Barrios of Buenos Aires
The city of Buenos Aires is formally divided in 48 barrios (neighbourhoods or districts), each with their own distinctive features & characteristics. Your experience of life in Buenos Aires will be very reliant on which barrio you choose to live in.
Considered to be a funky, bohemian neighbourhood, Palermo is popular with residents and tourists alike due its festive atmosphere. It is the largest barrio, or neighborhood, of the city, located in the northeast and bordering the barrios of Belgrano to the north, Almagro and Recoleta to the south, Villa Crespo and Colegiales to the west and the Río de la Plata river to the east.The name of the district is derived from the still-existing Franciscan abbey of “Saint Benedict of Palermo”, an alternative name for Saint Benedict the Moor. Saint Benedict the Moor lived from 1526 to 1589 and is a complementary patron saint of Palermo, the capital city of Sicily.
The area grew rapidly during the last third of the 19th century and particularly during the presidency of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, responsible for the creation of the Buenos Aires Zoological Gardens and the “Parque Tres de Febrero” in 1874, and “Plaza Italia” and the Palermo Race Track in 1876, all on the grounds of what had been Rosas’ weekend villa.
During the 20th century, the Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens (1902), “Aeroparque Jorge Newbery”, the water purification building, several sport clubs, the Buenos Aires Japanese Gardens, and the Galileo Galilei planetarium were developed.
Today Palermo is renowned for its massive parkland known as Palermo Woods where outdoor fun activities abound.
Although appearing as one big area on the official map, Palermo can be subdivided into six distinctly different sectors. Today, this is one of the most popular residential communities of Buenos Aires and many boutique tourist hotels are located in this barrio.
Alto Palermo and Villa Freud
This region is considered by locals to be downtown Palermo, the main shopping area and transport hub around Santa Fe Avenue. At its core is the Alto Palermo Shopping Centre, a large shopping mall at the eastern-most edge of Palermo, bordering Recoleta. Villa Freud, based around Plaza Güemes, is a residential area known for its high concentration of psychoanalysts and psychiatrists, hence its name.Palermo Viejo
Palermo Viejo (Old Palermo) is, as its name implies, the oldest part. It runs from Santa Fe Avenue south to Córdoba Avenue, and from Avenida Dorrego east to Coronel Díaz Street. The neighborhood is centred on Plaza Palermo Viejo and reflects an older Spanish style in architecture, often “recycled” with modern elements. Such well-known figures as Jorge Luis Borges and Che Guevara once lived in this ward and indeed Borges first wrote poetry in the then quiet barrio. It was historically a residential area, popular with communities from Poland, Armenia, Ukraine, and Lebanon and old Spanish and Italian families, whose traditions are reflected in local restaurants, churches, schools, and cultural centres.
This is a small area of Palermo Viejo around Plaza Serrano (officially Plazoleta Cortázar) near Palermo’s south-western edge. It is a new trendy area for fashion, design, restaurants, bars, and street culture. The atmosphere in many cafés and restaurants strives to be “alternative”, which makes this area of the city especially popular with young, upper-middle class Argentines as well as foreign tourists. The traditional low-rise buildings have been adapted into boutiques and bars, creating a bohemian feel. The square has a crafts fair.
In the mid-nineties a number of TV and Radio producers installed themselves in the area between Córdoba, Santa Fe, Dorrego and Juan B. Justo Avenues in Palermo Viejo. For that reason this part of the neighborhood began to be called “Palermo Hollywood”. Presently, it’s best known for the concentration of restaurants, clubs, cafés, and an active nightlife.
Palermo Chico and Barrio Parque
The most upmarket part of Palermo, “Palermo Chico” (“Small” or “Exclusive” Palermo), is on Palermo’s north-eastern edge, across Figueroa Alcorta Avenue and between San Martín de Tours and Tagle streets. The National Museum of Decorative Arts is located here, in a dazzling old palatial home. Neighbouring “Barrio Parque” is strictly a residential area, laid out in winding streets. Many of the wealthy and famous own homes in this section. Once a quarter full of splendid mansions set in broad private parks, many luxury condominiums and apartment houses are now visble here. MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, is located between Barrio Parque and the Paseo Alcorta shopping centre.
This was a tenement district early in the twentieth century, but it has since become an upmarket area of high-rises, restaurants, and bars next to the Campo Argentino de Polo, in the northern half of Palermo. The King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center was built in the 1990s close to the Polo fields and Racetrack.
