Welcome to Catavino’s El Born Gourmet Guide by Sam Zucker, long-time Catavino contributor and freelance writer and photographer for several outlets, in Barcelona and internationally.
WELCOME TO EL BORN!
It is safe to say that El Born is the most charming of the “old city” neighborhoods of Barcelona. Actually comprised of three smaller districts — Sant Pere, Santa Caterina, and La Ribera — this zone is sandwiched between Via Laietana and the Parc de la Ciutadella, with the sea at its feet and the street of Trafalgar crossing its top. Clean than El Raval and less touristic than El Gòtic, El Born is, and always have been, a barri of artisans.
The first neighborhood to spring up outside of the old Roman wall starting around 1,000 years ago, La Ribera has access to the port and was a place where the workers of the city to practice their trades. Today, especially along the narrow Medieval streets running above and below the church of Santa Maria del Mar, you can find countless, unique boutiques, workshops, concept stores, and galleries showcasing the local creative spirit. The beautiful Passeig del Born is the area’s epicenter, though you will be rewarded is you wander higher up into the street of Carders and in Sant Pere, as this is less crowded and maintains a neighborhood feel. (photo by FeistyTortilla)
There is a huge variety of eating options in El Born. Though there are plenty of authentic, old-school restaurant still to be sampled, this area (due its bohemian, international ambiance) is chock-full of more modern, exotic dining options. From tapas and craft beer to Chinese dim sum and Venezuelan arepas, you are never short on snacking options while exploring these ancient streets. Some of the city’s best coffee, cocktails, and gourmet shops are found in El Born, and the easy access to the city’s largest park (Ciutadella) makes planning a picnic and passing an entire day in the grass all too easy.
There are several noteworthy museums and historical sights here as well, and the nightlife options are plentiful. It’s short walk to the beach (or anywhere else downtown) from the center of the neighborhood, making El Born one of the best places to stay while visiting Barcelona.
BAR AND CAFE SCENE
There are many, many bars and cafes in El Born, but not all are created equal. Though Spanish coffee may sound romantic and exciting, the reality is that the vast majority of humble bars, cafes, and restaurants don’t pull even halfway decent espresso. Ever wonder why cafe con leche (coffee with steamed milk) is so popular? Try drinking an espresso shot at these places by itself and you’ll see. That being said, the “specialty coffee” movement has hit Barcelona hard over the past few years, with new gourmet options popping up left, right, and center.
When it comes to cocktails, El Born has plenty of options, though the top-dogs of the cocktail scene are truly dedicating themselves to the art of mixology, with creative recipes, presentations, and decor that make them stand out from the crowd. (photo by Sam Zucker)
WHAT NOT TO MISS
Here are some things available year-round that you cannot pass up!
- Nømad Coffee – A “coffee laboratory” and shop, this is the original location of Nømad Coffee. It’s a small place with just a few seats where you can go to try their house-roasted coffee in various preparations. It’s on a picturesque, private passageway that is closed on the weekend to the public, so get your coffee in the mornings, Monday-Friday
- True Artisan Cafe – An excellent cafe, La Marzocco espresso machine showroom, and coffee education center, True Artisan Cafe is always buzzing with activity. Grab a seat at the big communal table and enjoy expertly-prepared coffee drinks.
- Ale and Hop – A well-established name in the world of Barcelona craft beer, Ale and Hop is a great place to sample local (and international) craft brews. They have a large variety of beers on draught, and by the bottle, and an all-vegetarian bar menu of snacks and tapas.
- Paradiso – Relatively new but already wildly popular, Paradiso is a “secret” cocktail bar hidden inside of Pastrami Bar, a tasty delicatessen that serves their artisanal sandwiches from their deli counter, and inside the cocktail bar found just through their wooden refrigerator doors.
- Collage – This cocktail bar is pure class. Will a nostalgic, 1950s jazz vibe, mood lighting, and an intimate, lofted seating area, this is a great spot for professional, creative cocktails without the high-energy, noisy environment that you find at the majority of bars in this neighborhood.
