Plaza de Mayo is the most important square in Buenos Aires, and is the home of a number of key landmarks, making it the focal point of tourism in the city. It is the political, religious and cultural center of the city since it is where the presidential palace, central cathedral and the monument to Argentina’s independence are all found. It is always bustling with tourists thanks to its great offering of photo opportunities, but at the same time it is a surprisingly pretty square, with a pleasant fountain and plenty of green space. At times it is the center of political protests, so could be potentially dangerous for visitors. Every Thursday at 3.30pm, however, is when ‘Las Madres’ hold their peaceful protest – the mothers of children who disappeared during the dictatorship and were never found continue to push for justice.
Buenos Aires’ central cathedral has risen to fame in recent years since it was once the seat of Jorge Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. For Catholic pilgrims or general fans of the Pope, there is plenty of Pope-related merchandise to take home as souvenirs – but the church itself is an amazing spectacle. The current building dates back to the early 1800s, although there has been a cathedral of some sort on the site since the Spanish first colonized the area. The architecture features grand arches with exquisite gold detailing, as well as classic features of a catholic church, such as an impressive altar and stations of the cross. The tomb of Argentina’s hero of independence, General José de San Martín, is also found inside.
A great place to get a real taste of traditional Buenos Aires is a trip to Café Tortoni. The café is found on Avenida de Mayo, just a few blocks from Plaza de Mayo, and is an elegant and sophisticated café steeped in traditional charm and history. It dates back to 1858, which makes it the city’s oldest coffee house, and it was designed in the style of a chic Parisian café (features include a grand entrance, chandeliers, and high ceilings and columns). It was central to the growth of the city’s tango culture during the 1920s, as it was a meeting place for composers. Today the café hosts tango performances, although due to popularity, reservations need to be made well in advance. The food and drinks are also of excellent quality, for a surprisingly good price.
This cabildo was built in 1725 when its primary function was to serve as the colonial government building of Buenos Aires. Today it is just a small building, but in the past, its colonnades used to surround what is now Plaza de Mayo. It currently operates as a museum that covers the area’s history since the 18th century, especially Argentina’s independence revolution of May 1810, La Revolución de Mayo. The cabildo stands out as the oldest building around the square, and it is of great historical significance to the city. Certainly worth a visit for those interested in the history of Buenos Aires.
The most unusual building around Plaza de Mayo is the Casa Rosada, which means ‘Pink House’, named after the building’s unmistakable pink hue. It is the presidential palace, although the president only works there and does not live there. It has been the center of political protest over the years and is probably most recognizable to foreign audiences as the building from which Eva Perón (or Evita) gave her rousing speeches to the working-class masses of Buenos Aires during the 1940s. Parts of the house are open to the public, including a presidential museum and guided tours.
A short walk away from the historic Plaza de Mayo is Calle Florida, one of the city’s central commercial streets, and covering around ten blocks. It is one of the best areas in the city to indulge in a bit of shopping, especially within Galerías Pacífico, an elegant shopping mall with numerous exclusive stores. This building is also an architectural highlight; it was built in 1889 and has an intricate mural on the central roof dome. Calle Florida is also a great spot to change some money using the blue dollar exchange rate (a much better deal for visitors than the official rate) at the numerous casas de cambio, which are unofficial bureaux de change.
Teatro Colón is Buenos Aires’ most famous theater and is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It opened in 1908, and over the years has hosted a great number of famous singers and performers. Today, it regularly hosts sell-out shows and offers highly informative guided tours, which are a great way to see the interior without paying for a show. Behind the theater is the Petit Colón café, which in the past was where the performers used to visit after the show for a drink. Today the café is open to all, and it offers excellent food as well as service at a price not nearly as expensive as the exquisite interior of the café may imply.
Avenida 9 de Julio is Buenos Aires’ busiest road, running right through the heart of the city. While a road may not usually appeal as an attraction, Avenida 9 de Julio is the widest road in the world, with a total of 14 lanes and a width of 140 meters. The avenue is home to a number of landmarks, such as El Obelisco (an iconic obelisk commemorating the founding of the city), Teatro Colón and the French Embassy, as well a number of small plazas that help to break up the vastness of the road. Avenida 9 de Julio is worth a visit, even if just for the experience of crossing the 14 lanes and then back.
Puerto Madero is the city’s most modern and up-and-coming neighborhood. Just a short walk from Plaza de Mayo takes you to the riverfront, where there is an array of fancy restaurants. Across the river is Puerto Madero’s residential area, full of modern high-rise apartment buildings, many of which are still under construction. Dinner at one of the restaurants by the riverside behind Casa Rosada will give visitors a feel for the place, as they enjoy an upmarket parrilla and mingle with the city’s wealthy business elite.