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The largest Czech city built not by the State or the Church but by Capital. So it’s a city of American proportions and composition – not meant to be pretty but efficient. Built hastily, without regard to past traditions or the future well–being. Go big or go home!
The largest Czech city not overrun by tourists or hipsters – so it’s the ideal destination for hipster tourists.
But, most importantly, Ostrava hosts a veritable treasure trove of industrial history.
Between 1782 and 1994 coal was mined here, and they’ve been smelting iron ore since 1828. These past two centuries saw a small town of a few thousand grow into a sprawling urban agglomeration of 600,000. Several well–preserved facilities open to the public are a reminder of the city’s past.
If there’s one place that you simply must see in this city, it’s the national monument towering over the city landscape so majestically. The locals call it the “Ostrava Hradčany” (because its outline resembles Prague’s Hradčany castle).
It faced an uncertain future when they tapped the last batch of iron here, back in 1998. But Jan Světlík, the owner of the Vítkovice Holding, breathed new life into the dinosaur, investing his own money into it (and EU subsidies).
Take your time — at least half a day. There’s a lot to see, and you don’t wanna rush it.
First there’s the Blast Furnace No. 1. You’ll explore it in its entirety, from top to bottom. If heights make you queasy, it’s ok to avoid the footbridge suspended at 260 feet above. Just wait for the rest of the group by the elevator. You’ll miss the stylish glass–walled Bolt Tower café, however, which opened at the very top in 2014.
The Small World of Technology U6 is a retired factory building, now full of technical toys. You can see what it’s like to be a lathe operator or a bus driver here, walk through a sound–absorbing corridor, play a monochord and more. There are dozens of exhibits here – some of them likely to capture those of the aesthetic rather than the scientific inclination.
The Big World of Technology opened in 2014 in a brand new building replete with cutting–edge science and technology on display.
And what about that abandoned gas holder? Why not turn it into a multi–purpose concert hall, and call it Gong? You can explore it, for a small fee, as part of the tour.
When was the last time you crawled through mine pits dug out in 1830? They’re not as deep as the newer ones, so you’ll never descend lower than a few dozen feet beneath the surface. But various mining machines – still working by the way – and fascinating commentary by ex–miners will more than make up for it.
When you emerge from the Anselm/Ferdinand mine, don’t forget to check the museum of mine rescue operations, the memorial to mining accident victims, and a changing room with a traditional chain system. You can rest your feet in the Harenda u Barborky restaurant, which has decent Czech cuisine and proudly serves the house specialty – Miner’s Flag (a mix of herbal and mint cordials).
Another national monument. Only the above–ground area is open to the public, but it’s meticulously preserved – just the way it was left by the last miners, engineers, clerks and paramedics back in 1994. Cool retro.
Right next to the Michal mine. there’s the Ema slag heap, a huge pile of waste rock towering over the surroundings at almost 200 feet. Deep inside it’s still burning at 2,700 °F, so the surface is warm, steamy and overgrown with thermophilic vegetation. Ema is covered with trees, but if you follow the yellow trail all the way to the top a beautiful view of Ostrava and the Beskydy Mountains range will unfold before your eyes.
Even though Ostrava isn’t exactly a touristic city, there’s still a lot to see and do on the menu. After all, we wouldn’t want those half a million locals to get all bored and suicidal now would we?
The elevator will take you to 240 feet above the Prokešovo náměstí square. From that vantage point, you’ll quickly identify all the main points of reference around the city and your surroundings. In the south, you’ll see the industrial landscape of the Nová huť ironworks with the Beskydy Mountains range and the Lysá hora mountain as the backdrop. Looking southwest, there’s the silhouette of the Low Vítkovice Area, looking west you’ll see the Cathedral of the Divine Savior, the second–largest church in Moravia – smack dab in the middle of downtown – and the exposed brickwork of the single–towered Evangelical Church of Christ. Far to the northwest, there’s the Poruba suburb and closer to the east you can see the Slezská Ostrava district with the famous football stadium Na Bazalech and the Silesian Ostrava Castle.
The most popular Ostrava attraction, excluding the industrial heritage. Since the 1950s, the Zoo has been a home to Indian elephants, hippos, tigers and chimps. Many pens are walk–throughs or separated by low shrubbery – so no dogs allowed.
One of those museums schools love to ship their restless kids to near the end of the year. The period firearms collection is nice, as is the city history exposition with the extraordinary large–format oil painting of Vítkovice, by Otto Bollhagen. You won’t complain about the living and inanimate natural exposition either. A notable oddity: an indoor astronomical clock by Jan Mašek.
