A space themed visit to Zhytomyr
Why visit Zhytomyr?
Is ‘because it’s there’ a satisfactory answer?
No? It generally is for us.
Ok, well we decided to visit Zhytomyr because it’s close to Kyiv and an easy trip. To be honest, you can do it on a day trip from Kyiv as Kyiv to Zhytomyr is only 1 1/2 hour bus ride, but we always like to explore the nightlife in places so we decided to stay overnight and spend a weekend there. There aren’t a lot of things to do in Zhytomyr, but there are enough for two days.
Zhytomyr is famous for space. Well, actually, if you ask Ukrainians, it’s famous for socks. There’s a big factory in Zhytomyr that makes socks and other footwear apparently. Everyone had socks from Zhytomyr at one point. Maybe they still do. I don’t know. Where did your socks come from as a child? I don’t even know that.
What we actually wanted to visit Zhytomyr to see was the space museum. Zhytomyr is the birthplace of Sergei Korolev, the Soviet rocket scientist that designed sputnik and put the first satellite in space, and helped to put Yuri Gagarin in space and win the Space Race. The Sergei Korolev Space Museum is basically one of the main things to do in Zhytomyr.
To commemorate their hero, Zhytomyr has a pretty impressive museum about space and the space race. More on that later.
Kris had visited Zhytomyr a couple of times before to do teacher training events. He was particularly impressed by the tank in the centre of the city outside the place he went for lunch. Who doesn’t love a tank?
How to get from Kyiv to Zhytomyr
The easiest way to get from Kyiv to Zhytomyr is by marshrutka. This is basically a small bus. Marshrutkas in cities work like bus taxis. They drive around routes, you stop them wherever you are, and then get off when you get where you want to go. Costing a few grivna, they are convenient, if crowded, ways to get around, if you know how to use them.
There are also marshrutkas that go between cities. Generally, these fill up in one city, and then drop everyone at the other. Sometimes people get off along the way, often seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
The marshrutkas from Kyiv to Zhytomyr go from Zhytomyrska metro station. Get off the train and go right from the platform. Turn left out of the station and then before you go through the underground market, go up the steps. The marshrutkas go from the street before you reach Roshen chocolate shop.
There’s always at least one bus from Kyiv to Zhytomyr waiting. The one in front fills up, then drives away and the next one replaces it. It costs just 100 UAH for the journey from Kyiv to Zhytomyr. Get on the bus, and then the driver will come around and collect your money.
In Zhytomyr, the buses stop outside the bus station, which is next to the railway station. From there, it’s a 20-minute walk into the city. Alternatively, you can take a tram or another marshrutka in. Buses back to Kyiv from Zhytomyr leave from outside the bus station.
For another easy daytrip from Kyiv, check out our post on Bila Tservka and the arboretum.
We went to Zhytomyr at the start of 2020, which turned out to be quite the year, didn’t it? If you are wondering how things were living in Kyiv during Covid, see our post.
Things to do in Zhytomyr
When we told our Ukrainian colleagues that we were going to visit Zhytomyr for the weekend, they all said the same things.
There’s nothing there.
That’s never stopped us before, and we already knew we wanted to visit the Space Museum. Kate went on Tripadvisor to look at the range of things to do in Zhytomyr on there. To be honest, the selection isn’t vast – several churches, a Polish churchyard and some bridges. It didn’t take long to see most of Zhytomyr’s attractions. (Spoiler alert – we didn’t get to the Polish churchyard).
Sergei Korolev Space Museum
As we’ve said, Sergei Korolev led the team that won the Space Race against the USA by putting the first satellite, Sputnik into Space, as well as the first man, Yuri Gagarin. Korolev was born in Zhytomyr and actually went to the university where we work, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.
The Sergei Korolev Space Museum is housed in a small concrete building, distinguishable by the huge rocket outside. It’s full of all kinds of examples of spacecrafts and equipment, including several landing pods and a lunar rover. It’s all lit with multicoloured lights, giving it a cool atmosphere. Cases around the museum show real tools used in Space, clothing worn by astronauts and astronaut food.
