Kiev, Ukraine is a fascinating city with enough culture, entertainment and history to keep visitors occupied for several days. However, if you’re staying in Kiev for more than three or four days, it’s worth taking a day trip from Kiev to Zhytomyr, Ukraine. Zhytomyr is less than two hours by bus from Kiev, and is home to one of the world’s most fascinating museums about space exploration.
I visited Zhytomyr as an overnight stop between Vinnytsia and Kiev, spending a full afternoon and the following morning in Zhytomyr. However, it’s very simple to visit Zhytomyr as a day trip from Kiev as long as you’re willing to get a fairly early start. It’s a particularly appealing day trip for budget travelers, as you can easily spend less than €20 for round-trip transportation, museum entrance and a two-course lunch with drinks in Zhytomyr.
If this sounds interesting, keep reading to learn exactly how to plan your own trip to Zhytomyr, Ukraine.
The Sergiy Korolyov Astronautics Museum in Zhytomyr, Ukraine
Most people take a day trip to Zhytomyr specifically to visit the city’s most famous tourist attraction: the Sergiy Korolyov Astronautics Museum. Sometimes caled the Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov Museum of Cosmonautics, this is a world-class (albeit rather small) museum of all things related to the Soviet space program.
Sergiy Korolyov led the Soviet Union’s Sputnik space program in the 1950s, and then went on to head rocketry and space exploration program for the USSR over the following twenty years. Born in Zhytomyr, Korolyov is still the pride of the city, and this museum was built in his honor in the early 1990s.
Inside the museum, exhibits are almost entirely in Ukrainian, with very little English information available. Still, it’s incredibly fun to spend an hour or two looking around at the different exhibits, including the actual Soyuz 27 descent module, which was actually manned and sent to space in the late 1970s.
There are many other replicas of important pieces of space exploration equipment, along with interactive exhibits including hanging chairs with headphones that play “magical space music” (I don’t know what else to call it!) and a walk-through orb that makes space-like sounds when you wave your hands close to its surface. A Ukrainian family was visiting the museum at the same time as me and the mom was insistent on taking a whole bunch of photos of me inside the orb… but when I later looked at my photos, I found that she’d covered the lens with her finger in every single photo!
The Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov Museum of Cosmonautics has amazing opening hours, which are presently 10:00 am to 5:15 pm, with a lunch break from 12:00 to 1:00. The museum is closed on Mondays, as well as the last Thursday of every month… for cleaning! Adult admission is 20 UAH, which is less than one euro.
Although there is a website for the Cosmos Musuem, it is entirely in Ukrainian (the English button doesn’t work). You can try navigating it with Google Translate, or just show up and hope for the best. If you’re a serious space buff, considering asking someone who speaks Ukrainian to contact the museum and arrange a private English tour – they are available, but advance reservations are required.
If the museum is closed during your visit, you may still be able to check out the artifacts kept outside, which include three rockets and other large pieces of space equipment. Korolyov’s house is situated nearby and is sometimes open as a museum focused on his personal life, but it was closed during my own visit to Zhytomyr.
More Things to Do in Zhytomyr, Ukraine
Besides the fantastic museum celebrating the Soviet space program, there isn’t much to see and do in Zhytomyr other than take in a slice of authentic Ukrainian life. That being said, it is absolutely worthwhile to spend an hour or two wandering through the city center, scoping out the vast array of architectural styles and pausing at the city’s many memorials.
Churches of Zhytomyr
Zhytomyr is home to several different churches, including the blue-domed Saint Michael Archangel Cathedral and the bright yellow Saviour-Transfiguration Cathedral. Both churches are located in the city center and are generally open for public viewing of the interior during the day. Saint Michael’s marks the entrance to Mykhailivska Street, the city’s main pedestrian shopping zone (shown in the top photo, strung with colorful umbrellas), while the Saviour-Transfiguration Cathedral backs on to Victory Square.
Soviet Art & Design
Zhytomyr is full of interesting relics of the Soviet design aesthetic, including the mosaic facade of the Жовтень (“October”) cinema, which is now an arts center for youth, and the series of reliefs on the facade of the central post office, each showcasing the spirit of the postal service at a particular moment in Ukrainian history.
Zhytomyr Tank Monument
Located at Victory Square, Zhytomyr’s tank monument is a memorial to Ukraine’s victory over the Nazis during the second World War.
Monument to the Heavenly Hundred
In 2014, Ukraine created the Order of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, an award presented to people who fought to preserve Ukraine’s safety, security and independence. The “Heavenly Hundred” refers to people who died during the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests in Kiev. Most Ukrainian cities now have some kind of memorial for the Heavenly Hundred and the events of Euromaidan. In Zhytomyr, Ukraine, the memorial is a thoughtful metal sculpture in which layers of people seem to simultaneously appear, overlap and disappear. You can find the monument at Korolova Square, which was named after the same rocket scientist as the museum.
Zhytomyr, Ukraine Hotels
Although it’s very easy to visit Zhytomyr as a day trip from Kiev, there are some situations where spending the night in Zhytomyr, Ukraine makes sense.
First, if you’re traveling to Kiev from another destination, like Vinnytsia, Uman or even Lviv, stopping in Zhytomyr can break up a long day of travel. Do what I did – arrive in the afternoon, spend the night and then depart the next afternoon.
Second, if you’re on a tight budget, hotels in Zhytomyr are much cheaper than accommodation in Kiev. You can reduce your hotel costs by spending one night in Zhytomyr – read below to see the kind of upscale hotel room that you can have for less than €15 per night (including breakfast!).
