An intimate look at El Borne: Why this quirky Barcelona district is one of the sexiest neighbourhoods on earth
Following the aforementioned Huffington Post article, we at Lucas Fox’s Barcelona HQ decided to take a look at what makes this visually alluring corner of the city so appealing. Much like a more upmarket equivalent of Rome’s Trastevere, or a Bohemian answer to Paris’ Le Marais, expect beautiful people and a mosaic of eclectic boutiques, hipster coffee shops, artists’ studios and tucked away eateries full of character and local charm.
Despite its stone’s throw proximity to iconic Las Ramblas (with its abundance of living statues) and being just a 20 minute stroll from the bustling port and popular beaches, the district clings firmly to its Catalan identity without feeling too intimidating or closed off to curious visitors.
“Highbrow attractions together with the boozy cocktail and tapas bars that riddle the alleys and side streets, make this hood a perfect storm for both body and mind.”
The area may be far less tourist-centric than the neighbouring Barrio Gótico, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t walk past some of the city’s most spectacular sights, such as the expansive Picasso Museum housed in a historic Catalan palace, or the Modernista masterpiece Palau de la Música Catalana. This magnificent architectural feat of genius sneaks up on you in a burst of colour on an unassumingly narrow cobbled street. I highly recommend their informal 50 minute guided tour for getting up close and personal with that majestic ceiling.
With zero traffic and spectacular ochre hued ivy-covered buildings, these picturesque passageways, squares and meandering alleys could not be lovelier to wander and explore. Depending on the time of day, El Borne exudes a sleepy mid-afternoon tranquillity that blends seamlessly into a vibrant buzz as dusk approaches.
“I love my charming, bohemian barrio! It’s where I spend most of my weekends, any spare time I have. I just walk out of the door and there are a million things to do!”
– Monica Nahas, Lucas Fox Sales Agent and El Borne resident extraordinaire
El Borne is also home to the iconic Gothic church of Santa María del Mar, still popular with local residents. In fact, one of the most unique people watching sights in the city has to be observing a wedding from historic bodega La Vinya del Señor.
Passeig del Borne links the ancient Basílica with the recently regenerated area around the covered Mercat del Borne, which boasts beautiful bar terraces and quirky shops that demand discovering.
Be At One with Nature
El Borne is set just a short walk from the iconic Parc de la Ciutadella, home to the city’s zoo, an impressive boating lake, children’s parks and an expansive array of greenery for picnicking, sports or reading a good book in.
“Living just 2 minutes from the breathtaking Ciutadella Park is a tremendous luxury. The elaborate fountain designed by Josep Fontsere is so stunning that I still take pictures of it every time I pass by. You can also join a personal training group on any day of the week for around €6 an hour – much more fun than the gym and a great place to meet cool people.”
– Monica Nahas, Lucas Fox Sales Agent and El Borne resident extraordinaire
Indulge in gastronomic delights
Whether on a hot date, or a raucous dinner with the whole gang, don’t miss some of the most delicious food on offer in the city as Monica shares her Top 5 best loved establishments in the area..
“This immense restaurant resembles an indoor food market, with a variety of “islands” serving all kinds of perfectly executed international cuisine, from Japanese and Vietnamese to Italian, Catalan and Spanish tapas. There is even an oyster bar! Mercat Princesa is perfect for taking a big group of friends as there is literally something for everyone!”
“The 12 course tasting menu at Comerç 24 is unmissable, whether you are celebrating a special occasion or just looking to treat yourself. It is pricey, but the food is a delight and the service is fantastic. My top tip would be: say no to the bread that they automatically bring to each table – it is really expensive and filling when an incredible 12 course meal awaits.”
NB Comerç 24 is temporarily closed for refurbishment but fear not it is set to return better than ever!
Bar del Pla
“This tapas bar opposite my house is SO fantastic that it is fully booked practically every day, so it is wise to plan ahead. Every single dish on the menu tastes incredible. I usually opt for their fresh recommendation of the day. Other “must order” dishes include the meloso de cordero (slow cooked lamb terrine) , the carrillada (slow cooked beef cheeks), the steak tartare with foie (OMG), croquetas de calamari and the secreto iberico. I have taken so many friends there that the staff love me!”
“Another hugely popular local haunt, Doble Zero serve a variety Asian fusion dishes to absolute perfection. The sushi is out of this world (try the mosquito), as is the butter fish sashimi and steak with foie (served on a hot rock). More of my (many) favourites include the duck served with ginger sauce and the special salmon tartare. They have an in-house nanny to occupy the little ones on Sundays. Also needs to be booked in advance.”
