Sitting quietly in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic, just a short distance from the Polish border, is the city of Ostrava. Until recently, this third-largest city in Czechia was completely unknown to us; which I’m sure this is the case for most who live outside of the area.
While attending a travel conference known as TBEX a couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to spend some time in Ostrava. Thankfully, given our absence of strict schedule, we had the chance really dig in and explore what this unique city has to offer.
Ostrava, the Forgotten City
When I hear Czech Republic, my mind immediately goes to Prague, as I’m sure it does with most people.The city is synonymous with the country and vice versa. Those who venture further might spend a little time in Brno before moving onward, but few think twice about visiting elsewhere. Unfortunately, even those who do visit Ostrava, often don’t give it the attention it deserves.
Prior to our arrival, we spoke with several people who had passed through here in the past. Most of whom either popping in for a few short hours while transferring buses, or watching the city pass as their train rolled through. To say it wasn’t spoken highly of was an understatement – and one that we would soon learn to be quite inaccurate.
Visiting Ostrava is an Authentic Experience
Upon first glance, it’s clear that Ostrava is much different than the more popular destinations in the region. This city is an industry town, it’s a working class city with working class people. While I understand how this may rub some travellers the wrong way, personally I love this. In many ways it actually reminds me of places I grew up.
The city was quite literally built on coal. In the few years following the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism, the coal industry in Ostrava died out. Although veins rich in coal still run just beneath the city streets, mining ended back in 1994. The end of the coal era saw job losses of over one hundred thousand. In the years since, Ostrava has seen many of it’s citizens moving elsewhere in search of work. Many of those who remained faced economic hardships for years.
Thankfully, the city and it’s surrounding areas are back on the rise. Something that can be greatly credited to the fortitude and proactive attitude of those who remained.
With it’s primary source of income in the past, Ostrava has been taking leaps to bounce back. Quite clearly, their reach for tourism is a high priority. Situated in close proximity to highly visited cities like Brno, Vienna, and Krakow; Ostrava is working effortlessly to draw in the crowds.
From a solid food scene and classically Czech drinking culture, to the traditional centre of town and the repurposed ruins of it’s industrial past; Ostrava is climbing the ranks.
A Few Things to Check Out
The Mining Museum at Landek Park
If you’re visiting a mining town, you can’t skip out on a museum dedicated to what built it! On the northern edge of the city, you can learn not only the history and techniques of the industry, but also venture deep underground into the mine itself aboard an authentic elevator.
The Best Views of the City
To get a 360 degree view of the surprisingly colourful city, head up to the viewing platform of the New Town Hall. Centrally located, for only a few dollars, you’ll get access to the platform sitting over 70 metres above the city. Apparently, on a clear enough day, you can see all the way into Poland!
Stroll Along the River
A classic European experience in any city, strolling along the river is always a perfect way to relax and take in the moment. Before joining with the Odra river flowing towards Poland, the Ostravice winds north through central Ostrava and has plenty of trails and green space to enjoy at your leisure.
Cruise the City by Bike
A recent introduction to the city are the pink bikes, a bike-sharing platform that is widely popular among locals. Nearly 200 bikes are available from over 40 different locations around town. To give your feet a rest, these are a great way to enjoy the river trails. Register HERE https://www.rekola.cz/en/
Explore Old Town
Don’t let the industry vibe throw you off, you’re still in Europe, and Ostrava boasts a wonderful city centre. Masaryk Square, with it’s colourful, early-20th century architecture, is a fantastic part of town where locals gather day and night.
Sit back at one of the many cafes, cool off in the fountains, or simply soak up the rich, historic atmosphere. If you’re feeling confident enough, maybe join in one of the beach volleyball games on the west side of the square.
Party on Stodolni Street
I’ve seen people drinking as early as 10am on Ostrava’s legendary pub street. Although I will neither confirm nor deny that we were part of that group, we most certainly enjoyed a few beverages after dark.
Throughout the day, patrons stop in for a late breakfast or a quiet lunch while chatting over a few casual drinks. Once the evening hits however, especially on the weekend, four city blocks of the city centre become a chaotic, sprawling beer fest.
Rules don’t seem to apply when it comes to public consumption, nor does there seem to be any ownership of pint glasses – people tend to grab a drink from one bar and finish it at another. Whether this is ‘proper’ practice or not, we aren’t sure, but it certainly appeared common!
Upscale bistros are replaced by open stalls selling slabs of grilled meat and kebabs until dawn, when the last of the bumping techno begins to fade.
It’s not the prettiest scene you’ll encounter, but even if you aren’t a drinker, being a silent observer is worth the visit.
Explore the Modern Ruins of Dolni Vitkovice
The DOV is easily Ostrava’s most cherished landmark and checking this place out is an absolute must. This sprawling industrial area of the former Vitkovice Ironworks, decommissioned back in 1998, has been cleverly repurposed as one of the most unique multi-use venues around. The hulking, rusted steel structures, gangways and former storage tanks, are reminiscent of some post-apocalyptic movie scene. Having spent several years working in such facilities as an electrician back in Canada, it was wildly interesting to see such a place from this perspective.
Be sure to visit the cafe at the Bolt Tower, the former blast furnace-turned viewing tower that gets it’s name from famed Jamaican runner Usain Bolt. Also, check out some of the other spots on the site, specifically the Gong. Originally a monstrous fuel storage tank, it’s now one of the most unique conference halls in the world. Grab a coffee (or beer, probably beer) from the Andy Warhol-inspired cafe and check out some of the great art exhibits featured throughout the complex.
We were incredibly fortunate to be here for TBEX, as this amazing location was the host venue for the event. It was fantastic to explore all it had to offer!
As a Base for Further Exploration
Centrally located in the heart of the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Czech Republic, Ostrava is the perfect base for exploring the surrounding areas. From the town of Stramberk and the magnificent Beskydy mountains, to the adventure hub of the country in the Jeseníky range, be sure to give yourself plenty of time for getting outside of the city itself!
Food and Drink
Czech food is very Eastern European. Lots of meat, potatoes and bread. Vegetables, when they appear, are often in the form of pickled cucumbers or cabbage. What makes Czech cuisine so incredible though, is how they work these seemingly simple ingredients into such a wide variety of complex flavours.
During our stay, we were able to sample some of Ostrava’s outstanding restaurants, but a few of the best drinking establishments as well! I initially began listing some of our favourites here but that list soon became a post of it’s own. Here are our favourite places to eat in Ostrava!
A Note on Getting Around
This was a curious issue for many of those visiting Ostrava. Google Maps didn’t seem to accurately plan transit routes in Ostrava. As an alternative, many visitors and locals alike were using the Moovit app instead.
Ostrava isn’t as polished as Prague or as clean as Vienna and it’s people aren’t as wealthy. The experience you’ll find while visiting here won’t be stale and sanitized – it’s not artificial. Ostrava and it’s people are authentic, a representation of the Czech Republic not often shown in the brochures.
The people are just as friendly and welcoming as anywhere else in the country. And while they’ve been through some very rough times in recent years, they resilience has seen them come through with heads held high. They smile just as much – or as little – as is common throughout the region. The difference is that they truly mean everything they express, and aren’t afraid to show it.
We were delightfully impressed with this relatively unknown city. From the repurposed ironworks and charming Old Town, to the exciting nightlife and outstanding food scene; we’re looking forward to returning!