There’s a guided tour in English, which was done by a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide who admitted that it had been a while since he’d spoken English, but he tried to keep up with reading Henry James novels. He took us all around the museum, explaining the history of the various pieces in the museum. It was excellent. It’s probably the best thing to do in Zhytomyr, and why most tourists go there.
Entry into the museum was only 30 UAH and the tour was 150 UAH.
If you’re coming to Ukraine, you’ll want to read our list of unusual things to do in Kyiv.
Sergei Korolev’s House
After the tour of the Sergei Korolev Space Museum, our guide asked us if we also wanted to see Sergei Korolev’s birthplace. Why not? We thought. There aren’t that many things to do in Zhytomyr after all!
The house was Korolev was born is conveniently opposite the museum. The first couple rooms are set up as they would have been when he lived there. There’s a living room and bedroom, with pictures of the young Korolev and his parents and grandparents on the wall.
Oddly, you walk through one room, into a large exhibition space with more displays about Korolev’s life. Some of his clothes, with photos of his life and news clippings of his achievements, are all there. Our guide told us some interesting stories and seemed disappointed that while the museum had been donated Korolev’s mother’s hat boxes, that the hats were no longer inside.
For another interesting look at Ukraine’s Soviet past, you can visit an old nuclear missile base and push the button near Uman.
We love local Ukrainian museums. They are always in old crumbling yet ornate buildings, with mysterious rooms of exhibits, run by old women who sit in each room and turn the lights on and off as you go in and out. You can imagine them blowing the dust off the display cases as you come in.
The Zhytomyr Museum didn’t disappoint. There was a room full of stuffed local wildlife, some archaeological finds (largely rocks), local musical instruments and paintings depicting the history of the area. One room told the story of the wars and revolutions in Zhytomyr, including a uniform from the White Guard and upstairs there was an art gallery and a display of local textiles.
The building itself is beautiful and the staff, old women as always, were lovely. Ukrainian local museums are never expensive, this one was 20 UAH, although you have to pay another tiny amount to take photos. This means you always get piles of tickets, one for each room and one for the camera.
For stories of more weird museums, check out our post on visiting Minsk in nearby Belarus, where there’s a police museum and a museum of horsedrawn carriages!
Zhytomyr has some pretty churches which you can’t really miss when you are walking around the city. Blue and white St Michael’s cathedral stands at the top of Mykhailivska Street (see below), while the yellow and white Cathedral of the Holy Transfiguration looks over Peremony Square. The Catholic cathedral of St Sophia’s is pink, and obvious from the statue of Pope John Paul 2nd outside.
Outside the fast food place, Zhytomyr’s answer to Pazata Hata (see below), in Peremony Square, there’s a tank on a high pedestal, slightly tilted so it looks like it’s taking off into the air. It’s a memorial to the victory of Ukraine over the Nazi’s in World War 2. Quite an odd view as you look out while eating your dumplings.
While you are looking at the tank, check out the Hotel Zytomyr on one side of Peremony Square. It’s a cool example of Soviet Constructivism, incredibly ugly yet perhaps practical. As far as we could see, it isn’t open anymore, but worth a look.
If you are coming to visit Ukraine, you’ll need to read our Ukraine Travel Tips.
House with One Wall
This is the second of these we’ve seen in Ukraine. There’s one in Odessa too. Are there more? Let us know. Basically, it’s some kind of design which means that from an angle, it looks like the house is totally flat and only has the front way. If you walk around it, da-da, the rest of the perfectly normal shaped building appears.
Read our guide to things to do in Odessa, including their house with one wall.
No idea who or why they started building these, or if they exist elsewhere. It’s worth a photo.
Near to the House with One Wall is the retro looking electricity building.
