The Born District
Discover one of Barcelona’s most charming neighbourhoods
By Duncan Rhodes
The best places to stay, attractions to see and things to do in El Born district of Barcelona. We reveal the secrets of this beautiful part of the Old Town, and give you all the info you need to plan your visit, from booking a hip hotel and reserving a Picasso tour, to finding the perfect spot for some Cava and tapas.
El Born Identity
If La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter, with their high tourist traffic and petty peddlers, proved a bit too circus-like for your refined tastes then you might find what you’re looking for in the district of El Born instead.
This delightful corner of Barcelona has all the beauty of the Barri Gotic, with those characteristic narrow streets and quaint cafe-covered squares, but is just far enough removed from the beaten track to maintain a little more calm, charm and dignity.
This delightful corner of Barcelona has all the beauty of the Barri Gotic… but is just far enough removed from the beaten track to maintain a little more calm, charm and dignity.
The heart of the district is undoubtedly the picturesque Passeig del Born ‘square’ (in fact it’s an oblong). Once the site of medieval jousting competitions, nowadays this tree-lined street is a nightlife hub that comes alive with hip 20-something locals from the early evening onwards eating crepes, nibbling on tapas and imbibing beers and cocktails in the area’s abundance of natty little bars.
On warm nights many folk will purchase cans of beer from plastic-bag wielding Pakistanis and drink for cheap on the benches and pavement, giving the place a Bohemian and laidback street party vibe.
At one end of the Passeig del Born (known as the Paseo del Born in Spanish) rises the district’s most famous building, the wonderful Santa Maria del Mar church, instantly recognisable by its octagonal towers and large rose-shaped stained glass window.
At the foot of this Gothic great you’ll find a smaller square, offering one of the most picturesque places to lunch al fresco in the whole of Barcelona… if you can grab a seat at the in-demand cafes.
Top 10 Things To See & Do
Part I: Unmissable Attractions
Let’s start with five sights you really should see if you’re staying in the neighbourhood!
Barcelona second most popular museum (first prize goes to Messi and chums, who else?), this homage to Picasso’s time in the Catalan capital has over 3,500 of the artist’s works on display, with a strong focus on his earlier styles (like the Blue and Rose periods), revealing sides to his personality that many won’t be familiar with. Remaining in exile during the Franco years, Picasso considered Barcelona his home and to understand a bit more about his relationship with the city I’d recommend going on this highly-rated tour that is actually run by the Barcelona Tourism Board, and available to book via Get Your Guide. The tour also includes tickets to the museum.
99.9% of people haven’t heard of the Domenech i Montaner on arriving in Barcelona. Most still haven’t by the time they’ve left. Which is a damn shame, because he’s responsible for some of the city’s most stunning architecture, including this red brick beauty – a paragon of Modernisme – that still functions as a concert hall today. Book a tour via Get Your Guide, or else buy tickets for a classical concert at night, but don’t miss the inverted glass dome in the auditorium’s interior.
The city’s largest downtown park is a meeting point for all types of outdoor activities, and on a sunny day pretty much every patch of grass will be taken up by pic-nickers, yogis, crossfitters, slackliners, musicians and weed-smokers. Tourists tend to prefer to pass through than stay, and there’s plenty of monuments to enjoy on a stroll, as well as a boating lake. There’s also a sizeable zoo, running the along two sides of the park, and if your fancy seeing the lions, elephants and dolphins then reserve your tickets via Get Your Guide.
After Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and the city’s towering Gothic Cathedral, this might just be Barcelona’s third most iconic church. Said to be the only pure example remaining of the Catalan Gothic style, Santa Maria del Mar (St. Mary’s of the Sea) is an imposingly squat place of worship, with a gorgeous rose window framed by twin octagonal towers. Inside see if you can catch a glimpse of the FC Barça coat of arms amongst the stain glass decorations. Do bear in mind though that the church is an active place of worship, so you need to visit when mass is not being served if you want to nosey inside.
