A sometimes chaotic mix of old-fashioned cafés, grand nineteenth-century public edifices, high-rise office blocks and tearing traffic, Buenos Aires’ city centre exudes energy and elegance – though it can be shabby and downright dingy in parts. Its heart is the spacious, palm-dotted Plaza de Mayo, the ideal place to begin a tour of the area and explore its historical and political connections; its mismatched medley of buildings includes the famous Casa Rosada, or government house. An amble westwards from the plaza will take you along Avenida de Mayo, the city’s major boulevard, offering an impressive display of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. At its western end, Avenida de Mayo opens onto the Plaza del Congreso, presided over by the Congreso Nacional building, the seat of the federal parliament.
From Plaza del Congreso, Avenida Callao will take you northwards to Avenida Corrientes. Now a busy commercial artery, Corrientes was famous in the twentieth century as the hub of the city’s left-leaning café society. Though there’s less plotting going on here today, it’s still the place to get some culture, lined as it is with no end of bookstores, music shops, cinemas and theatres. A short detour north from Corrientes will take you to Plaza Lavalle, a long, grassy square most notable for the magnificent opera house that looms over its eastern edge, the regal Teatro Colón.
East from Plaza Lavalle, you’ll hit the jarring and enormous Avenida 9 de Julio – the city’s multilane central nerve. Presiding at its heart is the stark white Obelisco, a 67m stake through the intersection of avenidas 9 de Julio and Corrientes. Crossing east over 9 de Julio, you head into a densely packed and busy block known as the microcentro (the Argentine term for downtown), whose two main streets are pedestrianized Lavalle and Florida, where you’ll be swept along by a stream of human traffic past elegant galerías (arcades) and stores of every kind. Buenos Aires’ small financial district – called, in homage to London, ‘‘La City’’ – makes up the southeast corner of the microcentro, while to the northeast sits the quieter “El Bajo”, home to yet more downtown bars and restaurants.Read More
- Plaza de Mayo
Avenida de Mayo
Avenida de Mayo
An amble west from Plaza de Mayo takes you along one of the capital’s grandest thoroughfares, Avenida de Mayo, a wide, tree-lined boulevard flanked with ornamental street lamps and offering a stunning ten-block vista between Plaza de Mayo and Plaza del Congreso. Part of an 1880s project to remodel the city along the lines of Haussmann’s Paris, Avenida de Mayo is notable for its architectural melange; many of its buildings are topped with decorative domes and ornamented with elaborate balustrades and sinuous caryatids. Unimpressed with the city’s European pretensions, Borges called it one of the saddest places in Buenos Aires, yet even he couldn’t resist the charm of its confiterías and traditional restaurants, a handful of which remain open.
Running parallel to Avenida de Mayo, four blocks north of Plaza Congreso, Avenida Corrientes is one of the city’s principal arteries, sweeping down to the lower grounds of El Bajo. It’s not so much the architecture that is of note but the atmosphere generated by its bustling mix of cafés, bookstores, cinemas, theatres and pizzerias. For years, cafés such as La Paz, on the corner of Corrientes and Montevideo, and the austere La Giralda, two blocks west, have been the favoured meeting places of left-wing intellectuals and bohemians – and good places to observe the Porteño talent for whiling away hours over a single tiny coffee.
Corrientes’ bookstores, many of which stay open till the wee hours, have always been as much places to hang out in as to buy from – in marked contrast to almost every other type of shop in the city, where you’ll be accosted by sales assistants as soon as you cross the threshold. The most basic places are simply one long room open to the street with piles of books slung on tables and huge handwritten price labels, whereas the leftish, alternative Liberarte at no. 1555 and its ilk take literature more seriously. Almost as comprehensive as the bookstores are the street’s numerous pavement kiosks, proffering a mind-boggling range of newspapers, magazines and books on subjects from psychology and sex to tango and politics.