Squeezed between the city centre to the south, Recoleta to the west and mostly inhospitable docklands to the north and east, Retiro gets its name from a hermit’s retiro (retreat) that was hidden among dense woodland here in the sixteenth century, when Buenos Aires was little more than a village. Today it’s surprisingly varied for such a small barrio: commercial art galleries and airline offices outnumber other businesses along the busy streets around the end of Calle Florida near the barrio’s focal point, Plaza San Martín, while west of busy Avenida 9 de Julio lies a smart, quiet residential area.
The rather sleazy northernmost swathe of the barrio is chiefly of interest for the Museo Nacional de Inmigración, a sort of Argentine equivalent of New York’s Ellis Island. Lying at Retiro’s aristocratic heart, meanwhile, Plaza San Martín is one of the city’s most enticing green spaces, flanked by opulent patrician buildings. More outstanding examples of the barrio’s palaces, which reflect how wealthy Porteños of the late nineteenth century yearned for their city to be a New World version of Paris, are clustered around Plaza Carlos Pellegrini, one of the city’s most elegant squares. For most Porteños, the barrio’s name has become synonymous with the once grand but now mostly decrepit train terminal, the Estación Retiro, on Avenida Dr Ramos Mejia, which still retains original Edwardian features, such as porcelain tiles and wrought-iron lamps. Next to it is the city’s major bus terminal, a modern and fairly efficient complex, and beyond that urban wasteland and a shantytown. Retiro is easily reached on foot from the city centre, and is connected to the subte via San Martín and Retiro stations, both on Line C.