The permanent expositions (the torture room, the armoury) aren’t particularly noteworthy. But there’s a range of cultural and social events held on the premises. Check the schedule before visiting.
Something for the kids – 34 models of famous buildings downscaled to 1:25. Plus temporary exhibitions of ship models, car models and such.
The largest and most popular city park runs alongside the Ostravice river from the New Town Hall all the way to the Přívoz district. After the revitalization a few years back, a spacious riverbank became open to the public. Halfway through, there’s a majestic Red Army monument that was built in 1946, now a national monument.
So many different worlds, just a short train ride apart.
From downtown you can reach Vítkovice on foot. Take a stroll around the Mírové náměstí square. The exposed brickwork of the Saint Paul Church and the surrounding buildings will remind you of a Hanseatic town in the Baltics. And the diminutive houses on Lidická and other nearby streets give the impression of working–class communities in England and Scotland.
A grandiose housing estate founded in the 1950s is distinctly Soviet for a change. A generous boulevard, Hlavní třída, is the backbone of an urban sprawl – in the best traditions of Socialist Classicism. The iconic centerpiece of the area is a sweeping apartment complex called Oblouk, or The Arc. While you’re here, don’t miss the excellent Greek taverna Agiu Georgiu (Svazu protifašistických bojovníků 46, agiu–georgiu.com).
A populous city of 80,000, built up on a greenfield site, side by side with Poruba. It bears a strong resemblance to the Ostrava district, but it’s even more bombastic. Time for more comparisons – one would think that the Náměstí Republiky square has been airlifted straight from Berlin. Unlike on the Alexanderplatz, though, you’ll still find original signboards above local stores here.
The Havířov Main Station, a rare specimen of the unique Brussels Style of architecture, is in disrepair and the wreckers are closing in. Don’t miss it.
You can’t expect a vigorous gastro scene and thriving foodie communities in a city where even a moderate level of upmarket comforts is accessible to way fewer people than in Prague or in Brno. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a good meal in Ostrava.
Si Restaurant – a safe bet, hidden in the passageway by the Vesmír cinema. All the classic fare (salads, fish, steaks, hamburgers) are here, and the quality is comparable to that on offer in more auspicious cities. The beer from a local Beskydy Mountains brewery is full of love. Stylish but forgettable decor. Tyršova 25, sirestaurant.cz, main course prices price range: 130 – 225 CZK.
Hogofogo – a familiar bistro. Large window looking out to the street, a limited number of tables and fare, including burgers. My wild boar with cream sauce came with the best Carlsbad dumplings I’ve ever tasted. Chelčického 3, bistrohogofogo.cz, main courses price range: 120 – 175 CZK.
Ollie’s – the last of the three joints with rather cosmopolitan, non–Ostravian character but good food. Reachable on foot from the Low Vítkovice Area, Ollie’s is a bistro and a cake shop in one. In addition to main courses, the bistro offers various spreads and salads sold by weight. Výstavní 108, olliesbistro.cz, main course price range: 109 – 269.
Naproti – a milk bar, heavily influence by the milkbar culture of neighbouring Poland, so there’s a wide range of both sweet and savoury pancakes on the menu. You can also buy homemade cheesecake, Míša, and the famous krówky toffees. Kostelní 3, naproti.com, prices don’t exceed 100 CZK.
Burfi – my personal favorite of all the vegetarian joints. Both the food and décor take strong cues from India. Vojanova 1a, http://www.olliesbistro.cz/, prices don’t exceed 100 CZK.
Bongusta – another vegetarian eatery. A tiny family joint, obviously a hospitality dream come true. The pumpkin and gorgonzola burger is recommended. Nádražní 50, bon–gusta.cz, dish price range: 99 – 149 CZK.
U Skákavého poníka – one of the few beer halls where you can’t get Radegast, Svijany or Pilsen, just the best of local microbreweries, including the in–house Qasek. It’s a pity they don’t have any lager, wizenbier or ale mugs, and everything comes in tall, handleless half–liter glasses. The menu covers all the pub classics – goulash, ribs, steaks and cheese dishes. The place is rather small, so make sure to book a table even on Monday. Přívozská 34, pivovarsky–dum.eu, dish price range: 79 – 245 CZK.
Miura – the list wouldn’t be complete without this notable hotel restaurant. It’s not directly in Ostrava – in fact, it’s about 20 miles away – but it’s the only first–class restaurant in the region. I haven’t checked this one out personally, but I could taste chef Michal Göth’s immeasurable talent in Brno, plus all my foodie friends gave Miura glowing reviews. Čeladná 887, miura.cz, five courses tasting menu is 900 CZK.