Other Notable Food & Drink Stops & Shops:
- Vila Viniteca and La Teca – Top of the heap when it comes to fine wine in Barcelona, Vila Viniteca is a family-run shop that has been selling local and foreign labels since the 1930s. Next door to the wine shop is “La Teca,” a gourmet shopper’s heaven. Oils, conserves, cured meats, and a cheese cave, plus a wine and cheese bar and a 15th century cellar used for private tastings upon request.
- Bodega Gran Maestrazgo – A small, neighborhood wine shop that sells both bottles and bulk wine by the liter, with a convivial tasting room in the back, always busy with groups of friends enjoying an afternoon aperitivo. Next door they have a tasting bar designed form events and their weekly, guided tasting sessions.
- Espai Mescladis – A unique, outdoor cafe comprised of mainly recycled materials. With a diverse list of snacks and drinks, the food here won’t blow you away, but their colorful terrace is the perfect place to rest while working you way through the neighborhood.
- Hofmann Pastisseria – Run by the famous Hofmann Hospitality school of Barcelona, this pastry shop makes some of the best croissants in Barcelona. They have other sweets too, of course, but the mascarpone or raspberry-filled, pure-butter croissants are the star.
- Bubó – A sleek, gourmet cake shop facing the from of the Santa Maria del Mar church, you can come in and order your own person “mini-cake”, or buy larger versions to share with friends. When enjoying your dessert in Bubó’s seating area, coffee and Cava are also available. (photo by Bubo)
Our picks for traditional and modern Spanish and Catalan Cuisine in neighborhood.
- Bar del Pla – A popular spot for classic tapas, indulgent specialties like foie gras with crispy sirloin steak, Catalan “grandma” dishes like beef cheeks in red wine, and seasonal treats, including squash blossoms with bacalao and sardine flatbread. (photo by Bar del Pla)
- El Diset – An intimate wine bar with modern touches that serves a great variety of local wines byt the glass and bottle, along with their torrades, tasty open-faced sandwiches topped with everything from roasted vegetables and goat cheese to blood sausage with orange vinaigrette.
- Casa Lolea – Owned and operated by the people of the Lolea Sangria brand, this tapas bar and vermuteria serves excellent food that is both simple and refined. House-cured sardines and tuna loin, smoked salmon and honey bilinis, pungent cheese boards, and crisp croquettes
- La Puntual/Xampanyet – These two restaurants share a wall and have an owner in common. Xampanyet has been a neighborhood staple since the 1920s, while La Puntual next door open just a little over one year ago. Whoever, this newcomer has quickly become know for great tapas and Catalan specialities, top-notch services, ample seating (compared to the tiny Xampanyet dining room) and their offering of plump, briny oysters and Cava.
- Mosquito – If you get tired of tapas, head to Mosquito, a dumpling-slinging hot spot famous for its buzzing atmosphere, tasty pan-asian small plates, and their impressive list of craft beers. You can’t reserve ahead, so show up and get your name on the chalkboard list (ask a passing server) and prepare to wait a little while with the perpetual sidewalk crowd for your table…the steamed shrimp shumai are totally worth it.
- La Paradeta – A simple eatery where diners order their raw fish and shellfish (displayed on ice at the cash register) by weight, then take a seat and wait for their name to be called by the kitchen. Fresh, delicious, and affordable, there a five locations of La Paradeta around Barcelona. The Born location (and the others as well) nearly always have a line out the door, so be prepared for a wait at meal times.
SIGHTSEEING: IN BETWEEN MEALS
- El Born Centro Cultural Barcelona– Housed in the former Mercat del Born fresh market building, constructed at the end of the 19th century, the Born CC is now an archeological site that showcases the city streets and home foundations from 1714, as the end of the War of Spanish Succession. Learn about the history of 18th century Barcelona and visit the unique bookstore and gift shop.
- Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar – A beautiful Gothic church from the 14th century, this building is an icon of the city, and of El Born in particular. With incredible vaulted ceilings and vivid stained glass, a stroll through this behemoth only takes a moment and is well worth time.
- Palau de la Musica Catalana – Rising up along an otherwise average street, the Palau de la Musica Catalana is a Modernist marvel. Tiles, pillars, wrought iron, and sculptures adorn this undulating facade that houses within it one of the most prestigious concert halls in the city.
