Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Buenos Aires
Dazzling shoppers on Buenos Aires’ central Florida Street, the Guemes Gallery, or Galería Güemes, is one of the city’s finest gallerias, making headlines as the highest building in Argentina when it first opened in 1915. Designed by legendary Italian architect, Francesco Gianotti (the brains behind the landmark Confiteria del Molino building on Plaza Congresso), the domed atrium towers 87 meters over downtown Buenos Aires and still offers spectacular 360-degree panoramic views from its 14th floor observation deck.
A striking composition of Art Nouveau styles, the Gallery’s decadent interiors are a breathtaking college of ornamental archways, beautiful ironwork, sculpted granite walls and exquisite stained glass. The upper floor apartments are equally impressive, having hosted a smattering of famous names over the years, most notably writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, to whom a photography collection is devoted to on the 2nd level.
Plaza de Mayo is Buenos Aires’ political heart, first mapped out in 1580. Today, the grassy, treed plaza attracts visitors with cameras and relaxing locals, and is also the venue for rallies and gatherings.
The center of the plaza features an obelisk called the Pirámide de Mayo, erected to commemorate independence from Spain. Grand 19th century buildings line the plaza, but the colonial arches that once circled the plaza are long gone. Nearby are the city council buildings known as the Cabildo, the Casa Rosada government buildings and fine bank buildings.
Buenos Aires’ largest barrio, the northern district of Palermo encompasses a number of city hotspots, favored by the city’s most cosmopolitan and fashionable residents. The ever-trendy Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood make up the old quarter of Palermo Viejo where grand residential buildings jostle for space with quirky boutiques and some of the city’s finest bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Palermo is also renowned for its parks and there are plenty of idyllic green spaces to choose from. The tree-lined Bosques of Palermo is a hugely popular picnic spot centered around a glistening lake and the family-friendly Zoological Gardens are surrounded by the lush Botanical gardens, Japanese gardens, the Evita Museum and the Galileo Galilei planetarium. Close by, the Palermo Hippodrome is situated next door to the legendary Campo de Polo sports ground, and the iconic Floralis Genérica art installation stands proud over the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas.
The dramatic centerpiece of the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, the Floralis Generica is a giant 18-ton aluminum flower sculpture that has become one of Buenos Aires’ most instantly recognizable landmarks. The quirky art installation was erected in 2002 in the parkland that bridges the city’s Palermo and Recoleta districts and features a striking mirrored finish that dazzles under the sun and glows red in the evening hours. Designed by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano, the futuristic monument was envisioned in homage to his home city and was gifted to the public by him.
Most uniquely, the remote controlled sculpture is programmed to open and close its six petals with the sun, so that the flower is in bloom during daylight hours before closing up at sunset. Each morning (the petals open at 8am) and night crowds of locals and tourists gather in the park to watch the 20-minute spectacle, as the 66-foot-high flower changes color.
Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge, is a footbridge in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. It was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and modeled after very similar bridges spanning the rivers in Seville, Spain and Redding, California. The prominent feature that all three bridges share is the big steel needle jutting at a sharp angle into the sky. The needle functions as an anchor for the suspension cables and holds up the entire span. According to the creator, the whole structure is supposed to show a couple dancing the tango, with the needle representing the man and the curved body of the bridge embodying the woman being lowered to the ground. Additionally, many of the streets in this Buenos Aires district have women’s names, a fact that Calatrava wanted to honor when he named Puente de la Mujer.
An interesting function of the bridge is its rotating feature to let water traffic pass through.
While it may seem odd that one of Buenos Aires’ principal tourist attractions is a cemetery, the Recoleta Cemetery is no ordinary graveyard. Encircled by a towering perimeter wall and entered via a striking columned portico, Recoleta Cemetery is one of the world’s most exquisite necropolises; a glorious ‘City of the Dead’ that houses some of the country’s most prominent political, military and artistic icons.
Over 6,400 tombs are found in the Cemetery, laid out in formal tree-lined avenues and punctuated with beautifully sculpted monuments, poignant marble statutes and grand, bronze-cast mausoleums. Notable burial plots include the vivid white stone tomb of newspaper founder José C. Paz, flanked by a pair of dazzling Rubenesque angels; the ostentatious tomb of former Argentine president Carlos Pellegrini, featuring an elaborate statue of the controversial leader atop the coffin; and the evocative statues of crying widows kneeling beside the tomb of Colonel Falcon.
Like La Boca, the central barrio of San Telmo is one of Buenos Aires’ tango haunts.
Formerly an up-market residential area, the area’s crumbling mansions and atmosphere of faded glory form the perfect backdrop for the city’s artists and musicians who now call this inner-city enclave home. Visit on Sundays to browse the enormous Plaza Dorrego antiques fair, clap along to the tango buskers and relax with a drink at one of the surrounding cafes. The streets here are picturesquely cobbled, and the fascinating little shops are well worth a browse. Visit San Telmo at night to take in a tango show in one of the area’s many clubs.
Since 1908, the Colon Theatre (or Teatro Colón) has set the benchmark for gilded magnificence and the ultimate theater experience.