When I was booking my trip to Zhytomyr, it was hard to get a sense of where different things were located in the city. I decided to base myself in Hotel Alir because it looked relatively central but also more modern than some of the more traditional Soviet-style hotels in Zhytomyr.
In the end, I was glad I stayed at Hotel Alir. It was clean, quiet and comfortable, and I liked having a proper supermarket right across the street. The staff were incredibly friendly, and the photos below should reassure you that the rooms are more than adequate for the price (€15, including breakfast).
Although Hotel Alir isn’t in the very center of Zhytomyr, it’s not too far away. After I checked in to Hotel Alir I walked into the city center, which only took about twenty minutes down pleasant streets with wide, well-maintained sidewalks and lots of people out and about. I also walked back later that evening as it was getting dark, and I felt very safe.
The next morning, I decided to use local minibus #8 to get from Hotel Alir to the Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov Museum of Cosmonautics. There was a bus stop on the corner by the supermarket, and it took me to within five minutes of the museum. On the way back, the same bus departed from the main stop inside the nearby street market.
There are other central hotels in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, on the streets immediately surrounding Soborna Square (shown above).
- It doesn’t get much more central than Hotel Ukraine, which is only a five-minute walk from nearly all of the city’s tourist attractions. Rooms here are more dated than at Hotel Alir.
- Just behind the main square, Hotel Reikartz Zhytomir is part of the largest chain of locally-owned hotels in Ukraine. Free private parking is available here, and the rooms are spacious enough for couples and families.
All three of these hotels are fine for a one- or two-night stay in Zhytomyr. If you’re going to spend more time in the city, consider renting an apartment for your stay.
Zhytomyr, Ukraine Restaurants
Varenychna Baluvana Halya
My only restaurant meal in Zhytomyr was at Varenychna Baluvana Halya, a restaurant serving typical Ukrainian dishes like perogies and borscht. This restaurant has two locations in the city – one on the main pedestrian street in the center (Mykhailivska Street), and the other close to the tank monument in Victory Square. They have also expanded to other cities in Ukraine, including Kiev and Lviv.
At the time of my visit there was no English menu available, but I believe that they have added an English menu in recent months (there are photos on TripAdvisor). As a vegetarian traveler (have you seen my post about vegetarian food in Kiev?) I opted one of their house specialties: perogies filled with tomatoes and cheese! It was almost like a pizza pocket, but so much better! I was still hungry after I finished my bowl, so I ordered a second plate of mushroom and potato perogies (though now that I can see their English menu, I definitely should have gone for a salad…). The two plates of perogies and some homemade compote cost less than €4.
Schultz Bar, Zhytomyr
In the basement of a tall building right on Soborna Square, Schultz Bar is a dark and moody beer hall with a full pub menu and some fascinating beer options. They have several craft beers on tap, including homemade honey beer (not mead), cherry beer and bright green nettle beer! Their unique options are all labeled in English, and the standard brews are easily decipherable for anyone who can sound out letters in Cyrillic. I enjoyed my cherry beer, but it wasn’t the nicest environment for solo drinking – it seems more popular with large groups of men who want to let loose after a long day’s work.
Pleasantville Pub in Zhytomyr
I am not going to pretend that I ate at Pleasantville BBQ Pub in Zhytomyr. I’m really only including it because I was so proud of myself for reading the word “Pleasantville” in Cyrillic all by myself! I can’t say much about the restaurant, other than it seems to have a space hotdog as its logo and it doesn’t seem to be related to the movie Pleasantville. A cursory skim of their website shows that they do have partial English translations on the menu, there are very few vegetarian options (though I do see avocado toast on there – possibly on a brunch menu!) and they offer a lot of foreign bottled beers.
The Bus from Kiev to Zhytomyr
To travel from Kiev to Zhytomyr, Ukraine, minibuses (also known as marshrutkas) are your best option. Marshurtkas depart from the Zhytomyrska metro station at the far western edge of Kiev. These minibuses depart about every thirty minutes (earlier if full, later if waiting for more passengers) and cost about UAH 120 (€4).
Depending on road conditions, the trip from Kiev to Zhytomyr will take between one and two hours. You can save time by taking a minibus that does not stop in Korostyshiv, a small town that makes for a major detour off of the highway.
If you catch a bus that departs from Kiev around 8:00 am, you will arrive in Zhytomyr just in time for the opening of the Sergiy Korolyov Astronautics Museum. On your way back, the last reliable departure is around 19:00, although there is usually (not always!) sporadic marshrutka service until about 21:30.
Zhytomyr’s bus and train stations are located about three kilometers east of the city center, straight down Kyivska Street. Regular buses #1, #10 and #58 run along this street but there isn’t a lot of room for luggage on the city’s cramped public transportation system. If you’ve got bags, a taxi to the city center shouldn’t cost more than about 50 UAH (though you might have to wait a while – when I arrived in Zhytomyr there weren’t any taxis waiting at the bus station).
Sure, Zhytomyr is cool, but have you visited Chernobyl? In my opinion, Chernobyl is the best day trip from Kiev… and it’s even better if you stay in the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Zone overnight! Read my full trip report about Chernobyl first, then follow up with my guide to planning and booking a trip to Chernobyl.
Another great overnight trip from Kiev is Vinnytsia, Ukraine. A short bus or train ride away from Kiev, Vinnytsia is home to the crazy Museum of Retro Technology, and in the the summer months Ukrainian tourists flock to its riverbanks to see one of Europe’s largest light, sound and water fountains.
Have any questions about traveling in Ukraine? Let me know in the comments and I will answer your questions!