We have one rule whenever we travel: we visit the main sights early in the morning or late in the evening to beat the crowds, and see the other, more local things during the day. When we visit a city, we prefer to see how people live there today, and not necessarily how they lived there in the past. And Prague is no exception. Especially during the high season, we recommend getting up early, seeing the sights before all the other people get to see them, and then just walk and explore the surrounding districts. And the Karlin is a place you should not miss if you travel like us - it has a great local feel and great places to eat and drink. That is why we sometimes visit it with the guests of our Prague Foodie Tour and that is why we think it is worth a visit even during the off-season.
Jan’s father used to live in Karlin in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was not a great neighborhood back then. Living just opposite “U Zabranskych” pub, where the Czechoslovak Communist Party was founded in 1924 and which, later in the 90s, used to be a place frequented by Neo-Nazis in a district known for a large Roma population, the place was rough. But then, Karlin was nearly destroyed during the 2002 floods. And the flood seems to have flushed most of the bad things away.
The past decade has been a decade of dramatic growth and renewal for Karlin, with developers coming in, eager to fill in the gaps left behind the buildings that needed to be torn down. In the 1990s we would have never thought we would want to live in Karlin, but the leafy streets (Karlin is the only Prague district with a grid layout) near the centre seem more and more attractive each year. Karlin is cool because it is both hipster and raw at the same time: some people say that one more cool place opening in Karlin will tip the balance and the whole district will - just like Atlantis - sink into the ground, and people will only sing songs about how great it was. Well, only time will tell.
Where to stay in Karlin
There are only a few hotels in Prague that successfully lure in locals from the neighborhood into the lobby, and Pentahotel is one of the few. Sure, this is a utility hotel that will not wow you with pampering, spas and 5-star services, but it's still a great budget option that allows you to connect with the district while being easily accessible from the centre. The best of both worlds, if you will. (How the heck do we know this? We stayed here for a few days. That's what happens when you commit to non-simultaneous home exchange and later forget about it. But that's a totally different story.)
Where to eat in Karlin
Hamburk, a pub at the main Karlin square that was there for ages (Jan and his father used to frequent it some thirty years ago), has been recently remodeled and opened as another branch of the Lokal pub. What does that mean? Great, affordable Czech food and fresh Pilsner Urquell from the tank. Which is enough to make anyone happy, really. We would go there for a nice schnitzel, perhaps goulash and, most importantly, "rakvicka se slehackou" ("the little coffin"): a classic Czech pastry we like to eat with take-away coffee from Kafe Karlin nearby.
Krystal Mozaika Bistro
A great Czech restaurant on the Sokolovska street, Krystal Mozaika Bistro takes Czech cuisine seriously. Lots of meats made sous-vide as mains, pates and small meat-based bites if you are not that hungry, and one of the best versions of fruit dumplings we know of in Prague. Great food, somewhat lacking in atmosphere during off hours. Our favorite item on the menu? Their fruit dumplings: this classic Czech "sweet main dish" (three dumplings with a fruit filling) is a sinful, buttery affair that should be served with a defibrillator but hey - the Czechs are blessed with universal healthcare, so eat away!
Opened in late 2015, Eska restaurant has become the destination dining restaurant in Prague, drawing usually younger crowds from all corners of Prague for what Martin Stangl, former sous-chef at the Michelin-star La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, thinks to be "nouvelle Czech cuisine". Come here for freshly baked bread, soup and breads with spreads during the day, and a fine dining experience in the eveing. Eska also serves specialty coffee. The combination of all of the above makes for great brunches during the weekends.
Red Hot Chili
An unassuming and small Vietnamese bistro opposite the Vitra shop on the Krizikova street. Mimi, a Vietnamese-born fashion designers whom we interviewed a while ago, swears Red Hot Chili serves the best spring rolls in town. And who are we to argue? This place tends to be crowded over the lunch hours but you will get a table without any problems for the rest of the day.
