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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The sultry passion, intricate footwork and dramatic embraces of the Argentine tango always make for a show-stopping performance and attending a professional tango show is the highlight of Buenos Aires for many visitors. With its award-winning shows, gourmet cuisine and lavish surroundings, Rojo Tango is arguably the most luxurious venue to experience the tango and it’s an intimate spot, with just 100 seats.
Guests can attend the show or opt to couple it with a pre-show dinner, where you’ll dine in style in Hotel Faena’s dramatic red velvet and gold cabaret theater. The dazzling tango performances, which take you on a journey from the roots of tango to modern-day, are equally impressive, including an extensive repertoire of jazz and classical tango by legendary Argentine composer Ástor Piazzolla.
Buenos Aires enjoys a vibrant cafe culture, but few of the city’s cafes are quite as iconic as Cafe Tortoni. Opened in 1858 by a French immigrant, the cafe soon became a popular haunt of tango singers and literati, most notably the founding members of La Peña. Many of their old photos still adorn the walls.
Much like in the early twentieth century, Cafe Tortoni remains a popular place where locals come to chat over a morning or afternoon coffee. The art nouveau cafe, filled with marble tables and Tiffany lamps, specializes on coffee and pastries, but visitors with a bigger appetite will also find sandwiches, salads and steaks on the menu. Each evening, Cafe Tortoni hosts a live tango show.
Few activities whip Argentines into a frenzy like a nail-biting futbol (soccer) match and watching local team River Plate – one of the country’s top teams - playing at their home stadium. El Monumental is a popular pastime for locals and tourists alike. Built in 1937 in the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires, El Monumental Stadium boasts an illustrious history and many of the nation’s most prominent matches, including the 1978 World Cup finals and the athletics events of the First Pan American Games in 1951, have been played out on the famous pitch. Those looking to watch Argentina’s national team play at home will likely find themselves at El Monumental, where the River Plate home games and even a number of National rugby matches are also held.
As well as hosting some of the world’s best soccer players, the 75,000-capacity stadium (the largest in Argentina) is also used as a music concert venue for international bands and artists.
The white bell tower and baroque pediment of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar sits at the heart of the affluent residential enclave of Recoleta.
The baroque interior features a golden statue of the Madonna, ornate altars, lovely cloisters and a small museum of religious artifacts.
The basilica overlooks the Recoleta Cemetery, one of Buenos Aires’ more unusual attractions. Follow the crowds to the grave of Eva Peron (Evita).
On weekends, Plaza Francia in front of the basilica comes alive with a large arts and crafts fair.
Located on the already shopping-centric Florida Street in Buenos Aires, Galerias Pacifico is one of the city’s most historic shopping centers. The Beaux Arts building — it was inspired by the Gallerias Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan — was built during the 1890s as the Argentine headquarters of Le Bon Marche, a Parisian department store. Soon other businesses began renting other parts of the building, including offices of the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway, which lent the building its name.
A range of midrange and upscale international brands now make their home within Galerias Pacifico, including Adidas, Chanel, Swarovski and Tommy Hilfiger. But what sets it apart from similar malls in the capital is the architecture of the building itself. Of particular note are the huge murals painted across the interior dome of the mall, commissioned in 1947 and painted by Argentina’s best artists of the time.
On a corner of Plaza San Martin in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires stands one of its most iconic buildings. The Kavanagh Building was designed in 1934 and built in 1936, and at 394 feet (120 meters) it was for a time the tallest building in Latin America. The story surrounding the origins of the building is just as interested as its distinctive art deco facade.
According to local lore, a wealthy Irishwoman by the name of Corina Kavanagh commissioned the building as a form of revenge. Corina, who was not part of the Buenos Aires aristocracy, fell in love with the son of the prominent Anchorena family. The boy’s parents didn’t approve of their engagement and ended it. In response, Corina had the building put up to obstruct the view of the Anchorena church, at the time the private mausoleum of the Anchorena family, from the family’s mansion.
Gaze up at the Paz Palace, and it’s easy to see why many consider Buenos Aires to be the Paris of South America. The mansion, designed to be the private residence of La Prensa founder Jose C. Paz, was built between 1902 and 1914 by French architect Louis Sortais. Paz died in Monaco in 1912, but while he never got to live in the palace he’d commissioned, his wife and children did.
When it was built, Paz Palace was the largest private residence in Buenos Aires, complete with 140 rooms and 40 bathrooms spread throughout its 129,000 square feet (12,000 square meters). All the construction materials and furnishings — marble, chandeliers, wood tiles and gold gilding — were imported from France. Today, the palace serves as the headquarters of the Military Officers’ Association social club and also houses the National Museum of Armaments.
Plaza Italia, a small perk located in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, was originally built in 1898 and named Plaza de los Portones, or Plaza of the Big Gates. In 1909, the city of Buenos Aires renamed it Plaza Italia after a statue of Italian general and politician Giuseppe Garibaldi was erected in the center of the plaza in 1904.
