Spoiler alert: The Colours of Ostrava Music Festival was the best music festival I’ve ever attended. Having trekked to places like Philadelphia for the Made in America Festival and New York for the Billboard Hot 100, it’s safe to say that Colours of Ostrava was infinitely better. I mean, they didn’t have Beyonce, but everybody can’t always get it 100% right.
Half of you may be here because you need convincing to book your ticket for the next festival and the other half of you are probably trying to figure out what the hell I’m speaking of. Let me provide some background:
Ostrava, you say?
Yes, I do say. Ostrava is a city in eastern Czech Republic, just a three hour train ride from Prague. If you ask anyone who’s actually heard of the town, they’ll probably comment on it’s “industrial heritage” and the fact that the city was able to become what it is today thanks to coal mining. Now Ostrava is home to music festivals, theaters, art galleries, and even shopping centers. I had to throw that last part in there because when unknown cities get shopping malls complete with H&M’s, Zara’s. etc. well, that’s kind of a big deal. At that point it’s no longer some small city in the middle of nowhere.
Ostrava also happens to be on the way to some other pretty amazing cities in the Central Europe such as Opava, Olomouc, Prague, and right across the border from Poland. POLAND! Why visit one without the others?
What is Colours of Ostrava?
Colours of Ostrava is a four day music festival that houses the most eclectic lineup of artists ever. That’s more of my opinion than an actual fact, but still. This year we got to see artists such as N.E.R.D., KYGO, Joss Stone, Jessie J, and Ziggy Marley. I mean can you imagine going to a concert where all of these acts performed side by side? And those are just the headliners. You could hear everything from folk music music to EDM.
The best part of this festival (and I tell this to anyone who’ll listen) is the location. This not only made this experience 100% unique, but it’s the selling point if you ask me. Although the festival began in 2002, it moved to the Dolní Vítkovice (say that 3x fast) area in 2012 due to its popularity. It simply needed a new place to house all of the festival goers and the ironworks was brilliant. I often say this location was ingenious and will forever feel that way. Walking under towers and turning the corners of old warehouses that not too long ago were still very much in working order just to get to a new stage and prepare for a performance is a feeling you have to experience for yourself. While the pictures are stunning, they in no way do it justice.
How to get there and around…
I don’t know a single soul that didn’t either come directly from Prague, or some other major city via bus or train, so that’s exactly how I recommend getting to the city. If for some odd reason you wanted to visit several Czech cities and saw the cheapest flight option directly into Ostrava, then book it before heading off to another region.
As far as getting around the city, I have no complaints about the tram and bus system even though I walked most of my time there. Because I originally stayed quite a ways from the city center, I had to catch both busses and trams to get to the action.
Where to Stay
I stayed in two places during my time in Ostrava and recommend one more than the other as it’s right in the center of town and even walking distance to the festival if you don’t feel like getting on the tram. Kampus Palace is a huge building filled with converted dormitories. While air conditioning isn’t a big deal in the Czech Republic period (I mean, why would it be?) I was just happy to have my first window with a screen. Seriously, in all of my European travels I’ve never been able to open a window without letting half of the insects in the world into my room to torture me.
Although there are special trams that run until a certain time of night for the festival specifically, they can still be far and few between. Just stay in Central Ostrava and save yourself the headache. There are a few hotels in the area and I recommend booking early as prices get sky high for the festival and the cheaper lodging options are definitely on the inconvenient outskirts of town.
What should I do when I’m not getting my jam on?
We all know jam is also an adverb. Getting your jam on, it’s what you do. You’ll need things to do if you don’t want to hang around stuffing your face with freshly grilled khlobasa’s, langos, and Faency Fries (delicious Belgian fries) while waiting for your favorite artist to hit the stage. By the way, I HIGHLY recommend indulging in khlobasa’s and Faency Fries on a daily basis and washing it all down with Radegast, the local beer.
The festival is also SO MUCH MORE than just a music festival as there are tons of spaces for you to just hang out, enjoy games, movies, and drink the time away. You can also find a never-ending amount of vendors selling everything you could possibly imagine. This is a great opportunity to support local artisans and merchants. Buy local!
Check Out the Bolt Tower
I was never afraid of heights until walking around this tower at night while is was drizzling outside. I blame it on the fact that I could see straight through the grates to the ground. I was borderline petrified but not enough to stop me from getting up there again the very next day in broad daylight and walking around. By walking, I mean scooting as I had to hold on to both rails and do a weird shuffle thing with my feet to feel somewhat safe. As if that’d stop me from free falling to the ground.