It’s black Ostrava, but you can still get a flat white here:
Ostravanka – the best place for work. Ample outlets, wifi, non–intrusive music. The coffee, supplied by the La Boheme roasting plant, is excellent. In addition to the espresso, you can choose from several filtration methods. (Prokešovo náměstí 2, also Čs. legií 8 and the Nová Karolina shopping mall, ostravanka.cz)
Čerstvý boby – a small store selling freshly roasted coffee by Doubleshot. You can enjoy your cup while standing up and watching the Nádražní street action outside. A few more recently opened cafés were recommended to me by the kindly barista – and I’ve included them all. Thank you, madam! (Nádražní 47, ccerstvyboby.cz)
La Petite Conversation – David the Belgian and Francois the Frenchman run this romantic café and sandwichery. A romantic date? Nowhere but here! (Chelčického 8, lapeco.cz).
Minikino – a terrace looking out to the Kostelní street and a cosy, dusky club inside dominated by a stupendous Ostrava roof panorama with a Charlie Chaplin double. The beer is supplied by the Koníček brewery (Kostelní 3, minikino.cz).
Stará aréna – tough to pigeonhole this one. Frequent live band performances would make Stará aréna a night club, I guess. Considering the coffee by Doubleshot and the view to the main Ostrava square, I’d recommend this joint to all the lounge lizards who can appreciate the retro feel reminiscent of 1970s cafés. (28. října 23, staraarena.cz)
Café Industrial – very posh. Beautiful art deco décor, expertly stocked wine menu, guided tastings of rums and whiskeys. A good choice for formal meetings. (Zahradní 10, industriacafe.cz)
Don’t worry, this won’t take long.
Flea market – this is like the best thing ever. A house with a yard and a few garages jam–packed with glorious junk: furniture, cookware, various decorations, paintings, toys, books. If you love this sort of thing, feel free to visit Ostrava just for this. (Bendlová 9, www.facebook.com/Bleší–trhyprodej–všeho–druhu–205905772759139/)
AAA Antikvity Art Aukce – for those who prefer real art to cute junk. Several times a year there’s a fine arts auction in the Brioni hotel. (Českobratrská 19, aukcnidum.cz)
Fiducia, a second–hand bookstore and readers club – the best–stocked used bookstore I’ve discovered. They also host lectures, debates and have an art gallery. (Nádražní 30 – entrance from the Mlýnská street, antikfiducia.com)
Ty Identity – a fashion shop with assorted hipsterwear. There’s stuff here I’ve never seen in similar stores in Prague, Brno or Bratislava. Kudos. Poštovní 2, www.facebook.com/Ty.identity.design.shop.
City Folklore – an even more hipsterish boutique on the main thoroughfare. Clothes and polaroids. They’ll make you an espresso. (Nádražní 40, cityfolklore.com)
Ostravainfo!!! – the city infocenters offer all the standard knowledge, as well as some decent souvenirs, such as earrings with three exclamation points or shopping bags printed with local slang. Friendly prices all around. (Jurečkova 12, Nádražní 196, Peterkova 12, Prokešovo náměstí 8, Low Vítkovice Area – Gong, the Nová Karolina shopping mall, ostravainfo.cz)
The Nová Karolina shopping mall – a huge shoebox of a building, mockingly nicknamed “New Fukushima” by the critics, drains the crowds from the downtown. On the bright side, new and better things than H&M and other chains can fill the void now. Considering the usual Czech standards, this shiny new mall is spacious – and even stylish. For instance, the outside billboards are behind the windows and not slapped directly on the façade. (Jantarová 4, forumnovakarolina.cz)
The following spots are proper night clubs hosting a small event a few times a week. They don’t charge a fortune and you don’t have to overplan your visit. Then there are several large concert halls: the Gong multipurpose hall (www.dolnivitkovice.cz), Trojhalí Karolina (trojhali.cz) and the Ostrava Aréna of course, formerly known as The Palace of Sports and Culture (arena–vitkovice.cz). The Janáček Symphony Orchestra can’t go unmentioned either (jfo.cz).