Zhytomyr has a cool retro cinema. We got a cool shot with this yellow lada outside, which other visitors to Zhytomyr tell us they also have photos of
On the walk from the bus station to the city, we passed the PJSC Ukrtelecom building. This has several metal plaques on the side, representing various parts of Zhytomyr history, including Sergei Korolev and his rockets, and the invasion by Cossacks in the 17th Century. Fellow bloggers Kirsty and Mark from Kathmandu and Beyond, who despite the name, write a lot about Ukraine, did some research and wrote a blog about what they think the Zhytomyr plaques mean.
Something that Ukraine has in common with Vietnam, where we have also lived for a long period of time, is the parks. I imagine it’s a Communist thing, but the parks always have fairgrounds that once were brightly painted but have fallen into disrepair. Now they generally look like the sort of fairground that a murderous clown chases teenagers round in a horror film.
There was one in Haiphong, Vietnam, where we used to live, one in Odessa near the beach and there’s another in Zhytomyr. The rides are still in use, so people must still go on them, although they look pretty scary. This one even had some really creepy characters on the children’s rides that steal the kids souls when they go on the ride. Probably.
As well as the rides, there is a TU-104 aeroplane in Gagarin Park. The TU-104 was the second commercial jet plane in the world, and a great showcase for Soviet engineering. However, it tended to crash and was withdrawn from service in the 1980s.
For some reason I can’t work out, one aircraft was donated to Zhytomyr to display in the park. For a while it was a children’s cinema, but now it’s closed off and dirty. There seems to have been some interest in raising money to do up the plane, but let’s be honest, there are better things in Ukraine to spend money on these days, so it stays as it is.
Pidvisnyy Suspension Bridge
At one end of Gagarin Park, is something that Tripadvisor put on its top ten list of things to do in Zhytomyr. This is apparently the 2nd longest, or highest, I can’t remember, suspension bridge in Ukraine. The longest (or highest) is the one in Kamanets-Podilsky, by the fantastic fairy tale castle.
The Pidvisnyy suspension bridge in Zhytomyr doesn’t have quite the same surroundings, but there is a nice view over the canyon and you can cross to woodlands on the other side.
Mykhailivska Walking street
Most Ukrainian cities have a walking street, a long street where people can promenade up and down. Kyiv has Kreshatyk, Odessa has Deribasavskaya, Zhytomyr has Mykhailivska Street. This one is shorter than the others, but always pedestrianised.
With St Michael’s cathedral at one end (hence the name), the street has a couple of cafes along it, but not a many as you would expect. There is a branch of Drunk Cherry bar, the place that only sells one drink, a Lviv cherry liqueur that has shops all over Ukraine now. If you haven’t tried this already, or even if you have, it’s a cool thing to do in Zhytomyr.
Nadiia Bear Sanctuary
This was one of the reasons we wanted to visit Zhytomyr, but it was not to be. In a village just outside Zhytomyr, on the way towards Rivne, there’s a sanctuary where a few bears who have been rescued from circuses are kept.
Confusingly, it seems to be called both Nadiia Bear Sanctuary, and White Rock Bear Sanctuary. There are four bears there and you can visit and do a guided tour.
However, when we tried to get the the sanctuary by mrashrutka, we stood by the side of the road waiting for a bus going in the right direction for about half an hour, before deciding it was too late and giving up. There didn’t seem to be any taxi apps like there are in Kyiv, so next time we’ll try to order a taxi with the help of a local. If you want more information, check out their website. They also have a Facebook page.
Street Art in Zhytomyr
The street art in Zhytomyr was a surprise find. I mean, there isn’t much written online about visiting Zhytomyr anyway but we’d not read anything about the street art there. We notice pieces while wondering around the streets.
Read more of the street art in Kyiv.
Zhytomyr Craft Beer
Another thing that Zhytomyr has in common with Kyiv is the craft beer. Well, actually, this is something that’s true of the whole of Ukraine. They are really into craft beer these days and there are breweries all over the country. Zhytomyr has some nice little craft beer pubs and breweries.
If you’re in Kyiv, there are lots of craft beer breweries that deliver.
