On foot Through Barcelona: El Born Quarter
I’m wearing glasses and a green jacket.
OK! I’ll be waiting next to the Carmela.
Interested in testing out CityUnscripted and find out if they’re true to their promise to turn travelers into discoverers, and after several failed attempts (blame the rain, the allergies, and office work in general!) I finally met with Jonathan one evening after work.
Our meeting spot was the iconic sculpture in front of the Palau de la Musica, called Carmela. One of my favorite street sculptures in Barcelona, because of the fluid perspective, constantly changing depending on your angle.
We were both flexible on the agenda of the evening – especially since I’d been living in Barcelona for a year and a half already – so not your typical tourist – a challenge happily accepted by my CityUnscripted host.
The decision was made quickly: exploring El Born quarter.
What is CityUnscripted?
CityUnscripted connects travelers who don’t want to be tourists, with Locals who enjoy showing off their home city.
The Book a Local concept helps visitors get away from scripted excursions, by exploring cities with a like-minded Local, who will plan a personalized outing based on their interests.
Exploring El Born
1. Street Art: Kiss of Freedom
Starting off the walk, Jonathan asked me if I knew the Kiss of Freedom wall. I often saw pictures on Instagram, I have to admit I only incidentally found the place a couple of weeks ago, during a gin tonic pairing workshop.
(If you’re curious about the insider tips I got at the workshop, check out my Barcelona Gin Tonic Guide)
From afar, the wall looks almost like a large graffiti, but as you get closer you’ll realize that it is, in fact, a mosaic made up of thousands of ceramic tiles, each tile a photo representing an expression of freedom.
The World Begins With Every Kiss
The mosaic was put up in 2014 and has already been adopted as an iconic image of Barcelona’s El Born quarter. It measures an impressive 8 meters and was designed by Joan Fontcuberta, who used images snapped by local residents.
2. Galeria Maxo
Forget all about the kitschy, touristy souvenir shops!
If you want to bring home a really original souvenir, you should try Galeria Maxo. You’ll know you’ve found the place when a quirky Dali carton figure invites you to step inside this artsy corner where the mundane meets the transcendental.
This shop is a great little example of the artistic soul El Born quarter is known for. And with all the eccentric, sometimes bizarre and otherwise artsy choices, it will be hard to leave without a souvenir; your friends back home will thank you.
Second-hand books were particularly cheap, so I made a mental note to go back for some in-depth foraging…
Barcelona Foodie Secrets
We soon discovered we’re both foodies, and promptly started exchanging tips for best bites in Barcelona. Having lived in the city for some 15 years, Jonathan obviously had the best ones!
1. Santa Caterina Boqueria
The Santa Caterina market is becoming a reference point for both locals and tourists who want to explore one of the more authentic parts of Barcelona.
Built in the late 1850’s over an old convent, the Santa Caterina market is the oldest covered market in the city.
Think Boqueria, but with a more authentic, local vibe.
The market was renovated some ten years ago, and in the course of the works, archaeological remains of the old convent (XIII century) appeared, which can now be observed in the underground of the market.
You’ll easily recognize the building by its recently added, Gaudi inspired mosaic tile roof.
2. Mosquito: Best Crispy Duck in Town?
Somehow I knew about this one from my early days in Barcelona, but forgot all about it! Mosquito is great if you crave Asian food that is true to its origins: ramen, sushi, dim sum, dumplings, crispy duck… Especially the crispy duck, reportedly the best in town.
I’ll admit I’ve not yet tried it, but I’m planning to; very, very soon.
3. Pacha Lunch Menu
Pacha Barcelona brings the Ibiza atmosphere to Barcelona. Or so they pride in saying. However, no one would expect – given that Pacha is a nightclub – that they actually have great food!
Jonathan urged me to try the menu del dia once – available on weekdays, for only 15€. Make sure you ask for the daily menu cart, otherwise you’ll be treated like a tourist and end up paying triple!
4. Nikkei Cuisine: Aji
Talking about good restaurants in El Born quarter, Jonathan mentioned a restaurant where I can try out a great sample of Nikkei cuisine: Aji Restaurant. Not quite in EL Born anymore, the restaurant sits right next to the Casino in the newer Ciutadella/ Vila Olimpica.
I remembered I had wanted to try out Nikkei (a mix of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine) with EatWith for a while now. EatWith is the equivalent of CityUnscripted for food experiences, and that they have a lot of interesting choices such as Peruvian Japanese fusion.
5. Something Sweet: El Flako Cereal Bar
Thanks to Jonathan being a dad, I found out there’s a Cereal Bar hidden in plain sight on the narrow streets of Born. Extremely popular with teenagers, El Flako serves kids and adults alike, so no need to be shy.
Have a go at the impressive choice of breakfast cereals (no less than 70!) which come with blue or pink milk (El Flako used to be a cafeteria specializing in milk, and still is)
- Looking for a different kind of brunch?
- Traveling with kids?
- Or simply want your breakfast food for dinner?
El Flako is a good spot to pin on your google map, and keep in handy when exploring el born quarter.
My Something sweet: Hoffman’s Croissants
Because it’s only fair, I also shared one of my favorite sweet corners in El Born quarter: Hoffman pastisseria, and their amazing mascarpone croissants! We stopped there for a bite and chatted away: food apps, future travel plans..
The cakes are impressively unique and imaginative, as you can see: the cheesecake comes in a camembert crate, and the little cactus plant is actually a cake too!
No matter how familiar the place, a walk around will often come with discovering new surprises. True to its promise to turn travelers into discoverers, my CityUnscripted tour made discoverers out of us both. Here are some tips for you:
1. Nakashita Restaurant
Close to Arc de Triumf, we stumbled upon this Japanese restaurant which I later tried the following day. With a simple miso soup priced 6 €, the restaurant is definitely not cheap. But hey, it beats Oishii in the city center (Near Urquinaona metro station) which although affordable and with an authentic look, left me completely not impressed.
2. Quillo Bar
Tapas and drinks are your thing? Try this bar, located just one minute away from Nakashita. Menu here.
Is CityUnscripted Worth a Try?
Definitely! This 3-hour tour was nothing like what you may be thinking of when I say city tour! For me, it was a fun, relaxed and interesting way of exploring a city I’m already familiar with. Jonathan was a great host, meeting my expectations down to a T
Hit the narrow streets of El Born and become a discoverer.
And if taking a customized tour in the city I live in met my expectations, CityUnscripted will be a definite win for you travelers looking to Travel. Differently.