Choosing a neighborhood in Barcelona wasn’t easy at first. I was moving on after years of living in Madrid, what many call the most genuine Spanish city out there, and I had been warned that my experience in Barcelona might not be the same in that aspect. People told me that its authenticity wouldn’t be as palpable, and that I might have a hard time truly immersing myself into the culture. And this was something important for me.
After much debate and seeing at least thirty different apartments, it so happened that the one I fell in love with was in the Born. This had its pros and cons… the Born is a beautiful neighborhood with an awesome location, it’s lively and bustling yet safe and pleasant… but on the other hand, after the very diverse Raval, the Born is arguably the least “Catalan” neighborhood in the city. Having undergone a recent gentrification, the once seedy neighborhood has become one of the trendiest around, and its population has evolved into a cosmopolitan melting pot of bohemian expats, replanted immigrants, wandering tourists and the like.
So I took it on as a challenge. Choosing to live in the Born would mean finding the authentic Barcelona in all senses of the word: new and old, modern and aged, worldly and medieval. Because beyond boasting its rich and ancient history, Barcelona is also a symbol of modern Europe and what it means to be a global city of the 21st century. As a neighborhood, the Born is a perfect display of this, and after nearly two years here, I must admit that I think I’ve done a pretty good job of finding its special authenticity…
There is not a single Saturday, Sunday, holiday or perfect day that I don’t start my morning at Cafè del Born Nou (Plaça Comercial, 10) in front of the Born Cultural Center. I’m not sure if it was their entrepá del dia (sandwich of the day) or the proximity to my front door that got me into this habit, but I can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. Talk about simplicity at its finest. This place is proof that you don’t need extravagance to have the best brunch in town. All you need is good coffee, an agreeable atmosphere (though I have high standards in this aspect) and great toast.
After an obscenely long while camping out at the table, I’d probably take a walk around the neighborhood because strolling around is one of the most under-rated activities out there. A few different places worth checking out on any given perfect day are Iguapop Gallery (Carrer Comerç, 15), an art, music and fashion space that is filled with Barcelona quirkiness, or right across the street, the Convent de Sant Agustí (Carrer Comerç, 36), an old convent converted into the most interesting of civic centers. This place is trove of different activities like second-hand markets, mini concert series or just taking in the beautiful light in their patio cafe.
After a good stroll, it’s probably la hora del vermut by now. A perfect Barcelona day would be nothing without an aperitif of chilled vermouth and some anchovy-stuffed olives. You can find a handful of places to do this but I love Bormuth (Carrer Rec, 31) for their simultaneous homage to tradition and embrace of trendiness. This place doesn’t even try to be cool, it just is.
And now that I have warmed up my palate, I’d probably go to the Santa Caterina Market to buy something to make for lunch. The fish monger stalls are great here, though no day is the same for these guys and it always takes at least a few laps around to check out who’s got the best products and prices. I’m a huge fan of dorada, a treat of the Mediterranean, and popped in the oven with some potatoes, lemon and olive oil makes for the perfect mid-afternoon lunch.
After the luxury of a fresh seafood lunch (and probably a nap), I might go read a book in one of my favorite squares. Plaça de Sant Pere is a small, oddly shaped square on the edge of the Born and the Eixample district, and totally off the beaten track. There are a few different benches, and if they’re taken I’ll sit on the steps of the church, which also serve well for people-watching.
As the afternoon begins to set into the evening, it might be time to meet with friends at the Antic Teatre (Carrer Verdaguer i Callís, 12). If you didn’t know it was there, you might walk right past this old theatre on a small pedestrian street of the Born. But walking in and up the stairs, you will all of a sudden find yourself in a magical oasis of an inner patio whose essence is all that is Barcelona.
Afterwards we’d probably head over to N.A.P. (Carrer Gombau, 5-7) for some of the best pizza (and provoleta) in all of Spain, in my humble opinion. This pocket of the Born near the Santa Caterina Market is curiously inhabited by a small community of Italians, and they dominate the gastronomic scene on three or four streets with some awesome pizza joints and delightful Italian bakeries. More often than not there is a wait at N.A.P. (no reservations), so your best bet is to get a name and phone number on the list and go have a drink while you wait. I recommend Lupara (Plaça de Santa Caterina, 2), by far one of the most hopping terraces in the neighborhood, just a few blocks away.
I’m not much of a night-owl, but sometimes the occasion merits a night on the town. A great place to get things going is Paspartu (Carrer Basses de Sant Pere, 12-14), a miniscule bar de copas, as they call them, nicer than your every-day bar but not exactly a night-club either. Dim lights, great music and fantastic mojitos are perfect for getting me in the mood for Magic Club (Passeig Picasso, 40), one of the most mythical rock and roll nightclubs of Barcelona, known for its packed dance floor and early morning close-downs. A great place to really squeeze the juice out of a perfect day in Barcelona, dance the night away and sleep just enough hours to prepare you for the next.
Renée is a tour guide and the city coordinator for Devour Barcelona Food Tours. When she’s not helping hungry travelers discover Barcelona’s culinary and cultural delights, she’s most likely reading on some shady cafe terrace or walking her greyhounds around the Born.
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