- Picasso Museum – One of the most highly-traffic museums in the city, this intimate space is a fascinating introduction to Picasso’s art, particularly his earlier works. Housed inside of five adjacent Medieval palaces along the busy street of Montcada, the Museu Picasso is a must-see. Lines to enter can be very long, especially in the summer and on Sunday afternoons, when entry is free from 3pm-7pm. Best to go early in the day, during the week to avoid the crowds.
- Mercat de Santa Caterina – The second most famous fresh market in Barcelona, after the Mercat de Sant Josep (La Boqueria), the Mercat de Santa Caterina is a local shopper’s ideal location. Wider lanes avoid congestion (like in La Boqueria), and the location and selection is unbeatable. However, the prices at this market are often higher than those of smaller shops and markets in the surrounding area. (photo by Paco CT)
ACCOMMODATION: BEDDING DOWN FOR THE NIGHT
The Born is a small area, so really anywhere in the neighborhood will be “central.” If you choose to stay in a rental apartment, make sure you get a good luck at all the rooms and read closely about what is and what isn’t included. Does the apartment have exterior windows? Is there air conditioning? In the old part of the city, apartments are often small, and in the summer can be very hot and stuffy if there are not enough windows or ventilation. Also, streets like Montcada, Passeig del Born, and Princesa will be very loud at night due to heavy foot traffic.
Our Hotel Picks:
These 4 and 5-star hotels continue to be highly-rated for their perfect location, high-end quality facilities and service.
- Grand Hotel Central: A beautiful 5-star hotel that is about as central (hence the name) as possible. Located right across from the Jaume 1 metro stop on Via Laietana, the incredible views from their rooftop pool deck alone is reason to choose this property for your luxury stay in Barcelona.
- Mercer Boria: Modern with a classic touch, this chic, 4-star boutique hotel is hidden away behind heavy wooden doors and a 18th-century facade along the narrow street of Carrer de la Bòria. With a decor focused on the work of young, local artists, your stay at Mercer Bòria is sure to be special.
- Mercer Hotel Barcelona: An absolutely stunning space, the 5-star Mercer Hotel is actually in the Gòtic neighborhood of the city, just across Via Laietana from El Born. A truly luxurious location, the hotel is housed in a building that butts up against the ancient Roman wall of Barcelona. Enjoy their peaceful rooftop terrace and pool, and a bite to eat in the refined Le Bouchon tapas bar on the bottom level.
Surrounding El Born are four metro stops (Barcelona Metro Map). Urquinaona, Jaume 1, and Barceloneta are all on the L4 (Yellow) line, while Arc de Triomf is on the L1 (Red) line. From any of these stops it is a quick walk into the neighborhood, with Jaume 1 being the most central. From the Jaume 1 stop, walk down Carrer de l’Argenteria for a few minutes and you’ll reach the landmark church of Santa Maria del Mar, and the Passeig del Born.
Airport to El Born via Public Transportation: Arriving to El Born from the airport is relatively simple. If taking the Aerobus, get off at the last stop (Plaça de Catalunya). It is then a 10 to 15 minute walk (or a very short taxi ride) into El Born. You can also take the L1 (Red) metro line from Plaça de Catalunya to the Arc de Triomf if you are staying closer to that corner of the neighborhood.
You can also take the metro from the airport into the city, but it is a very inconvenient way to reach the center. This metro line (L9 Sud) is only a good choice for people going to the western corner of the city. Reaching the center requires transfers and takes much longer than the bus, and costs nearly the same price.
Important metro stops or means of transportation to see important sights
Since El Born is quite dense, tour buses and other public transportation to not penetrate these streets, but merely skirt them. It is best to explore this neighborhood by foot, or perhaps on a bicycle tour. As mentioned before, Jaume 1 is the most central metro stop, giving you equal access to the lower and upper parts of El Born.
Planning on traveling in Spain a bit longer? Why not check out our gourmet’s guide to Barcelona! (Hint: we’ve also penned foodie’s guides to the best Spanish cities / regions, including Madrid, Malaga, Mallorca, Sevilla and Rioja).