You may not have guessed it, and I didin’t believe it when originally told, but this tower is named after as well as christened by none other than Usain Bolt. He’d actually been a visitor to Ostrava for 10 years straight. Who knew? The reason for his annual return is sports related but it’s a cool fact nonetheless. Even cooler for him that this tower bears his name. Check out available tours here. I recommend visiting as the sun sets as it makes for even better pictures.
Visit a Mine
I had the chance to visit Landek Mine while in Ostrava and if you’re into this sort of thing, I can definitely recommend it. If you look at my video clips from this mine, it may seem a little creepy, but it was an amazingly unique experience! There were actually kids in the mine touring with their parents, so I assure you it isn’t scary in the least.
We started with a tour of the actual coal mine that still houses coal although most of it was extracted. Walking around and seeing how each crevice was ultimately created gave me an even deeper appreciation for this trade as it is definitely one of the most dangerous professions you can take up. I didn’t expect it, but we were also able to see some machines in action and they are as loud as you would expect them to be. Mining is and was a tough, dirty business, but someone had to do it. And it wasn’t just people. The mine actually “employed” ponies, and I use the word employed extremely loosely, at one point in time.
Although the mine is now out of commission, there is a museum dedicated to its history as well as the rescuers who often times risked there lives to save miners in need. I thought this was another great point of view as we rarely hear from this side of the mining experience. You can even practice on the course that rescuers used daily to prepare for emergencies.
Tour Central Ostrava
My favorite parts of my two tours of the Center of Ostrava were all of the monuments that would’ve gone unnoticed had my guides not mentioned them. If you’re ever in Ostrava and happen to look down at the ground and see golden, square bricks engraved with names, those are most likely memorials. In my case, these bricks held the names of Jewish people who either fled Ostrava during World War II or were ultimately murdered in the Holocaust. There were also various monuments and buildings that are too easy to pass by that were also dedicated to the memory of Jewish lives that were lost or specifically relevant to the city at that time. It was so nice getting this “inside scoop” and actually being able to point it out to people I later met who didn’t even notice the monuments hidden down side streets and such.
We also learned about the history of the city. One thing no resident will forget to tell you is that the city has the highest consumption of beer in the world. You’ll be hard pressed to walk past a cafe or restaurant at 9am and not see a few people with a pint of beer in front of them. It’s a part of their cultural history and it took everything in me not to sit down and join them.
Ostrava is one of those places where borders constantly changed as the city expanded, so it’s comprised of several regions. Imagine waking up one day and finding out that you’re now living in an entirely different city. As more jobs were created thanks to the city’s industrial heritage, more people flocked to Ostrava. It’s the tale as old as time.
Visit the Town Hall
Town Hall happens to also be the home of the watch tower. Forgive me, I should say New Town Hall. The Old Town Hall is directly in the city center and is now a museum worthy of a look see. New Town Hall is where you’ll find city employees and if you’re as lucky as I am, you’ll see the mayor casually strolling out of town hall and heading for lunch somewhere close by. I legit couldn’t stop staring.
From the watch tower of New Town Hall you have views of the Beskydy Mountains as well as the river. I was able to see the actual building I was originally staying in when I first arrived, and that was at the edge of the city! There’s also a great information center right before you come up to the viewing deck so I recommend stopping at the desk with any questions about the city you may have.
Hike a Slag Heap!
If you’re like me, you may have no clue what the heck a slag heap is. Well, it’s an artificial/manmade hill of waste produced from mining. They usually look like normal hills with dirt, grass, and other greenery growing, but had it not been for the mine hundreds of feet below, it wouldn’t be there.
Slag heaps in Ostrava seem to have names and ours was Emma. What makes her stand out from the crowd is the fact that while walking up, you can actually feel the heat emanating from the ground as the coal below is still very much burning. This is a good place for a quick hike to not only get unmatched views of Ostrava, but I saw people horseback riding as well. So if that’s your jam, go for it.
My favorite fact about this slag heap is that due to it being so warm all year round, to the point that snow won’t stick, it actually posed as a haven for homeless people in the cold. Think of how American homeless people sleep on top of grates near the train station in the winter due to warm air floating through them. Same concept, but natural. How amazing is that?