A small tile located on the northeast side of the park along Avenida Santa Fe commemorates another important moment in the history of Buenos Aires. In 1894, the city’s first electric tram departed from Plaza Italia, and the area remains a significant public transportation hub to this day.
Located in a quiet corner of Recoleta, the Argentine National Library is the largest library in the country and one of the most important in South America. In a city like Buenos Aires, famous for its belle epoch architecture, the National Library stands out as one of the best examples of contemporary architecture in the country.
The Brutalist structure was the work of architect Clorindo Testa, winner of a design contest staged in the early 1960s. Construction of the library wouldn’t begin until a decade later, and it wasn’t until 1992 that the completed library was inaugurated.
Visitors access the public library through a small, grassy reading garden. Inside, the collection is available to the public. The view from the top floor of the library is worth a look, and there are often special exhibitions on display within the building.
Located in the heart of the Palermo neighborhood, the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden opened in 1898 based on a design by French architect Carlos Thays. Today the national monument encompasses 18 acres (7 hectares) of gardens showcasing some 5,500 species of plants from six different continents: Asia, Africa, Oceana Europe and the Americas.
Highlights of the green space include a Roman garden, designed by Carlos Thays in the fashion of early Christian-era gardens, as well as a French garden inspired by the gardens of Versailles. While not open to the public, the botanical garden also houses a stunning Art Nouveau greenhouse that was displayed at the 1889 Paris World Fair.
Aside from the plants, the botanical gardens also serve as a home to a sizable population of cats, most abandoned by their owners but now cared for by a local volunteer committee.
Few tango venues have as illustrious a history as the Esquina Homero Manzi, built in 1917 and earning a reputation as an important cultural hub in the 1940s, where local tango musicians, dancers and poets would gather to drink, talk and perform. Today, the protected building has been beautifully restored in period style and named after one of its most famous former visitors – legendary tango lyricist Homero Manzi, who wrote his famous tango 'Sur' within its walls.
The atmospheric 300-seat restaurant now hosts one of the city’s best tango dinner shows, where guests can dine on Argentine cuisine and wine, and watch a nostalgic show of iconic tango songs and dances by talented local performers.
One of Buenos Aires’s most famous landmarks, the Obelisco (Obelisk), is located in the center of Plaza de la Republica. Erected in 1936 to commemorate the first (and ultimately unsuccessful) founding of Buenos Aires by Pedro de Mendoza on its 400th anniversary, the monument stands in the center of Avenida 9 de Julio where it intersects Corrientes.
The obelisk, designed by Argentine architect Alberto Prebisch, is famously visible from Plaza de Mayo. When Porteños have something to celebrate, particularly a significant soccer victory, flag-waving fans flood the plaza surrounding the monument.
Before the obelisk went up, Plaza de la Republica was the site of the Church of Saint Nicholas, built on the spot where the flag of Argentina was first flown in 1812 after gaining independence from Spain.
The Palais de Glace, French for “ice palace,” was built in the early 20th century as an ice skating rink and social club catering to the city’s high society at the time. As the popularity of ice skating waned, tango quickly became the new trend, and the circular building was converted into an oak-floored dance hall, where some of the most important orchestras of the time performed.
Today, the Belle Époch building in the Recoleta neighborhood houses an always-changing selection of cultural, historical, musical and artistic exhibitions, as well as the National Visual Arts Exhibition (Salon Nacional de Artes Visuales). The building has been listed as a National Historic Monument since 2004.
The Barrio Norte neighborhood encompasses parts of Palermo, Recoleta and Retiro around Santa Fe Avenue. This part of town got its name from its location in relation to the city center during the late nineteenth century, when San Telmo and Montserrat were the center of things. Wealthy residents began relocating north after an outbreak of yellow fever. Today, what was once a rather poor part of town is now among the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
You may hear Barrio Norte referred to as Villa Freud, as Buenos Aires is known for having the highest per capita rate of psychologists in the world, many with businesses set up in this area of town.
Visitors and residents alike come to Barrio Norte for its moderate and upscale shopping and numerous cafes. Many of the neighborhood’s belle epoch buildings remain, lending the area a distinctly European feel. The small but well-kept Las Heras Park is popular with sun bathers in the summer months.
With over 350 different animal species and an acclaimed exotic breeding program, Buenos Aires Zoo is the go-to place for urban wildlife spotting, hitting headlines at the start of 2013 when one of its Bengal White Tigers produced a rare litter of four cubs. Located close to Plaza Italia in the heart of the city’s Palermo district, the zoo has been running since 1888 and today houses over 2,500 animal inhabitants, as well as spearheading Argentina’s zoological research, education and preservation efforts. The 18-hectare park aims to mimic a range of different ecosystems, with a variety of unique enclosures and architecturally impressive buildings, set around a boating lake and island inhabited by a population of Madagascan Lemurs.