C/Jaume Giralt 53
“For a quick bite, pop into La Fabrica for freshly baked Argentinian empanadas with a variety of home made fillings. Cheap as chips and very tasty – MUCH better than pizza!”
Plaza de la Llana 15
Top Tip Almost all restaurants offer a lunchtime Menu del Día which usually includes two or three courses and a glass of wine for under €10 – spectacular value and a great way to build up an extensive knowledge of the city’s restaurants (I speak from experience!).
From the daily grind to livin’ la vida mocha
Whether you’re seeking a speedy caffeine fix, a long overdue catch-up in the sunshine or a celebratory tipple, El Borne’s divine medley of kitsch hipster bars and pavement café culture will see you through from noon til night.
I couldn’t resist mentioning one of the sweetest cafés in the Borne area (also featured in our guide to Barcelona’s Top Coffee Hotspots). Set in a divine converted courtyard, Espai Mescladis is run by a local community project, offering employment opportunities to those who would otherwise face social exclusion. Expect smiley service and fresh, organic local produce. There is almost always a wizened local chap performing uplifting Reggae tunes for patrons, and the terrace is a sheltered suntrap – ideal for coffees (and cake), even on those rare chillier days!
Cafés El Magnífico
This small corner of coffee heaven is owned by Salvador Sans, a third generation Catalan coffee aficionado whose grandfather, a local coffee legend, began roasting coffee in El Born all the way back in 1919! With 40 different varieties of coffee beans, and a close relationship with the artisanal Granja, which supplies their organic milk, coffee is revered as an art form. Expect attention to detail and delicious results!
Monica Loves – Hofman Patisserie
“Two words: Hofman Patisserie. Absolutely everything that they make here is to die for. I love the cheesecake croissants, mango croissants, framboise croissants, the tiramisu, the cookies (I really do mean everything). Hofmann also has a delightful secret terrace serving deliciously fresh tapas, accessed via a hidden entrance that I can’t tell you about (or I’d have to kill you).”
Monica Also Loves – Collage
“My favourite cocktail bar – the guys can spontaneously produce any drink that springs to mind, but I always suggest asking them them to surprise you. There is a top secret drink made of smoked rosemary and cherry rum that is to die for.”
Retail Therapy Required
Forget the nylon Flamenco dresses and garish Gaudí fridge magnets, snow globes and pencil toppers of the Raval and the Barrio Gótico, or the high street brands of Portal de l’Àngel and lose yourself in the original designer shops, family businesses and minute galleries of El Borne. Monica’s favourite shopping street is Flassanders, home to some really cool original designer shops like Room by Maria Roch and concept store Loisada, selling unusual gifts and their own brand clothing.
De Mano en Mano
This incredible vintage market pops up across the city from 11am – 9pm on the first weekend of every month, most notably in the atmospheric cloister of the Sant Agustí convent. The expansive market provides a valuable platform for local artists, designers and musicians, as well as sections devoted to vintage clothing, jewellery and all manner of stylish second hand items (think distressed denim, slogan tees and unique accessories). I first stumbled across Demanoenmano on a sleepy Saturday afternoon and was immediately drawn to the mellow acoustic sounds and sociable chatter of the sunny courtyard. Grab a cool beverage before browsing and enjoy some street style spotting too!
Set on C/Comerç (fast becoming the creative artery of the city), entrepreneurial StudioStore is one of the most unique and eclectic spaces I have encountered. The 300m² site serves as both a studio, providing gallery space for a variety of local photographers, graphic designers and artists, and a store, promoting design products and homeware specific to Barcelona as well as products from a handpicked selection of international designers.
Don’t miss their “Bazaar” events, promoting collaborations between a carefully curated group of local designers and artists, encouraging the local community to get behind this new wave of ground breaking product and fashion design. It’s also a super fun spot to pick up unusual gifts and pieces with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.
I am also looking forward to their “La Hora del Te” series – welcoming special guests from the world of design, blogging, art and film directing to discuss a host of topics in a truly lovely setting, with specially selected teas and tasty nibbles – divine!
Monica Loves – Grasso
“As well as selling incredible products and clothes by a host of international, independent designers, Grasso hosts top secret dinners by chef Yorinde Sleegers (check out EatWith – like airbnb but for supper clubs). These pop-up supper clubs are a fantastic way to meet interesting people and enjoy delicious food at an affordable price.”
C/Verdaguer i Callís 6