Garage True Canadian Deli
Especially on a cold day, or after a long night, we have a tip that will keep on giving… job security to Prague’s heart surgeons. The recently opened Garage True Canadian Deli in the Karlin district serves Poutine, a dish invented in Canada, probably in an effort to enslave, or fatten, the rest of the world. Our tip is the Mississippi, which so bad it’s good: French fries with cheese curds, gravy, pulled pork and fried onions, served in a paper takeaway box, will fill you up for the rest of the day. The first reaction? Delicious. The fries. The pulled pork. The curds. The gravy. Love it! But then comes the guilt part but your arteries will be clogged so much you may not live to see the guilt part, so it’s a win-win. Sorta.
Proti proudu bistro
A nice bistro for breakfasts and small snacks during the day. Beautifully designed, the Proti proudu bistro is a dream come true for the enthusiastic owners (who love to travel and wrote a Sicilian cookbook): they are always on the premises and make sure the atmosphere is neighborly and welcoming. But we mostly come for the sweets baked by our friend Martina Pavlikova (check her awesome Instagram feed here) - they are addictive. We're not crazy about their coffee, though.
Whenever we are in Karlin and fancy some Asian flavores, the soups at Wokker will always scratch that itch. Wokker is undeniably mostly a take-away Asian eatery: the counter fits three or four at best. Probably not a destination dining place worth a separate visit to Karlin, but the cooking is solid and we never leave disappointed. Surely warms you up and clears the sinuses on a cold day.
Presto butcher shop
Whenever we walk by, we just marvel at the long lines during the lunch hour. (They even have a tent outside on the street to accommodate all the meat-hungry diners.) But there's no wonder Presto is popular: Czechs love their meat, and the concept of the "new butcher shop" that not only serves raw meat but also cooks it and serves it to customers, as exemplified by the Nase maso butcher shop in the Dlouha street, is a winner. If you're craving meat in the Karlin district, this is the place.
Just a block away from the Presto butcher shop and across the newly renovated Karlinske namesti square from Lokal Hamburk, the recently opened Nejen bistro tries to get a piece of the pig pie that is the lunch hour in the office-heavy Karlin district. Their selling point? The super-tasty Josper grill (Eska also has one) which they use for nearly everything. The fare is quite simple (and tends to go well with beer) but quite tasty. A good lunch option in the area.
What happens when a former corporate executive quits her job and opens a bakery? Great and delicious things happen. The small “vdolecky” at Simply Good are the Czech answer to macaroons at one fourth of the price. Have anything with streusel, plum jam or yeast dough. The best place for kolachees in Prague by a mile in our humble opinion, but the owner, the lovely Hanka, whom we interviewed a while ago, recommends her poppy seed rolls. Normally we would not eat anything with poppies without a handy toothbrush but we'll be happy to make an exception for these rolls.
Where to drink in Karlin
Muj salek kavy
Muj salek kavy is without a doubt one of the best cafés in town and a place that has heralded the comeback of the Karlin district: people are willing to travel across the town to have their coffee or breakfast there, and we don’t blame them. Doubleshot, very popular local coffee roasters and the owners of the cafe, have recently opened a barista centre next door, soon to hold public cuppings and coffee-centered events. Their outdoor seating is one of the best places in Prague to enjoy a cup of delicious coffee and some small snacks to go with that.
Just one step above a hole-in-the-wall operation, Kafe Karlin, a diminutive espresso bar run by the “Coffee Club” (famous from their farmers’ market presence) serves one of the best cups of coffee in Prague. Two small tables in two corners, a bar… and that’s it. They do have a bottle of Slivovitz on the shelve in the back and if you ask politely, you just might get a shot from it, which is handy, especially in the winter. But their coffee is the star here. Skip the pastries and instead have something sweet at Simply Good, or the rakvicka at Lokal.
Veltlin is a gem of a place: a small designer wine bar that serves natural wines from what used to be the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To understand what they do, please read our interview with the founder and owner, Mr Bogdan Trojak, here. Located right next to Tea Mountain, Veltlin is a great place for couples and groups who want both wine and tea: you can order both in either Veltlin or Tea Mountain. They are friends so they have no problem with their guests drinking tea in the wine bar or wine in the tea room.
A bottle of rare rum as a souvenir from Prague? Why not? It is hard to visit Warehouse #1, one of the best liquor stores in Prague (and surely the most beautiful and the coolest one) and not want to buy a few bottles. And with a tasting room for serious shoppers in the basement, one can easily spend an hour or two there.