One of the world’s top five opera houses, the luxurious seven-story building seats 2,500 theater-goers on plush red velvet chairs on tiers of gilded balconies rising to giddying heights.
Guided tours highlight the gilt interior, chandeliers, illuminated dome and ceremonial staircases.
See what’s coming up on the theater’s schedule of performances, from opera and ballet to classical concerts.
The ritzy Recoleta neighborhood draws visitors in the numbers for a wander through Buenos Aires’ up-market residential streets and public parks.
For most visitors, the main attraction is the Recoleta Cemetery, an ornate necropolis so large it’s like a mini city of states and marble sarcophagi. One of the most famous tombs is that of Eva Peron (Evita).
The enclave also attracts thousands of people for its weekend crafts market, held on Plaza Francia outside the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Museums and art galleries, lovely plazas and parklands are another feature of Recoleta.
More Things to Do in Buenos Aires
Once a lackluster cargo port, the waterfront area of Puerto Madero is now one of Buenos Aires’ most fashionable districts, teeming with upmarket restaurants and glitzy nightclubs. Marooned from the mainland by the Rio de la Plata estuary, the largely pedestrianized island is celebrated for housing some of the city’s most architecturally stunning buildings. Luxury apartments, plush hotels and high-rise office towers dominate the area, encircling a stylish waterfront plaza and backed by an expanse of naturally preserved parkland.
The barrio’s pièce de résistance is the iconic Puente de la Mujer, or the Woman’s Bridge, an artistic swing-bridge that connects Puerto Madero to the mainland hub of Plaza de Mayo. The futuristic design by Spanish sculpture Santiago Calatrava, is said to symbolize an abstract tango dance and casts a striking silhouette on the city skyline.
With its brightly painted houses and funky atmosphere, Caminito is one of the most famous streets in Buenos Aires.It may not be a grand boulevard, but Caminito is a historic walkway that grabs your attention from the moment you enter. Founded by Italian immigrants from Genoa, the street is lined with haphazardly built homes constructed from corrugated metal and wood, painted in a plethora of gaudy colors. You’ll probably hear the dramatic foot-stomping strains of the tango as you stroll down this pedestrian walkway, and as you look around you’ll see works by local artists on the walls of this outdoor living gallery.
Meaning retreat in Spanish, the Retiro neighborhood was named after a Spanish governor’s country retreat built in the area during the late 17th century. Located in northeastern Buenos Aires, Retiro is a study in contrasts. The barrio got its start as one of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods, evidenced by the belle epoque embassies, five star hotels and high end retailers scattered throughout the neighborhood. On the other hand, Retiro is one of Argentina’s busiest transportation hubs with throngs of people always passing through, and is also home to the overcrowded and under-serviced neighborhood known as Villa 31.
A highlight of the neighborhood (and of the entire city of Buenos Aires) is Plaza San Martin. This park located opposite the Retiro train terminal is surrounded by some of the city’s most impressive architecture. Shoppers flock to Avenida Florida, a pedestrian street that runs from Plaza San Martin in Retiro to San Nicolas.
The eye-catching salmon-pink façade of Argentina’s presidential palace is one of the capital’s most iconic sights, standing proud over the city’s historic Plaza de Mayo public square. The aptly named Casa Rosada, or the ‘Pink House’, is the secondary mansion and office of the Argentine President, housing the government offices and providing the striking backdrop to Buenos Aires’ often-turbulent political history.
Erected in 1862, the Renaissance-style palace was initially to be painted white and theories abound as to hoe it got its rosy makeover, from ox blood being mixed into the paint to the then-President blending the red and white colors of opposing political rallyists. Designated a National Historic Monument of Argentina, the pink palace is perhaps most legendary for its lower balcony, from which the beloved Evita rallied the working class crowds back in 1949 – a moment that was famously recreated by Madonna in the 1996 movie Evita.
Buenos Aires’ most iconic landmark, the Obelisk, or El Obelisco, towers over the intersection of the city’s two main thoroughfares, Corrientes Avenue and the ‘widest avenue in the world’ -9 de Julio. Erected in 1936 to commemorate the nation’s 400th anniversary, the pencil-like column marks the spot where the nation’s flag was first flown – a striking 220-foot tall monument that has become a memorable feature on the city skyline. Fashioned from 1,360 square meters of Cordoba white stone, the Obelisk was designed by Tucaman architect Alberto Prebisch and features poignant inscriptions on each of its 4 faces, referencing key moments in the city’s history. Not only an important navigational landmark, the Obelisk also finds itself at the center of city celebrations and rallies, a common backdrop for sporting celebrations, political demonstrations, candlelit vigils and religious congregations.
Porteños often boast about Avenida 9 De Julio as the world’s widest boulevard, and with a width of 460 feet (140 meters) with 12 lanes of traffic, they might just be right. Construction on the avenue began in 1937, modeled after the Champs Elysees but twice as wide, and built to commemorate Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. It wasn’t fully completed until 1980.
