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.