Once Barcelona’s biggest food market – El Mercat del Born – this space was intended to be reborn (pun intended) as a library, however during renovations archaeological remains from the 1700s were discovered, so the decision was made to create a cultural centre around these discoveries instead. You can wander in and see the centuries-old pavings and walls for free (don’t get too excited!), but probably better to go “all in” and take the tour (tickets €6) of the exhibition halls that surround the ruins and give context to those times.
Part II: Hidden Gems
Other than the joys of medieval architecture, and the aforementioned Picasso Museum, El Born is characterised by its rare and unusual treasures. This fashionable district is the place where you’ll chance upon innovative boutique shops selling recycled bags, or discover the joys of Lomo photography. Keep reading for more…
If you’re planning on winning a popularity contest with your kids, then a visit to Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum will increase your chances several fold. The chocolate trade has played an important part in the history of the city, and as well as learning all about that, you can admire plenty of fun statues fashioned from cocoa mass. The edible ticket is a nice touch.
Recycling is big in Barcelona, and the creative minds behind Pinzat have managed to refashion old PVC posters, tyres and seatbelts into trendy bags and fashion accessories. Most are then handpainted with an original design by Barcelona locals. Definitely one of the cooler souvenirs that you could take home with you.
The European Museum of Modern Art often goes overlooked, eclipsed as it is by the neighbouring Picasso Musuem. Which is ironic as their mission is to lift up the artists who might not get noticed, or commercially bankrolled, in the way that Picasso did during his extraordinary career. Whether its naked ladies in front of space satellites or the photographic qualities of contemporary Japan realism, you’ll find plenty of thought-provoking material to ponder over.
Nostalgia lovers shouldn’t miss this funky store that takes us back to the endearingly unpredictable era of analogue photography, when shutter-depression was limited to 24 clicks per roll, and you had to wait a week (and pay) for your photos to be developed. Only to discover the lens was dirty all along. Despite the obvious benefits of digital photography, there’s no doubt some romance has been lost along the way, so consider picking up a “Diana’ camera and rediscovered it for yourself.
This former home of the influential Silk Merchants’ Guild has been lovingly preserved to reflect the baroque splendour of its 18th century heyday. You can get a taste of those opulent times on a weekly guided tour every Saturday at 11am, tickets €10, that reveals the guild hall, president’s office, library and chapel. Find it near the Palau de la Musica.
Restaurants & Tapas Bars
This legendary tapas joint, which specialises in seafood, is as popular as ever, so expect to queue if you want to taste their chipirones with chickpeas, or hake wrapped with chard. Tends to be a bit less busy during lunch, so could be a good time to drop by.
This Lebanese restaurant fuses Arabic, Spanish and Catalan cuisine, serving up delicious exotic tapas like grilled asparagus wraps marinated in ginger, halloumi cheese bread sticks and bacon-wrapped dates. You can wash that down with Lebanese wines and Palestinian beers.
Cafes, Bars & Clubs
A sneak preview of a few of our favourite hang outs…
Just 50 yards or so down the street from the Picasso Museum, El Xampanyet is one of the city’s legendary champagne bars, and has featured in every guidebook since Marco Polo set sail around the world. Authentic Modernista decor and well-priced Cava, mean its worth the hustle to get a seat… although the accompanying tapas can be a bit expensive.
Step through the warehouse style door and be surprised by this charismatic bar, much-loved by locals, where you can drink cheap Cava cocktails (which the staff ladle out of jars on the bar) and wind away a couple of hours on their mezzanine level. One of the only bars in the entire city with respectable level bathrooms.
This cult rock club is the calling point of choice of the city’s unpretentious rockeros, who just want to get wasted and dance to 80s rock. Is there any better way of spending 2 to 6am on a Sunday morning?