Neo-classical and Beaux Arts buildings line the monumental street, but it’s most recognizable feature is the iconic Obelisco that towers over a small park at the intersection of Avenida 9 De Julio and Avenida Corrientes.
Located in the neighborhood of San Nicolas near the center of Buenos Aires, the Catedral Metrepolitana has a history that’s nearly as long as winding as the capital city itself. The land for the cathedral was set aside beginning in 1580, although over the next two centuries the building would collapse at least a half dozen times. Constant construction and reconstruction seemed to plague the central cathedral, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 1820s that French architects were brought in to design a solid cathedral. When visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral today, you’ll find the cathedral is pieced together by segments of its various eras—a historical tour within itself that tells the city’s story. Structurally, the cathedral involves elements of Spanish design as well as Greek revival, in addition to a mosaic tile floor in classically Venetian style.
The beloved Boca Juniors soccer team plays its games at Alberto J Armando stadium, affectionately known as La Bombonera (Spanish for “the Chocolate Box”). It has a capacity of 49,000 and is known for vibrating when fans start getting too antsy – either from happiness or disgust – and start jumping in rhythm.
A behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium is a fascinating look at the sport that that most Argentines live and die by and the Buenos Aires soccer team that was founded in 1905 by five boys living in La Boca neighborhood. Visit the interactive Museo de la Pasión Boquense, the first soccer museum in the Americas, and walk out on to the famous soccer field pitch, where you can close your eyes and imagine the roar of the passionate crowd.
The cultural heart of the historic San Telmo barrio, Plaza Dorrego is the second-oldest square in Buenos Aires and famous for its a vibrant weekly market. Named after the soldier and two-times Governor of Buenos Aires, Manuel Dorrego, the Plaza was once the center of the city’s 19th-century residential district, until clusters of tango venues and bars sprung up around the square in the 1930s. Today the colonial square remains a lively hub of bars and cafés, with many historic venues holding tango shows and live music. Sunday is the most popular day to visit Plaza Dorrego when the square hosts the world famous San Telmo antiques market, accompanied by live musicians and tango dancers performing sultry numbers on the sidewalk. Sprawling along the adjourning Defensa Avenue, the Feria de San Pedro Telmo (San Telmo Market) offers up a colorful array of stalls selling antiques and curios alongside handicrafts, souvenirs, leatherworks, silver, tango memorabilia and local artworks.
One of Buenos Aires’ oldest public squares, Plaza San Martin is a pocket of greenery sandwiched between the central Retiro train and bus station and the lively shopping hub of Florida Av. A popular spot for picnicking locals and fatigued shoppers, the majority of the plaza is parkland shaded by ancient jacaranda and magnolia trees and including a small dog park frequented by the city’s ubiquitous dog walkers (often seen on the city streets handling a dozen or more dogs). The focal points of the park are its many monumental statues, including the Torre de Los Ingleses (English Tower), gifted to Argentina by the British in celebration of the 1810 revolution; the grand Monument to General Jose San Martín, after whom the park was named; and a poignant monument to those who lost their lives in the notorious Malvinas (Falklands) War.
While everyone else is walking around the antiques fair in San Telmo and picking up items that are too big to take home, head to Parque Lezama, a public park in the same district. The city of Buenos Aires was first founded here by Pedro de Mendoza (see his statue in the park) in 1536. In 1857 it was sold to Gregorio Lezama whose widow ultimately gave it to the municipality of Buenos Aires in 1894.
The park borders a part of what used to be the Rio de La Plata, before its course was redirected and the neighborhood of Puerto Madero was created. And while Buenos Aires is almost completely flat, this park, along with the Plaza Francia and Barrancas del Begrano are on a rise that sets them higher than the rest of the city. There are rustic paths for walking and biking and a few lookout points over where the river used to be. Also in the park is the National Historical Museum of Argentina, established in 1897. It holds a collection of some 50,000 pieces.
El Cabildo, a modest, two-story colonial building along the edge of Plaza de Mayo, once served as Buenos Aires’s original city hall. Within the white facade, meetings were held about Argentina’s declaration of independence in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the Uruguayan constitution was signed within the building in 1830, and it housed the National Court of Justice during the late 1800s.
Today, Cabildo is one of the few colonial structures still standing in Buenos Aires. The facade now houses a small museum showcasing paintings, furniture, antiques and costumes from the colonial period. The windows of the building offer some of the best views of the historic plaza just outside.
Think of Buenos Aires and you think the tango. Café de los Angelitos and its evenings of dining and performances roll everything iconic about Buenos Aires into one night. The “café” (really a nightclub) is a longtime icon of this Argentine city and has been putting on shows here for over 100 years. The name comes from a tango song composed and written by José Razzano, a longtime duet partner of Carlos Gardel, often considered to be the father of tango. The 1944 song was called “Cafe de los Angelitos.”
The café has come a long way since its 1890s beginning, when it was founded in a marginalized part of the city by an Italian immigrant and had dirt floors. In the time since then, the city has filled in around it, and though the café fell on hard times and was actually closed from 1992 to 2006, the doors have reopened for dining and entertainment in an elegant spot offering the best Argentina has to offer.
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