Holešovice named one Europe's coolest neighborhoods

While the industrial area has improved, some locals question the designation

Asking what the best neighborhood in Prague is will likely generate a variety of answers, and some pretty strong feelings. Business Insider UK and British newspaper The Independent waded into the controversy by naming Holešovice as number 15 out of 23 coolest neighborhoods in Europe, tied with Mariahilf in Vienna, Austria. The coolest neighborhood in Europe was Kreuzberg in Berlin, Germany.

The choices are apparently based on the writings of two travel bloggers working in association with a vacation discount site. The article lists a rather complicated scoring system balancing the number of coffee shops against the number of residents and other factors, trying to make it sound like the choices were not completely subjective.

“Holesovice performed well across all three categories, scoring 8/10 for culture and creativity, and 6/10 for value. Historically, it was the city's meatpacking district, but today, it is filled with modern bars and restaurants serving contemporary European cuisine,” the ranking stated.

The math, though, seems to have missed the mark because compared to Žižkov and Vršovice, which other recent newspaper and magazine surveys have named as Prague's hippest spots, Holešovice has no real center and no real soul. Rail tracks, disused industrial areas and wide, busy roads divide the place up. So while it has a few nice streets, a lot more of it is rather forbidding, especially at night.

Where exactly the modern bars and contemporary cuisine is located was not specified. “Filled” is perhaps an overstatement, though there are a few decent eateries serving fusion food dotted around the rather amorphous neighborhood.

Granted, Holesovice has several art galleries including Veletržní palác, a main modern art venue for the National Gallery, and DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, a large, privately run exhibition area. But vast sections of Holešovice lack the cozy little places that make a neighborhood feel like a home.

Parts of Holesovice have also been undergoing gentrification, as former industrial areas are turned into luxury housing, creating a divide between the original inhabitants from the area's rundown past and the upscale newcomers.

Still, some people support the idea of Holešovice as a hip place. “I like Holešovice. It's a cool neighborhood with lots of culture and nice trendy restaurants, cafes and bistros. It is surrounded by Stromovka and Letná [parks] and keeps a local ambiance — what else would you wish for?” a Czech woman who works in the tourism sector said.

The Facebook page of Praha.eu, the City Hall website, welcomed the ranking with a “feeling joyful” emoji and said the traditional Prague neighborhood was “changing before our eyes,” adding a #Holesovicedistrict at the end of the post and apparently hoping for it to trend.

An American expat in the entertainment industry noted the positive changes. “This neighborhood has dramatically improved on many fronts. It still has its sore spots, but I'm surprised at the transformation in just five years,” he said. A new arts venue in a former slaughterhouse opened up in 2015, for example. And in in 2016 a factory called Továrna Holešovice began having exhibitions and also providing a space for artists, joining other former industrial spaces that had been converted earlier.

Another expat who has been in Prague since the early 1990s had a different opinion. “Nice neighborhood? Yeah kinda. ... 23 coolest neighborhoods in Europe? It barely cracks the top 23 in Prague,” he said.

A Holešovice resident, also a long-term expat, encouraged the trash-talking. “Please, keep talking it down! Maybe it'll help preserve things the way I like 'em: cheap, run-down, and low-key — but not overrun by hipsters,” he said, comparing himself to a character in Catch 22 who was forced to move repeatedly due to the discovery of oil on his land.

As for changes, he also was not impressed. “I moved to Holešovice from Hradčany nine years ago, but it seems about the same to me now as then. KFC has disappeared from my corner and Burrito Loco opened, those are the two big improvements,” he added.

The neighborhood should continue to change, though. New shopping malls are projected, and construction might finally begin in the abandoned rail yard that splits the neighborhood, though that has been delayed several times. Roads split by the rail yard might be joined together to unite the neighborhood's disparate halves a bit better.

The city is also starting a long-term renovation of the Výstaviště exhibition grounds, which have fallen into great disrepair, and there are plans at least to make the riverfront more accessible to the public.

Coolest place in Prague? Not yet but check back in a few years.

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