Ostrava is the Czech Republic’s third city, known historically for heavy industry thanks to its large coal deposits. In Landek Park here the carbon even pushes up through the topsoil, and there’s evidence of human coal use going back 25,000 years. In modern times this turned the city into an industrial heartland, and it’s still a city that takes great pride in its mining heritage. Ostrava will hit the spot for people who want authentic industrial tourism, being home to two mining attractions, as well as the Vitkovice area, which combines a colliery with metal-works in an ensemble that is unlike anything else in the Europe. Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Ostrava!
In case you need proof of Ostrava’s pride in its industrial roots the vast industrial remnants of the Vitkovice metallurgy district have been cherished and transformed into modern attractions. The cavernous gasometer is a concert hall, while the 19th-century blast furnace is part of a tour that includes a 60-metre-high lookout accessed by an industrial elevator. The whole district is on the European cultural heritage list. One of the many things that makes Vitkovice special is that the entire steel-manufacturing supply chain can be found right in the same place. There are coal mines, coke plants, as well as iron and steel works, all next door to each other.
2. Landek Park
It’s fitting that Ostrava should boast the Czech Republic’s premier mining attraction, because people have been making use of the mineral deposits in Landek Park since time immemorial. Landek Park puts you right in the boots of a miner, to experience the good and not so good sides of industrialised mining in Ostrava over the last two centuries. Browsing the museum you’ll get to know about the history of mining rescue, and enter a mining cage for a simulated descent into a tunnel where you’ll be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a colliery in full effect.
3. New Town Hall
This functionalist building on the left bank of the Ostravice River has the distinction of being the largest and tallest town hall in the Czech Republic. What this means for visitors is the best view anywhere in the city, as well as guided tours every 30 minutes pointing out everything you need to know. The viewing platform is 72 metres above ground level, and on a clear day you can see out to Poland as well as the Beskydy and Jeseníky Mountains, with some of the highest peaks in the country. Best of all is the view of Ostrava itself; you’ll be surprised by how green the city is.
4. Masaryk Square
This is the highlight of the Moravian Ostrava Urban Heritage Zone, a pedestrian area that helps preserve central Ostrava’s architectural beauty. Masaryk Square is enclosed by charming and colourful turn of the 20th-century buildings, and is a convivial spot for friends to meet when the weather is good. Two monuments stand within the square: The Marian Plague Column, which commemorates the end of an outbreak in 1702, and the historic statue of St. Florian, the patron saint of fire-fighters, that has recently been restored. If you visit Ostrava in the winter check out the traditional Christmas Market in the square.
5. Silesian Ostrava Castle
This fortress is Ostrava’s main historic landmark. The Ostravice and Lučina rivers meet in the vicinity, while the border with Poland has always been close by, so this structure, erected in 1280, had a big strategic role for hundreds of years. Originally it had a gothic design, but was converted into a chateau in the renaissance era. Then, in 1872 it was razed to the ground. The reason? Mining! Subterranean tunnels had weakened the foundations, causing the building to sink 16 metres. Today it’s been faithfully restored and is perfectly stable, with exhibits about Ostrava’s history and the torture methods once performed in the castle’s dungeon.
This is the Czech Republic’s second-largest zoo, and holds EEP and EAZA membership, which means that it’s up to scratch when it comes to European ethical standards. This isn’t an attraction for people who want to just gawp at caged animals; Ostrava Zoo makes a real effort to educate. Take the new House of Evolution, which traces the history of evolution in West Africa with a multi-environment exhibition containing more than 200 species, among them invertebrates, reptiles, birds, mammals and primitive Sarcopterygii fish. Other zones include a Safari, Amazon hall, Botanical Park and a Farm where kids can meet domestic and farmyard animals.
7. Miniuni Miniature Park
This is a fun diversion for families with younger children. In a landscaped 1.5-hectare park are some 30 models of famous landmarks from around the world. The Brandenburg Gate, The Eiffel Tower and London’s Houses of Parliament are all here, carefully constructed at a scale of 1:25. A recent update has brought the Wonders of the Ancient World to this corner of the Czech Republic. Kids will wonder at the miniature railways and steamships that sail on park’s waterways. For grown-ups it’s a relaxing spot for a walk on a sunny day, with lots of greenery and water features.