Recoleta is an affluent downtown residential neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires. It is an area of great historical and architectural interest, particularly due to the renowned Recoleta Cemetery. It is also an important tourist destination and cultural center of the city. Sometimes it is referred to as the “Manhatten” of Buenos Aires. The large Recoleta neighborhood is composed of the area limited by Montevideo and Uruguay Streets, Córdoba Avenue, Mario Bravo and Coronel Díaz Streets, Las Heras Avenue, Tagle Street, the F.G.B.M railway, Jerónimo Salguero Street, and by the Río de La Plata or River Plate.
The name of this community comes from the Monastery of the Recollect Fathers, members of the Franciscan Order which was established in the area at the beginning of the 18th century. They founded a monastery and a church dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Pilar with a cemetery attached. The Recoleta pathway is nearly the exact geographic center of the neighborhood, and one of the highest points in the city. At the end of the 19th century it attracted wealthy families from the south of the city who sought to escape from the deadly yellow fever outbreak which began in 1871. From that time on, Recoleta has been one of the most stylish and expensive regions in Buenos Aires, home to private family mansions, foreign embassies, and luxury hotels, including the Alvear Palace Hotel—the most sumptuous in all of Latin America.
Together with some sections of the adjacent communities of Retiro and Palermo, Recoleta includes a part of the area known as Barrio Norte, which is very popular with younger and student residents.
The Recoleta Cemetery is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. It was designed by the French architect, Prosper Catelin, at the request of President Bernardino Rivadavia, and was dedicated in 1822. The cemetery is located next to the former monastery of the Recollect Fathers. It is an outstanding display of nineteenth and twentieth century funerary art and architecture, with private family crypts of the bourgeoisie and mausolea of the rich landowners. The remains of many figures in Argentine history can be found here including Juan Bautista Alberdi, Manuel Dorrego, Bartolomé Mitre, Juan Manuel de Rosas, Cornelio Saavedra, Guillermo Brown, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. Perhaps the most renowned and most visited amongst them is the tomb of Eva Perón whose grave is visited daily by large numbers of tourists and admirers of Peronism.
Next to the cemetery is the former General Juan José Viamonte Shelter, administered in the past by the Recollect Fathers. When it ceased functioning as a shelter for the indigent, it was acquired by the city and converted into the Centro Cultural Recoleta, one of the most important exhibition halls for the city’s designers. Nearby, across elegant Libertador Avenue, is the el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which holds in its permanent collection priceless works of art by Argentine artists such as Berni and Seguí, as well as works by European masters such as Titian, Goya, Rembrandt, Gauguin, and Monet. To the east on Posadas Street is the Palais de Glace, which at the beginning of the twentieth century was an ice skating rink. It has since been turned into a major multimedia exhibition center. Behind Carlos Thays Park, is located the Centro Municipal de Exposiciones which houses a wide variety of exhibitions and cultural events.
Several cabarets in the neighborhood served as early locales for tango music and dance. The Pabellón de las Rosas, on Libertador Avenue maintained a Belle Époque atmosphere, where the so-called “atorrantes” (vagabonds) spent their evenings. In the 1910s, when the Palais de Glace no longer served as an ice skating rink, it became a dance venue and it is the locale where tango dancing finally became accepted by the upper classes of Buenos Aires.
Many upscale, high-rise hotels, fashion houses, apartments, and restaurants are located in the Recoleta barrio. As you stroll around these streets it is apparent why the comparisons are made to New York’s Manhattan.
San Telmo is the oldest barrio of Buenos Aires. It is a well-preserved area of the original Argentine metropolis and is characterized by its colonial buildings with a strong Italian influence. Cafes, tango parlors and antique shops line the cobblestone streets, which are often filled with artists and dancers. Although Tango began in the port of La Boca, today San Telmo is the hub for tango shows and performances. Tango-related activities, including schools and classes, for both locals and tourists are in located here.
San Telmo’s attractions include historic churches, museums, antique stores, and a semi-permanent antique fair in the main public square, Plaza Dorrego, held every Sunday.
Known as San Pedro Heights during the 17th century, the area was mostly home to the city’s growing contingent of dockworkers and brick-makers. The area became Buenos Aires’ first industrial area, home to its first windmill, and most of the early city’s brick kilns and warehouses. The bulk of the city’s exports of wool, hides, and leather (the Argentine region’s chief source of income as late as the 1870s), were prepared and stored here in colonial times. This industrial presence led to the first residential settlements in this area for Africans slaves and free alike.
