Note: this is the second part of our series on Karlín; for part I, please click here.
Families and children
Expats with young families will find that, in general, Karlín is not the most-child-friendly Prague neighborhood, largely because of the predominance of tenements rather than houses with gardens, and a lack of open space for children to play in. Pollution can be an issue (see part I), and many streets are busy and noisy.
Facilities for children include a fenced play area in Karlínské náměstí, and if your kids can speak Czech, they can attend the Karlínské spektrum, one of several after school clubs run by Prague City Council. It offers an extensive range of activities such as sports and creative pursuits. The center also organizes trips and summer camps.
In terms of primary and high school education, there are no international schools in Karlín, although expat parents can have their children taught in Czech schools if they wish. Pre-school facilities in the area include two publicly funded nursery schools, at Lyčkovo náměstí and Za Invalidovnou. At the elementary school level, two publicly-funded schools, at Lyčkovo náměstí – in the same building as the nursery school – and Za Invalidovnou serve the neighbourhood; the latter is bilingual, providing lessons in English. At the high school level, ability talent determines where students will study, and post-elementary education in the Czech Republic ranges from the academically rigorous gymnazium to more vocationally-oriented high schools. In Karlín, the choice of schools is fairly limited to the academic Karlínské gymnazium or the Vyšší odborná škola ekonomická a Obchodní akademie, a commercially-orientated high school. At the tertiary education level, part of the Mathematics and Physics Faculty of Charles University is located in Karlín.
Sport and leisure
Given its size, Karlín doesn´t have the range of sports and leisure facilities found elsewhere, and there are no public sports centers or swimming pools in the district. Privately-owned facilities include the recently-opened Holmes Place fitness center, which has a gym, and cardiozone, and the Cybex gymnasium at the Hilton Hotel. The 3-star Hotel Čechie, in the Invalidovna housing estate on the edge of Karlín, offers bowling, golf, squash, tennis small swimming pool and a gym. A much grungier but less expensive alternative is the Cardiofitness gymnasium, and the Kosagym Kickbox Club, specializes in martial arts.
Entertainment and culture
Karlín´s contribution to Prague´s cultural life includes the City of Prague Museum (Muzeum hlavního města Prahy), which documents the capital´s history and holds regular temporary exhibitions. It´s also home to Langweil´s huge and detailed model of the historic center. The fantastically detailed piece of work shows how little things have changed since 1837, when Langweil died, leaving the model incomplete. Close by, adjacent to Florenc bus station, is the recently renovated Hudební divadlo Karlín, specialising in musicals (Czech only). Karlín is otherwise lacking in theatres, cinemas or other cultural venues, although the old ČKD factories have proved an ideal venue for exhibitions, including the annual Designblok festival in October. Kino Atlas, at Florenc, shows arthouse films and recent hits in two recently-renovated cinemas, one of which includes a digital 3D system; Czech Radio Regina operates an Open Air Cinema from June – September, charging a nifty 25 CZK entry fee.
Shopping and services
The retail sector in Karlín is characterized by a mix of small, locally-owned stores and a growing number of new specialist and upscale shops. Sokolovská, is the main shopping drag, and a variety of retailers and service are located there. Česká spořitelna, ČSOB, Komerční banka and Unicredit banka all have branches on Sokolovská.
If you´re looking for supermarkets you´ll find an Albert store in the Oasis building on Sokolovská. Beware that customer-rage inducing queues, as in other Albert outlets, are the norm. Immediately opposite, adjacent to the main entrance of Florenc metro station, is a Billa supermarket. Many shoppers prefer it to Albert, although it´s very cramped. Karlín does not yet have any malls, although there is a small arcade in the Oasis Building opposite Florenc metro station. It is also a pedestrian link from Florenc metro station to the Hilton Hotel.
Despite the impact of the floods and the threat from hypermarkets, many independent retailers have survived in Karlín, including several specialist stores. It may therefore be worth stopping off there if you are looking for a particular item or a level of service that you can´t find in a hypermarket.
The changing face of Karlín has resulted in the emergence of niche retail, including a cluster of fair trade/organic food stores such as Alpena Natura, and the demand for fresh local produce is also seen in the increasing popularity of farmers´ markets in Prague; in Karlín they are held in late summer/early autumn in Karlínské námestí.
New retail trends are also reflected in the occurrence of furniture and design shop such as Vitra, spurred on by upscale new residential projects like Cornlofts. On the negative side, the second-hand furniture dealer tradition at Rohanský ostrov has almost ended out due to redevelopment of this site as new offices have been built where the furniture outlets stood. However, the dealer Pobřežní 33 confirmed that despite the changes, his business will continue at least for the foreseeable future.
One of the most visible signs of Karlín´s ongoing gentrification is the improvement and diversification of eating options, and a crop of new, smarter restaurants aimed at a more upscale clientele. The 2002 floods inevitably had a serious impact on the restaurant business, but it has since picked up, and eating out in Karlín is an increasingly enjoyable experience. Bear in mind that it can be difficult to find a seat in some places at around midday as everyone takes advantage of lunchtime specials simultaneously.
Karlín has its fair share of gruff pubs such as Hamburk, as well as long-established cheap and cheerful Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. There are also plenty of places to grab food on the go. But the post-flooding regeneration has acted as a catalyst for improvements, and new stylish establishments such as Theatro and Porto have opened up. The popular Vinohrady eatery Mozaika will be opening a second restaurant in Karlín in the near future. Such eateries offer decent food in smart surroundings, as well as good lunchtime deals. They are above average in price but not excessively so. Plenty of cheaper restaurants, including a number that have opened in recent years, which serve more than just the usual rubbery schnitzel or gloopy goulash. The brisk lunchtime custom from the nearby offices means that restaurants such as Amfora, Vesuv, and Cihelna La Famillia do good business.
Another sign of the transformation of Karlín is the much brighter outlook for vegetarians and those interested in sampling international cuisine other than Chinese or Italian: the transformation of rough and ready Mníchov from čtyřka to vegetarian Mlsná kavka is a perfect example. Further along Sokolovská, self-service vegetarian Indian restaurant Beas is well-priced although very busy at lunchtime. Polevkárna, a short walk from Beas, is a justifiably popular new place specialising in soup, as its name suggests. It also serves Georgian staples such as khachapuri.
When it comes to cafes, Karlín is less promising. Coffee Lounge, another example of the trendification of the district, closed recently (it´s now a Bageterie Boulevard sandwich shop), and if you want just a coffee then it´s best to head for one of the restaurants in the area. Alternatively you could try the Světozor cake shop.
In terms of healthcare, there are no hospitals or health centres in Karlín, although doctors and dentists surgeries can be found in the neighborhood. The nearest public hospital is at Bulovka, further north in Prague 8.
· Excellent location near the centre
· Excellent public transport links
· Access to Vítkov Hill
· Good location for professionals and couples without children
· Good range of local shops
· Increasingly diversified shopping – more health food shops and furniture shops opening
· Good range of reasonably-priced restaurants
· Pollution can be a problem
· Lack of off-street parking
· Lack of sports facilities
· Poor range of supermarkets
· Not very child-friendly neighborhood.
· Distance from international schools
· Lack of sports facilities