Updated Jul 02 2020
One of the oldest and most historically rich areas of the city, Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera is also one of the four most central districts of the city that make up the Ciutat Vella (the Old Town). It has become one of the most fashionable areas of the city, and certainly has the most atmosphere in the streets. Its name, which might seem rather long, is made up of the three zones into which it’s now divided, and which used to be three separate areas, independent of each other, of medieval Barcelona. Whilst Sant Pere and Santa Caterina refer to two of the most important religious institutions of the time (the third being Sant Agustí), La Ribera takes its name from its location. Literally meaning ‘the riverbank’, it’s the closest area to the sea, and therefore has a long-standing maritime tradition.
The district of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera is often referred to as El Born. However, this isn’t technically correct, as El Born (or El Borne in Spanish) is actually a specific area of La Ribera, that which surrounds the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, and whose limits go from Carrer Princesa to the border with the district of La Barceloneta. El Born was once an area dedicated to jousting, especially on horseback, and it was known by this name because ‘Born’ was the word used for these types of places. Nowadays many of the entire district’s sights can be found in El Born, which makes it one of the most well-known and visited areas for tourists and locals alike.
Discovering the district
The districts of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera were created as a response to the city’s progressive population increase, which forced many people to build their houses outside the existing Roman city walls that used to protect the oldest part of Barcelona, which is now known as the Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter. The small homes that were built during the 11th century gradually gave life to an area in which some of the nobility of the era would eventually live.
The district’s 10 centuries of history have left a great legacy, much of which is still very visible in the city today, for example the medieval layout of much of its streets, many historic buildings and houses, some churches and chapels that are of great architectural interest, and archaeological remains from different eras. All this makes Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera a neighborhood that you can’t miss out on seeing!
The huge tourist boom in Barcelona in the past few years has led to a significant increase in the granting of licences to open hotels in the district, as well as many apartments being converted into tourist apartments, whether legally or not so legally, which has had an inevitable effect on the daily life of nearby residents. This situation, coupled with the progressive closure of the usual shops you find in any neighbourhood (greengrocers, supermarkets, newsagents, electrical shops) in order to open shops that are aimed at tourists, as well as the countless bars and restaurants in the area, has caused many locals to move to quieter areas of the city.
We hope, for the city and the district’s benefit, and of course for the residents that still live there, that this trend won’t continue and that Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera won’t turn into a mere theme park for tourists, which is something we don’t think any of the city’s visitors want, because the main attraction of the area certainly isn’t its many restaurants, nor its shops.
Roads, squares and parks…
The best recommendation we can give you when it comes to visiting Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera, and especially El Born, is not to have a plan as such, but to immerse yourselves in the streets, which will allow you to soak up the rich history that is still very much alive in the districts. All you have to do is get away from the busier streets in order to wander through the narrow side streets, which don’t necessarily provide an obvious round trip, paying special attention to the streets you’ll find in between Carrer Princesa and the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar. This is where you’ll find a large amount of the small charming shops, both new and old, as well as wine bars, cafés and restaurants.
As well as being able to enjoy the district’s medieval structure, if you look closely enough, wandering through the windy streets will also allow you to see many of the curiosities and small details that are hidden in streets and walls that help to magnify the charm of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera. Amongst these details that we urge you to discover, we’d like to draw your attention to the presence of the ‘carasses’ or stone faces of women in the façade of some buildings, which in ancient Barcelona indicated the presence of a brothel. A reproduction of a carassa can be seen on the corner of Carrer dels Mirallers and Carrer de la Carassa.
For convenience, shops and businesses of the same trade used to be all located on the same street. It’s therefore quite common that each of these streets was known by the name of the trade or profession, and nowadays there are still streets in the city that have kept these names.
Carrer dels Agullers (manufacturers of needles)
Carrer de l’Argenteria (silversmiths)
Carrer dels Flassaders (manufacturers of blankets)
Carrer de l’Esparteria (craftsmen that worked with esparto grass)
Many of the visitors to the city, and even Barcelona’s residents who visit this area do so with the aim of visiting one of its museums, situated in the La Ribera – Born area. Many of them occupy buildings that already have historical importance. Of all the museums, the most well known is Barcelona’s Picasso Museum, that contains a highly important collection, particularly of the early works of the distinguished artist from Malaga. Another focus of attention is the Cultural Centre of El Born; in its basement you’ll find an archaeological site from the beginning of the 18th century, the discovery of which takes us back to a turbulent time in Barcelona’s history, allowing us to deepen our knowledge of these difficult years, and get to know first hand what the daily life of the city’s people was like.