Separated from the main city by a ravine, the area was formally incorporated into the city in 1708 as the “Ovens and Storehouses of San Pedro.” Conditions in San Telmo began to improve after the deposal of the dictator Rosas in1852. The establishment of new clinics, the installation of gas mains, lighting, sewers, running water, and cobblestones combined with the opening of the city’s main wholesale market, led to increasing interest in the area on the part of the well-to-do and numerous imposing homes were built in the western half of San Telmo.
San Telmo’s bohemian era began attracting local artists after upwardly mobile immigrants left the area. This growing cultural activity resulted in the opening of the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art by art critic Rafael Squirru in 1956. Also, in 1960 the creation of the Republic of San Telmo, an artisan guild which organized art walks and other events enhanced this barrio, added to the arts culture. San Telmo’s immigrant presence also led to quick popularization of tango in the area. In 1969, long after the genre’s heyday, renowned Argentine vocalist Edmundo Rivero purchased an abandoned colonial-era grocery store christening it El Viejo Almacén (The Old Grocery Store). This venue soon became one of the city’s best-known tango music halls, it helped lead to a cultural and economic revival in San Telmo.
The 1980 restoration of the former Ezeiza family mansion in the Pasaje de la Defensa (“Defensa Street Promenade”), has inspired the refurbishment of numerous similar historic structures, many of which had been rundown tenements since the 1870s. As most of San Telmo’s 19th century architecture remains, it has also become an important and colorful addition to the city’s history.
Today, the narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings have made this area a popular tourist attraction. The world renowned, year-round Sunday market is a “must see”attraction with distinctive street performers, buskers, and musicians supplementing hundreds of street vendors. With the major roads closed to traffic, thousands of visitors swarm to the market for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon activity for young and old alike.
La Boca is the historic, most colorful, and most authentic neighborhood in Buenos Aires. The barrio was settled and built by Italian immigrants that worked in the warehouses and meatpacking plants of the dockyard area. As one of the city’s forty-eight barrios, La Boca is located in the city’s south-east corner near the original old sea port. The barrio of Barracas is to the west, San Telmo and Puerto Madero are to the north. In La Boca many of the residents are of mixed European descent including Italian, Spanish, German, French, Arab, and Basque. Today La Boca is partly an artist colony, and still mostly a working-class neighborhood.
Few tourists venture out of the famous Caminito (little path) main street in La Boca because the rest of the neighborhood is considered by some to be unsafe. Caminito is the center of tourist activity in the area. The street is commonly featured on postcards for its multi-colored houses. Many artists also show off their work on the sides of the main street. The restaurants and cafes of Caminito provide free tango and gaucho performances which is a highlight of dining and relaxing for an hour or two – or even all day.
The Boca Juniors is one of the biggest soccer teams in Argentina and happens to be one of the clubs that the soccer great Diego Maradona played for. Their massive home stadium, La Bombonera, is not surprisingly located in the La Boca barrio. It is nearly always possible to get tickets to some of the games and be a part of a truly Argentine experience. An organised Soccer Tour is a recommended way to experience this Argentine phenomenon.
Once a residence and studio of the artist Quinquela Martin, the Museo de Bellas Artes Quinquela Martinthis has a priceless collection of early 20th century Argentine artists. The museum is also known as the Fine Arts Museum of La Boca.
A distinctive and unique feature of La Boca is that all houses are painted in multi-colors. The reason is thought to be that the immigrants used the left-over paints found in the nearby docks to decorate their humble buildings with small balconies, constructed of metal and wooden struts. The cobblestone streets are at a lower level than the sidewalks because of the periodic floods that occurred during earlier times.
At present, La Boca is a small cultural refuge, since many bohemian artisans have settled in this zone. There are also educational centers, such as photograph and cinema schools plus numerous art studios. Although La Boca is a highly frequented and commercial touristy area, it is also a working class district and caution is advised after dark. There are some interesting points that deserve a visit, such as:
- Teatro de la Ribera: A theater which houses the museum of the famous painter Benito Quinquela Martín and includes other modern Argentine artists. Quinquela Martín is renowned and considered one of Argentina’s top painters. His works regarding La Boca, El Riachuelo, and the neighborhood are very striking.