We know. We don’t particularly understand tea (yet), and you may not understand tea, either, but Tea Mountain, the best tea room in a city flooded with tea rooms, is definitely worth a visit. Martin, the owner, and his staff will guide you through their selection without making you feel intimidated. Have we mentioned the design of the room? Yes, it is modern, minimalist and fantastic. We would have a hard time finding a better place in Prague to stop down for a minute and plan the rest of the day in a quiet, relaxing atmosphere.
A non-smoking pub with a curated selection of six beers on tap and nearly 300 Czech and imported beers in bottles? What’s not to like? We always recommend Pivovarsky klub for beer lovers on the entry into the Karlin district as a relaxed and non-intimidating place to peek into the rich world of Czech beers. They serve some food, too, but we’d prefer Lokal Hamburk or Krystal for that.
Na brehu Rhony II
Why the "no. 2" at the end of the title? The "On the banks of the Rhone" wine bar in one of the new developments near the riverside, which clearly focuses on Cotes du Rhone wines (duh), is the second location of a popular wine bar near the Naplavka farmers market. The philosophy is the same: good, affordable wines in a nice environment, and some small snacks (think cheeses, rillettes and so on) on the side. The Karlin location is partly self-service for the boxed wine, but they sell bottled wines, too.
Peter’s Burger Pub
While we may like other burger joints in Prague much better, there is no denying Peter’s Burger Pub is an incredibly popular place just next to the pedestrian tunnel that connects the Karlin and the Zizkov districts. It is housed in a beautiful, recently refurbished building, and serves beers by Kocour, one of the most popular smaller breweries in the Czech Republic.
What to see in Karlin
Lyckovo namesti square
A whiff of the Belle Epoque period in Karlin, the district with a “black soul”. This picturesque square with a park and arguably the most beautiful primary school in the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire is a great place to sit and just enjoy the view.
Kaizlovy sady park
Just a block from the Lyckovo namesti square, the nwely renovated park shows just how much things have changed since the 2002 floods. What used to be a let's-walk-faster-and-clutch-the-purse-even-tighter area is now a beautiful, serene park that calms the senses.
Main Point Karlin
Just at the entry to the Karlin district behind Negrelli’s bridge (you can still see the smoke marks under the arches where locomotives used to operate decades ago and where cars run today), Main Point Karlin is one of the symbols of Karlin’s post-flood era. The winner of many architectural awards, Main Point is one of the greenest office buildings in Prague, the Czech Republic, or Europe for that matter.
Originally a factory hall converted to an exhibition space, Karlin studios is a complex of 17 studios rented to Czech and international artists and often show off pieces and collections by contemporary artists who work there. A great place to visit.
St Cyril and Methodius Church
Opened in 1863 as one of the biggest churches in the Czech Republic, the St Cyril and Methodius Church located on the Karlinske namesti square is the natural centre of the district and a place of reference. The interiors of the church are surprisingly stunning and beautiful. To see the Roman Catholic church in use, visit the services at noon on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat. For more info, click here.
Vitkov National Memorial
The Vitkov National Memorial is one of the best “sights” in Prague. The 1930s functionalist building commemorates the Czechoslovak soldiers who died in WWI and used to house the embalmed first Communist president of Czechoslovakia. Today it is home to an exhibition about the history of Czechoslovakia. The best view of Prague from the top of the building. One of the few places that truly inspire national pride in many Czechs.
Where to shop in Karlin
Karlin farmers market
The farmers’ market on the Karlin square right next to the St Method and Cyril church (make a point of peeking inside - the decoration is surprisingly beautiful) was one of the earliest and is still one of the most popular farmers’ markets in town. They are open on Saturday mornings only but if you are there at that time, make sure you don’t miss them. (Closed for winter.)
We know that hulling classic pottery made in Carlsbad, Czech Republic probably isn’t the reason why you came to Prague in the first place, but you may just change your mind when you see this small shop that sells a great selection of Thun pottery at very reasonable prices. We always check the size of our bag if the large saucer will fit in, and so will you.
Rony Plesl, one of the best and most famous glassworks designers in the Czech Republic, has his studio in Karlin, too. If you are really interested in what he does, the studios are open by appointment only. A great opportunity to peek inside the studio of one of the best young designers that carry on the Czech glassmaking tradition into the 21st Century.