This Neighborhood Has Everything You Ever Wanted to Do in Barcelona—Without Throngs of Tourists
Santa Caterina is, in this way, a microcosm of the neighborhood it calls home.
On a quiet edge of El Born, workers unhurriedly set up tables outside the Santa Caterina Market as a pair of abuelas saunter in, discussing their grocery lists. Inside, a man orders a slice of tortilla with his coffee at a tiny counter from a barista who knows him by name.
Santa Caterina was Barcelona’s original covered market, and unlike La Rambla’s famed La Boqueria, it still sees far more locals shopping for produce than it does tourists scooping up rainbow-colored candy and Instagram-primed cones of charcuterie. Its mosaic roof, covered in hundreds of thousands of colorful ceramic pieces, catches the eye thanks to an imaginative 2005 renovation, but inside is an unassuming market that prioritizes serving fresh food and Catalan tradition.
Santa Caterina is, in this way, a microcosm of the neighborhood it calls home. With popular sites like the Picasso Museum and a prime location between the city center and the beach, El Born is not immune to the overtourism that has come to Barcelona in recent years. The neighborhood has managed to maintain a pleasantly balanced resident-to-tourist ratio, however, by welcoming new visitors but keeping the focus on what already makes it special.
Hotelier Ian Schrager’s new Barcelona EDITION was an example of this when it opened last month overlooking Santa Caterina’s Gaudiesque roof. While the city has made headlines for pushing away tourists and banning new hotels from opening in the city center, Schrager dared to open the latest European iteration of his upscale-edgy hotel chain in its most down-to-earth neighborhood. And although a new luxury hotel isn’t always welcomed with open arms into an area like El Born — known for modest artists’ dwellings, narrow, winding streets, and craftsmans’ boutiques — its restaurants and bars were already filling up with curious passersby in its opening week.
The Barcelona EDITION has all the fixings of a luxury hotel, from its plush bedding and stylish rooftop to furniture designed by Salvador Dalí, but the key to its continued success will likely be in how it embraces its surroundings, starting with Santa Caterina.
“We're inspired by the idea of the market,” Schrager told Travel + Leisure. “The market offers the best food in Barcelona and we use the produce here at Edition. It's an incredible opportunity to be part of this area.”
Much of the hotel’s sleek façade is made of glass to reflect the gothic architecture around it, and subtle references to the location are made throughout: There’s artwork by Antoni Gaudi, Spanish snacks in the minibars, staff dressed in Picasso-inspired styles, and locally produced Vermouth served at the lobby bar. “The idea is to evoke a feeling when people walk into the hotel, as if they are walking into a private home and it feels like it's in Barcelona and it’s appropriate but you don't have to hit them over the head with it,” Schrager said.
That’s what El Born does best: It makes you feel like you’re in Barcelona without “hitting you over the head with it” — and reminds you why so many people from all over the world fell in love with this city in the first place.
Here’s how to get your Barcelona fix without ever leaving El Born.
The Park: Parc de la Ciutadella
While the masses line up to take the same photo at Gaudi’s whimsical but always crowded Park Güell, enjoy the freedom of roaming La Ciutadella, whether you set up a picnic, take a rowboat out on the lake, visit the zoo, or just pick a shady spot to relax. You might even want to rent a bike to tour the giant park, which connects El Born to Barceloneta, Arc de Triomf, and the Olympic Village.
The Art: Museu Picasso
Barcelona’s Picasso Museum houses more than 4,000 works by the artist across a complex of five medieval palaces. Although there are a number of museums dedicated to Picasso around the world, the Barcelona museum was the only to open during his lifetime, hosts one of the most complete permanent collections of his work, and is a special tribute considering the Spanish artist spent his formative years in the city.
The Entertainment: Palau de la Musica
The Catalan Art Nouveau exterior of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the ironwork, mosaics, and stained glass interior make it a breathtaking concert venue. Programming includes flamenco, opera, guitar groups, orchestras, artist workshops, poetry readings, and more.
The Church: Basílica Santa Maria del Mar
You’ll have to book a ticket in advance and still wait to get into Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, but Basílica Santa Maria del Mar is an impressive example of Catalan Gothic architecture inside and out without the hassle. Stunning stained glass dating back to the 15th century, a gothic sculpture of the Virgin Mary, and a crypt built over a Roman necropolis offer plenty to be in awe of.
The Market: Mercat Santa Caterina
The colors on the roof of Santa Caterina represent the colors of the fruits and vegetables inside the market, and there are plenty. You won’t find the theatrics of Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (better known simply as “La Boqueria”), but you will mingle with locals shopping for their groceries, a tapas bar, and a stylish restaurant serving fresh Catalan, Asian, and Mediterranean dishes, Cuines Santa Caterina.
The Promenade: Passeig del Born
Instead of making your way down La Rambla with the rest of the out-of-towners, take a relaxing stroll down the tree-lined Passeig del Born, walking the full stretch from Santa Caterina market to Basílica Santa Maria del Mar, or stopping at one of its cocktail bars for a drink on a terrace overlooking it all.
The Tapas: El Xampanyet
This little tapas and cava bar down a quaint cobblestone street somehow manages to be deliciously old-school and a little bit trendy at the same time. Colorful tiles decorate its walls, the bubbly is always flowing, and the tapas are so tasty you'll order more rounds than you intended to. At night the crowd is a perfect mix of young locals looking for a quality pregame, older locals settling in for hours of eating, drinking, and socializing, and lucky tourists who wandered in after the Picasso Museum.
The Shopping: Zona Artesanal
You’ll know you’re in the Zona Artesanal when you look up and see string lights and golden stars draped above your head to turn a simple side street into a magical scene. Carrer de L’Esquirol is lined with one-of-a-kind shops selling ceramics, clothing, handmade leather bags, home décor and more — and you can browse while the artists continue creating pieces in their attached workshops.
The Home Base: Barcelona Edition
Brand new to the neighborhood, the Barcelona EDITION has 100 rooms and suites decked in marble, wood, and brass. The focus, Schrager says, is offering two of the best parts of a visit to Barcelona: entertainment and food. At Cabaret, a tasting menu meets live performances; in the Punch Room, sangria and punch are served from vintage silver bowls; and on the rooftop, a plunge pool and lounge boast city and sea views. Opening rates start from €375 per night, including breakfast.