The 4 Best Guided Tours of Born
For an even more in depth look at Barcelona’s El Born district we suggest you check out the following…
1. Tapas & Wine Walking Tour
A great option if you want to get deeper into Barcelona’s excellent gastronomy, this Tapas & Wine Walking Tour takes you to four authentic tapas bars and restaurants in the Gothic Quarter and El Borne, whilst getting to know the neighbourhoods’ picturesque squares and back streets. In total you’ll try 9 different tapas, and enjoy 4 glasses of local wine. You can book the tour via Get Your Guide.
2. Walking Tour plus Flamenco
This walking tour takes in the district’s top sights, like Santa Maria del Mar and the Born Cultural Centre, as well as many of its hidden treasures and stories, before finishing in the medieval Palau Dalmases with a delicious tapas meal and top quality flamenco show. A perfect combination of history, gastronomy and live entertainment. Available via Get Your Guide.
We love exploring by bike at Barcelona Life, and these gurus of two-wheeled sightseeing often call by El Borne, regaling travellers with stories of one-time bordellos, stinky fish markets and historic events in the ongoing struggle for Catalan independence. Click the link above for more info.
Don’t just explore the district, capture it on camera. Shutter King’s photo tours wend through the back streets and plazas of the barrio, led by a professional photographer who will give you tips on how best to capture Born’s beauty.
The 6 Best Hotels in Born
And now for the all important question… who has the plumpest pillows in the barrio? There are no 5-star hotels in Born, but there are several luxury and boutique 4-star options, so let’s start with those…
The Best 4-Star Hotels
1. K&K Picasso
So nice I put my parents up here when they came to stay recently, and they were not disappointed. The rooms are small but comfortable, with every mod-con you might need, but two things stand out. The first is the location, on the edge of the medieval part of Born, right next to the Parc de la Ciutadella. This is perfect in terms of being very central to everything you need in the city (attractions, beach, metro!), but also having plenty of space and greenery nearby. The second is the rooftop swimming pool with views over the aforementioned park.
2. H10 Port Vell
H10 are a famous brand of hotels in Spain, so you’re in safe hands here. This modern accommodation in a historic edifice overlooks the Old Port, and when you stay here you’re half way to the beach already! Also boasts a rooftop swimming pool.
3. Mercer House Boria BCN
This is a charming and chic boutique hotel situated on the lively Boria street, a perfect location for exploring not only Born, but also the neighbouring Gothic Quarter. The building’s Gothic and neoclassical features mean that it’s a listed historic building, whilst each of the rooms has been decorated elegantly, without being showy. You get a great view of the Gothic Cathedral from the hotel’s rooftop terrace.
The Best 3-Star Hotels
4. Hotel Banys Oriental
I’ve always been charmed by the elegant painted green exterior of this boutique hotel on Born’s vibrant Carrer Argenteria. Definitely one of the most stylish stays in the neighbourhood, inside and out, the hotel also has a superior restaurant, Senyor Parellada.
5. Park Hotel
Opposite the elegant Estacio de Franca train station, just by the park, this is an extremely comfortable 3-star hotel, with a smooth lobby and room decor, streetside tapas restaurant and a small rooftop swimming pool to boot.
The Best Budget Hotels
6. Chic & Basic Zoo
A great option for anyone who wants to save their yoyos (euros!), for some of the more fun things to do around town, Chic & Basic has everything you need for a great stay, and all at a friendly price. Tastes very, but to my eyes it’s actually more stylish than many luxury hotels. There’s no compromise on location, which is unbeatable.
For even more options check out the full gamut of accommodation available on Booking.com.
More Local Businesses
If you would like to search for individual places in Born, such as hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops, bars and clubs, and see them all on a map, then head to our district page, where we list all the best businesses in the neighbourhood.
For more of BCN’s best barrios check out our Barcelona districts guide.
You Ain’t Read Nothing Yet…
And for planning the rest of your travels don’t neglect to browse around the rest of our website… our guides to the best things to do at night, or where to watch flamenco in Barcelona are a great start, whilst our events calendar tells you what’s happening this weekend in BCN.