Having lived in the Czech Republic for four years and traveled around the country quite a bit, I can easily say that Karlovy Vary is my favorite city outside of Prague. We spent a weekend in the famed spa town, and I think it’s something I could get used to doing on a yearly basis. But despite being a wonderful place to take a trip to, I’m not so sure I would like to live in Karlovy Vary.
The heart of Karlovy Vary revolves around the natural spring colonnades, which is a gorgeous part of town surrounded by beautiful green hills and decked out in colorful Art Nouveau buildings. The problem is that all of those are hotels. As a spa town, the city is full of high-end spa resorts looking to accommodate people from out of town. Locals are relegated to quiet residential neighborhoods away from restaurants, entertainment and nightlife, and not easily accessible by car.
Karlovy Vary is also a favorite of Russian tourists and residents, so the city has a disproportionate amount of housing and establishments that cater exclusively to tourists. There are signs advertising housing in Cyrillic, and the airport is well connected to cities in Russia, so I imagine that during the normal tourist season, the city is full of Russians. As beautiful as it is and as wonderful it was to visit for a couple of days, I don’t love the idea of living in Czechia’s Little Russia.
Everyone we encountered was accommodating and polite, which is par for the course when you stay at a nice hotel or eat at highly rated restaurants. But like any city, you regularly come into contact with not only locals but visitors. I’m sure that when tourist season is in full swing and the spas are full of loud Russian dudes who can drink a carafe of vodka with their dinner, I would probably want to kill myself. That’s not the lovely considerate Czech culture I know and love that I would strongly prefer to live in. Would I want to have a Russian landlord in an apartment that may or may not have been purchased with mafia money? Hmm… not so sure about that. If I wanted to help fund the Russian mafia, I would have stayed in Miami.
Karlovy Vary is one of the more expensive Czech cities outside of Prague because it’s so attractive to visitors who spend a lot of money there. For that reason, housing is slightly higher than you’d expect, though still cheaper than Prague. The same is true for local eateries and bars. Since everything is geared toward tourists, you can expect Prague Old Town prices on food and drink. That’s not to say the food wasn’t worth it, but I definitely wouldn’t always want to pay $16 for an entrée, and since there are fewer affordable options, the overall value of food and drink probably wouldn’t be so great.
Food and drink
Cost aside, almost everything we ate in Karlovy Vary was stellar. During our visit, we enjoyed excellent locally brewed beer, inventive craft cocktails, and plenty of traditional and modern dishes. The good thing about the Russian influence is that excellent Russian cuisine like borscht and dumplings are available everywhere, along with hearty meaty Czech dishes. I might get a little bored at the lack of diversity in food. I’ve gotten used to living in a place where I can get Mexican food from 4 or 5 different places, not one. Then again, when I find two or three places I enjoy going to, I never go anywhere else so maybe that’s not so bad.
One of the reasons we decided to go there was for the opportunity to be active. The city is surrounded by beautiful and safe hiking trails, and even within the center of the city, you have to do quite a bit of strenuous walking uphill to get anywhere. While this is great for a weekend when being active is your aim, I would hate to deal with that when the weather is below zero or the streets are covered in ice or when I’m exhausted and need to go get groceries. There doesn’t seem to be a great public transportation system outside of buses, so if you live in a residential area, it would be really disadvantageous to get around primary on foot or public transportation.
Total Livability Score 3.5
I enjoyed the city so much as a tourist because it caters largely to tourists. Because of that, I don’t think I would want to live in Karlovy Vary full-time. I’ll definitely be back for those spas though.