't forget to sort out your travel money. Alternatively, for more money saving tips and travel inspiration, check out our blog.

Remember, do not spend more than your disposable income allows.

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