Kyiv really wasn’t on top of my bucket list. To be frank, it wasn’t even in my top ten.
In fact, Kyiv is so low under the average tourist’s radar that I don’t think it’s on anybody’s list.
Nevertheless, due to circumstances out of my control (AKA my family), I found myself visiting the city no less than twice in six months.
Although my visits to the city had a family gathering undertone, I decided not to give up on the opportunity to explore it. And since I’m not really into religious structures and try to limit those to a total of two per trip,
I decided to focus less on the religious architectural abundance the city can offer and more on things to see and do out of the beaten path.
Here are my findings on the subject *pushing my imaginary glasses to my nose*:
“Taras Shevchenko National Opera”-
A visit to the city is an excellent opportunity to spend an evening at the national opera and watch a show.
The prices are very accessible, and even the priciest ticket will cost you around 1200 hryvnia, which translates to roughly 43 USD. That’s a fraction of the price you’ll pay for a similar experience in a country with a stronger currency. In other words, if you always wanted to attend one of these but weren’t sure if it’s your cup of tea,
or thought you might start your own “snooze-fest” symphony – fear no more! It’s time to experience classic European culture at its finest! Let your inner bourgeois run wild!
Personally, I’ve had the privilege of watching Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” and I was pleased to discover a professional production and talented dancers.
Small tip 1 – DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT arrange for the show to be on the first day of your trip. These shows are pretty long, and even with a break between the acts, spending three hours at the opera can be exhausting after a flight. That’s what I did, and I ended up having a hard time staying awake and keeping up with the show.
For “some” reason, it looked like the dancers were suddenly reaching the other side of the stage way too fast.
Don’t be me- take your time and rest before attending any shows.
Small tip 2 – If it’s something that’s important for you to experience, please note that the opera sometimes goes on a recess, and it might be a good idea to check for updates on their website.
Small tip 3 – if you choose to sit in one of the balcony seats, you should avoid the chairs next to the railing. Since the balconies were built with a slight inclination downwards and the chairs are not arranged on stairs or generally fixed to the floor, you might find yourself sliding down. The combination of sitting close to the railing and the densely arranged chairs can become a lethal threat to your knees. I’m 5 ft 2, and I’ve had a pretty rough first act, so be warned.
If you can’t buy your tickets in advance, it’s possible to buy them from the box office at the front of the building. The box office operates every day from 11:00 AM to 7:30 PM and ’till 7:00 PM on Mondays.
Please note that from 6:00 PM, tickets will be sold exclusively for that evening’s show.
The opera is located 15 minutes’ walk away from the central street of Khreschatyk, but if you’re short on time, you should know that the closest metro station is Zoloti Vorota, which is located on the green line.
Address: National Opera of Ukraine, 50 Volodymyrska St., Kyiv, 01030
“Victoria” museum –
If you’re interested in fashion and history, and the combo of these two makes your heart flutter, I suggest you pay a visit to the “Victoria” museum. It’s a relatively new museum that opened its gates in 2017 and consists of two floors with seven exhibition rooms showcasing garments from the Victorian era ( second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century).
Since the museum is relatively small, with help from the audio guide ( comes in English, Chinese, Ukrainian, Russian, and included in the entry price), it should take you around 2 hours to finish your tour around the museum. Personally, any longer than that, and I start staring at the exhibits instead of actually taking them in, so for me, it’s the perfect amount of time to spend in a museum. Any museum.
The exhibits themselves- even if not many- are very impressive and in a well-kept condition, while the explanations that accompany them are enriching and give good context to the objects.
Aside from the obvious of checking out the exhibits, you could also try on a traditional costume or take some photos with accessories like hats and fans.
When I gave the museum a visit around its morning opening hours, I had the place almost to myself, which was a very welcome surprise, considering how things usually go when it comes to more well-known museums.
My visit was quiet and crowd-free – yay me!
The museum is located outside of the city center, so you’ll need to take the red metro line to the Arsenalna station and from there go around ten more minutes on foot.
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
The entry price is 130 hryvnia per person or 190 hryvnia for a couple.
It’s also possible to hire a guide for an extra payment of 500-800 hryvnia.
The cashier receives payments via cash or bank transfers.
Address: Victoria Museum, 23 Butyshiv Blvd., Kyiv, 02000
Guided tour to the “Chernobyl” exclusion zone –
A few years ago, I was watching a news report that covered the opening of the exclusion zone of Chernobyl to guided tours for tourists. At the time, it was quite a weird item to watch, especially since as far as sites soaked with nuclear radiation go- this one was considered a cult. I was staring at the tv, hypnotized.
The video footage played on-screen showcased post-apocalyptic, rust-eaten landscapes that, for some reason, enchanted me in their surrealism and called for me to visit so that I could witness their dystopian charm with my own eyes.
A couple of years went by, and I was on a plane to Kyiv, which is located two hours’ drive away from the area. Guess where I decided to visit and win a bowl of borscht!
I signed up for a day tour with a company specializing in organized tours to the area ( there are also multi-day tours, but yours truly was short on time) and hoped to experience something unique.
In retrospect, I experienced a time capsule from the ’80s and learned an important history lesson, all of it wrapped in one big radioactive package.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the subject and somehow missed HBO’s latest documentary series on it, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is home to the largest ecological disaster of the 20th century.
On the 26th of April 1986, reactor number 4 in the Lenin nuclear power plant blew up, spreading radioactive particles all over Europe.
