Things to Do in Downtown Buenos Aires: historical buildings, government house, cultural centers and a lot of movement.
Buenos Aires envelops visitors with its magic and it is in the city’s Microcentro where the cultural life is concentrated both day and night, most of the old buildings, the seat of government and parliament and the emblematic Obelisk.
🔝 Check out these recommendations on things to do in Buenos Aires.
There are many places to see in downtown in Buenos Aires, but so that you don’t miss out on the must-sees, we summarize them below.
📜 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Map of things to do in downtown Buenos Aires
1) Plaza de Mayo
Going to Plaza de Mayo we will see several of Buenos Aires’ must-see sights in one go, such as the Casa Rosada, the Cathedral and the Cabildo (and the ugly AFIP building, Argentina’s Treasury, boo!).
But let’s start with the square itself, which is now quite large as it is the union of what were two squares in the past separated by a building known as the Recova Vieja, which functioned as a market.
In the center of the square is the Pyramid of May, which symbolizes the entire history of Buenos Aires: its foundation, its struggle, its independence and its constitution. Around the pyramid, and painted on the floor, are white handkerchiefs. These represent the handkerchiefs worn on their heads by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo to demand justice for their children who disappeared during the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Now let’s look around the square and visit its main buildings (not the AFIP, obviously… pa’qué! haha).
📷 You can book from here the free tour of the historic center of Buenos Aires with a specialized guide. It’s free!
– Casa Rosada, a must-see in downtown in Buenos Aires
The emblematic Casa Rosada is the seat of the Executive Power of Argentina, that is, where the President of the Nation has his office. Guided tours of the interior are available and must be booked at least 15 days in advance at this link. Tours are available in English and Spanish, only on Saturdays and free of charge.
The tour lasts about 50 minutes and includes, among others, the Salón de Bustos (with the busts of the presidents of Argentina), the beautiful Patio de las Palmeras, the presidential office, the presidential armchair, the White Room, the Eva Perón Hall, the Salón de los Científicos Argentinos (Hall of Argentine Scientists) and the Government House balconyThe main office, from where speeches are usually given to the population.
– Buenos Aires Cathedral
It is not the typical majestic cathedral that can be found in any European capital or city and goes somewhat unnoticed due to the marked neoclassical style of its facade. It has 12 columns representing the 12 apostles. Moreover, as it was built over a couple of centuries, various architectural styles can be observed inside.
The place houses the main altar in which gilded details stand out, the mausoleum of General San Martin, one of the main engines of the Independence of Argentina, and since 2013 the museum of Pope Francis I.
📷 Want an exclusive guide for you and your family or friends to tour the city? Book your private tour of Buenos Aires here.
– Cabildo of Buenos Aires
The Cabildo was used in colonial times to govern the cities that depended on Spain (in this case, it also functioned as a jail). Today it houses the Museo Histórico Nacional del Cabildo y de la Revolución de Mayo (National Historical Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution).
The building used to be larger; it had 3 more arches on each side, but due to urban planning needs they were demolished. The idea was to demolish it in its entirety, but fortunately it did not happen, leaving the memory of the place where the revolution that culminated with the Independence of Argentina took place.
Do you want to tour the city with a free specialized guide? Check out the best free tours to do in Buenos Aires.
– Things to do in downtown Buenos Aires, Peatonal Florida
Not a must-have things to do in downtown Buenos Airesbut it is worthwhile to see the incessant movement of people on weekdays and take advantage of shopping at one of the stores that extend along the ten blocks of the pedestrian street.
At the intersection of Florida and Córdoba streets, stop and admire the facade of the Galerías Pacifico shopping mall, a true architectural jewel. Built at the end of the 19th century, it was declared a National Historic Monument and inside you will find fashionable shops, a food court and the imposing murals painted by Argentine artists in the central vault. Next to it is the Borges cultural center with exhibitions of artists.
– Manzana de las Luces, a must-see in downtown Buenos Aires
It is a city block with historic buildings such as the National School of Buenos Aires, the Church of San Ignacio and what was once the University of Buenos Aires. can be found between Bolívar, Moreno, Alsina and Perú streets.
Its name comes from a newspaper of the time, the Argos, which back in 1821 called it that way because most of the buildings housed intellectual institutions.
But not only can you observe the buildings from the outside, there are at least two other activities to do:
- Visit the network of subway passages and tunnels that connected the buildings with each other and that date back to the time of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (18th century). There is a guided tour that is free of charge.
- Visit the antique market.
– City Museum
To learn more about the history of the city of Buenos Aires you must visit the Museo de la Ciudad. Inside you will find a little bit of everything, from objects, photographs to containers and tiles, which summarize the customs of the porteños throughout history.