8. The Ostrava Museum
This museum opened in the lovely Old Town Hall building in 2009 and is well worth a couple of hours of your time. Here you’ll learn how the coalfield beneath the city was harnessed. The natural history section tells of the geology around Ostrava, and you’ll also delve into the social aspect of the coal industry by checking out the mining exhibits, where all sorts of mining-related artefacts are on display. Ostrava’s families and institutions have donated art pieces and furniture to the museum, the best being a stunning astronomical clock, more than two metres in height; it has more than 2,500 moving parts, and designed by Jan Masek, a technician in the city’s steelworks in the 1920s.
9. Michal Colliery
Going back to 1843, the Michal Colliery was created by the Austrian Empire when two shafts were sunk at this spot. The colliery and its outer buildings will fascinate visitors with a bent for industrial history, because it was never modernised after 1915 despite remaining in operation until 1993. The buildings above ground have been lovingly preserved and will acquaint visitors with the mining lifestyle in the earliest days of electrification. You can follow the footsteps of Ostrava’s last miners as they went about their days between the rest rooms, lamp room, machine room and mining cage. Heavy machinery on display includes tippers, hoists, compressors and transporter crane trucks.
10. Ostravar Brewery
Ostravar, which comes in light beer and light lager varieties (Original and Premium), isn’t a household name outside of upper Moravia, but has a big local market. Beer is of course the Czech Republic’s national drink, and at this 19th-century brewery you’ll be walked through the brewing process, from the brewhouse with its large copper vats, to the cellar where the beer develops its depth. There’s antique paraphernalia to peruse, like an historic barrelhead, and transport glasses from the early-20th century. A real highlight is the brewery’s 1940s tap bar, where you can taste the Ostravar varieties at the end of the tour.
11. Ema Slag Heap
OK, so a slag heap may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday attraction, but Ostrava is a city that appeals to people who embrace the gritty things in life. The Ema Slag Heap is on the right bank of the Ostravice River and is a real oddity. It’s been piled to a height of 315 metres above sea level, but what’s really strange about the heap is that it has a subtropical climate, which sustains some unusual plant life. That’s because waste material from the ore refinement process is still burning deep beneath your feet , as you’ll realise when you see the haze of white smoke seeping from the ground.
12. Sareza Aquapark
In July and August daytime temperatures can push above 30°, which makes this well-appointed leisure complex essential, especially if you’re visiting Ostrava with children. There are play areas, minigolf, volleyball courts, walking trails and football goals, but the best part for kids is the family-friendly slide and splash pool area. Elsewhere, hardcore swimmers can venture out into the main swimming pool, which is watched by lifeguards and is absolutely massive. It’s pretty much a lake, at 380 metres in length and 220 metres wide, with a 50-metre-long waterslide. Snack bars and a cafe offer needed refreshments in summer.
13. Cez Arena
A great day out if you’re an ice hockey fan, or didn’t realise you were one, the Cez Arena has a big reputation in the hockey world, hosting the World Championships in 2004 and 2015. It has a capacity of 10,000 and is the home rink of HC Vitkovice Steel, a team that goes back to 1928 and plays in the Czech Extraliga. The season runs from autumn to spring, so if you’re in town at this time head down to the Cez Arena to join the boisterous home support. In the off-season it becomes a tennis venue, seeing Fed and Davis Cup action.
14. Ostravice River
Another seasonal attraction, the riverside is one of the most relaxing spots in the city for a gentle walk or simply to watch the water and world go by. On the banks you can join a bike tour and follow the course of the river as it leaves the city and meanders into the countryside. If that’s too much hard work then you could park yourself on a bench with a book or admire the birdlife. Both the water and the riverside are kept very clean, so don’t think twice about renting a paddle boat or canoe if you’re in the mood.
15. Antonín Dvořák Theatre
This neo-classical opera house opened in 1907 and has witnessed a great deal of change in its time. In the years between its foundation and the First World War only German performances were held here. From 1918 the building was nationalised as it remained until the Velvet Revolution when it was named after the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák . Book a seat for one of the operas or ballets hosted at the theatre, both for the show and to see the opulent interior neo-baroque decoration; there’s liberal use of gold leaf, sculptures, a huge chandelier in the main hall and sumptuous paintings depicting cherubs and the like.