For a city break with personality, the Czech city offers so much variety
Have you heard of Ostrava? Maybe not, but that’s about to change. It’s the Czech Republic’s third-largest city, a former industrial powerhouse that’s smartly transformed itself into a center for art, sport, nightlife and culture.
There are great value flights to Ostrava available now, so if you’re looking for a city break with personality, Ostrava might be exactly what you need! Let’s have a look around.
We’ll begin with the part of the city that best demonstrates Ostrava’s forward-thinking nature. The area of Vítkovice was, between 1828 and 1998, one of the largest industrial complexes in the country, with coal mining and steel production on a vast scale.
Today, the entire complex has been transformed into an educational, social and artistic center, while still maintaining the industrial buildings and architecture that made it famous for so many years. Examples include the multipurpose Gong Hall, a former gas storage tank that’s now a concert venue; the Great World of Technology, an interactive science and technology center; the Hlubina Cultural District, where you can see bands, artists, film-makers, sculptors, photographers and more; and Landek Park, where we’re going next.
Once coal was discovered in Landek Park in 1789, Ostrava’s future was sealed. It’s now home to the Landek Park Mining Museum, a fascinating place and the largest of its kind in the Czech Republic. The old pithead and buildings on the surface have been preserved and now house exhibits about the mine rescue team, and there are huge machines dotted about the area.
However, the real action happens when you don your protective mining helmet and descend into the Anselm Mine. Descending nine meters underground, you’re taken on a guided tour of how the pit was from the early days and into the 20th century. You really get a feel for how hard the miners worked, and what a dangerous way of life it must have been, and when the mining equipment starts up, it brings it all to life. A must-see.
The New Town Hall and Tower
Once you’ve emerged, blinking, into the light, it’s time to get your bearings on the rest of the city, and the best place to start is at the New Town Hall. It’s a striking building, with its modernist clock tower and two wings of the building surrounding a square that contains a slightly creepy modern statue of Icarus.
Climbing to the viewing platform 73 meters up, you get a panorama of Ostrava and the surrounding areas. You can truly understand the city’s history when you notice towers and pitheads sprouting like the surrounding trees from town squares, and the proximity of the steelworks and goods yards. But you can also see how close the city is to some stunning countryside, and on clear days there are views of the Beskydy mountains to the east and south, and all the way over the border and into Poland.
A view back into the past
Ostrava’s later history is certainly what shaped the city of today but, like most other Czech cities, it has a deeper wellspring of stories to tell. There’s no better place to discover them than at the Silesian Ostrava Castle to the north-east of the city center.
Built as a fortress in the 13th century, it was converted into a chateau during the 16th century and remained standing until after World War Two. It was seized by the communist regime in 1945 and left in disrepair, eventually partly collapsing due to mining. However, in 2004 it was bought by the city and a rebuilding program began. It’s now restored to its former glory, and hosts events such as the Summer Shakespeare Festival, outdoor music festivals, Christmas markets, and is also home to a museum showing the history of the castle itself.
Creatures great and small
If you’re traveling as a family, there’s loads for kids to do in Ostrava as well. Let’s begin at the zoo where a rolling, green landscape of over 100 hectares is home to almost 400 species of animals. From giraffes and hippos to leopards and flamingoes, the zoo is also constantly modernizing and maintaining the highest standards in caring for and breeding its animals.
The same part of the city is also home to the Botanical Park and Gardens, an ambitious project that also rejoices under the name the Great Ostrava Forest. That’s not an exaggeration either, with 92 more hectares of stunning landscape land consisting of forests, lakes, ponds, wild meadows and fields. There are various walking routes through the forests, each more beautiful than the last, with paths winding through the trees, across bridges over bubbling streams, and along jungle paths scented with wildflowers.
If you’re looking for roaringly exciting times, however, what about dinosaurs? Ostrava’s DinoPark contains life-size static and animatronic dinosaurs so you can take a tour through the Mesozoic era and come face to face with the prehistoric beasts! It also features a museum with genuine artefacts to learn more about the past, a 3D cinema with shows made specifically for the park, and adventure playgrounds for all ages.
A spot of culture
Ostrava’s cultural scene has come on leaps and bounds over the last 20 years or so, and now it’s one of the Czech Republic’s top destinations for art, film and music lovers.
The Colours of Ostrava music festival, held in Vítkovice, is one of the largest in the country, attracting artists such as The Cure, The Killers, Florence + the Machine, N.E.R.D., Imagine Dragons and hundreds more from around the world. There’s also theater, comedy, performance workshops, amazing food and drink and so much more to keep you entertained over the long weekend.
A more permanent fixture is the House of Art, a collection of over 20,000 pieces of fine art housed in a wonderful functionalist building of red brick on Jurečkova, not far from the castle. The quality of the works on show is outstanding, and means it ranks as one of the top five institutions in the country, with both permanent and temporary exhibitions of media ranging from photography to sculpture, classical paintings, graphic art, and others to feed your soul.
Sport for the win
Like most Czech cities, when it comes to sport, Ostrava has two main loves: football and ice hockey. Their respective teams — Baník Ostrava and HC Vítkovice — are among the bigger names in each sport.
Baník’s main period of success was during the 1970s, winning leagues and cups in the former Czechoslovakia. Since then they’ve won the odd pot (their last league title was in the 2003-04 season) and had a season in the second division, but they’re now consistently among the better sides in the league. Their old stadium at Bazaly is now a training complex, and since 2015 the team play at the newly-renovated Městský stadion. Fans of a certain vintage may recall Baník’s occasional forays into Europe, and their former players include former Fulham and West Ham bench-warmer Jan Laštůvka, and Liverpool’s Champions League winner Milan Baroš.
HC Vítkovice are fairly regular top-three finishers in the Czech Extraliga (the top tier of ice hockey in the country), pulling in decent crowds. Their home, the Ostravar Aréna, looks like a spaceship from a 1980s sci-fi show, and was used as a venue for both the 2004 and 2015 Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships. Tickets for both sports are readily available and great value, so if you feel like catching a game, no problem!
Do more for less!!!
Those three exclamation points are everywhere in Ostrava, not least on your OSTRAVACARD!!! Aggressive-looking it might be, but it’s a great system. Basically, if you’re staying for two or more nights at one of a range of places in the city, you get an OSTRAVACARD!!! for free.
Benefits include between 10% and 20% off entry to almost all the places mentioned above (and some that we haven’t, including the SAREZA outdoor swimming pool, the Planetarium, and the E-Motion VR Adventure Park), discounts in selected restaurants, bars and coffee shops, plus savings on souvenirs.
It’s a brilliant way to make the most of your stay in Ostrava. You’ll need at least a couple of days to see everything that’s going on, so why not take advantage? It’ll make your time in Ostrava even better!!!
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