Shultz Pub is a cool underground beer hall with many rooms, giving it the atmosphere of an old castle. With heavy wooden tables and serving wooden boards of meat based products, it’s a typical Ukrainian drinkery. Shultz pub brews its own beers, with an interesting selection beyond the usual light, dark and wheat varieties. Kate had nettle beer and ginger beer, and there’s honey and cherry beers, all for about 55 UAH a half litre.
When we got back to Kyiv, we realised that there’s also a Shultz pub in Kyiv, in Ukrainia Mall near Circus, where we go to immigration.
Pleasantville BBQ Pub
Pleasantville BBQ Pub is a bit American themed, serving burgers and craft beer from various parts of the world, including Brewdog from the UK. Long and thin with windows looking over a park, it has lots of wooden booths. We had burgers there which were excellent.
Zivo et Pivo
Next to the Reikartz Hotel we found the super friendly Zivo et Pivo pub. It’s a chain, owned by the same company as the hotel, with pubs also in Cherkassy and Chernigiv and it sells a range of Reikartz beers, including pilsner, brown and ruby.
Cheshire Cat Art Pub
The Cheshire Cat Art Pub is a funky Alice in Wonderland theme pub, in a residential area between the city and the bus station. Decorated with pictures from the recent films, it has a range of beers including local Berdichevsky beer. To go with your beer, there’s a menu of food including typical Ukrainian pub meals -salads, shashlik and other grilled meats, burgers and fried cheese.
They love an English pub in Ukraine. Wolf Pub has it all – a red telephone box, picture of a Union Jack painted mini and pictures of the Beatles. Beer available includes Ukrainian crat beer Varvar, and local Berdichevsky. Don’t expect a fried breakfast or fish and chips, the food is typical Ukrainian pub grub again.
Where to stay in Zhytomyr
As I said, there aren’t many things to do in Zhytomyr and you can easily see them in a day, but if you want to experience the craft beer pubs and/or you want a more chilled time, there are several places to stay in Zhytomyr.
We stayed in a small apartment we rented from Booking.com. It was about a 5-minute walk from the centre. Owned by English-speaking Olga, it is newly renovated and has everything you need. Our apartment had one bedroom, with a kitchen-living room, internet TV, tea and coffee and a fantastic idea – a honesty ‘shop’. In the cupboard, they had left some beers, a bottle of wine, toothbrushes, crisps and some other items that you might need on an overnight stay. In many small Ukrainian cities and towns, you find that shops stop serving alcohol at 10pm, so you can’t pick up a beer on the way home. Here, we didn’t have to. It was already in the fridge waiting for us. More apartments should do this.
If you want a hotel stay, Kris stayed in the Reikartz Hotel on one of his visits. This is part of a chain all over Ukraine, which do seem to differ a lot in the decor.
Where to eat in Zhytomyr
As well as the above bars, there are other good place to eat in Zhytomyr.
Varenychna Baluvana Halya
This is a chain selling Ukrainian dumplings, verenyky. They come with a variety of fillings and are all handmade. It’s good for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Read our post to find out about about verenyky and what other food to try when are in Ukraine.
Another chain in Zhytomyr is Lviv croissants, who do a wide range of tasty filled croissants to eat in or take away. You’ll find these all over Ukraine.
Time to Eat seems to be Zhytomyr’s version of Pazata Hata – a buffet restaurant were you take a tray and pick up what you want to eat. These rare great ways to try lots of different Ukrainian food without having to know the name, you basically point at things. On Kris’ first visit to Zhytomyr, he was taken for lunch at Time to Eat so we returned during our trip.
The food is fine. Sunday lunchtime saw it full of families and interestingly also does homemade pizzas. You can recognise it from the purple logo of a smiling clock outside.
Phew. Well, after being told there was no point visiting Zhytomyr as there wasn’t anything to do there, I seem to have written over 3000 words on our trip from Kyiv. Hope you enjoyed it and if you planning to visit Zhytomyr yourself, hope it’s useful.
Read more of our posts on travel and living in Ukraine
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