- Caminito Street: A pedestrian street with plentiful local handcrafts, paintings, and numerous souvenir vendors. It is not unusual to hear tango singers and dancers every day.
- Club Atlético Boca Juniors and its Museum: Romulo Maccio and Perez Celis, two important local artists, painted a mural and the external façade of the club. Inside, the museum encompasses cups and trophies, t-shirt collections, a movie theatre, general information, a memorabilia tour, the last Maradona T-shirt, among other exhibits. For soccer fanatics it is possible to buy tickets and see one of the games of the Boca Juniors team.
- The Wax Museum: Its collection is mainly an exhibition of La Boca itself, or La Republica de La Boca, as named by its inhabitants who certainly are very proud of their identity.
- Vuelta de Rocha: A synonym of la Boca. This little square is just a meeting point. In the past the immigrants used to meet there to remember their homes vacated in Europe.
The name of the Caballito neighborhood derives from the horse-shaped weather vane Nicolás Vila installed in 1804 above the door to his store on Rivadavia and Emilio Mitre corner. Caballito is the Spanish word for “little horse”. Unfortunately, the weather vane is long gone but the name remains! The central barrio of Caballito borders Villa Crespo to the north, Almagro and Boedo to the east, Parque Chacabuco to the south, and Miter Villa and Flores to the west. Caballito maintains a pretty low profile, despite being in the exact geographic center of Buenos Aires.
Historically, Caballito was where wealthy Porteños would go on the weekend to kick back at their colonial-style mansions when the region was considered to be in the country. Some of these mansions are still standing today on Avenida Rivadavia—for example, the house of the wine baron Ambrosio Lezica. One of the most notable things about Caballito these days is the presence of a faculty of the University of Buenos Aires. The students of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters help to add youthful character to what is otherwise rather a patrician and well-to-do district. The main commercial area of Caballito is on Avenida Rivadavia, which is one of the city’s main thoroughfares and also one of the borders of this barrio.
For people who like to stroll around neighbourhoods and enjoy the sights, Caballito has plenty of interesting attractions. Parque Rivadavia features an every-day street market selling books and music including vinyl records, music scores, and more. The other park, Parque Centenario, is also beautiful, and was very recently refurbished after some years of neglect. For tram buffs and history enthusiasts there’s the Historical Tramway museum of Buenos Aires, and for architecture admirers there’s the English District, which features buildings of the late 19th century British style. The Mercado del Progreso, a historic and still-functioning market, is also impressive.
Buenos Aires grew at the side of the streetcar tracks, like most Argentine cities. Many neighborhoods were formed thanks to its services, and although in 1962 all trams were removed from the streets of the city, there are countless memories and stories that still linger from earlier days. On November 15, 1980 the “TRAMWAY HISTORY OF BUENOS AIRES” opened, with support from the Association of Friends of the Tram, which brings together those who share the enthusiasm for this mode of transport. Several old trams have been restored and every day free twenty minute rides are offered to anyone who would like to journey back through time. Trams leave from the only stop on the line, located at Emilio Mitre 500 (E. Mitre between the Board and Jose Bonifacio Avenue), and travel a road circuit of 2 km along the streets Emilio Mitre, Av Rivadavia, and Avenue Directory Hortiguera. During each trip, the traditional “motorman” and conductor give an outline of historical data and technical information. Members of the Association volunteer their time to run this service, including restoration and maintenance of vehicles, actively working to make this a free service. The tramway is just three blocks from the Subte station Emilio Mitre on Line “ E ”. This is an interesting introduction to the historic Caballito barrio.
Other Caballito Main Attractions:
- CID Campeador Monument: Homage to the Spanish soldier, one of the greatest myths of the Spanish culture. The Cid, also known as Campeador, contributed to solve the dispute with Navarra by defeating Jimeno Garcés on a duel (Gaona and Honorio Pueyrredón).
- Cabillito Shopping Mall: Prestigious shopping mall where you will be able to shop and taste some delicious Argentine dishes (Acoyte and Rivadavia).
- Bernardino Rivadavia Science Museum: The museum conserves and exhibits Argentine flora, fauna, geology, mineralogy, and paleontology. It features a valuable collection of gigantic dinosaurs from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, plus numerous fossils (49 Angel Gallardo).
The above Buenos Aires barrio overviews courtesy of Roy Heale.