If you’d like to save money by going to the Picasso Museum of Barcelona free of charge, it’s useful to know that at certain times of certain days of the week, you can get in for free. However, you should bear in mind that it’s at these times that the biggest queues form outside, and when the most people visit the museum.
WHERE IS IT FREE TO ENTER?
Mansions, churches and monuments
The number of mansions and impressive buildings is notable in many of La Ribera’s streets, the origin of which dates back to the 13th century, when a large number of wealthy families started to move to this new area of the city which wasn’t as crowded as the Gothic Quarter, and this allowed them to build larger homes. Of all these historic buildings only 2 main examples survive – that of the Mercat del Born (the Born market), which was one of the first buildings in which iron was used as the predominant material and is now the site of the El Born Centre Cultural, and also the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, the authentic epicentre of the district’s life.
Although this is only a novel in which much is fiction, the well-known work by Ildefonso Falcones, ‘The Cathedral of the Sea’ (‘La Catedral del Mar’), is a good way to get to know some of La Ribera’s history, as well as that of Barcelona in the 14th century. In it the day-to-day life of the district and its humble people is narrated, through its protagonist Arnau Estanyol, and it explains how thanks to a lot of hard work and economical assistance the majestic Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar was created.
Bars, restaurants and cafés
Some situated in the busier streets (such as the Passeig del Born, the Carrer de l’Argenteria or the Carrer del Rec), and others in the sometimes forgotten little side streets, the area of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera has many bars, restaurants and cafés. Below you’ll find a small selection of those that we think would be the best options for lunch, dinner or having a drink, and this is based on our own experience and that of many locals and tourists.
Coffee and cakes
In spite of its name, the Mercat Princesa (literally Princess Market) isn’t actually a market, but a gastronomic space. Part of its charm can be found in the gothic 14th-century mansion in which it’s located. The main part of its attraction is, however, in the 16 fashionable bars and restaurants that offer all sorts of different culinary delights, which are ideal for tasting some of the wonderful local delicacies such as pintxos, tapas and salads, and also international gastronomy, always accompanied by good wine, a glass of cava or a soft drink if you prefer.
There are artists’ studios, such as sculptors, carpenters or silversmiths, and small accessories and fashion businesses that usually offer their own original designs, and these shops are the perfect occupants of the area in which they can be found. It’s full of history, and together with the atmosphere of its bars and restaurants, the shops give the area a relaxed bohemian feel to it. In addition, market stalls and fairs are often organised in some of the streets and squares (such as Plaça Allada Vermell and Carrer de l’Argenteria), generally on Saturdays and / or Sundays and on dates that are advertised in advance.
Barcelona’s shops that are located in Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera usually open from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 20:30. Some shops in the area close at lunchtime (normally from 14:00 or 14:30 to 16:00 or 16:30), but the majority of them stay open all day. On Sundays and public holidays, in theory the shops are closed, but in the past few years this tendency has started to change. Various shops have started to open on Sundays and the city hall itself has given permission for them to officially open on Sundays and public holidays during the summer (from 1st July to 15th September), from 10:00 to 18:00. On the public holidays towards the start of December the shops also usually open, with it being one of the busiest times of the year for Christmas shopping.
Events and fiestas
Various events and activities.
In the middle and end of June.
In the middle of September.
Streets and squares in La Ribera.
Lights and music.
The nearest weekend to 24th September.
Parc de la Ciutadella.
Hotels and other accommodation
Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera is one of the most popular areas for tourists looking to book a hotel in Barcelona, especially La Ribera and more specifically El Born. This is because of its excellent location, right in the heart of the city centre, and just 10 to 15 minutes walk from the beaches in La Barceloneta district. The prices in this area are therefore fairly high, but because there are so many options to choose from, and so many types of accommodation (hotels of various star ratings, apartments, hostels and youth hostels) there’s plenty of competition and it’s often possible to find a bargain.