Pardubice is known for gingerbread, steeplechase racing and explosives – Semtex manufacturer Explosia a.s. was founded in 1920 in the Pardubice suburb of Semtin – so one would hardly expect to find a beautiful historical center, a magnificent chateau, relaxing parks and lots of fun festivals.
What’s more, it’s easy to get to. Trains leaving Hlavni nadraží several times per hour, able to whisk you there in 70 minutes or less make it an ideal destination for an afternoon of sightseeing or a weekend of fun at one for the numerous festivals and events, the first and foremost of which is ….
1. Josef Vana riding the Great Pardubice: At 6.9 kilometers, “The Great” is the second longest and, thanks to the murderous Taxis ditch, the most dangerous steeplechase in Europe. It has been held annually on the first Sunday in October at the Pardubice racecourse since 1874. Even in Communist times, not to mention today, it was attended by racing fans from all over the world (btw, a great chance to see some stunning hats). At age 62, legendary Czech jockey Josef Váňa holds the record, with eight wins under his belt (three of these after his 56th birthday in 2009) and he is still going strong.
2. The Pernštýn Square: Arguably one of the most beautiful squares in a country of beautiful squares, this small heart of the city is cradled on all sides by late gothic houses. Although the outsides were redesigned in renaissance, baroque and empire styles, a peek into the shop windows or little “mouse holes” reveals the same rooms as 600 years ago. In summer, the cobblestoned square is full of outdoor cafes and restaurants. Enter from the town side through the 15th century Green Gate (Zelená brána), a massive tower that would make any invader think twice. At the other end, the square segues into the magnificent Pardubice chateau.
3. Pardubice Chateau: The Pardubice chateau, built in the 13th century as a moated castle and rebuilt in the Renaissance style by the powerful Pernstejn family, is unique in Central Europe. Today the battlements, planted with trees and greenery, form a little oasis of calm in the center of town. Inside, the East Bohemian Gallery has a fine collection of Czech 19th and 20th century painting and 20th century designer glass. For the paranoid, there is a fully functional nuclear shelter in the erstwhile dungeons. Once built to house high-ranking apparatchiks, it is now open to the public.
4. Jonah’s (Dům u Jonase): Although the outside of this house on Pernštýnske namesti is as baroque as they come, the inside is pure late gothic. Built in 1507, it survived the big fire of 1538 that devastated most of the old town’s houses. The baroque façade, featuring Jonah in the open jaws of The Whale has become a Pardubice landmark. Today the house belongs to the East Bohemian Gallery which uses it for public art workshops, as well as a creative day camp for children in the summer.
5. Cokolada Bajer: Literally inside the Zelená brána, this precious non-smoking cafe has become a Pardubice legend. Its sinfully good hot chocolate comes topped with a huge dollop of real whipped cream.
6. Czech Open Chess Tournament: One of the world’s largest open chess tournaments, the Annual Czech Open Chess and Games Festival is taking place as you read this, from July 10 to 27. With some 5000 contenders from all corners of the globe registered, it is one of the biggest in the world. Because it’s “open,” anyone can sign up, but if chess isn’t your thing, don’t fret. The contest also features other games such as poker, bridge, puzzles, speed on the Rubik’s cube, crosswords, puzzles, table tennis, bowling and even Sudoku.
7. Pernštýnska noc: Pernštýn Night, on the first Friday in June takes you back to the times of the mighty Pernštýns. In the chateau and old square, vendors in medieval outfits demonstrate and sell traditional handicrafts from pottery, wood, glass, iron and, of course, gingerbread. There’s beer, wine and that old Czech standby, mead in plenty to hearten all the swordsmen, jugglers and wenches hoisting mugs of foamy beer in a medieval tavern. At midnight, the Green Gate resounds with songs of farewell.
8. Dining on board the steamship Arnošt: This small steamer, named after famous medieval bishop Arnošt of Pardubice, trundles up and down the Elbe River between the ČEZ arena and the villages of Srnojedy, Brožany or Kunětice every day between 15th April and 1st October. During the two hour trip, you can dine in the air conditioned lower deck restaurant or on the upper deck. On selected dates, the Arnošt features children’s programs such as a Pirate Ship or a Medieval Crafts day.
9. Gingerbread Cottage (Perníkova chaloupka): Pardubice and gingerbread go back to the 16th century. The town has even registered its patented recipe with the EU. And where do you get the very best gingerbread in Pardubice? The Gingerbread Cottage, of course! This former hunting chateau built in 1882 is now the centerpiece for the Pardubice Gingerbread Museum (Muzeum Perníku). For adults, the guided tours includes the history of gingerbread making and an explanation of gingerbread symbols. For children there is an in-depth discussion of the story of The Gingerbread House (aka Hansel and Gretel), with a chance to step back into the actual action with the key players as guides.
10. The Autumn Festival (Podzimní slavnosti): For two weekends in October, the city center comes alive with an endless round of sports, culture, music, and dance. The first half, which will start on Thursday, October 2, will culminate with the Golden Helmet (Zlatá Prilba) horserace on Sunday, the 5th. The second half, which starts the following Thursday, October 9, is in a more historical vein, with a carriage parade through town, a traditional fair and open air concerts on the Perštýn Square, an antique car show and historical plays in the chateau courtyard. The day ends with a lantern parade and a huge fireworks display over the Elbe on Saturday night, followed by the running of the Great Pardubice steeplechase on Sunday, October 12.