The curious thing is that most of the museum was built with antique objects donated by individuals, a singularity that is worth knowing.
The City Museum is open every day except Tuesdays. Admission is free on Wednesday.
– Café Tortoni
You can’t miss a coffee or lunch at Café Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Buenos Aires founded in the mid-19th century. Its interior is a beauty, with marble tables, stained glass windows and paintings, where everything seems to be stopped in time.
The tables of Café Tortoni were the protagonists of the passage of great Argentine personalities such as Jorge Luis Borges or Carlos Gardel.
In the basement of the café there are tango and jazz shows that are worth seeing.
2) El Obelisco and surroundings
The Obelisk of Buenos Aires, like the Plaza de Mayo, has several things to see around it. It is a historical monument built in 1936 during the presidency of Julio Argentino Roca on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the first foundation of Buenos Aires by Pedro de Mendoza. It is one of the symbols of the city and be sure to get as close as possible to it to read the texts printed on it at each cardinal point.
While you’re out there, you can’t miss it:
– Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the attractions to see in downtown in Buenos Aires.
It is one of the main avenues of Buenos Aires and with its 140 meters it is the widest in the world. It runs only 3 kilometers from north to south and is one of the busiest in the city. Argentina’s victories in soccer or other international sports are usually celebrated here, with the epicenter at the Obelisco.
– Corrientes Street
It started out as a street and is now a one-way avenue. At the Obelisk and towards the downtown side is where many of the renowned theaters, bars and restaurants are located. That is why it is known as“the street that never sleeps“.
This is the place where tango and gaucho drama were born in the past, and nowadays you can go to see plays by renowned artists, musicals and also revues.
The revue is a genre of French origin, very popular in Argentina, in which many show business artists participate. It includes humor and dance sketches. The men are usually dressed in suits and the women are half-naked vedettes. The photo below is from a play I went to see with Juan (when he was my friend) and Jack (another very good friend of mine) in Mar del Plata. The actress is Moria Casán and he is Nito Artaza.
Leaving the microcenter, Corrientes becomes a more commercial avenue with its epicenter in Abasto, a shopping mall built inside what used to be an old local market.
– Colón Theater
The building is considered a National Historic Monument and houses the Buenos Aires Opera House which, due to its size, acoustics and trajectory, has come to be considered the best opera house in the world. Although it has been linked to classical and lyrical music, it has also opened up to other more popular musical genres.
📌 Guided tours: every day (with some exceptions). Departures in English at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm and have a duration of 50 minutes. General admission: $ 3,800, Argentine residents $ 1,800. Discounts applicable according to day and time of visit, or type of visitor (minors and senior citizens). See more on the official website.
– Kavanagh Building
Opposite San Martín square, in the Retiro area, the Kavanagh building is an architectural icon of the city of Buenos Aires and was once the tallest skyscraper in South America at 120 meters high.
Its construction was ordered by Corina Kavanagh and has an interesting story of revenge behind it. Corina’s daughter was dating a member of the Anchorena family, but the young Kavanagh was rejected by the Anchorena’s mother. In revenge, Corina had the building constructed to interrupt the Anchorena’s view from the San Martin palace, the family’s residence, to the Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to enter the interior of the building, as there are residential apartments.
– Things to do in downtown Buenos Aires, the Barolo Palace
Inaugurated at the beginning of the 20th century, it stands out on Avenida de Mayo with its large dome and lighthouse. Palazzo Barolo was commissioned by Luigi Barolo himself, who was a fervent admirer of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
Thus, in its interior there are many reminiscences to the poet Alighieri in the architecture. In fact, the palace is divided into three parts: heaven, purgatory and hell.
The interior luxuries of the palace are reflected at every step such as the marble-clad staircases, the lighthouse, chandeliers and more. It is currently an office building only, but it is possible to take a tour inside.
Next to the Barolo Palace is the Tango de Mayo Hotel, which has a terrace on the upper art to appreciate the domes of the city. Highly recommended.
– Congreso de la Nación and plaza
The imposing building of the National Congress houses Argentina’s legislative branch with its Chamber of Deputies and Senators. Its construction began in the late nineteenth century, but it was not until the mid-twentieth century that the work was completed.
From the outside, it stands out for its imposing eighty-meter high dome and the architectural details in the sculptures such as the Winged Victories. Inside, the Hall of the Provinces with its stained glass window, the Blue Hall with its 65-meter-high bronze chandelier and the Library made of Italian walnut stand out.
Visits to the Palace of the National Congress are allowed from Monday to Friday, unless suspended due to parliamentary activity. They are free of charge and access must be done fifteen minutes before the scheduled time and at the entrance of 1849 Hipólito Yrigoyen Street with an identity card or passport.
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