Plan B Hardcore Café – it’s recommended to plug your ears while visiting this unique night club so that your eardrums won’t be ravaged by all the hardcore, punk or thrash metal. Rugged music is faithfully matched by the décor and menu, the standout being a blend of Sprite and absinthe called “anal”. Some friendly advice – the bartenders only understand the Czech pronunciation, which you do NOT want to scream twice in this racket. (Českobratrská 1, planbcafe.cz)
Dock – during the day the simple interior is a pleasant working or drinking environment and in the evening the live bands are equally nice. You can choose from a wide sortiment of genres, from folk music to electroswing. (Havlíčkovo nábřeží 28, clubdock.cz)
Cooltour – a cultural center with live bands plus more. They’re hosting dance performances, movie screenings and debates. (Černá louka 3188, cooltourova.cz)
Parník – rock, jazz, swing. The most conservative program of all the clubs on this list. Figures. It’s the oldest one. (Sokolská 26, klub–parnik.cz)
The Stodolní ulice street – I gotta be honest here: if you’ve ever seen a truly vibrant city and you’ve been excited by all the sensational hype surrounding this place… you’ll be disappointed. We don’t even have to go as far as to compare this strip with Barcelona or Budapest. Just look at the much bigger Piotrkowska street in Lodz. And you can get much better services for the same money on the Jakubského náměstí square in Brno. If only the Stodolní street were just small or behind the times. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit dead. It’s thumping on Friday and rumbling on Saturday, but for the rest of the week it’s tumbleweed time. The only places rising up from the dreary mediocrity are the romantic restaurant Café Au Pere Tranquille (Musorgského 8, aucafe.cz), the cocktail bar Modrá myš (Stodolní 8, modramys.cz) and the café Sádrový ježek (Janáčkova 4, sadrovy–jezek.cz).
The Kostelní ulice street – If elbowing your way through a crowd of puking teens is not your idea of a quality time there’s an alternative haven rising up across the downtown. Kostelní ulice – or Church Street, after the Saint Wenceslaus Church, the oldest in town – is being developed by businessmen, architects and activists with the goal of turning the boulevard connecting the main square and the waterfront into a “little Copenhagen” (malakodan.cz). It’s home to some of the joints mentioned above – Dock, Naproti and Minikino. There’s a private absinthe club call Les around the corner where the fragrant liqueur is regrettably served with sugar and a spoon. But they can do it properly too – with a dropper full of ice–cold water that makes the drink charmingly opaque (Střelniční 2).
A night life not quite matching the myths is offset by cultural events that would make Brno green with envy.
Colours of Ostrava – the Low Vítkovice Area hosts this huge festival, famous not only domestically but also internationally. Czech and global music elite guaranteed, and 40,000 visitors annually. Every summer in July. (www.colours.cz)
Pecha Kucha Night – 20 slides, 12 seconds each. This lecture format itself is not unique. Pecha Kucha Nights with interesting people presenting their work started in Japan, and today they’re being held all over the world. The Ostrava strain is doubly special though. First, it’s a different venue for every happening, which is fine because the suitable venues are thick on the ground in this town. And second, it’s a mass event that’s always full and not just because there is no entry fee. Only London and Tel Aviv nights bring better turnouts. (www.pkno.cz).
Zlatá tretra – the world’s best athletes have been coming to Ostrava to taking each other on since the 1960s. For the last few seasons, it’s the sprinter Usain Bolt in particular who is drawing the crowds. (zlatatretra.cz)
To cover the old town, from the Stodolní to the Kostelní streets, some healthy feet are all you need. It’s rather small. Thing is, Ostrava is not just the old town. It’s two miles from the main square to Gong, two and half miles to the ice hockey arena and five miles to Landek. Not a huge problem for proficient tourists, but the sidewalks outside the downtown are uncomfortably deserted, plus they often abruptly end in mud. The public transport is beyond reproach, so feel free to use it for longer jaunts. I wouldn’t recommend biking through the city. There are no racks, no bikeways, no rentals, and no infrastructure. My green little me would prefer not to say it out loud, but of all the big Czech cities Ostrava is the most car–friendly one. The roads are wide and rarely jammed, plus there are parking lots all over the city where you can leave your car either free of charge or at a reasonable fee ranging between 20 and 30 CZK. As I said – Ostrava is American.
You can find all the featured places in a handy map created by Luboš Moravec.
My name is Michal Kašpárek, and I earn my café lounging living as a writer and journalist. I write for Finmag online magazine and other media outlets. And you may know my Brno city guide.
Brno is my home, but for the past few years I’ve been visiting Ostrava just as a tourist. This pocket guide isn’t and can’t be exhaustive. I’ve written it because I couldn’t find a handy account of all the Ostrava highlights for curious minds anywhere else. I believe my humble goal was achieved.
The prime mover for my creation was my Ostrava pal Robert Vlach. Not only did he shower me with useful tips but he and his girlfriend, Lenka, also put me up in their cosy Airbnb apartment. Thanks guys.
The guide was finished in October 2015.
If you want to add something, thank me or call me names, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.