Navigating Buenos Aires: An Area-by-Area Guide

From Evita's balcony at Casa Rosada to the renovated docks of Puerto Madero and colorful houses of Boca, follow this guide to get your bearings in Argentina's capital.

With its elegant architecture and fashion-conscious residents, Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, is often seen as more European than South American. Among its fine boulevards, neat plazas, parks, museums and theaters, there are chic shops and superb restaurants. However, the enormous steaks and passionate tango are distinctly Argentine and to understand the country, you have to know its capital. 

Buenos Aires has been virtually rebuilt since the beginning of the 20th century and its oldest buildings mostly date from the early 1900s, with some elegant examples from the 1920s and 1930s. The city center has maintained the original layout since its foundation and so the streets are often narrow and mostly one way. The city's original name, Santa María del Buen Ayre, was a recognition of the favorable winds which brought sailors across the ocean to the city, safely tucked in front the Atlantic Ocean on a bay formed by a number of rivers. The common name of Buenos Aires citizens, porteños, still echoes the city's nautical underpinnings; it's a word that translates as "people from the port."

Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Around Plaza de Mayo

The heart of the city is the Plaza de Mayo. On the east side is the Casa de Gobierno. Called the Casa Rosada because if its pink hue, it contains the offices of the president of the republic and is noted for its statuary and the rich furnishing of its halls.

It’s here that you’ll find Museo del Bicentenario and Antiguo Congreso Nacional (Old Congress Hall, 1864-1905), and the Cathedral. 

Painted dome of Galerías Pacífico, Buenos Aires, Argentina

North of Plaza de Mayo

The city’s traditional shopping center, Calle Florida, is reserved for pedestrians, with clothes and souvenir shops, restaurants and the elegant Galerias Pacifico. More shops are to be found on Avenida Santa Fe, which crosses Florida at Plaza San Martín. Avenida Corrientes, a street of theaters, bookshops, restaurants and cafés, and nearby Calle Lavalle (partly reserved for pedestrians), used to be the entertainment center, but both are now regarded as faded.

Recoleta is dominated by the cemetery, which in itself is often compared to a city. This upmarket neighbourhood is home to most of Buenos Aires’ best hotels, and has a very scenic, Parisian-style feel.

Close by is the area of Palermo, a fashionable, large area home to many museums, cafes and restaurants. It is subdivided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood, both hip areas with fine boutiques and cobblestone streets with low-rise Spanish-style houses. This area is home to open-air markets at Plaza Serrano and Plaza Armenia, and weekend street performances in the major squares.

Palacio del Congreso, Buenos Aires, Argentina

West of Plaza de Mayo

Running west from the Plaza, Avenida de Mayo leads 1.5 km to the Palacio del Congreso (Congress Hall). Avenida de Mayo has several examples of fine architecture of the early 20th century. It crosses the nine-lane-wide Avenida 9 de Julio, reputedly the world’s widest avenue, which consists of three major carriageways with heavy traffic, separated in some parts by wide grass borders. Five blocks north of Avenida de Mayo, the great Plaza de la República, with a 67-m obelisk commemorating the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding, is at the junction of Avenida 9 de Julio with Avenidas Roque Sáenz Peña and Corrientes.

Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires

South of Plaza de Mayo

The church of San Ignacio de Loyola, begun in 1664, is the oldest colonial building in Buenos Aires (renovated in the 18th and 19th centuries). It stands in Manzana de las Lucesa, a block of Jesuit origin also known as Enlightenment Square (corners of Moreno, Alsina, Perú and Bolívar).

La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

San Telmo and La Boca

One of the few places which still has late colonial and Rosista buildings (mostly renovated in the 20th century) is the barrio of San Telmo, south of Plaza de Mayo. It’s an atmospheric place, with lots of cafés, antique shops and little art galleries. It is gentrifying, and is not as dangerous as it used to be, but use caution when here at night.

East of the Plaza de Mayo, behind the Casa Rosada, a broad avenue, Paseo Colón, runs south towards San Telmo. Then as it becomes Avenida Almirante Brown, the avenue continues on to the old port district of La Boca, known for its colourful houses, where the Riachuelo flows into the Plata.

Puerto Madero at dusk, Buenos Aires

Docks and Puerto Madero

The Puerto Madero dock area has been renovated, with wide expanses and new construction. The 19th-century warehouses are now restaurants and bars, an attractive place for a stroll and popular nightspot. This is now home to some of the city’s most expensive hotels. It’s especially beautiful at sunset, where the city’s skyline is silhouetted.

Information for this guide has been sourced from Footprint Travel Guides.

Emma Levine
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