Glamorous and gritty, Buenos Aires is two cities in one. What makes Argentina's capital so fascinating is its dual heritage—part European, part Latin American. Plaza de Mayo resembles a grand square in Madrid, and the ornate Teatro Colón would not be out of place in Vienna. But you’ll know you’re in South America by the leather shoes for sale on cobbled streets and impromptu parades of triumphant soccer fans. Limited-production wines, juicy steaks, and ice cream in countless flavors are among the old-world imports the city has perfected.
Points of Interest
Almagro lies southwest of Recoleta but feels like a different world. Traditionally a gritty, working-class neighborhood, it spawned many tango greats, including the legendary Carlos Gardel. The Abasto subdistrict has long been the heart of the barrio: it centers on the massive art deco building (at Corrientes and Agüero) that was once the city's central market. The abandoned structure was completely overhauled and reopened in 1998 as a major mall, spearheading the redevelopment of the area, which now has several top hotels and an increasing number of restaurants and tango venues. More urban renewal is taking place a few blocks away at Sarmiento and Jean Jaurés, where the Konex Foundation has transformed an old factory into a cutting-edge cultural venue.
Although La Boca is more touristy, it shares much of San Telmo's gritty history. La Boca sits on the fiercely polluted—and thus fiercely smelly—Riachuelo River, where rusting ships and warehouses remind you that this was once the city's main port. The immigrants who first settled here built their houses from corrugated metal and brightly colored paint left over from the shipyards. Today you’ll see imitations of these vibrant buildings forming one of Buenos Aires' most emblematic sights, the Caminito.
The waterfront near the iconic Caminito area may be the most unashamedly touristy part of town, but the neighborhood surrounding it is the most fiercely traditional. Cafés, pubs, and general stores that once catered to passing sailors (and now reel in vacationers) dot the partially renovated area. For high-brow hipsters, the gallery of the Fundación Proa is the main draw.
Two quite different colors have made La Boca famous internationally: the blue and gold of the Boca Juniors soccer team, whose massive home stadium is the barrio's unofficial hub. For many local soccer devotees, the towering Boca Juniors stadium makes La Boca the center of the known world.
Recoleta wasn't always synonymous with elegance. Colonists, including city founder Juan de Garay, farmed here. So did the Franciscan Recoleto friars, whose 1700s settlement here inspired the district's name. Their church, the Basílica del Pilar, was almost on the riverbank then: tanneries grew up around it, and Recoleta became famous for its pulperías (taverns) and brothels. Everything changed, though, with the 1871 outbreak of yellow fever in the south of the city.
The elite swarmed to Recoleta, building the palacios and stately Parisian-style apartment buildings that are now the neighborhood's trademark. They also laid the foundations for Recoleta's concentration of intellectual and cultural activity: the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), a plethora of top-notch galleries, and three publicly run art museums are based here. Combine all of that with Recoleta’s exclusive boutiques and its beautiful parks and squares—many filled with posh pooches and their walkers—and sightseeing becomes a visual feast. An unofficial subdistrict, Barrio Norte, is one step south of Recoleta proper and one small step down the social ladder. Shopping is the draw: local chains, sportswear flagships, and minimalls of vintage clothing and clubwear line Avenida Santa Fe between 9 de Julio and Puerreydón.
Once rural villages far removed from urban life, Belgrano and neighboring Núñez now mark the transition from the city proper to the sprawling northern suburbs of Greater Buenos Aires. The stolid storefronts and safe menus of Belgrano’s clothing stores and restaurants cater to its well-to-do but conservative residents. They’re the reason that the soccer fans are known as millonarios (millionaires); adjacent Núñez is home to the club’s huge stadium, La Monumental. Away from the crazy traffic of Avenida Cabildo, Belgrano’s tree-lined streets are pleasant, if lacking in tourist attractions.
Not quite as cool as Palermo but much less staid than Belgrano, Las Cañitas sits between the two both geographically and conceptually. In the late 1990s, the in-your-face bars and clubs of this outpost northwest of Palermo were the epitome of cool. Its star has since faded, but Las Cañitas remains a fond favorite among local models, aging TV divas, and others dying to be seen.
