What most locals and visitors to Barcelona call the Born is really a neighbourhood with the long-winded name of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera. It's also sometimes referred to as La Ribera (the Waterfront), a name that recalls the time before permanent quays were built, when the shoreline reached much further inland and the area was contained within the 13th-century wall. The most uptown area of downtown, the Born is a curious blend of the ecclesiastical, the elegant and the edgy, and now commands some of the highest property prices in the city. Label-happy coolhunters throng the primped pedestrian streets, where museums, restored 13th-century mansions and churches alternate with cafés, galleries and boutiques. It's also home to the spectacularly reinvented Santa Caterina market, a great alternative to the oft-overcrowded Boqueria on La Rambla.
As much tapas bar as a restaurant, Cal Pep is always packed to the hilt: get here early to bag one of the coveted seats at the front. There is a cosy dining room at the back, but it’s a shame to miss the show. The affable Pep will take the order, steering neophytes towards the trifásico – a mélange of fried whitebait, squid rings and shrimp. Other favourites include the exquisite little tallarines (wedge clams), and botifarra sausage with beans. Then squeeze in four shot glasses of foam – coconut with rum, coffee, crema catalana and lemon – as a light and scrumptious pudding.
Head into Pastrami Bar if you're in the mood for a mean pastrami, the likes of which you won't find anywhere else in Barcelona. But if what you're really after is one of the finest cocktails in town, open the 'secret' wooden fridge door (which takes up half a wall and gives itself away a bit thanks to its hinges) and be transported into the speakeasy that is Paradiso. In this elegant cave lined with wooden slats you'll find outrageous items like a re-distilled whiskey, where they separate the old part of the whiskey that has a woody taste and use it to make a tea sorbet. You drink it, and as it melts with the alcohol, the whiskey ages! Each of their imaginative and potent house creations is served in its own signature drinking vessel, which are so fun you'll want to try one of each. Plus, most cost a lot less than at a highbrow cocktail bar.
Barcelona’s collection of the works of its favourite adopted son mostly features pieces from Pablo Picasso’s formative years, including sketches he did while in art school. It’s fascinating to see these early examples, and to witness, as you move along through the permanent exhibition, the artist’s growth and evolution, from surprisingly advanced portraits done as a child to time spent with Catalonia’s avant-garde at the end of the 19th century to his innovative Blue Period. Mind that you won’t be able to see certain masterpieces (‘Guernica’ is in Madrid’s Reina Sofía museum, ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’ lives in New York’s MoMA) or much collage and sculpture since the museum was founded by donations from Picasso’s friend Jaume Sabartés’s own collection. You will, however, get to lay eyes on the amazing and complete series of 58 canvases based on Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’, which Picasso donated himself after Sabartés died. Finish your visit marvelling at the collection of ceramics donated by Picasso’s widow, along with linocuts and engravings. Do yourself a favour and get your tickets online to avoid often painfully long queues.
This four-star hotel stands on the border of the Born and the Barri Gòtic, so you've got the entire centre of Barcelona at your feet. The 81 soundproof rooms feature gorgeous wood floors, cosy furniture and plenty of natural light. The Colonial is pet-friendly, and close enough to local city beaches and the Ciutadella park to take your pup for a good walk. Since you're at the lower end of the busy Via Laietana, you'll never be at a loss for modes of transport, as you're near two metro stops, taxis speed along at all hours of the day and night, and the location is so central that you can walk to many of Barcelona's top sights and attractions. The hotel also offers tourist services, including information and ticket sales.
If you do just one thing…
If you're starting to feel the need for a nature break in Barcelona, get yourself immediately to the Ciutadella park. Over 17 hectares of green space, museums, the Barcelona Zoo, a lake with rowboats for rent, and a rather majestic waterfall designed by Josep Fontseré and his apprentice, a young Antoni Gaudí. Climb the steps on either side of the fall for a bird's-eye view of the park.