A deadly combination of defective construction, failure to follow procedures, and human errors brought on a disaster on an international scale that took the lives of 2000 official victims ( in this case, the emphasis is on the word “official”) and effects the area to this day.
The tour takes off from a central gathering point in Kyiv and officially starts when you cross the military checkpoint that separates the exclusion zone from the rest of the world surrounding it.
The zone spreads over a 30-kilometer radius, with its ten most inner kilometers considered to be contaminated with the highest levels of radiation.
Due to the radiation, the government prevents unauthorized entries to the zone. The only way in is with an organized tour ( private or group). Any attempt to deviate from that will be considered a violation of the law.
After going through the checkpoint and a standard passport checkup, the tour will proceed to its first stop inside the exclusion zone: the only two villages left standing that the post-disaster “clean-up” works haven’t destroyed. In the first village, you will visit a pharmacy, and in the second one, a kindergarten- both structures bear the signs of time and neglect.
From there, you will continue to the secret military facility of “Duga” – a giant radar system whose purpose during the cold war was to notify the USSR of any missiles fired from the USA in their direction.
Irony is, it was discovered to be quite useless, for reasons the guides will tell you about themselves.
The main and final stop of the tour is the town of Pripyat, which was populated by the nuclear power plant workers. Inside the town, you will visit a few points of interest: a hotel that used to accommodate some of the prominent key figure decision-makers in the midst of the incident, a café that saw better days, the Main Street and the “crème de la crème”: the famous amusement park that was scheduled to open its gates a few days after the disaster had struck, but never opened.
It’s hard to explain the experience of walking through a ghost town in the midst of being swallowed whole by the nature surrounding it. It’s grim, eerie, and unsettling but also beautiful; it’s everything, all at once.
It’s like walking through the castle from the “Sleeping Beauty” fairytale; only, in this case, there is no one to lift the curse. This town will stay asleep forever, as it could never be populated again.
The slowly collapsing structures scream the tales of the life they used to accommodate, and there is grief in the air, for it’s a disaster-stricken place. And yet, even through the veil of sadness that surrounds it, it is possible to see the beauty in this place and the nature that grows wild around here, reclaiming the land it once lost.
Additionally to the locations mentioned above, you will visit two monuments dedicated to those who have perished, sacrificing their lives fighting the outcomes of the disaster. One of which is located in front of the blown-up reactor. There is no need to worry though, as it is covered with a protective dome hiding its magical dystopian façade from the rest of the world. Still beats growing a third arm, in my opinion, no?
Anyhow, these are the locations my tour has taken me to, and it’s possible that the order/locations themselves will change per the organizer’s discretion. Therefore, my advice would be to stay updated via their website
(at the end of this section).
The tour covers only areas considered safe ( assuming, of course, that you follow the guidelines and safety rules set by your guides). Also, to put everyone at ease, you will go through a radiation detector at the end of your tour. That way, you’ll know there aren’t any radiation particles trying to catch a ride on your precious Nikes.
It’s important to understand: when the radiation counter indicates a certain amount of radiation, it actually shows the amount you would’ve absorbed if you stayed standing in that same spot for an hour. Hence, the amount of radiation you absorb throughout the whole tour equals the amount you would’ve absorbed on a short 2-3 hour flight. Personally, I didn’t mind that, but I’ll leave it to your consideration.
Here are some general safety rules:
* Eat only in the car/ the cantina to avoid ingesting any radioactive particles floating in the air around you.
* Most structures in the area are disintegrating due to decay, so please be careful and watch your step, as the whole experience feels a bit like strolling through a construction site.
* Wear long, comfortable clothing and closed shoes. * no tights allowed
* Always follow the guide’s instructions.
Technical details –
* The tour starts at 8:00 AM and ends around 8:00 PM.
* The tour is conducted in English / Russian.
* The tour costs 99 USD, while the shuttle services, bureaucratic arrangements, and a professional tour guide that will provide you with historical background and stories for the locations you visit are all included.
You’ll need to pay 25% of the sum in advance payment online and the rest by exact cash before departure from the gathering point.
* Also, for an extra charge, you could grab a meal at the local cantina ( I don’t know if the food is good or not because I brought my own snacks to the trip) and/or get your own radiation counter ( kind of unnecessary from my point of view since your guide will keep you posted on the radiation levels in each location you visit anyway).
* You should book at least two weeks in advance to give the company enough time to process your paperwork and get your clearance to enter the exclusion zone.
* The tour has an age restriction of 18 +.
* Respect the schedule and arrive at the departure point on time.
If you don’t, they’re just going to leave without you.
* Bring your passport. Without it, you will not be allowed to enter the exclusion zone, and you will end up spending your trip at the military checkpoint.
It’s hard to call this tour fun because of its focal point. We tend to associate fun with happiness, and yet there is no doubt that this is an extraordinary and important experience. I recommend the tour to those who are into dark tourism, those who are drawn to explore abandoned places, or alternatively, to the curious history enthusiasts.
Go, enjoy, and please remember to be respectful of the place you’re visiting.
Also, if you’re really into it, you should know that there’s a gift shop.
A jar of radiation, anybody?
This post is dedicated to, and is in the memory of my grandmother Valentina Fiodaravna; may her soul rest in peace. Thanks to her, I was able to discover and experience all of these places that Kyiv has to offer.
Thank you, Nana. <3