A forest of skyscrapers designed by big-name architects like Sir Norman Foster and César Pelli is sprouting up in Puerto Madero, a onetime port area that's now notable for its chic hotels, restaurants, and boutiques. Original dockland structures have been repurposed: former grain silos now house luxury lodgings, and high-end cafés line the waterside walkways where cargo was once offloaded.
The neighborhood’s upswing has even extended to the 865-acre Reserva Ecológica, a nature preserve built on land reclaimed from the river using rubble from major construction projects in the 1970s and ’80s.
Estadio Boca Juniors
Walls exploding with huge, vibrant murals of insurgent workers, famous inhabitants of La Boca, and fútbol greats splashed in blue and gold let you know that the Estadio Boca Juniors is at hand. The stadium that's also known as La Bombonera (meaning candy box, supposedly because the fans' singing reverberates as it would inside a candy tin) is the home of Argentina's most popular club. The extensive stadium tour is worth the extra money. Lighthearted guides take you all over the stands as well as to press boxes, locker rooms, underground tunnels, and the emerald grass of the field itself.
It’s said that Buenos Aires was built with its back to the Río de la Plata, but the exception is the riverside strip of Costanera Norte, where a promenade borders the choppy brown waters. By day, the drone of engines and the smell of jet fuel fill the air above this strip of land along the river: Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, the hub for domestic flights, is here. Wishful fishermen often cast a line from the wide waterfront promenade, but a steak or chorizo sandwich from the many carritos (food stands) is a surer meal ticket. At night, the soundtrack is pounding beats and guitar riffs coming from long-standing dance clubs. Respectful silence reigns a little farther north at the haunting Parque de la Memoria, a monument to victims of Argentina’s last dictatorship.
Trendy shops, bold restaurants, elegant embassies, acres of parks—Palermo really does have it all. Whether your idea of sightseeing is ticking off museums, flicking through clothing racks, licking your fingers after yet another long lunch, or kicking up a storm on the dance floor, Palermo can oblige. The city's largest barrio is subdivided into various unofficial districts, each with its own distinct flavor.
Some say Palermo takes its name from a 16th-century Italian immigrant who bought land here, others from the abbey honoring Saint Benedict of Palermo. Either way, the area was largely rural until the 1830s, when national governor Juan Manuel de Rosas built an estate in Palermo. After the dictatorial Rosas was overthrown, his property north of Avenida del Libertador was turned into a huge patchwork of parks and dubbed Parque Tres de Febrero—a reference to February 3, 1852, the day he was defeated in battle. More commonly known as Los Bosques de Palermo (the Palermo Woods), the green space provides a peaceful escape from the rush of downtown. The zoo and botanical gardens are at its southern end.
Plastic surgery and imported everything are the norm further east in Palermo Chico (between avenidas Santa Fe and Libertador), where ambassadors and rich local celebs live in Parisian-style mansions. Higher-brow culture is provided by the gleaming Museo de Arte de Latinoamericano (Museum of Latin American Art) on Avenida Figueroa Alcorta.
If a week away from your analyst is bringing on anxiety attacks, the quiet residential district around Plaza Güemes might offer some relief: it's nicknamed Villa Freud, for the high concentration of psychoanalysts who live and work here. But if it’s retail therapy you need, Palermo delivers in that department, too. The streets around the intersection of avenidas Santa Fe and Coronel Díaz are home to mainstream clothing stores and the mid-range Alto Palermo mall. More upscale alternatives, meanwhile, abound in Palermo Viejo. Top boutiques—along with minimalist lofts, endless bars, and the most daring restaurants in town—have made Palermo Viejo (and its unofficial subdistrict, Palermo Soho) the epicenter of Buenos Aires' design revolution.
Many of these establishments occupy beautifully restored townhouses built in the late 19th century, when Palermo became a popular residential district. Trendsetters gravitate to the cobbled streets around Plazoleta Cortázar. The action also spills over into neighboring Palermo Hollywood, where streets like Honduras are lined with hip hotels and cocktail bars. Many patrons are local starlets or media types from the TV production centers that give the area its moniker.
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